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In the moral and cultural wasteland of the 60's, this show was like pure poetry: a distillation of the best of the west. "Branded" is the story of a wandering loner/knight errant who must right wrongs everywhere he goes while on a quest after a seemingly unobtainable goal. Economical, hardboiled, the product of years of testing the action and adventure formula, "Branded" is a summing up of everything that ever worked for motion picture audiences dating back to the first silent film western. Unusually taut performances from the mature Chuck Connors in a role that was tailor made for him. Each episode introduces a new set of characters. No ensemble cast baloney and no hack writing. What I wouldn't give for a show this good today!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've been reading with interest the postings by other reviewers for
"Branded" and have been chomping at the bit to get my two cents in, but
I wanted to complete watching the series before proceeding. Many of the
comments seem to be based on a mistaken belief that Jason McCord, the
'coward of Bitter Creek', spent his post-War years traveling the West
in an attempt to clear his name. Actually, the events of Bitter Creek
were brilliantly told in the second show of the series titled 'The
Vindicators'. In the story, it's revealed that McCord's commanding
officer, Major James Reed, had been going senile and was mentally
incapacitated at the time of the battle. McCord attempted to relieve
him of command on that basis, as the Major refused to order a retreat
in the face of overwhelming odds against one hundred forty Apaches. As
a see-saw argument ensued, Reed was killed by an Apache arrow, and the
military camp was over-run. McCord was wounded and remained unconscious
for ten days following the battle, and was the only one who survived
while thirty one soldiers died.
Third in command at Bitter Creek was a soldier named Pritchett who regularly corresponded with his wife, and his letters vindicated McCord. He confirmed that Reed's condition had been growing worse over time. Newspaper reporter Travis (Claude Akins) wanted to tell the true story for the New York Herald, and approached Mrs. Pritchett (June Lockhart) for the letters. McCord also paid a visit to Mrs. Pritchett, and explained why the truth of Bitter Creek must never be told. Major Reed's vision was to secure a lasting peace with the Indian Nations, and if it came out that his judgment was discredited, war-hawk Senators in Congress would use that information to make war on the Indians again. In what has to be one of the most heart rending TV Western episodes ever, Mrs. Pritchett burns the letters and McCord willingly leaves disgraced rather than implicate his former commanding officer for the disaster at Bitter Creek.
OK, so that's out of the way. "Branded" came out in 1965, a couple years after Chuck Connors' other successful TV Western, 'The Rifleman' came to an end in April, 1963. One of the interesting and fun things about the early Branded shows is catching the references to the prior series. For example, Connors' TV son Johnny Crawford shows up as a teenage deputy sheriff in Episode #1.7 - Coward Step Aside. At the opening of Episode #1.12 - Very Few Heroes, there's a wooden plank nailed to a tree that has the name 'Lucas' carved into it, that being Connors' name in The Rifleman, Lucas McCain. Then again, in #1.16 - Price of a Name - there's a bank manager who goes by the name Mr. Lucas. Additionally, Connors more than once reminds us of his former prowess with a sawed off shotgun by twirling his broken saber in the manner of Lucas McCain in a number of episodes.
With TV transitioning from black and white to color in the early Sixties, "Branded" was no exception, but with a twist. The first season aired in black and white, however there was a three part story mid-way through that was done in color called 'The Mission'. That one featured Connors' real life wife at the time, the gorgeous Indian actress Kamala Devi. She later returned in the second season reprising the same character, but married to a U.S. Senator after having waited too long for McCord to return to her. The second season ran entirely in color.
As with most TV Westerns, Branded relied on a great list of guest stars, and this one had quite an eclectic cast. I found singer Tommy Sands to be an unusual choice for a West Point cadet in Episode #1.14 - That The Brave Endure. Along the way, you also had fine actors like Burt Reynolds, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef, Greg Morris, Bruce Dern, Ben Johnson, Peter Graves and Martin Landau, who was over the top as the brother of John Wilkes Booth in #2.34 - This Stage of Fools. But the most unusual name to show up, and the only time I've ever seen him outside of his American Bandstand element, was Dick Clark!, portraying famed circus impresario, J.A. Bailey, partner of Pat O'Brien's P.T. Barnum in #2.27 - The Greatest Coward on Earth. It wasn't a big role, but it was very cool to see him in the story.
In summation, even though I wasn't a regular viewer of this series back in the day, I've become a fan of 'Branded' and Chuck Connors by virtue of a neat six DVD set from Timeless Video that contains all forty eight episodes along with extra material. For those of you who enjoyed "The Rifleman" for it's traditional Western stories, you might want to consider this series for it's more mature themes in a setting that borrows from history during the period right after the Civil War.
I won't say it was the cream of the crop of TV westerns, as far as
production goes, but it's premise was...
I disagree most strongly with the first comment, McCord did try to clear his name many times, just not at the cost of others, and McCord, a wronged man, a pariah, would indeed, have to drift from town to town.
If he stayed too long he would likely be strung from a tree...
I too watched this on late night TV, in fact it's still on the New York City ABC affiliate, as a late night time filler.
That's an undeserved legacy.
In the current climate of turning past TV series into big-budget films, this is a no-brainer.
I'd be interested to know if the property's being sought after.
They'd be morons not to include theme song somewhere, it is really stunning.
I was but a wee lad of 3 when this show captured some of my brain cells for ever. I remember the title song, and the ripping of his insignia rank, and his sabre being broken. VERY strong images, not unlike the rat patrol and for that matter ANY tv show of the mid-late 60's. The story lines are only sketchy. The fact that the character was given short shrift legally and thereby justice wise haunt me to this day. As a young child my belief in our american justice system stems from these images... Life has sailed down other waters.... for as I have gone through our educational system these idealized morality shows hold the same power, but the promise of a just ending is always infinitely more difficult to achieve. Most of the hard edged shows like this one are not oft replicated... They attempt to acomplish the same storylines today with modern settings, but most late night crime dramas play like soap operas as opposed to the tone and vector of "perry mason" I would like to see this and other series released in their "Entirity" and not edited and slap dashed to be politically and religiously correct, for to alter their impact in that way is to denigrate who and what we are as a nation and a people. Besides what impact other than simple historical and entertainment can these beloved series wield today? Except to offer heroes who truly can not be "bought" to skew the viewing public into another course of attitude, except fond rememberance, and a ready made source of topical discussion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I very well remember "Branded" from the 60s. The theme song and the opening scenes, when Jason McCord is cashiered from the army for cowardice, remain in my memory, and especially the outtakes, when the man assigned to tear off McCord's epaulets kept trying and trying, but they just wouldn't tear off! How well I remember Chuck Connors breaking up (everybody else in the scene did, too!). However, this is one of those series when the main character somehow meets up with just about everybody famous who ever came west, including Edwin Booth and George Armstrong Custer (who knew the truth about Bitter Creek and wondered how long McCord was going to cover for his officer). It only lasted two seasons, but I'd certainly watch it again if I had the chance. (Personally, I always thought that Jason McCord DID "run away!")
Branded was no masterpiece that's true, but as a little boy in the 60's, I thought it was great. It had Cowboys, Indians and adventure. You "critics" kill me! We had two or three channels back then and most of us didn't own a color set. This show served a purpose. It entertained. Superman stunk also, but we loved it! Don't tell me you think "The Andy Devine Show" was quality programing. I only saw it in re-runs, but I remember it was rather poorly made. My sister and I still watched it after school. (Ya gotta love Ignatz!) Don't over work everything just to hear yourself talk. Just sit in quiet misery while the rest of us enjoy 30 minutes of pure fantasy.
I always watched The Rifleman because I was as old as Johnny Crawford was and I put myself in his shoes. MY dad was always trying to point out that somewhere in each show there was a "point" to be made. That point being made to impress me and help me go thru life without screwing up, which I have so far and I'm now 70! Lucas and Mark made a great team of what you would expect a western series to make during the time of transition to color. I was sorry to see The Rifleman end, but equally excited to see what Branded was all about. Chuck now playing a loner/drifter with all of his hair cut to a butch certainly was different. I often wondered why the sword "broke" when it should have "bent". I often wondered why he just didn't settle down in some quiet, out-of-the-way town and remain anonymous. I wondered why I never saw a lot of the second season episodes. Were they going to cancel the show that quick? I wondered a lot of other things, but there were also many other westerns to wonder about, too. Have Gun, Will Travel was one such with mysterious Paladin and the almost hidden icons and double meanings in the story line. Maverick and The Rebel, and oh so many more. Reading these comments and the description of Rifleman/Branded and reading the comments has made me want to find the Branded series on DVD so I can watch it over again. Heck, I can watch The Rifleman everyday on METV that is available thru DirecTV, but to be able to satisfy my curiosity about watching Branded over again to see what I missed has peaked my curiosity. SEE YA!
The lone survivor of the Battle Of Bitter Creek, an Apache massacre of
U.S. cavalrymen, Chuck Conners is falsely court-marshaled for cowardice
and desertion. Dishonorably discharged, he's forced to roam the west,
taking on odd-jobs, while enduring cruel taunts and unprovoked
violence, proving his manhood time and again.
Branded is pretty high-concept for a fairly low-budget thirty-minute show, with a lot of early episodes (under the supervision of series creator Larry Cohen) dealing with the nature of cowardice and what exactly makes a man a man, as well as Connors' attempts to keep the secrets of Bitter Creek, his encounters with various friends and relatives of his deceased men and the inevitable vengeance-seekers among them.
The first season is the more cerebral and ambitious of the two, with much of the action taking place primarily in town and leading to some anticlimactic conclusions to some of the episodes. The second season finds the series upgraded to color, with a bigger budget and better- staged action scenes. It's a bit of a trade-off though, with Connors' past (and the participation of Cohen) pushed to the back-burner. There's still some quality scripts, though in the spirit of a more conventional western series. It does however, provide a serviceable ending to the series.
One of the show's strengths, over only two seasons, is it's virtual army of old and new guest stars: Johnny Crawford, Burt Reynolds, Bruce Dern, Noah Beery, Beau Bridges, Lee Van Cleef, Dick Clark (!), Jay Silverheels, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Cesar Romero, Iron Eyes Cody, James Best, Pat O'Brien, John Carradine, John Ireland, Claude Akins, Burgess Meredith, Martin Landau, Angelo Rossito, Pat Wayne, Dick Miller, Victor French, etc.
As the show ended, the producers gathered much of the crew, Connors and Branded guest stars Michael Rennie and James MacArthur for the feature, Ride Beyond Vengeance. Fans of this should definitely check it out.
Chuck Connors followed up his "Rifleman" series with another western, "Branded," which made good use of his ability to pass as both hero and villain. In this series he's a man regarded as a coward for deserting his troops during an Indian attack but the truth, as viewers know, is quite different. In videostores you might find a compilation of three "Branded" episodes under the name "Blade Rider." This tape shows Connors gagged and bound spread-eagled between two trees, forced to wage a duel to the death while swinging from a vine, and thrust into a knife-fight while surrounded by a ring of fire. In all these scenes Connors is bare-chested and looking quite good for a man about 44 years old. These scenes once again demonstrate the vivid sado-masochism which underlay many TV westerns.
I used to watch this show on the usual circuit of bad late night television.
I will not glorify it; it only lasted two seasons because it was not a great
show. It was respectable, however, and had a theme song that made it
"All but one man died..."
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