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One of the best Western series of all time. Johnny Yuma, The Rebel took no grief from anybody and was quick to help the underdog defeat injustice. I personally like the on going feature of Johnny's writing in his journal of his travels and people he meet along the way. I am proud to have all 76 episodes in my VHS collection.
I was an avid fan of "The Rebel" when it first came out and I was in high school. I was a shy, skinny kid who tended to get rammed into the hallway lockers by the beefy kids bruising by, so I liked the image portrayed in "The Rebel". In contrast to the big, imposing guys in the TV westerns of the late 50's and early 60's such as James Garner, Clint Walker, and Chuck Conners, Nick Adams playing Johnny Yuma was a small guy who was even kind of asking for it by wearing a Confederate cap which designated him as someone the big guys would take as a loser and therefore, a temptation to bully. The very first episode introduces Johnny Yuma as a loner riding into a small western town and leading his horse to the water trough. The town toughs immediately see the Confederate cap and start shoving him around. "Don't push," Yuma says not in a whiny voice but with warning menace. "You aught to be used to being pushed by now, Reb," one of the toughs smirks. By the time this episode is over, Johnny Yuma has emptied his Confederate cap and ball pistol into them and blasted them and with his sawed off double barreled shotgun. Then, he grabs from his saddle bag a cluster of dynamite with the fuse already fashioned, lights it, storms to the saloon, and tosses the explosive package over the swinging doors. Boom! Each week, Johnny Yuma encountered another version of bullying by the bad guys and apathy by the onlookers which kind of resembled Will Kane's isolation in "High Noon." And each week Johnny Yuma would fight and blast his way to vengeance and justice. I haven't seen any of "The Rebel" episodes for almost 40 years. On top of that I have been living in Asia since 1969. But in light of what I have read about the recent tendency in American high schools for certain alienated students to keep journals like Johnny Yuma did and to one day march into the cafeteria blasting away, I wonder if "The Rebel" serves as catharsis or provocation. Or just good entertainment.
Character actor Nick Adams was an unlikely choice for the lead on an action TV series, particularly a western, where the genre was dominated by large fellows like Clint Walker and James Arness. The diminutive Adams played Johnny Yuma, a Confederate veteran who after the Civil War wanders the west. But whereas virtually all of the other cowboys who did precisely that on a nearly endless number of shows were simply looking for work, romance, or adventure, Yuma was trying to 'find himself.' He was a writer, and "Johnny Yuma's Journal" always remained a focal point of the series. More interesting still was that the title had three meanings: One one level, Johnny was indeed a rebel in that he was among the defeated Southerners; on another, he was being played by Nick Adams, who had co-starred with James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and ABC made a great deal of the fact that, in an era of adult westerns, this was the first "teenage western" - though Adams was over thirty when he filmed the show, the idea was to bring a James Dean type character to television, if in the context of a western to avoid any possible controversy. Finally, there was at least a hint of Camus's THE STRANGER, a certain existential quailty to the character and the stark situations in which he found himself, that made this show vaguely philosophical, intentionally or otherwise. Much of the action took place at night, allowing this a certain noir sensibility not in evidence on any other western of the era. One wonderful element was the theme song, performed by the inimicable Johnny Cash: "Johnny Yuma, was a rebel; he roamed through the west." The show was a huge hit, particularly with teenagers, but ended up getting canceled when ABC entered into a hostile relationship with the company that produced The Rebel and cut off their nose to spite their face by canceling one of their top rated shows. Unlike most canceled series, which went immediately into syndication, the Rebel was picked up by NBC as a midseason replacement, though all those episodes were reruns. This move may have been an attempt to keep Nick Adams 'live' in the public consciousness, as they premiered his new series, Saints and Sinners (about a newspaperman) in the fall of 1962, though that series was a flop.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just finished watching the complete series of "The Rebel" (over a
period of a couple months), and have become a big fan of the show and
it's star Nick Adams well after the fact. I was around when this TV
Western debuted in 1959, but for some reason, never watched it back
then, preferring "Rawhide" and "Wanted:Dead or Alive". There's
something interesting about watching a show fifty years after it was
made, especially when the stories could just as easily have been told
today using the post Civil War context.
Johnny Yuma was a Rebel in more ways than one. He was, to be sure, an ex-Confederate soldier roaming the West after the War. But unlike Chuck Connors' character Lucas McCain in "The Rifleman", he used his fists to beat up as many men as Lucas might have killed with a gun. Nick Adams brought a restless and short tempered quality to his portrayal of Johnny Yuma, and it often seemed that he invited trouble at his own expense, especially since he always traveled in complete Confederate uniform. He also traveled with his trusted journal, a concept introduced right from the beginning. As Johnny traveled from town to town, he recorded his feelings and impressions, trying to understand what life was all about, but almost never finding answers. The shows often explored the themes of honor, integrity and justice, and Johnny would never walk away from a situation that required someone to stand up for what was right.
The series got off to that kind of start right with the first episode, aptly titled 'Johnny Yuma'. Johnny returns to his home town of Mason City, Texas after the war, only to learn that his father was murdered by a gang of thugs led by John Carradine. The bad boy bunch included Dan Blocker and Strother Martin, and looking back on it today, that was quite an impressive guest lineup, even if those names weren't as well known back in the day. Johnny defeats the villainous gang and restores the town to law and order, but at the same time sets the stage for his wanderlust, taking off for parts unknown instead of accepting a job offer at home. It was the kind of theme that repeated itself throughout the series run.
Johnny's back story included living for a time with the Kiowa Indians as a youngster, and soldiering with the Third Texas Cavalry Regiment. He spent a year at a Yankee prison camp at Rock Island, and escaped to finish out the last six months of the war with Lee's Army in Northern Virginia. "Like swallowin' a bitter gall" was how Johnny described losing the War. However Johnny also recognized the worth of an enemy, as in Episode #1.33 - 'Grant of Land', about a Union soldier who won a Medal of Honor. I think my favorite episode might be #1.37 - 'At Appomattox', told in flashback. Johnny plans on killing General Grant before an armistice can be signed, but while eavesdropping as Grant offers terms of surrender to Lee, he's impressed with Grant's compassion and respect for Lee and the Southern cause. He comes away with an understanding that the North was fighting for something too.
Another gripping story was Episode #1.34 - 'Night on a Rainbow', unusual looking back on it now, as it dealt with the theme of drug addiction at a time when drugs were quickly becoming a national epidemic but not being addressed yet in popular culture. The show revealed the fact that one in four hundred soldiers returning from the war was an addict; in the story, Johnny tries to help a former soldier friend with his reliance on morphine.
During it's short two year run, "The Rebel" featured many of the familiar character actors of the era, like John Anderson, Royal Dano, and Jack Elam, but also had some surprise (at least to me) guests as well. Johnny Cash, who performs the show's theme song, appeared in an early first season episode, followed along the way by future stars like Robert Blake, Leonard Nimoy and Jamie Farr. John Dehner had a repeat role in the series as Uncle John Sims to his nephew Johnny Yuma. Perhaps the most unexpected guest to pop up was Soupy Sales as a villain in an episode (#2.51 - 'Hope Chest') that also included William Demarest. It's always cool to see well known names in unexpected places.
In the final episode, Johnny bundled up his journal and had it sent off to a friend care of the Mason City Bulletin. It was in this final show that an Indian Chief named LeBlanc called Johnny by his Indian name - 'White Kiowa". By any name, White Kiowa, Johnny Yuma, or The Rebel - this was one of the best TV Westerns to come out of the era, and still a treat and a pleasure to watch today.
In the 50s, as a kid, I watched Gunsmoke, Maverick, Have Gun Will
Travel and the others.
When Johnny Yuma, 'The Rebel' came along, there was no need to watch the others. When it went off the air in two short years, I never watched Westerns again. This series said it all, the only one I thought projected the West as it might have been, the only one worth looking back at 50 years later.
It had decent scripts and all the technical trappings, but Nick Adams was a rebel from the first episode to the last.
I never cared for much Nick did before or after 'Rebel' but James Dean would have been proud of what his friend did in bringing a 'Rebel Without a Cause' to the west. I think Nick wanted it this way
Character actor Nick Adams was an unlikely choice for the lead on an
action-packed television western series where the genre was dominated
by "Gunsmoke","Wagon Train","Have Gun Will Travel","The Rifleman",and
"Tales of Wells Fargo",and "Cheyenne" just to name a few were the stars
that dominated the "western" genre were Ward Bond,Robert Horton,Chuck
Connors,not to mention James Arness and Clint Walker. "The Rebel" came
out when the television landscape was dominated by "westerns",and
"family situation comedies" that ruled the late-1950's and
early-1960's. The series portrays the adventures of a young Confederate
Army veteran named Johnny Yuma(Nick Adams)who was an inspiring writer
who kept details of his activities in his journal. Haunted by the
memories of the Civil War,Yuma,in search of inner peace,roams the
American West specifically the Texas Hill Country and the South Texas
plains who also fights injustice wherever he finds it and takes care of
manners in his own hands with a double-barreled sawed off shotgun.
Whereas virtually all the others "westerns" consisted of work,romance
and adventure,"The Rebel" was about Johnny Yuma "finding himself" and
along the way his encounters with ruthless gunslingers,hostile
villains,and the like while Johnny Yuma comes out of these episodes
Out of the 76 episodes that this series produced,all in classic black-and-white,"The Rebel" had Nick Adams as not only the star of the series,but also was involved with the show's design,inception,and writing,not to mention serving as its creator and executive producer along with producer Andrew J. Fenady(who appeared twice in the series once as United States Army General Philip Sheridan in the episode "Johnny Yuma at Appomattox"). The series was one of the few that producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman,through their production company Goodson-Todman Productions did outside of their game show ventures. The other series that Goodson and Todman produced was another western called "Branded" starring Chuck Connors that ran for 23 episodes. "The Rebel" originally aired on ABC-TV from October 4,1959 until the series finale on June 18,1961. The show's sponsor was the Proctor & Gamble Company. This series was the first "teenage western" whose audiences were the younger crowd. The show's title song was done by Johnny Cash. It was grand western,but it ended up getting canceled with the powers that be over at ABC entered into a hostile relationship with the company that produced the series,ending up canceling one of their top rated shows. In 1962,"The Rebel" was picked up by NBC in repeats as a mid-season replacement where all 76 episodes were re-runs. After that the series went into syndication in repeats.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As someone who finally got around to watching reruns of practically
every Western TV series, I found THE REBEL to be a gem.
Sure when you think of "Classic Westerns" names like "Gunsmoke", "Bonanza" always crop up...but the "REBEL" deserves it's on place.
Nick Adams plays the part of a confederate who comes home after the war to find out his pa (a sheriff) was killed and a basically apathetic town...he (Adams) has a desire to write for the local paper...but the editor is leaving town to avoid getting shot himself...but leaves parting advice to Yuma (Adams) which was "Before you can write about life...you need to LIVE it".
So the series begins with Johnny Yuma living life and documenting it.
The series was very well done and balanced between teaching life's lessons and action.
THERE SEEMS TO be a nearly eternal popularity deeply entrenched into
the very fiber of the stories dealing with "rebels." Be they authentic
guerrilla type fighters or those representing restless and idealistic
(and often very naïve)individuals. We need only look at some of our
most popular movies of the day.
IN GOINGH BACK some years (being ever since WWII), we have had many films with this particular theme. Often categorized as the "Anti-hero", the characters and their stories have had such appeal as we've been talking. Consider: Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONE, Paul Newman in COOL HAND Luke, Tom Laughlin in BILLY JACK and the premier candidate, James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.
AND SPEAKING OF Mr.Dean, it was his meteoric rise and tragic demise that added to both his own personal legend; as well as to the desire to have "rebellious" movie themes. In typical Hollywood fashion, there was a frantic scurrying about in hopes of finding the "New James Dean"; or at least someone who resembles him and could fill the void.
THIS EXHAUSTIVE SEARCH by "Talent Scouts" did manage to bring forth a number of talented individuals; although none really did the impossible by replacing the fallen Star. Among those who were thought to be viable candidates were: Robert Conrad, Martin Sheen, Ty Hardin, Rip Taylor* and Nick Adams.
SO IN THE casting of the youthful Mr. Adams as the lead in THE REBEL TV Series, the producers essentially fulfilled both rebel types. The character of Johnny Yuma was both young and full of blank and vinegar and was also a veteran of the defeated Army of the Confederate States of America. Indeed, what a coup de tat this was for the producers in "killing two birds with one stone", so to speak.
THE SERIES, WHICH did make it successfully through two seasons of brutal ratings wars of its own, traced the adventures lived by the young veteran former foot soldier. We follow his meandering through the Post-Bellum Western United States. He always has to prove himself to somebody; both as a man (because of his young age) and because he is a former "Johnny Reb".
NO MATTER WHERE Yuma 'wandered', the locals were sure to be able to size him up instantly as a Reb. Why, you ask? Well it was probably because he always wore his Gray uniform and rebel flat-topped brimmed cap; being a dead give away.
AS WAS THE custom, the central character in these 1950s 'Horse Operas' had special weapons. Much like Josh Randall (Steve McQueen) on WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, Johnny's weapon of choice was sawed off. But rather than its being a cut down carbine rifle, This Rebel had a surgically shortened shotgun. OUCH!!!
WE HAVE JUST discovered that in addition to being in front of the camera, Nick Adams was both the co-creator and sometimes writer to the series. He also did own some piece of the series. (Good for you, Nick!)
WHEN ONRE WATCHES one of the episodes of THE REBEL today, there is something very different. The original theme song and signature song, "The Ballad of Johnny Yuma" is not present on these modern day prints. It was very well known and sung by every kid in our neighborhood. It was recorded for the series by a singer named Johnny Cash. It has been replaced on the soundtrack by an instrumental instead. Once again, why you asked?
WELL THIS IS only a guess, but it's probably over either the rights to the song or because it may well require payments of healthy residuals to the Estate of the Late Mr. Cash; a practice abhorred by just about any Hollywood producer.
CAN YOU SAY "bottom line", Schultz?
This is one of the best series that was made. The Rebel was a term given to the South and if anyone studied their untainted history they would see that they were not Rebels but good people. One person wrote derogatory comments which many liked. Jonny Yuma was a man and he went about doing good and seeking justice unlike the northern people. It shows a contrast which exists to this day about greed and helping others, The South was better at helping others while the northerners were greedy. That is what the civil war was about. The Northern greed as they needed the south's wealth. the North took it by force and labeled the ones who wished to leave the union as rebels. It is a great story of how the south stood for people and would help those in need.
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