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Laredo,along with the High Chaparral,were two of the best western series ever produced.The rangers of Laredo stood out from the other TV western series casts in a number of ways.They liked a good fight.Not just to impose justice but because these guys enjoyed brawling,on duty and off.They loved to set one another up for a practical joke,they made mistakes,could be full of themselves,and try to pull fast ones on their Captain.Not perfect,but very human.Through it all they were also loyal to one another and risked their lives without hesitation for their buddy.They could break the law if need be in order to enforce it.The show had loads of humor and never took itself too seriously.That was not commonplace with most TV westerns.The cast was outstanding!From the bellowing Neville Brand,brawny William Smith,smooth Peter Brown,worldly Robert Wolders,and stern Philip Carey,they all shared a wonderful chemistry.The second season of the series brought new and cooler outfits for some of the cast.Peter Brown's Chad Cooper role now wore a blue double breasted shirt,just what one would expect of a lady's man.William Smith's Joe Riley could be found in a distinctive buckskin shirt that remains a favorite of mine.His having lived among the Indians made it seem logical he would prefer such a top.Robert Wolders Eric Hunter's numerous fancy duds had to be seen to be believed.Somehow that even made sense to me.His character was European,cultured & educated,possibly of royal background.His tastes would lean towards the elegant.The theme music is rousing & memorable.It was a show that should have continued for more than its 2 seasons.
The Texas Rangers of "Laredo" were introduced in an episode of "The Virginian" where they proved enough of a hit to earn their own series that ran for two seasons on NBC. It was a fun, frequently rowdy hour that was a favorite in my youth. The fine cast was headed by Neville Brand as the older Reese Bennett whom the other Rangers often patronized and made the butt of their jokes. Peter Brown was the calm, compassionate but still deadly Chad Cooper, and William Smith was Joe Riley, a half-Indian as quick with a knife as he was with a gun. Philip Carey rounded out the cast as Captain Parmallee, who frequently found the actions of his charges less than commendable. In the final season, European Robert Wolders was added to the cast as the flamboyant Eric Hunter, whose wardrobe might have raised eyebrows in the Hollywood of the 1960s, and would have certainly gotten him killed in the Old West if he hadn't been so handy with a gun himself. Claude Akins also began to make frequent appearances at that time as a Ranger named Cotton, a character bearing many similarities to Reese Bennett, and it appears Akins was put on the payroll only to fill in for Brand whose drinking sometimes made him unavailable. All in all, a memorable show that also had a brief flirtation with the big screen. In 1968, a year after its cancellation, several episodes from the first season were stitched together to make "Three Guns for Texas" which was released to theaters with "The Counterfeit Killer," a Jack Lord starrer that originally appeared on NBC's Bob Hope's Chrysler Theater. A year later, the series's pilot also had a brief theatrical run under the title "Backtrack."
"Laredo" featured Peter Brown, William Smith, and Neville Brand as a male bonding trio of Texas Rangers portrayed tongue-in-cheek as a combination Dead End Kids go Western and AWOL members from Sergeant Bilko's platoon. As conditions warranted they could also become a trio of Dirty Harrys whom Philip Carey as Captain Parmalee would let loose to track down, catch, and sadistically interrogate the suspects of some crime of the wild west. It really was a fun show which could even be interpreted to be a kind of predecessor to and portrayal of the Texas Rangers Call and McCray of "Lonesome Dove" before they got old.
"Larado" was a successful attempt to transfer the three British
sergeant characters from "Gunga Din" (1939) into the American west and
transform them into Texas Rangers. Archie (Cary Grant) became Chad
Cooper (Peter Brown), Mac (Victor McLaglen) became Joe Riley (William
Smith) and Tommy (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) became Reese Bennett (Neville
Brown was the best of the mid-1960's "pretty boy" action stars (James Stacy, Mark Goddard, and David Hedison come to mind).
The show was a western parody, which like "Maverick" did not take itself too seriously despite an attempt to introduce relatively realistic action sequences and some straight drama. The humor mostly came from Chad and Joe teasing and baiting Reese, whose sputtering reactions were always entertaining. Brand was the heart of the show because his character was eccentric rather than serious. Reese did not have to play the straight man role because that function was handled by Ranger boss Captain Parmalee (Phillip Carey). While Reese indignantly blusters around, Parmalee just acts mildly aggravated by the threesome's juvenile antics, in the tradition of Ward Cleaver.
To go with "Larado's" three "Gunga Din" characters, Carey also brought a connection to television's "Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers" (1956-57) series in which he starred as Lieutenant Michael Rhodes. Not to be outdone "American" Indian themes were prominent in the show with the Rangers regularly fighting renegade Indians and Joe having a vague Cheyenne Bodie type Indian background (note his beaded Indian belt).
Apparently Neville Brand had a contract dispute or just didn't get along with some members of the cast/crew because he quit midway through the second season. Although they tried to carry on with Claude Akins as replacement the show had essentially lost its best element and could not make a successful transition. Brand's fans would get to see him again when they combined several episodes into a feature length movie called "Three Guns For Texas" (1968).
William Smith would go on to become the quintessential low budget movie tough guy and would star with Brown in "Chrome and Hot Leather" (1971). His all-time best performance was as Joe Namath's nemesis in "C.C. and Company" (1970).
Half of Season One is now out in a DVD package with the misleading title "Best of Laredo". The remainder of Season One is scheduled for DVD release in March 2008. No effort was made to cull out the best episodes, rather they just released 15 or the first 17 to air back in 1965- 66. Oddly the episodes are not arranged on the DVD by their original air dates. The DVD set has no special features.
Here is a list of the 15 episodes on Volume #1 of the Season One 3-DVD package in the order they appear on the DVD's, followed by their original air dates in parenthesis: Rendezvous At Arillo (7 October 1965) Anybody Here Seen Billy? (21 October 1965) I See By Your Outfit (23 September 1965) A Question of Discipline (28 October 1965) Limit of the Law Larkin (27 January 1966) Yahoo (30 September 1965) Lazy Foot, Where Are You? (16 September 1965) Three's Company (14 October 1965) The Golden Trail (4 November 1965) The Land Grabbers (9 December 1965) The Calico Kid (6 January 1966) A Matter of Policy (11 November 1965) The Pride of the Rangers (16 December 1965) Which Way Did They Go? (18 November 1965) A Medal for Reese (30 December 1965).
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
'Laredo' was a comedy western with Neville Brown as Reese, the clownish
Texas Ranger. He is marvelous in the scruffy role, which he throws
himself into with complete, crude abandon. The other two Rangers were
more along the lines of the glamorous cowboy TV actors of the
period--Peter Brown as Chad and William Smith as Joe Riley. Philip
Carey plays Captain Parmalee and Robert Wolders, familiar to me
otherwise only as the last companion of Audrey Hepburn, comes in for
the third season to be a fancy European cowboy.
It is William Smith, the Joe Riley character, who interests me because he is the only actor I have yet seen for whom bodybuilding actually was an asset and lent an extra dimension to the acting (maybe the other, more famous bodybuilders had no acting to which the dimension of bodybuilding could be added, so it looked like bodybuilding usually does--DUMB. Anyway, they don't deserve mention by name even if everybody does know who they are and culture now seems geared to repeating the same names ad infinitum--or ELSE...)
Bobybuilding actually even makes a man unattractive when it is overdone; of course, this sounds like an oxymoron, because the stereotype of the bodybuilder is always something overdone. Smith looks big, but not too big--TOO BIG begins to take on the ugliness of stupidity, and this never happens to him.
Somehow Smith manages this balance in which his acting works in spite of the bodybuilding as well as being enhanced because of it. It has to have something to do with his personality, which is not all that easy to research: you can see the list of films and gather that he came to Hollywood as a child and was an extra in a number of mainstream films like 'Going My Way', 'The Song of Bernadette', and 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn', among others--he is quite visible in the last of these, the neighbor pal of Dorothy McGuire's son, and you see him once in the hallway of the tenement, and again very clearly you see the Smith child's-face in the cemetery crowd toward the end. Later, in his twenties, he has a bright bit part with Debbie Reynolds in 'The Matine Game', and a dazzling flash as an eyeful whom Shirley MacLaine and her galpals mentally devour in a restaurant in 'Ask Any Girl'--in the scene, he is proof of their inability NOT to think about men--EVER. There are a few facts about his life on websites, none of which are well done or in any way exhaustive. This is unfortunate, but probably normal for a B actor who is not a household word, even though he did have a second period of roles in the mainstream in his mid- to late-40's, with 'ay which Way You can' being the prime example (opposite Clint Eastwood; this climaxes in their big fight, which Smith would have won but wasn't A-List so lost, of course--in the way in which the biggest stars didn't get killed in 'The Towering Inferno', etc.) He also appeared as Lonnie "Lucky Man" Johnson, Cronenberg's so-called "lost movie" which has nice performances by Claudia Jennings and John Saxon as well. Much later still, in 1994, James Garner (with whom he had done some work in THE ROCKFORD FILES, singles him out for some well-deserved special homage.)
In the 'Laredo' series you see a character that is not as usually involved with the ladies as are Peter Brown and Robert Wolders. His costumes are excellent for the Western swagger and dazzling smile that are what we easily imagine--or is it demand?--the ideal cowboy to be; and there is a subtle burlesque that occurs only rarely that is interestingly ephimeral and arresting; and is not the overt exhibitionism one sees in 'Bonanza', among other Westerns with their ambitious young actors of the period.
This body-acting was equally effective in the Hell's Angels movies Bill Smith started making in 1969, beginning with Run Angel Run', continuing with such products as 'Angels Die Hard', 'Chrome and Hot Leather,''Nam's Angels,' and 'CC and Company'(in the latter, Joe Namath calls him "Your Majesty--both sarcastically and not sarcastically is my guess--and when Ann-Margret is kidnapped, Smith strokes the delicate white skin of her neck, caressing her beautiful face lightly...two different but very real STARS cross paths...) In these films, the body-acting is so effective that in 'Angels Die Hard', he is even called "boy" by one of the redneck burghers; how often does this happen--and seem convincing--when the "boy" is 35 years old?
Bill Smith is one of my three favourite actors, and has a fabulously colourful and varied career.
The 'Laredo' series has various appeal to different interests, but finding it is not that easy.
One of television's most lighthearted looks at the Old West was the
series Laredo. It involved three Texas Rangers who to use the
description of John Wayne in Fort Apache, would fight over cards and
women and liquor, but would share the last drop of water in their
canteens on a desert. They also shared a common trait of always trying
to put one over on their captain who was played by Philip Carey.
Our three heroes were played by Neville Brand, William Smith, and Peter Brown. Brand who played many a villain on the big screen and was probably best known before Laredo for playing Al Capone in Robert Stack's The Untouchables discovered his vein for comedy. His career took a similar turn to his fellow character actor Jack Elam in that way. Brand as Reese was loud, brawling, and braggadocious. William Smith who later on played some really nasty villains was the brawny one who was raised among the Indians. Peter Brown who had already had one TV western under his belt with Lawman, played the good looking one in the cast to attract a few women to this testosterone driven western.
Later on Claude Akins and Robert Wolders joined the cast as the brawling and the handsome one, but it was not the same without the original three. Laredo only lasted two seasons with public tastes changing from westerns and cast changes as well. But the episodes which were done with a heavy comic flavor are fondly remembered.
If you like such things as John Wayne's McLintock and the Cheyenne Social Club with James Stewart and Henry Fonda, you'll find Laredo to your taste. Don't expect any sophisticated dialog here, just a lot of belly laughs as outlaws meet justice at the end of every episode.
Neville Brand didn't get along too well with some of the other members of the cast and in the second year of the show, quit. Claude Akins replaced him. Too bad, because as highly as I thought of Mr. Akins as a versatile actor, Neville Brand's Reese Bennett character was key to the show's success. It seemed as if the producers recognized a need to juice up Laredo in its second year by adding Robert Wolders to the cast. It didn't work very well, in my opinion. The original light-hearted formula of Peter Brown and William Smith teasing and playing tricks on Neville Brand was the thing that made Laredo stand out from other Westerns of that time.
I have recently found episodes of "Laredo", being aired on Retro TV. I have fond memories of watching this show in in its first run days when I was sitting the neighbours two sons. I had not much of a social life back then and needed the money. I enjoyed the byplay between all the main characters. My favourite would have been the Reese Bennett character played by Neville Brand. It was a good way to spend an hour watching a light hearted western show with a bunch of Texas Rangers that surely must have driven poor Captain Parmalee to distraction. Peter Brown and William Smith were excellent in their roles. I am not too sure about Robert Wolders or Claude Akins. I thought the Wolders character was a little bit too Jim West, from, "The Wild, Wild West" and I did not care for Cotton Buckmeister replacing Neville Brand's character.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I want to thank the folks at the Encore Westerns Channel for picking up this great series. It is really a shame that Laredo only lasted two seasons, because this was a great show that combined action and humor. Although Neville Brand gets top billing in the opening credits, in my opinion, the real star of the show was Peter Brown as Chad Cooper. Pretty much all of the stories flowed through whatever Cooper was involved in. While, I liked Brown as Johnny McKay on Lawman, as Cooper he got to show a lot more range as an actor. I am not a fan of Neville Brand. I think he may have been what held the show back. I also thought they could have used the late great Phillip Carey much more than they did. William Smith did okay. He was never that great of an actor, but I guess the ladies liked it when he took his shirt off, and showed them all his muscles. This was a fun show overall, and definitely worth looking at further.
I am a big fan of many western films. My favorite series of all time is the "Laredo" series next to "The Virginian". Every episode has a great new story to it and you'll feel like your right there with them in their high risk shootouts! The four Texas rangers; Reese Bennet, Erik Hunter, Chad Cooper, and Joe Riley work upder Captain Edward Parmalee. They are not ones to be messed with and will spearhead into any chaotic gunfight that comes there way. Their wit and great acting contribute to the worth of these films. Reese Bennet is my favorite of the actors with his theatrical hand gestures and way of putting things that are so agreeable. Trying to pull one over on the captain is a regular occurrence.
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