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TopBilled

Classic episodes of classic TV westerns

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At the present time there's a real treasure trove of classic TV westerns on Starz streaming. So I thought I'd subscribe and start checking them out. If you also subscribe to Starz or have these shows on DVD, please join me. I will be looking at some of the more classic offerings from:

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Laramie (1959-1963)...all 124 episodes are available. Each episode runs about 50 minutes. Seasons 1 & 2 are in b&w, and seasons 3 & 4 are in color.

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Tales of Wells Fargo (1957-1962)...167 episodes are available, from the first four seasons. Each episode runs about 25 minutes. Seasons 1-4 are in b&w.

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Wanted Dead or Alive (1958-1961)...all 94 episodes are available. Each episode runs about 25 minutes. All three seasons are in b&w. I own this show on DVD; it's very inexpensive and the print quality is decent if you decide to buy it.

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Wagon Train (1957-1965)...all 284 episodes are available. Seasons 1-6 and Season 8 are in b&w and each of those episodes run about 50 minutes. Season 7 was in color and the episodes were longer, about 75 minutes each. It's been years since I've seen the ones that were made after Ward Bond died and John McIntire took over. So I'm anxious to watch them again.

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The Virginian (1962-1970)...all 225 episodes are available. Each episode runs about 75 minutes. The entire series was produced in color. This is my very favorite TV western, and James Drury is my favorite TV western star. I can watch these over and over. There's one with Joan Crawford as a 'special' guest star which for some reason I've never seen. So it will probably be the first one I take a look at!

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The Men from Shiloh (1970-71)...all 24 episodes are available. Each episode is about 75 minutes. This was a retooled version of 'The Virginian' with Stewart Granger taking over the Shiloh ranch. James Drury and Doug McClure continued their costarring roles. The change in style gives it more of a spaghetti western feel. Incredible guest stars and excellent writing. It had better ratings than the parent series. I owned this series on DVD but loaned it to my father and never got it back! So I'm looking forward to checking out the episodes again. I remember a very good one with Ruth Roman and Van Johnson; and another one with Greer Garson making a rare TV appearance.

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Death Valley Days (1952-1970)...451 episodes are available (meaning one might be lost, since 452 were made). Each episode is about 25 minutes. Seasons 1-11 are in b&w; and seasons 12-18 are in color. I might start with the season Ronald Reagan hosted (1964-1965), since he also acted in eight episodes that year, his last work in Hollywood before becoming the governor of California.

*****

My goal is to watch at least one or two episodes a day and comment on them. Please join me if these classic shows appeal to you!

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In my neck of the woods, those programs are showed weekdays on the Starz Encore channel. I enjoy watching them as well and look forward to reading your comments. In the past, that same channel has shown old episodes of Gunsmoke, Have Gun will Travel, Wyatt Earp, Lawman, Bat Masterson, Cheyenne and Maverick. The current lineup being shown are the programs you listed. That channel also shows western movies although the selection is pretty repetitive and there are too many Audie Murphy movies for my taste. 

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Thanks for the comment Thenryb. I figured a fun way to do this would be to devise themes.

So my first theme will be (drum roll) Barbara Stanwyck's guest appearances on Wagon Train. She appeared on the program four times. You can't go wrong with Stanwyck in a western, so she seemed like the best way to start!

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3 hours ago, TopBilled said:

So my first theme will be (drum roll) Barbara Stanwyck's guest appearances on Wagon Train. She appeared on the program four times. You can't go wrong with Stanwyck in a western, so she seemed like the best way to start

Good choice. From what I can tell these are the episodes where Barbara Stanwyck was guest star:

1) The Maud Frazer Story -S.3 E.5

2) The Caroline Casteel Story- S.6 E.3

3) The Molly Kincaid Story-S.7 E.1

4) The Kate Crawley Story-S.7 E.19

I hope posting this information does not preempt any theme which you had in mind. I do not think I have watched any of the above, although I am watching Maud Frazer now.

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9 hours ago, Thenryb said:

Good choice. From what I can tell these are the episodes where Barbara Stanwyck was guest star:

1) The Maud Frazer Story -S.3 E.5

2) The Caroline Casteel Story- S.6 E.3

3) The Molly Kincaid Story-S.7 E.1

4) The Kate Crawley Story-S.7 E.19

I hope posting this information does not preempt any theme which you had in mind. I do not think I have watched any of the above, although I am watching Maud Frazer now.

Yes, those are the four episodes I will be going over. I think you may have transposed the numbers for 'The Maud Frazer Story.' It was actually Season 5, Episode 3. In the two episodes from Season 7, Stanwyck played the same character. In 'The Molly Kincaid Story' she was a special guest in support of Carolyn Jones, who played Molly. Then later that season, they did a sequel episode where Stanwyck's character Kate was the main focus.

I will post my review for 'The Maud Frazer Story' later today. I'm eager to see if my thoughts and observations mirror yours.

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6 hours ago, TopBilled said:

I think you may have transposed the numbers for 'The Maud Frazer Story.' It was actually Season 5, Episode 3.

I must have transposed the numbers. Barbara Stanwyck does not appear in any episodes until after Ward Bond was replaced as wagon master by John McEntire.

Another error I made is that The Caroline Casteel story is Episode 2 of Season 6, not Episode 3

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SEASON 5, EPISODE 3: "The Maud Frazer Story"

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"And then there's Maud"

This fifth season episode finds Barbara Stanwyck making the first of her four appearances on Wagon Train. She played a few different characters on the show, and this one is a real doozie. Maud Frazer is a ruthless ambitious woman, and she is cut from the same cloth as Phyllis Dietrichson.

Maud and her husband Isaac (Russ Conway) are leading their own train west. In an early scene they meet up with the train led by Chris Hale (John McIntire) and Flint McCullough (Robert Horton). Chris sends Flint over to encourage the Frazers to take another trail that will be safer. But Maud intends to stay on this trail, because it can lead them to a stretch of country where she tells Isaac there's plenty of gold for the taking. She has gold fever, and nothing is going to stop her.

Despite her husband's protestations, they remain on the trail but things quickly take a turn for the worse. There's an exciting action sequence when the Sioux and some Shoshone attack them. The ambush is catastrophic and leads to Isaac's death as well as the deaths of all the other men in their group. This forces Maud to take over and commandeer the women and children. Stanwyck is powerful during these scenes, and for the next twenty minutes the narrative focuses entirely on her.

Maud's best friend is a widow named Bessie (Nora Marlowe) who tries to reason with her, especially when it's clear the other gals have grown tired and dispirited. But Maud insists they continue forward; she's been to California before and knows what's best. But that night when they make camp, she tells them she has no intention of finishing the journey to San Francisco unless they get the gold she's heard about. She gives them a speech about how they can enjoy a life of luxury instead of a life of poverty. Though some have begun to doubt Maud's leadership abilities, they agree that getting to the coast and ending up as scrubwomen would not be ideal. So Maud seems to be turning them to her way of thinking.

Then they meet up with Flint and Chris again, and most of the women decide they'd rather join the other train and have the protection of the men. Maud, however, is still determined to get that gold. She has been outvoted, but she won't give up. She's still determined to get her hands on the gold, more than ever. But she realizes she is going to need help, so she uses her feminine charms to entice Flint into helping her. There's a sexy scene where Horton passionately kisses Stanwyck; and we see Maud working her wiles on him the same way Phyllis Dietrichson worked hers on poor Walter Neff in DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

What I like most about this episode is Stanwyck's authoritative attitude. She's totally in her element in this genre. I can't think of any other classic Hollywood star who's so at ease in westerns. She still looks great at this stage of her career; and since Stanywck's an expert horsewoman in real life, she impressively utilizes her riding skills in the outdoor scenes.

Also they've given her some fun lines of dialogue about how she plans to hunt and fish and do whatever men do to provide and put food on the table for her people. And though she gets flirtatious with Flint, we can be sure that he comes in third on her list of priorities. Gold is number two, and number one is Maud Frazer herself. Unless, of course, she experiences a change of heart. 

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6 hours ago, TopBilled said:

"And then there's Maud"

I very much liked your comments, which at least mirrored, but more likely amplified, mine. Your reviews always remind me why I do not try to write reviews. 

There is another part of Stanwyck's performance which really impressed me, and that was the way she attempted to use "feminine wiles". Because, as you point out, she was such an authoritative woman, her attempt to play the "helpless female" was really clumsy. This was a woman who had likely never resorted to such tactics. As talented an actress as she was, she could have played the "helpless female" quite convincingly, so I believe she deliberately played it in the way that she did. I suppose it just illustrates her ability to stay in character.

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3 minutes ago, Thenryb said:

I very much liked your comments, which at least mirrored, but more likely amplified, mine. Your reviews always remind me why I do not try to write reviews. 

There is another part of Stanwyck's performance which really impressed me, and that was the way she attempted to use "feminine wiles". Because, as you point out, she was such an authoritative woman, her attempt to play the "helpless female" was really clumsy. This was a woman who had likely never resorted to such tactics. As talented an actress as she was, she could have played the "helpless female" quite convincingly, so I believe she deliberately played it in the way that she did. I suppose it just illustrates her ability to stay in character.

Good observation. Yes, I agree she's playing the character's awkwardness and vulnerability, which is an acting choice she made. The ending's a bit ambiguous, and we are left to wonder if she dies in Flint's arms or if she lives to scheme another day.

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SEASON 6, EPISODE 2: "The Caroline Casteel Story"

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"Caroline, is that you?"

Barbara Stanwyck, in her second appearance on Wagon Train, is cast as a woman who's been rescued from the Utes after years in captivity. But Caroline Casteel had originally been abducted by the Cheyenne, not the Utes. So writer Gerry Day quickly lets us know things may not be as they seem. Indeed, we soon learn she is not actually Caroline. Her name is Lily Martell, and she had spent time in captivity with the real Caroline. During that period she learned about Caroline's former life. 

After Caroline's death, Lily is bought by a conman (Robert F. Simon) who knows Caroline had been married to a very wealthy businessman (Charles Drake). Together they devise a scheme to cash in on Caroline's situation, by having Lily pose as Caroline. If it all sounds a bit convoluted, that's because it is, but the plot works thanks to Stanwyck's performance. Using Caroline's memories in place of her own, Lily soon returns to civilization and joins the train headed by Chris Hale (John McIntire).

It is established that Chris Hale knew Frank Casteel, and he has sent word to Frank back in St. Joe that Caroline is alive. A short time later Frank joins the train with his son (Roger Mobley) to be reunited with "Caroline." Of course, this all hinges on Frank overlooking slight discrepancies, as well as accepting the fact Caroline would have changed considerably in the ten years since they were separated. Fortunately, Caroline and Lily were approximately the same age and size, plus they shared certain physical traits. Also, Lily is very convincing at playing "Caroline." Especially when she mothers young Jamie, the boy.

What might have been a routine con story suddenly changes direction in the middle of the episode. The children on the train become sick with fever, including Jamie. The remedies used by the other mothers do not seem to be working. These same women have been ostracizing Caroline/Lily for being a squaw. It is revealed that Caroline and Lily had both learned the ways of native medicine; and Lily is able to prevent the kids from dying. During a key scene with Chris, she makes a slip about how she was taught to brew a life-saving potion from another tribe she lived with, not the Utes or the Cheyenne. Chris goes along with the scam temporarily in order to ensure that she is able to save the children.

It's a story about compromises, more than it's a story about lies or about deception. Lily does not get a happy ending with Frank and Jamie, which I felt was realistic. However, she is able to earn the respect of others-- namely the people that had judged her. There is a scene where she says she may write to Jamie, then she leaves the train to forge a new existence elsewhere. This was the first time Barbara Stanwyck was directed by Virgil Vogel, who would direct her again on Wagon Train as well as in many episodes of The Big Valley.

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Another fine description of this episode. Watching these particular episodes as well as some older episodes of this series has led me to the conclusion that I much prefer John McEntire as the wagon master to Ward Bond. He brings a certain subtlety to the character which is a contrast to the emoting of Bond. I have not yet heard him yell "Wagons Ho!".

Another thing I have noticed in watching these episodes is the blatant racism which seems primarily confined to one sex depending on the sex of the story subject. If it is an Native American or Mexican man, the men are the primary xenophobes with the women exhibiting more tolerance. With this show, it is the women who are narrow minded and judgmental, mostly it seems because Caroline continues to wear moccasins.

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37 minutes ago, Thenryb said:

Another fine description of this episode. Watching these particular episodes as well as some older episodes of this series has led me to the conclusion that I much prefer John McEntire as the wagon master to Ward Bond. He brings a certain subtlety to the character which is a contrast to the emoting of Bond. I have not yet heard him yell "Wagons Ho!".

Another thing I have noticed in watching these episodes is the blatant racism which seems primarily confined to one sex depending on the sex of the story subject. If it is an Native American or Mexican man, the men are the primary xenophobes with the women exhibiting more tolerance. With this show, it is the women who are narrow minded and judgmental, mostly it seems because Caroline continues to wear moccasins.

Yes, I'm glad you mentioned the moccasins. She gives them away before she leaves at the end. The other mothers are very harsh in their judgments about Caroline. There's an excellent scene where Lily tells Frank she can take what the others dish out because she deserves it but the real Caroline wouldn't have deserved to be treated this way. The intolerance of the other women on the train is inexcusable.

I can't decide if I favor Bond or McIntire. I probably like them equally, given their respective eras. Bond plays his role a bit more blustery, but I think Bond has a unique way of nailing some of the emotional scenes. McIntire seems more paternal, like he makes Chris Hale the shepherd of the train, which might have been how McIntire treated the whole cast and crew. I don't think you can fake that kind of genuineness. I've also been noticing how the big name guest stars seem to take comfort sharing scenes with McIntire.

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COMING UP--

I'm going to focus on Wagon Train for awhile if that's okay...

I will finish reviewing the Barbara Stanwyck appearances. 'The Molly Kincaid Story' and 'The Kate Crawley Story.'

Then I will cover the two episodes Jane Wyman did. 'The Doctor Willoughby Story' and 'Wagon Train Mutiny.'

And I will also look at two episodes featuring Jeanne Cooper. 'The Kitty Pryer Story' and 'The Whipping.'

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SEASON 7, EPISODE 1: "The Molly Kincaid Story"

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"Whip it good"

This is an interesting, expanded episode of Wagon Train. In fact it was the first 75 minute offering made in color, at the beginning of the show's seventh season. These bigger episodes give the show a more cinematic appeal, and they're filmed in Pathe color with panoramic shots of the great outdoors. The seventh season also added Robert Fuller to the cast as Cooper Smith.

Bigger episodes mean a bigger budget. So instead of one or two well-known guest stars, the stories now have three or four. The main character in this offering is called Molly, and she is played by Carolyn Jones just before Jones began her celebrated run on The Addams Family. Her work in this episode shows what a skilled dramatic actress she could be. Barbara Stanwyck is on hand as a special guest in support of Jones. The women certainly work well together.

The plot is reminiscent of Stanwyck's earlier movie TROOPER HOOK, where she played a white woman who became a squaw and had a child in captivity. This time it's Jones' turn to do that. Molly's son Rome is played by Fabian, who is supposed to be 16 though the actor was in his mid-20s at the time. Ray Danton appears as Jones' estranged husband Robert whose cowardice years earlier had caused his wife to be kidnapped. To increase the drama, we learn Robert Kincaid told everyone that Molly was killed in the ambush by natives though he had no proof.

'The Molly Kincaid Story' aired in mid-September 1963. Stanwyck would return in January for a follow-up tale focusing on her character Kate. Here she is introduced as a friend of Chris Hale (John McIntire) who sells supplies to him and the people on his train. But she delays their departure from her town, because she needs Chris' help to prevent Molly from murdering Robert. It seems Molly escaped captivity with Rome and wants revenge on Robert. Kate may be rough around the edges, but she's a tender-hearted gal; she helps Molly gradually let go of the anger inside her in order to reconcile with Robert. In the meantime the men from the train attempt to civilize Rome with typically humorous results.

It's obvious Stanwyck is having a lot of fun playing Kate Crawley. Kate loves to walk down the street and crack a whip in order to break up fights and command attention. In fact she seems a lot less tame and civilized than Molly and Rome combined. Because she's not actually the "star" of this particular episode, Stanwyck is able to go all "character actress" on us, and the results are certainly memorable.

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SEASON 7, EPISODE 19: "The Kate Crawley Story"

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"An unusual love interest for Chris Hale"

This episode aired a few months after 'The Molly Kincaid Story,' where Kate Crawley had been introduced as the operator of a freight company as well as a pal of Chris Hale (John McIntire). Her rough misfit character had played more of a supporting role in the earlier story; now she's back and becomes the main focus. In this sequel we learn about Kate's backstory. Mainly how she was reared without a mother, how her father turned her into the son he never had and how she took over the family business when he died, because it was something she knew how to do and was good at doing.

As the episode gets underway it is explained that Kate's running some gunpowder on her wagons for the army. During the journey she hooks up with Chris' group, and the two long-time friends are happy to be reunited. We see the men who work for Kate, including a guy named Stump (Noah Beery) who for some inexplicable reason is clearly smitten with her. Stump must fight his jealousy when it seems that Chris and Kate are growing closer. The unusual courtship is eyed by the gossipy women on the train who disapprove of Kate's masculine ways as well as by Chris' men who fear Chris will marry Kate and it will change everything. Charlie (Frank McGrath) and Duke (Scott Miller) even wager a bet on the outcome of this relationship.

There are some highly entertaining scenes between Stanwyck and Beery, as well as between Stanwyck and McIntire. I particularly enjoyed the sequence where the men help Stump clean up, and how it results in Kate taking a softer view of him. There's also a key sequence where a special party has been given that's really meant to humiliate Kate, because the guys know she doesn't have proper attire and will embarrass Chris and herself.

Probably the best part, however, occurs in the last half hour. Chris has officially proposed to Kate, but she's afraid things won't work out. While he goes to get a preacher, she takes off with Stump and her men. But they encounter a raging forest fire, and this causes the gunpowder on one of her wagons to explode. Some excellent stock footage is blended in seamlessly with the studio stuff, and the on-location shots of Kate running her horse through the fire are well choreographed. That whole sequence is exciting to watch, and surprisingly it leads to Stump's death, whom I had expected would pair up with Kate at the end.

The rest of the story has Kate returning with Chris to his wagon train. The wedding is still on, and it seems as if Chris is now about to marry Kate. Of course, since we know Stanwyck's not joining the show as a permanent full-time character, I figured the marriage would either get interrupted by Stump coming back from the dead. Or else it would take place, but something tragic would prevent Chris and Kate from living happily ever after.

They definitely do not get married, but not for the reasons I expected. Instead there's a hilarious wedding scene where Kate's unfeminine behaviors get the best of her. It seems she just can't keep from using that whip of hers, and she's just not ready to be a lady yet. The last part seemed a bit open-ended, probably so they could bring Stanwyck back again later for another story, where she would finally get married (to Chris or to someone else). Kate's last moment on screen is a wonderful poetic shot where she rides off alone with her team of horses.

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SEASON 2, EPISODE 6: "The Doctor Willoughby Story"

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"Lady doctor"

During her long career Jane Wyman appeared in many hit films and television series. One of her more interesting roles occurred when she played Dr. Carol Willoughby in this episode of Wagon Train. It probably led to her being cast more than thirty years later as the mother of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

Wyman's character is said to be from Boston, where Michaela Quinn also comes from. Like Dr. Quinn, Dr. Willoughby is just as determined to fight the prejudices facing women in this line of work-- prejudices harbored by white folks as well as natives.

The writers have also included a little romance between Dr. Willoughby and an incorrigible drunk named Bart Grover (Alan Marshal). But despite the sparks that fly, they are both headed in different directions with their lives. At the end of the story, Dr. Willoughby chooses to continue her career, instead of settling down with Bart Grover. 

During the episode Dr. Willoughby develops a friendship with Major Seth Adams (Ward Bond) despite his initial reluctance to have her along on the train. Things take a dramatic turn when she is forced to accompany the major to a hostile native camp. Her services are needed to save a leader who has a bullet lodged in his chest. Since the tribe has very strict rules against letting women practice medicine, the major must perform the operation to dislodge the bullet with Dr. Willoughby instructing him. What probably would have been a routine scene with other actors becomes a special moment in the capable hands of Bond and Wyman.

In fact, I developed a newfound appreciation for Bond who really seems to put everything he's got into his performances without going over the top. Wyman favors a more low-key approach to the material. She keeps her hair plain and uses minimal stage makeup. I can think of no better cure for a lot of the junk that passes for TV today than to prescribe this satisfying episode of Wagon Train.

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SEASON 6, EPISODE 1: "The Wagon Train Mutiny"

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"Too young to die"

It's a bit surprising this episode wasn't produced later in the 1960s, at the height of the Vietnam conflict. The characters debate involvement in war; and what it means to serve even if a person doesn't believe in the fighting that may be required. A great thing about this story is how the debate generates conflicts not only among the families on the wagon train, but among Chris Hale (John McIntire) and his men, especially with Bill Hawks (Terry Wilson).

After Comancheros kill a nearby group of settlers, Chris must declare war on them. This is because he's told by a surviving teenaged boy from the raid, who had been among the Comancheros, that his friends will be back with reinforcements to take out Chris' group. At first, everyone is reluctant to believe Renaldo the renegade youth, but Chris realizes the kid is right, and swift action must be taken to defend everyone's lives. Chris soon declares a state of war and orders men between the ages of 18 and 40 to mobilize for battle.

The next sequence takes place with Chris and the men going off to fight. Their battle occurs off screen and the drama remains focused on the women and older men left back at the camp. One woman named Hannah Barber (Jane Wyman) hears shots across the range and experiences a psychic feeling her son has just been killed. He had only turned 18 a few weeks earlier. When Chris returns from battle he confirms the death of Hannah's son as well as two other casualties. He then collapses from a gunshot wound he had sustained. McIntire's acting is superb in this scene, and in many other scenes during the episode. He brings just the right amount of gravitas to the situation.

After some more fighting, the wagon train seems to have been victorious, but Renaldo warns them that more Comancheros could show up in three days. So they play a waiting game, and during this time Wyman's character continues to be distraught. At the same time there's a man named Amos (Dan Duryea) who organizes a mutiny against Chris Hale. To say things get a bit more complicated is an understatement. It's a powerful episode that makes the viewer think about how a leader must gain support in times of crisis. The performances are all top-notch. It was like the whole cast believed in the material, which makes this episode stand out even more.

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On 2/14/2018 at 3:26 PM, TopBilled said:

"Whip it good"

Excellent description. I found this my least favorite of the Barbara Stanwyck shows and I am not sure why. She is certainly at her vintage best cracking her whip and I agree Carolyn Jones does an excellent job in her role. I suspect my reason for disliking it is because there are one too many subplots for my taste. I could certainly have done without the Fabian subplot which I thought added nothing.  I was also underwhelmed by the ending where crusty old Kate sends Carolyn off to the chapel to seek guidance.

On 2/15/2018 at 8:09 AM, TopBilled said:

"An unusual love interest for Chris Hale"

This was my second favorite of the Stanwyck shows behind "An then there's Maud". I really liked the interaction between Kate and Chris as well as Kate and Berry. As you said, the last half hour of the show was excellent.

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7 hours ago, Thenryb said:

Excellent description. I found this my least favorite of the Barbara Stanwyck shows and I am not sure why. She is certainly at her vintage best cracking her whip and I agree Carolyn Jones does an excellent job in her role. I suspect my reason for disliking it is because there are one too many subplots for my taste. I could certainly have done without the Fabian subplot which I thought added nothing.  I was also underwhelmed by the ending where crusty old Kate sends Carolyn off to the chapel to seek guidance.

Nice to read your comments. Yes, I felt the enforced religious ending of the episode with Stanwyck and Jones came out of the blue. Up till then, there was nothing very holy about what any of them were doing. One IMDb user complained that too much time would have passed for Jones and Danton to reconcile. I sort of agree with that. I didn't feel they had any long-lasting love, especially after he had abandoned her during the raid. Why would she forgive that and be able to love him again? It was a huge stretch.

And yes, the stuff with Fabian was silly. It was meant to be, obviously-- for the sake of comic relief. But his whole character was one racial stereotype. Also, when they gave him the makeover with a haircut, it was obvious all they had done was take off the wig or hair extensions they had him use in the earlier scenes, because his actual short hair was a completely different shade. And I don't think Charlie Wooster would have given him a dye job along with the haircut.

Jones' fine dramatic work and Stanwyck's delightful scenery chewing is what makes the episode watchable.

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SEASON 7, EPISODE 10: "The Kitty Pryer Story"

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"Two wives on the way to San Francisco"

Allen Miner wrote and directed this seventh season offering of Wagon Train. It is one of the best episodes produced in the last few seasons. The guest stars dominate the proceedings; they actually get so much screen time that Chris Hale and his train are pretty much in the background. But it still works because the story is so strong.

Early on we learn a man named Victor Harpe (Don Durant) is a bigamist. He wants both his wives on the train heading to San Francisco, and the only way to accomplish this without violating Chris Hale's rules is for an old college chum named Miles Brisbane (Bradford Dillman) to pose as the husband of the second wife, Kitty (Diana Hyland). Kitty is aware there's another, significantly older wife that Victor married first, but as soon as Victor gets rid of rich alcoholic Martha (Jeanne Cooper), they will be able to get married legally in California and live off all of Martha's money.

Of course, things don't turn out so smoothly. Miles starts to develop feelings for Kitty; and during an argument, Kitty ends up shooting and killing Victor. Chris then has to function as the train's judge and select a jury in order to have a trial. But just before the trial begins, Kitty runs off; so Martha offers a $5000 reward if someone will go find her and bring her back for trial. The one who finds her, naturally, is Miles. For a split second it seems as if Miles will just run off with Kitty but he does bring her back, because like Victor, he wants Martha's money.

The trial scenes are very well-written, with a sharp eye for detail of the legal procedures that would have to be carried out by the wagon master if such a situation did arise. And what makes this case even more fascinating is how it leads to a conviction and what is supposedly the first hanging of a white woman in the territory. I won't give away the ending, which I found to be quite clever; but things do somehow end on a happy note.

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SEASON 7, EPISODE 27: "The Whipping"

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"Deviants, cripples, drunks and cowards"

This episode focuses on young Barnaby West (Michael Burns) who joined Chris Hale's wagon train at the end of the sixth season. Barney remained on the show for the rest of its run, and occasionally the writers made him the central focus. This time Barney and some other lads his age have been causing mischief. A lot of it. Chris has left the train on a long errand, and during his absence, he has put Bill Hawks (Terry Wilson) in charge. Since Barney joined up and started doing jobs to help the men, Bill has always felt paternal towards him.

So it's no surprise when Barney's recent misbehavior alarms Bill. In addition to looking after the rest of the men and their fellow travelers, Bill tries to straighten Barney out. However, the youngster is resistant to Bill's methods and the two engage in a battle of wills. When Barney is injured fixing a wagon wheel and gets his leg broken, he lashes out and blames Bill who made him do the difficult chore by himself. There is still the possibility Bill is going to whip Barney for those earlier hijinks. Hence the episode's title.

But Bill cannot whip Barney while Barney is recovering with a reset leg. Barney milks his recovery time for all its worth and plays on the sympathy of cook Charlie Wooster (Frank McGrath) who advocates on the boy's behalf. But Bill is still determined to give Barney the whipping he deserves. The conflicts that develop because Barney tries to get out of his punishment are nicely played, and the interplay between the characters makes this a good episode to watch.

In addition to Barney and Bill, there's a subplot involving Jeanne Cooper and Martin Balsam who play a couple with their own problems. Balsam's a raging drunk, dealing with the death of his son; and Cooper is a woman who supposedly has rheumatoid arthritis. Her hip gives out in one scene and she takes a nasty tumble. But she's hiding the secret she really has a wooden leg. Cooper's scenes nicely mirror the scenes involving Barney's leg. Meanwhile, Bill loses faith in his parenting skills and gets rip-roaring drunk, giving him something in common with Balsam's character. It's a well-structured double plot; and the performances are among the best ever featured on Wagon Train.

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