MPI // 1958 // 520 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // January 18th, 2006
"He must be sick in the head."
"He's sick in the heart, just like I would be if I lost you."
"I love you, pa."
-- conversation between Lucas and Mark McCain
It was technically a western because it was set in the Old West, and there were plenty of gunfights and posses and horses to ride. But The Rifleman is more aptly described as a family drama that just happens to be set in the Old West. It's tale of a father and a son and what it takes raise a smart, moral, and healthy child -- be it 1860 or 2006. So get your ticket and hop on the stage; the first stop is North Fork, which is where you'll find The Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 3.
From the first crack of the rifle in the opening credits, you know that Lucas McCain is a man with a gun; a very special Winchester rifle that allows it to be fast cocked by spinning it in a dramatic fashion. But the real irony here is that the show isn't about a gunman or a lawman (although Lucas does help solve his share of crimes): It's about a rancher trying his best to raise his son without a mother in a swiftly changing world. Lucas is a man of peace, which is what makes this show so unusual. In this season, Lucas deals with a half-crazed old man who thinks Mark is his own kidnapped child, a ladylove who might just be the new Mrs. McCain, and an attempt to save two children from an abusive father. There are also a plenty of 'standard' western plots about bank robbers, stage robbers, and gunfighters looking for trouble.
This half hour, black and white drama had a whopping thirty-six episodes in its second season. You get twenty of them on this DVD set:
* The Patsy
* The Blowout
* Eddie´s Daughter (The lovely Gloria DeHaven as a "painted lady")
* Ordeal (Mark is forced to take charge when he and an injured Lucas are stranded in the desert)
* The Spiked Rifle
* The Letter of the Law
* The Baby Sitter
* The Coward
* The Surveyors
* Case of Identity (with an excellent performance by character actor Royal Dano)
* The Visitor
* The Spoiler
* Meeting at Midnight
* The Hangman
The Rifleman is more of a western drama than an action show, despite what it appears to be from the opening credits. Lucas McCain is played by the tall (6' 5"), chiseled, and powerful Chuck Connors (his signature role, actually). A former baseball player (Dodgers and Cubs), Conners had a long career in Hollywood playing both the stalwart good guy and the truly creepy villain (Tourist Trap, The Yellow Rose), but he carried the role of Lucas McCain with him until the day he died.
The actor with the enormous job of playing against this larger than life hero was former Mouseketeer, Johnny Crawford. Crawford was twelve when he began shooting the series, though he appears to be much younger. His wonderfully emotional performances in The Rifleman earned him an Emmy nomination at the age of thirteen. Shortly thereafter he was launched as a teen idol and singing sensation. In the early sixties, Crawford had five hit singles and four albums in the top forty. He graced the cover of every teenie bopper magazine, with a smile that drew in girls who wanted to date him and women who wanted to mother him. Though an obviously talented actor, Crawford's acting career soon faded. In recent years he has reinvented himself as the leader of a successful big band orchestra.
The Rifleman is well-written and nicely directed, but the series' success is more likely a product of the two stars and their wonderful on-screen relationship. The Rifleman has a standard of moral decency that is unheard on TV today (except perhaps for Seventh Heaven). It's not unusual for father and son say, "I love you" at least once per episode. I know, all you die hard western fans are out there scratching your heads. Morality, love, and a quick-shot rifle? Yeah, well, like I said, that's what makes the show stand out for me.
I am and have always been a huge fan of The Rifleman. I video stalked Chuck Conners. I own Johnny Crawford records (including a hit I always dreamed that he wrote for me titled, "Cindy's Birthday"). I suffered through the obvious lessons in respecting others, reaping what you sow, and cleanliness is next to Godliness, and I gladly came back for more -- why? I'm not sure. Even now, having written all I have about the show, I realize that I can't quite put my finger on what makes this show so watchable -- except perhaps for the pure emotion of it. Chuck Connors may be one of the manliest men on television, but when he pulls his young son into his arms and brushes away the boy's tears, this girl goes to pieces and then it makes me smile.
As I've grown older, I've found that many of old favorite TV shows don't hold the same magic for me as they did when I was younger. That was not the case with The Rifleman. I sat down to watch one episode, watched four...then started searching the discs for my favorites, and finally had to stop in order to make dinner. It was just as I remembered, though much clearer than when I watched the show on UHF with rabbit ears on my TV. Sure, there are some pops and crackles and a few grainy scenes, but overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this DVD set. There are no extras and the plastic DVD box is kind of cheesy, but there is a nifty little book with the episode summaries, nice picture labels on the discs, and clean and simple onscreen navigation, so I really can't complain.
If you're looking for an action-packed, shoot 'em up, classic western, may I suggest any of the films made by John Wayne. If you're looking for a wholesome family drama with good scripts and emotional performances, have I got a show for you! The Rifleman is a much better show than the title and opening imagery imply. Hey, there's a reason why Crawford and Connors were playing those same roles thirty years later in The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw: Lucas and Mark McCain are part of TV history.
Never has this court seen such a righteous and morally grounded pair of western characters. So we findThe Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 3 innocent of all charges.
Review content copyright © 2006 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 520 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Johnny Crawford's Offical Site
* The Rifleman Fan Site