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Stoney Burke is a rodeo rider who wants to win the Golden Buckle, the award to the world's champion saddle bronco rider. He didn't win it but he encountered a considerable amount of violence along the way. Written by
J.E. McKillop <email@example.com>
I just finished watching the 32nd and final episode of the recently released DVD set. I was curious about it from having been a fan of the Outer Limits and knowing that Leslie Stevens, Dominic Frontiere and Conrad Hall all worked on both series. I had never seen Stoney Burke before. I was too young when it was on ABC originally and it never made it to reruns in NYC.
This series far exceeded my hopes or expectations. The formula is an old and good one. Stoney Burke (Jack Lord) can be viewed as a knight on a quest to win the Gold Buckle (National Rodeo Championship), with Cody (Bob Dowdell), Red (Bill Hart) and E.J. (Bruce Dern) as squires. Burke can at other times be viewed as an almost messianic or Christ-like character with the others as his disciples. Either way, he is a man who is pure at heart and dedicated to winning the Gold Buckle. He is NOT however a man who will do ANYTHING to win that Gold Buckle. He is highly principled and honest. His high principles and morality are contrasted against another of his followers, Ves Painter (Warren Oates), who is one of the least moral or principled characters ever to play a regular role in a series.
The series is much like other 1960s television, with the main characters traveling from town to town, meeting different people in each episode, and becoming embroiled in their dramatic life struggles. This gives the best character actors from the era lots of opportunities. The format enables the writers to examine every dramatic possibility. There is romance (of course) and corruption and greed and dilemmas of conflicting commitments and self-destruction and small-town prejudice and salvation. In one way, the earliest episodes are some of the best.
Leslie Stevens wrote all the earliest and he understood the characters the best. He obviously LOVED the Ves Painter character, and the episodes Stevens wrote are those that Ves is his most vivid and vile. Warren Oates steals many of those shows, spouting some of the best and most colorful dialogue and providing both comic relief and intense frustration. Stevens also made sure that Stoney's followers/friends had a lot to do with the action. They get into many scrapes with- and on behalf of- Stoney. In the middle of the 32 episodes, when other writers took over, the followers move farther into the background and the series suffers a little for it. Still, that being said, I can't say there's a dog in the entire 32 episodes. Even the weakest shows are good, solid TV drama. I was hoping that the series would end strongly and I was not disappointed. Stevens wrote and directed the final episode, in which all the recurring cast members play an important part. Stoney takes a mythological journey during which his soul and faith are at stake and he is almost literally staring at the abyss. 'Nuff said. You'll have to watch it.
You can't talk about Stoney Burke without talking about the music and photography. Dominic Frontiere's music is very lush and romantic and is employed judiciously throughout the series. Just as he did the following year with the Outer Limits, he provides just the right flavor to the emotion of each situation. Outer Limits fans will be shocked at how much of that series' music was lifted directly from Stoney Burke. At times, it almost felt like I was watching an Outer Limits episode, but without the aliens.
Conrad Hall took over all the photography after the first 6 or 7 episodes, when Ted McCord fell ill. Hall was McCord's camera operator. I cannot possibly praise Hall's B&W photography as much as it deserves. Under the least visually interesting directors, such as Tom Gries, he is perfectly competent and quite good. Under the more daring or innovative directors his work is sublime. He does things with camera movement, lighting and angles that gives me chills. His work makes good scenes great and great scenes unforgettable. His work here is some of his best B&W work- and that's saying a lot.
I highly recommend the series to anyone who likes old B&W-era TV, and especially to fans of Jack Lord (you'll see some of Steve McGarret's stalwart integrity here), Warren Oates, Conrad Hall or 1963 Lincoln Continentals, Thunderbirds and pick-up trucks, for that matter.
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