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|Index||18 reviews in total|
"Maverick" ran for only five seasons. Early on, it was decided that the series would be best served by having two Mavericks, Bart, played by James Garner and Bret, played by Jack Kelly. By alternating the two leads, the productions for each's scripts could be shot at the same time. This led to the show's technical peculiarity. It had only one supervising producer and script supervisor, Roy Huggins, who was its creator; and he used four female assistants as script supervisors. Also, he employed 36 directors, 39 different writers, 17 cinematographers, 40 film editors, 8 art directors and 7 property masters all under Perry Ferguson as chief art director, 20 set decorators, 10 makeup personnel and 31 second-unit directors. This classic B/W show featured satires, dramas, adventures and comedies. It was inexpensively made sometimes, but offered attractive costumes and good actors, utilizing narration by the leads and clips from the Warner Brothers film library to avoid having to stage elaborate scenes. The Maverick brothers were designed by Roy Huggins to violate the Code of the West. While they could fight, and shoot, very bravely and effectively, they preferred not to fight, not to save people at great risk, not to do foolish things on a dare and not to keep up appearances. The show's creator also innovatively employed sidekicks for his leads, unusually frequently, and hired talented lead guest actors plus developing a stock company of continuing characters including Diane Brewster as larcenous and lovely Samantha Crawford, Kathleen Crowley as Melanie Blaine, Mike Road as Pearly Gates, Leo Gordon as Big Mike, and Gerald Mohr as Johnny Balero. Later, in 1960, Roger Moore played Beau Maverick, and Robert Colbert was added as cousin Brent in 1961, when Garner left the series. The leads played Texas men, a maverick being a name given to unbranded cattle in that part of the country. They gambled professionally, and continually sought after a large-enough prize to satisfy their hopes--which always eluded them somehow. Because of budgetary constraint, the writing and directing for the show were its hallmarks of quality, plus its fine guest stars. Memorable among these to me, who saw the original series, were Julie Adams, Mona Freeman, Buddy Ebsen, Abby Dalton, Ben Gage, Ruta Lee, Arthur Shields, Tol Avery, Gage Clark and many others. The ranks of the series' writers included TV stalwarts Ron Bishop, Carey Wilber, George Slavin, Gerald Drayson Adams, Wells Root, James O'Hanlon, Irene Winston, Marion Hargrove and Leo Townsend. The episode each week might be light-hearted or a dangerous mystery; frequently one Maverick or another sought a monetary prize at some risk or was cheated, kidnapped or involved in a hazardous business. Garner, with his touch for comedy, was usually given more laughs per hour. In his scripts; he fought, romanced, played cards, observed, commented and was misused. But the narrative lines of Jack Kelly's scripts were every bit as good or better, although he avoided the physical with more dexterity. The hallmark of the series I suggest was that it was about objectivists--purposive men who dealt with reality as they found it, without employing denial, wishful thinking or conventional or religious self-delusions. "My 'ol Pappy used to say," one of the brothers would drawl, and then he would proceed to state the truth, setting wisdom against the usual way men looked at things. The show is was pure Roy Huggins; he employed noted directors and talented producers such as Coles Trapnell, William P. D'Angelo, Howie Horwitz, Arthur W. Silver, William L. Stuart plus fine actors to get the result he wanted. Without him, "Maverick" would not be the "legend of the West" it has become; along with "Cheyenne", "Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke", the program was a towering hit and a trend-setting show at a time when the character-based western was deservedly eclipsing all other genres. The series was adult,American and a delight, at a time when individualism was still a desirable philosophical goal to U.S. citizens and not a buzzword for its opponents to misuse while they attacked the concept. The man who lives by his own standards is only dangerous to the bad guys; the Maverick outsmarted the honest and cheated only criminals. They went "riding the trail to who knows where" as their theme song said, with luck as a companion and an intelligent gamble as their way of life. We loved them in 1957; we who enjoyed their adventures then miss them today. They and their self-assertive sort.
UPDATE: Maverick is currently showing on the Heroes & Icons
cable/digital tweener channel, at 11 AM Eastern. If you've never seen
this show or missed some of them, be sure to set your DVR if you have
This is the role that made James Garner, and as much as I like his later work, for me he would never be this much fun to watch again (exception: Support Your Local Sheriff, but that was unquestionably written to capitalize on his Maverick role).
I remembered liking Maverick when I was a kid, but after 40 odd years I didn't remember a single episode or plot line. I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to find this series resurrected on Good Life (Now American Life) TV. Sadly, after a few years ALTV abandoned the excellent B&W series they had been showing, and began airing very inferior color series from later years. Yep, I'll take Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip over Time Tunnel and Lost in Space .... EVERY time.
However, when it aired on ALTV, discovering each episode's charm brought my wife and I months of entertainment, and expectation for the next week.
Among some classic episodes to look for are:
* "War of the Silver Kings", this is the first episode and unquestionably one of the best
* "Gun Shy", an absolutely hilarious take off on Gun Smoke
* "A Fellow's Brother", an entertaining story throughout that made me fall out of my chair laughing when presented with the twist that resolved the crises
* "Shady Day at Sunny Acres", in which Bret Maverick spends the majority of the episode in a rocking chair on the town's boardwalk, whittling and uttering the line, "I'm workin' on it"
* "Pappy", wherein you meet the originator of all of Bret's "My old Pappy used to say ..." lines. Garner of course plays dual roles in the episode and does a great job. (So the movie is only the 2nd time he got to play Bret's father!)
It's amazing how many "cool"" guys there were in the late '50s playing
the heroes in television westerns. There was the "king of cool" Steve
McQueen as "Josh Randall" in "Wanted: Dead Or Alive," Richard Boone as
"Paladin" in "Have Gun, Will Travel," and more.
That more included James Garner as "Maverick." He was one of those guys the ladies thought was attractive and the men liked, too, a man's man and a ladies' man at the same, time. "Brett Maverick" was hip, cool under pressure, a fast-talker with quick wit, a great poker player, suave and sophisticated but physically tough if all else failed. However, he preferred to use his brains over his brawn.
Maverick's humor, I think, endeared him to the public the most of all his attributes. You can thank James Garner for that, because he was always funny in any movie role that asked for humor. He downgraded his acting ability, but we all know better. Garner made this a very, very popular show.
Eventually, brothers Bart and Beau were introduced in the series but I was disappointed if I saw Garner wasn't going to star that week.
It was appropriate he had a role in the 1990s movie starring Mel Gibson, who did Garner's character proud.
My hope is that some day individual Mavrick seasons will come out on DVD.
I've heard Bret Maverick described as a "coward" and the show described
as a western spoof that gets its humor from the cowardice of the hero.
I think this is totally wrong.
A decade before Star Trek introduced its "Prime Directive"- that they shouldn't interfere with the development of the civilizations they encounter, a rule they had to repeatedly break if there was to be any story, Bret Maverick was exercising his own "Prime Directive". All that advice from his "Pappy" adds up to one thing: mind your own business and if everyone else minds their own business, you'll be fine. When Maverick is at a gaming table, he's fine. He knows what's going on and can manipulate things to his advantage. When he gets involved in other things, he has the tread water just to keep up.
He's no coward. He can get angry and be aggressive, (especially in the early episodes, when Roy Huggins was still doing much of the writing). He just doesn't want his life to get too messy and would rather use his wits to resolve his problems rather than tactics that are likely to get somebody hurt. He saw too many people get hurt in the war and wasn't impressed.
But, as with "The Prime Directive", if Bret, (or Bart), was allowed to stick to this, there would be no story. So the writers had to come up with something to him involved in other people's business- or them in his.
The first option was to invoke rule #2: Bret doesn't let anybody cross him. If he gets cheated or conned, he will go far out of his way and bend all other rules, if necessary, to get what's coming to him and make sure the cheaters get what's coming to them. The second option was to introduce an attractive female- who may or may not be trustworthy and have her, intentionally or not, seduce Maverick into helping her solve her problems. Then, there's always money. Everybody has to bend rules when they are broke and a gambler frequently finds his luck running against him and will be willing to take a job- even a dangerous- one in such circumstances. Finally, there are occasions when, against his-and Pappy's better judgment, Maverick just has to do the right thing. These weaknesses and inconvenient strengths endear the character to the audience.
So does Maverick's generally sunny disposition. When he's minding his own business, he figures things will work out. Even when he's in trouble, he somehow always seems to figure he will get out of it somehow and takes temporary defeats in stride. Someone said that "Maverick" is "The Rockford Files" out west. Of course, "Maverick" came first. There are similarities. But Rockford is more world-weary, lest trustful of what the future may bring. A stretch in jail will do that do you. With him, avoiding complications is even more important. He does detective work because it's what he knows but he really just wants to make enough money to go fishing with his Pappy. Maverick stills see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
This was one of the best TV Westerns to come out of the golden age of
the 1950's television. For the five seasons that it ran on the ABC-TV
network from 1957 to the final episode in early 1962,"Maverick" was in
a class by itself especially with the performance given by James Garner
as the suave and sophisticated man of the West-Bret Maverick,a
gambler,all-around gentlemen with the ladies,and a man who was quick
with a gun when it came to handling difficult situations. In some of
the episodes,some of the situation that Maverick would get into and
sometimes he would get out of them as well would be set toward his
facial expressions;a virtual three-ring circus of sorts was something
to look at,even though that was a Western,but a TV western that was
aimed at adult audiences,but kids were watching it too. But "Maverick"
had something that the other Westerns lacked-a flair for comedy,and
during James Garner's tenture,his genius for comedy was inspirational
not to mention having his character become a rather "cool" for taking
care of business situations while at the same time,having a serious
like businessman approach. This would work well during James Garner's
second TV series-"The Rockford Files",years later. After Garner's
departure,the solo outings from various actors,would prove that when
watching them,you can see just how good "Maverick" really was.
However,the other actors,including Jack Kelly as Bret's brother Bart
along with Robert Colbert(as Brent Maverick),and their British cousin
Beau Maverick(played by Roger Moore)including others that would make
their stride including Richard Long and Efrem Zimbalist,Jr. during the
show's five year-run. This was a string of TV Westerns that ABC-TV and
Warner Bors. cranked out including "Cheyenne","Sugarfoot",and the
Western adventure,"The Alaskans" during the early years of television.
During the 1950's and part of the early 1960's,there were mainly several types of shows;you had the regular quiz show/game show concept, family oriented comedies,crime dramas,action-adventure fare,and westerns. During its run,Maverick brutally satirized two of the most popular Westerns of their day;Gunsmoke and Bonanza,in different episodes,not to mention it also satirized another show too;Wagon Train, which was in another episode. Recently cable's TVLand,brought back these episodes after years out of circulation,and their rerunning these episodes every so often,so catch them when you can.
My old pappy says this is a signature series of the 50's that lives up
to its name. It took the producers time to figure out that gold lay not
in the direction other Westerns were taking, but in an untraveled
direction. In 1958, a Western with a comedic format was still a foreign
concept since it was hard to build up to a gunfight with belly laughs.
Of course, the matinée cowboys (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, et al.)
included a side-kick for comic relief, but the lead cowboy was always
the truest and the fastest on the block. Probably no movie genre stuck
more closely to formula than the American Western. That is, until
Maverick. Nonetheless, the signature tongue-in-cheek took time to
evolve; like a strong friendship, it didn't suddenly spring forth with
the first installment.
By my reckoning, the first 30 or so entries had parts that looked like any other Western of the day, ie. gunplay, fist-fights, etc, and it wasn't until episode # 37 "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" that we got 60 minutes of pure Maverick. Here it was a battle of wits from beginning to end with sly running gags, colorful characters, and nary a drop of blood in sight. It's at this point that the series discovered itself, and likely the audience discovered a very different kind of Western.
The biggest problem the series had was keeping lead actor James Garner from jumping ship into the better-paying world of movies. Likely, it was Garner's exceptional comedic skills that moved the series in a humorous direction in the first place. He had such an obvious flair that I think the format came to fit him rather than vice-versa. But TV had a reputation of "using up" actors before casting them aside. So, it's understandable that Garner would use his new leverage to negotiate into the more stable environment of film. But that created cast problems for the producers. The series was pretty much identified with Garner's Bret character. Jack Kelly was an able second banana, but lacked the skills to carry the show. Thus the lead casting bounced around some, depending on Garner's availability. As a result, we came to find that the Maverick family has a number of off-shoots, including Beau (a smooth Roger Moore) and Brent (a rather inept Robert Colbert).
Often overlooked is how well the series tapped into a neglected aspect of Americana. During the Cold War Americans were told the Soviets had a popular advantage, because their national game was chess, a highly cerebral contest of move and counter-move that requires great concentration and sometimes hours to complete. Aside from prodigy Bobby Fischer, the US produced few chess players of note. No, our national game is not the prestigious pursuit of chess, but a case can be made for America's love for good old plain-faced poker. Thousands of neighborhoods enjoy a low-stakes version, as well as the high-stakes casino variety. Surprisingly poker turns up rarely on the screen, perhaps because it's a game of chance associated with gambling, an activity condemned by many. Now chance does play a role in poker, otherwise known as "the luck of the draw". But knowing how to play your cards requires real skill, and just as importantly, being able to "read" your opponent.
Note in Maverick how many pearls of wisdom are drawn not only from dear old Pappy, but from how to play a good hand of poker. I think people enjoyed hearing pearls like "never draw to an inside straight, except...", especially when combined with the usual Maverick dose of wry good humor. So how surprising is it that millions of amateur players tuned in weekly to see their game legitimized on the screen and maybe pick up a few pointers at the same time.
It wasn't all aces, of course, especially in regard to production values. After all, the show was, like most of the day, modestly budgeted. Going into the wide open spaces usually meant crossing the tree line from the Warner Bros. sound stages to the backlot and moving around some of the many fake boulders. But that was okay since the show's appeal wasn't authenticity or scenery. What wasn't okay, in my book at least, was the sloppy matching of stock shots with the backlot footage. Thus, we'd get a shot of someone riding across backlot trees and foliage and the next progression shot of him riding across the barren red rock country of Arizona! Maybe that happens on Mars, but not on planet Earth. I could understand this lack of continuity from an independent production, but not from a big-time studio like Warner Bros.
The show never relied on big-name stars or celebrities to boost its appeal, unlike, say, the popular Wagon Train or Bonanza. That meant, for one, that the scripts had to be unusually good. The writers could not rely on stock situations to drive the plot once the format shifted from melodrama to sly tongue-in-cheek. But now, the screenplays had to come up with contests where the Maverick boys could outwit opponents and generate some laughs at the same time. Scriptwriters didn't always succeed, but when they did, the result was unlike anything else at the time. In fact, if memory serves, ABC even scheduled the show opposite CBS's perennial Sunday evening blockbuster, The Ed Sullivan Show. Pretty fast company for an hour that started off as just another Western.
All in all, however, I think the best measure is that over the years, "Maverick" managed to dig not only a small niche into popular consciousness, but also into the traditional fund of American folklore. Even people who've never seen the show think "sly poker player" when they hear the name. I guess the producers knew how to play the game, after all.
(See my review of "A Fellow's Brother", episode 11, season 3, for discussion of the series' slyly subversive content.)
I still remember as a lad when Maverick made its debut on the ABC
network. It was on Sunday nights at 7:30 and with that early half an
hour start, it knocked the stuffings out of Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen
who had their shows begin at 8:00 in the Nielsen ratings.
Maverick was unlike any western that had been on television before. Previously you had heroes stand tall and tangle with villainy head on. Maverick was no coward, but he never went looking for trouble and he never would look for a face to face confrontation if a little back channel maneuvering would work as well.
The show started the precedent that Law and Order, Criminal Intent is using now to give star Vincent Donofrio some rest with having Chris Noth and another female partner solve crimes on alternate weekends. James Garner was the original Bret Maverick and later Jack Kelly was brought in as brother Bart. Later on we had cousin Beau and another brother Brent played by Roger Moore and Robert Colbert.
Those last two we never even see the episodes with them. James Garner wanted a feature film career and Maverick helped launch him in one. His best efforts have always been when he's played a variation on Maverick and that would include his later hit series, The Rockford Files.
Unfortunately Jack Kelly never got the same break as Garner. But Bart was also pretty good at thinking on his feet as well. Still he was good performer and the Bart episodes do hold their own. And the shows they did together, pure magic.
James Garner's acting on 1957's TV series "Maverick" is superbly inspired
but usually underrated because he memorably told the press at the time
he "can't act. I'll learn if I have to, but so far I haven't had to."
modest refusal to champion himself publicly resulted in his performances
being taken much more for granted, but viewed today, it's apparent that
was a world-class talent throwing himself into every scene, registering a
virtual three-ring circus of facial expressions; there is always something
going on to look at, in severe contrast to most of the other TV western
leads of the era. Jack Kelly, normally a more pedestrian performer,
up to incandescence in his scenes with Garner and their astonishing
chemistry vaults the series' fantastic entertainment value phenomenally,
although Kelly's solo outings aren't in the same league and his acting
seemed to deteriorate along with the quality of some of the scripts in the
wake of Garner's departure. Kelly was completely and utterly lacking
Garner's genius for comedy, except when working directly with Garner.
I always thought of Garner's character's warmth as being his hallmark trait, perhaps as a result of years of seeing "The Rockford Files," but upon recently studying the "Maverick" tapes it became apparent that his character was basically cool and chilly, almost businesslike with an Indiana Jones-like seriousness in his routine comportment, but quite warm with friends. This surprised me. When people refer to Bret Maverick as "cool," they're actually much more correct than I ever would've assumed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maverick was not only one of the greatest westerns ever, it was one of the greatest TV shows ever. It had just the right combination of action, adventure, comedy, and drama. It is a series that would do well in any generation. You could make a case for Bret being TV's first anti-hero. He admits to being a coward, he pulls scams, he gambles, and he loves money. However, when the situation calls for it, he will step up and do the right thing. Plus, most of the people he scams are people who are scam artists themselves. This is James Garner's signature role, and it is just amazing to watch how good his performances are. He is just so charismatic that you can't help, but root for him. Contrary to what some might have you believe, the series was not just about Bret. Along the way he is joined by his brother Bart, played by the very talented and under-appreciated Jack Kelly. It is amazing, because Kelly's appearance was only supposed to be a one-shot deal, but he and Garner had so much chemistry that they decided to keep him on as a regular. My favorite episodes are the ones that feature both Bret and Bart. After Garner left the series in 1960, Kelly did a great job of keeping the Maverick brand going for two more years. While Bret had his fair share of female companions, Bart was more of the ladies' man. It was actually kind of funny just to see how easily he would fall in love. After Bret left, then came cousin Beau, played by future 007, Roger Moore. This must of been one of his first big roles in America. Although, he was only there for one season (15 episodes), Beau proved himself to be worthy of carrying on the Maverick tradition. There ended up being a third Maverick brother, Brent, played by Robert Colbert. However, he only lasted two episodes, and I truthfully didn't think much of him. To me, he just did not have the charm and charisma that Bret, Bart, and Beau displayed. If you have Encore Westerns, it is something definitely worth checking out.
I just finished watching the last part of a February 1959 episode that had
Clint Eastwood as a guest and it was great like most of the shows were. This
show reminds me of how good television can be (but rarely is).On a personal
level, it reminds me that this show was one of the few good things about the
so-called good old days.
In the 50s (when I was young), there were mainly two types of shows: quiz show and westerns. Maverick brutally satirized two of the most popular, Gunsmoke and Bonanza, in different episodes. Watching either of these alone is enough to demonstrate just how good Maverick really was.
Catch it on TVland when you get the chance. It's worth it...
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