Appellate Judge James A. Stewart now knows the secret to romance: smelling like sweat, dirt, and horses.
"Why do you bother? No one else does."
There have been five Mavericks—including James Garner and Roger Moore—in three series since 1957. They're all gamblers, and they all tend to get into the sort of trouble that's common on TV Westerns. The first two—Garner and Jack Kelly—are seen in Maverick: The Complete First Season as it debuts on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Breaking down these twenty-seven episodes on seven discs…
• "Point Blank"—A beautiful woman gets Bret out of jail after a barroom brawl, even helping him get a job spotting card sharks. Unfortunately, it looks like he's going to fall for the setup coming his way. Mike Connors (Mannix) plays a baddie.
• "According to Hoyle"—Samantha Crawford (Diane Brewster, Quantrill's Raiders) cleans Bret out at cards. Steamboat operators stake him to a much-publicized rematch, but that won't be the end of it. Time for a little help from Big Mike.
• "Ghost Rider"—A beautiful woman named Mary Shane takes Bret's jacket…with $1,000 pinned inside. Later, he's told Mary died not long before he rolled into town. Now it's up to Bret to find out what the undertaker is up to. Stacy Keach (Mike Hammer, Private Eye) is the sheriff.
• "Stage West"—Bret arrives in Packsaddle just ahead of the stage, to protect a widow from rough customers after her late husband's mine. A Sioux attack complicates things. Ed Byrnes (77 Sunset Strip) guests in an episode based on a Louis L'Amour tale.
• "Relic of Fort Tejon"—The camel Bret won in a poker game helps him, when he tries to prove an old flame's new fiancee is stacking the deck in his saloon's games. Sheb Wooley (Rawhide) is the sheriff.
• "Hostage"—Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly, Forbidden Planet) turns up in New Orleans, to help his brother Bret charm his way onto a steamboat for a poker game. They end up riding to the rescue, when the steamboat owner's daughter is kidnapped.
• "The Jeweled Gun"—Bart's taking in the Santa Fe, sights when he meets a woman who's eluding a tail. He agrees to accompany her to Laramie, posing as her husband.
• "The Wrecker"—Bret's efforts to win a spot in a ship salvage ring leave Bart lost at sea after a tangle with a mutinous crew. Based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story.
• "The Quick and the Dead"—Doc Holliday (Gerald Mohr, Funny Girl) turns up, just as Bret catches up to the stage robber he's got to nab to clear his name. However, Bret can't do that if Doc shoots down the robber first.
• "Comstock Conspiracy"—Bret claims he killed a railroad boss who tried to kill him after welching on a bet. Strangely, the bullets, blood, and body have gone when Bret fetches the sheriff. Werner Klemperer (Hogan's Heroes) guests.
• "The Third Rider"—Bart's asked to give a man a lift…at gunpoint…and ends up nabbed by the sheriff for bank robbery. Everyone, including the real robbers, believes Bart knows where the money is.
• "Rage for Vengeance"—A wounded Bret, accused of robbing a bank, wants to tell the sheriff his story. The sheriff doesn't want to hear it, but Bret tells him anyway. Naturally, it starts with a poker game and soon includes a beautiful widow.
• "Diamond in the Rough"—Bart wakes up at sea, after being ejected from a poker game in San Francisco. Soon he's back, with two countesses in tow, to uncover a diamond scam.
• "Day of Reckoning"—Even after the sheriff is killed, a cattle crew still seeks revenge on a town. Bret hopes to keep the peace, but a newspaper editor's crusade could escalate the violence.
• "The Savage Hills"—This time, it's Bart who tangles with Samantha Crawford. Bart then has problems with a Secret Service agent who she convinced him was a crook.
• "The Burning Sky"—When the stagecoach crashes, Bart and his fellow passengers are under siege from Apaches—or are they? Whitney Blake (Hazel) guests.
• "The Seventh Hand"—Samantha Crawford is looking for Bret. She wants to stake him to a poker game with some powerful rich guys. She swears the money isn't stolen, but that doesn't mean it won't be.
• "Plunder of Paradise"—Bart and Big Mike are down in Mexico looking for gold…and the friend who disappeared when he found it. Two women (the widow and a barroom singer) turn up to complicate things.
• "Burial Ground of the Gods"—Bart follows the man (Claude Akins, Sheriff Lobo) who mugged him to Denver…and from there, on a search for a fugitive who supposedly died in a stagecoach attack.
• "Seed of Deception"—Bret's mistaken for Doc Holliday in a small Western town. He thinks it better to flee, but that eastern turkey dinner is just too tempting, so he's still in town when a relative of the Clantons turns up. It's a mistake that endangers Bart's life.
There are plenty of twists and turns in a Maverick yarn. At times, they seem like someone's tall tales, especially when narrated by James Garner or Jack Kelly. If you've already seen the show, they probably won't be too surprising, but the first few episodes, might catch a few new viewers offguard. I was especially impressed by "Stage West," in which Garner plays things cold enough that everyone at the stagecoach stop thinks Bret's meaner than the thugs. Having seen the series in reruns, I knew it was a bluff from the start, but I can see how some viewers back in 1957 might have been left scratching their heads.
"Trail West to Fury," in which Bret is accused of murder after a shootout, would probably instigate a major mythology if anyone remade Maverick today. A modern Bret Maverick would be constantly trying to track down "The Tall Man" who could clear his name, but this Bret seems to take it all in stride, with jokes suggesting he prefers the wandering life that the incident started.
Other standout episodes in the first season include the opener, "War of the Silver Kings," which introduces a scruffier Bret Maverick as a mischeivious prankster with a moral backbone; "The Long Hunt," which finds Bret continuously failing and giving up at clearing a man; "Comstock Conspiracy," in which Bret and the requisite beautiful woman both want to walk away from a murder investigation but find their hearts changing after Bret rescues some miners after a gas explosion; "Rage for Vengeance," Bret's requisite tragic romance; and "Day of Reckoning," which shows how intimidation from a cattle crew affects a small town. These stories tend to show Bret, who'd rather be on his way but can't quite shake his own code, as a necessary moral spark in a dishonest West. Jack Kelly gets some of the season's funniest moments, outwitting a sheriff in "The Third Rider" and bantering with Claude Akins and a crazy fugitive in "Burial Ground of the Gods."
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, Paramount's transfers often exhibit flecks and lines, but there's nothing unwatchable. The Dolby 2.0 Mono audio serves it purpose. There are no extras, though it would have been nice to have a retrospective or a making of featurette.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Do you really believe that every unattached woman they meet is going to fall for Bret or Bart, especially when they come in all scruffy and smelly from the trail? Maverick likes its cliches as much as the next Western.
Having Bret be a man who wrestles with his conscience makes for better morality plays than you'll find on Gunsmoke. Here it seems to be Bret's own struggles that help him convince others to do the right thing. There's comic leavening, like the Mavericks' frequent funny sayings from their Pappy, but Maverick has strong dramatic moments as well. Western fans already know the Maverick brothers and will find some first season episodes memorable episodes. If you're not into Westerns, sampling some of the season's best could change that.
Not guilty, partner.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.