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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Four years would elapse before this episode of "Decision" give rise to
the first 90-minute long western television show in history "The
Virginian" with James Drury as the eponymous protagonist. Indeed,Drury
dresses differently than he would during his nine-year reign on "The
Virginian." He looks more like a cross-between of a soldier and a
gambler. He wears his revolver on his waistband in front of him for a
cross-the-belly draw. Furthermore, he speaks with a Southern drawl.
"The Left-Handed Gun" scenarist Leslie Stevens opens this episode with
our hero driving a buckboard toward the ranch owned by Judge Henry
(Robert Burton of "The Big Heat") who not only wants to run a ranch but
also create a town. The railroad contributes the supplies and Judge
Henry antes up the manpower. As the Virginian is heading to the ranch,
riding alongside the railroad, a handcar loaded with boxes of dynamite
cruises down the tracks ahead of him and then out of sight and blows
up. The Virginian helps one survivor. No sooner has he performed his
good citizenship deed than Judge Henry, his son Steve (Stephen Joyce of
"Street of Sinners" and the other ranch hands arrive.
At this point, our hero shows the Judge the letter that he send him to come out west. Judge Henry knows something is wrong, but he cannot put his finger on it and initially the Virginian has a difficult time. He befriends the ranch cook, Dora (Jeanette Nolan of "Saddle Tramp") and they wind up liking each other. He likes her cooking, too. Later, our hero gets close to Steve and learns about his strong desire to become a veterinarian. The problem is that Steve's stern father, Judge Henry, thinks that being a vet is nonsense. Mind you, from the start, the Virginian encountered the man behind the mysterious problems, Ben Stocker (Andrew Duggan of "Lancer"), and the Virginian discovers the Stocker is operating a crooked poker game in the barn and robbing Steve blind. When the Virginian makes his surprise entrance, Steve has lost three thousand dollars. The Virginian is prepared to sacrifice his life's savings, about fifteen-hundred dollars, when he notices that Stocker plays with a marked deck and the Virginian proves it to an incredulous Steven. Stocker's beefy right-hand henchmen, Salem (Dan Blocker of "Bonanza") comes to his aid against the Virginian. A fistfight breaks out, and the poker game is broken up. The Virginian tumbles out of the loft and Judge Henry shows up.
At this point, we learn that Stocker, by his own admission, was sentenced to hang by the Judge, but he somehow survived and has been plotting revenge ever since that incident. Stocker has them covered with a gun as he delivers his oration from the top of a hay stack. The Virginian upends a piece of lumber and a gunfight erupts and Stocker and his henchmen die. Now, the future looks brighter and the Virginian sets out to help Judge Henry built his ranch and what would later become the town of Medicine Bow.
Why it took two directors to helm this episode is a mystery. The performances are good, but the scripting seems contrived. How could the Judge not know what is going on after hours and how could he forget a man like Stocker who survived a hanging are questions that Stevens' teleplay doesn't satisfactorily answer. The scene with the railroad handcar loaded with explosives is fanciful in itself, too. Nevertheless, Drury gives a strong performance as The Virginian in this bare-bones pilot.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
DECISION "The Virginian" 1958
DECISION was a summer replacement series that ran during 1958. It featured one off episodes of various pilots that the networks hoped to run in the fall. They used this as a sounding board with the viewing public. This particular episode is a take on the novel, THE VIRGINIAN by Owen Wister. There had been four different film versions done before this, 1914, 1923, 1929 and 1946. The 1929 version with Gary Cooper is the most well-known.
In this take we have James Drury playing the title character. Drury is a former Confederate Officer who rode with J.E.B. Stuart's unit during the late war. He has taken a job out west on the Shiloh Ranch in Wyoming Territory. He arrives just after there has been 6 men murdered by a load of dynamite. The men had been working on a rail spur to the Shiloh ranch.
The owner of the ranch, Robert Burton, puts Drury right to work finding out who killed the men. Also in the mix here is owner's son, Steve Joyce, the ranch foreman, Andrew Duggan and the ranch cook, Jeanette Nolan.
Drury roots around poking his nose in where some, Duggan in particular, would rather he did not. It turns out Duggan runs a crooked card game and the owner's son, Joyce, is in deep to Duggan. He has even signed over his part of the ranch to Duggan. Joyce has been trying to earn enough cash so that he can go to medical school out east.
Drury soon puts the lad right about Duggan who has been using marked cards to cheat Joyce. They are then joined by Burton who it seems knew nothing about his boy's gambling. All hell soon breaks loose with guns yarded and lead flying. The owner, Burton collects a slug in the shoulder. Drury, who of course is quite handy with a pistol, cuts down Duggan and his men. Look close and you will see future "Bonanza" star, Dan Blocker as one of Duggan's thugs.
Burton decides to let the boy go to school and installs Drury as the new man in charge.
This one has that filmed, edited and ready to go inside a week look to it. The network then took their time deciding whether to put the series into production.
It would be 1962 before the series itself hit the airwaves. "The Virginian" was the first 90 minute western and was a huge hit. Drury would be the sole holdover from this episode. (Jeanette Nolan would join later in the run as a semi regular)
The series ran for 249 episodes between 1962 and 1971. It was, along with "Bonanza" and "Cheyenne" a staple at our house.
Worth a look if you are a fan of the series.
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