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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By 1960, Maverick wasn't faring too well. Roy Huggins had developed the
series, but Warner Brothers had, in his opinion, cheated him out of
cash and credits from his writing. The highly popular James Garner was
gone, too, after a contract dispute.
You can't say they didn't try to goose the series' ratings. Will Hutchins, who plays a lawyer yet to have his first case, was the star of his own series, "Sugarfoot", in which he plays essentially the same character. In fact, Beau recognizes him as Sugarfoot in the last scene. (Not really a spoiler; in 1960, audiences would have recognized Sugarfoot from the start.) This episode was written and directed by Roger Altman, who would achieve fame for writing and directing M*A*S*H a decade later. The script does not feature the clever and funny twists that earlier made Maverick a beloved series. Maverick does not gamble, connive, or con anyone, and he doesn't spout a misanthropic quote from Pappy (although in the case of Beau, it was "Uncle Beau"). This is simply an amusing story set in the west, something that could have been filmed with Matt Dillon, Bronco Lane, or any other unmarried western character.
Given the amazing talent in this episode, this shouldn't have been merely an amusing episode; it should have been exceptionally good. What a disappointment!
This is Ed Robertson's favorite from season 4. Beau is mistaken for a horse thief, and we know what they did with horse thieves in those days. The title derives from prospector Ebenezer Bolt. Beau spends a good bit of time with a noose around his neck awaiting the "hanging judge," Hookstraten, who rides along singing "The Hanging Tree." He wants $25 for sentencing Beau to hang. They must wait until midnight, however, because the law says a man cannot be hung on Sunday. Will Hutchins is a lawyer in this one. He was Sugarfoot in one of Warner Brothers' westerns. Those TV westerns shielded a generation from such American realities as Korea and Vietnam. For a while! "Handsome is as handsome does!" Written by Robert Altman.
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