Western television shows proved a wonderful training ground for countless actors honing their craft through the 1950’s and 60’s. Among those who frequented the medium between big screen appearances in secondary roles was eventual screen icon Charles Bronson.
Have Gun Will Travel made a household name of it’s star, Richard Boone as Paladin. A James Bond of the west. Cultured, tough, a ladies man and fast as lightning on the draw, Boone’s character made his home in the high society of San Francisco. It’s from here each week that he would be summoned for a travelling adventure. Over the six seasons that the show ran from 1957 to 1963, Charles Bronson guested five times. Prior to Bronson’s first appearance opposite Boone in his iconic role the eventual go to vigilante of cinema had played a minor part in Red Skies of Montana back in 1952 that saw Boone as one of the principle characters opposite top billed Richard Widmark. If you’ve seen the film but missed Charlie, look closely at the firefighter carrying Jeffrey Hunter to safety.
While Boone was entrenched in the series during it’s six year run, he’d headline a 1961 MGM release titled A Thunder of Drums. Not to be mistaken for a John Ford Cavalry western, the film did have a solid supporting cast including Richard Chamberlain, Slim Pickens, Arthur O’Connell, George Hamilton and in the role of a devilish trooper, Charles Bronson, who was just one year removed from adding to his growing reputation as O’Reilly in the now classic The Magnificent Seven.
Looking back wouldn’t it have been nice to see a 1970ish release that pitted these two opposite each other on the big screen in either a western or even a crime drama. Boone of course did Big Jake opposite Duke but could also turn up in more modern fare playing nasty in films like Night of the Following Day. I don’t see it as a stretch at all to see Boone opposite Bronson in one of the Italian crime capers that Bronson found himself in at the turn of the decade. Kind of like when Bogie took on Robinson in Key Largo. The actors had essentially switched places from their 1930’s efforts.
In 1957 Bronson made his first appearance on Have Gun Will Travel tangling with Boone as ……
The Outlaw. Season 1 ep. 2.
“A man just has to be what he is.”
There’s a $2000 reward for Bronson’s outlaw who has escaped from prison leading one of the juror’s to put up Paladin’s fee to protect him from the revenge motivated Bronson by catching him and sending back to the pen. Or worse. Just as Bronson believes he has tricked the posse into following a pack horse, Boone turns up and catches him. Part of the western code is giving your word and Bronson makes a deal with Boone. He wants to see his newborn son just one day’s ride from their present location and from there he’ll go peaceably to jail. Agreed, but when Boone falls from his horse and needs help out of a ravine, Bronson holds up his end of the bargain but considers his debt paid for Boone’s not turning him over to the posse. All bets are now off.
Boone will get him safely around a hungry posse to see his wife and son which will lead to an honorable showdown. Man to Man. Face to Face. No need I suppose to point out just who is going to win but don’t be surprised that a man of Bronson’s growing reputation might hit his target as well before crashing to the ground.
This episode of the show was directed by the up and coming Andrew V. McLaglen who grew up in the business as the son of Oscar winner, Victor McLaglen. Andrew would direct a total of 116 episodes of Have Gun and would move on to direct a number of westerns with Duke including McLintock, the fondly remembered Shenandoah and my go to mercenary flick, The Wild Geese among so many others.
The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk. Season 2 ep. 3 (1958)
For Bronson’s second go around opposite Boone, he finds himself a tough minded cattle rancher who has one fatal weakness. Women and when it comes to courting the Senorita who has inherited a nearby ranch, he’s all thumbs and can’t help but stutter his way through a conversation. Seeing how Boone handles himself with the ladies prompts our guest star to hire Paladin to guide him in the ways of courtship.
Yes it’s all rather silly and doesn’t commit itself to outright comedy or cattle rustling which in the end hurts the episode overall when compared to others in the long running adventures of Boone’s iconic hero.
Bronson only has eyes for Grace Raynor and is letting his ranch duties slide to the chagrin of lead hand, Harry Carey Jr. Making Boone the new Ramrod, Bronson will fumble his way through landing Grace with Boone running defense to fend off her chaperone Celia Lovsky. Most fans of Star trek will instantly recognize Celia as T’Pau from one of the more popular episodes in the original series, Amok Time. When Boone’s initial tactics to put Bronson and Raynor together come up short he resorts to the screwball tactic of playing a cad and romancing her himself which of course brings Charlie’s jealous nature to the surface.
Honestly, the whole thing reminded me of an Andy Griffith episode where Gomer needed a girlfriend and Andy and Barney gave him a few lessons in the fine art of love. As much as I’m a fan of Bronson and Boone, Andy, Barn and Gomer did it better.
Again this episode was directed by McLaglen and even had a young Dyan Cannon making a brief appearance.
Ahead in Part 2, three more episodes that saw Bronson tangle with Boone’s Paladin including an episode that I’ve always felt featured one of Bronson’s personal best acting sequences.
Great stuff Mike..I understood Boone always tried to get Bronson work in his pre-stardom days.
A latter day confrontation between Boone and Bronson would have been great.
A THUNDER OF DRUMS a very good Western I feel,and Boone actually underplays.
At a B Western convention in London several years back I asked veteran B Western actress Peggy Stewart
about working with Boone who I understand that she rather admired.
She however did not like Bronson at all and I don’t think she was alone in this opinion either.
Peggy,however had lots of time for her friend Robert Blake.
Peggy told an amazing tale of when Blake was incarcerated several years back Anthony Hopkins used to go
visit him. According to Peggy the pair used to read passages from Moby Dick to each other.
BTW Mike I’m a big Bronson fan but one hears so many negative stories from his fellow workers but at the
end of the day it’s the movies that matter.
I remember seeing Thunder as a young teen and being disappointed at the time. Bronson was secondary and Boone wasn’t his broad persona that I had already seen in Hombre and Big Jake. Images as a kid stay with you till you realize there’s an actor there too and not just an image we expect. That’s cool about Peggy Stewart and while I do agree I hear a number of things like that about Bronson, it was refreshing to hear plenty of the opposite in the book Bronson’s Loose Again from others that had worked with him. Odd duck and an outsider to be sure but again nice to hear he and Jill adopted a young girl who lost her parents in a crash that were friends of theirs. Stuff like that we don’t necessarily hear about.
That story about Blake and Hopkins another WOW. Cheers’
Thanks Mike, Never heard of the Bronson book that you mention-looks very interesting and it’s one that I must check out….cheers!
Author Paul Talbot starting to turn up with audio commentary on some recent blu ray releases of Bronson films.
It’s interesting but on the commentary to Shout Factory’s MASTER OF THE WORLD I understand there were problems between
Bronson and Vincent Price but then again an extrovert like Price was never going to be Bronson’s cup of tea. I understand that
there were no conflicts but Price just could not get to grips with Bronson’s “loner” personality. They did all (the cast) however venture
across to a favorite Chinese restaurant,in full costume-what a sight that must have been.
Young Brit actor David Frankham did admit that he found Bronson very supportive on that picture
Back to Have Gun With Travel-one of my favorite episodes is “The Moors Revenge” guest starring Price with his friend Patricia
Morison,who ,passed away recently at the grand age of 103.
I’ve heard the story about Price not being able to basically make friends with Charlie which is sad considering most everyone was has nothing but great stories about Price and how social and outgoing he was on sets. As a fan of both you want to hear the got along great. Maybe the miscasting didn’t set well with Bronson. I too enjoy Price’s appearance on Have Gun. In general I refer to Boone’s show as my favorite of the western TV craze. Have them all on DVD and enjoy a revisit now and then.
I understand Bronson-then on the cusp of stardom did not care for MASTER OF THE WORLD.
According to the Shout Factory commentary Charlie used to slope off and meet his new friend
Steve McQueen who was filming the last days of WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE on the old Republic
lot where MASTER OF THE WORLD was filmed.
Vincent just did not get introverts-he had similar problems with Lon Chaney Jr who he found incredibly
Watching the 1953 film “Crime Wave” only a few days ago, I was surprised and extremely happy to see Mr Bronson pop up in thug mode. He had a really good part as the off the hinge criminal. Great film and i’m sure it’s in your vault? Yes i know silly question. 🙂
Nice cast in Crime Wave along with Charlie. Been a while since I’ve watched it but one never knows when I’ll feature the next Bronson film. Eventually all of them if I keep at this long enough.