A Trio of Dusters

With the holiday season drawing ever closer it’s a pleasure to host another slate of less familiar (or less familiar to this viewer anyway) vintage TV, highlighted by Gordon Gates.
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Last time I touched on television it was a trio of Edmond O’Brien noir. This time I think three western TV episodes would hit the spot. All three of these episodes I consider to be top flight. The actors include Lee Marvin, Bev Garland, Steve Forrest Robert Horton, Warren Oates and Robert Culp. So here we go.
First up is the pilot episode of the 1965 series, – “A Man Called Shenandoah” – The Onslaught – The series, which ran for 34 episodes, starred Robert Horton.

It is the dead of winter, a lone rider, Robert Horton, enters a small town. He books a room and a bath. While he is stripping down for the bath, a gunman, Richard Devon, breaks in and starts blasting. Horton just escapes with his life after knocking Devon down with a solid punch. He grabs Devon’s pistol and hurries down the back stairs. Once outside, two more men start firing at him. Horton returns fire and kills the two.

With only his pants on, and Devon’s pistol, he grabs a horse and flees into the foul weather. Devon recovers and follows Horton. He tracks down the half frozen Horton and puts two rounds from his Winchester into him, one in the shoulder and one in the head. He then leaves Horton to die.

A short time later, two prospectors come upon Horton. They sling him across the packhorse and cart him back to the nearest town. The two wonder if he might be an outlaw, so they stop at the local law to see if there is a reward. No luck there, so they drop Horton at the saloon.

The local doc, Noah Keen, is called to have a look at the unconscious and battered Horton. He removes the bullet from Horton’s shoulder and bandages the head wound, which turns out to be minor. It had simply knocked him unconscious.

Horton is then hauled upstairs and put to bed. Beverly Garland, the singer dancer at the saloon, tends his wounds. Horton comes around 3-4 days later and asks where he is. Doc Keen asks him how he feels etc and what is his name. Horton is unable to answer. He has no memory of who he is, or how he ended up being shot. Several more days go by and Horton swiftly regains his strength. His memory though is still drawing a blank. Needing to call him something, Doc Keen starts calling him Shenandoah, the name of Keen’s hometown.

A few more days pass and who should show up in the saloon? Gunman Devon of course. He knocks back a few drinks and starts making some unwanted moves on Miss Garland. When the barkeep steps up to stop the unwanted attention, Devon pistol whips the man.

Horton, hearing the screams of Garland, grabs a pistol from the Doc’s case and roars downstairs. Devon’s eyes go wide as he sees Horton, “You! I’ll kill you this time for sure!” Yells Devon as he goes for his pistol. Horton is faster off the mark and drills Devon in the chest, killing him.

Horton walks up to the corpse and looks at Devon. “He knew me.” He whispers.

So starts the tale of, A Man Called Shenandoah. The series then follows Horton as he searches for clues as to who he is, and what he was.

This is a pretty brisk moving episode that was directed by Paul Wendkos. Wendkos directed the noir, The Burglar. This is a great looking series that features some wonderful looking opening and closing credits film work. (b/w)

Second on the bill is OUTLAWS – Thirty a Month – 1960 This is the first episode of the 1960- 1962 western series. The series is set in the Oklahoma Territory. Barton MacLane is in charge of a pair of Marshals who police the area. Don Collier and Jock Gaynor play the Deputy Marshals.

Collier and Gaynor have just returned to town to report to MacLane. They have been on a fruitless chase for the manager of the local bank. The man had pilfered the bank funds and vanished.

Also hitting town, are the hands off a just completed cattle drive with their pay burning a hole in their pockets. One of the men, Steve Forrest, heads straight to the bank. He is finished with the life of a cow-hand. He has been saving his pay for the last 10 years. He intends to buy a ranch and raise cattle himself.

Forrest finds the bank padlocked and a closed sign on the door. He asks a passing man what is going on. Forrest is devastated when he hears the news about the manager. He heads off to talk to the law. “Nothing we can do till, or if we catch the man.” Collier tells Forrest. “We just got back from 3 days on his trail with no luck.” Forrest hangs his head and wanders out and down the street.

Three of Forrest’s fellow cowpunchers, Gary Walberg, Warren Oates and Robert Culp are living it up at the saloon. Booze, girls and some poor gambling skills soon have all their pay gone. All three end up in the town jail on drunk and disorderly.

Released the next morning, the three head for the stables. They see Forrest sitting under a tree staring at the ground. They ask Forrest if he needs hands for his new ranch. Forrest tells them about the manager and the stolen funds. ” I don’t want to spend another 10 years to save up four thousand dollars. There must be a way to do it.” The 4 men all sit and wish aloud for better times. The oldest, Walberg, recalls his days years before when he rode for a bit with the Dalton boys robbing trains etc.

Needless to say the old light-bulb goes on in Forrest’s head. They should all pull a payroll robbery of a train. Walberg and Oates are game though Culp is a tad reluctant. The other three finally talk him into joining the enterprise.

They know the regular Friday train carries a payroll on it. They plan on stopping the train at a small station outside of town. They stop the train and hold the engine crew under guard. Forrest forces the conductor to call the payroll guard to open the freight car door. He does, but has a rifle handy, which he pulls on Forrest. Forrest drills the man right through the head.

He then tells the conductor to open the safe. It turns out though that only the guard knew the combination. The four-some now decide to blow open the safe.

Oates is not at all happy with how things are now going. A robbery, OK, but murder? He grabs Culp and suggests that Culp, Walberg and himself beat the feet. Culp says it is too late as murder has been done.

The blast rips open one of the safe doors. All that is there is a bag of coins. The paper money is still locked inside. Bad luck on top of bad luck as they used all their explosives. They take the coins and ride off. A day’s hard ride later they stop at a small town general store. They need food and supplies.

The owner, Dub Taylor, senses something is wrong and says so. Forrest belts him and grabs up the supply sack. They race for their horses to scurry out of town. Taylor however gives Oates both barrels of a shotgun before Oates is out of range. Everything continues to go downhill as far as the robbers are concerned. The townsfolk hear of the robbery and the $5,000 reward offered by the railroad for the capture of the bandits. First, a wire is sent to the Marshal’s office. Then a posse rides out to “collect” the reward.

The posse loses interest in catching the bandits when two of them are shot dead. The brisk exchange of gunfire also results in the death of robber Walberg. Collecting the dead, the posse heads home. They meet Marshal’s Collier and Gaynor on the road and point them the right way.

The badly wounded Oates is slowing the remaining men down. Collier and Gaynor quickly catch up which results in another exchange of rounds. This time Forrest catches a round. Culp is bent over Oates as he mumbles, “I thought it would be fun to be an outlaw.” Oates then dies.

Culp yells out to the Lawmen that he gives up. The wounded Forrest staggers off in the other direction. He looks out over the countryside and says, “All I wanted was a piece of land.” Then he drops to the ground, dead.

After burying Oates and Forrest, Culp says to Collier, “All we got was $120 in coins for the four of us. $30 each, the same as we make working cattle every month.”

Great episode with an outstanding guest star cast. Change the era to 1948-55 and make it about truckers or such, and it would be a cracker-jack noir. (B/W)

Last up is an episode of, GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATER: The Doctors of Pawnee Kill 1957.  There were 300 plus episodes made of this anthology series. This one is episode 19 from season 5.

The episode takes place in the frontier town of, Pawnee Kill. Two brothers, Lee Marvin and Kevin McCarthy are the town’s Sheriff and Doctor. Marvin is the no nonsense, quick with the gun type. McCarthy thinks that Marvin is just a bit too much of a shoot first, talk later type.

Marvin’s wife, Jean Howell is in bed ready any hour to have the couple’s first child. While McCarthy is checking on Howell, shots are heard from down the street. Howell of course is worried for her husband. McCarthy grabs his bag and heads to see what happened.

He finds Marvin and his Deputy, William Challee, standing over the body of a local thug. The dead man is in the employ of a local land baron, Ted de Corsia. McCarthy looks the man over and declares him ready for Boot Hill. He has words with his brother over the shooting. Could Marvin not have just arrested the man? Marvin just looks at his brother and shakes his head.

The dead man’s brother, gunman, Claude Akins, soon rides into town. He also works for de Corsia. Marvin knows that this is going to end up with further bloodshed. Akins joins de Corsia in the town saloon for a few shots of whiskey before he heads off to go after Marvin.

McCarthy takes it upon himself to try and stop the fight. He joins de Corsia and Akins for a drink in the saloon. He tells the two men they can talk out their problems with no need for any blood-letting. De Corsia and Akins agree to a meeting. McCarthy heads to Marvin to explain the agreement.

Of course we all know that de Corsia and Akins have no intention of holding up their end. De Corsia has another of his men, Christian Pasques, hide in an alley. His job is to back shoot Marvin when he comes. McCarthy, watching out of a window, realizes that he has set his brother up to be killed. McCarthy grabs up a Winchester and steps out into the street. He pots Pasques with a single shot while Marvin outdraws Akins and his boss, de Corsia.

The Doc and the Sheriff then attend to Miss Howell for the delivery of a new bouncing baby.

This one is an excellent western with top work from both sides of the camera. Marvin does a nice turn as a Lawman in a change of pace bit for him. Both Akins and de Corsia have the villain thing down pat.

Former big screen man, Don Weis, moves things along at a brisk pace. One time Oscar nominated, John L Russell sits in the cinematography chair. He was nominated for his work on Hitchcock’s Psycho. Here Russell uses plenty of low angle shots and gives the episode an almost film noir look.

The story was by veteran writer Thomas Thompson whose best known work is probably 1958’s Saddle The Wind. The screenplay was cranked out by N.B. Stone, who wrote two of my favorite big screen dusters, Man With the Gun and Ride The High Country.

Gordon Gates

A Night of 50’s Television with Edmond O’Brien

Time for another piece from the pen of Gordon Gates. This one is diversion into an area I don’t tend to cover myself, mainly due to the fact I’m not so well informed about it. Gordon, on the other hand, is very much on his home ground writing about the early years of broadcast television, a field where he has an enviable depth of knowledge.
Most people think of early television as an endless string of comedy, western and detective shows. There was however another genre that populated the airwaves.This was the anthology series. These shows, such as Alcoa Theater, Schlitz Playhouse, Ford Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents, Climax, General Electric Theater, Studio One, Stage 7, Lux Video Theater and so on were extremely popular, Some of these series ran for over a decade and produced hundreds of episodes each.The format was stand alone stories that had a drama one week, a western next, a horror then a noir etc. As movie making slowed in the 50’s, many top flight actors, directors and cinematographers etc switched to television.More than a few Oscar types ended up on the small screen.Here is a small example of just one actor’s work. I asked all if they were fans of Edmond O’Brien and everyone answered in the affirmative. Here we go.
A Night of 50’s  Television with Edmond O’Brien.
Here are three different episodes from three different series all starring Mister O’Brien. The episodes are all film noir tinged.
First up is from LUX VIDEO THEATER: To Have and Have Not (1957)
No need to retell the story as we all know it. I will just describe the changes from the 1944 film. The two leads are played by Edmond O’Brien in the Bogart role and Beverly Garland filling in for Bacall. O’Brien plays the role with a far more violent and menacing edge than the laid back “leave me out it” style Bogart used in the film. Beverly Garland likewise turns it up and does her part as if she is just a step away from being a tramp. This really causes the sparks to fly when the two are in the clinches. One would swear they were going to drop their linen any second. There is some real chemistry here. John Qualen does a straight up copy of the Walter Brennan role and does not stand out at all. Dan Seymour reprises his role from the film as the slimy head of the Vichy Secret Police. Frances Bergen does the role played by Polly Moran while Lyle Talbot plays the American fisherman. Though there is no Hoagy Carmichael, we do have Sir Lancelot belting out a calypso tune. Lancelot had a small role in the 44 film but most will recall him from Brute Force. He was the soulful singer of the cell block in that film. The rest of the cast is Ken Terrell, Richard Flato, Edward Barrier and Jean De Val. Jean Yarbrough directs. Given the confines of television at the time, this production works very well. There is the odd short-cut. For example, we only get to see the cast going to, or from the boat. None of these short cuts hurt the story and in fact speed up the action. This is one of the best bits I’ve ever seen Garland in. A top flight TV noir.
Second up is from SUSPICION: Death Watch  (1958) – This one has 3 Oscar winners involved.

Janice Rule plays a live-in nanny who witnesses her employer shot to death by a mob boss. She soon regrets that she agreed to testify for the Police after she gets several death threats, and a bullet through her car window. The police soon have her put away in protective custody. The detective in charge is your buddy and mine, Edmond O’Brien. O’Brien moves Rule to the 10th floor of a big hotel and puts together a crack team of detectives to look after her. As the trial date draws near, Rule becomes convinced that the mobster behind the murder, Phil Donati, will get her. O’Brien does what he can to calm the woman including having the windows covered in case of a sniper. Two days before the trial O’Brien hears from an informant that a hit has been arranged. The hitter? He is told it will be one of his own squad. Which one could it be? O’Brien has known them all for years. He approaches the D.A. and his Captain with the info. Change the detectives with others from a diff squad is their suggestion. O’Brien decides instead to go with the same crew and see if he can flush out the traitor. He assembles the detectives and tells them what he has heard. O’Brien figures that they will now keep a watch on each other. This he hopes will give him the time he needs to catch the turncoat. The next day, Edward Binns, the senior detective, is approached by O’Brien. “I need to trust someone and you are it”. He tells Binns that he suspects one of the police women on the squad. O’Brien wants Binns to sit in with her while he steps out to make a private phone call. O’Brien steps out followed shortly by the police woman who needs to “powder her nose”. Binns pulls his gun and enters Rule’s room and walks up to her. He begins to level the gun when O’Brien pops out of the shadows and lets him have it. It seems O’Brien had let himself in through a hallway door. “How did you know”? whispers Binns. O’Brien responds. “You were the only one on the detail not to report the bribe attempt the mob made to all the rest.” Binns is hauled away and Rule is safe to testify.

The rest of the cast include, Jeanne Bates, Clark Howat, Horace McMahon and Mary Gregory. Actor and sometimes director Ray Milland helmed this well paced episode. The d of p was 6 time nominated and 2 time Oscar winner, Ray Rennahan. The story was by John Hawkins who wrote Crime Wave, The Killer is Loose and The Shadow on the Window.

To finish off the evening we go with an episode of STAGE 7: Debt of Honor (1955)

Edmond O’Brien and Charles Bronson are the stars in this episode. The episode is based on the Cornell Woolrich novel, I.O.U. One Life.

Our man O’Brien is a cop with a perfect life. He has a loving wife, a young daughter and a nice home in the burbs. He has even received a nice promotion at work. His job? He is now a lieutenant with the force. He decides that a night out with the family in the town is in order. They are involved in a car wreck which results in them crashing off the road and into a lake. The wife, Kasey Rogers, gets out, O’Brien is thrown out but knocked unconscious. The daughter, Wendy Winkelman, is still trapped in the slowly sinking car. A passing motorist, Charles Bronson, dives into the water and pulls the child to safety. A somewhat groggy O’Brien comes to and thanks Bronson. He tells Charlie that he is forever in his debt. Bronson jumps in his car and drives off before O’Brien can get his name. A year goes by and O’Brien is now a Captain. He is in charge of a unit assigned to hunt down a killer. O’Brien looks at the suspect’s mug shot and recognizes Bronson. What to do? To avoid being involved, he puts his aide, Steve Pendleton, in charge and heads home.
“Good thing the wife and daughter are out of town” O’Brien thinks to himself. A couple of hours later and there is a knock at the door. Standing in the doorway is Bronson who has come to ask O’Brien to honor his “debt”. There is some great back and forth as the two men discuss the “debt”. Bronson says, “I gave you your daughter’s life! Now I want mine!” “I’m a cop you fool! I can’t do what you ask”! answers O’Brien. O’Brien finally tells Bronson he can stay the night but if Bronson is there in the morning, he is taking him in.

The episode is directed by Lewis R. Foster whose work included the noir Crashout and Manhandled. The episode was photographed by one of noir’s best, George Diskant. His work included Desperate, Riff-Raff, They Live By Night, Port of New York, On Dangerous Ground, A Woman’s Secret, Kansas City Confidential, Between Midnight and Dawn and The Narrow Margin. What more could a person ask for, O’Brien and Bronson in a Cornell Woolrich penned story. A real top flight time-waster!!!!

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Gordon Gates