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"Johnny Yuma," as sung by Johnny Cash, kicks off the two year odyssey of the title character, a survivor of the Civil War, roaming the West (mainly Texas) and writing down his thoughts as he goes. Both creator and star, 28 year old Nick Adams played Johnny, who carries his father's double barrelled sawed off shotgun (he calls it a scattergun) and brazenly continues to sport his rebel cap long after the war between the states has ended. This first episode begins in 1867, with Johnny's long awaited return to his hometown of Mason City, Texas, where his father has been the local sheriff for the past 15 years. A rather discourteous welcome lies in store however, as three villains have taken over the town and forced Ned Yuma into a losing gun battle while Johnny's aunt (Jeanette Nolan) and uncle (Harry Bartell, first of three) watched helplessly. Strother Martin scores as cowardly deputy Jess, roused from an alcoholic slumber by Johnny, informing the lad what has happened in his absence, and accompanying him to his father's gravesite. The same year he started BONANZA, Dan Blocker is so good as head villain Pierce that audiences easily forget how imposing a bad guy he could be, but it's the young Richard Bakalyan as Bart Vogan who really starts to ruffle the feathers of the returning rebel, and winds up getting dunked in a horse trough for his trouble. Also present is the legendary John Carradine as Elmer Dodson, editor of the town newspaper, the Mason City Bulletin, who looked upon Johnny's father much as his own brother, ultimately the inspiration for young Johnny yearning to become a writer himself: "for everybody there's a time to decide, that's when the brave man chooses and the coward steps aside." By the time Elmer chooses to stay rather than flee, Johnny has already made his decision to fight back against the odds. Once the villains have been defeated, Elmer again offers words of comfort for the departing Yuma, setting the tone for the series: "you've got a lot to see. I think one day you'll have a lot to say, but you can't write it unless you've lived it. Maybe that was my mistake." A wonderful introduction for a fine TV Western, as ensuing episodes continued the high standards set by this initial entry (LAWMAN was another current Western kicked off by a strong cast). John Carradine's fine, understated performance would sadly see just one repeat appearance, in the second season episode "The Bequest." The director of the pilot, and indeed nearly half the 76 episodes, was Irvin Kershner, who would graduate from small screen to big, best remembered for the second Star Wars feature, "The Empire Strikes Back." Series creator Andrew J. Fenady scripted the opener, as he would on just three other occasions: "Yellow Hair," "Gold Seeker," and second season opener "Johnny Yuma at Appomattox." Other veterans of the series appearing include Ian MacDonald (later seen in "Angry Town"), James Chandler (first of five), Phillip Mansour (later seen in "Dark Secret"), and William Harlow (first of seven). Richard Bakalyan was the only cast member to repeat his role from this episode, in the second season entry "The Threat," before playing the title character in "The Calley Kid."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE REBEL "Johnny Yuma" 1959 This is the first episode of the
1959-61 western series, THE REBEL. The series ran for 76 episodes and
starred Nick Adams as a former Confederate soldier who wanders the
Johnny Yuma, played by Nick Adams, heads home to Texas a couple a years after the end of the US civil war. He finds that the town he left, is not the town he is returning to. He discovers that his father, who had been the town sheriff is dead. The town deputy, Strother Martin, is now the town drunk and the town is being ran by a gang of gunmen.
This gang is being led by Dan Blocker in a pre-BONANZA role. Blocker and his henchmen are running everything in town as well as the local mine. Anyone who disagrees with Blocker, has a habit of showing up with several un-needed bullet holes.
Jeanette Nolan and Harry Bartell play Adams' aunt and uncle. They tell Adams to saddle up and leave town and not get involved. Needless to say Adams does not listen to the advice. He is soon in a fist-fight with Blocker gang member, Richard Bakalyan.
This soon leads to further trouble for Adams. He wants revenge for his father's murder by the gang. No one in the town however will stand up to Blocker, so Adams decides to force the issue. He makes himself a black powder hand grenade and fires it into the saloon Blocker and his boys use as a headquarters. He then blasts the gunmen with a sawed off shotgun as the survivors stagger outside.
The townsfolk thank Adams but he wants nothing to do with them. Adams just saddles up and heads out to ride the west.
The rest of the cast includes, John Carradine, Al Foster, Ian MacDonald, James Chandler and Ed Schaff.
The director was Irvin Kershner. Kershner was best known for the feature films, , STAKEOUT ON DOPE STREET, HOODLUM PRIEST, FACE IN THE RAIN, THE Film-FLAM MAN, RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE, THE EYES OF LAURA MARS and of course, STAR WARS: EPISODE V- THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
The d of p was seven time Oscar nominated and one time winner, Ernest Laszlo. His work included films such as, TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST, COVER UP, MANHANDLED, IMPACT, DOA, the remake of M, THE WELL, STALAG 17, VERA CRUZ, BANDIDO, THE BIG KNIFE, TEN SECONDS TO HELL, JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG and AIRPORT. (B/W)
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