What Was the Best 30-Minute Western?

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cinemalover
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What Was the Best 30-Minute Western?

Post by cinemalover »

It is no secret that I am an unabashed western fan, whether the big or small screen. Growing up in the 60's I missed the heyday of television westerns, though there were still plenty on the air. The half-hour western to me has always been an interesting sub-genre. In my lifetime the 30-minute slots were usually reserved for comedies, with few exceptions.

Historically there have been some incredible 30-minute westerns. And the ones that worked were fabulous because they could pack a full story into an approximate 24 minute run-time. It's more like a novella if the 60 and 90 minute shows were the full novel.

Some excellent examples quickly pop to mind:

The Rifleman: it's been talked about a lot on these boards because it is so good and because the Western Channel is currently running the entire series.

Wanted: Dead or Alive: Steve McQueen, any other questions?

Have Gun Will Travel: simply outstanding tales featuring Richard Boone.

There are many, many more. Which were your faves and why?
Chris

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Post by movieman1957 »

I've been watching "Have Gun-Will Travel." Boone is very good. He's smart, he's cultured, he's educated and not afraid of anything. I'm about half way through the first year and quite enjoying it. (I hate the music.) He is quite different from the nasty man he so excelled at just a little later in his career.

The one I remember fondly is "Cheyenne." Big Clint Walker taking care of business. It didn't hit reruns like "The Rifleman" but was pretty good.
Chris

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Post by ChiO »

I'm sorry, but Cheyenne is disqualified -- it was a 60-minute program.

I lived in front of the TV in the '50s and '60s (much to my parents' chagrin) and loved the 30-minute Western. With the exception of Maverick, the 60-minute Western usually dragged for me (never enjoyed the iconic Bonanza), though I watched Gunsmoke with my father as a bonding exercise.

My five favorites:

5. Yancy Derringer -- In New Orleans, looking sharp in black with a cool gun.

4. The Rifleman -- I'd love to say that I admired the auteurist aspects of the program and therefrom grew my deep respect for Lupino, Boetticher, Donner, Peckinpah, and most especially Joseph H. Lewis. I'd love to say that...but it was because I could identify with Johnny Crawford and his pa had a cool gun.

3. The Rebel -- Nick Adams had been in a Jim Backus/Ed Platt/Dennis Hopper flick and, at the time, was one of the coolest guys on TV not named Steve McQueen.

2. Wanted: Dead or Alive -- This did have Steve McQueen and he had a really cool gun. And, growing up about 30 miles from his hometown made the show even cooler. Yeah -- Dean, McQueen, & ChiO -- Hoosiers all. Can you dig it.

1. Have Gun - Will Travel -- Not quite McQueen cool (too old), but still pretty with it. Dressed in black. And I did feel a darkness at its core even as a kid. As much as Paladin tried to be detached and not care, you knew he had to care. I still try to watch this on Sunday nights.
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Post by cinemalover »

Welcome aboard ChiO,
Great list. I've never seen Yancy Derringer or The Rebel but they sound like I would've eaten them up.

Chris,
Cheyenne was a wonderful show, but as ChiO pointed out, it's out of this particular conversation. Gunsmoke is a western that is best remembered as a 60 minute show but actually began as a 30 minute show for many episodes. It produced 233 30-minute episodes and an amazing 400 60-minute episodes in its run from 1955-1975.
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Post by movieman1957 »

So much for my memory!
Chris

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jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

My vote goes to anything with Jock Mahoney and/or Jim Davis in it. I like those big, strong, laconic types. I pay much more attention to the actors than to the action.

Although I do like Chuck Connors a lot, I'm not really into the Rifleman reruns. I'm tired of that "I'm a man of peace" kind of show where the hero shoots and kills everyone he doesn't like. I realize there has to be conflict to make such shows play, but these days I'm a little put off by the level of violence on that show - and Lucas with a little boy in tow. I think it's why I've lost my taste for Westerns generally. Violence has gotten a lot more real for me as I've lived on in the world.
klondike

Post by klondike »

Hmmmmm; you've got a talent for posting the tough ones, don't ya, Chris?!
Well, I guess I'll have to cast my vote for McQueen & "W:DoA" . . . in a genre of heroes loading some really cool guns, his was the coolest . . and though the scripts couldn't quite compete with Paladin's exploits (or even Lucas McCaine's, on a good day), they were quite often rife with jim-dandy plot-twists, and oftimes some surprisingly economical storytelling, resulting, typically, in a more-bang for-the-buck feeling when the credits ran.
Also, for the most part, there was a pretty strict ban on comic relief, and the "aw-shucks" moralizing that muddied up so many other late-50's/ early 60's Westerns.
Now, don't get me wrong, "Have Gun, etc." runs a real tight second here; in fact, I can think of 7 or 8 episodes thereof that I would call some of the Best TV ever - but "HGWT" was like that li'l girl w/ the curl: when 'twas good, was VERY VERY good, but when not, 'twas horrid!
Boone spent way too much time preaching ethics, and being overly clever at telling people off; many episodes put so much time into setting-up the story, it only had 5 or 6 minutes to play-out . . and some episodes spent way too much with just plain TALKING - interspersed with some of the worst, most jangling programme music ever!
In closing, I should at least mention one early 60's entry that is definitely a dark horse contender: "Branded" . . of course, given Connors' bad "new" haircuts, the tissue-thin recycling of so many "Rifleman" scripts, the super-annoying intro, and the generally poor quality of the broadcast color . . p'raps the less said beyond here, the kinder.
Then again, Jason McCord did have that ninja-style mini-sabre . . .
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Do sit-coms count?

Post by benwhowell »

I never realized there were so many 30 minute westerns?
What about "F Troop" and "The Best Of The West..."
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Post by Dewey1960 »

Judith wrote: "My vote goes to anything with Jock Mahoney and/or Jim Davis in it."

I'll second that, Judith. As a kid my two favorite western shows were YANCY DERRINGER (mentioned above) with Jock Mahoney and STORIES OF THE CENTURY whch starred the venerable Jim Davis as railroad detective Matt Clark. The show originally ran during the 1954-55 season and was seen in syndication for years, sometimes under the title FRONTIER JUSTICE. The accent was on action, with Matt Clark going up against history's most renowned outlaws (Billy the Kid, Jesse James, John Wesley Harding, etc). Tightly written and directed with lots of rugged realism (despite the highly fictionalized nature of the storylines) this was one terrific show. Three or four years ago I picked up a DVD containing 8 episodes and found them to be just as exciting and enjoyable as ever. Highly recommended!
Here's a clip from an episode called "The Dalton Gang"
[youtube][/youtube]
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Post by ChiO »

I never realized there were so many 30 minute westerns?
I hadn't really occurred to me, but when I think of TV Westerns, it is the 30-minute Western that comes to mind. Were my viewing habits skewed, or did the 30-minute Western get supplanted by the 60-minute Western in the early '60s? I remember 28 30-minute Westerns that I watched (with varying degrees of regularity) in addition to the 5 that I listed above.

The Lone Ranger (is there a more iconic intro?)
The Cisco Kid (over the Holidays, my mother told me she found my autographed picture of Duncan Renaldo)
The Roy Rogers Show
Hopalong Cassidy
The Gene Autry Show
Zorro (now he was c-o-o-l)
The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin
Sergeant Preston of the Yukon
Fury
My Friend Flicka (my introduction to the great Gene Evans)
Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok
Sky King ("From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes...Sky King!" Thank you, Nabisco.)
Restless Gun
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Tales of Wells Fargo
Broken Arrow
Tombstone Territory
Bat Masterson
Union Pacific
The Texan
Colt .45
Lawman
The Rough Riders
Man Without a Gun
Tales of the Texas Rangers
The Last of the Mohicans
Death Valley Days
Annie Oakley

Some pretty good ones in there. Now, explain to me why I didn't watch TV or movie Westerns from about the mid-'60s to 2000. What alot of catching up I've had to do.
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Post by Dewey1960 »

Great list, ChiO; lots of those shows had slipped through my memory cracks! Most people think of THE LONE RANGER as a kid's show, but it was really a well-produced, fast-paced show with lots of "grown-up" action. And of course that opening theme music...
[youtube][/youtube]
Another one from that list that I'd forgotten about was THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF WYATT EARP starring Hugh O'Brian. Very exciting show!
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Post by MissGoddess »

Definitely The Rifleman! I love it and it's one of the main reasons I'll eventually be getting the Encore Western Channel. I love Lucas McCain's character and the bond between him and Mark. It automatically ratchets up the emotional impact of every episode.

I saw "Have Gun, Will Travel" for the first time this week. I liked it alot, but I don't love it.

I also have been watching the first season of "Gunsmoke" this week and it was in a half-hour format at this point. I think I would place it 2nd after "The Rifleman".
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Post by cinemalover »

I have enjoyed the Bat Masterson episodes that I've been able to catch on the Western Channel. I had never seen it before they started broadcasting the series. It is definitely western-light, but it is very enjoyable on that level. Bat is portrayed in a similar vein to Maverick. He'd rather out-think an opponent than out-draw them if at all possible.
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Post by MissGoddess »

I finished watching all the 30-minute episodes of Season I of "Gunsmoke". It was really full of surprises and got consistently stronger and better with each successive show. The writing was certainly exceptional from the start, with interesting teleplays by Sam Peckinpah and many that were just as good if not better by other, less well known writers. But I certainly could see something different in the shows directed by Robert Stevenson, and one in particular by Harry Horner, than those by the series' producer, Charles Marquis Warren (who helmed the majority of them).

There is a stark contrast present (in Season I) which seems to have blurred by the series end (the shows I've always seen). A push and pull between rough justice and compassion for what made the people so hard and harsh and its primarily depicted in the Marshall's own conflicting reactions. He's very, very young so of course he's more spry and quick tempered, in fact, it's a bit jarring to see Matt Dillon become really SCARY when he's mad----and then there are other scenes where he's so much more patient than he ever was in the later years (too patient for me, sometimes). It's an odd contradiction. Dodge was definitely more "civilized" in the later end of the series and had acquired a more settled, quasi-respectable fascade compared to how wild it is here. Boot Hill is always present in the monologues which open each episode, reminding you how almost daily a new "tenant" was added.

Great stuff! I highly recommend fans of the genre get the complete season discs, it's so interesting to see the development of a series that lasted almost a whole generation.

P.S. Boy howdy, they make NO bones about the prostitution going on in the saloons. To me it's more patent than even many feature length movies made it.
klondike

Post by klondike »

MissGoddess wrote:I finished watching all the 30-minute episodes of Season I of "Gunsmoke". It was really full of surprises and got consistently stronger and better with each successive show. The writing was certainly exceptional from the start, with interesting teleplays by Sam Peckinpah and many that were just as good if not better by other, less well known writers.
Speaking of old Mr. Wild Bunch himself, not many folks are aware that Peckinpah actually went forward from his "Gunsmoke"/"Rifleman" years to create/direct/produce his very own Western series in 1960:
"The Westerner".
Quite off-beat, to say the least, it starred Brian Keith as well-heeled saddlebum Dave Blassingame, a character cursed with the habit of going from moody contemplation to explosive hostilty to distracted grumpiness at least once during his usual weekly adventure.
Dave was partial to bad towns, loose women, low-rent cattle drives & lots of booze; he also had a dog . . named "Brown"!
Too unsettling for the newborn Camelot era, evidently; it got yanked after half a season.
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