Paramount // 1958 // 993 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // November 30th, 2005
A knight without armor in a savage land...again.
Have Gun -- Will Travel -- in its time a wildly popular and successful series -- today serves mainly as an illustration of two currently dead forms of the television arts: the half-hour drama, and the western. It's also a historical footnote in the resume of one of its regular contract writers -- a former LAPD public affairs officer named Gene Roddenberry. But don't let its anachronistic status scare you away. Have Gun -- Will Travel is still, to this day, a fun and entertaining show, suitable for all but the youngest members of the family. Grab this second full-season set of the show, and you'll find that "television" and "quality writing" weren't always incompatible terms.
Paladin (Richard Boone), the titular wandering gun-possessor, is a dapper man-about-town, resident in San Francisco's luxurious Hotel Carlton. With the capable assistance of the hotel's Chinese valet, Hey Boy (Kam Tong, Flower Drum Song), Paladin scans newspapers from across the West, looking for people who may be in need of his unique services. When he spots a likely client, he mails them his calling card, and waits for the telegrams to roll in.
This Season Two set contains episodes 40-78 of this long-running half-hour drama, all of which aired on CBS during the 1958-59 television season:
* "The Manhunter"
Paladin is hired to track down and bring in a young fugitive, but the boy opens fire. After he's forced to kill the boy, he brings the body back to town for a proper burial But first, he must face the boy's family, who are plenty mad.
* "In An Evil Time"
Paladin tracks down Pappy French (Hank Patterson, Green Acres), a codgerly bank robber who has ditched his gang and absconded with the loot.
* "The Man Who Wouldn't Talk"
Paladin is hired to help an awkward, shy rancher (Charles Bronson, The Great Escape) romance his pretty next-door-neighbor. (Keep a sharp eye out for Dyan Cannon in a small part -- her first career role.)
* "The Hanging of Roy Carter"
It's a race against time as Paladin tries to prevent an innocent man from facing the gallows.
* "Duel at Florence"
Paladin is called in to help an upstanding but meek local barber fight for his true love, who's being romanced by the town bully.
* "The Protégé"
A constantly bullied young man (Peter Breck, The Big Valley, The Beatniks) hires Paladin to teach him how to gunfight. He's a quick student -- but quickly becomes as bad as the bullies he sought to defeat.
* "The Road to Wickenburg"
While stopping in the little town of Wickenburg, Paladin is drugged into unconsciousness and robbed by the local gang. Needless to say, he's going to get his stuff back...
* "A Sense of Justice"
A retarded man is assumed to have committed a murder, but the local sheriff isn't so sure. His daughter has befriended the boy, and he knows the kid wouldn't hurt a fly. He calls in Paladin to help find the truth, and hopefully clear the boy.
* "Young Gun"
Paladin is hired by a town to "negotiate" with an angry ex-gunfighter-turned-rancher and his son, who have been keeping the other ranchers from using the only available source of water for their cattle.
* "The Lady"
Paladin is hired by a cultured English lady (Patricia Medina) to escort her through Indian territory to her brother's Arizona ranch.
* "A Snare for Murder"
A pair of gold miners (Harry Morgan,M*A*S*H, and Harry Bartell) strike a solid lode, but turn paranoid when someone starts shooting at them. Each thinks the other is plotting to kill them. Paladin, who happens to be passing nearby, helps them get to the bottom of things.
* "The Ballad of Oscar Wilde"
Paladin wins the job of protecting Wilde, who is traveling through the West. Unfortunately, the unsuccessful job applicants decide to kidnap Wilde.
* "The Solid Gold Patrol"
Paladin is tasked with searching out a U.S. cavalry corporal, who has won the lottery. He finds the corporal and his patrol deep in Indian territory. Will they live long enough for the newly-rich corporal to claim his winnings?
* "Something to Live For"
Paladin travels to help a father and his single, attractive daughter settle a land dispute. Along the way, he runs across a rich playboy who's just drifting through life. He brings the ne'er-do-well with him to help with the job. Well, you can see how this one's going to turn out.
* "The Moor's Revenge"
A husband-and-wife acting troupe (Vincent Price and Patricia Morison) are on a tour of the West, bringing Shakespeare to the rustic masses. Against Paladin's advice, they accept a job offered by a saloon-keeper (Morey Amsterdam, who is not a sandwich) to perform in the rough-and-tumble cowtown San Diego. Of course Paladin has to save their bacon after the saloon-keeper -- ahem -- misrepresents the nature of the performance, causing a near-riot.
* "The Wager"
In San Francisco, Paladin befriends a fellow card player named Sid Morgan (Denver Pyle). After someone takes a shot at Morgan through a hotel window, he hires Paladin for protection. But Morgan's not completely forthright about his motivation behind hiring Paladin...
* "The Taffeta Mayor"
A businessman, Clay Morrow, running for mayor against the corrupt incumbent, Arnold Oaklin (Edward Platt, Get Smart), hires Paladin for protection. He arrives too late, though -- Morrow has already been killed, presumably at Oaklin's behest. Paladin persuades Morrow's widow Harriet (Jeanne Bates) to run against Oaklin in her husband's place.
* "Lady on the Stagecoach"
Paladin travels on a stage with a beautiful, intelligent young woman, who turns out to be the daughter of an Apache chief. Also on the stage is a box full of gold. Trouble ensues when bandits attempt to rob the stage.
* "Hunt the Man Down"
Paladin is hired by an old friend, Tony DeVries (James Drury, The Virginian), who's calling in an old debt. The job? Protect him from his brother -- and even closer friend of Paladin -- Walt (Robert Wilke), who's vowed to kill him for stealing his girlfriend (Madlyn Rhue, Murder, She Wrote).
(Note that this episode is out of order on the disc. In the original broadcast order, this slot should be filled by the "Treasure Trail" episode, with "Hunt the Man Down" as the second episode on Disc Four. The disc's packaging and liner notes reflect the correct order. However, the episodes are flip-flopped on the DVD itself -- an embarrassing quality control error in my book.)
Paladin has to protect the titular damsel in distress, whom he meets on a stagecoach, from a batch of disgruntled Confederates. Unfortunately, he's at a disadvantage: he doesn't have his gun. (Look for long-time General Hospital stalwart John "Dr. Steve Hardy" Beradino as one of the Johnny Rebs.)
* "Treasure Trail"
Paladin wins one-fourth of a treasure map in a poker game. He and the other three map-piece holders head out to find their fortune -- assuming they don't kill each other first. (See note above about the incorrect ordering of this episode.)
* "The Scorched Feather"
A young man, Robert Ceilbleu, hires Paladin to protect his father William (Lon Chaney, Jr., The Wolf Man) from a Comanche war chief, who has vowed to kill him. Turns out the Comanche has a very interesting reason for wanting to kill him...
* "The Return of the Lady"
The Lady (Patricia Medina) from Disc Two is back, and she's better than ever. And by "better than ever," I mean "about to get married, and Paladin's invited." You just know something fishy is up here...
* "The Monster of Moon Ridge"
Paladin is hired by the good people of Moon Ridge, CO, to solve their monster problem. At least that's what they assume kidnapped young Emily Bella (Natalie Norwick, Dark Shadows), based on the strange tracks the thing left. All roads lead to a cave in the mountains, where strange things are afoot.
* "The Long Hunt"
Paladin joins the hunt for a rogue half-Comanche who is hiding out in the New Mexico mountains.
* "Death of a Gunfighter"
Paladin is hired to end the reign of a local gunslinger, Juan Carlos Morrita, in Santos, NM. But upon arriving, he finds that the townsfolk have been using unsavory tactics to lure Morrita out of hiding, and he quits the job. Whereupon Morrita shows up and kills all the angry townsfolk. End of story, right? Well, not so fast. Paladin attempts to broker the surrender of the gunfighter, who just wants to be with his girlfriend (Suzanne Pleshette, The Bob Newhart Show). But she's in love with someone else, and he gets angry, and...well, things go downhill from there.
* "Incident at Borrasca Bend"
Paladin finds a ransacked prospector's campsite, and attempts to return some of the possessions to their rightful owner. Upon arriving in the makeshift tent-town that passes for the local metropolis, Paladin is arrested for the murder of the prospector. A kangaroo court is duly convened, and Paladin has to think quickly to keep his neck out of the noose.
* "Maggie O'Bannion"
Paladin is bushwhacked and robbed by a gang of ranch hands. To earn a little scratch to get himself home -- and hopefully find his stuff -- he takes a job at a ranch owned by the titular Ms. O'Bannion (Marion Marshall) as a handyman.
* "The Chase"
In a small town, a bank is robbed, with a deputy left dead in the melee. All signs point to the guilt of Paul Martin, a clerk in the bank. Martin flees for his life -- but Martin's wife doesn't believe her husband guilty of the crime. She hires Paladin to find her husband and prove his innocence.
Paladin's friend Boris (Karl Swenson, Little House on the Prairie) is a Russian trapper in Alaska. When the U.S. purchases Alaska, he runs into a spot of trouble with newcomers who want to drive him off his land. Paladin makes the trip north to help his old chess buddy settle things peacefully.
* "The Man Who Lost"
Paladin must keep the two brothers (Ed Nelson and Jack Elam) of a murder victim from killing the suspect before he can stand trial.
* "The Return of Roy Carter"
As the title suggests, Roy Carter (now played by Clu Gulager), last seen almost hanged in the second episode of this season, returns. To be more specific, he asks for Paladin's help in finding Chaplain April (now played by Larry Blake), who helped save him from the gallows.
* "The Sons of Aaron Murdock"
A father, the titular Aaron Murdock (Philip Coolidge) hires Paladin to bring in his son Lew (Wesley Lau), who has escaped from prison. He also wants to keep his other son, Jamie, from joining Lew in his life of crime. Look for a brief appearance by Frank Gorshin, too.
A mother hires Paladin to find her son (Larry Pennell), who has deserted from the cavalry to be with his girlfriend (Susan Cabot).
Paladin is hired by a former client, Will Stanhope (Lewis Martin), for protection. Back in the day, Stanhope's testimony had put an innocent man, Ed Stacy (Ed Nelson), in prison. Now Stacy's getting out of jail, and Stanhope's afraid...
* "The Fifth Man"
A killer named Bert Talman (Leo Gordon) escapes from prison. He quickly kills four men but stays in town. Paladin is hired to bring him to justice -- but is Paladin actually his next target?
* "Heritage of Anger"
The Avery family has an adopted son named Joe. Joe, it turns out, is the biological son of a famed Mexican bandito named Manuel Garcia. Well, Garcia finds out, and wants his son back. Paladin is hired to protect the Averys.
* "The Haunted Trees"
The widow of a lumber mill owner (Doris Dowling) suspects that her disinherited stepson Ben (Burt Metcalf, who went on to produce M*A*S*H) is sabotaging the mill. She brings in Paladin to get to the bottom of things.
* "Gold and Brimstone"
Paladin encounters a father-son team of prospectors who are trying to defend their claim from jumpers. Dad is a bit nutty, and believes that Paladin is the devil. Wacky hijinks ensue.
Have Gun -- Will Travel is living proof that you don't need a full hour to tell a compelling story on television. These episodes are short and brisk, but still manage to tell a compelling and satisfyingly-resolved story in that limited timeframe. Sure, there's a good deal of thematic repetition in the show, but there's enough variation on those repeated themes to keep things from getting too stale.
Essential to the show's success is Richard Boone, probably the least likely Western hero in TV history. Boone is more Shakespearian actor than frontiersman, coming off like an educated Ivy Leaguer with a black hat and a revolver. But that's what makes the show interesting -- Paladin isn't a textbook "Western Hero"; he's unique. Boone plays the character with an almost oppressive intensity. Here's a guy who took his profession very, very seriously...
Have Gun, which was an immediate success when it debuted on CBS, attracted high-quality guest stars during its run, some of whom can be seen on this set. By far the most interesting is Charles Bronson, who plays completely against what would eventually become his "type" as the shy, awkward ranch hand desperately in love with his pretty neighbor. It's always good to be reminded that Bronson had a life, and acting range, beyond Death Wish.
For a certain segment of the viewing public, this show is interesting for one reason only: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a contract writer for the show. Several of these episodes were penned by Roddenberry -- and you can tell. His episodes just feel like Star Trek. They often involve difficult moral choices, have an unusual narrative form, and are heavy on philosophy. They're not all classic examples of television writing, but on the whole they are very, very good. Based on these scripts -- yeah, I'd give the guy his own space show. No problem!
This Season Two set is a bit thin on extras -- but that's probably to be expected, given that virtually everyone associated with this show is now dead. The text-based "Wire Paladin" feature, which gives you a bit of interesting information on each episode and/or its guest stars, is useful. But that's it for extras. On the other hand, the show looks great. The shows are crisp and clean, with great contrast and clarity, especially given their age. Some of the episodes appear to have been taken from Kinescope copies of the show; quality does suffer somewhat on those episodes. The mono audio track gets the job done. Parents should note that the show is aimed at adults; it's probably a bit too violent and adult in its themes for young children, but older kids and teens should enjoy it.
Have Gun -- Will Travel really took me by surprise. I expected a routine, trite Fifties Western. Instead, I got a show that was smart, dramatic, entertaining, and enjoyable, even after nearly half a century. This show is a standout; a gem that's been buried under the wreckage of the Western genre. Given the phenomenal amount of primary content here -- 39 episodes at 25 minutes a piece -- this set is a steal. If you have even a remote interest in Westerns, this is one for your collection.
Not guilty. Which is good, because I'm a hangin' judge, you know.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Ryan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 993 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wire Paladin (Episode Notes)