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Monday, June 15, 2015

Cimarron Strip (CBS TV, 1967-8)


Marshal Jim Crown is boss of Indian Territory


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Cimarron Strip was one of the best of the many TV Western series.

It aired on CBS in one season of 23 episodes, ninety minutes each, like The Virginian and Wagon Train. It was broadcast between September 1967 and March 1968.

It starred Stuart Whitman as Marshal Jim Crown. The story is set in the 1880s in the area that would become the Oklahoma Panhandle but which was then a kind of lawless no-man’s-land known as a hideout for outlaws. It was fertile territory for a TV Western marshal.
 
One of the best
 
Whitman is perhaps best known for his role in Cimarron Strip. He was top billed in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines in 1965 but most people think of him as Jim Crown. He was 39 at the start of the series (though in one episode he pleads to 35).

He was a tall, rugged type and had been a light-heavyweight during his Army service. Westernwise, he had started with bit parts in a Roy Rogers oater of 1952 and in The Man from the Alamo in ’53, had a slightly bigger part in the John Payne Western Silver Lode in 1954 and in the Randolph Scott picture Seven Men from Now in ’56, followed by These Thousand Hills three years later. He reached the Western heights second-billed to John Wayne in The Comancheros in 1961. In 1964 he was second-billed again, this time to Richard Boone (guest star of episode 8), in Rio Conchos. In 1957 he was considered for the role of Bart Maverick on the television Western Maverick and might have been rather good but the part went to Jack Kelly. As far as Westerns go, though, I always think of him as Marshal Jim Crown, with his long-barreled Colt, silver hatband and fancy Spanish flared pants. I like his horse, which has four white socks.
 
Stuart Whitman is Jim Crown
 
As to the story, episode 4, first aired on September 28, 1967, gave us the beginnings of the tale as the screen goes blurry, you know how they do, and one of the characters, Dulcey, has a flashback memory of how she first met Marshal Jim Crown in 1888 as they arrived together by train in Cimarron, he to be US marshal based at Cimarron City (population 2350). It’s a very good episode, in fact, and you can read about it below.

With Whitman there were three other ‘permanent’ characters. They were:

Dulcey Coopersmith (Jill Townsend), a posh English girl who comes to Cimarron looking for her estranged father (English Charlie, who, whoever, has been run down by a beer wagon just before she arrived). There’s a hint of love interest between Crown and Dulcey (he always calls her Dulzy for some reason) though it’s rather more the blonde girl sighing for the handsome marshal and the marshal being a bit more avuncular. She spends much of the series folding red tablecloths.

Angus MacGregor, English Charlie’s partner, (in episode 10 he insists that it is MacGregor and not McGregor) played by Londoner Percy Herbert with an over-the-top Scots accent. He is really an absurd caricature. He is fond of money and alcohol. He occasionally acts as a deputy (only a semi-competent one) for the marshal.
 
With regulars MacGregor and Dulcey (seated) and Francis (behind)
 
Francis Wilde is a young reporter and photographer, played by Randy Boone, Pat and Richard’s cousin, who is probably better known for his singing cowboy Randy in The Virginian. Francis also is an occasional deputy and a Crown ally. He has dime-novel ambitions for Crown.

They are all based at the Wayfarer’s Inn which Dulcey takes over and turns from a sordid saloon into a clean place with drapes. Sigh. Marshal Crown makes a jail and office there because MacGregor blows up the real jail when his whiskey still explodes. Crown’s often seen in this office doing paperwork.  
 
Other recurring characters were Karl Swenson as Dr. Kihlgren, Andrew Duggan as the local Army major and Fabrizio, the barman at the Wayfarers, played by Jack Braddock.
 
The series was created by writer and producer Christopher Knopf and Philip Leacock was executive producer. Whitman’s own company had a hand in it too. Knopf wrote some of the episodes and five other writers were used. Various directors worked on the show, including Herschel Daugherty, Alvin Ganzer and members of the McEveety clan.
 
There was quite an expansive use of locations for a TV show and classic Western sites like the Lone Pine Hills in California, Kanab, Utah and Old Tucson in Arizona were used, though of course much was shot on a sound stage in LA. It was in color. The cinematographer was the excellent Harry Stradling Jr. of Little Big Man fame, who also did a lot of Gunsmoke episodes. So production values were quite high.
 
That’s that nice music to introduce it, you know, dum dum dee dee, de dum, dum dee, by Maurice Jarre, while Stuart rides dreadfully badly, all arms and legs everywhere, across a Californian desert, viewed from an inappropriate helicopter shot.
 
And an excellent cast of guest stars was used. In various episodes you can see, among others, RG Armstrong, Robert J Wilke, Lyle Bettger, John Saxon, Henry Silva, Beau Bridges, Telly Savalas, Warren Oates, LQ Jones, Jack Elam, David Carradine, Michael J Pollard, Elisha Cook Jr., Richard Boone, Robert Duvall, Joseph Cotten, Jim Davis, Denver Pyle, Slim Pickens, Broderick Crawford, Don ‘Red’ Barry, Jon Voight and Dub Taylor, a veritable Gotha of Western character actors, all of whose names will be more than familiar to Western fans, i.e. sensible people.
 
Here is an episode guide:
 
 
1   Journey to a Hanging
 
Frequent Western badman Henry Silva (Viva Zapata!, The Tall T, The Bravados and very many Western TV shows) plays the splendidly named outlaw Ace Coffin. He comes to Marshal Jim Crown’s jail in Cimarron City and murders gang member Rocky (Gregg Palmer, 210 Western appearances from The Cimarron Kid in 1952 onwards, a regular member of John Wayne’s stock company, but here he is shot in the first reel and it’s only really a cameo) who is incarcerated there, which is easier than breaking him out and that way he won’t talk. John Saxon, another frequenter of Westerns, especially TV ones, is Screamer, who was in the adjacent cell and witnessed the killing. He is a tracker and offers to help Crown and his rather feeble posse (Wilde and MacGregor) to track down Coffin and his gang. The posse aren’t much help. The miserable Scot gets wounded and Francis takes him back to Cimarron, leaving only the marshal and the tracker to continue, but they receive unexpected assistance from Latch (Michael Strong), one of Coffin's disillusioned gang members, motivated by the price of $10,000 on Coffin’s head.

Henry Silva, badman

This was the first episode aired, on September 7, 1967, though not the first made. It was written by Jack Curtis and directed by co-producer Vincent McEveety, and not too well. Pursuit stories are often difficult to do; they tend to move at the pace of a walking horse, and this plot cannot sustain a 90-minute treatment. It drags. Still, there are nice Lone Pine locations standing in for Oklahoma Territory, shot by the excellent Harry Stradling Jr., and it’s always a pleasure to see Saxon and Silva doing their thing.
 

2   The Legend of Jud Starr
 
Episode 2, aired on September 14, 1967, was an improvement on the rather unpromising start to the series, despite having the same team of writer and director (Richard Fielder and Vincent McEveety).
 
Jud Starr, a charismatic outlaw famous for robbing an Army payroll of $80,000, is to be hanged in Cimarron City, but in a classic Western trope (think Bandolero! or The Bravados) his gang, one of them a replacement preacher, rescues him and they disappear into the Cherokee Outlet. The Army is represented by drunken troopers (“How long have they been waiting?” Crown asks. “About three quarts”, Francis replies) and a political officer, and so there is to be no hope of soldiers chasing Starr. US Marshal Jim Crown, trusty MacGregor and Francis duly set off with the local sheriff (Ford Rainey) to recapture the outlaw chief.
 
Starr kills the new husband of his former lover, the half-Cherokee Roseanne (Barbara Luna), the chief’s niece, and takes refuge with the Indians, promising to marry the niece and bring riches to the tribe.
 
The plot was in fact very similar to the one used in Universal’s 1964 Audie Murphy Western Bullet for a Badman. Curiously, Darren McGavin played the outlaw in both. In fact, McGavin, who did very few Western movies (though quite a lot of TV shows) was better in the TV Cimarron Strip version of the story than he was in the big-screen picture. He is more the smiling and charming villain, and although he is ruthless and vicious, you kinda see why he would have been popular, even admired. Still, you sense he isn’t going to get away with it – he isn’t that sympathetic – and the way he disposes of the young outlaw he has screwed up, Billy Joe (a young Beau Bridges) is pretty cold and heartless. The kid was like a son to him, he says - but it doesn’t stop him having the boy murdered.
 
Darren McGavin is Jud Starr
 
Roy Jenson, Kelly Thordsen and Allen Jaffe are three of the outlaw gang, Bloody Bob, Moose O’Hare and Luke respectively, and I was pleased to see good old Percy Helton in the camp as the pusillanimous trader with a wagon, Ezra Jones. You often spot Percy in minor parts in Westerns, especially the TV variety, though he appeared in quite a few movies too, from Lust for Gold in 1949 onwards. His plump and diminutive stature and chubby face make him instantly recognizable and he nearly always played fearful types.
 
So by episode 2 the series was establishing itself as a well-written Western with some well-known actors as guest stars. The Legend of Jud Starr was quite promising and still repays a watch today.
 

3   Broken Wing
 
Episode 3, directed by Sam Wanamaker, no less, and written by Harold Swanton, was first aired on September 21, 1967. Wanamaker may have been known for his Shakespeare but he also did a few TV Western shows and a (pretty poor) big-screen attempt in the genre, Catlow. He did a fine job, though, on this third outing of Cimarron Strip. Harold Swanton was a very experienced writer of TV Westerns, specializing particularly in Buckskin, Wide Country and Wagon Train. He came up with an excellent script. Add in some fine acting form guest stars Pat Hingle, Steve Forrest and Larry Gates, and you have an excellent show.
 
Pat Hingle, very good

It’s the tried-and-tested plot of the weak son of a big rancher arrested for a crime and rich ‘n’ powerful daddy determined to get him out – think Gun Hill or Rio Bravo but done with some subtlety and psychological intensity. Jingle McQueen (Tim O’Kelly in a very good performance: he looks a bit like Doug McClure and sounds a bit like James Coburn) is the son, 19, whom the father will not accept is a brick short of a full load. The boy can’t read and is wild when liquored up. On July 4th he ends up burning down the livery and shooting a preacher. The town wants to lynch him. His pa is Pat Hingle (quite amusing that Jingle is the son of Hingle) and comes to town to get the boy and take him home. Marshal Crown is in the middle, and holds the boy as much for his own safety as for punishment.
 
The situation is complicated by a rabble-rouser, owner of the Cherokee Saloon, Kilgallen, played by Larry Gates, very well. He is a really nasty piece of work. He wants Jim Crown out because he’s too honest, and he sees this as a pretext to crush the marshal, so he skillfully whips up the town to a murderous frenzy. As if that weren’t enough, a sly conman, gunslinger Wiley Harpe comes to town. Harpe is played by Steve Forrest, very well, in the first of two Cimarron Strip episodes he did (he was also the charismatic but crooked Army sergeant in Sound of a Drum, episode 19). Harpe and Jim go back, but he is a false friend and he wants Jim’s job. He too is Machiavellian in his schemes.
 
Royal Dano is just glimpsed, in a non-speaking part, selling candy, of all things.
 
As Dulcey says of the boy, “His father wants him to be an eagle but he’s only a little bird with a broken wing.” The climax is very well handled and the whole episode has a touch of class.
 

4   The Battleground
 
While cleaning the Wayfarer’s Inn, Francis and MacGregor tease Ducley when they come across a Western dime novel of hers. The book makes Dulcey remember when she first met Crown on the train bound for Cimarron. The train is attacked by a band of seven (naturally seven) wild cowboys led by Bear (Telly Savalas), who throw material useful to hated farmers, including livestock and barbed wire, from the train.  Crown arrests one of the cowboys, Mobeetie (Warren Oates, who reprised the role in episode 12).
 
There is much tension between on the one hand the cattlemen using the as yet unassigned lands as free range, led by an excellent Robert J Wilke, and the farmers on the other side who want to plough there, led by an equally excellent, and messianic RG Armstrong. Both threaten bloodshed if the other dares to change the status quo. Crown finds himself in the middle, and all his deputies resign, leaving him only Francis and MacGregor. By-the-book and anti-farmer Army Major Covington (Andrew Duggan) won’t help. There is a climactic conflict on (and in) the Cimarron River.
 
Robert J Wilke, unscrupulous rancher
 
Though aired as the fourth part of the story, on September 28, 1967, this episode, written by creator Christopher Knopf and directed by Don Medford (The Hunting Party), acted as a kind of pilot. It’s tough and gritty and there is some excellent acting from some fine Western stars.
 

5   The Hunted
 
Episode 5, first aired October 5, 1967, was really rather good. It stars TV Western veteran Steve Ihnat (this and a few movies, like Hour of the Gun) and a post-TV version of Shane but pre-Kung Fu David Carradine as two gunmen brothers, Felix and Gene Gauge. Tough but fair Marshal Crown wants the brothers to surrender themselves for trial, but they hesitate, denying having committed many of the crimes of which they are accused and doubting they will get a fair hearing.
 
David Carradine, superb
 
Wealthy and ruthless rancher Buckman (James Gregory, always enjoyable as a tough cop but he had a good sideline in Western bad guys too) seeks his own form of ‘justice’ for his dead son by hiring bounty hunters to go after the brothers. So there’s quite a subtle interplay between good and evil.
 
It was written by Richard Fielder (who penned several Cimarron Strip episodes, as well as Gunsmoke and other TV shows) and directed by Alvin Ganzer (assistant director on The Paleface in 1948, he directed very many different Western TV show episodes). They both did a good job, the characters are real people, and Carradine, though he blinks a lot, is superb.
 

5   The Battle of Bloody Stones
 
Cimarron Strip was really made worth watching by its guest stars. Episode 6, first aired on October 12, 1967, directed by Richard C Sarafian (director of Vanishing Point and, Westernwise, known for Lawman – the TV series with John Russell, not the dire 1971 movie) and written by Jack Curtis, was a good example. It was really a showcase for Gene Evans.
 
Mr. Evans opens the show (in every way) as his tall, red-bearded self as Wildcat Gallagher is seen ferociously gunning down wild Indians in what turns out to be a Wild West extravaganza. He is immediately recognizable to any Western lover. He’d been in oaters since Under Colorado Skies in 1947 (and was still making TV Westerns in 1988). He was the gun-running colonel in The Shadow Riders; he was in its predecessor, The Sacketts, too; he was Clete in The Ballad of Cable Hogue; he appeared in both Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter; he was the deputy in The War Wagon; and, of course, he was Rob in My Friend Flicka; and many, many more. In this episode of Cimarron Strip he does a good job as the mountebank self-styled Indian fighter who, it turns out, wasn’t even at the fights he boasted off (Marshal Crown should know. He was there but doesn’t brag on it). Crown mentions in passing that he was also at the Battle of Adobe Walls, so I guess he must have been a buffalo hunter at one point, though in this episode he laments the demise of that noble beast.
 
Red-bearded Gene Evans
 
The show makes a serious point, in fact, as it discusses the harm that racial hatred, even when patently theatrical, can do. Right at the start of the show we see naïve Dulcey enthusiastically applauding, Crown looking skeptical and wry and the Indian onlookers going Grrr. The gullible, the knowing and the angry. And it’s often the ones who didn’t participate but wished they had, sometimes even the cowards, who sound off the loudest.
 
Crown realizes the trouble the show could cause, in the very land where the Indians were so recently dispossessed, and he does what he can to calm things down, but there’s an angry Indian-hating mob (with Michael J Pollard in it, as early as 1967 perfecting his Western punk act; this was the same year as Bonnie and Clyde so he was already a big name but it was pre-Dirty Little Billy and he wasn’t known as a Western actor) and they cause the death of one of the Indians, son of Ghost Wolf (Henry Wilcoxon, Marc Antony in Cecil B DeMille’s 1930s Cleopatra). Crown gets in a fight with Ghost Wolf but in fact they bond; they are of the same generation and both participated in the real events.
 
Elisha J Cook Jr. is also in it but is sadly wasted in a too-small part.
 

7   Whitey
 
Whitey, directed by experienced Western TV show hand Herschel Daugherty and written by Dan Ullman with Knopf, was episode 7 of Cimarron Strip, aired on October 19, 1967.
 
It featured the gang led by robber Arn Tinker (tall and craggy John Anderson, thrice Abe Lincoln, Virgil in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and the ruthless Addis in Day of the Evil Gun) which robs the Cimarron railroad depot and is pursued by Marshal Jim Crown and a posse. Young gang member Whitey (guest star Peter Kastner, who almost got Dustin Hoffmann’s role in The Graduate, in this, his only Western) is arrested and tricked by Crown into revealing the plans for Tinker's next robbery. Crown gathers a group of lawmen for an ambush, but clever Tinker has given Whitey false information, and robs a bank in a different town. When Crown returns to Cimarron City, he discovers Whitey has escaped and has kidnapped Dulcey. A certain amount of Stockholm Syndrome then takes place… It doesn’t end well for the robbers – or Whitey.
 
At one point Dulcey rather disingenuously pleads, “I’m almost nineteen,” whereas she was going on 24 at the time, but hey, who’s counting?
 

8   The Roarer
 
Cimarron Strip owed its quality largely to its guest stars. And in no episode was this truer than of this one, in which Richard Boone, one of the finest Western actors ever, is absolutely superb.
 
Richard Boone - masterly

He plays a veteran Army sergeant (a bit like Steve Forrest in episode 19) who brings in the body of his closest friend after a stupid accident on the railroad line involving telegraph wire. In the saloon in Cimarron he roars out his toasts to his late brother in arms, to the disgust of pusillanimous townsmen, who want Marshal Crown to run him out, but supported by Crown, who knows of the contribution and sacrifice the Army has made to ‘civilizing’ the territory.
 
Leader of these townsfolk, who want to organize a vigilance committee (well, soldiers did burn down a big part of their town so they had a point in a way) is Robert Duvall, who whips the citizens up into righteous fury. Crown had to deal with a lynch mob in episode 3 and he will have to do so again in episode 20; they seem to be a common hazard in 1880s Cimarron.
 
Robert Duvall, townsman
 
Richard Boone was of course Randy’s uncle but sadly there isn’t much interchange between the two characters here.
 
In this episode Major Covington (Andrew Duggan) comes across as much more sympathetic than he did in his last appearance in episode 4. Duggan always did parts in Westerns well, especially if he was an Army man.
 
But it’s Richard Boone who makes it. He is a whirlwind (yet without obviously overacting). He was at the height of his Western powers: this was post Have Gun – Will Travel and also post Rio Conchos and Hombre, in both of which he was outstanding. It was in fact the high water mark in many ways because afterwards he was in the dire spaghetti junk Madron and then Hec Ramsey.
 
Well, it all comes down to a Whitman/Boone shoot-out, and you may guess the tragic turn events take…
 
Like several other episodes, this one emphasizes the incompetence, stupidity and sheer low viciousness of mobs. The worst ones are those that justify themselves as bringers of ‘justice’.
 
The episode, first aired on November 2, 1967, was written by William Wood (only seven Westerns, all TV; he also wrote The Search, the subsequent episode of Cimarron Strip) and directed  by Lamont Johnson, who did a lot of the Have Gun – Will Travel episodes as well as two big-screen oaters, A Gunfight and Cattle Annie and Little Britches. He knew what he was about.
 
Recommended. 
 

9   The Search
 
In this episode, written by William Wood and Herman Miller and directed by Bernard McEveety, and first aired on November 9, 1967, Marshal Crown is wounded and lies unconscious for most of the show and MacGregor and Francis are in Hayes, so it’s the Dulcey show, as she moves heaven and earth to find the injured Crown. The trouble is, she was such a poor actress. And I wish she could keep her mouth closed. She must have caught a wagonload of flies.
 
Joseph Cotten was rotten in Westerns and he duly overacts here too as the drunken Dr. Tio (in the credits: on his sign it says Teo) who redeems himself: been there, done that. The good news is that Jim Davis is the villain, who offers $500 in gold for Crown, dead or alive, for killing one of his sons, and LQ Jones is great as Lummy, soliloquist extraordinaire, who dreams of an alabaster statue to himself.
 
Just about watchable but far from one of the best.
 


10   Till the End of Night
 
The episode starts with Crown all duded up: he is off to Topeka to testify and he leaves MacGregor in charge – not always a wise move. The character of MacGregor was always overdone in this series and in this show he is allowed full rein to overact. He is the life and soul of the saloon, the sort of drunken clown such places seem to attract. But just before leaving, Crown has been attacked by Harry Dean Stanton. Crown bests him and incarcerates him but knows how dangerous he is and warns MacGregor to be extra careful. We sense imminent disaster.
 
Of course the outlaw Luther Happ (Stanton) escapes. MacGregor is determined to make up for his incompetence and so sets out in pursuit. Amazingly, he actually manages to shoot and kill Happ (so unfortunately Harry Dean is written out) but when he gets to the nearby Texas town he finds that it is run by corrupt sheriff Jack Hawkes (portly Clifton James). MacGregor is railroaded in a crooked trial and sentenced to death.
 
In jail awaiting execution, and in the subsequent prison wagon, MacGregor begins to bond with fellow prisoner Sarah Lou Burke (Suzanne Pleshette). This is actually the best-written and most interesting part of the episode, and the relationship is quite subtly developed. Well, they escape – MacGregor is not quite so incompetent after all – and are pursued. Will nasty Sheriff Hawkes catch them? Crown is back and searching for his deputy…
 
Ms. Pleshette is very good. This was before she was Mrs. Bob Newhart but she was famous for her part in Hitchcock’s The Birds. Westernwise, she had been female lead in A Distant Trumpet, Pilar in Nevada Smith, and would soon be excellent as Patience in Support Your Local Gunfighter. She was also in quite a few Western TV shows. She was a good actress.
 
Till the End of Night was first shown on November 16, 1967 and it was directed by Alvin Ganzer and written by Hal Sitowitz (who wrote quite a few Gunsmokes).
 

11   The Beast That Walks Like a Man
 
We all think of Leslie Nielsen as a comic actor but he did heaps of Westerns, serious as well as comedy ones, from 1958, when he was in The Sheepman, to a 1980 episode of The Chisholms. He was the baddy in a second-rate Bobby Darin Western, Gunfight in Abilene. Cimarron Strip writers were fond of charming rogues and charismatic villains in their storylines, and Nielson fitted that bill rather well.
 
In this episode, first aired on November 30, 1967, he plays Rowan Houston, clan patriarch determined to forestall the official opening and settle as a Sooner in the Cherokee Strip. He has a boisterous family among whom features the glamorous and feisty Stacey (Lola Albright, 26 Western appearances from Tulsa in 1949 to The Way West in 1967).
 
The Houstons have decided on the Mocane Valley as their new empire but earlier Crown and MacGregor have discovered the horribly mutilated body of a settler there and rumors are rife that a monstrous beast stalks the land, tearing folk limb from gory limb.
 
Crown arrests and jails Rowan but Stacey and the others break him from jail and cross the Cimarron River. Marshal Crown with Francis, MacGregor, and the heavily made-up half-Pawnee Walking Man (Royal Dano, who had appeared very briefly in episode 3, Broken Wing) try to stop them from suffering a similar fate.
 
I must say that I did rather guess who (or what) the sinister beast was, pretty early in the episode. We are given pretty heavy clues. But that’s OK.
 
The episode was directed by the musically-named Charles R Rondeau (of F Troop) and written by Stephen Kandel. It’s worth watching for Royal.
 

12   Nobody
 
The eponymous non-person is Warren Oates. We all like Warren in Westerns. He plays the wild and none-too-bright cowboy Mobeetie again (remember Crown arrested him in episode 4). This time he hurrahs the town and rides his horse through the window of the Wayfarer’s. MacGregor is not amused – well, it will cost $28. Dulcey is a little more understanding, as per usual.
 
Of course Warren had started Westerns on TV (a 1958 episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive) so was in the right place. Since then he’d been in pretty well every other Western TV show there was. He’d done a big-screen (-ish) Western in 1959, Yellowstone Kelly, and of course in 1962 he had a good part in Ride the High Country for a director who would use him a lot, Sam Peckinpah. He’d done Stoney Burke on TV in 1962/63 and earlier in the year of this Cimarron Strip episode he’d been billed third behind Poitier and Steiger in In the Heat of the Night, so he was quite a catch. But then Cimarron Strip did get top actors as guest stars. He’s good in this one, as the man with no name (he was found as a child, wandering alone) who wears a cowbell round his neck (rather irritatingly, actually) and moons about like some lost bovine.
 
Warren as Mobeetie
 
There’s a horrible, manipulative villain, Burke Stegman, who leads a gang of road agents and when Crown has the nerve to arrest him for it, vows revenge to the death on the lawman. Stegman is played by William Watson, rather well. Watson had also been in In the Heat of the Night. He wasn’t a Western specialist, although he was in three big-screen oaters afterwards (all bad): Lawman, The Hunting Party and Chato’s Land.
 
Tension builds as a carload of dynamite is marooned in the center of town and a heatwave has made it sweat so that the slightest jolt might set it off…
 
There’s a rather classic climactic shoot-out in the street at the end. Then Warren walks through the newly-repaired window again, ha ha.
 
This one was written by Ellis Marcus, who had co-written one of the better Audie Murphy Westerns Ride Clear of Diablo, and John DF Black, the principal writer of Lawman on TV. The director was Boris Sagal, who’d done The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. It was first broadcast on December 7, 1967.
 
Not perhaps the very best episode but worth watching for Warren.
 

13   The Last Wolf
 
As a sort of cross between the mountain men and the buffalo hunters we have the wild men, and this episode is about them. There was more than a hint of ‘the end of the West’ about this series and certainly this breed of men is doomed as ‘civilization’ gradually encroaches (mainly with the sodbusters).
 
Salmi is leader of the wild men
 
Their leader is Sam Gallatin (Albert Salmi, always a class act). He and his crew have now hunted the wolf to extinction and themselves too, almost. Marshal Crown is sympathetic, and even offers to get Gallatin a job as Army scout, but he refuses and he and his men set up a squatters’ camp and feed off local steers, much to the annoyance of the cattlemen. These ranchers are led by Hardy Miller (Robert J Wilke) again, as they were in episode 4. Any Western with Bob Wilke in will be worth watching.
 
There’s an unusually good performance as one of the wild men from Denver Pyle. I say unusually not because I’m anti-Denver: au contraire, I always enjoy watching him in Westerns. But he wasn’t normally what you call Oscar-material as far as the acting is concerned. Here, though, he is rather moving as the old man sacrificed by Gallatin, in effect, but perhaps better off dying shot than lingering on.
 
Earlier in the year of this episode, IMDb tells us, Albert Salmi “was presented with the Western Heritage (Wrangler) Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame for his role in the 1955 Gunsmoke episode entitled Death Watch. This bronze cowboy on horseback became his most cherished award.” Fine, because he was very good in Westerns. He’d started as fourth-billed in the excellent The Bravados in 1958 and had been equally compelling in The Unforgiven in 1960. He was the sheriff in The Outrage in 1964. Of course he was Yadkin in Daniel Boone on TV. Earlier in the year of this Cimarron Strip he’d been Octavius Roy in The Hour of the Gun.
 
Although the wild men say of Sam that “he’s gonna make things like they were before”, he isn’t, of course, and their way of life is finished. Actually, Sam is the last wolf of the title. He says of a wolf caught in a trap that “he hasn’t got a chance and he’ll still go for yer”, and that’s what he does at the end too - as Crown finds out to his cost.
 
The final scene is a shoot-out in rocks reminiscent of Winchester ’73. There’s a good bit where wounded Crown puts a stick in the trigger guard of his Colt and throws it, so that it goes off and misleads Sam, whom Crown is then able to get.
 
Sadly, the editing of this December 14, 1967 episode, directed by Bernard McEveety and written by Preston Wood, was poor and there are brutal jumps in the continuity.
 

14   The Deputy
 
I like this episode (aired on December 21, 1967, written by Hal Sitowitz and directed by Alvin Ganzer) because it has Lyle Bettger as the badman, one of my favorite Western villains. He is Tate Hanson and he leads a brutal robbery on an Army payroll wagon, murdering the soldiers and callously leaving one of his own injured gang, Bo (JD Cannon) to die.
 
Eight years later, a mysterious one-armed stranger claiming to be a Texas marshal arrives in Cimarron City and in the Wayfarer’s dispatches two men (members of the gang) to perdition with his pistol. One of them is Buford, played by scarfaced Gregg Palmer, a regular on TV Western shows and member of John Wayne’s stock company. Marshal Crown is impressed and hires the lawman as a deputy, though MacGregor does not approve at all.
 
Of course it’s not a Texas marshal at all but Bo, who has killed that marshal and taken his ID papers. And he is out for revenge.
 
Bo’s clever: he makes each killing look like self-defense. He tells Tate that he will kill him (he wants to make him sweat) and Tate’s wife too, for she was in on the robbery and once loved Bo, but has now married Tate. She is Zee (Marj Dusay), probably named for Mrs. Jesse James. Bo disposes of gang members farmer Rapp (Larry Pennell, who was in The Revengers) and town drunk Benji (Anthony James, Skinny in Unforgiven and Cole in High Plains Drifter) and now it’s the turn of Mr. & Mrs. Hanson…
 
Another reason I like the episode is that a derringer plays a key part.
 
JD Cannon was of course lawman Harry Briscoe in Alias Smith & Jones but he was another who popped up in myriad TV Westerns. I remember him also as rancher John Anderson’s gunman in Heaven With a Gun.
 
And good old Burt Mustin is in it too, as the telegraph clerk. I always like to see Burt. He looked about 100 in every appearance (he was born in 1884).
 
But best of all is Lyle, smarmy bad guy par excellence. Silk-vested, sneering, blond-haired, he was really the ideal villain, as he proved in Western movies from Denver & Rio Grande in 1952 to Return of the Gunfighter in 1967, with, in between, a whole host of appearances in TV Westerns.
 

15   The Judgement
 
In the town of Hardesty, 40 miles west of Cimarron City, charismatic trail boss Joe Bravo (James Stacy, the eponymous Lancer in the series and the newspaperman in Kirk Douglas’s Posse) tries to cash a $500 check but a mean little bank clerk refuses as none of Bravo's group of punchers can provide proper ID. Bravo's, er, bravos take over the bank, which has $100,000 in the vault. One of the cowboys, Emmet Lloyd (Burr DeBenning, often in punk roles in TV Westerns), wants to steal all the money, but basically-decent Bravo punches him out and fires him, taking only the $500 of the check. Francis is deputy in Crown’s absence but is rather outclassed by Bravo and his boisterous crew.
 
Crown later arrests the boys in the saloon, but recognizes Bravo as an old friend. He pleads in court on the puncher’s behalf but by-the-book small-minded Judge Gilroy (Leonard Stone from Willy Wonka, a regular of TV Western shows) sentences them to hard labor. Crown trusts his judgement and appoints Francis marshal of Hardesty with Bravo as his deputy. The deputy turns out to be a born lawman, outclassing Francis.
 
Meanwhile, Emmet meets up with some crooks and plans to rob the Hardesty bank of all that money. He inveigles his erstwhile cowboy pals into helping him but now Bravo is wearing a star…
 
This episode, another written by Dan Ullman but this time directed by Robert Butler (director of a couple of comedy Westerns and some TV shows), was first aired on CBS on January 4, 1968. It is quite good. It explores the boundaries between strict interpretation of the law and common-sense justice. The Cimarron Strip would have been a good place to do that…
 

16   Fool’s Gold
 
Fool’s Gold, first aired on January 11, 1968, isn’t actually one of the best written (Palmer Thompson) or best directed (Herschel Daugherty) episodes of Cimarron Strip but it is very enjoyable for one good reason: Slim Pickens is the guest star. 
 
A train (even TV Westerns had trains in those days) drops off an army payroll of $56,000 for Jim Crown and his deputies to guard. Ruthless outlaw Sam Darcy (Robert Lansing, veteran of many TV Western shows but few movies, slightly Steve McQueenish in appearance) and his accomplices use a young man whom everyone calls Kid (Robert Random from Iron Horse on TV) to set off dynamite as a decoy while they blow the safe and the boy also flashes fool's gold around, pretending to celebrate a strike, as a distraction. Crown arrests the kid, but has no evidence to connect him to the outlaws, who escape and bury what they have stolen.
 
The marshal and his posse catch up with Darcy and his two elderly henchmen Hank and Fargo (Russell Thorson and William Bramley, both also TV Western regulars; William was Officer Krupke in West Side Story) at the horse ranch of Malachi Grimes, known for his aversion to soap as Grimey (Slim). Grimey is pretty handy with a Winchester and he shoots Hank, and he and Crown’s posse capture Darcy (who has murdered Fargo to have all the loot for himself). Darcy is sent to territorial prison for ten years hard labor.
 
Crown releases Kid to go work for Grimes, and the two bond. Slim realizes that he’s a bit wild, like a colt, but a good boy really. But Darcy escapes and seeks revenge on Grimey and Crown…
 
It’s not bad as far as action goes but the episode is definitely worth a watch for Slim.
 

17   Heller
 
The heller in question is Tuesday Weld and she is so-called because someone said of her “I don’t know what the hell ‘er name is” and the heller part stuck. She had been taken by Indians as a child. She heals a wounded Marshal Crown and they grow fond of each other. Heller and Dulcey have a rather wary relationship: the jealousy is understood rather than explicit. Ms. Weld was well known for turning down roles which she probably should have taken (Lolita, Bonnie and Clyde, True Grit) and she didn’t do Westerns (only this and a 1960 Zane Grey Theatre episode). But she’s quite good here as a tomboyish, independent and rather feisty woman.
 
The episode starts, as many do, with riders out in the Strip. These are bad guys under the command of Logan Purcell (Morgan Woodward) and they are not at all nice to Indians. When they shoot one in town, Jim Crown chases them. He is wounded in the pursuit and that’s when Tuesday (real name Susan but Tuesday’s more memorable) nurses him, though badman Purcell considers her his property, so it’s a risky business.

Long before he was Punk Anderson in Dallas, Mr. Woodward wore a Stetson. He started in a Fess Parker/Jeffrey Hunter B, The Great Locomotive Chase, in 1956, and the same year was in another Fess Parker epic, Westward Ho, the Wagons. He appeared in very many Western TV shows before, during and after being Shotgun Gibbs in Wyatt Earp. Here, he’s quite good as the nasty bad guy.
 
Crown gets help from the Indians to find Purcell. Together the posse number seven, the perfect Western number. It doesn’t end well for Tuesday, though…
 
This episode first aired on January 18, 1968. It was written by F Troop authors Mr. & Mrs. Kalish and directed by Gunnar Hellstrom, a Swede known for Gunsmoke.

It’s not bad.
 

18   Knife in the Darkness
 
This is the story of how Jack the Ripper came to Cimarron…
 
You have to suspend your credibility even more than usual for this one. Cimarron is shrouded in fog and the episode is shot entirely at night. An evil killer stalks the streets, gutting saloon tarts with surgeon’s knives. Nasty fellow.
 
Various sinister strangers are immediately suspected. Of course ace-reporter Francis knows all about Scotland Yard’s hunt for the slayer and can lead Marshal Crown’s investigations in the right direction. A former flame of Jim’s from Abilene, Maddie (Victoria Shaw, Charity in Alvarez Kelly and the medieval Queen in Westworld) appears in Cimarron but he doesn’t have much time to renew acquaintances because she is dispatched by the horrid Ripper. To make matters worse, the grisly assassin sends Crown a taunting letter, as he did to the Yard.
 
With old flame Victoria Shaw
 
Well, I can’t tell you who the Ripper is (I’d make a fortune if I knew) and would never be guilty of spoilers, perish the thought, but I can tell you that among the candidates are Philip Carey as a plum-waistcoated gambler, Patrick Horgan as a posh English private eye and Tom Skerritt as a social reformer.
 
Directed by Charles R Rondeau (his antepenultimate oater) and written by Harlan Ellison (his only Western), the show went out on January 25, 1968.
 
To be honest with you, the whole thing is rather silly.
 

19   The Sound of a Drum
 
The Sound of a Drum, directed by Gerald Mayer (Louis B Mayer’s nephew, who directed two B-Westerns in the 1950s but mostly did TV work) and written by VL Tracey and AL Christopher (whose only Western work this was for both) and first aired on February 1, 1968, was essentially a mini-cavalry Western.
 
It featured Steve Forrest as a charismatic but basically crooked army sergeant cashiered thanks to the evidence of a by-the-book superior, the latter played by Gerald S O’Loughlin, in a rather dignified way, bringing stature to the part. Forrest, Dana Andrews’s brother, ‘discovered’ by Gregory Peck, did mostly TV work (though was Capt. Harding in The Longest Day). He started in a Western in 1953, was Elvis’s brother Clint in Flaming Star and Clint again in Heller in Pink Tights. He was in pretty well every TV Western you care to name, including two episodes of Cimarron Strip (this and Broken Wing). In The Sound of a Drum he manages an accent well and comes across as charming, a good leader and an entertaining saloon companion but underneath, as Marshal Crown can see, he is corrupt and vicious.
 
Steve Forrest - charismatic but but a bad egg
 
The story deals well with the (im)morality of a kangaroo court: on the one hand apparently right triumphs as common men usurp the official courts and dispense direct justice, but on the other we see how a manipulative character can use such processes (close to lynch mobs) as a cloak for self-interested murder. It’s actually quite well done, though gets a bit silly when Dulcey is drafted as counsel for the defense.
 
Harry Carey Jr. is one of the troopers under Sgt. Forrest’s sway and a member of the court but is sadly wasted, with a too-small part.
 


20   Big Jessie
 
Marshal Crown takes seemingly guileless but actually crooked Bud Baylor (Eddie Hodges, Huck Finn in the 1960 movie) to Silver City, where he is wanted for robbery and murder. Before going, though, Bud tricks gullible Dulcey into sending a coded message to his brother Bill (TV Western veteran Donnelly Rhodes), who, along with his partner, the sinister Lobo, ambush Crown and knock him unconscious.
 
The good thing about this is that Lobo is played by Timothy Carey. Carey had in fact made his film debut in a Western, as a corpse in Across the Wide Missouri, and he graduated to playing psychotics and weirdos, aided by his bizarre but beguiling appearance. He was a regular (usually as a henchman) in Cowboy G-Men and he was Howard Tetley in One-Eyed Jacks, as well as being in a host of TV Westerns. Always fun to see.
 
Carey as Lobo
 
Anyway, Crown is helped by the large Jessica of the title (Mariette Hartley, from Ride the High Country) but he has lost his ID and badge, and is mistaken for the criminal Bill, who murdered the blacksmith, and pursued by a lynch mob. Lynch mobs figured largely in this series.
 
Better yet than Timothy Carey, though, is the fact that a bounty hunter is after Bill (and now by mistake Crown) for the reward and guess who this is? Why Jack Elam! Well, it doesn’t get better than that. He’s Buckman Moon (excellent name), and he’s sure Crown is Bill and he’s gonna get him…
 
Jack is bounty hunter Buckman Moon
 
As was so often the case, this episode is vastly improved by its guest stars. Directed by Bonanza-meister Herschel Daugherty and written by Dan Mainwaring (Bugles in the Afternoon), it first aired on CBS on February 8, 1968.
 

21   The Blue Moon Train
 
A hobo gets off a train in Cimarron (beating up the railroad bulldog) and kind-hearted Dulcey gives him a meal, then a job. But it’s ex-con A1 Joe Lehigh, a former convict, and he’s up to no good. It’s Broderick Crawford, of course.
 
Brod was always verging on the completely hopeless in Westerns, a ridiculous figure, really, waddling fatly about and as at home on a horse as a bear on an antelope. He was Bob Dalton in 1940, then did seven B Westerns before topping the bill in one, The Saber and the Arrow, directed by André de Toth, in 1953. He was plain silly fanning his double-action Colts (you try it) in The Fastest Gun Alive. He also appeared in episodes of quite a few TV Westerns: Bat Masterson, Rawhide, The Rough Riders, The Virginian, Destry and Alias Smith & Jones. And this one.
 
Portly Brod
 
Brod is incarcerated by Crown but escapes, using a bar of soap as a club on Francis, whom he kidnaps. He hides out in the ghost town of Lucre, pursued by Crown. Two accomplices/rivals, Elza Kedge and Dum Dum (Don ‘Red’ Barry and Kevin Hagen) play their part in the story too, Kedge with a derringer (Brod makes short work of that pop gun). Brod hides the wounded Francis and threatens that if Crown doesn’t collaborate with him in a scheme to release some fellow prisoners from a passing train, he will let Francis die.
 
There is the inevitable shoot-out…
 
Like all episodes of this series, this one, directed by Gerald Mayer, written by Jack Curtis and first aired on February 15, 1968, is well done, has some good stars and is worth a watch still today. Enjoy. You’ll have a chuckle at Broderick Crawford anyway, if you can understand his mumble.
 

22   Without Honor
 
In this one Jim and Major Ben Covington (Andrew Duggan) go under cover deep into the Strip to find the lair of evil outlaw, ex-soldier George Deeker - Chester Morris, most famous as Boston Blackie but he did five TV Western shows and starred in two big-screen oaters, Wagons Westward and the 1936 (i.e. non-John Ford) 3 Godfathers. He’s quite good as the bad guy.
 
Jim and Major Ben are pals, of course, and gradually through the series the Major evolved into a more sympathetic and competent type. He persuades Jim to go with him because a member of the Deeker gang is none other than his estranged son Bill (Jon Voight, who in fact looks remarkably like Duggan; there seems to be a real family resemblance). The boy is the gang’s dynamite expert – which is going to come in handy when the rescue is launched.
 

Major Covington: Andrew Duggan

There’s also a slightly Deets-ish member of the band who wants out and helps Crown and the Major, though with fatal consequences for him, sadly. It’s Cully, played by Colley, Don Pedro Colley in fact, who was in eleven TV Western shows and was Joshua (not Charley) in The Legend of Nigger Charley in 1972. He’s rather good, with his rich, plummy slightly Caribbean accent (though he ws born in Oregon).
 
The evilest outlaw, though, is Lane Bardeen. He’s really got it in for Crown. Well, Crown did run him out of town and call him a mad dog, so I guess that’s why. I have noted before how –een names in Westerns are almost invariably bad guys. I wonder why that is. This Bardeen is a homicidal and sly fellow, played by Paul Mantee, who was better known for the slightly un-Oscared epic Robinson Crusoe on Mars. He’s rather good, in fact.
 
Shockingly, when Crown goes under cover on the mission he wears a beat-up old hat with NO silver hatband.
 
It all ends well, with father and son reconciled.
 
Directed by TV Western director Robert Butler, who also did The Judgement, written by story consultant Dan Ullman, who started as uncredited ‘other crew’ on a Randolph Scott oater in 1948 and first wrote a Western – for Don ‘Red’ Barry – in 1949, it aired first on February 29, 1968, as the penultimate episode.
 
Watchable.
 

 23   The Greeners
 
The last episode of Cimarron Strip (sadly there was no season 2) starts with two ne’er-do-well old timers Owly and Pinky trying a scam in the saloon but hoping to be lodged and fed free in the jail. Luckily for us Owly and Pinky are played by Dub Taylor and Shug Fisher, so all’s well with the world.
 
Unfortunately for them, however, Marshal Crown, while sympathetic to them and their plight, runs them out of town instead and they come across some rustlers; they scare the rustlers off and tuck in to the beef the thieves have left, roasting it over the camp fire. But the next morning seriously nasty rancher Turner (David Brian, looking all menacing and slightly Jay C Flippenish) turns up with his henchmen, takes Owly and Pinky for rustlers and has them dragged behind horses till death, then strung up from a tree. Not nice, and indeed incoming family of greeners the Arlyns witness said brutal murder. Fancy doing in Dub and Shug!
 
Now the Arlyns split over what to do. Patriarch Ared (Mark Lenard, Sarek from Star Trek) is a religious nut and agonizes over testifying over what he has actually seen: he saw the dragging but not the hanging. Son David (Peter Jason, also in episode 16, Fool’s Gold, and Pinkerton in The Long Riders) is less theological and is all for speaking up against evil rancher Turner and his thugs. In fact, though, he does a deal with the devil, taking Turner’s pay-off to buy a farm for the family in return for not testifying against him. And who’s to say he’s wrong, in the last resort? It’s an interesting dilemma. And thought-provoking situations of this kind were not alien to Cimarron Strip. There was always – well, nearly always – a serious strain to the writing.
 
This last episode was directed by McEveety, Vincent of that Ilk, written by Hal Sitowitz, who also did episodes 10 and 14, and was first shown on March 7, 1968.
 
Spin-off

And so farewell, Cimarron Strip. You were definitely one of the best Western TV shows.
 
To be brutally frank, I could have done without the actors playing MacGregor and Dulcey, whose performances were not out of the top drawer and whose characters were, on balance, rather tiresome and silly, but Francis was OK and Jim Crown was a convincing tough Westerner. The mise en scène, the acting from the guest stars and the screenplays were all consistently high quality. All in all, a good view, even today.
 
 

 

10 comments:

  1. Looks like another DVD investment for me.....

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  2. This is extraordinary. I am not that familiar with the series, but this seems to be encyclopedic. I've been watching a couple of the series from the late 1950s and am finding (a) Have Gun, Will Travel is better than I had remembered, mostly because of Richard Boone and good writing (even Gene Roddenberry occasionally), and (b) Wanted: Dead or Alive is mildly disappointing even with Steve McQueen, because the writing usually isn't as good.

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  3. @Nicholas -- that's fascinating, as we've been doing much the same, but think differently. Have loved HGWT when it's good ... but the bad ones really bring it down. W:DOA never reaches the heights of HGWT, but has a uniform quality that is more reliable. Bat Masterson is very modest in its intentions, but always exceeds them and is a terrific show. (I really recommend that one.) Rawhide is often surprisingly macabre -- I often think that Rawhide writers had a regular case of the spooks. Wild, Wild West is very disappointing .... and almost impossible to watch, though I loved it as a boy.

    I have yet to dig into Wyatt Earp or Wagon Train or Gunsmoke (though I know the radio version of Gunsmoke very well and love it).

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  4. Harlan Ellison wrote about his Jack the Ripper episode in an article I read a while back. Apparently he was kind of embarrassed about it, but said that it wasn't filmed the way he wrote it. I also recall a serial killer episode of Wagon Train, but I'm not sure if it was supposed to be Jack the Ripper.

    Richard

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  5. Ah, now we are in the territory of Western TV shows and their comparative merits - a minefield!
    My own favorites as a boy were Gunsmoke (obviously) and Have Gun - Will Travel - I do agree with Bob that some episodes were pretty crummy but overall it was just great. I didn't much care for later 'family saga' or soapy ones like Bonanza - and actually even the earlier Laramie was often pretty boring. Hoagy would always get on that rail and sing, dammit.
    Don't forget Cheyenne - that was great too. And Tales of Wells Fargo. Oh my, the list is long...
    Jeff

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  6. Journey to a Hanging is my current favourite episode. Probably because John Saxon is just so likable .

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    1. Yes, Saxon was good in Westerns.
      Jeff

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    2. Screamer was very Kikuchiyo-ish. That suited me. Shows how influential Toshiro Mifune was on the acting world.

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  7. I can't get over how good the writing was in many of the Cimarron Strip Episodes like the Battleground. Think The Battle of Bloody Stones is very insightful.And admire how many story's are not Black And White like The Hunted.
    Steve.

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    1. I agree. The list of writers is very long, with series creator Christopher Knopf being heavily involved.
      It was certainly one of the classier Western TV shows.
      Jeff

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