As Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's old pappy used to say, "With TV Westerns, remakes may be nice, but the original would be better."
"Wouldn't you rather be back where you belong, eating a decent meal in decent company?"
Bret Maverick (James Garner, Move Over, Darling) thinks young Ben Maverick (Charles Frank, All My Children), cousin Beau's son, ought to go back East to finish his education and take up a job in a bank. But Ben's been thrown out of Harvard for playing cards (an avocation that paid his tuition) and can't stand a "cashier's cage."
His peaceful train ride home would also make a lame story for a movie and fail to set up a potential new series. So to keep those story possibilities alive, The New Maverick decides to stay in the West.
In this 1978 TV movie—obviously a pilot for Young Maverick, which came a year or two later—Bret shows up at the graveside of his brother Bart—and realizes from the short length of the coffin that Bart's not the one who's being buried. Bret heads to Texas to find his brother and ends up looking for gatling guns taken in a train robbery instead. He takes on Poker Alice (Susan Sullivan, Falcon Crest) as a partner, while Ben goes on his own search for the guns, aided by Nell (Susan Blanchard, All My Children), the pretty housekeeper of a judge who's mixed up in the plot somehow. It's not the freshest plot—even the DVD cover blurb has a "You just know…" in it—but the convolutions are amiable enough.
There's a touch of nostalgia in the form of a brief montage of scenes from the original Maverick, but the purpose of The New Maverick is to hand over the reins of the family TV-series franchise to a new generation. At the time, Garner was tied up with The Rockford Files. You'll note that the Western TV movie sounds a bit like the private eye series, perhaps because Rockford writer Juanita Bartlett contributed the script. Villain George Loros appeared in six episodes of Rockford as well.
Garner delivers his usual reluctant hero performance here, albeit with a bit more weariness and reflection than Bret exhibited in the original Maverick. As Ben, Charles Frank seems a little wilder than Bret: he steals money from Bret, his own kin, and seems a bit more ready for a fight in the final denouement. Frank also sounds more like a romantic lead as he courts Nell, played by Blanchard, his real-life wife. The ladies don't get much screen time, but both female leads come across as sharp and self-reliant, perhaps even a bit smarter than the men. Blanchard sounds slightly naïve at times, but it seems more like a protective shield for her Nell. Jack Kelly (Forbidden Planet) appears late in the film for a brief reunion with his on-screen brother.
This is a 30-year-old TV movie that hasn't been cleaned up, so flecks and lines abound. The sound's okay, but nothing special.
It's also disappointing that Warner didn't include any extras with The New Maverick.
The rotating star structure of the original series—which quickly started substituting brother Bart for title hero Bret, and eventually saw James Garner quit entirely, to be replaced by Roger Moore as Beau—helps viewers accept the newer incarnation. Thus The New Maverick is better than average for a TV movie remake or reunion. Still, Warner's selling a bare-bones DVD of a TV movie for $14.98. As my old pappy used to say, "Better look for a discount before buying a bare-bones DVD of an old TV movie. Under ten bucks, if you can."
There's also the question—posted with the Amazon.com entry for The New Maverick, as a matter of fact—of when Warner will bring out the original Maverick series on DVD.
The New Maverick isn't guilty, but Warner is guilty of neglect for
its failure to release the old Maverick on DVD first.
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