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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Sterling Hayden on TV

Sterling on the small screen

Sterling Hayden (left) managed, unlike many Western actors of the time, to confine himself largely to feature-films as far as Westerns went, but he did do two episodes of TV shows, both in 1957.

The first TV one was The Necessary Breed, a 30-minute black & white piece screened as part of its Zane Grey Theatre series by CBS on February 16, 1957. It was Hayden’s first Western after a period off doing other genres (the last oater had been Top Gun in 1955).

Hayden then did The Iron Sheriff, on the big screen, released in April ’57, Valerie, in August, and Gun Battle at Monterey, which was released on the very same day, October 16, that NBC screened an episode of Wagon Train titled The Les Rand Story (in fact only the fifth ever episode of the series) with Hayden as “Special Guest Star”.

The Necessary Breed, as Dick Powell explains in his usual rather flippant intro, refers to the profession of bounty-hunter in a lawless land. Hayden is Link Stevens, whose family was killed so that he now hunts down malefactors ruthlessly in a pursuit of revenge/justice. He is despised by everyone, including his woman Kate (Jean Willes) but he is unapologetic. He guns down a wanted man in the saloon. But the boot will soon be on the other foot. Warned by fellow bounty-hunter James Griffith (cadaverously excellent as ever) that the dead man’s brother is coming, he mistakenly shoots an innocent traveler. Now there’s a bounty on his head. What will he do? Face the music? Run for Mexico? Fight it out?

Griffith never less than excellent

Strother Martin is a clerk and Roy Barcroft is the sheriff. It was directed by Christian Nyby, who edited Red River for Howard Hawks and later directed Young Fury.

About to gun down a wanted man

It’s nothing special but Hayden is his usual tough self and it’s worth a look.

In Wagon Train we see a bearded Hayden in a prologue before the titles, being released after a seven-year stretch for killing a man. He won’t appear again till a quarter of an hour in, when he turns up in a one-horse town which is deserted, the inhabitants having made themselves scarce because they know Hayden wants revenge on them.

Deserted, that is, except for Flint McCullough, who has ridden there to find a doctor, a man having been badly injured on the wagon train, in Kansas. Among the white-trash townsfolk are, oh good, Ray Teal and John Dierkes. They are a bad lot. A woman and boy come back into town and it gradually transpires that the lad is Hayden’s young son, whom, however, he blames for the death of the boy’s mother, Hayden’s Pawnee wife. He also blames Doc Rand (another old stager, Eduard Franz), who was drunk at the time and couldn’t save the woman. For we now learn that Hayden is Doc Rand’s son, Les. And he is ready to kill his father too.

Convict Hayden is out after a 7-year stretch

It’s quite well handled, the plot gradually being revealed piece by piece, so full marks to writer Berne Giler (Gunfight in Abilene, Showdown at Abilene, etc.) and to director Robert Florey (San Antonio). And Hayden is great, tough as all get out, toweringly tall, and quite frightening.

Of course he gradually softens. He can't helping bonding with the boy (there's a scene with a fish hook lifted straight from Hondo). The doc will finally attend the wounded man back at the wagon train ("He's gonna be alright") and all will be well that ends well, but I guess that was par for the course.

Hayden probably did these shows only for the money. It was his wont. But that didn’t stop him being good in them. Both are up on YouTube (the Wagon Train one in bad quality, though) if you want to have a look.



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