Richard Boone stars as Paladin in this six-disk dvd set of the first season of HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL (1957-1958).
CBS broadcast an incredible thirty-nine episodes that first season, each episode lasting 23 to 25 minutes. Most episodes begin with the spiffily dressed Paladin (we’re never given a last name) scouring the thick stacks newspapers brought to him by the ever helpful Hey Boy (Kam Tong), bellboy at Paladin’s residence, the Carlton Hotel in San Francisco. Eventually Paladin reads of a missing child in Colorado, or a rash of robberies occurring in Montana. Paladin slips his business card – a chess knight with the legend Have Gun, Will Travel, Wire Paladin, San Francisco – into an envelope and mails it to the injured party.
Slowly enough as we wend our way through the first year we learn something of Paladin. He has a passion for justice and a taste for the good things. His going rate is $1000, although he will take on a pro bono job if the cause is just. In town he dresses to the nines and in sundry other ways consumes conspicuously. When traveling with a gun he dresses in black. Somewhere along the line he picked up a military education, quotes Shakespeare and Pliny, savors a first-edition of Dryden. His taste in and knowledge of fine wines is commented upon in a couple of episodes….
I don’t know if any of this matters, but going through fifteen hours of HGWT over a week or so it’s kind of fun to have an aha moment or two. Paladin is an enigma, and Boone, a little more credible as the gunslinger than the city dandy, was an inspired choice to play him. Boone has a commanding presence and, believe me when I tell you buckaroos, was pretty darn quick on the draw.
Twenty-three minutes is a pretty tight box to fit a action story in, which might explain why we don’t waste a whole lot of time on Paladin’s backstory. Of course, the storytelling is made a lot easier when you consider the talent involved. The talent rundown has to start with Boone, who was nominated Best Leading Actor as Paladin in 1959 and 1960. The great majority of the first season episodes were directed by action veteran Andrew McLaglen (son of actor Victor McLaglen), although a couple were helmed by Oscar winning director Lewis Milestone. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote a few scripts for the first season as well. Sam Peckingpah even co-wrote one episode (The Singer).
The talent in front of the camera was as formidable as that behind. Major established stars like Victor McLaglen and John Carradine appeared in episodes – weak ones, in my opinion, especially the McLaglen episode (directed by son Andrew) in which the old actor played a construction foreman threatening to cut a town off from its source of water. McLaglen simply wasn’t getting around very briskly and it’s a little painful to watch. Another major movie star fares much better. Charles Bronson wasn’t established yet, but he plays a robber who more or less forces Paladin into a gunfighting showdown in an episode that paints fatal violence as both regrettable and, sometimes, unavoidable. Strother Martin (Cool Hand Luke) appears in two episodes, once as an unscrupulous frontier lawyer and earlier in a more affecting role as a high wire walker who’d lost his nerve somewhere along the way. Warren Oates plays one of the bad offspring in a truncated take on King Lear.
That’s just the beginning. Future television stars appear in almost every episode. Pernell Roberts and Dan Blocker (Bonanza) appear as scruffy tough guys in relatively small roles in separate episodes. Jack Lord (Hawaii 5-0) is a cowardly kidnapper. June Lockhart (Lassie, Lost In Space) appears twice as a frontier doctor. Angie Dickinson (Police Woman) plays a young woman whose brother was murdered and threatens to incite a lynch mob. Mike Connors (Mannix) plays a cattle rustling bad guy in one of the early episodes.
Okay, I’m enthusing here. Still haven’t got to the best stuff. What gave me the biggest kick was watching the people I’d never heard of. Peter Whitney, who the intro blurb that precedes each episode tells us made a film career out of playing slow-witted big guys and menacing big guys, plays a mentally challenged ranch hand who’s goaded into placing a burr under boss’s Stuart Whitman’s saddle, with dire consequences, in “The Last Laugh.” The diminutive B-western star Bob Steele plays a crooked mine boss in “The High Graders” – the Wire Paladin blurb tells us Steele had developed a quick draw during his B-career, which McLaglen pays homage to in a draw down between his character and Paladin. My favorite discovery, though, has to be Marian Seldes, a tremendous actress who is featured in two episodes. First as a mail order bride who Paladin escorts to her new home in “The Bride” and later as a small town teacher who the local bullies try to intimidate in “The Teacher.”
Very strongly recommended, especially…
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Richard Boone was one of the most natural actors ever to grace the screen. Good guys, bad guys, he did them all with such a grace and ease that he made it seem so effortless. Paladin was a product of the post-Civil War. A West Point Graduate, he was an educated man, a man who appreciated literature, opera, culture. So it was not surprising he settled in San Franscisco after the war. Though a man of refinement, he made his living by hiring his gun out to those in need. He passed his little cards around – “Have Gun, Will Travel. Wire Paladin, San Fransisco” and waited for clients to find him.
While a cultured man, he was just as comfortable in the deadly knight errant persona, the man in black. Boone excelled at making you believe both sides could exist within one man. While he was a hired gun, he often spent more time talking to people making them listen to reason.
A loved all these Westerns. Have enjoyed the reruns on TVLand, Starz Westerns, and the Hallmark Channel. But so many of the old Westerns don’t hold up well. I was surprised how well Rawhide and Have Gun, Will Travel hold their quality. So these are a super addition to any video maven’s collection. Sadly, I don’t think Boone ever got the true recognition his talent deserved, but those of us who appreciated him can now watch his talent shine.
This will be a review by someone who purchased ALL the Columbia House VHS videotapes of “Have Gun Will Travel” (as well as ALL the available “Maverick” and the half hour “Gunsmoke” VHS tapes) as soon as they were available, from 1995 to 1998. The price for four episodes of the half hour series was about $25 (about $5 for shipping.) If you do the math, these DVDs are a fantastic savings AND offer the added bonus of being easier to store and probably to use.
The quality of the VHS tapes was crystalline, which is probably why the DVDs have been reviewed favorably in the technical sense. Much of the filming for “HGWT” was done on location in what seems to be pristine wilderness areas, and this clarity of viewing – the extra effort to get the locations done by the production staff and the effort required by the actors involved – is beautiful to watch as well. Most episodes start out in the SF hotel and then lead Paladin far afield on his missions.+
It is true that the Gene Roddenberry episodes are very special. Even in the 90s, when a script – and the way that the actors presented it – awed me, it was almost certainly a Roddenberry episode. Truly, eye opening. You understand why “Star Trek” has been around forever.
Like many children of the 50s, Westerns were the ‘meat and potatoes’ of my TV experience, and while I liked the shows like “Maverick” and “HGWT” at that age, but to be able to view them as an adult is amazing. I would also recommend the same for the half hour “Gunsmoke” episodes. Clearly, these series went far beyond the standard shoot ‘em ups and good guys versus bad guys plotting of production line Westerns. There were a lot of adult level references within the programming and it makes re-viewing later in life even more entertaining, and, leaves a powerful positive impression of all involved.
I would suggest also that the first few years of the “HGWT” series are the best. In the 50s, there were a lot of episodes being filmed every season, so at least the first three seasons are mainly outstanding.
Cannot say enough about the acting skills of Richard Boone: FANTASTIC! He brought that character to life as a multi-dimensional human being.
I would definitely recommend the three series mentioned above. Have great video experience!