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When John Payne's movie career was slowing down he turned to television
with this western series. He played Vint Bonner, legendary fast gun
western hero who drifts from town to town. As I remember he was like
Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter, a man who was getting tired of the
business he was in. Unfortunately young toughs looking to make a
reputation and people in distress in general wouldn't let him rest.
What I remember best was the early conversion kit he had. In his saddlebag he carried a barrel which could be screwed into the business end of his six shooter and a rifle stock which could be attached to the other end. When one was ambushed from a distance on the trail this became a handy tool to have around.
Of course toy manufacturers had one out for the life of the series. And I wanted one at the age of 10. But alas my parents never let me have one.
Payne was a thoroughgoing professional in every kind of film be it musical or dramatic. That was much in evidence in The Restless Gun. It ran on NBC opposite another western show with an actor looking to make the transition to television. That would be Rory Calhoun in The Texan. But I preferred Mr. Payne.
The 77 half-hour episodes (all in B&W) of the television western "The
Restless Gun" ran from 1957-1959 on NBC. John Payne (best known as the
Santa believing attorney in "Miracle on 34th Street") played the title
character whose series name was Vint Bonner. There was also a half hour
pilot where Payne's character had a different name (Britt Ponset). 23
of these episodes (including the pilot) are on the new DVD release.
"The Restless Gun" was a big deal back in those days. It had its own Dell 4-color comic book and was part of Topps 1958 set of T.V. Western trading cards. This was the first series for "Bonanza" producer David Dotort. Payne was the show's executive producer.
What distinguished Vint Bonner from the legion of televised loners (Johnny Yuma, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Bronco Lane, etc.) who were roaming the range back then was that he was clearly a professional gunfighter (like Paladin) and not just somebody trying to find themselves. He didn't have Paladin's style or fondness for the good life, rather he seemed pretty world weary and disillusioned.
As someone has already mentioned, Bonner carried around a special kit that would extend the effective range of his colt. This involved a detailed assembly sequence in which a barrel extension and a rifle stock were attached to the handgun. The idea of a modified novelty gun soon inspired imitators, "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "The Rifleman" within the western genre. Then "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." as the spy shows proliferated. The U.N.C.L.E. gun was the most like what was featured on "The Restless Gun". The featured gun has been largely forgotten except among toy collectors, as a toy replica was released at the time along with the show's other merchandising programs.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
My memory captures voices and John Payne's narration is one of the
positive things about this series. In those days of black and white,
there were mood differences in series by network. Because of station
location I seem not to have watched Maverick and his buddies. Restless
Gun, as best I can recall, seems to have been a bit softer edged than
Gunsmoke and Have Gun. In truth, I cannot remember individual episodes,
just the mood of the thing.
Restless Gun began (or ended) with Vint Bonner quoting something like this, "There is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us, that it ill behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us." I used to have a paperback or two based on the series and still have a Dell comic which has nice photos and rotten art. My recollection is that Bonner was a kind, sympathetic character who did not want to shoot anybody but had to do what needed to be done.
Since it lasted only two years audience interest must not have been great. However, this was golden age of television westerns and most of them "bit the dust." However, with over 70 episodes this one should be shown. I have never seen it listed on cable but it may have been at some point. Nor does it seem to appear in those episode rip off DVD collections which have a smattering of many things.
It would be nice to see a couple, just to compare to Bonanza and the others which are seen so often.
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