The gun for hire has never been a great role in Westerns. They’re normally played as idiots who merely want a payday working for a rich man wanting to enforce his will on the noble settlers or settle a score. Most of the hired guns in Clint Eastwood films were greasy, uneducated and aching to cause trouble. Most of them were less hired gun and more dead meat. They were far from the Japanese Ronin that roamed the countryside fighting for those with a need. That all changed with the arrival of Have Gun – Will Travel. Paladin was a was a bit more noble than the average goon for rent played by Bruce Dern. First off Paladin was a West Point graduate who fought in the Civil War. In addition to be an expert marksman, Paladin could swing a sword and deliver a kung fu blow. He lived at the ritzy Carlton Hotel in San Francisco where he looked like quite the dandy. Although when he put on his black cowboy outfit, he was ready for business. Like Shaft, Paladin was a complicated man in Have Gun – Will Travel: The Complete Series.
Palladin’s adventures took him around the Wild West to encounter a lot of familiar and soon to be famous faces. “Three Bells to Perdido” puts Jack Lord (Hawaii Five-O) in the role of the bad guy. June Lockhart (Lost In Space) was so good in playing Dr. Phyllis Thackeray in “No Visitors” that the doctor returned in “The Return of Dr. Thackeray.” A few famous cowboy faces couldn’t help but appear numerous times as different characters including Harry Carey, Jr., Hal Needham (director of Smokey and the Bandit), Denver Pyle (The Dukes of Hazzard), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke) and Charles Bronson (Death Wish). A couple famous faces only crossed paths with Paladin once including Robert Blake (Barretta), Dan Blocker (Bonanza), Parnell Roberts (Bonanza), Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), DeForest Kelley (Star Trek), James Coburn (In Like Flint), Werner Klemperer (Hogan’s Heroes), Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), Vincent Price (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine) and Angie Dickinson (Police Woman). Along with his gun, Paladin must have packed sunglasses to keep from being dazzled by all the stars.
The show lasted 225 episodes over six seasons because Richard Boone knew how to give just the right personality to the character. While he was always angling for a peaceful solution, he’d shoot a man dead if there was no other solution. He was more of a realist than a cold blooded killer. He understood how to keep his hands clean even when he was hired to do dirty work. He also had a dynamic pricing structure so he wasn’t merely working for rich folks who paid dearly for solutions. He could also defend the helpless before they became victims on the wild frontier. Boone was a rugged guy and not a pretty boy with a six shooter. It was easy to believe he could enjoy the lush life of San Francisco and the harsh living deep inside Death Valley. He could sniff the finest brandy and shoot down fiery rotgut with the satisfied smile on his lips. The writers properly brought an hour long adventure into a 26 minute time frame without everything feeling rushed or truncated.
Have Gun – Will Travel is one of those Westerns that’s easy to enjoy since there’s always a new adventure when Paladin gets a business offer. Other Westerns had their heroes tied down to either a ranch (Bonanza), town (Gunsmoke) or longterm gig (Rawhide). Paladin went to the action which kept things from getting too recycled. He traveled with more than a gun when he rode off from San Francisco to put fix a client’s miseries. If you’re a casual fan of Westerns, Have Gun Will Travel: The Complete Series will give you plenty of lazy Saturdays on the sofa.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers bring out a richness to the black that Paladin wears when he’s on business. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The theme song comes out strong as a gun shot. The episodes are subtitled.
Trivia is included on the first three seasons with production notes, cast biographies and behind the scenes facts. There’s a lot of talk about the episodes written by Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek).
CBS DVD presents Have Gun – Will Travel: The Complete Series. Starring: Richard Boone and Kam Tong. Boxset Contents: 225 episodes on 35 DVDs. Released: May 10, 2016.
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