It’s been a while since there have been any guest posts on this site, so here’s a television themed one from Gordon Gates highlighting a few episodes from three different shows, all from directors better known for their movie work.
A trio of early television episodes from directors we all know. I picked one each from Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman and Phil Karlson.
The Rifleman – The Marshal (1958) Chuck Connors headlines this 1958 to 1963 western series that ran for 168 episodes. Connors is a world class hand with a Winchester rifle. This of course ends up getting him in no end of trouble. This is episode 4 from the first season. It is the first episode that future North Fork, Sheriff, Paul Fix is in.
Chuck Connors, a new resident to the North Fork area rides into town to grab a few supplies. While having a talk with the North Fork, Sheriff, R.G. Armstrong, a drunk is tossed out of the local beer hall. Armstrong and Connors pick the man out of the dirt and offer him a coffee. Armstrong recognizes the drunk as a former top lawman.
The drunk, Paul Fix, had lost his nerve and taken to the bottle. Connors offers the man a job building fence. Three squares and a chance to get sober is all that Connors offers him. Fix agrees and is soon at work on Connor’s ranch. The heebie jeebies are soon at work on Fix as he struggles to detox.
While this is going on, three gunmen, James Drury, Robert Wilke and Warren Oates ride into North Fork. Wilke and Oates are brothers looking to settle a several year old score with former lawman, Fix. They have tracked Fix to North Fork and do not plan on leaving till they kill him. The word soon gets around that the brothers are in town to do a killing, so Sheriff Armstrong pays the pair a visit. He however fails to realize that Drury is also part of the group. This costs him his life as Drury shoots the Sheriff in the back.
When Connors hears about the murder, he grabs his rifle and heads to North Fork. The just barely sober Fix likewise heads to town after arming himself with Connors’ big twin barrel.
Connors runs into the brothers right off and lead flies with Wilke being knocked flat for the count. Connors collects a round in his side and goes down wounded. When Oates steps up to finish Connors, Fix walks up and blows Oates damn near in half with both barrels of the shotgun. He reloads and then steps out to meet the survivor, Drury. Drury is likewise soon making an express trip to boot hill.
Connors is patched up by the local doc. Fix has regained his self-esteem and takes over as the new town Sheriff.
A neatly done episode with plenty of gun-play involved. Handling the reins on only his second directing assignment is future big time director, Sam Peckinpah. Peckinpah is of course known to all western fans as the man behind, The Wild Bunch. Peckinpah received a best Oscar nomination for his screenplay on that film. Peckinpah also wrote the story for this particular television episode.
The look of the episode is quite sharp with two-time Oscar nominated, Pev Marley doing the cinematography.
This episode also was the beginning of the long time collaboration between actor Warren Oates, and director Peckinpah.
Next up on the playbill is… The Gallant Men – Pilot (1962)
The Gallant Men was an American television series that debuted on ABC in the fall of 1962. It followed a company of US soldiers from the Sept 1943 invasion at Salerno, and their battles up the toe of Italy. The series ran for a total of 26 episodes during 1962-63.
Leading the cast is Robert McQueeney, who also narrates the story. McQueeney is a newspaper reporter who follows the company on their exploits. (Sort of an Ernie Pyle clone) The rest of the regulars are played by William Reynolds, Francis X Slattery, Eddie Fontaine, Roland La Starza, Roger Davis and Robert Gothie. There are the standard types sprinkled throughout, the joker, the card sharp, the loner etc.
This one starts with the company storming ashore at Salerno. They then end up in the mountains fighting for the village of San Pietro. Attack after attack is launched against the well-entrenched German defenders. These make ground, but only slowly and with many casualties. Newsman McQueeney notices that one man in the squad, William Windom, always seems to be first in the attacks. Almost as if he has a death wish.
McQueeney is sure he knows Windom from somewhere. Then he recalls, Windom had been a Major in North Africa. He had been relieved of duty after getting most of his command killed in a botched attack. What is he doing here as an infantryman?
McQueeney grills Windom and discovers that Windom had taken the identity of a dead man, and reported to this unit as a replacement. He begs McQueeney not to turn him in. He has to prove that he is not a coward or a foul up. McQueeney agrees to remain silent.
During the next attack, the officer in charge, William Reynolds, is wounded and carried to safety by Windom. Reynolds wants to put the man up for a medal but Windom says no thanks. Windom does however offer some advice on how to take the hill they are assigned to occupy. Reynold and his officers listen and like what they hear.
That night, they infiltrate up the hill and launch an assault at first light. It is a hard fought go, but they manage to chase the Germans off the heights. Needless to say Windom is badly wounded taking out a machine gun nest single-handedly. He asks McQueeney to continue to keep his secret and dies.
A pretty good first episode which blends in plenty of live combat footage and film clips from other war films. Being in black and white of course helps this work. The series only lasted one year and lost out in the ratings to the same network’s other war series, Combat. The look of the episode is quite good with Robert Altman in the director’s chair. The cinematographer duties were handled by veteran Harold Stine. Stine would later work again with Altman as the d of p on the film, M*A*S*H.
3:10 to Yuma. William Reynolds would hit it big with 160 plus episodes of the series The F.B.I.The screenplay was by Halsted Welles. Welles was known for his work on numerous television series and the feature film,
Ford Theatre – The Fugitives (1954)
This is an episode from the long running anthology series, Ford Theatre. The series ran for 195 episodes between 1952 and 57.
Raymond Burr plays a cop-killer who is on the lam after breaking out of death row. He has only one thing on his mind. And that is to get even with his ex, Mary Beth Hughes. Hughes had ratted him out to the police, which of course had not amused Burr.
Barry Sullivan is a newspaper reporter who gets the assignment to do a story on Burr. Sullivan has a wife, two young boys and is flat broke. For a $100 bonus, he tells his editor, Douglas Dumbrille, he will find Burr and get an exclusive story. The boss agrees.
Sullivan uses all his Police and underworld contacts to narrow down Burr’s possible hideouts. The Police however find Burr first. They have him cornered in a rundown rooming house. Sullivan rushes to the scene hoping to salvage enough for at least an article. The police are reluctant to close in as Burr has taken Mary Beth and a young neighborhood girl, Patsy Weil, hostage.
Sullivan needs that bonus so he offers to take a message from the Police into Burr. He figures he can help the Police and get his story at the same time.
Sullivan enters and finds Burr armed with a rifle. Burr is quite prepared to go out in a blaze of gunfire. Sullivan soon realizes that Burr is off his rocker and a story is the least of his worries. Sullivan unsuccessfully tries to persuade Burr to release the hostages. Burr then begins to beat Mary Beth. Sullivan decides to take a more physical approach and jumps Burr. A well-staged dust-up ensues with Sullivan getting wounded and Burr his well-deserved comeuppance.
This episode has noir fingerprints all over it with cast and crew all being noir vets. We have a story by Robert Hardy Andrews who worked on I Married a Communist.
Then there is the director of photography, Burnett Guffey, who worked on many noirs, including Nightfall, The Harder They Fall, Human Desire and In a Lonely Place.
99 River Street, Scandal Sheet, Hell’s Island, Behind the Mask, Tight Spot, 5 Against the House, The Brothers Rico, The Phenix City Story and Kansas City Confidential.Next up is the director, Phil Karlson. His films include,
A well done bit of noir television.