|Index||3 reviews in total|
Had George Montgomery played his cards right, he could have had a place in TV history as the first-ever star of an adult western. When Desilu began planning their series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, they had Montgomery in mind for the lead. As a veteran of countless B westerns that played theatres in the early fifties, he certainly seemed to be the most likely person to star in a TV show at that moment when the 'small' western was about to explode onto the 'small' screen, and filmed westerns would, more and more, be of the 'big' variety with Wayne, Stewart, etc. Perhaps surprisingly, Montgomery turned them down (the role of course went to Hugh O'Brian) and continued to make B western movies, though the choices soon became fewer and further between. In 1958, he was finally ready to go the small screen route. NBC mounted what was meant to be a 'super-western' - a predecessor of The Virginian, more or less - with a huge cast, a bigger than average budget, and a large scope. Montgomery played the mayor of the title town in Oklahoma, founded by his father. The original idea was that he'd star in one-third of the hour long episodes but also narrate (and perhaps do a cameo in) the others. One third of the shows would star handsome young John Smith as the town lawman, and the others would focus on Audrey Totter, a veteran of B movies (mostly westerns) as the show's answer to Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. Only problem was, the writers couldn't figure out what to do with her, at least not in lead roles, so they became rare - so much so that Totter, unhappy about being reduced from a star to a bit player, walked away from the series. Meanwhile, the show - though a good one - was suffering in the ratings opposite Have Gun, Will Travel and Gunsmoke - among the top rated western shows - over at CBS on Saturday nights. (With its homey feel, Cimarron City would have been far better placed on Sunday evenings. Heck, it even had Dan 'Bonanza' Blocker in the cast as 'Tiny' Budinger!) All at once it alternated between the two male leads, who became ever more conventional and less interesting as the town's politics were played down in favor of routine western action. The most memorable episode of all was called Twelve Guns, a mini-epic with Nick Adams effectively cast as a Billy the Kid style tough kid who rides into town with a gang and virtually takes over. By the end of that first season, though, Cimarron City was a goner - too bad NBC didn't do with it what they would do with Bonanza a few years later, shifting from a Saturday night slot (where the ratings on both those shows were mediocre) over to Sunday, where this one - like that one - might have flourished.
Not a particularly memorable western and yet, after all these decades, the theme melody still rattles around in my head occasionally. George Montgomery was fine, Audry Totter solid, and the tragic John Smith as competent as could be. Overshadowed by the Warner Brothers' westerns and the classic independents, it was still a good western because of the cast.
The short-lived series "Cimarron City" may not have been a particularly
memorable western,but it had a great premise. When this western
premiered on NBC-TV in October of 1958,the network mounted that
"Cimarron City" was going to be bigger and better than "Wagon
Train"(which was at the time the network's top-rated program,and the
second most watched show on television). "Cimarron City" was the
predecessor to "The Virginian",more or less-with a huge cast,a bigger
than average budget and a large scope since "Cimarron City" was
produced by Revue Studios,the same company that produced "Wagon
Train",not to mention other Westerns of that era like "Shotgun
Slade",and not to mention family comedies like "Leave It To Beaver".
"Cimarron City" stars George Montgomery as the mayor of the title town in Oklahoma that was founded by his father. The original idea was that he'd star in one-third of the hour long episodes,but also served as the narrator(and perhaps do several cameos)in the other segments. One third of the episodes starred young handsome John Smith as the town lawman who kept the peace in the city,while actress Audrey Totter,a veteran of "B" crime noir movies and westerns would serve as the show's answer to Gunsmoke's Amanda Blake. NBC and the powers that be at Revue Studios hope that Audrey Totter would give Amanda Blake a run for her money,but that wasn't the case. The only problem was,the writers didn't know what to do with her,at least not in lead roles. She became a bit player in several episodes of this series-so much that Totter-unhappy about being reduced from a star to a bit player,walked away from the series after 19 episodes(her final appearance on "Cimarron City" was in episode 19 titled "The Return of the Dead" that aired on February 14, 1959).
Meanwhile,the show-though a good one with some great acting and writing in some episodes was basically on the same level as "Gunsmoke" and "Wagon Train". But it wasn't. After 26 episodes,"Cimarron City" was suffering in the ratings where the show was on Saturday nights opposite not only "Have Gun,Will Travel",and "Gunsmoke"(which were among the top rated western shows),but also it was up against the courtroom drama "Perry Mason",and the musical-variety series "The Lawrence Welk Show". Out of the 26 episodes that this series produced,"Cimarron City" premiered on NBC-TV from October 11, 1958 until April 4, 1959,which was a hour long series in classic black and white for Mont Productions in association with NBC-TV/Revue Studios.
With its homey feel,"Cimarron City" would have been far better off in another time slot where it could have really blossomed into a great series. Another reason why this show was brilliant,but was slipping in the ratings,was the casting of actor Dan Blocker(who after this series ended would go on to star as Hoss Cartwright on "Bonanza",the show that replaced "Cimarron City" for the 1959-1960 season). Blocker played sidekick and deputy Tiny Budinger who would keep the peace alongside the marshal(John Smith) in preserving law and order in the city. Several episodes were very good from this series from the premiere episode "I, The People", to others "Twelve Guns"(Episode 4),"Hired Hand"(Episode 6),"The Bitter Lesson"(Episode 13),"Ratman"(Episode 22), "Runaway Train"(Episode 17),"The Beauty and the Sorrow"(Episode 18), "To Become A Man"(Episode 3),"Blind Is The Killer"(Episode 20),to the final episode of the series "The Evil One"(Episode 26). By the end of the first season,despite the low ratings it received,"Cimarron City" was gone by the Spring of 1959 after 26 episodes. Still was a very good western from the 1950's with a fine cast.
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