The Virginian (1962–1971)
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It Tolls for Thee 

The Judge, believing violence in the West is disappearing, creates a rift with the Virginian when he stops a violent fight involving the Virginian. When the Judge is kidnapped, the Virginian goes to his rescue from violent captors anyway.



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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Steve Hill
Martin Kalig
Betsy Garth
Sharkey (as Warren Kemmerling)
Cord (as Michael Mikler)
Jan Stine ...
Brendan Dillon ...
Mr. Bemis
Stuart Nisbet ...


Martin Kalig shoots Sharkey thinking he has killed him in order to take over Sharkey's gang. Kalig has detailed plans for kidnapping Judge Garth for ransom and revenge for submitting him to a tongue lashing at his sentencing in the early days of the west. At the same time Molly is presenting Judge Garth with an engraved watch and a request for an interview from the renown publisher Joseph Pulitizer who idolizes Garth for his control of the west via a strong and often violent hand. Garth, however, feels violence is no longer a major factor in the west. He makes his point when he punches The Virginian to stop him from beating a drunk ex-ranch hand who threatens to kill someone at the Judge's party for Molly. This creates a divide between Judge Garth and The Virginian which lasts until Judge Garth is kidnapped and The Virginian takes control to rescue the Judge. When the kidnappers refuse to release the Judge after the ransom is paid, The Virginian has the Sheriff hold back the posse ... Written by Anonymous

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Release Date:

21 November 1962 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The date on the bank receipt The Virginian fills out is July 16, 1884. See more »


Martin Kalig recites the rhyme, "Lizzie Borden took an axe / and gave her mother forty whacks...," a reference to the infamous August 4, 1892 murders. But the dated bank note the Virginian signed earlier establishes the fact this story takes place in July 1884, eight years prior to the murders. See more »


Judge Garth: When a man kills, he kills part of himself. When a man dies, part of every man dies.
The Virginian: "It tolls for thee."
Judge Garth: Where did you learn that?
The Virginian: From Molly. She gives me books and makes me read 'em.
Molly Wood: He's taken a fancy to John Donne.
Judge Garth: Well, we could all do with a little more John Donne.
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User Reviews

Sam Fuller writes and directs a TV western with Lee Marvin
19 January 2012 | by See all my reviews

"It Tolls for Thee" was aired in November 1962 as the ninth episode of "The Virginian," a series based—loosely—on Owen Wister's 1901 western novel of that title. Movie director Sam Fuller (THE STEEL HELMET, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET) wrote and directed the episode and asserts, in his autobiography, "A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking," that it was the pilot for the series. Fuller made this in between his films, MERRILL'S MARAUDERS (1962), a box office hit for Warner Bros., and SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963). The episode involves a gang of criminals who kidnap rancher Garth (Lee J. Cobb), an ex-judge, and hold him for ransom, forcing the Virginian (James Drury), who works for Garth, to withdraw money from the judge's account, deliver it to the criminals and then, joined by two of his cowboys, pursue them until they get the chance to free the judge. The man who directs the kidnapping, Martin Kalig (Lee Marvin), is a prison escapee and ex-soldier who holds a grudge against the judge for sentencing him for robbery and murder. Complicating matters is the fact that Kalig's gang used to work for another man, Sharkey (Warren Kemmerling), whom Kalig had shot in the back and left for dead. Sharkey survives the shooting and has recruited another gang to pursue Kalig & company.

Despite Fuller's participation, it's still just a routine TV western which never delivers the suspense promised by the basic situation. The idea that Kalig's kidnapping of Judge Garth is meant to be a carefully planned military-style operation (echoing Fuller's 1955 film, HOUSE OF BAMBOO) is undercut by the abundant use of stock footage of cattle driving in the kidnap sequence. It never quite matches. There's potential for action in the threat posed by Sharkey's survival and pursuit of Kalig, but this is diminished by the frequent cuts to the Virginian and his crew. If this had been designed as a theatrical film with the regular series characters omitted and Sharkey's character placed as the protagonist and played by a more charismatic actor, this might have been a tough, gritty, violent western, almost Italian-style in its intensity. But we never get that film.

Fuller manages to invest the action with some of his trademark touches, but it never has the power of his theatrical films, particularly the westerns he's done (I SHOT JESSE JAMES, FORTY GUNS, RUN OF THE ARROW). Kalig and the judge have conversations where they debate the fine points of the law, war, and punishment. Kalig calls the judge a hypocrite, but I couldn't understand why. Kalig's a bad guy who admits to acts of killing without any remorse. The judge is a good guy who puts men like Kalig away, exactly what he's supposed to do. In Fuller's account, "The judge turned out to be a thief too, exploiting the law for his own benefit," although nothing bears this out in the finished result.

Given Fuller's background as a newspaper reporter, he shows special interest in the town's newspaper editor, Molly Wood (Pippa Scott), who, as we see in an early scene, has just returned from New York where she met the great editor of The New York World, Joseph Pulitzer (after whom the Pulitzer Prize was named), who was fascinated by her account of judge-turned-rancher Garth and gives her an inscribed pocket watch to give to the judge. It turns out that Pulitzer had always wanted to be a cowboy. (One of the first things Kalig does after kidnapping the judge is to steal the watch.)

Fuller wrote that he "was disappointed with TV production people from Day One," and turned down additional offers of TV work, returning only for "The Iron Horse," a few years later, after movie work dried up. Fuller and star Lee Marvin would work together again on THE BIG RED ONE (1980), Fuller's last great movie, which was based on his experiences as an infantryman in World War II. (Marvin had served with the Marines in WWII, getting wounded at the Battle of Saipan.)

"It Tolls for Thee" was intercut with another "Virginian" episode, "The Reckoning" (Season 6/#1, 1967), which guest starred Charles Bronson, to create a hodge-podge movie entitled "The Meanest Men in the West," which was released as a Lee Marvin/Charles Bronson western overseas in 1978 and came out on home video sometime later. I rented it in the mid-1980s, curious to see Sam Fuller's TV work, and was appalled at the way they butchered his episode. I don't recall what they did to tie the two separate narratives together, but it didn't work at all.

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