Monday, January 20, 2014
‘RIFLEMAN’ SEASON ONE REVIEW, PLUS ‘HIGH NOON’ WEST AMERICANA AUCTION!
‘THE RIFLEMAN’ -- SEASON ONE DVD REVIEW
For the first time ever, Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions has issued the complete first season of THE RIFLEMAN in one forty-episode set. It’s a beauty! Not only will it bring back great memories, this RIFLEMAN collection is a perfect introduction to the western genre for kids. Jules Levy, Arthur Gardner and Arnold Laven met during the Second World War, while serving under Warner Brothers Studio President Jack L. Warner, and future President Ronald Reagan, in the Army Air Force Motion Picture Unit at Hal Roach Studios. They decided to form a production company together when the war was over, and had success with their first movie, an eerie film noir, WITHOUT WARNING! (1952). The triumvirate worked democratically – when decisions had to be made, they took a vote, and two out of three votes won.
It worked very well. While all three men produced, Arnold Laven excelled in directing, helming many movies and hundreds of TV episodes. While Levy-Gardner-Laven has a long and successful history of producing TV series and feature films – GERONIMO, SAM WHISKEY and KANSAS CITY BOMBER among the latter – they are undoubtedly best remembered for their two exceptional Western series, THE BIG VALLEY and THE RIFLEMAN.
It’s often pointed out that in the late 1950s, there were over thirty western TV series in prime time, and it’s not by chance that today, only a very few of those are still seen regularly, even fewer among the black and white shows: GUNSMOKE, WAGON TRAIN, RAWHIDE and THE RIFLEMAN. These shows have stood the test of time, and RIFLEMAN is unique in the group, in the sense that a viewer will, over the years, get to appreciate it as two different shows – seeing it first through the eyes of a child, then through the eyes of a parent. The degree of reality in both the son’s and the father’s world was more than unusual; it was unprecedented. Chuck Connors, as a widowed ‘Pa’, Lucas McCain, was seen as powerful, wise, and unshakably independent; but even he couldn’t always triumph when the cards were stacked against him, even if, in the long run, good won out over evil. In the series opener, THE SHARPSHOOTER, Johnny Crawford, as son Mark, is completely unaware of the covert threats made against himself, even as most kids would be while watching the show; but it chills the blood of a father to watch it, understanding how helpless Lucas is.
It scares me every time Lucas looks at me like that!
THE RIFLEMAN pilot premiered on ZANE GREY THEATER, the Western anthology series produced and hosted by Dick Powell, which also served as the birthplace of JOHNNY RINGO, THE WESTERNER, BLACK SADDLE, TRACKDOWN, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, and in a sense, THE REBEL (Dick Powell ordered a pilot of THE REBEL, but when Mark Goodson and Bill Todman offered producer Andrew Fenady a full season commitment, gentlemanly Powell let the project go). The first season of THE RIFLEMAN itself spawned another series, LAW OF THE PLAINSMAN, starring Michael Ansara as Sam Buckhart, a Harvard-educated Apache working as a Deputy Marshal. Ansara plays that role in episodes #21 and #37 of RIFLEMAN.
This set begins with the original, Arnold Laven-directed, Dick Powell-introduced version of the show from ZANE GREY, and is followed by the ‘official’ RIFLEMAN version. Watch them both in sequence and you’ll see the subtle differences. Most of the footage is the same, but some of the scenes with Lucas and Mark have been re-shot. In the story, Lucas and Mark, looking for a ranch to buy, find one near North Fork. A shooting contest is about to be held, and if Lucas can win, he’ll have a sizable down-payment on the ranch. His main competition is a barely-wet-behind-the-ears professional shooter, callow and cocky but likable, played with startling depth by a very young Dennis Hopper. Either man could win; but the money behind Hopper is Leif Erickson, who wins all competitions he enters, at all costs.
It’s a terrific show, both as a stand-alone episode, and in introducing the series. Sam Peckinpah wrote it, and one can’t help guessing that his involvement in the first season, especially the early shows, had a profound effect on the path the series would take. He also wrote the second episode, HOME RANCH, where Lucas must stand against a rich land-owner and his thug cowboys who want Lucas’ new ranch for his own cattle grazing. Sam went on to write and direct four more episodes, three of them in the first season, and THE MARSHALL, episode #5, is of particular interest. Not only does it introduce the Paul Fix character of Marshal Micah Torrance; it is in many ways a first draft of Peckinpah’s RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. It features Abby Dalton in what would become the Mariette Hartley role of the lonely girl impressed and seduced by a suave stranger, with James Drury as that stranger in both TV show and movie. R.G. Armstrong here plays the girl’s uncle and guardian, and in the movie he will play her father. And Warren Oates plays Drury’s no-account saddle-mate on the episode, and his no-account brother in the movie.
Not that Peckinpah was the only standout talent in the writing end of the series. Episode #3, END OF A YOUNG GUN, was penned by playwright Frank D. Gilroy, who would win the Pulitzer Prize for THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES. The show guest-stars the very young and effective Michael Landon as a wounded outlaw. Gilroy, incidentally, wrote many Western TV episodes, and has never lost his enthusiasm for the genre. In the late ‘80s I had the pleasure of editing test scenes for a western he wrote and was to direct, THE CHALLENGE. Sadly, the project never went beyond the test stage.
The guest casts are full of surprises. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, a small sampling of the fine performers you’ll see include Sidney Blackmer, GILDA-villainGeorge McCready, Cesare Danova, Robert Vaughn, Claude Akins, John Carradine, Katy Jurado, Machael Pate, and dozens more. Among the other excellent directors are Jerry Hopper and Joseph H. Lewis.
THE RIFLEMAN set is attractively packaged and comes on eight disks, and the image quality is stunningly crisp, with a wide range of grays. In addition to an episode-by-episode booklet, the set includes some very enjoyable and informative special features, starting with a welcome by Arthur Gardner, who will turn 104 this June! Along with the ZANE GREY pilot are original promos for the series, featuring Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford, and David Niven, who was one of Dick Powell’s partners in Four Star Productions. And each of the episodes on disk #1 are introduced by Lucas McCain himself, the late, great Chuck Connors!
The final disk includes two photo galleries, one of episode scenes, and one of behind-the-scenes activity. Best of all, there is an interview with Arthur Gardner, actually an excerpt from his career interview for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
You can order season one of THE RIFLEMAN at the new official website HERE, or at http://www.therifleman.net/. There you will also find plenty of information about the series and the people who made it. In addition to the DVD set, you can also buy art prints, a calendar, mugs, and Arthur Gardner’s autobiography, THE BADGER KID. There are five seasons and 168 episodes of THE RIFLEMAN. I can’t wait for the other 128!
HIGH NOON WESTERN AMERICANA AUCTION – JAN. 25 IN MESA, ARIZONA
Roy and Dale scripts and kid's books
The folks from HIGH NOON scour the country all year for this event, and as always, what they come up with is truly remarkable. They have beautiful American Indian work of all kinds; saddles, bits, bridles, spurs, silver and leatherwork from Edward Bohlin and all of the other great practitioners – they even have Bohlin’s own saddle; graphic art by Frederick Remington, Will James, James Boren and many others. And there are items from the real West, the fabled west, and that netherworld in between.
Arness' Matt Dillon .45
Among item of particular interest are scripts, badges and boots once the property of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, lots 1-4 (each est. $400-1000). A beautiful gold and silver-trimmed Bohlin briefcase that was the property of J. R. Ewing-portrayer Larry Hagman, lot 8 ($7000-11,000). Lot #52 is several items relating to Wells Fargo (est $1500-2000). Among the art is a picture of a donkey, entitled ‘A Reluctant Packer’ by James Boren, lot #149 (est. $700-900). There are several Montie Montana items, including a photo of Montie lassoing President Eisenhower , and the rope it was done with, lot #178 (est. $10,000-15,000).
Tom Mix chaps
Then there are the top star pieces: Tom Mix’s chaps (#237 est. $12000-16000), James Arness’ Colt from GUNSMOKE (#179, est. $8000-10000), and John Wayne’s saddle from THE SHOOTIST (#235 est. $5000-7500). To learn more, order a catalog, or see the entire catalog on-line, and place your bids, visit www.highnoon.com
Larry Hagman's Bohlan briefcase
NEXT SATURDAY’S ‘WHEN CALLS THE HEART’ -- A TELLING SILENCE
Episode three of the Hallmark Chanel series, directed by Michael Landon Jr., based on Janette Oke’s novel pits a pair of preachers against each other: the salaried mining-company minister (Adrian Hough as Rev. Anderson) versus a mine-disaster widow who holds Sunday-school services in a meadow (Chelah Horsdel as Cat Montgomery). And the shrinking flock of the reverend may reflect something more sinister than it first appears. After all, the reason Elizabeth (Erin Krakow) is teaching school in a saloon is because the Rev. Anderson’s church, where classes used to be held, burned to the ground the night of the mining disaster. Constable Jack (Dan Lissing), looks into the possibility of arson, and spots a clue the Pinkertons overlooked. At the same time, Elizabeth tries to help a little girl (Mamie Laverock) who was struck mute when her father died in the mine disaster.
‘FIREBALL’ SIGNING AT SANTA MONICA FLYING MUSEUM!
On Thursday night I attended the inaugural book-signing for Robert Matzen’s FIREBALL: CAROLE LOMBARD & THE MYSTERY OF FLIGHT 3, held on the 72nd anniversary, and noting during the presentation, the very minute that DC-3 carrying the actress, just back from a bond rally, and twenty-one other innocent people, crashed into a mountain outside of Las Vegas, killing everyone aboard. It’s a fascinating story, never before told with this much clarity and original research, and I’ll be reviewing it soon in the Round-up.
WIN TICKETS TO SEE ENNIO MORRICONE!
The great maestro of cinema music will be presenting two concerts, his first in the United States, to celebrate his 85th birthday! If you’re near New York City or Los Angeles, enter to win a pair of tickets, and admission to a rehearsal as well! Go HERE to enter!
TREASURES FROM THE ‘ALL-AMERICAN COLLECTOR SHOW’
Saturday I dropped into the twice-a-year All-American Collector Show at the Glendale Civic Auditorium. It’s a great place for antique toys, advertising, movie memorabilia, paper collectibles – you name it. There’s a dealer who always has hundreds – maybe thousands – of these Swedish candy-cards to sort through. They were hugely popular with kids from the ‘40s through the ‘70s, and along with a lot of pop music and cartoon items, there are lots of movie and TV items – Western and mainstream. Here’re two of the 1” x 2” cards I picked up – pretty nice for 50 cents apiece. The next show will be in August.
THAT’S A WRAP!
That’s it for this week! Don’t forget that Monday night is the start of KLONDIKE on the Discovery Channel. Have a great week!
All Original Contents Copyright January 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved