It’s 10:28 am
Back in the 1950s,the Western was a mainstay on American TV. Countless shows were churned out by the dozens. It was more of a fight to stand out among the crowded landscape of Western shows then one might think. Combined that with all the cowboy and Indian movies also being pumped out by the dozens from the various studios and the viewing audience was left with a question: “Why I Should Watch Your Show”? Now while back then there was no cable or streaming,audiences still had a few choices as what they could watch. Audiences were actually a LOT more receptive to a smart story as well as a well acted one then they are today. Before you start to argue,take a hard look at your TV Guide and then you’ll agree somewhat. Or at least the Western genre fans will agree! And now,thanks to Warner Brothers Archive you can one of the best Westerns ever made.
“Lawman” which was produced by Warner Brothers (along with a host of other classic westerns) originally aired on ABC starting in 1958. Veteran Hollywood tough guy John Russell,who generally played “heavies” starred as Marshal Dan Troop,a career lawman who came to Laramie,Wyoming in 1879 to take over. The previous marshal was murdered and the town has hired Troop to be his replacement.
Laramie is a growing town and Troop needs to find a deputy but despite his posting “Help Wanted” signs,no one steps up. The town is uneasy and restless. When a young man who Troop had met while coming into town sees the sign,he steps Troop’s office and asks for the job. Troop at first says “No,you are much too young” where as Johnny McKay (Peter Brown) then says he knows who killed the last marshal,a man named Flynn Hawks,the eldest of the tough Hawks brothers.
Troop manages to jail the youngest brother (and saving his life) but Flynn and his middle brother,Walt,both very good with a gun remain. Troop goes out to face them alone in a fight he can’t possibly win. But McKay stands with Troop and they kill the two Hawks brothers and Johnny earns his deputy badge. “The Deputy” was the first episode and shows that “Lawman” was not only action packed but also was smartly written.
It also established that Dan Troop was not all powerful nor was he the fastest draw as a lot of shows had their main characters. The story clearly established that if Troop had faced the Hawks brothers alone,he would have not survived without Johnny’s help.
John Russell as Dan Troop is a very interesting man. Russell has the most dead eyes I have ever seen on a TV character,they appear to be solid black and combined with very chiseled facial features made his Troop one of the hardest looking lawman ever portrayed. He had the kind of face that when he didn’t look at you as much as through you,the stare itself probably chased away half the bad guys even before they hit Laramie. Russell was 37 when he was cast but he felt Troop would be older so he had a streak of white put into hair which aged him about 10 years or so. It was a smart call and made Troop appear to more as a father-like figure to Johnny yet keep his distance emotionally when he had to.
Peter Brown as Johnny McKay was a good counterpart to Russell’s Marshal Troop. It softened Troop up a little as he takes McKay under his wing despite his misgivings on his age (which was between 18-21). Johnny was a sensitive man and his emotions sometimes got the best of him and sometimes Dan would have to impart some wisdom.
Back in the 1950s,the TV seasons were much longer then now. While Lawman was only aired four seasons,each season consisted of 39 episodes which was great for character development,watching Johnny McKay mature during the course of season was a interesting aspect of “Lawman”. He went from being somewhat shaky to becoming a excellent deputy by the end of Season One.
And he also developed into quite the gunfighter as well,in fact I felt by the end of the first season,Johnny was a faster draw then Marshal Troop as shown in the episode “The Young Toughs” where Johnny faces down three young men about his age. Of course Dan arrives in time to make sure the odds are somewhat fair but he doesn’t interfere until its needed.
The series was made under the old studio contract system meaning we saw plenty of the same faces in various episodes as the actors were under Warner Brothers. In fact many of the regular stars who guest on other WB shows as different characters. This is one of the fun parts of watching these old series,seeing all of the bigger stars back when they were on their way up,looking back…you can see exactly why they later blossomed into major stars.
Of the 39 episodes,a few stood out far and above the rest and I like to share them here with you,these were just outstanding.
“The Gang” – Easily the best episode of the first season. James Drury (who also starred in the great series “The Virginian) plays Clay,a man who finds out that the Hayes Gang is riding into Laramie to kill Dan Troop. The problem is that Clay is in Arizona and he hundreds of miles away from helping Dan. He sends a warning telegram and then rides like hell to Laramie,going through many horses.Clay says he will be there in six days.
Dan and Johnny get the message but have no idea when they are coming. Dan asks the town for help in posting lookouts but no one volunteers.
Dan goes to scout leaving Johnny behind…Clay arrives,dead tired. As Johnny helps Clay to the hotel,the first two of the Hayes Gang hits town and attempt to kill Johnny. Clay and Johnny are faster but Clay is wounded.
Dan comes back and sees that Clay is tended too,he comments that Clay has always been in scrapes and in jail and Clay mentions his dead Virginia,whom Dan and Clay both had courted and whose heart Clay had won. There is a slight edge between the two.
The five other members of the Hayes gang hit town and there is a tremendous gunfight.
Dan is wounded but Clay comes down and kills two before he is hit and killed. Johnny kills the last member. He and Dan crouch besides Clay’s body,when Dan tenderly picks him up,Johnny asks him “Who was he,Marshal”? Dan stands up and says sadly “He was my brother”. Powerful and emotional. Drury also appeared in one other season episode.
“The Wayfarer” – Adam West plays Doc Holiday in a great turn for the future “Batman” star.
After killing Treb Cates who had shot him in the back,Doc Holiday finds no friends in Troop and McKay as Cates is part of a hard bitten ranching family who will not rest easy until they have their revenge. While I loved West’s take of Doc Holiday,I found the story to be completely depressing in the fact an entire family was killed in the big showdown.
A little humor here would have helped out quite a lot,say like having Doc and Treb both wounded and settling their differences over a poker match between Doc and the Cate’s father. Instead you show an entire family dead in just 23 minutes. This episode just left a bad taste in my mouth….but Doc Holiday!!!
“The Master” – When Dan’s old mentor comes to town,Dan is disappointed to learn Tod Horgan is now a hired gun for the local Cattlemen’s Association. He is brought in to help drive two landowners off their claims. Horgan is not dirty however and insists on playing it straight and legal. However this doesn’t stop a senseless killing and now Troop must face the man who him everything he knows about being a lawman.
I found this episode to be quite good only in the fact that in most stories like this,the mentor has gone too seed but Tod Horgan is a straight shooter and isn’t a bad man. It makes the final showdown rather a interesting one and will have you wondering “What You Do”?
“The Friend” – Robert Fuller plays Buck Harmon,part of a bank robbing outfit whose plans include robbing Laramie’s bank. Buck rides into town to scout out the territory and isn’t prepared to see his old friend Johnny McKay and even less prepared to see his friend is a deputy marshal. Add in a estranged father into the mix and Buck’s pathway gets completely divided as are his loyalties.
This was the last episode of the season and a Johnny McKay solo episode,Dan leaves on business in the first couple of minutes. This is a heartfelt episode and again teaches us about the values of making the right choices in life and how much loyalty and friendship mean. Fuller as always is excellent and even back in 1959,he sounds just like Dr. Kelly Brackett on “Emergency!”. Fuller loved doing Westerns and it shows here as he becomes Harmon completely. The acting here was some of the best of the season.
Other notable guest stars included Doug McClure,Richard Long,Louise Fletcher,Jack Elam,Lee Van Cleef and Robert Conrad.
This was the first time I have ever watched “Lawman” and I want to thank our deep cover informant at Warner Brothers Archive for sending us series. Fans of “Lawman” have longed for DECADES for a home entertainment release and the Archive has heard.
All four seasons of this great western series is now out and the cheetah and I will be reviewing this in order. We love westerns,after all….these reviews are named after the greatest Western hero in fiction,Paladin! (Yes,Paladin is MUCH faster then Dan and Johnny).
The first season of “Lawman” consists of all 39 episodes. While shot in Black & White,the picture quality is superb….clear and pristine.
Sadly,there are no extras on this release but there are a lot of good websites with information on the show out on the internet.
You can buy all four seasons of Lawman at the Warner Brothers website.
Do you have a favorite Western film or TV show? If so,we love to hear from you…please a leave a comment below and share it with us!!