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.