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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.
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.
*** 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!")
Even though this series is rarely shown in some areas,Chuck Connors
follows up on his "Rifleman" series with a western that only ran two
seasons on NBC-TV from January 24,1965-April 23,1966 producing 48
episodes and afterwards was never heard from again..until now.
"Branded" was the type of show that gave Chuck Connors astounding
ability to pass as both hero and villain,but in this one he is regarded
as a coward for deserting his troops during an Indian attack,and that
is just half on if,but we viewers know differently. I had a chance to
check out one of the episodes watching a late night flick on TV,and in
this episode Connors is captured by hostile Indians,gagged and bound
while being forced to duel to the death,and in another one Connors
fights off a gang of outlaws who want to turn him in for money which
they want to hang him,but he manages to escape from great danger(this
episode was in black and white). All of the scenes have Connors
barechested and this a far cry from his days as Lucas McCain on "The
Rifleman". However some of the episodes were in color(and they're on
videocassette),and it was that macho crap that underlay some westerns
and this was one of those shows that didn't last very long.
NOTE: During the show's first season,the episodes were shot in black and white(1965-66)while the second season episodes were in color(1966). The show was produced by NO other than game show veterans Mark Goodson and Bill Todman(the guys behind "The Price Is Right")and this was their first try at a weekly series(and the last time they will ever do so).
As a "Rifleman" fan, I wasn't impressed with this series too much, even
though I've always liked Chuck Connors' work.
The premise, a man who was thought to have abandoned his cavalry brothers in cowardice - but not really, gave the opportunity, like Star Trek, Route 66, The Fugitive and other t.v. shows, for the main character to roam from town to town, place to place, etc., to meet other people and help them deal with whatever crisis they happened to be facing at the time.
The theme song was great and gave opportunity for some wag to come up with alternative lyrics... "Stranded, on the toilet bowl. What do you do when you're stranded without a roll?"
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.
This follow-up to Chuck Connors' fondly remembered series "The
Rifleman" isn't even in the same league as that show, though it had far
more production values, bigger casts, and did a lot of location work,
as opposed to "The Rifleman," which was shot almost entirely in a
studio. The stories in "The Rifleman" were what really made the show,
and the relationship between Lucas McCain and his son. In "Branded,"
Connors' character, Jason McCord, doesn't have any kind of relationship
with anybody; he drifts from town to town and from situation to
situation, and the viewer really has no clear idea as to what exactly
he's doing or where he's going. "The Rifleman" had a core story: an
ex-gunfighter trying to make a life for himself and his son on a small
ranch, and running into people and situations which, in one way or
another, tried to prevent him from doing that. In "Branded," Jason
McCord is cashiered from the army for cowardice--which, we're told, was
untrue--and pretty much drifts around the west. He doesn't try to
gather facts to prove his innocence, or find people who can testify for
him, or anything that you'd think a person falsely accused of cowardice
would try to do. He just wanders around, making you wonder exactly what
the point of this show is. Apparently the producers didn't quite know,
either; in one multi-part episode, they had McCord working as a secret
agent for President U.S. Grant and trying to break up an organized
Connors did his best, but the trite story lines and the general aimlessness of the show finally did it in. It only lasted two seasons. That was enough.
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