Recently, Talking Pictures TV, a British channel that I get by satellite here in France, has shown the series Stagecoach West, produced by Dick Powell and Joel McCrea’s Four Star Television and screened on ABC between October 1960 and June ’61, for a total of 38 one-hour episodes. I have naturally been following it diligently. 38 hours well spent. It’s very good.
It was in many ways a classic TV Western of the time. Like many of the shows it featured a young boy, almost as the hero (Richard Eyer was billed second, even above his screen dad Robert Bray) and in several episodes the lad shows himself to be plucky and resourceful. This formula worked well (think of Laramie or The Rifleman with the Crawford brothers as other examples) because the juvenile audience – mostly male – could identify with the youthful hero while their moms could smile at how polite and respectful the boy was, probably unlike their own offspring, at least judging by yours truly, 12 or so at the time it screened. I never went round calling everyone sir or ma’am, and I most certainly did not defend my pa by firing shotguns at hired gunslingers. More’s the pity.
Photographed in Arizona in black & white, mostly by the fine cinematographer Wilfrid Cline, it featured some good location shooting and was no low-budget cheapie, though of course there were many scenes shot in the studio, and sometimes the alternation is jarring. In the story, the stage line run by the two friends Sime (Bray) and Luke (Wayne Rogers) goes, according to Wikipedia, from Missouri to California. But it looks more like Wyoming, and I think Wiki is wrong on this (who knew that Wikipedia could be wrong?) Several clues point to it being Wyoming, for example in Episode 17, when the circuit judge comes from Cheyenne. Sometimes they get down as far as southern Arizona (judging by the saguaros). Anyway, it’s in ‘the West’.
Many writers were used on the series but the lion’s share was done by DD Beauchamp the Great and Mary Beauchamp. I was always a Beauchamp fan. DD (died 1969) wrote episodes of pretty well every Western TV show you care to name but also a big number of feature Westerns too, such as Destry, Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend, The Man from the Alamo, Ride Clear of Diablo, Rails into Laramie, and many more. It’s a top-notch CV.
As for directors, four were used. George Blair and Harry Harris only did three episodes between them, though. The rest were shared between Don McDougall and Thomas Carr. These were pros. McDougall was a specialist TV director, doing especially episodes of Trackdown, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Bonanza and The Virginian, though to the best of my knowledge he never helmed a big-screen oater. Carr, on the other hand, had been an actor in silent Westerns (he had been a rail worker in The Iron Horse – but then who hadn’t?) and had started directing Sunset Carson second-feature Westerns in 1945 and later James Ellison ones. He moved into TV with Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok and he was one of Hopalong Cassidy’s favorite directors too, but all through the 1950s he kept his hand in with occasional big-screen Westerns too. About the closest to a big Western he came was directing The Tall Stranger with Joel McCrea in 1957. In the 60s he did a lot of Rawhide shows.
Bray and Rogers were hardly big-name stars at the time but they are solid enough in their roles. Brawny Bray had Western cred as he had been born in Montana to homesteading parents and had worked as a cowboy in his youth. According to his IMDb bio, in 1946 he was signed to a contract at RKO Pictures “where he was looked upon as the new Gary Cooper” though I reckon the Montana ranch background was about all they had in common. That and the fact that Bray’s character’s name in the series was Kane. He made appearances in Tim Holt B-Westerns and then landed a part in Lassie on TV. Rogers too was a rather minor figure. He co-produced and wrote the script for the cult sci-fi B-movie The Astro-Zombies, which you doubtless thrilled to, and in the 70s he would become Trapper John in MASH but Westernwise he too did mostly TV shows.
In fact the young Richard Eyer was a bigger star than either. He had been memorable as the kid attacked by the goose in Friendly Persuasion and his first TV appearance had been on The Roy Rogers Show. On the big screen he was in The Raid, Canyon River and Fort Dobbs, whenever a clean-cut all-American lad was needed. He retired at the ripe old age of 22.
Despite Eyer’s quite big role, the series was not aimed at children entirely. Some of it is quite gritty. The British TV channel even has it as a “PG” (parental guidance). There are murders and allusions to sex, though of course well within the bounds of mainstream evening TV limits of those days.
Recurring characters are the avuncular unincorporated town of Outpost’s owner, Mr Murchison, who runs the trading post. Murchison is played by our old pal John Litel. Then there’s Zeke Bonner, who runs the Halfway House waystation and he is played by James Burke. Litel did huge numbers of Westerns, from a Rin Tin Tin talkie in 1930 to Nevada Smith in ’66, and you probably remember him as the minister in The Sons of Katie Elder or one of the Beldons in The Hired Gun or the judge in Jack Slade or indeed many other parts. Craggy-faced Mr. Burke was a regular on B-Westerns though didn’t do as many as Litel.
Then there was Cal, the clerk in the stage line office in Timberline. In different episodes he will be shot, beaten up and otherwise abused, poor chap. He is played by Olan Soule, a leading radio actor who was the first to provide the voice of Batman in an animated feature. Fascinating fact, huh. And also in Timberline, stocky but steady Marshal Hugh Strickland (Robert Stevenson) makes periodic appearances. At one time or another Stevenson appeared in most of the TV Western shows.
Otherwise it was guest-stars, with some appearing in different episodes as different characters.
Life for stage drivers in the West was certainly eventful. Every week Luke or Sime and sometimes both have to face murderers, robbers, hold-ups, sieges and heaven knows what else.
Here’s an episode guide for you:
In Episode 1, High Lonesome, a kind of pilot (though the same length as the others) first aired on October 4, 1960, we first meet the principal characters. Simon Kane embezzled $2000 from his employer to enable him to search for the wife who has abandoned him, and is being pretty well held to ransom over it, working off his debt to his nasty employer Osgood (Robert F Simon). Kane gets into a fist-fight with Osgood (just as the two men’s sons had done) and Kane decides to leave, paying off Osgood with the money he has painstakingly saved. But Osgood wants revenge for the drubbing and hires feared gunman Les Hardeen (funny how names of characters ending in –een were almost invariably villains in Westerns) to pursue Kane and kill him. Hardeen is played by the excellent James Best, the first of many well-known Western character actors to appear as guest star on the show.
It’s quite a coincidence: at the first way station there is Kathleen, the former Mrs Kane, coming to find her husband. She is played by the headline guest star, Jane Greer, who had co-starred with Dick Powell in Station West in ’48 when Marlene Dietrich turned the part down, and she had been doing Zane Grey Theatre episodes with Powell in the late 50s. The good news: in High Lonesome she has a derringer. The bad news: she will not survive the encounter and Simon will now officially be a widower. Their son never discovers who the “nice lady” was.
Simon has spelled Luke at the reins during a storm, having experience of driving a six-up, and Luke takes him on as full-time driver. His friends call him Sime, says Simon. So we’ll call him Sime.
In Episode 2, The Land Beyond, the two partners set up in the remote town of Outpost. On their very first run another vicious hired gun appears, Cole Dawson (Coles are usually baddies too), played by the excellent John Anderson. He has been hired to track down a young couple of Easterners on the stage, who have eloped out West (Robert Harland and Gigi Perreau). Dawson is to kill the man and take the woman back East.
There’s a dramatic shoot-out in which young Davey Kane pluckily helps his dad out by getting the shotgun from the footwell of the stage and blasting Dawson with it. Great stuff. Neither Dawson nor the young bride will be returning East.
By Episode 3, Dark Return, the stage line is established in Outpost under the aegis of Mr Murchison. In this tale we meet a young sailor on his way back home, Frankie Niles (Billy Gray, who had been in The Outlaw Stallion) who takes shelter in a livery stable for the night and witnesses the murder of its owner Stan Culver (James Hyland) by the man’s own brother Jed Culver (John Kellogg, who was also in Station West). The assassin spots the youth and shoots at him but the boy manages to escape. Unluckily, though, the two meet up again later and Culver threatens the matelot. Culver blackmails the fellow into helping him rob Murchison’s store, which also acts as a bank. The worst thing, and this shows how despicable Culver is (fratricide not being enough) is that he clubs to death Davey’s little dog Hannibal. What a swine! Luckily, though, Hannibal later recovers and the stage line owners will deal with the malefactor.
Episode 4, The Unwanted, has, I fear, a very improbable plot (it’s a non-Beauchamp script). A highly objectionable, violent and stupid stage passenger, Kelly (Richard Crane) gets into a fight with driver Luke and ends by drawing a sneaky derringer on him. Luke is obliged to blast Kelly with his six-gun, and who can blame him? Not Mr Murchison, certainly, who exonerates him in an unofficial hearing, but Mrs Kelly (Bethel Leslie) certainly does hold Luke responsible, as does the other eye-witness on the stage, gambler Ben Marble (the very good Gerald Mohr, actor in many a trench-coat intrigue who became a regular on TV Western shows). Marble decides to ‘take over’ Mrs Kelly as his woman. The widow is so distressed at Luke, however, ranting, in fact, that she thrusts her toddler girl Sara (eight-year-old Tammy Marihugh) at him and hurriedly leaves on the stage. That’s why I said improbable.
The child also blames Luke for the demise of her daddy and is very sulky, and Davey now gets a kind of younger sister. Well, it will come right in the end, but not before we have had some pretty sickly-sentimental scenes of Sixties girlhood. Thank goodness she is reunited with her mama in the final moments. I think Davey was relieved too, though he is much too polite to say so.
Well, only four episodes in and already two derringers. Pretty good.
Episode 5, A Fork in the Road, is rather a good one. Sime and Davey are held hostage for several days when their stagecoach is hijacked, and so the episode is rather static, mostly done in the studio, but it’s well written and it has excellent guest stars. It opens with Jack Warden and his henchmen, disreputable ex-soldiers Jack Elam and Richard Devon among them, robbing a grave and removing a corpse. Good dramatic opening. This body is then shipped West, and Luke and Sim’s stage line is charged with carrying it as freight. Why? Ah, all will be revealed.
I always liked Jack Warden, though he did few Westerns, and those not very good ones (The White Buffalo, The Man who Loved Cat Dancing and Billy Two Hats). He was better on TV, and in fact appeared in various small-screen Western shows. As for Jack Elam, he was one my all-time favorite Western character actors and was never less than excellent, however small the part he had e.g. ‘Knife murderer, Uncredited’). Devon’s instantly recognizable lugubrious face was also often seen on TV Westerns, as well as the occasional feature one.
There’s a good bit where Davey claims to be the smartest kid in his grade, smartest boy anyway, but it turns out all the other pupils are girls.
The script actually has something interesting to say on heroism and heroes, and the value of myth over reality.
Episode 6, A Time to Run, also contains a hijack attempt on the stage (it seems it was a frequent danger). A disreputable type, Joe Brandy (Steven Marlo, regular heavy on Western TV shows) probably a bounty hunter, rides into town with a Mexican sidekick and four Apache Indians. We meet blonde bombshell Sadie (Barbara Nichols, The Queen of the B-movies, Birdie in The King and Four Queens) who meets dashing man in black Cesar Romero. The bounty hunter wants Cesar but the Mexican gets the drop on him with his .44 and escapes, though wounded by the bounty hunter’s sidekick, Nacho (Than Wyenn, also a regular on Western TV shows).
The stage arrives, driven by Luke (no sign of Sime in this episode) and we meet the passengers, vaguely Stagecoach-like: a whiskey drummer who likes to sample his own wares, Aeneas Longbridge (William Schallert), an Army major from back east (Richard Coogan) with his wife (Maxine Cooper) who hates the West – “Horace Greely can have it” – and of course Sadie, with her little dog (Anon.) The prim major’s wife doesn’t want to travel with the dog and Davey offers to take the mutt up on top. We learn the tragic news that Hannibal is no more. Davey’s dad said he ran away but Davey reckons he died. It might have been that clubbing John Anderson gave him in Episode 3. We sense that this lady’s canine will become the new Hannibal.
Cesar holds up the stage, wanting one of the horses, but Luke is brave and disarms him and then Cesar faints from loss of blood. He is bundled on board and will be handed over to the law at the next town.
At the stage stop we met Haddlebird (Guy Wilkerson, frequent old-timer in low-budget Westerns, doing a kind of Hank Worden act). He is an elderly boastful Texan chopping firewood (slowly) for manager Zeke. The stage arrives but so do the bounty hunters, and the episode becomes a siege. Luke digs the bullet out of the would-be horse thief. It turns out that this fellow is a colonel from the Maximilian army. The Juarez government has put a price on his head, and Brandy & Co want to collect it (so we must be sometime before the summer of ’72). Well, the passengers and stage halt personnel decide to defend the colonel. It’s all dramatic stuff (if studio bound). Romero spends much of the episode unconscious but still manages to be charming and have style.
Mexican politics will return as a theme. And yup, Davey gets the dog, Hannibal II.
In Episode 7, Red Sand, there’s no dog of any kind but it’s now Sime’s turn to perform frontier surgery (no sign of Luke in this episode). It starts in a sandstorm with yet another attempt on the stage’s team of six when two rough types, Tanner and Brady (Harold J Stone and Dean Jones), who turn out to be on the run from a posse after a bank robbery in Bristow, stop the stage by a stratagem and take the nags, and Sime and Davey, away with them. The party takes refuge from the storm in a cabin, whose owner, Martha Whitlock (Diana Millay, a few appearances in Western TV shows), they disarm. Tanner faints from loss of blood (a bit like Cesar last week) so Brady makes Luke take the slug out of his shoulder – or else.
There’s no food in the cabin, for the woman is very poor. So, leaving Tanner with the boy, Brady, Martha and Sime go to a local store for supplies and, oh joy, the scurrilous owner is Edgar Buchanan, another of my favorite Western character actors. Brady reveals a sympathetic side, recounting how he never went to sleep with a full stomach in his life and Tanner was the first to show him any respect, and also by buying a new bonnet for Martha. They get back to the cabin but the posse has taken it. There’s a daring escape and a heart-warming ending…
Dean Jones didn’t do many Westerns (though he provided the title song for Gunsight Ridge) but is actually rather good as the young man who wants to be decent but. Stone is excellent as the bad guy, as he often was. He did loads of Westerns, all small-screen ones except two – I remember him as the outlaw Capt. Lavalle in Showdown (the 1963 Audie one).
Episode 8, The Saga of Jeremy Boone, is very entertaining because it has a high DQ (derringer quotient). In the opening scene, a St Joe bank manager (Hugh Sanders) who has been taken in by conman Deuce Stone (Steve Brodie) uses a little pepperbox against him (but Deuce is quicker with his six-gun), and later on, the estranged Mrs Stone, conwoman Felicia Sparks (Marti Stevens) goes up against Deuce with a classic over-and under Remington. So that’s good.
Then Hannibal II is back, so that adds to the appeal. He’s on the stage with Davey, with Luke driving. No Sime in this one. Rogers and Bray seem to alternate appearances on the show, only occasionally appearing in tandem.
At the Halfway House Zeke recognizes Felicia (I think he must have had a ‘past’) and warns Luke about her. She is apparently “Lucretia Borgia and Cleopatria” combined. Davey is rather taken with her, though. He’s obviously growing up.
Now we meet boastful young Texan Jeremy Boone (a descendant of Dan’l) played by Ben Cooper, Turkey Ralston in Johnny Guitar. He is carrying $40,000 in a money belt and tells everyone about it. Doh.
Deuce turns up, like a bad penny, and the plan is to take the Texan for the forty grand. But Felicia develops qualms and the Texan, being a Texan, is a crack shot…
Episode 9, Life Sentence, was a Don McDougall-directed, Don Brinkley-written one about a Confederate deserter from Vicksburg who abandoned a comrade who lost his arm, and it has something interesting to say about courage and punishment.
Leo Calloway (veteran character heavy/mobster Bruce Gordon) holds up the stage (it’s becoming a habit) looking for a passenger, Toby Reese (Harry Townes, a Western TV show regular) – the man who abandoned him on the field of battle. But Reese is not inside, only Davey and Hannibal. Once in Timberline, though, Calloway finds Reese, and torments and goads him. He is in fact a bitter man and a bully. When shooting at Reese’s feet (the classic “Dance!” of Westerns) Calloway frightens the stage team and they run Davey down. The boy is carried away unconscious. Now Sime is angry.
Mrs Calloway (Virginia Grey, in Westerns since the 1930s) is much nicer than her husband and nurses Davey, as well as baking him an apple pie. But she loves her husband, who rescued her from a life of sin, and also loathes Reese.
Tough Timberline Marshal Strickland is a steady influence and does his best to keep the peace, but it looks like a showdown is coming. The worm finally turns and Reese straps on a gun to combat his tormentor…
Episode 10, The Storm, has Luke (no Sime, Davey or Hannibal in this one) with the cranky old Doc Apperson (J Pat O’Malley) traveling to Halfway House to treat Zeke, who is ill. But of course they are held up on the road (it often happened), this time by a glam but ruthless dame, Sherry Hilton (Beverly Garland). She takes the horses to aid her getaway with her lover, Shelby (Tom Drake), and, arriving at the Halfway House, she gets into a gunfight with the hired help Charlie and kills him (she’s a cold-blooded lady) but not before Charlie has shot and wounded Shelby.
Luke and Doc struggle on foot through the studio in a snowstorm. Doc can’t go any further and holes up in a cave with a fire while Luke goes on, and just makes it. But there is Ms. Ice-Cold who makes Luke doctor Shelby at gunpoint.
What will happen? Will Shelby pull through? And what about Zeke? Will Luke get the drop on the bank robberess? He has just been made a deputy after all, by Marshal Strickland in Timberline. It’s all very tense.
Well, quite tense.
Garland is good (she was a regular choice of Thomas Carr, director of this episode) and she was of course equally ruthless and good with a gun as Marshal Rose Hood in Gunslinger in ’56. Luke ends up feeling quite sympathetic towards her. I wouldn’t have.
Episode 11, Three Wise Men, is a Christmas-themed episode (screened on December 20, 1960) set at Zeke’s, and it features pretty well everyone except Hannibal (who’s looking after him, I’d like to know?)
A young man, Webb Crawford (Dick York) is given a free stagecoach ride by Sime – he and Luke were very good like that. At the Halfway House Crawford confesses that he is an escaped prisoner who, on learning he has less than a year to live, determined to spend Christmas with his wife and children. He promises to turn himself in on December 26. OK, Luke and Sime are both US marshals now but they’re decent guys. They’ll go along.
But three evil bounty hunters, posing as sworn lawmen, are determined to collect the reward for his capture before then. God news: one of the bad guys is Denver Pyle. Good old Denver. I don’t think he ever held his breath just as the best-actor Oscar was about to be announced but he is a familiar and friendly face in our Western shows. His fellow villains are another old pal, Harry Lauter, and Arthur Batanides.
Luke and Sime give Davey a pistol for Christmas. He seems a bit young to have a real six-gun but of course the show was watched by hordes of small boys who would give their eye teeth to own a silver plated revolver like that one so I bet the episode was a hit with much of the audience (probably less so than their parents). Later, Davey would get a rifle too.
Episode 12, By the Deep Six, is another rather improbable one, not written by the Beauchamps but by NB Stone (who, though, co-wrote with Sam Peckinpah Ride the High Country) and directed by Don McDougall. It opens with six besuited riders (city slickers, evidently) shooting Winchesters at two English sailors , killing one, then pouring coal oil over the remains and setting it alight. They seem pretty ruthless types.
The sailor who escapes, Liverpool Jack (they used a real Londoner, Ashley Cowan) hitches a stage ride from Sime (no Luke, Davey or Hannibal in this one) and they get to the Halfway House. The other passengers are the Walker family: Frank, wife Emily and daughter Annie (Ross Elliott, Catherine McLeod and Gina Gillespie). They are obviously on the run. And there is a fair colleen, with the rather corny name of Molly Moriarty (very posh actress Joan Elan, born Joan Bingham-Newland, English stage actress, whose fake ‘Irish’ accent does nothing to hide her cut-glass vowels).
The posse of killers track them to Zeke’s and their cold boss Martin (Western vet Mort Mills, Marshal Frank Tallman on Man Without a Gun) orders them to wait till dawn and then shoot to death everyone coming out. But he decides to explain why first, so, under a flag of truce, he tells the occupants of the house that they are sworn peace officers (he has a badge) from San Francisco. The ship the sailors recently left was carrying the bubonic plague. Here’s the improbable part: all the crew had been killed and the ship blown up and sunk, and now they were here to kill the last sailor, and, indeed, everyone else in the Halfway House because they might have become infected. Right.
Martin recruits a few no-goods in Timberline to help, including a certain Clyde Hardisty (Joseph Ruskin, one of those actors whose hatchet face consigned him to parts as heavy) the ex-con who is after the Walkers. Apparently Frank Walker’s testimony sent Hardisty to the pen.
Naturally, Zeke, Sime and the others aren’t too keen on being executed, and they resist. A siege ensues. Luckily, decent Doc Anderson (Thomas Browne Henry) arrives and tells Martin that the incubation period is nearly up. If the sailor is still well tomorrow, the besieged people are in the clear.
But the little girl falls sick overnight. Oh no! Yet fear not. The gallant doc goes in, examines the child and declares it a case of measles. Phew. So the posse ride off happily. But Hardisty remains, and…
Yet nay, I shall not reveal the ending (though you may guess).
Not the most believable of episodes but oh well.
At the end, the fair Molly says she will take up residence in Outpost and makes eyes at Sime, who is not displeased. Is romance in the air? Will she re-appear in future episodes? I can’t wait.
I said that the show wasn’t really for younger people, despite featuring a small boy and dogs. Well, Episode 13, Object: Patrimony, the first of 1961, was probably the most violent and was also quite tense. It guest-stars Robert Vaughn as an ex-Confederate Captain Beau Buell, a gentleman turned renegade and now known as Shenandoah. He has three very undesirable accomplices: Warren Oates plays the low-life Billy Joe, Than Wyenn is the murderous half-breed Mexican Indian Pasaquindice and Dennis Patrick plays the highly-educated, frock-coated Teacher. A pretty classic line-up of outlaw henchmen. They are all determined to waylay the stage and take $20,000 from a derby-hatted passenger, Duncan (Dave Willock).
But Duncan is dispossessed of his ride at Timberline and isn’t aboard. The whole coach has been commandeered by the very arrogant and unpleasant daughter of a rich rancher, Susan McLord (a rather heavy-handed surname) played by Pippa Scott, and her weasel-like fortune hunter fiancé Chambers (George N Neise). The couple are eloping.
On arrival at a way-station (not Zeke’s this time) they murder the owner, Tinker (Wally Brown), who is using the horse trough as a bath tub. They might have spared him because he was singing Shenandoah but nay. Perhaps they thought he was singing it badly. Actually, he wasn’t singing it at all; he was very obviously dubbed.
Duncan not being there, they decide instead to hold the rich young woman to ransom. The slimy Chambers, who has stupidly blurted out who is fiancée is, volunteers to carry the ransom note to her father. This reminded me a lot of The Tall T. In that movie too a charismatic bad man (Richard Boone as Frank), with ne’er-do-well henchmen (Henry Silva’s Chink and Skip Homeier’s Billy Jack being quite like the Mex and Billy Joe in this episode), hold a woman to ransom, and her no-good husband deserts her, ostensibly to carry the ransom demand. In The Tall T Frank finds the husband so contemptuous that he has Chink shoot him after he uses him to make the money arrangements with her dad, just when Willard thinks he’s being allowed to get away free with his wife still a hostage. The same happens here.
As you may guess, the arrogant woman softens under the combination of adversity, Luke’s charms and his Western grit. In the end they even kiss. At the end of the last episode Sime was getting a bit lovey-dovey, with that fair colleen; is the same happening to Luke now? But he turns down a job as foreman her grateful daddy offers him, so I reckon not. I think he’ll be back drivin’ the stage next week.
Episode 14, Come Home Again, is a Sime/Davey one; no Luke this time. And it’s a very female one too.
The father and son find a lady, Deborah Cotton (Lisa Kirk, in her only Western, poor soul) and her daughter Abigail (Reba Waters) standing on the bank of river, and agree to give them a ride into Outpost, as is their wont. The two women are fleeing a private detective out of Cheyenne, Murdock, who has been hired to arrest Deborah for kidnapping her own daughter. Good news: this tec is James Coburn, then in his early thirties. He’d already appeared in thirty or more TV Western shows but more importantly he had been memorable in Ride Lonesome, the great Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott oater of ’59, and of course he was now famous because three months before this Stagecoach West episode he had been knifeman Britt in The Magnificent Seven, so he was a big name as guest star.
Sime is reluctant to help Mrs Cotton as she is a fugitive from justice (and he is a deputy US marshal after all). Davey, though, has been taught that a gentleman always helps a lady in distress, and she claims to be a fugitive from injustice, so he has other ideas. Furthermore, Abigail isn’t much older than he is and is rather attractive, so he goes all sheepish when around her.
There are also a whole bunch of showgirls led by Angie (Joyce Jameson) and they are a lot of fun. Mr. Murchison has invited them (not the first time). They will come in handy when Sime wants to best the bad guys in a saloon, dancing with the thugs and then, on Sim’s signal, bashing them over the head with whiskey bottles.
This one was written by Roy Chanslor, who worked on Cat Ballou, Johnny Guitar and The Daltons Ride Again.
It’s rather good!
Episode 15, The Brass Lily, was unaccountably missed by the Talking Pictures channel and is not available on YouTube, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about this one. It guest starred Robert J Wilke, so I’m sorry I missed that one. The IMDb summary says: “A famous singer arrives in Outpost to deliver a concert and is welcomed by the entertainment-starved community. When a stray bullet seriously wounds the chanteuse, the townspeople discover the goddess they idolized is really a foul-tempered and selfish shrew. After her business manager abandons her, only Vernon, a patient deaf-mute, is willing to tend to her many needs, but the singer scorns his pity.” Mmm. Sounds a gripper.
Episode 16, Finn McCool, guest-starred Sean McClory, a real Irishman for once (so many ‘Irish’ characters had fake accents) who was a regular on Western TV shows, especially The Californians. In this episode of Stagecoach West he is a high exponent of the blarney, Finn McCool, descendant (so he claims) of the hunter-warrior of Irish myth. In the opening scene he is beguiling a smiling audience in Timberline with his songs and admiring the (rather daring) legs of a saloon gal when four rough types in suits burst in and take him outside at gunpoint. There, Finn makes short work of two with his fists and shoots a third, before making his getaway.
McCool turns up at the Halfway House and manages to gentle one of Zeke’s ‘unbreakable’ horses – he’s something of a horse whisperer. Davey is taken in by the blarney but when the stage rolls in his dad is more skeptical. On board are the British Ambassador, Mr. Allison, from San Francisco, and his glam wife Sybil. These characters are also played by genuine nationals (Stagecoach West was good like that), John Sutton and Hazel Court. Of course McCool charms Mrs. Allison with his winning ways. Sime does not approve and warns McCool. When his puritan strictures go unheeded he feels the necessity to knock McCool down. This provokes a bout of fisticuffs in which McCool’s elegant pugilism is pitted against Sime’s saloon brawling skills, with His Excellency as the referee, and the result is a draw.
The Irish thugs (Barry Kelley, Dan Sheridan and Denny Miller) have followed, though, and now intrude. They announce that they are members of the Irish National Brotherhood, come to execute McCool for the treason he has committed. They say they will shoot him at dawn (why is it always dawn?) During the night Mrs. Allison slips him a knife and he does for one of the Irishmen, then escapes, taking the unfortunate Mrs. A with him as hostage, and knocking Davey down on the way out. Davey already had a broken arm in a sling (that bronc) and now he gets a head bandage too. So Sime, the ambassador and the Irishmen are all cross and now have reason to go after him. There’s a grand shoot-out in the rocks.
Episode 17, Image of a Man, a Luke-only episode, has a star-studded cast. It features Thomas Mitchell as a broken-down judge who finds redemption, but also has John Dehner superb as a besuited crooked town boss, and DeForest Kelley as his nasty homicidal younger brother. An excellent line-up, though we do get a bit tired of Mitchell doing his recovering alcoholic act. Stagecoach, Buffalo Bill, Destry, it sometimes seemed as though that was all he could do. Still, he’s very good in Image of a Man, I must say.
The episode is quite thoughtful, with a philosophical hired gunman, Cord (John Milford) discoursing (prophetically) on the power of a crowd and Luke waxing philosophical on a biblical passage with the judge, too.
We are in the town of Riverton, 1871. The townsfolk pull down a statue of Justice as a (rather obvious) symbol that the place has become corrupted and is in thrall to town boss Henchard (Dehner).
Luke will finally spur the pusillanimous townsfolk to do the decent thing, but not before the redeemed judge has been cold-bloodedly murdered by Cord on the orders of Henchard.
Episode 18, Not in Our Stars, is star-studded. We get Jay C Flippen, particularly good, I thought, as the loathsome, religious Aaron Sutter, who feels he has “the right” to “exterminate” a former bond servant, Ben Wait (Lon Chaney Jr) because he tried and failed to doctor Sutter’s daughter, who died. Aaron has three sons (Hampton Fancher, Skip Ward, Paul Carr), also dressed in black, one of whom seems half-decent but the other two are as foully homicidal as their poppa. In Timberline, they strong-arm Luke, who doesn’t care for it at all.
On the stage, driven by Sime, there’s a senator (J Edward McKinley), his wife (Stanja Lowe) and their pretty young daughter Lucy, more or less Davey’s age (so teen romance blooms again) and a disreputable and drunk doctor (our old friend Whit Bissell). Drunk docs, who may (or may not) be redeemed through some medical act of mercy are of course a stand-by in Western plots.
At the Halfway House, Waits turns up, having ‘borrowed’ a horse in Timberline. He has a copy of Gray’s Anatomy and is something of an amateur doc, and indeed he will turn out to be more medically proficient than the qualified quack. You see, Davey takes Lucy out to impress her with talk of wild Indians but she is bitten by a rattler. Doc Bissell is too inebriated to do a good job and Ben it is who will save her.
But Sutter and his sons turn up and yup, it’s another siege. Aaron wants to horsewhip then hang Ben. There’s a good ending.
Episode 19, The Arsonist, is very dramatic. It starts with bookkeeper Jethro Burke (James Dunn) being given a $5000 retirement bonus by his friendly employer (Ralph Moody, for once not an Indian), the owner of a paint factory going bankrupt, and Burke carefully leaving a candle to burn down and set the place alight, presumably for the insurance. But Burke’s younger wife Sally (Adele Mara) is in league with the lowdown Jack Craig (our old pal James Best, always good, especially as baddy, back from Ep. 1). They believe there is a lot of money in the factory safe, and Craig kills the old owner and sets the place alight before that candle burns down. Such skullduggery.
All three take the stagecoach. Craig, disappointed with not finding big money in that safe, wants Burke’s five-grand bonus as a consolation prize, and Burke’s faithless wife will aid ‘n’ abet.
Mr Burke is very scientific, and, to prove to himself that he didn’t burn the factory down and kill his friend, the owner, he very stupidly lights a candle in the timberland and then forgets to extinguish it, causing a forest fire in the studio (intercut with generic forest-fire footage – it’s all quite well done, though, considering 1960 special effects). Craig shoots Luke in the shoulder, the rat, but he and Sime and Davey and Hannibal manage to get the passengers (except Craig) to safety.
Stage drivers in them days certainly had to face perils of every kind.
We are told in passing that Zeke has left the Halfway House. Has he been written out of the series? I hope not. If so, it was a bit casual.
Episode 20, Songs My Mother Told Me, guest-stars Arthur O’Connell (Tom Wyatt in Cimarron and Sam Beasley in Man of the West) as Matt Dexter, a sympathetic Irish vagabond who panhandles for dimes playing his mouth organ and who, unfortunately, witnesses a cold-blooded murder. He skedaddles because he saw the killer and the killer saw that he saw. Of course the bad guys want to kill him so that he can’t testify; without him they can claim it was self-defense. They follow Matt to Outpost.
The bad guys are Richard Devon (from Ep. 4, and he will return) and Harry Lauter, so that’s good. That gaunt face of Devon’s made him an excellent baddy. Harry could do goody or baddy, at will.
Matt comes across Davey, and they bond, as fellow harmonica players. They duet on I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen. In a Great Expectations-type moment, Davey sneaks food from home to feed the fugitive, though Matt is an amiable Magwitch. Sime can’t understand where all that food is going. The baddies threaten to shoot Hannibal, so you don’t get more lowdown than that. There’s a final shoot-out down by the river, and you may guess who are the shooters and who the shootees.
Episode 21, The Root of Evil, guest-stars Philip Carey, so that’s good. I like Phil, especially as the charismatic bad guy. You will know of course 1 Timothy 6:10 so will understand that although ex-Army officer Major Ralph Barnes claims to have secret military orders about his person, he is almost certainly coveting after $$$, and we know that such people have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
He is on his honeymoon, though seems less than amorous towards his wife Cecilia (Rachel Ames). He claims that a gang of thieves are after him, and in Timberline he shoots one of the men following him dead with a pocket pistol (sadly not a derringer) through his coat pocket. Barnes and his wife take the stage (Sime driving) to Outpost.
On the way Sime picks up a walking trapper/prospector, and it’s John Dehner. Only three or four episodes ago he was the crooked town boss, brother of gunman DeForest Kelly, so you would think Sime would have recognized him but probably Dehner’s Scottish accent fooled him. I don’t think it would have fooled many Scotsmen, though, for it sounds like he was brought up somewhere between Edinburgh and Warsaw.
At the Halfway House Zeke’s back, and his cooking is as bad as ever. I was afraid he had been written out. There, Sime and his passengers are joined first by another ex-Army man, Capt. Jackson Lee (burly tough guy Don Haggerty) and then by Luke, who has brought the glam Stella Smith out in the buckboard. Stella sweet-talked him into it. She says she wants to meet her fiancé. It turns out that’s Capt. Lee, though accomplice might be a better word than fiancé.
Talking of the fair sex, those earlier hints of forthcoming romantic entanglement, for both Luke and Sime, never did come to anything, did they? It remains a particularly male household, with Luke, Sime and Davey (though Davey and Hannibal do not appear in this one). That was the case with Laramie too, at least in the first season, and I suppose Bonanza also. Women come and go, peripherally, and occasionally dally with one or other of the men but it never comes to anything.
Good news: Stella has a derringer, though it does her no good against the major‘s pocket pistol.
Well, there’s a dramatic dénouement, as you will expect. Both Sime and Luke get knocked out cold, but recover to best the bad guy. The “traveling Scotchman”, as Capt. Lee calls him, drops that phony accent and turns out to be a colonel from the War Dept.
Episode 22, The Outcasts, starts in Dodge City with a young deputy, Ken Rawlins (Don Dubbins, a Cagney protégé who co-starred with Jimmy on Tribute to a Bad Man) shooting a bank robber and then finding out he has gunned down his own brother. Rawlins gives up his badge and gun and ends up being hired by Zeke at the Halfway House, where he makes friends with Davey. Ken wants nothing more to do with guns or killing. But of course his past will find him out, you know how it does.
There’s a mail-order bride from back East (Hollis Irving) but she is told that her intended has died in an accident. Luckily for her, though, the widowed Timberline gunsmith, Hal (Lyle Talbot), takes a shine to her and it will be wedding bells alright.
Also featured are the bitter and disappointed Ruby (Joanna Barnes) with her ne’er-do-well fancy man Mack (Stacy Harris). I was hoping Mack would have a derringer but it’s only a gambler’s pocket pistol.
There will be gunplay.
Episode 23 is named The Remounts and it concerns two happy-go-lucky horse herders, Clete (James Beck, a regular on Western TV shows who however only appeared in one feature, 40 Guns to Apache Pass) and Hutch (Don Burnett, small parts in Raintree County and The Fastest Gun Alive but he didn’t really do Westerns) who have rounded up some mustangs to sell to the army. They hire on two ne’er-do-wells who try to take over the herd and sell it themselves. Good news: these lowlifes are Mort Mills as Griz and James Griffith as Cowboy.
The slimeballs are in league with a gang and this gang is bossed by Richard Devon. Now Devon had already appeared in two episodes of Stagecoach West, Ep. 5 as a disreputable ex-soldier and Ep. 20 when with Harry Lauter he was trying to kill a witness to a murder, so you’d think someone would recognize him by now, but nope. He was always good as a baddy, I thought. It was that hatchet face.
This gang brutally and callously slay some 7th Cavalry soldiers who have brought the money to buy those remounts. Then they don the uniforms of the deceased. Not content with getting the $$$, they now want to sell the nags to the Army and get even more loot!
When the stage turns up, Luke, Sime, Davey and Hannibal (so it’s a full house) are taken prisoner. Griz and Cowboy keep Davey (and Hannibal) as hostages while Luke is forced to don the Union blue (he was a Reb, remember) and Sime is taken along too, to drive the horses.
Poor Clete and Hutch get taken by the gang, just as Luke and Sime did. But cleverly, the two pairs of friends join forces and manage to do in the bad guys. Now they go back for Davey. And Hannibal, of course. Exciting stuff.
Episode 24, House of Violence, guest-stars Jack Lord, who, well before he was Five-0, did quite a lot of Westerns. He even led in two. He plays the wicked robber and killer Russ Doty, who robs the stage line safe of the payroll it was going to carry and shoots Cal doing it, the swine. Luckily Cal is only winged (he’ll be back next week) but still. Then Doty and his two accomplices (our old pals George Keymas and Charles Horvath) gallop off and take over a way station – not Zeke’s but the next one down the line.
There the three renegades take over the stage passengers and crew and hold them hostage – it’s becoming quite a regular occurrence. On board there’s a sick Senator (Grandon Rhodes) and his loving daughter (Marion Ross), and a cowardly drummer (Peter Leeds) who sells fake pearls. Luke, Sime and Davey (but not Hannibal) are all there too. Davey has toothache.
Luke is sent back to Timberline “for supplies” but warned that if he tells anyone there, the hostages will be killed. But once there, steady Marshal Strickland convinces him that Doty will kill everyone anyway, so it’s better to go back with a large posse, which they duly do. A gripping climax ensues.
There’s a good bit with the simple-minded Spinner (Horvath) and his spurs.
Episode 25, The Butcher, has John Dehner back yet again, this time not as a crooked town boss (Ep. 17) or a Scottish prospector (Ep. 21) but as an Army colonel suffering from what we today would call PTSD. In World War I it was called shell-shock. After the Civil War it was just called going crazy. It’s a credit to these actors who made several guest appearances that you believe them each time. Jack Lord’s back too – he did Episodes 24 and 25 on the trot. This time he’s Johnny Dane, a charismatic outlaw in chains being escorted on the stage by a sheriff, and, oh joy, the lawman is none other than Frank Ferguson! Tragically, though, Sheriff Doolin (FF) is shot to death by Mexican bandidos quite early on. Curses. I first understood that Doolin’s prisoner was Johnny Dean, and I thought it could be Waco Johnny Dean, before he perished in Winchester ’73, but it turned out to be Johnny Dane. Pity.
The stage seems to be “rollin’ along”, as the title song has it, through southern Arizona now because there is the odd saguaro dotted about. Wyoming? Arizona? Missouri? Who knows where we are? Never mind, it’s “the West”.
The bandidos are after Col. Dehner, for he has been ruling California with an iron fist, and is on the stagecoach because he has been recalled to Washington to answer for hanging too many recalcitrant Spanish-speakers. The Mexes call him El Carnicero, and they want to take him off that stage and do him in. Sime can’t allow that, of course, even if the colonel is a bit of a swine.
Also on the stage are glam Linda Barton (Dodie Heath) and Shakespearean actor Abraham Fontaine (Christopher Dark). And Davey. But no Hannibal, unfortunately.
Well the bandidos, captained by the ruthless Domingo (Rodolfo Hoyos Jr.) block the road, stop the stage and drive Sime and the passengers into the maquis. The party decides to walk to the nearest way station, and it’s a grueling trek, though Davey very politely helps Miss Barton over rocks and such. They are harried by the Mexicans at every turn. The colonel has to dig a bullet out of Sime’s shoulder. But the colonel finally loses it completely and there is a dramatic ending involving Johnny Dane shooting it out with Domingo & Co. Dramatic stuff alright.
In Episode 26, Fort Wyatt Crossing, we are still in saguaro country (it looks like it was filmed round Old Tucson) and Luke is taking passengers to Albuquerque. At one point he says Timberline is “way to the north”. I’m going for Wyoming.
There’s a good opening scene of a wounded soldier on a pay wagon who is afraid of some Indians (Apaches maybe?). His wagon crashes and he passes out but the Indians ignore both him and the gold he was carrying. The stage then happens along and Luke stops (only Luke in this one) to help the fallen man, cauterizing the wound with a hot knife (prairie surgery was quite a common thing on this show).
On the stage is a Mexican woman, Maria (Madlyn Rhue) and another whiskey drummer, JJ Brester (Alvy Moore). They all get the wounded soldier, Tibbs (Steve Terrell) and the gold on the coach and set off through Injun country for (fictional) Fort Wyatt to deliver soldier and gold safely back to the Army.
But they are caught up by a small patrol of a captain (Lawrence Dobkin, appearances in every TV Western you care to name plus feature Johnny Yuma) and two troopers (Mike Ragan and, oh good, Warren Oates). We can smell a mile off that they are crooks and sure enough, they take the passengers and Luke at gunpoint. The wounded trooper Tibbs turns out to be the son of the ‘captain’. Of course they want that gold, $190,000 worth.
The dangerous foe weren’t Apaches, they were Digger Indians, outcasts from various tribes, and though they have no guns or horses, they are far from friendly, especially when the ‘captain’ shoots some of them. He shot salesman Brester, too, in cold blood. He really is a bad egg. So it’s all set up for a gripping climax to the episode, which by now we are coming to expect, it being rather a good show.
The last scene is Luke amorously entwined with Maria. Will this be love? Not on past reckoning. He and Sime dally with the dames but they never seem to get into a serious relationship.
Episode 27, A Place of Still Waters, guest-stars Darren McGavin. I always thought he was good in Westerns, big screen and small. I remember him especially in the Audie Murphy oater Bullet for a Badman and in a Cimarron Strip episode with a similar plot, The Legend of Jud Starr. In Stagecoach West he is outlaw and bank robber Red Pierce and the opening scene is the classic one of a punk with a gun challenging him. “They tell me you’re fast.” You know how they do. Of course the lout ends up deceased. Red turns up at Outpost, looking for the Reverend Jim Hallett (Edward Binns) and meets Davey and Hannibal there; the preacher is away visiting the sick. Davey is mightily impressed by the gunman. “They say you’re even faster than Wyatt Earp!” It turns out that the preacher and Red are old friends and, badman or not, the reverend wants to help his old pal. They were prisoners in Andersonville together and Red helped the preacher survive. Now it’s payback time.
Lane Chandler is (briefly) the sheriff.
The townsmen, though, want to hunt the outlaw down. Sime disapproves: he thinks they are only out for the bounty. They are – two men in particular, Sam and Matt. Sam is played by Burt Douglas and Matt by our old pal stuntman Chuck Roberson, miscredited as ‘Robertson’. It all leads to a hostage-taking situation in the saloon in which Sam and Matt will be the hostages…
This one was directed by Harry Harris, the only episode he did (he was usually busy with Rory Calhoun on The Texan) and was written by Frederick J Lipp, who also wrote Episode 17.
Episode 28, Never Walk Alone, was directed by George Blair (the Casey Jones chap) and written by the Beauchamps. It concerns charming-rogue Cole Elridge, played by William Campbell, who did quite a few Westerns, often with a similar part. I remember him in, for example, The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, Money, Women and Guns and Backlash. It’s a Luke-only story. He goes up to Lander in response to a letter from Cole. They were old wartime buddies and Luke wants to help. There he meets Cole’s gal Ruby (Karen Sharpe) and they join forces to assist Cole. You see he has been framed by two crooks, Fargo and Hyatt (Alan Wells ad Lee Van Cleef) and unjustly accused of a train robbery they carried out, Fargo murdering the railroad clerk in cold blood in the process.
Luke signs in at the Lander hotel “Luke Perry, Outpost, Wyoming”, so that confirms it.
He and Ruby meet Cole at Deep Well, WY, a kind of Hole-in-the-wall place favored by outlaws, where saloon ‘gal’ Siwash Annie (Claire Carleton) sings Beautiful Dreamer. Well, she doesn’t, it’s dubbed, but you know. Cole and Luke ride off together, pursued by Lee (Fargo gas been shot) with some henchmen. The bad guys get the drop on Cole and Luke – but Ruby rides to the rescue…
Luke offers Cole a job, planning a north-south stage route. We’ll see if that pans out but he doesn’t seem a very steady fellow. I’m not sure he’ll stick at it.
Episode 29, The Big Gun, stars Cesar Romero, back from Episode 6, now as Francisco, a Mexican colonel fighting for Juarez who comes to the US to capture a Gatling gun which Luke is transporting on the stage to Fort Benson. Montana seems rather far to go from Mexico but whatever. Being Cesar he is dashing and handsome, etc. and rather sympathetic, as Juarista colonels go. He has with him, however, a very nasty piece of work, ex-soldier DeForest Kelley, bitter and twisted at having been passed over for promotion all his military career and not understanding that his being a psychopathic killer might have had something to do with that. There are also three thugs in the gang (Jonathan Bolt, Bing Russell and Hal Baylor) as well as two Mexican girls, the feisty Chiquita (our pal Barbara Luna) and Rosa (Gale Garnett). These malefactors duly hijack the stage (Luke and Sime must be getting used to this by now) and propose that Luke drives it to Mexico. I’m not sure that plausibility is this episode’s strong suit.
Nor is chronology. We know the series is set at least ten years after the Civil War, late-1870s, but Maximilian was deposed and killed in 1867, so why is Col. Cesar trying to defeat him now? Oh well.
Luke is very resourceful, sabotaging the kingpin so that the stage can’t go to Mexico, and there is a guns-a-blazin’ finale (well, they had to get that Gatling working or it would have been a bit of an anti-climax).
Episode 30, The Dead Don’t Cry, was also unaccountably missed out by the Talking Pictures TV channel but I caught it on YouTube. Luke (it’s a Luke-only episode) goes down to Tucson, AZT to buy a new stagecoach. He finds that his brother Sam Perry (Todd Lasswell) is on the run for robbery and murder, though in fact he is proved to be innocent – the dumb marshal (King Calder) jumped to conclusions. But now evil bounty hunter Pardee (James Best again) is tracking Sam down, for the $2500 reward.
Luke finds Pardee but the bounty hunter won’t believe even a letter from the marshal declaring Sam’s innocence. He is too greedy for that reward. Luke overpowers him and together they ride to the town of Vega to get proof of Sam’s innocence. On the way, though, Apaches attack…
The pair eventually get to Vega but there the sheriff (our old pal Harry Lauter again) is corrupt, and a friend of Pardee’s. He agrees to lock Luke up. It will require a daring escape and breakneck ride to catch up with the bounty hunter and save his brother…
Mary Tyler Moore appears briefly when Luke interrupts his quest to do more prairie surgery. He never tells anyone that he is a deputy US marshal. I wonder why not?
Episode 31, The Raider, is a very Tom Hornish story. It opens with Henry Silva brutally slaying a homesteader (William Phipps) and taking a calf. The sodbuster’s partner Gil Soames (Jimmy Lydon) buries the deceased and sets off in a new store-bought suit to Zeke’s Halfway House where he has agreed to meet a mail-order bride, Miss Emily Prince (Jan Shepherd) from back East. This happened in Episode 22, too, didn’t it?
Silva arrives there before Soames or the stage, and Zeke doesn’t cotton to him at all. He’s seen him before somewhere (Zeke’s been about a bit) but can’t recall where. Turns out Silva was a top scout, “the best scout outside o’ Al Sieber” but has now come north to Wyoming as a “stock detective”, i.e. a gun hired by the big cattlemen to kill homesteaders. He does this at long range, with a rifle. See? It’s a very Tom Horn-like situation, even if Silva’s character is ‘Mel Harney’. That sodbuster in the opening scene, the one Silva killed in a studio, wrote the word HARNEY in the dust of the studio floor before expiring.
The stage turns up (late as usual), with Sime driving and Davey (but no Hannibal or Luke) and with Miss Prince aboard. Gil Soames is coming next day with a buckboard. But Harney is there to kill Soames. That calf he took he has brought with him. He will plant it on Soames’s body as (false) proof that Soames was a rustler.
Only a couple of weeks ago we were in 1867, when the Emperor Maximilian was deposed. Now we’re in the 1890s Johnson County War territory. It’s rather odd chronology. Never mind.
There’s a gripping climax/shoot-out (we’ve come to expect that) and this time Davey convinces his pa to let him ride along, and very useful he is too, with a Winchester. I reckon Richard Eyer told the producers he was fed up with being a small kid and why couldn’t he tote a gun and help his dad every now and then? If so, well done.
Episode 32 had the title Blind Man’s Bluff. Now, a question, dear Western-lover. How many blind gunfighters can you think of? Well, there was Minnesota Clay in 1965. There was Patrick Wayne in An Eye for an Eye the year after that. But first there was James Drury in this episode of Stagecoach West. There may have been others but I can’t think of any right now. It’s an odd idea, isn’t it, but evidently quite popular. Drury is the unseeing Stace, following his singer ex (Ruta Lee) who has run off with a piano player (Whit Bissell again, this time with a phony Irish accent – or was it supposed to be Scottish?) Naturally the musical couple roll up in Outpost, and there too Stace arrives, with his dog, to wreak vengeance.
Davey takes a shine to the blind man (though Hannibal doesn’t to his mutt). The lad has been seen reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays on the stage though really he had a dime-novel inside. But Davey’s dad warns him against the blind man; he’s clearly a dangerous killer. In fact, though, in the last few scenes, it will not be the unseeing gunman who endangers Davey but… yet, nay, I shall not reveal.
There’s a running gag about two arm-wrestlers (Robert Anderson and Charles Horvath again) and the British-Chinese waiter in the saloon, Sing (Lloyd Kino) which gives a bit of comic relief. There’s an incompetent detective (Dabbs Greer) who isn’t, and an incompetent hotel clerk (Dave Willock) who is. So this episode goes for quite a light-hearted vibe. Apart from the lethal blind man. And there’s rather a sad ending too, though not for Luke, who is left holding a bundle of cash.
Episode 33, The Bold Whip, is quite ‘old-fashioned’ in a way. It’s the classic bad-guy-selling-guns-to-the-Indians plot. The villain in question is a man in a suit calling himself Stokes but Luke reckons he’s seen him before. He finally remembers: this man is Rupe Larned and he killed a stage-driving pal of Luke’s back in Kansas. He is played by John Kellogg, a regular heavy on Western TV shows, back from Episode 3.
This episode has everyone in. Cal, Zeke, Luke, Sime and Davey. No Hannibal, though. We haven’t seen him for some time. I hope he’s OK.
They are pioneering a new stage route, from Outpost to (fictional) Fort Tremaine, via the Halfway House. They have a hefty Army payroll on board for the fort. And crooked Larned is a passenger… Also aboard is an Army wife, Mrs. Marston (Carolyn Kearney) going to the fort to join her Lt. hubby. And they also have important cargo: a new rifle for Davey. What with the pistol they gave him in Ep. 11 the boy is armed to the teeth.
On the way they meet a young Sioux lad, Little Fox (Eugene Martin) who tells them that renegade Cheyennes are on the warpath, and indeed, the Cheyennes do attack, in that old-fashioned Western way in which they gallop endlessly past the door and windows of the building the whites are holed up in, allowing the occupants to take pot-shots at the Indians, who fall off their horses. The thing is, these Cheyennes have late-model Winchesters. Where did they get them?
From Larned, of course, and as you know, in Westerns selling guns to the Indians is a crime far worse than selling your mother into slavery.
Well, Luke and Sime are crack shots. I was disappointed that Davey didn’t get to use his new rifle alongside them. The defenders run dangerously low on bullets. There’s a dark moment when Sime gives Mrs. Marston a revolver, saying, “There are two bullets in it. You know what to do” and Davey and she look a bit queasy. But to complete the old-fashionedness, the US Cavalry arrives at the last minute. This whole plot has been done a million times. It still works, though.
Episode 34, The Orphans, is a sheep story. Raoul De Leon plays Manolo, a Basque sheep herder happily driving his flock up to high country open-graze accompanied only by his sheepdog. The sheepman is brutally and callously murdered by Hogan (John Milford), a gunman hired by big cattleman Kincaid (never seen). The shepherd’s poor dog pines over the corpse. The next day, Manolo’s two teenage children arrive at Timberline on the stage. They are Jaime and Angela. Davey immediately goes all moon-eyed again over Angela (Linda Dangcil, 19) but with some bizarre casting Robert Cabal was chosen as Jaime, and Cabal was in his mid-40s and looked it, so that when Luke and Sime refer to “the kid” it is definitely weird.
Anyway, the partners decide to help out and become sheep herders. Davey has to drive the stage back to Zeke’s with Angela, and a very good job he does of it too. There’s actually quite a clever moment when the usual stirring ‘rolling along’ stagecoach music becomes rather halting as Davey is driving. But Hogan and his two henchmen (Joseph V Perry and Alan Wells) pursue the sheep and their minders, and attack. Little do they know that both Luke and Sime were top-class soldiers in the recent Unpleasantness and so the bad guys are completely outclassed by superior tactics. Hogan is captured and tied up while the other two manage to – yet nay, my lips are sealed.
Zeke is left with the sheep.
I thought this episode was rather good.
Episode 35 (getting near the end now), The Guardian Angels, has the bad-man-redeemed plot. On the stage this time, with Luke and Davey, are three bad men: a con-man/preacher who makes money from the gullible faithful, a card-sharp gambler run out of town and a snobbish dude from the East who thinks himself superior to everyone. These are played by Malcolm Atterbury, Steve Brodie (back from Ep. 8) and Max Showalter, respectively. Riding shotgun for Luke is also the former and disgraced marshal of Timberline, a coward and a drunk (Walter Kinsella).
They get to Halfway House but Zeke isn’t there. He has put his back out and the place is being temporarily managed by a certain Jason (Robert Foulk), who is disagreeable and lazy. Really, Luke and Davey are the only good guys around.
There is a band of robbers and killers, renegade Indians led by ‘Captain’ Avery (our old pal Harry Lauter, back from Episode 11). They know Luke has a large amount of cash aboard, and they want it. There is another siege. Curiously, for such a main threat, Avery hardly appears in the show; it’s the ‘bad’ men inside on whom we focus. They turn out to be better than first thought. So brave are they, in fact, that… but I cannot give the game away. After all, you may watch it.
Episode 36, The Swindler, the antepenultimate, features Dennis Patrick, the frock-coated teacher from Episode 13, as Collier, a charming-rogue conman who falls into the hands of a whole gang of conpersons (Jean Willes, Adam Williams, Chris Alcaide and regular on this show Charles Horvath). They decide to take the whole of Outpost to the cleaners with a scam about a (fake) goldmine, and the gullible townspeople (except Sime and Luke) are eager for profit. The script has something to say about credulity and how greed can overcome common sense.
The thing is, Sime, Luke and Davey (still no sign of Hannibal; I’m getting quite worried now) can’t help liking Collier, even while at the same time not trusting him an inch.
The gang will fall out and start doing each other in and all will come right in the end.
Episode 37, the last-but-one, The Renegades, has Richard Devon back yet again (he had already been in Episodes 5, 20 and 23) and Warren Oates (from Episodes 13 and 26) as renegade soldiers, rivals as to which can be the nastier. They break out of the guardhouse of a fort just before facing a firing squad, murdering guards as they do. With them is a dumb but obedient ox (Hal Baylor again) and two reluctant escapees (Ed Kemmer and Paul Carr). They all fetch up at the Halfway House where Devon cold-bloodedly shoots Zeke (oh no!) and forces Luke and Sime (no Davey around) to take them to Canada in the stage.
The Army is after the renegades, of course, and in command is Major Tristram Coffin (what a great name). Luke and Sime know that even if they get to Canada the ex-soldiers will do them in. Can they slow things down to allow the Army to catch up? Or can they sow dissension in the ranks of the bad guys and get them at each other’s throats? It’s all pretty tense stuff.
Zeke’s been besieged, had pneumonia, put his back out, had various assistants murdered, and now this. It was evidently a tough life for managers of stage relay stations.
Episode 38: I am grateful to Talking Pictures TV for showing this series but they were a bit naughty in skipping Episodes 15 and 30, and especially wicked for not showing the very last episode of all. Tut tut. Luckily, The Marker was available on YouTube. In it, Luke finally finds lerve.
Apparently he had fallen for a certain Jenny, a saloon gal, down in Colorado. Jenny (played by Ruta Lee, the singer who ran off with Whit Bissell in Ep. 32) had a brutal boss, Mingo (Mort Mills, again). Jenny stowed away on Luke’s stage and thus escaped. Luke was rather pleased about it. But now Mingo has come up to Wyoming, with a couple of henchmen (Berkeley Harris and Anon). Mingo has a grave marker made and delivered to Luke. It says, ‘Luke Perry. Died June 18’. Luke gets it early on 18th.
Luke gets Jenny a job as cook at the Halfway House, so everyone is pleased about that (you know what Zeke’s cooking is like). But under cover of a violent storm, Mingo and his gunmen draw near…
Davey isn’t in this story either, so he did not appear in the last episodes. Maybe he was in school. More worryingly, Hannibal isn’t either. In fact the mutt hasn’t been seen since Episode 32. Do you think he died? Again. They shouldn’t write key characters out like that without any explanation.
Well, there we are. A cracking good series, I reckon, with some great Western character actors, some clever stories from good writers (as well as a few old-chestnut plots) and quality directing. Recommended.