|Index||7 reviews in total|
This, along with Wanted Dead or Alive, was one of the better written and
scripted of the routine weekly western TV dramas that glutted late 1950s
Robert Culp was unique in his character of Hobie Gilman. Gilman looked for the moral justice behind each situation he found himself in. It was not just 30 minutes of chase 'em and shoot 'em.
Interestingly, Steve McQueen got his first shot at a TV series by playing Josh Randall on an episode of Track Down. His spin off series Wanted Dead or Alive was also a unique series, and launched another great actor's career.
By today's standards, yes, most of the 1950s westerns were formulaic. But if you have the time to catch a group of them for comparison, Track Down stands out. Culp is a great actor, as subsequently shown in every piece of work he did later on.
An obvious vehicle for Culp, "Trackdown" was on the cutting edge of the 'adult' western. Culp's character, Hoby Gilman comes off as a hip Texas Ranger-kind of a cross between Sunset Strips Kooky, and Dragnet's Joe Friday! By today's standards, routine, at the time it was must viewing.
Robert Culp is the most unique actor I've ever seen. He's one of the most believable characters--no matter what he portrays, from Trackdown to I Spy... Rarely does one see an actor with such natural finesse and brillance.
This show's character was a major departure for standard western
characterizations of the late 1950's. And the individual solely
responsible for that swing in characterization was the series star,
Culp played the show's lead character, Texas Ranger Hobey Gillman, as a hip, cool dude; somewhat reminiscent of the then running top rated detective series, Peter Gunn.
Culp gave the character a cool walk 'hip-diddy' walk, and spoke his lines as though he'd taken his responses off the top of his head and, basically, without any thought whatsoever before doing so. He was even cool when someone had the drop on him, or when he outdrew the bad guy. He was just plain 'cool'.
Robert Culp sharpened this image during his tenure in his first television starring role and vehicle. He then deftly transferred it, intact, to the character Kelly Robinson in the 1965 TV espionage hit, "I Spy."
In that top rated series in which he starred with acting newcomer Bill Cosby, to this day, many fans of the show felt that it was Culp's acting demeanor that gave the show it's real appeal.
Unfortunately, Cosby's being the first Black in a television series in a lead role, stole the show from him. Cosby became the viewer draw.
Culp was initially hired to be the 'lead' star in the series, but in the last three years of its run, Cosby was the everyone talked about even though, clearly, he was not the veteran or polished actor Cosby was.
In the final two years, Cosby was even paid more for his participation than Culp was, which did not come out until some ten or more years after the series ended.
Regardless, the series was a good one for its time, even though now quite dated to a younger generation who know little of and care less about the 'Cold War' period of history.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a kid in the Fifties, I used to catch as many TV Westerns as I could
with my Dad, as long as they didn't go past my bedtime. I've seen
episodes of most, but the two I remember watching regularly are
virtually unknown today. One was 'Johnny Ringo' starring Don Durant,
and the other was 'Trackdown', the story of Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman,
portrayed by Robert Culp. Culp was every bit as cool as another TV
Western star, Steve McQueen, and if you've seen him in action, you know
he worked the part. With his upturned jacket collar and the strutting
walk, Culp exuded a unique confidence in his role, standing up to bad
guys and delivering justice to the Old West. Ranger Gilman even smoked,
rather unusual now as I think of other popular TV characters of the
era. I could be wrong, but I don't think I've ever seen guys like Josh
Randall, Marshal Matt Dillon, or Rebel Nick Adams light one up. Now
that I mention it, I'll have to be attentive when I catch some of those
Since I bring up Steve McQueen's name, it's worth mentioning that 'Trackdown' first introduced the character of bounty hunter Josh Randall in a first season episode appropriately titled 'The Bounty Hunter', airing on March 7th, 1958. McQueen was brought back ten episodes later as a completely different character, actually two characters, when he portrayed a pair of brothers, one good and one an outlaw. Interestingly, the character of Hoby Gilman was first introduced by Culp in an episode of 'Zane Grey Theater' from May 3rd, 1957.
It wasn't unusual for guest actors to show up in a series back then more than once, almost always in different roles. Nick Adams, Richard Devon, Warren Oates and DeForrest Kelley each made three appearances in 'Trackdown'. Michael Landon, Johnnie Crawford and Don Durant both had two along with McQueen. Other favorites of mine who appeared a single time include Vic Morrow, Pernell Roberts, Elisha Cook Jr., James Best, Strother Martin and Keye Luke.
Watching the series in episode order over the past few months (there were seventy), the only one I remember seeing fifty years ago was one called "The Schoolteacher". That's probably why it's one of my favorites, in which Richard Cornthwaite portrays a non-violent, milquetoast sort of character who's bullied by Harold J. Stone. The teacher trains himself to shoot accurately under the watchful eye of Gilman, who emphasizes that shooting straight and hitting a target is more valuable than being quick on the draw. When the inevitable showdown eventually occurs, the teacher first displays his shooting prowess to his adversary, causing the town bully to back down. It was a neat way to show the audience that violence doesn't always have to be the answer if you use your head.
As a Texas Ranger, Hoby Gilman was called on to fight trouble in various towns, but a good portion of the stories took place in Porter, Texas. There were a handful of regulars supporting Culp, most notably Ellen Corby as Henrietta Porter, the publisher of the town newspaper 'The Enterprise'. Norman Leavitt was Gilman's deputy Ralph, and later shows brought in Peter Leeds as Tenner Smith, owner of the Buckhorn Saloon, and Addison Richards as Doc Calhoun. All had significant roles in various stories, demonstrating their loyalty to the town's peace officer.
Produced by Four Star Films and airing on the CBS network, the show lasted only two seasons, but back then, over thirty episodes per season was pretty standard. The thirty minute episodes began on October 4th, 1957, and ran until September 23rd, 1959. That last episode by the way, guest starred DeForest Kelley and Don Durant as a pair of brothers protecting their mother who was going senile. A week later, Don Durant debuted my other favorite TV Western on October 1st with the initial episode of 'Johnny Ringo'. I'll eventually get to reviewing that one as well.
Trackdown, Wanted Dead or Alive, Gunsmoke, and Have Gun, Will Travel
were my favorite television westerns during the 1950s. I have the DVDs
of the last three but can no record of Trackdown being available?
Hoby Gillman is as an important part of my memory as Josh Randall, Matt Dillon, and Paladin. I remember being glued in front of the television set on Saturday night with my family all around, turning the rabbit ears in JUST the right direction to get the least amount of "snow". A bowl full of popcorn and a bottle of Dr.Pepper by my side, I rode the range with all of my idols. Through the miracle of cable and a DVD player I can experience this feeling once again and it's wonderful! Trackdown was on for three seasons, as I recall. Does anyone know if it's available?
AMONG THE MOST popular subjects to center a Western on has long been
stories of the highly storied Texas Rangers, incidentally, who were the
first State Police department in the Country. We can and will name
several series that find their roots in the organization.
STARTING WITH THE most fundamental and ancestral to all is THE LONE RANGER; which started out with the cold blooded massacre of a troop of Rangers. The sole survivor becomes the one who dons the mask. TALES OF THE Texas RANGERS, like the previously mentioned series was a kiddie show its origin on the radio also. We even have WALKER, Texas RANGER in more recent times.
SO, SOMEWHERE IN the middle, circa 1957-59, we were presented with, for our approval, TRACKDOWN. It starred a young Robert Culp as Ranger Hoby Gillman. He was sullen, humorless and all business. Mr. Culp played him that way to a tee, creating for us the impression that this was his own true personality.
THE SERIES' OPENING sported the Flag of the Texas Rangers vigorously blowing across our smallish, B & W TV screens. It was accompanied with opening theme, which we have long since forgotten. We do seem to recall that there was an announcer doing opening voice over.
EACH AND EVERY week, Ranger Gillman was out somewhere in solo force, looking for those who were wanted for previous High Misdemeanors and Felonies. In short, the Ranger was serving Arrest Warrants. HJe served many and did it far and wide.
OF PARTICULAR INTEREST is one episode which co-featured a Bounty Hunter, who struck an alliance with Hoby. This Boiunty Hunter was Josh Randall, portrayed by Steve McQueen. This is the most significant episode in the series; for it served as the Pilot for McQueen's starring in WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE.
NOW SCHULTZ, DON'T them network execs move in mysterious ways?
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