Old TV Westerns

Films, TV shows, and books of the 'modern' era

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The Rifleman (1958-1963)

Post by moira finnie »

After catching up with The Rifleman on the Encore Western channel about 45 years after the show ceased production, I've begun to notice certain things:

Directors and their Interesting Storytelling Differences:

Joseph H. Lewis: Most of the time, of the 51 episodes directed by him, the action was well-paced, the relationships among the characters were terse, and expressed in a meaningful glance more than a line of dialogue. Lewis, a journeyman director for much of his career, beginning in B Westerns at Universal, was known as "Wagon Wheel Joe" due to his penchant for framing shots through the spokes of a wagon wheel, a visual motif that you can see time and again in The Rifleman.

Mr. Lewis' episodes were a marvelously entertaining blend of action and human stories, as evidenced by one of my favorite episodes so far, "Baranca" in which Cesare Danova played an avenging angel of sorts for a chicano family who had been burned out by racists near North Fork. The interesting story element of injustice and the conflicts between law, order (embodied in Micah & Lucas) and a desire for vigilante justice(Danova), were resolved when McCain & Danova's characters joined forces to give the yahoos a thumpin'. The drama is climaxed by a magnificently swift staging of a dual leap by Connors & Danova over and down behind a trough! With the simplest of dramatic elements, Lewis created a very memorable sequence while utilizing two highly skilled actors/stuntmen (though, if you saw the moment during the tv show, it's hard to see where the actors might've been substituted by stuntmen.).

Joseph Lewis was also responsible for the legendary, extremely dark noir, The Big Combo (1956), though many of his episodes of this series are little gems as well, and among the best in the series.

Richard Donner:
The other director whose action style served the show well, imho, was Richard Donner, who went on to guide many episodes of the best of early '60s tv, such as The Fugitive, Route 66, and the fine Combat series. Donner also directed some highly profitable films such as Superman & Lethal Weapon, as well as an interesting, less well known film, Radio Flyer. Donner's work on such Rifleman episodes as the one about Lucas McCain's doppelganger, "Deadly Image" are distinguished by the intensity of the action & violence, and the relatively complex psychological relationships of characters.

Gene Nelson:
A notable dancer on Broadway and in movies, such as Oklahoma (1955), Nelson directed several interesting episodes with a particular emphasis on the characters over the action. Some of my favorites so far are "First Wages" in which Mark McCain (Johnny Crawford), insists on earning money on his own, despite his father's protests. This ep gave Crawford a nice opportunity to dramatize the inevitable conflicts between a loving father and son as the boy begins to assert his independence.

Another enjoyably funny episode helmed by Nelson was "Knight Errant", about a rather unfriendly chess match between some flamboyant old comrades of McCain. Some of the participants in this episode include Sean McClory, Lawrence Dobkin(who's very amusing as a man who prefers to live in the 1500s rather than the 19th century), as well as the inimitable Jack Elam, (who is allowed to be alot smarter than he appears in this installment). Btw, several of Gene Nelson's episodes feature a familiar figure from '60s tv, Ed Nelson, which makes me wonder if they're related.

Maybe I'll write a bit more sometime about guest stars and writers who regularly show up on The Rifleman, among them the haunted looking character actor, Royal Dano, wonderful John Anderson, and a guy named Peter Whitney, who played a remarkable number of varied and different characters. Here's a picture of Mr. Whitney:
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Post by ken123 »

Peter Whitney palyed homicidal twins in " Murder, He Says " a gem of a comedy, Fred MacMurray and Helen Waler starred with Marjorie Main as the twins mother, and Porter Hall as " Mr. Johnson ", MM' s second husband. :lol:
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Post by Lzcutter »

John,

The credits of The Virginian almost read like a who's who of Hollywood's Studio Era:

Lee J Cobb, Charles Bickford, Victor Jory, Abner Bieberman, Sam Fuller, Burt Kennedy, Ida Lupino, Ben Johnson,Bobs Watson, Ricardo Montalban, Vera Miles, Arthur Hunnicut, Leif Erickson, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Whit Bissell, Aldo Ray, Jane Wyatt, John Agar, Burgess Meredith, Pat O'Brien, Ed Begley Sr, Sheree North, Roland Kibbee, Winston Miller and it gave a number of women writers the chance to hone their skills, too!

Up and comers:
Earl Bellamy, Andrew McLaglen, Leo Penn, Jeannot Swarzc, William Smith, Royal Dano, LQ Jones, Bing Russell, Don "Red" Barry, Ford Rainey, Tom Skerritt, John Anderson, John Dehner, Karl Swenson, Harold Gould, Michael Burns, Albert Salmi (who got his tv break on Daniel Boone with Fess Parker), Leslie Nielsen, Harold J Stone, Lee Marvin, Robert Redford, Strother Martin, Andrew Prine (what was that show he was on with Barry Sullivan?), James Gregory, Warren Oates, Virginia Gregg (the Folgers Lady), Dick Foran, James Whitmore, William Windom, Tim McIntire, Hal Needham (who went on to direct), Slim Pickens, Joe Campanella, Fabian, Darren McGavin, Kurt Russell, Marietta Hartley, Ruta Lee, Neville Brand, William Shatner, Lois Nettleton, Charles Bronson, Dub Taylor, Les Treymane, Simon Oakland, James Farentino, Susan Strasberg,
Leonard Nimoy, Paul Fix, Peter Brown (who with William Smith and Neville Brand would star in Laredo), George Kennedy (pre-Airport),
Bruce Dern (pre-Cowboys), Michael Constantine, Diana Baker, Noah Berry, Jr, Jay C Flippen, Hugh Beaumont (post-Ward Cleaver), Don Stroud (pre-The High Chapperal), John Saxon (pre-The Bold Ones), Lorraine Gary (pre-Sid Shienberg and Jaws), Keil Martin (pre-Hill Street Blues), Claude Akins, Shirley Knight, Jack Warden, Victor French, Ted Knight (!), Bradford Dillman, Howard Duff, Yvonne DeCarlo, Geraldine Brooks, RG Armstrong, Phillip Carey (before
Laredo and One Life to Live), Peter Breck (tie in with Big Valley (?), Robert Fuller, Diana Muldaur, Cloris Leachman, James Daley, Bruce Bennett, Harrison Ford.

I had no idea that many people were regulars or guest starred or were behind the camera on this show!
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Western lover

Post by Sue Sue Applegate »

Bonanza was never the same without Pernell Roberts!

I remember The Virginian because I loved it so much. Doug McClure! OOOooooh!

The storylines were more involved and developed when they had the hour and a half format. I remember some of those episodes, and also watched Paladin. Richard Boone had the rep of being "an enthusiastic party-goer."

James Drury did a lot of personal appearances in Texas, so there was always a connection of sorts with him here.

I remember Peter Whitney. Great character actor! Thanks for the photo, Moira.
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RE:

Post by Sue Sue Applegate »

I enjoyed Rawhide, too. I remember Eric Fleming had a tragic demise, but can't recall all the specifics. Any one?

Loved the theme song! Enjoyed Paul Brinegar's antics, and, of course,
paid much notice to Rowdy!
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High Chaparral (1967-1971)

Post by moira finnie »

High Chapparal (1967-1971)
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This series, filmed mostly in desert locations in Old Tucson, Arizona and California, captured my girlish imagination like few others—in part due to the starkly beautiful landscape, as well as the characters. Ostensibly, the show centered on ranch owner Leif Erikson, the big, gruff, rather stiff patriarch, and his second, much younger wife, a beautiful Mexican lady, Linda Cristal, who gave him a heart and was a much-needed civilizing influence on all the men in the series.

The series was decently written and generally well-acted. In between the usual Western action, it tackled issues of tensions between America and her neighbors, racial discrimination, generational conflicts, the environment and treating Native American characters with respect and some shading of character. The show attracted a good range of guest stars, from Elizabeth Allan and a very young Bonnie Bedelia to Paul Fix (as Cochise!), to Dub Taylor to noted stuntman and sometime actor Henry Wills and Paul Winfield, along with some really ornery bad guys, such as Malachi Throne and Morgan Woodward.

In addition to the recurring members of the regular cast, High Chaparral gave a much higher presence to Hispanic actors on tv screens than almost any previous tv Western. Among these actors were Ricardo Montalban, Joaquin Martinez, Alex Montoya & Rodolfo Acosta.

Yet it was the presence of two others in the cast who really got my attention:
Henry Darrow, who played Ms. Cristal's n'er-do-well brother, Manolito, who never encountered a good time, a young chiquita or a bottle of tequila that he didn't want to spend time with, at least for awhile. Darrow managed to take a part that could easily have been simply another ethnic stereotype and invest it with enough charming high spirits, humor and occasional flashes of real talent to make his character vivid and memorable. A one-time student of noted actor Juano Hernandez, Mr. Darrow had changed his name from Henry Delgado to avoid ethnic typecasting, even though he also expressed great pride in his Puerto Rican heritage. After the series ended, Henry Darrow went on to play a range of roles on tv (with a recurring role in the excellent David Jannsen series, Harry O ), and in a few films, (notably the cop flick cult classic, Badge 373). He remains active to this day, having graduated with great grace to grandfatherly roles in many cases.
While Manolito (Henry Darrow) chaffed as a hand on The High Chapparal ranch, it was better than enduring living under the constant critical eye of his own father, who was played by the other actor who caught my fancy in this series.

Frank Silvera, an actor whose mixed heritage and talent allowed him to play a range of Hispanic and African-American characters, may be most familiar to many TCMers through the early Kubrick film, Killer's Kiss (1955), though he also appeared in such varied movies as Viva Zapata(1952) and The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952). A distinguished theater actor, Silvera created the rascally, Machiavellian master of vast Mexican holdings, Don Sebastian Montoya with an eye on the humorous aspects of the story as well as the subtext of the then-timely "generation gap" conflicts inherent in American society of the late '60s, early '70s. Due to his unfortunate early death by electrocution while fixing his own garbage disposal, (it pays to get pros for household repairs, sometimes), Mr. Silvera's presence, while irreplaceable, was filled stylishly by none other than the dashing Gilbert Roland, who played Silvera's untrustworthy, but courtly brother.

Others in the series, whose work deserves mention are the popular actor Cameron Mitchell as Buck, another n'er-do-well brother--this time of the Leif Erikson character's. Buck was a veteran of the Civil War with an oddly theatrical-sounding Southern accent, (his brother John Cannon(Erikson) had no trace of this accent, though I'm not sure why...), and a shambling passive-aggressive manner & hair-trigger temper that may have been prompted by his occasionally underwritten role.

Buck's nephew and John Cannon's son was played by Mark Slade, a character who had the unfortunate name of Billy Blue Cannon. As an actor, the blue-eyed, perpetually bewildered looking Slade apparently became a teen idol worldwide, according to IMDb. However, I was probably just too young and dumb to be at all aware of this phenomenon and found his character pretty dull, except when he tried to draw cartoons during the series. After working in small parts as an actor until 1985, Mark Slade eventually chose to pursue his first love, and works today as an artist.

Don Collier, a familiar presence in many Westerns on the tube and the screen, including several John Wayne movies, amiably played the ranch foreman, Sam Butler. Many of us, however, might also remember Mr. Collier as "The Gum Fighter" for Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum in a series of '80s commercials!

The series continues to intrigue a wide fan base, perhaps due in part to the quality of the program, but also since it's recently been aired again on the Hallmark Channel. You can access a detailed website about the series here. Anyone else find this series a sort of "guilty pleasure"?
Last edited by moira finnie on April 25th, 2008, 9:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Western lover

Post by movieman1957 »

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:Bonanza was never the same without Pernell Roberts.


What was it about westerns on TV that never allowed the stars to have more than one set of clothes? I'm speaking mainly of "Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke."

The Cartwrights owned most of Nevada but they couldn't get another pair of pants for Ben or a new shirt for Adam. I know early they had some different clothes.

Matt Dillon wore that same pinkish shirt for a long time too.
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Eric Fleming's Life and Demise

Post by moira finnie »

I enjoyed Rawhide, too. I remember Eric Fleming had a tragic demise, but can't recall all the specifics. Any one?--Sue Sue Applegate

Christy,
I don't remember all the details, probably 'cause I couldn't read yet & it was one of those stages of our lives when the parents decided that tv was "an insult to your intelligence". Little did they realize that I craved having my intelligence insulted regularly. At least until today, I thought that I remembered the front page headline in '66 saying that Gil, from Rawhide--I'd caught the show on the qt once or twice at a friend's house--had bought the big one by drowning in the Amazon River. Talk about a colorful ending! He was even making a movie there when the mishap occurred. Your query led me down the Google path to several sites detailing the actual story of his life.

Well, long story short, it wasn't the Amazon, but a comparative rivulet called the Huallaga River in Peru, when, while filming the two-part adventure series "High Jungle" for MGM, on September 28, 1966, "Fleming dove from a dug-out canoe after paddling it beyond the rapids. His body was lost in the turbulent water and was not recovered until three days later."

The poor guy had a very rough life before hitting the bigtime, leaving home to escape an abusive parent at age 8 during the Depression, knocking around in the service where he was badly hurt in an accident during the war and eventually landing in some Broadway shows and such Grade C movies as the cult classic Queen of Outer Space (1958), opposite Zsa Zsa Gabor. I guess Rawhide's dust, cattle, and good story lines must've seemed like a cakewalk by comparison.

If you'd like to know more, Google is the path to enlightenment.
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Post by Lzcutter »

Moira,

Mark Slade was indeed, a teen idol. His picture often graced the covers of 16 and Teen Beat Magazines as I recall. Bobby Sherman from Here Come the Brides was the other constant cover boy of that era.

I remember the High Chapperal fondly. It was on Sundays, early in the evening.

I was smiling as I was reading your musings about Henry Darrow, who I think was the best actor on the series. I am glad to hear that he is still working.

I wonder what happened to all of my old teen mags? In a landfill in Vegas somewhere!
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Oh great, now I've got "Julie Julie Julie Do You love Me" stuck in my head.
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Post by moira finnie »

Man, now I know I've fallen down the rabbit hole into the land of lost tv shows, (some of them, deservedly-lost).

Lynn, sounds as though you might've liked ol' Manolito on High Chapparal too!

Jon, your mention of that blow-dried pretty boy, Bobby Sherman, instantly reminded me of a series that I'd expunged from my brain pan quite thoroughly: Here Come the Brides (1967-1970). Intended as a sort of "Northwestern" and loosely based on the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, I loathed its cheesy production values and spurned the teen idol bait that the producers offered in Sherman and his equally charisma-challenged co-star, David Soul, even as a youngster. There were only two good cast members who stood out for me:

Joan Blondell in her hearty madam-with-the-heart-of-gold phase, complete with huge false eyelashes and a still bubbly sense of fun and...---there was one actor who transfixed this gal's attention: Robert Brown!

Holy guacamole, the guy was gorgeous. Too bad he was born too late to get the swashbuckling movie career that he deserved. Could he act? I've no idea, but perhaps others have opinions or comments on the show or the leads. My memory of all, other than Mr. Brown, is pretty hazy. Here's a picture of the guy around then:
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Post by SSO Admins »

moirafinnie wrote:Jon, your mention of that blow-dried pretty boy, Bobby Sherman, instantly reminded me of a series that I'd expunged from my brain pan quite thoroughly: Here Come the Brides (1967-1970).


I vaguely remember the existence of the show, although I don't remember watching it -- there wasn't anything there for a boy. I didn't know Joan Blondell was in it though. Now I'd like to see a few episodes.
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