The TV Western was losing a bit of its power as the ’60s progressed. Bonanza and Gunsmoke were ratings powerhouses in 1962. But the wave of oaters was dying down. The studios were looking for a way to update the Western to keep a modern audience intrigued. Stoney Burke proved to be a new twist on the cowboy life. The show grafted together Have Gun Will Travel with Route 66 in a contemporary setting. Stoney (Hawaii Five-O‘s Jack Lord) isn’t a cowboy riding the range or tending the family ranch. He’s a bucking bronco rider on the rodeo circuit. Every day he’s either getting thrown from a horse or driving to the next competition to get tossed by an untamed beast. Stoney Burke: The Complete Television Season takes us along with a man punishing his body in quest of a shiny belt buckle.
“The Contender” introduces Stoney as not your usual cowboy hero. He’s helping out in the chutes getting the world champion bronco rider get on a bucking horse. Something goes wrong and the champ is slammed against the gate and knocked unconscious. He’s rushed to the hospital with Stoney following along. Instead of being overcome with emotion when the champ is pronounced dead, the contender takes it in stride. It’s a dangerous sport. His nonchalance gets him suspected of causing the death. Bruce Dern (Big Love) thinks it’s true. Seems like the only guy in Stoney’s corner is Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch). “Fight Night” spares no punches. Two rival politicians battle out whose charity event will happen on a night. The cowboys are caught in the middle of violent intimidation. Edgar Buchanan (Petticoat Junction) is part of the mayhem. “Child of Luxury” reminds us that even half a century ago, there were psychotic roadie groupies. Stoney wants no part in a rich woman’s desire. But she won’t let him buck her. “Point of Honor” is Big Love Babies. Bruce Dern and Stoney do their best to stop a drunk bull rider. Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man) gets roped into the drama. Dern and Stanton would meet up on HBO decades later.
Locals aren’t too happy about the rodeo taking over their stock car racing space in “The Mob Riders.” Michael Parks (Kill Bill) is part of the unhappy crowd. Stoney’s character gets to be a bit more compassionate. During “A Matter of Pride,” he collects funds for the family of a dead bull rider. They aren’t into his charity. He should have saved that money for his legal defense fund in “Sidewinder.” His bronco busts through a fence and injures a spectator. Stoney finds himself arrested for not being able to control the horse. Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch) talks Stoney back on a bronco. “The Scavenger” puts Oates in jail on a murder charge. Are we sure he’s innocent? “Cousin Eunice” has Cloris Leachman arrive as Oates’ cousin. She wants to learn how to be a trick rider. “Death Rides a Pale Horse” enlists Stoney to make a troubled teen get straight. Really? Who be the fall back role model? A daredevil who eats blasting caps?
“Image of Glory” makes Stoney the bad guy when he has to stop an injured rider from mounting. Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker) is part of the decision. “Webb of Fear” has not quite accidents hitting the rodeo. Can Carroll O’Connor (All In the Family) be part of the ugliness? “Joby” stars Robert Duvall as the title guest character. Henry Silva (Ocean’s 11) gets into an archery mishap in “Weapons Man.” “Kincaid” gives Dick Clark a rare straight acting role. There’s a reason why he stuck to helping kids dance on American Bandstand. Stoney nearly hooks up with Elizabeth Ashley on “Tigress By the Tail.” Ed Asner (Lou Grant) gets clawed. “The Journey” wraps up the series with Stoney injured and forced to take a really crummy job. What will he do with his life?
How does a show with three major acting icons only last a season? What killed Stoney? He was double teamed by Danny Thomas and Andy Griffith on CBS. But at least the three rodeo pals went on to major careers. After numerous guest star gigs, Jack Lord became Steve McQueen on Hawaii Five-O. Bruce Dern and Warren Oates perfected the grubby characters. Both would get a chance to star in cult films with Dern’s Silent Running and Oates’ Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Stoney Burke should have at least had a few seasons on the circuit before being stomped into the dirt.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers are crisp enough so you can notice the stock footage of rodeo crowds. You can easily break down how they fake the stars on broncos. The audio is mono and mixed so you can get the full authority in Jack Lord’s voice.
There are no bonus feature.
Stoney Burke: The Complete Television Series is gritty goodness down at the corral. Jack Lord, Warren Oates and Bruce Dern bring the goodness in their cowboy hats and jeans. They properly bring the cowboy into the modern age. They reflect the difficult life of riding the rodeo circuit where you rest up in the back of an Olds heading to the next round up. Shame it didn’t last longer although with 32 episodes, Stoney’s ride is longer than 8 seconds. It’s perfect for fans of Hawaii Five-O and The Wild Bunch.
Timeless Media Group presents Stoney Burke: The Complete Television Series. Starring: Jack Lord, Warren Oates and Bruce Dern. Boxset Contents: 32 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: April 16, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.