"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Blind Justice (HBO, 1994)


A 1990s American spaghetti




 
 
There has been quite a little mini-genre of ‘blind’ Westerns. Cameron Mitchell was a gunfighter who goes blind in Minnesota Clay, Peter Graves was blind in Fort Defiance, and Pat Wayne managed to shoot accurately, though sightless, in An Eye for an Eye. On TV too gunman Jan Merlin was blinded by Audie Murphy’s six-shooter in Episode 1 of NBC's Whispering Smith, and James Drury was a blind gunslinger in Episode 32 of ABC's Stagecoach West. The idea is that these pistoleers manage to aim accurately by hearing, or some sixth sense. One of the most egregious of these blind gunmen was the character Canaan in Blind Justice.

It was a mid-90s HBO movie, so could go for violence and the occasional bared breast and so on. It wasn’t very good, in all honesty, though is just about watchable. The hero, or central character anyway, Canaan, was blinded in the war (we see flashbacks of the horrors of conflict; he somehow landed in a mass grave and had lime tipped over him) yet can now shoot with unerring accuracy. At one point he hears a scorpion crawling near a man and shoots it to stop the critter stinging the fellow. A likely story. Canaan is played by Armand Assante, who was, in fact, one of the better things about the more recent Western The Man Who Came Back, in which he was the bad guy. He was apparently Belizaire the Cajun in 1986, though that is not a movie I know. Not a Western, you see. Now he is a blind bounty hunter, dressed all in black. There’s more than a hint of Jonah Hex about his character.

There's none so blind

It’s a ‘treed town’ plot. A few soldiers under the command of a tough sergeant (Adam Baldwin, no relation to the Baldwin acting clan) are holed up, defending a shipment of silver, and a ruthless bandit chief (Robert Davi, from Licence to Kill) is going to take the town to get it. Obviously there’s a glam woman for the hero to canoodle with (Elizabeth Shue) and less obviously there’s a scurrilous priest (Ian McElhinney) who is in cahoots with the bandido. And there’s a crazy Indian shaman (Jimmy Herman, who was Stone Calf in Dances With Wolves and a particularly convincing older Geronimo in TNT's 1993 Geronimo) who shows his opinion of the Christian priest by leaving a dead dog on the church steps, etc.

Evil bandit jefe

For some reason Canaan has a baby with him, that he has sworn to take to a town no one has ever heard of and may be mythical. Or something.

Not quite sure where he is going with that baby

Canaan agrees, somewhat reluctantly, to help the soldiers, in return for a tenth of the ton of silver.

There is much shooting, a good deal of torture (Canaan is crucified at one point), and the man in black escapes from a burning ring of fire in a way that would have pleased Johnny Cash. There’s a climactic showdown involving much use of dynamite, hidden in a coffin, spaghetti-style.

Sgt. Baldwin does his duty

It was shot in various parts of Arizona. The director was Richard Spence, from Yorkshire England, his only Western. The screenplay was by Daniel Knauf, a producer.

It’s pulp fiction, a modern spaghetti western, I’d say, though with better acting, script, sound and staging than those dire rip-offs of yore.



 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Whispering Smith (NBC TV, 1961)


Audie detects




 
 
Last month on this blog we had a retrospective look at the Western movies of Audie Murphy (click the link for that), and very fine some of the pictures were, too. Well, in common with many a Western actor, Audie in the late 1950s toyed with the idea of a TV show. In the 1958 – 59 season George Montgomery did Cimarron City, for NBC. Rory Calhoun was The Texan on CBS for two seasons from 1958 (and we’ll be reviewing that soon). And Joel McCrea starred with his son Jody in Wichita Town from 1959 to 1960, also on NBC. Even Henry Fonda made occasional appearances in The Deputy (NBC again) for two seasons, 1959 – 61. They didn’t all do it. Randolph Scott preferred to retire, and John Wayne thought about doing Gunsmoke but in the end passed it to James Arness. But the theatrical Western was on the decline and the glory days of the early and mid-50s had departed. The Western TV show, usually a low-budget half-hour black & white affair with mucho advertising/sponsorship (often by cigarette companies), was now the thing.

Some shows were better than others. Gunsmoke reigned supreme but there were quite a few successful series. Wagon Train, of course, Rawhide and Bonanza. Richard Boone did well with Have Gun – Will Travel on CBS. The Rifleman, starring Chuck Connors, ran on ABC for five seasons from 1958 to 1963. Tales of Wells Fargo with Dale Robertson ran for six seasons – no fewer than 200 episodes! So probably Audie thought he could cash in on that, and together with his pals the Willinghams he put together a project to bring the old chestnut Whispering Smith to the small screen.

Author Frank H Spearman

The 1906 novel

I say ‘old chestnut’ because it was one of the oldest Westerns going. Frank H Spearman had first published the novel Whispering Smith, about a railroad detective, in 1906. It (or freely altered variations on it) was filmed on eight separate occasions: four silent movies, in 1916, 1917, 1926 and 1927, and then talkie versions in 1930, 1935, 1948 (the most famous one, with Alan Ladd), and 1952. As with all the others, considerable liberties were taken in Murphy’s one. Audie’s character did not work for the railroad; he was an ordinary detective with the Denver Police Department.

1916 version

The 1948 movie

It’s all very anachronistic because late-1860s dates are always mentioned but the guns and clothes are 1870s (or 1950s in the case of the latter) and in fact Denver did not create a city police force until 1874. Never mind, we don’t watch Westerns for historical accuracy.

At the start of every episode a painting of Audie on horseback comes to life, and he dismounts, waves at his colleague - more of a sidekick really - George Womack (Guy Mitchell) and enters the police station. The music is in a jazzy crime-drama style.

The picture comes to life and Audie gallops in

Willard W Willingham (1915 - 2013) was a close friend of Audie’s and worked on no fewer than 21 of Murphy’s feature Westerns, from the very first, The Kid from Texas, in 1950, to the last, A Time for Dying, in 1969. He was assistant producer on Posse from Hell and he produced Whispering Smith. He even appeared as an actor in seven Audie features and in two episodes of the TV show. His wife, Mary, sometimes wrote with him and contributed to four Audie Western movies and four of the TV shows. Sadly, I can’t find any photos of the couple.

Fancy Henry

Shooting (in both senses) started in the summer of 1959. But the show appeared cursed, or so it seemed to the superstitious. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. First, co-star Mitchell (whom I remember more at the time for his hit Singin’ the Blues – I was eight and it was the first pop song that really grabbed me) broke his shoulder in a fall from a horse after only seven episodes had been filmed. By the time he recovered, Audie had to leave because he was committed to making Hell Bent for Leather, shot between August 17 and September 11, 1959, and so production had to be further postponed. It was an inauspicious beginning.

Guy gets a song or two

Then key player Sam Buffington, who took the role of Whispering’s boss, police chief John Richards, committed suicide, aged only 28, after appearing in 19 of the 26 episodes. He’d been Luke Slaughter of Tombstone on CBS’s radio show and a frequent actor in TV Westerns who also did three features. I must say that in Whispering Smith he looked middle-aged and overweight and I was amazed to learn that he was only in his late twenties.

Sam would not last the series
 
It was the time of the space race and Alan Shepard was the first American to go up. Audie said, "I'm glad it didn't take as long to get Shepard off the ground as it's taken this series. I'd begun to think the Congo would be ahead of us in the space race before Whispering Smith ever got on the air."

But the worst problem was political and came with the puritan backlash that reared its ugly (and rather stupid) head when the series was finally screened - the first episode was shown in May 1961. Politicians got on their high moral horses and complained about the violence in TV shows. The US Senate Juvenile Delinquency subcommittee claimed that the series was excessively violent and a hearing before the subcommittee made the front page of The New York Times on June 9, 1961. They took particular exception to Episode 2, The Grudge. They said it was a story of bloody revenge that included a fistfight (shock horror), a mother whipping her son (of course that never happened), a false claim of sexual assault in a hotel room (nor that), a story told of a man laughing after shooting another man six times in the stomach (people tell stories, you know), a gunfight ending in injury (Lord, no!), and the same mother, at the end, accidentally shooting and killing her daughter instead of Whispering Smith (doh). Senator John A Carroll of Colorado called the episode "a libel on Denver". I don't think Mr. Carroll was ever a rival to Einstein in IQ. In reality the show was blandly safe and no worse than thousands of Westerns, on the big screen and small, that had gone before it. But NBC bottled it, the program was discontinued, and Murphy, who valued his ‘goody’ image, lost interest in the project. The last six episodes were never broadcast.

Luckily, you can get the complete series on DVD now, released by Timeless Productions. In the first issue of the boxed set the episode The Interpreter was missing, lost, but it was re-discovered and included on later versions of the DVD (including mine). The quality of the picture and audio isn’t too bad though the black & white has become gray & white and the sound isn’t always clear. Still, it’s good enough to watch.

Having watched all 26 shows, I must say, frankly, that Whispering Smith is not one of the best TV Westerns. Really, it’s a cop show that happens to be set in 1860s Denver rather than a true Western. The voiceover commentary by Audie gives it a sort of faux-historical casebook or Untouchables/Dragnet ring. Some of the writing is a bit clunky and the show’s ‘guest stars’ were often less than stellar. Of course it’s always good to watch Audie but the show doesn’t have all that much going for it otherwise. Some episodes are good – thoughtful or original – but a lot of it is same old, same old.

Here’s an episode guide for you.

Episode 1. The Blind Gun. Director Francis D Lyon. Writer Tom Seller. Air date May 8, 1961.

The Blind Gun opened proceedings. Director Lyon had worked (with Christian Nyby) editing Red River for Howard Hawks and had gone on to direct Escort West with Victor Mature and a couple of Joel McCrea pictures, The Oklahoman and Gunsight Ridge. Writer Seller was a regular contributor to The Lone Ranger.

We are introduced to the main characters, Tom ‘Whispering’ Smith (he was Luke in the book) and his colleague George Womack (Mitchell), detectives in the Denver PD (there are a chief, five officers and two ‘tecs on the force). Mitchell plays a cheery but none-to-bright foil to hero Smitty, as they all call him. Smitty is the bright one, always smelling out the culprit and motive before anyone else.

The two detectives look rather serious

Jan Merlin was the guest star bad man. Blinded in the opening scene by Whispering Smith’s gunfire (that would have irked the Juvenile Delinquency subcommittee) he agrees to lead the detective to where he stashed the loot in return for an eye operation in St Louis. However, he gradually regains his sight - but doesn’t let on. Where have I seen that plot device before? Somewhere. It’ll come to me. Anyway, he doesn’t fool Audie.

Episode 2. The Grudge. Director Herbert Coleman. Writer Dick Nelson. Air date May 15, 1961.

The Grudge featured, billed sixth, a young Robert Redford, 24 (he’d already had small parts in a Maverick episode and in The Deputy) but the ‘official’ guest star was Gloria Talbott, at the time a ‘scream queen’ famous for such epics as I Married a Monster from Outer Space, but she was a regular on Western TV shows and also did some features, two with Joel McCrea, and she would later return to work with Audie on Arizona Raiders. She has a very unpleasant mother, Ma Gates (June Walker), who comes to Denver with her brood to get revenge on Smith for killing her husband (he did it legitimately, of course). Redford will call Whispering out over Gloria. Foolish youth. As if anyone could out-draw Whispering Smith. Ridiculous.

Director Coleman had been an assistant director under Hitchcock, so presumably learned something there, and he would soon direct Audie in the rather good Posse from Hell. Writer Nelson wrote for a wide gamut of Western TV shows.

Episode 3. The Devil's Share. Director Lawrence Doheny. Writer Joel Murcott. Air date May 22, 1961.

The Devil’s Share is a sordid tale of fratricide and theft. Jeff Whalen (Clu Gulager, an ex-cowhand who appeared in various TV Westerns) murders his brother Frank (Jimmy Lydon) over a girl (Kathie Browne) and steals the money Frank had got for the sale of his crops. He then frames a neighbor (Otto Waldis) for the crime but Smith doesn’t believe the story and sniffs out the real culprit.

This one is a bit of an over-talky whodunit, really. Director Doheny would later be known for Six Million Dollar Man and Magnum PI episodes; Westernwise, he only did two Whispering Smith and two Tales of Wells Fargo shows and that’s it. Writer Murcott penned a half-dozen Bonanza episodes but likewise wasn’t known for Westerns.

Episode 4. Stake-Out. Director Christian Nyby. Writer Harold Swanton from a Borden Chase story. Air date May 29, 1961.

This is a George Womack episode. George used to ride with a gang, in the days of his misspent youth, and now the malefactors come back and try to blackmail him into helping them do a job in Denver. When he refuses they kidnap his wife Edie (Joyce Taylor). Good old Richard Devon, never one to let a TV Western show go by without appearing in it, leads the kidnappers. Whispering and George stake out the outlaws’ cabin and Audie does that good old trick of holding his horse by the tail and being towed (a Tom Mix stand-by). The bad guys are bested and George is never doubted by his colleagues again.

Nyby directed six episodes

One of the bad guys says to Smith “You ain’t got to shavin’ yet”, thus perpetuating Audie’s ’kid’ persona (though he was a war veteran in his late 30s by then).

Episode 5. Safety Valve. Director Jerry Hopper. Writers the Willinghams. Air date June 5, 1961.
 
This is a US Army episode. Smitty and George go undercover for the Army to investigate the deaths of three young officers, all of whom were shot in the head during Indian attacks. Of course there are several suspects - an ex-Confederate officer with a grudge, a sergeant who hates his superiors and a private jealous of anyone who romances the commanding officer's pretty young daughter. Naturally Audie dons the uniform of an officer while George has to be content to be a dogsbody corporal. He gets a song though.

Audie's the officer, of course

Good news: Harry Carey Jr. is the sergeant. He will punch it out with George, while Whispering will have a sword fight with the officer. Who the guilty party was I shall not, however, reveal. As if you care.

Hopper helmed wagonloads of Gunsmoke and Have Gun – Will Travel shows, among many others, and was guilty of three bad feature Westerns, Pony Express, The Missouri Traveler (hardly a Western) and His Name was Madron, as well as an OK one, Smoke Signal.

Episode 6. Stain of Justice. Director Lawrence Doheny. Writer the Irving H Cooper. Air date June 12, 1961.

This episode features a young Richard Chamberlain, in one of his very first TV shows. He plays judge’s son Chris Harrington, a bit of a playboy, who is found standing over the body of gold-digging Stella Dean (Nancy Valentine) and of course people jump to conclusions faster than Olympic pole-vaulters. Only Whispering doesn’t buy it. It was in fact the judge himself (Patric Knowles) wot dunnit: Stella was his mistress and she goaded him beyond bearing, so he bonked her on the head with an ornament.

Dr Kildare with sixgun

This and an episode of The Rebel were all Irving H Cooper wrote as far as Westerns go.

Episode 7. The Deadliest Weapon. Director Sidney Lanfield. Writers John Falvo & David Tomack. Air date June 19, 1961. 
   
Smith and Romack are assigned to protect Ralph Miller (Bartlett Robinson), whose life has been threatened. They fail to stop him drinking a glass of something poisoned. Oops. He survives, but only just. There are six suspects but which one was it? There’s a revolver booby-trap and a bomb. Every known lethal device is brought to bear. Fortunately, in the last few moments of the half-hour, someone says, “I did it!” That’s lucky. Even Whispering was stumped there for a minute.

Director Lanfield was a gag writer at Fox back in the day who moved on to directing Bob Hope pictures. He only helmed one feature Western (Station West) but he did quite a few TV oaters.

Falvo wrote Black Saddle.

Episode 8. The Quest. Director Frank Arrigo. Writer Dick Nelson. Air date June 26, 1961.  

Whispering saves a rather wet girl (Elen Willard) in Denver who, it turns out, is looking for her ma. Thugs then try to force her to leave town, though, which is odd, Whispering thinks. The plot gradually unfolds until we meet the mother, who has, er, mental health issues.

The episode features a tune played by blind pianist Jacky Rouge (John Harmon) which Guy then sings (any excuse) – oh, and a derringer. The first derringer of the series.

Arrigo was an art director and producer who directed the occasional Western TV show.

Episode 9. Three for One. Director Tay Garnett. Writer Ellis Kadison. Air date July 3, 1961.  

The Denver police turn a bank robber/murderer, Malone (KL Smith), over to deputies to be transported by stage to Phoenix, only to discover shortly thereafter that the men weren’t Phoenix deputies at all but the man’s accomplices. Whispering and George set out in hot pursuit but they find only the abandoned stage and bodies – and one of them is the man Malone. They also find a fallen parasol, so a lady has gone with the gang. Willingly or was she kidnapped? The trail will take Whispering to Leadville as he seeks to bring the villains to justice, and we shall spot (in very small parts) Ray Hatton as a locksmith and Jack Perrin and Buddy Roosevelt as townsmen.

Director Garnett was another former gag writer who progressed to directing, especially war films, but he also helmed quite a few Western TV shows as well as Cattle King with Robert Taylor on the big screen. Writer Kadison did primarily children’s shows but the odd Western too.

Episode 10. Death at Even Money. Director Sidney Lanfield. Writer Hendrik Vollaerts. Air date July 10, 1961. 

We open with two gamblers, Frank and Dave, at 5.30 in the morning. Frank (Marc Lawrence) has lost fifty grand to Dave (Robert Lowery). He proposes an unusual way of getting it back: fifty thousand even money says Whispering Smith will be dead in 48 hours. It’s a bet.

Dave now hires two thugs to keep Smitty alive, and one of them shoots a would-be assassin (John Daheim) who has on him a $100 bill – no prizes for guessing where he came by that. Whispering outdraws and wings another attempted murderer, gunslinger Rios (Sherwood Price). Frank has a derringer – well, he would, being a lowdown type. It's the second sneaky pocket pistol of the series. There will be others! It does him no good, though (derringer users rarely win), though it’s finally not Whispering who gets Frank but… Ah, that would be telling.

Writer Ric Vollaerts was known for boldly going between TV show genres (Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Batman, etc., as well as episodes of pretty well every Western TV show you care to name.

Episode 11. The Hemp Reeger Case. Director Earl Bellamy. Writers Halsey Melone & Willard Willingham. Air date July 17, 1961. 
 
This one was directed by our old pal Earl Bellamy, who worked on dozens and dozens of Westerns, including 18 features (Gunpoint for Audie among them) and over 150 episodes of TV oaters. This was writer Melone’s only Whispering Smith show but he worked on quite a few of The Restless Gun.

Whispering is up near the Wyoming border where he captures an outlaw (oh good, it’s James Best). A regular of ours, Edward Platt, is the local lawman Sam Aikens and Smith asks him if he can board Reeger (Best) for the night. Aikens has a relationship with Flo (short for Floozy, I think) played by Patricia Medina, but it’s a stormy love/hate one. Sheriff Aikens thinks that if he kills Reeger he could claim the reward and set himself up with Flo, who would then love him. He’s not very bright. At any rate, there’s much skullduggery but justice – at Whispering’s hands – will prevail.

Episode 12. The Mortal Coil. Director James Neilson. Writers the Willinghams. Air date July 24, 1961.  

In this one, as in Episode 3, the cruel notion of fratricide features. In the opening scene, an unidentifiable man enters a house with a key, strangles a poor victim and then makes it look like a robbery. Whispering suspects the victim’s brother, Claude Denton, a businessman (John Beradino) of the crime, because Denton proffers an iron-clad alibi without being asked. Suspicious, huh.

Mayor Adams of Denver (Hugh Sanders) wants to put on a play to raise money for a statue, and Chief Richards orders Smith and Romack to take part. George is still in plaster (I forgot to say, he was injured in Episode 11, which was convenient because, as I said, he really did break a shoulder). They cleverly do a Hamlet-style play-within-a-play in which someone enters a house at night, strangles a victim and makes it look like a robbery. That startles the assassin. Whispering proves that the alibi is no good: the culprit said he was in Leadville at the time and had witnesses, but Smith rides to Leadville and back in one night to prove that the wicked fellow could after all have committed the crime.

You can’t pull the wool over Detective Smith’s eyes, no sir-ee.

No statue gets erected.

Episode 13. Cross Cut. Director Christian Nyby. Writer David Lang. Air date July 31, 1961.  

A man is murdered and an apparently sweet woman, April Fanshaw (Audrey Dalton) claims falsely that the victim had attacked her, and she had grabbed his gun and it had gone off. A likely story. Whispering notices that the dead man was wearing a rather distinctive ring, yet there was no white mark on his skin to show he had worn it for some time. He’s right: the real killer put the ring on the corpse’s finger. Why?

Well, you see, crook on the run Dakota Jackson (Colin Male) is in cahoots with April and the plan is to throw the pursuit off the scent. The victim was chosen because he vaguely resembled Dakota, and the ring with be a positive ID. Cunning, huh. Not only that, the killers are claiming the reward!

Jim Hayward is quite entertaining as the cadaverous undertaker Cyrus W Gratch.

Well, well, the truth will out, as it always does (in these shows).

Episode 14. Double Edge. Director Christian Nyby. Writers Ellis Kadison & William R Cox. Air date Aug 7, 1961.  

A real murder mystery this, and with a derringer at the heart of it too, so that piqued my interest. In an old abandoned house Whispering hears a scream and a shot, and suddenly a body thuds from an upstairs window at his feet. He investigates inside but finds it deserted, and when he returns outside the body is gone! Curiouser and curiouser. The dead man, we learn, was Frank Malloy (it’s Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan) and his widow Venetia (Lori Nelson) is of the merry kind.

Now we meet Jim, a shifty saloon keeper (as if there were any other kind) and good news, it’s Myron Healey. There will be much misbehavior, a couple of thugs, a forged note, a body in a closet and a replica of the derringer that John Wilkes Booth used to do in Abe at Ford’s Theater that fateful night. It reminded me of Episode 24 of Yancy Derringer, as I am sure it did you. And finally Jim will be shot with a derringer too. Action-packed, this one.

Episode 15. Trademark. Director Edward Ludlum. Writers Milton Krims & Rod Peterson. Air date Aug 14, 1961.

Denver, 1868. A man (Donald Buka) in a newspaper office looks through the archives of a decade before, and he (very naughtily) cuts out an article that interests him while the old editor (Forrest Taylor) is dozing, and takes it away with him. Three men are found murdered, all with the same MO. They were shot between the eyes and the third button on their vests was removed. What was the connection between the victims? Smitty and George will find that out, for sure. The trail leads them to good old Marie Windsor, the glamorous owner of a Denver casino, and gradually all will be revealed. There will be a rooftop fight and the killer will be unmasked and nabbed.

Episode 16. The Jodie Tyler Story. Director Christian Nyby. Writer Jack Bennett. Air date Aug 21, 1961.

The title makes this one sound like a Wagon Train episode, but nay. It’s 1868 again. A stage passenger, Hap Ward (Chick Hannan) is murdered in cold blood and his money stolen, and the killer is ID’d as outlaw Hob Judson (Read Morgan). The stage driver, by the way, Billy, is Willard Willingham. Now a woman, Jodie Tyler (Rachel Foulger) arrives in town, with the exact same amount of money as was stolen, and plans to buy the dead man’s general store. It turns out that Hob Judson is her brother-in-law. She has a young son, Tim (Jimmy Carter – no, not that one) who idolizes Hob.

Now the owners of the rival store, the Harlow brothers (William Henry and Harold ‘Tommy’ Hart) wanted to get their greedy hands on Hap’s emporium, but have been foiled, and one night the recently purchased store burns down. All most suspicious, n’est-ce pas? Luckily Whispering Smith is on hand to solve the mystery and catch the murderer/arsonist.

There’s a quick-draw showdown involving two-gun Hob and Detective Smith. It’s all very exciting.

Episode 17. Poet and Peasant Case. Director Edward Ludlum. Writer Robert Bloch. Air date Aug 28, 1961.

This episode features old stager Alan Mowbray. Mowbray was English-born and a decorated soldier in World War I who became a stage actor in London before touring the US, often in comic roles on the stage. Once the talkies arrived, with his excellent diction, height and upright posture and patrician air, he was ideal as a British, European or upper-class American gentleman. And indeed John Ford used him as a hammy actor in both My Darling Clementine and Wagonmaster. I’m sure you remember him. In this episode of Whispering Smith he plays a wealthy English lord coming to Denver to benefit the local opera house (actually ‘Silver King’ Horace Tabor built the opera house in 1881 but we won’t pick hairs). But the stage arrives empty. Smitty and George backtrack and find the driver dead and Mowbray groaning by the roadside. The aristocrat’s first concern is for his valet, Summers, who is found badly hurt and taken back to town.
 
Alan Mowbray, actor

The amusement comes as the Denverites address the peer (“Howdy, Your Majesty” etc.), misunderstood quotations (“As You Like It,” says the lord; “Yer dern tootin’ I like it!” is the reply) and when the posh Englishman proves surprisingly adept at stud poker and saloon brawls. It’s all a bit reminiscent of Oscar Wilde visiting Denver – he lectured there and was hugely feted in April 1882, dazzling people with his wit.

Best of all, there’s a derringer at the end.

The ending is in fact quite clever (though we see it coming). Psycho writer Bloch did a good job on this.

Episode 18. Dark Circle. Director Herbert Coleman. Writers William F Leicester & the Willinghams. Air date Sep 4, 1961.

The most important thing to note in this episode is that Audie has changed his gunbelt. Crucial, you wll agree. Up till now he has worn a small pistol high on the hip, rather like a police special, but now he has a bigger, lower-slung affair, a tie-down, rather reminiscent of Paladin’s. More ‘Western’, I suppose. In forthcoming episodes he will sometimes revert to the old gun, so I think that the episodes were not screened in the order in which they were filmed. The gun is an 1873 model single-action Colt, so he must have got an advance prototype from Sam’s factory in Hartford, Conn., because we are in the late 1860s, as Whispering’s voiceover commentary keeps telling us.

Anyway, in this one we meet lawyer Philo Blanch (EJ André) and saloon owner Fender (our old pal Carleton Young). Philo is intoxicated and threatens Fender. But Carleton’s part doesn’t last long because he is done in by a thug, and a record of Philo’s debts to him is planted in Philo’s house. Philo is framed.

Of course Whispering smells a rat, and investigates. Adam Williams is the wicked barman Ben, in cahoots with the thug, Ev Tabor (I wonder if he was a relation of Horace?) played by Richard Reeves, but they fall out, as malefactors are prone to do. Though innocent, Philo refuses to participate in his own defense, believing his death would be a blessing for all concerned. Whispering has other ideas…

Episode 19. Swift Justice. Director R Hamer Norris. Writers the Willinghams. Air date Sep 11, 1961.

The famous and ancient feud between the Campbells and MacDonalds is here transposed to Denver. The boss of one clan is Flora MacDonald (presumably named for the heroine who saved Bonnie Prince Charlie, though this one is, ahem, slightly less glamorous) and one of her sons is Glencoe MacDonald, a curious name considering what happened in Glencoe in 1692. They are played by Minerva Urecal and Stanley Clements, who were about as Scottish as I am, viz. not at all. On the opposing (very opposing) side we have Angus Campbell (William Tannen) and Young Campbell (Buff Brady). The families organize a horse race marked by much skullduggery and underhand tactics. A jockey is shot from the saddle. Nat Prine (Monte Burkhart) makes a book on the outcome and so has a vested interest.

Guy gets a song, a rather rock ‘n’ roll version of Camptown Races.

Whispering will unmask the villain. Not only that, he’ll enter the next race. The Campbells and MacDonalds have bet their ranches on it, so this time it’s serious.

Director Hamer Norris, lazily misspelt in the credits as Harner Norris, was pretty well an unknown (which is probably why they misspelt him). He wrote a Bonanza and a Riverboat episode but this was the only Western he directed.

Episode 20. The Idol. Director Virgil W Vogel. Writers Gene L Coon & Joseph Hoffman. Air date Sep 18, 1961.

1867, so we have gone backwards. And indeed, it’s the old gun Audie is wearing. Outside the Silver Queen saloon Eddie Royce (John Stephenson, doing a John Dehner impersonation) stabs a mining engineer. We meet Swedish dishwasher Ole, pronounced Oly, and happily it’s Alan Hale Jr. He loves glam saloon gal Marilyn (Joan O’Brien) but he considers her far too grand to take notice of him, so he pines from afar and continues washing dishes.
 
Of course Whispering and George investigate the murder. The trouble is, none of the saloon employees will say anything.  Until, that is, Ole discovers that Royce is two-timing la belle Marilyn…

This was the last episode screened by NBC.

Episode 21. String of Circumstances. Director Christian Nyby. Writer Ric Hardman. Scheduled air date Sep 25, 1961.

 
Terrorism comes to 1860s Denver. Bombs go off in the city. The Fenians are blamed. Yet there seems to be no Irish connection to the victims, or indeed between the two victims. But then Whispering comes across a ball of twine (punning title, you see) in a boarding house and slowly the pieces begin to fall into place…

Whispering will be ultra-brave at the end and run with a ticking bomb, throwing it into a water trough to stop Denver being razed.

Episode 22. The Interpreter. Director Christian Nyby. Writer Lawrence Menkin. Scheduled air date Oct 2, 1961.
 
Well, we had the IRA, now it’s the Mafia. Enrico Spanato (Paul Picerni) shoots another Italian on Denver’s north side. The dead man’s brother-in-law (Al Ruscio) claims that the victim was unarmed – a lie, because he shot first. But the Italians fear the new Mafia and will not talk. Already omertà is rearing its ugly head. Of course with the detectives of the Denver police department on the job the villain will not stay protected long.

This was the ’lost’ episode left off the DVD on first issue, later found and included, but added at the end. It was perhaps the earliest filmed, having a 1959 copyright date and Audie with his old gun.

Episode 23. The Homeless Wind. Director Frank Arrigo. Writers JR Bergren & Willard Willingham. Scheduled air date Oct 9, 1961.

This one is a non-George episode (probably one of the ones when Guy was injured). It features Jim Davis as good badman Sam Chandler. Whispering comes up to him close to the Mexican border as Sam is washing in a river. “You’re clean, enough, Sam,” Smitty admonishes. Yup, our hero has got the drop on the outlaw, but Sam warns him, “I’m not going back to Denver.” He’s a super-fast draw, too. He says he is unbeatable with his right and pretty durn good with his left.

Now some Mexican bandidos led by El Tigre (Alex Montoya) arrive and Sam thinks his luck’s in, yet nay, for El Tigre has a mind to keep the hated gringos, both of them, as slaves. So now Sam and Smitty are in the same boat, allies, as it were. OK, they have to take on and defeat the bandits. But then there will still be the showdown between the temporary allies. Gripping stuff. And always good to see Jim.

Episode 24. Trial of the Avengers. Director Frank Arrigo. Writer Franklin Coen. Scheduled air date Oct 16, 1961.
 
This one has an excellent cast. It opens with Bob Steele shooting a man in the back and we will have Leo Gordon as an ex-con (well cast, for he was a former resident of San Quentin) and Robert Mitchum’s bro John is there too. Leo is recently released from prison. “I paid my debt to society,” he says, platitudinously. “Just make sure you don’t run up another bill,” retorts Whispering Smith. You see, a group of ex-convicts has come to Denver. They appear to be settling an old score, but who is the would-be victim they are seeking?

Olan Soulé is the telegrapher. Cyrus the undertaker is back. Audie drinks milk. At one points he buys a new shirt. “Brown or blue?” he asks the sales assistant for advice. She replies that blue is his color (and indeed, on the title screen of the DVD, which is colorized, his shirt is indeed a rather fetching shade of light blue). But as we watch the episode, of course, we only wonder whether he will choose the light gray or the dark gray one.

There will be an informal yet very serious trial at the end, when Gene Roth will be ID’d as the intended victim of the former denizens of the pen, and all will be explained. But not by me.

Episode 25. Prayer of a Chance. Director Frank Arrigo. Writer Tom Seller. Scheduled air date Oct 23, 1961. 

This is a rather Catholic episode. Two real badmen (Peter Whitney and Lou Krugman) steal a jewel-encrusted statue of the Virgin from a church, and bonk the gentle priest (Vladimir Sokoloff) on the head to boot. Such cads. The priest saw them alright, and can ID them, no problem, but he won’t do so unless Whispering agrees to go after them unarmed. He refuses to countenance bloodshed, you see. This demand shocks Smitty but he eventually goes along with it.

Whispering finally catches up with the thieves in the desert and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues, in which what little water that is left is the prize. At the end the malefactors are so crazed by thirst that they agree to drop their six-shooters and surrender to the detective. However, one of the scoundrels has dropped his Colt, yes, but he still has a sneaky derringer in a vest pocket. Such perfidy! Unluckily for him, though, the derringer shot hits the statue that Whispering has recovered and so the Virgin saves the policeman, just as the priest had predicted. There you go. Always trust a priest, seems to be the message.

Episode 26. Hired to Die. Director Francis D Lyon. Writer Jack Jacobs. Scheduled air date Oct 30, 1961. 
 
Well, the last episode made (but never screened) still features Chief Richards, so they clearly monkeyed about with the order of screening compared with the order of filming (for poor Sam Buffington was no more).

A husband (Arthur Franz) hires a Denver killer (uncredited) to knock off his wife (Pamela Light), for $5000. Furthermore, the husband then shoots the assassin (with a derringer!) to cover his tracks. Now he poses as the bereaved and grieving hubby. What a two-timer. But Whispering suspects, naturally, that all is not above board here.

We meet the man’s blind but rich mother (Mary Adams) and her shifty housekeeper (Viola Berwick). The old lady may be blind but she knows her son, and this man is not her son! An impostor, the swine. He is just after the family fortune, and the housekeeper is in cahoots with him and his nefarious scheme. In fact it turns out that – yet no, my lips are sealed. Now the mother ‘falls’ down the stairs, with fatal results.

Of course he won’t get away with it. Whispering does a Columbo: on his way out he turns and says, “Oh, there’s just one last thing…” At that the rotter pulls that derringer again but it’s no good. In fact it’s RIP.

Well, one thing you can say. This series was certainly derringer-rich.


So it’s farewell to Whispering Smith. He will not appear again. Audie went back to the big screen.

It wasn’t a bad series. Anything with Murphy in it will be superior. But it wasn’t the greatest either, I must say.

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Our next Western TV series will be The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun, but that was two seasons and 78 episodes, so the review won’t be soon! I’m gradually watching them all at the mo.