Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Gunfight at Black Horse Canyon (TV, 1961)

Splice a couple of episodes together and call it a movie


Tales of Wells Fargo was a successful TV Western series for NBC (I adored it as a boy), running from 1957 for six seasons, so by 1961 it was ripe for a feature-length made-for-TV movie, starring Dale Robertson as Jim Hardie. In fact, though, rather than a proper film, it’s a couple of TV episodes spliced together.


RG Springsteen directed 16 episodes of the show and had a long career directing oaters from 1945 onwards and it must be said that in Gunfight at Black Horse Canyon he did a sound, if not very inspiring job. That holds true, in fact, for most of those involved: the film is OK, and watchable, but not terribly memorable or special. The editing team had an impossible job really.
Successful series spawned a ‘movie’
It was in color and opens with a train, so it was no zero-budget affair, even if in those days TV Westerns didn’t exactly rival Gone with the Wind in big-screen spectacle. It also had a good cast list, with Western character actors like William Demarest, Claude Akins, Philip Carey, George Kennedy and Rod Cameron all figuring. The series did well for guest stars.


We have a snooty New England writer (Patricia Owens, from The Law and Jake Wade) come to the West she despises as “uncivilized” to write a damning article about it, and of course thanks to Jim she gradually comes round and sees its (and his) qualities.


Jim Hardie always went about the West behaving like some sort of super-sheriff. Local marshals get treated as little more than his deputies and do his bidding. Oh well, he was the star, I suppose.
Jim looking rather stern
Carey is a villain just out of ten years in the pen and determined to get revenge on the man who put him there (Dale, of course). His henchman Claude Akins, who has a bit of actor’s ‘business’ with his spur rowel, has, at the boss’s orders, issued a wanted poster on Jim (WANTED – DEAD ONLY) and Carey wants Jim to sweat as bounty hunter after bounty hunter goes for the $5000 reward. Fools. As if they could get the better of Wells Fargo’s top man. Carey is the charming-rogue kind of baddy, and the Eastern writer is tempted to succumb to his polished manners and winning smile. Until she sees the light.


George Kennedy is the accomplice of a separate (but equally charming) baddy, Rod Cameron (Rod also tries out romancing Patricia). George is truly mean, though, whereas Rod doesn’t want to shoot anyone. Rod was looking a bit stout by 1961 but hell, he’s entitled. Actually, this part of the plot kinda takes over and we are in danger of forgetting about the Carey/Akins pair altogether, but they come back to be nasty, and defeated, in the last reel. But that’s the problem with trying to edit two episodes into one movie.
George is badman Hawk
The main plot is introduced and ended with another story about Jim trying to capture a wild stallion. There’s a tomboyish girl who has set her cap at Jim (who appears positively monastic in his lack of interest in the fairer sex) and this lass (Mary Jane Saunders) tries to capture the wild horse as a present for Jim, an enterprise doomed to failure. She gets a stern moral lesson from Jim: you shouldn’t try to buy friends. It does seem a bit harsh.


Demarest is Jim’s farm factotum, of course. The part could have been done by Walter Brennan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Gabby Hayes or any of a number of amusing-old-timer specialists but Mr Demarest does a good job.


If you were a Tales of Wells Fargo fan (and what planet were you on if you weren’t?) you’ll enjoy this go-round but as a stand-alone Western movie I fear it suffers from insuperable editing problems and the very evident TV look of it.


I wonder if it’s the same Black Horse Canyon Joel McCrea rode into in 1954…



6 Responses

  1. I enjoy these westerns that don't descend into obligatory sex scenes or forced romantic storylines….but Jim Hardie acts like he's never an interest in women in his life. Some of these guys take the gentleman thing to a bizarre, unrealistic extreme. You've got this beautiful red head and this other gal hanging around but Hardie doesn't show the slightest interest; as if to do so would violate some weird western "code". Not to suggest he likes men or anything…but is he supposed to be some eunuch or something? Anyway…I love these westerns from this era and this one is enjoyable enough.

  2. Convencional, menor, discreto y poco original western dirigido para la televisión de forma artesanal por R.G. Springsteen, un realizador que ni sé cuántas pelis del oeste rodó en toda su carrera. Creo que es un capítulo alargado de la serie televisiva "Cuentos de la Well Fargo", no en vano el protagonista es el mismo desempeñando el mismo rol… y además se llama igual su personaje, así que…
    Sin embargo, a pesar de no tener mucha calidad la peli, se deja ver sin ningún problema, bien sea por la sencillez de su propuesta, bien por su evidente (o eso me pareció a mí) falta de mayor ambición.
    No es aburrida y sólo se le pudiera achacar el que es algo más larga de lo deseable. Demasiado metraje para lo que cuenta, pero la narración es clara y hace pasar el rato.
    Por ello, no está mal, logra su propósito facilón de no aburrir y se olvida de la misma.
    Grata presencia de un aquí joven George Kennedy, ya con fuerte personaje violento, y de característicos veteranos como William Demarest.
    Puede pasar.


  3. The two stallions, one black and one white, that fight towards the end of the movie is incredible footage. At least I don't remember seeing such a horse fight. It's not a terrible movie but I sure was surprised when one story was wrapped up and another story began.

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