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Many viewers have panned this series. It was hockey and implausible at
times. However, I recently watched the series again on the Westerns
Channel and offer these observations:
When "Wanted" first came out in 1958, network TV was flooded with formulaic Warner Brothers westerns. With few exceptions they were all mostly repetitive and forgettable. My picks for exceptions are, obviously, Gunsmoke, which stood above the others, Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick and Josh Randall's Wanted Dead or Alive.
For the mid 1950s McQueen's character was ground breaking. He was the first anti-hero in a horse opera. Even when grouped with the line up of special gimmicks westerns (the rapid fire Winchester of The Rifleman; the weird Colt of The Rebel; Wyatt Earp's Buntline Special), Randall and his hog leg stood out. Never mind that he didn't reload and the mechanics of the weapon were implausible, the series worked. It was unique. McQueen was unique.
I was 11 years old when the series started and it hooked me. Sure, it is difficult to watch it today without a laugh or question about its relation to reality. But back then it was cool and so was McQueen. And as someone else commented, only McQueen could have played the character of Josh Randall. For that matter, look at all his motion pictures. I don't believe any other actor could have made those films what they were.
Even 25 years after his death, McQueen is as popular as he ever was. As far as I can see, only John Wayne still has that kind of appeal.
I'm just old enough to remember when Wanted Dead or Alive was first
run, when I first went to the show to see The Magnificent Seven, and
when I first realized Steve McQueen was on his way to being a "star".
I received the boxed set of the first season of this groundbreaking show this past Christmas and have been having great fun with it ever since. McQueen is the real star of the show, honing his craft for later career moves, with the truly offbeat story lines and resolutions coming in a close second.
Forget that it's 1877, he was in the Union Army in 1864, which would make him 8-10 years older than his real age at the time. Forget that his sawed off Winchester 1892 didn't exist in this time frame, that it fired short pistol ammunition like .44-40 and possibly .45 Colt, that it couldn't possibly accept the long .30-30 cartridges on his belt that weren't developed until the Winchester 1894 came along. In the first episode he has to bury a murdered doctor and he pulls a U.S. military shovel circa 1944 from under his saddle. While he puts 19th century cuffs on some prisoners, ties some with rope, on one occasion he puts old fashioned leg irons on a prisoner's hands, way too dangerous and way too stupid for a pro like Josh Randall. In a feat too fantastic to believe, an outlaw takes away his sawed off Winchester and removes the firing pin without the aid of tools and without so much as removing the bolt from the receiver. Of course there's also that sawed off rifle of his that sometimes has a D-ring on the lever and sometimes a teardrop ring, a gun barrel that changes from round to hexagon, and a gun barrel that always has a bigger bore than the .30 caliber slug in a .30-30 shell. And let's not forget that the outdoor scenes seldom match the geography of the story lines and that more times than not they use the same western street sound stage for towns ranging from Wyoming to Arizona to Texas with just the store front names changing! All this in just the first half of the first season. LOL
The show is all about watching McQueen, watching the offbeat stories that sometimes beg for more time for storytelling, and watching for all the goofs. It's great fun and well worth the time even 50 years later!
Wanted: Dead or Alive has always been my favourite TV western. I first
watched it as a seven year old in the mid '60s, even then it was in
Right from the start the show had the coolest lead-in ever with the camera focused squarely on Josh Randall's 'hogleg' as he slowly walks up to a wanted poster and rips it away from the board. There was something 'mighty' intriguing about the lone bounty hunter who brought in many more bad guys alive than dead. And then there was that sawed-off Winchester '86 and those large 45-70 caliber cartridges. I never did figure out how Josh could load so fast. It couldn't have taken more than three rounds in its magazine, but Josh could easily get off four or five rounds in rapid succession. What about Josh's horse? He/she seemed to prefer to walk sideways but could back up as well as Trigger. Great memories, no doubt. I've viewed countless westerns over the years and I am firmly convinced that absolutely no one but Steve McQueen could have played TV's purest bounty hunter. Todays version is colourized and I think that's fantastic. Even my kids will sit and watch from time to time.
Long before he became a "superstar",Steve McQueen broke ground in this rarely seen TV western from the 1950's. Here,he plays the cool as nails and reliable Josh Randall,a bounty hunter who goes after the bad guys and gets his reward for bringing them in. Coolest western I've ever seen!!! Catch McQueen at his best! Its worth seeing!
Wanted, Dead or Alive was a star vehicle in the truest sense of the
term. It was a western calculated to exhibit the talent and charisma of
its star, Steve McQueen. It lasted for three seasons before McQueen
decided to devote full time to the big screen.
McQueen was after some of the most dangerous fellows in the old west, plenty who could shoot a lot better than he. His character Josh Randall needed an equalizer.
In John Wayne's classic western El Dorado, you remember that Duke discovers that James Caan can't hit the broad side of a mountain with a regular six shooter. Before going to El Dorado to aid Robert Mitchum, they stop off and see a gunsmith who fixes Caan up with a Josh Randall special. After that Caan's of considerable help to Wayne and Mitchum.
Of course the sawed off shotgun was also an evil weapon in the wrong hands. Take note of the Dan Duryea western, The Bounty Killer, a very Freudian piece where Duryea becomes hated and feared as a bounty hunter until an innocent bystander gets shot with it.
But with McQueen you knew the weapon was on the side of law and order. As for his Josh Randall character, you can see a bit of him in all the people Steve McQueen brought to the screen like Virgil Hilts, Nevada Smith, all the way to his last two films, Tom Horn and Pappa Thorsen.
Wanted, Dead or Alive was most folks first exposure to a screen legend. I wish that westerns like that were made today.
"Wanted-Dead or Alive" was a half hour western series appearing on CBS
television for three seasons from 1958-1961. The series actually got
its start as an episode of another popular TV series of the time,
"Trackdown", during the second half of the '57-'58 TV season.
"Wanted-Dead or Alive" starred Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh
Randall in what was a very good start to an outstanding acting career
in feature films. As played by McQueen, Josh Randall was the most
laconic of a broad television landscape of would-be laconic western
Josh Randall carried a sawed-off 44/40 Winchester carbine (his "Mare's Leg", as he called it) on his hip instead of the traditional Colt 45 pistol. This of course played into the TV "cool factor" as his weapon made a much louder, more devastating sound when fired and of course had much more "stopping power" upon impact with the intended victim. Cool! Although "Wanted-Dead or Alive" was truly nothing out of the ordinary in terms of content or quality compared to other like fare of the period but Steve McQueen as Josh Randall and his unique weapon made this a "must watch" series. Only Paladin was better and "cooler" than Josh.
This show has been a favorite of mine from the time it first aired in
the late fifties. As another reviewer astutely pointed out, TV westerns
of the day were rife with 'gimmick' weapons such as "The Rifleman"'s
"rifle", or maybe "Yancy Derringer's", umm, "Derringer". In "Wanted
Dead Or Alive", the gimmick weapon-du-jour was Josh Randall's sawed-off
Winchester. These "weapons" were never meant to portray reality (well,
"Yancy Derringer's" Derringer may be an exception). Rather, they were
meant to catch the attention of those rabid "baby boomer" kids whose
parents were fortunate enough to own a television. Realistic or not,
these weapons were "cool" to every "boomer" kid, and the networks were
keenly aware of that fact. As such, the networks may have felt
compelled to "out-weapon" one another from time to time. Few who were
born after, including most all of the reviewers here who have focused
on the technical inaccuracies, ambiguities, and anachronisms of Josh
Randall's weapon, have meaningful first-hand insight into what any of
this was about.
"MeTV" has been airing re-runs of "Wanted Dead Or Alive" for several months now. I watch it every day. To me, it has been like renewing the acquaintance of a long-lost friend. Steve McQueen's portrayal of the "benevolent bounty hunter" is so convincing, and the story lines so compelling, that you come away believing that bounty hunters were the ultimate "good guys". And as those of us "boomer kids" fondly remember, the "good guys" always won.
Steve McQueen's first big exposure in either film or television was, of course, "The Blob", the filming of which was completed long before WDOA went into production. According to IMDb, it was McQueen's performance in "The Blob" that caught the attention of Four-Star executive Dick Powell. This, in turn, resulted in McQueen's casting as Josh Randall. As I recall, it was some time after "Wanted Dead Or Alive" first aired on television that "The Blob" finally went into theatrical release. By that time, McQueen was already a "star" (at least to us "boomer" kids), and we went to the theater, not just to see "The Blob", but also to see "Josh Randall" as a "teenager". Talk about an anachronism!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Okay, it's a tossup between Wanted Dead or Alive and The Rifleman. Both shows were no-nonsense westerns and featured very intense actors in the lead. Steve McQueen was just as good in this series as he was in all his subsequent big screen movies. He was a very gifted actor; a prodigy. McQueen had so may subtle, nonverbal nuances and when he delivered his lines, it was completely believable. Like Chuck Connors' Lucas McCain from The Rifleman, McQueen's Josh Randall was a strong, authentic character, although where McCain was an outgoing rancher, Randall was moody and aloof, as would befit a bounty hunter's character. Both men were quick to deal with the bad guys and showed little mercy. Both shows were consistently well-made, with high production values. Unlike many westerns of the genre, Wanted Dead or Alive and The Rifleman have stood the test of time. Too bad there's nothing like these shows on television now.
"Wanted: Dead or Alive" was one of the "greatest" if not the "best" of
the Four Star produced television Westerns to come out of the late-
1950's and continued into the early-1960's that made an unknown actor
by the name of Steve McQueen into a bonafide star. This was his first
and only attempt to star in a weekly series before he went on to become
a huge theatrical star in his own right. His first big exposure in
either film or television. Long before "Wanted:Dead or Alive" went into
production,Steve McQueen was already making headway as a huge star in
the 1958 theatrical release "The Blob"(which was released in theaters
by Paramount Pictures on September 12, 1958)that became a runaway box
office hit. But it was McQueen's performance in "The Blob" that caught
the attention of Founder and Executive of Four Star Television Dick
Powell. It was here that Steve McQueen made his television appearance
as bounty hunter Josh Randall in an episode of another Four Star
produced series "Trackdown" starring Robert Culp titled "The Bounty
Hunter"(Season 1, Episode 21 of the series)that aired on March 7, 1958.
His performance was the greenlight for the spin-off to the series
"Trackdown" titled "Wanted:Dead or Alive" that premiered on CBS'
Saturday night schedule in prime-time on September 6, 1958. It was
sometime after "Wanted" premiered on television that his movie debut in
"The Blob" was released in theaters a week after his television series
premiered. By that time McQueen was already a star and with his success
as bounty hunter Josh Randall on "Wanted:Dead or Alive" the series
became one of the biggest hits of the late-1950's and a huge ratings
boost for the CBS Television Network.Out of the eight television
Westerns that premiered in 1958(which included "Northwest Passage"-one
of the earliest short-lived series that was produced in color,and the
ones that were in classic black and white included "The
Texan","Bronco", "Bat Masterson","Cimarron City","The Rough Riders",and
"Yancy Derringer" not to mention the premiere of another successful
Four Star produced Western "The Rifleman" which became a huge colossal
hit for ABC)only "Wanted" had a premise,and it worked.
"Wanted:Dead or Alive" for the three seasons that it aired on CBS, was placed on it's Saturday night time slot in prime-time between the courtroom drama "Perry Mason",and "The Gale Storm Show",and it faced strong competition against NBC's "The Perry Como Show In Color",and also the variety series "Jubilee USA" over at ABC. "Wanted:Dead or Alive" aired from September 6, 1958 until March 29, 1961 producing 94 episodes all in classic black and white and was produced by Malcolm Enterprises in association with Four Star Television and the CBS Television Network. Steve McQueen was the only actor that starred in all 94 episodes but during the show's second season McQueen's Josh Randall had a sidekick or assistant bounty hunter named Jason Nichols(Wright King) that appeared in 11 episodes from 1959-1960. Some of the best writers were in hand for some great episodes of this series ranging from D.D. and Mary Beauchamp, Don Brinkley, Calvin Clements, Christopher Knopf, Fred Freiberger, to Richard Matheson, Dan Ullman, Frank Gilroy, David Lang, Richard H. Landau, Tom Gries, Cy Chermak, Samuel A. Peeples, John Robinson, to Wells Root, George Slavin,and Tony Barrett to Ed Adamson contribute to some of the stories. Great directors ranging from Thomas Carr, George Blair, to future film director Richard Donner. Others included Harry Harris, to Murray Golden, Gene Reynolds, Don McDougall and actor-director-producer R.G. Springsteen just to name a few.
The guest stars that appeared on in this series were some of Hollywood's best ranging from future "Bonanza" television stars Michael Landon and Pernell Roberts,to future box office superstars Warren Oates, James Coburn, and Martin Landau. Others were Fay Spain, Mala Powers, Nick Adams, Cloris Leachman, Paul Burke, Constance Ford, Susan Oliver, Mara Corday, to Frank Silvera, Dyan Cannon, Royal Dano, Denver Pyle, Clu Gulager, along with Mary Tyler Moore, Vic Perrin, J. Pat O'Malley, Lee Van Cleef, Claude Akins, Jay Silverheels, John Carradine, Stafford Repp, Ed Nelson, Gerald Mohr, John Lupton, Wayne Rogers, Harold J. Stone, Beverly Garland, to Howard Morris, Stephen Talbot, Jay North, Jay C. Flippen, Regis Toomey and R.G. Armstrong(who directed and star in several episodes).
The best episodes from the series ranged from "Desert Seed"(Season 2, Episode 11), "Three For One"(Season 3, Episode 13), "The Prison Trail" (Season 2,Episode 31), "The Voice of Silence"(Season 3, Episode 20), "The Sheriff of Red Rock"(Season 1,Episode 13), "Eight Cent Reward:The Christmas Story"(Season 1, Episode 16), "Twelve Hours to Crazy Horse" (Season 2,Episode 12), "The Bounty"(Season 1,Episode 3) and from the premiere episode that started it all "The Martin Poster"(Season 1, Episode 1). Others included "Bounty on Josh"(Season 3, Episode 17), "The Bad Gun"(Season 2, Episode 8), "The Hostage"(Season 2,Episode 6), "The Choice"(Season 3, Episode 12), "The Trial"(Season 3, Episode 1),to "Death Divided By Three"(Season 2, Episode 29), "The Empty Cell" (Season 2, Episode 7),to the comedial "The Twain Shall Meet"(Season 3, Episode 5).
The phenomenal success of the "Wanted:Dead or Alive" television series propelled Steve McQueen's career as a bonafide Hollywood superstar. And it showcased his great talent in such great theatrical films as "The Magnificent Seven","Baby,The Rain Must Fall", "Soldier In The Rain","Nevada Smith","Love With The Proper Stranger","The Reivers", "Junior Bonner", "The Getaway","The Cincinnati Kid",not to mention the movie that cemented his status as a top box office star "Bullitt"(who became one of the top ten highest grossing pictures of 1968). Not to mention his Oscar nominated performance in "The Sand Pebbles"(Oscar nominated for Best Actor in 1966),and also for his work in "Papillion" (Oscar nominated for Best Actor in 1973). And to also mentioned his work opposite Paul Newman in Irwin Allen's "The Towering Inferno",and the movie that would be his last theatrical feature was 1980's "The Hunter"....the lists goes on and on.
Throughout the '60's Steve McQueen was often referred to as Mr. Cool,
and it all started with Wanted Dead or Alive back in the days when TV
westerns had not yet succumbed to the liberal non-violence boohooing
about too much violence on TV. How many of us kids from the '50's who
fought in Vietnam didn't carry just a little of what we learned,
rightly or wrongly, about cowboy right and wrong from Josh Randal,
Paladin, Marshal Dillon, Cheyenne, John Wayne (multiple roles), etc?
Josh Randal, like myself was bred and born a Southerner; unlike today
after a couple generations of historical revision, back then to be a
Son of the South was a point of respected honor from the entire country
including Hollywood...it was the "fight" not the issues, boys and
girls, that have made Southerners the most decorated soldiers
throughout the entirety of this nation's existence.
Yes, the mare's leg was odd and impractical, and it sounded funny, too when fired, but the cat-quick grace of this newcomer, Steve McQueen, is what captured our little boy imaginations back then. Until recently, I had not seen any of the old Wanted Dead or Alive shows in over 50 years, and I found it surprising how much time affects our memory of details. Of course much of what I've seen lately, I don't remember at all except for that Christmas episode where the boy asks Josh to find Santa Claus...turns out that I remember that one in an altogether different fashion, too! Anyway, given what VH1, BET, MTV, Hollywood in general, the video gaming industry, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, etc. have given (or done) to two or three generations of American youth, I can truly say that being raised in the 1950's rural South with one TV station that shared both ABC and CBS programing that I had a much more imaginatively rich upbringing than the sad majority of the entitled obligate mouth-breathing government dependent generation of today.
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