The show is set in the west after the Civil War. Paladin, magnificently portrayed by actor Richard Boone, is a well-to-do, erudite resident of a fine San Francisco hotel. Though he dresses in ruffles and frills, he is no dandy. His business card reads: Have Gun Will Travel. On the road, he dresses in cowboy gear, all black, and rides to distant parts of the west to do his job. When it will not interfere with a job, he is interested in the ladies and is no stranger to the use of fine wines and other alcoholic beverages.
Hired by various persons in need, for the normal fee of $1000.00 (quite a large sum back then), Paladin goes out and tries to accomplish the goals of his patron. When he agrees with them, that is. If Paladin's moral sense is offended, he will turn on his patron.
Paladin's symbol is the chess knight, and he is known for his chess-like strategies to outfox the opposition. He is reluctant in the extreme to use violence, and always tries to discourage its use. Yet, when required to save himself or others, he uses his main firearm and his small hidden one with great speed and accuracy. He is not bragging when he wants to discourage some fool from challenging him, by referencing his gun and saying, "This is a precision instrument. I am an expert in its use."
Paladin displays considerable proficiency in using his fists, and shows manly self-confidence in virtually every situation. He protects the weak against the strong. As the closing theme song says, he is "a knight without armor in a savage land."
Unlike other western heroes, Paladin, a West Point graduate who served in the Civil War, is highly educated. He is well familiar with history, military strategy, literature, science and the like, and will often call upon his encyclopedic knowledge to illustrate a point, or to find the right strategy when he faces a similar situation as one faced by someone else long ago.
The show has interesting style. Paladin wears all black. He has an outline of a chess knight on his holster. The opening music is dramatic and somber, and involves Paladin running a line from the show, when he is trying to talk some sense into some fool or opponent. All the while, he takes out his gun, cocks it, and points it directly at the viewer. The closing song is lyrical and catchy. Do not be surprised if you find you are singing it to yourself.
Other than the minor character Hey Boy (for a short time Hey Girl), who serves him at the hotel in San Francisco, Paladin is the only recurring character. He is strong enough to carry the show, most of which takes place in typical western locales.
If you have never seen this show before, please do. You will be very pleasantly surprised. And, because the action takes place in the 1800s, it does not go out of date like some shows. Have Gun Will Travel is on my list of the very finest television shows ever.
Eddie Slade (actor Paul Richards) and his girlfriend Penelope Dufour (actress Laura Devon) move in. Eddie is a gangster recently out of jail, who comes to LA looking for a financial stake. Unfortunately, a fellow gangster has given him two weeks, then he must leave.
Penelope is young, attractive and poorly educated, though not stupid. Discovering Kimble's vast store of knowledge, Penelope asks Kimble to help educate her. She will be 24 soon, old for Eddie Slade, and wants to marry him before he loses interest in her for being a dummy. Kimble discovers that he gets real satisfaction from seeing Penelope learn, and grow as a person.
Meanwhile, police Sgt. Bragin (actor Wayne Rogers), posing as a salesman, moves in at the motel to keep tabs on Eddie and Penelope. He soon become suspicious of Kimble. Oddly, no one becomes suspicious of Bragin, even though he is a salesman who never tries to sell anything, never even mentions what he sells, and spends most of his time hanging around the lobby, pool and coffee shop watching other people.
Although some of the characterizations are formulaic, it is incomprehensible that no one pegs Bragin for being a cop, and the actors who pull guns lack much-needed rehearsal of that action, this is a sweet, feel-good story that is quite entertaining.
Tina is an attractive but troubled young woman who lives in a fantasy world. She takes Kimble to the carnival after work, leading to a fight between Kimble and the carny worker. Kimble is injured, and she takes him home where he meets her stepfather, Harry Anderson (actor Andrew Duggan). Harry was fired from the police force for using excessive violence against a suspect, but still thinks of himself as a policeman, and he believes he recognizes "Paul" (Kimble).
Harry's quest to find out who Paul is, and Tina's confused and obsessive actions, lead to danger for Kimble and others.
Geoffrey Martin (actor Rex Thompson) is a British 17 year old who is a master violinist. His parents years ago signed over his care and training to an agent, Max Pfeiffer (actor Donald Pleasence). Kimble gets a job as their chauffeur. Also living in the mansion is the secretary, Ellen Harned (actress Carol Rossen).
Geoffrey is a sensitive but troubled young man who travels the world giving concerts. He lives under the heavy-handed, oppressive rule of Max, himself a former violinist. Max believes that genius carries responsibility, and that Geoffrey has a duty to the world to be the best he possibly can. Geoffrey is alone and friendless, and itches to be free of Max. Kimble and Ellen feel great sympathy for Geoffrey, but Kimble is suspicious of some of his actions.
As the conflict between Geoffrey and Max comes to a head, police involvement endangers Kimble, who takes great risks to prevent a tragedy.
Kimble is distressed by the approach of Josephus to the illness of Mrs. Crandall, who has a chronic cough, and whom Josephus is treating with a honey-based cough syrup. Kimble's comments gain him the antagonism of Josephus' niece Sharon (actress Kim Darby) and his wife Marianne (actress Sheree North).
Police involvement, the discovery by Kimble of a serious illness of Sharon which Kimble cannot ignore, and the discovery of Kimble's identity by Marianne, all pose dangers for Kimble.
Coralee works for her uncle Frank (actor Rusty Lane) at a small diner in this seaside town, but patrons begin to shun her because of her reputation, and Frank can't afford to lose the customers. But one patron is far too intelligent to believe in jinxes: Kimble. Kimble warns her he will only be in town a couple more weeks, but the two start a romantic relationship.
Joe fears that "Tony" will testify against him at the upcoming inquest on the death of Johnny. Coralee suspects Joe has a plan to prevent "Tony" from testifying at the inquest, and she takes steps to protect him, but those steps place Kimble in serious danger.
Millie (actress Judee Morton) is an attractive young resident who taunts Roger and spurns his interest in her. Roger is playing chess with Kimble in Kimble's apartment when Kimble is called away to fix a light for Mrs. Murdock (actress Ellen Corby, who later played Grandma Walton on The Waltons), a widow. Roger steals Kimble's key to Millie's apartment and goes there to make his move. He ends up killing her, under circumstances that lead police, including Lt. Sloan (actor Richard Anderson), to believe the killer might have been Kimble. Millie is killed by a blow to the head with a heavy object, just like Mrs. Kimble, and Roger hides the murder weapon in Kimble's apartment. Lt. Gerard reads of the killing and rushes to the scene, hoping to catch Kimble.
Kimble discovers that there are many secrets and mysteries involving George, Jesse, Jesse's wife and son, and George's attractive sister Stella (actress Diana Hyland), and that George wants to keep the lid on these secrets.
Stella makes moves on Kimble. George threatens him to get him to stay away, but she will not stay away from Kimble. Kimble comes to learn that she is delusional. (Hyland played a similar delusional woman in the episode When The Bough Breaks).
An angry George confronts Kimble, and tells his secretary that in one hour, she should call the police and inform them that Chris Benson has stolen some radios, and is believed to be wanted elsewhere by the police. Kimble wants to flee, but Stella complicates matters.
At the hospital, Kimble keeps up the masquerade as a doctor from the east, on vacation, and comes into close contact with Nurse Ruth Bianchi (actress Joanna Moore), a good nurse, and an attractive woman who is attracted to Kimble. There is presently a shortage of doctors due to the high number of casualties from the fire. Though not licensed in this state, Kimble gets permission to treat the injured woman, and learns she is Maggie Tibbett (actress Barbara Baxley), a middle-aged woman who is in love with Johnson. Kimble steals her key and goes to her home looking for clues about Johnson. Meanwhile, Maggie contacts Johnson, who tells her if she wants to see him again, she must call the police and inform on Kimble, which she does.
Lt. Gerard shows up and works with Det. Rowan (actor Phillip Pine) to try to capture Kimble. Kimble twice escapes difficult traps at the hospital, at times aided by Ruth Bianchi, and ends up leaving town without his quarry. Meanwhile, Ruth and Maggie commiserate about the failures in their love lives, but remain hopeful because nobody loses all the time.