Cheyenne scouts for a railroad to lay track to the West. Where the track goes may not be up to the company paying for the route as someone else has a preferred one. At the same time Cheyenne wins a Chinese pearl - a woman.
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Cheyenne has been hired to scout a route through Shoshone territory based on his ability as a Cheyenne blood brother. He works with surveyor Ross Andrews, a younger and adventurous fellow. Cheyenne negotiates a pact with Chief Red Knife for a pass through their land with the promise the railroad will bypass their burial grounds and provide medicine and food. The railroad is happy with the agreement but their foreman Tom Fanshaw is not happy nor is freighter John Bishop who based on Fanshaw's advice invested his money with a syndicate in property the railroad is bypassing based on the route Cheyenne obtained from the Shoshone. Fanshaw tries to have Cheyenne killed but fails. His last attempt is based on forcing the Chinese girl Mei Ling Soong Cheyenne won in a rigged raffle to poison him. Cheyenne thought the raffle was for a Chinese pearl which turned out to be the girl. She refuses to leave his side as she adores Cheyenne. Written by
I've been on a kick lately tracking down Asian-themed TV western episodes from the 1950s and '60s. I've found an episode of "Laramie" and an episode of "Wagon Train" which both involve Japanese travelers out west and an episode of "Annie Oakley" guest-starring Keye Luke as a Chinese laundryman who's framed for murder. (I've reviewed the Laramie episode, "Dragon at the Door," on IMDb.) This episode of "Cheyenne," "Pocketful of Stars" (1962), involves Chinese workers on the railroad and their interaction with Cheyenne after he's signed on as a scout for the railroad and witnesses two workers, an old man and his daughter, being fired by the corrupt white foreman. To make a long, contrived story short, Cheyenne somehow wins the daughter, Mei Ling (Lisa Lu), in a lottery staged by Wang (Weaver Lee), the head of the Chinese workers, but refuses ownership of her. He relents and lets her accompany him and his companion, a railroad surveyor (Peter Brown), and cook for them although he persists in trying to find a way to send her and her father back to San Francisco, all while contending with the efforts of the crooked foreman (Robert Foulk) to re-route the track through sacred Indian burial ground in order to make a profit off of property he owns.
The Chinese characters are portrayed as obsequious and submissive. Wang kowtows to the racist foreman and calls him "honorable master" while Mei Ling keeps referring to Cheyenne as her "lord and master." Actress Lisa Lu, however, manages to undercut the stereotype by carrying herself with quiet dignity. Helping her in this effort is Clint Walker, whose Cheyenne character is gentle and compassionate, treating Mei Ling with respect and care. The two of them invest their scenes together with a level of humanity that transcends the hackneyed script. For that reason alone, the episode is worth tracking down. (I watched it on Encore's Western Channel.)
Ms. Lu is quite a compelling screen presence. She is a Chinese-born actress who was active in Hollywood chiefly from 1958 to 1973, most notably co-starring with James Stewart in the World War II drama, THE MOUNTAIN ROAD (1960), in which she played a distinctly proactive Chinese character without a trace of stereotype, but has also worked in Hong Kong films and Chinese co-productions off and on since 1969. (She's had supporting roles in such prominent films as THE LAST EMPEROR, THE JOY LUCK CLUB and LUST, CAUTION.) As of this writing, she's still working. I'm submitting this review on her 85th birthday.
Weaver Lee, who plays Wang, was active in Hollywood chiefly from 1945 to 1970, but was usually billed as Weaver Levy. IMDb has two different entries for him, one under each name. Frank DeKova appears as Indian chief Red Knife. He would later turn up in another Warner Bros. western series, "F Troop," as Wild Eagle, a more comical Indian chief. Stock footage from a western movie about the building of the railroad is intercut with studio shots of the railroad crew.
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