Sgt Turner (William Marshall) is a fugitive from the Army. On the lam, he meets Rowdy and steals his horse. But because he spared Rowdy's life, when Rowdy captures him, Rowdy gives him work...
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Sgt Turner (William Marshall) is a fugitive from the Army. On the lam, he meets Rowdy and steals his horse. But because he spared Rowdy's life, when Rowdy captures him, Rowdy gives him work in the trail drive. Eventually, the solders pursuing Turner finally capture him. The Sergeant is one of the black "Buffalo Soldiers," who are keen on proving their worth to the skeptical army. The white Captain son of a General has been guilty of certain past offenses, and so is put in charge of the black outfit to prove his worth as well. The problem had been that the Captain has been suffering from blackouts from an old war injury. If the Army knows of the blackouts, the Captain's career is over. Sgt. Turner is a loyal subordinate of the General, so he volunteered to go West with the Captain (the General's son) to keep an eye on him and keep the blackout problem hidden. In a battle against the Indians, Sgt, Turner leaves his post to tend the Captain's blackout. After the battle he accepts the ... Written by
William Marshall dominates the action as a deserter from a black army unit
The "Rawhide" episode, "Incident at Seven Fingers," is one of a comparatively small number of black-and-white TV western episodes to feature important black characters. Here we meet Sergeant Sam Turner, played by William Marshall, a deserter from an army unit of "Buffalo Soldiers" (black troops commanded by white officers), whose brief encounter with series regular Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) leads to his being hired for the cattle drive by trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming). The multi-skilled Turner proves such an asset to the crew that they conveniently ignore the fact that he's clearly gone AWOL and is bound to be sought after by the army. At night around the campfire, when an Hispanic member of the crew plays a tune on the guitar, Turner sings along, knowing all the wordsin Spanishand leaving the cowboys awestruck by his performance. Eventually the troops show up, arrest Turner, and prepare to take him back for court-martial. Favor feels some responsibility and makes it his business to find out exactly what happened and why a veteran soldier with a sterling reputation apparently ran from the field of battle (with the Apaches) as he's accused of doing. We learn of the close relationship of Turner to his commanding officer, Captain Coulter (Harry Townes), and his promise to the captain's father, General Coulter, to take care of the captain. Eventually, the truth comes out in a flashback related by the captain that is dramatized somewhat dishonestly since the flashback shows details that he could not have known or seen, my only quibble with the episode. Having said that, I did find the explanation quite plausible and keenly rooted in character, not contrivance.
There's a dialogue scene between Coulter and Favor, where the captain describes the history and status of the Buffalo Troops and why they became such exemplary soldiers. It's a show of great respect for units who have never been given their due in popular culture. Offhand, I can think of only two movies about black troops out west, John Ford's SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960), starring Woody Strode, and the low-budget drive-in movie, SOUL SOLDIER (1970), starring athlete Rafer Johnson.
Marshall occasionally got to play strong, commanding historical figures like this one, but not nearly as often as he should have. If anyone deserved to pick up the mantle of Paul Robeson, it was Marshall. (Marshall reminded me of Robeson when he sang in Spanish in this episode.) He gives a powerful performance, making this one of the best "Rawhide" episodes I've seen. In addition, there are other black actors with speaking parts, playing soldiers scandalized by Turner's apparent betrayal, which reflects badly on their troop. They include character actor Hari Rhodes (SHOCK CORRIDOR) and future TV star Don Marshall ("Land of the Giants").
Clint Eastwood has a couple of scenes early in the episode and his interaction with the formidable Marshall, who gets the drop on him in the very first scene, displays the cool, assured manner so recognizable in the movie westerns he would soon be starring in. His character then disappears from the rest of the episode, with no explanation. Could it be that he was already on his way to Italy to make his first Italian western, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS? The film would be released in Italy later that year (1964) and would eventually arrive in the U.S. in early 1967.
"Rawhide" also deserves note as the first TV western to feature a black man as a regular character. In the 8th and final season (1965-66), Raymond St. Jacques joined the cast as cattle drover Simon Blake.
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