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TV westerns usually starred at least one good-looking, well-built actor
in the prime of his manhood. The type that looked good with his shirt
off. To get their hero's shirt off, without resorting to pin-up poses
which might diminish his masculinity, TV westerns often used the
prizefight plot. In this plot the hero becomes tangentially involved in
a prizefight scheduled to take place in a frontier town. The star
attraction is a semi-famous fighter from "back East" who, for a price,
will take on any challenger. For some reason the town's local champ
won't or can't compete and thus our hero reluctantly finds himself
taking that man's place. Voila! We get to see the TV western's hunky
leading man bare-chested and sweaty, involved in the manly art of
You'll find this plot featuring James Garner in a "Maverick" episode titled "Stampede," Gene Barry in a "Bat Masterson" episode titled "The Fighter," and John Russell in a "Lawman" episode titled "Samson the Great." In "Bare Knuckles," it's 28-year-old John Smith's turn to display the beefcake, and he's mighty easy on the eyes with his shirt off, even though his prowess as a boxer never seems quite convincing. Too bad co-star couldn't have gotten roped in as John Smith's tag-team partner. Just imagine. Two hunks of beefcake in all their homoerotic splendor!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I tuned into this one because of the boxing theme. When 'Laramie' was
originally airing I never got a chance to watch it. Back then my Dad
and I would catch 'The Texan', 'Tales of Wells Fargo', 'Johnny Ringo',
Wanted: Dead or Alive' and 'Trackdown', so this show must have been
opposite one of those for me to miss it.
Most TV cowboys were pretty handy in the fisticuffs department, so it's no surprise "Laramie' had a boxing story. It was probably pretty easy to pass one's self off as World Heavyweight Champion in the late 1800's, as long as you could beat the snot out of most any opponent in a take on all comers challenge. In this show, Don Megowan portrays Champ Terrible Terry Mulligan, but he's not legit, as he and his manager Holvig (Wally Brown) ride into town and set up the locals to bet their money in a losing cause after building up a home town strongman.
With that in mind, there was a bit of a disconnect in the story when Slim Sherman (John Smith) accused the con-men of this strategy, as there was really nothing he could have based that on up to that point in the story. But Slim takes up the challenge anyway when Holvig teases him and friend Jonesy to a hundred dollar per round payoff for each one he makes it through. When it looks like Slim might actually pull this one out, Terrible Terry lives up to his name and rubs Slim's face full of resin, thus blinding him long enough to deliver a knockout punch.
I guess the biggest surprise for me watching this episode was seeing Hoagy Carmichael as part of the regular cast as his character Jonesy. A very talented song writer and pianist, it was cool to see him actually play one here at the War Bonnet saloon. As Slim's boxing manager, Jonesy got the last laugh on the traveling con-men by selling them his worthless gold claim.
The ever helpful Jonesy treats traveling prizefighter Don Megowan and
manager Wally Brown to some meals at the Sherman station. They eat so
well and the payment is passes to see the big fight in Laramie for the
Nice, but as John Smith explains the bank manager won't accept those passes as payment on their mortgage. So Hoagy Carmichael goes into the fight promoting business himself and Smith has to take on Megowan who should have annihilated him.
Watching some of the episodes with Carmichael in it I can see why Hoagy left the series abruptly. I guess he didn't like playing the village idiot.
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