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How the West was Fun
on September 18, 2001
I'm no great lover of Westerns, but as a child I was a fan of many of the shows in this collection. Seeking a trip down nostalgia lane, I got the collection, and I wasn't disappointed.
The shows easily divide into three types: Westerns from anthology series, "adult" Westerns, and "juvenile" Westerns. Of the three, the Westerns drawn from anthology series were uniformly the best. The anthology series represented in the collection were: "The Cavalcade of America," "Escape," "The Screen Director's Playhouse," and "Suspense." The only sour note among the anthology plays was "Paleface" from "Screen Director's Playhouse." A Bob Hope comedy was hopelessly out of place among all those Westerns.
The "adult" Westerns included "Dr. Sixgun," "Fort Laramie," "Frontier Gentleman," "Gunsmoke," "Have Gun Will Travel," "Hawk Larabee," "Luke Slaughter of Tombstone," "Tales of the Texas Rangers," and "The Six Shooter." "Luke Slaughter" seems to have been a cross between the rougher elements of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood with a little Ward Bond thrown in. "Hawk Larabee" had more Western cliche's than "Blazing Saddles," and I thought it was a rather sophisticated juvenile Western, but the enclosed booklet said it was aimed at adults. The best of the lot seemed to me to be "The Six Shooter," starring Jimmy Stewart. "Have Gun Will Travel" and "Gunsmoke" had quality in keeping with their TV counterparts. "Frontier Gentleman" starring John Dehner told of the life of a British journalist traveling the wild and woolly West.
I included "Fort Laramie" and "Tales of the Texas Rangers" in the adult Western category, but they actually belong in separate genres. "Fort Laramie" (starring Raymond Burr) was a very good offering in the sub-genre of Cavalry stories. Three other Cavalry stories came from anthology series: "They Died with their Boots On" ("Cavalcade"), "Command" ("Escape"), and "Fort Apache" ("Screen Director's Playhouse"). "They Died with their Boots On" gave a glamorized account of George Armstrong Custer, a seriously flawed military figure. "Command" provided a good character study of a young officer's first encounter with combat. "Fort Apache" did an excellent job of distilling the feature length movie into a 30 minute format.
"Tales of the Texas Rangers" turned in stories that were realistic, plots that were well crafted, and a hero who was both admirable and believable. But it isn't a Western. It's a true crime detective series set in mid 20th Century Texas. It fits better in "Old Time Radio's Greatest Detectives." As a matter of fact "Greatest Detectives" also contains a "Texas Rangers" cassette. "Tales of Texas Rangers," in my opinion, is radio's greatest true crime series. Better than "Dragnet," "Gangbusters," "Crime Classics," and anything else. Its closest competitor is "The Black Museum," tales about London's Scotland Yard. The fact that "Greatest Westerns" contained three "Tales of the Texas Rangers" episodes was a major contributing factor in my decision to buy the collection.
The juvenile Westerns were "The Cisco Kid," "Hopalong Cassidy," "The Lone Ranger," "Red Ryder," "Roy Rogers," "Straight Arrow," and "Wild Bill Hickock." "Red Ryder" and "Roy Rogers" were, well, juvenile. "The Cisco Kid" was a little better, but not much. "The Lone Ranger" was my childhood idol, but he's overly preachy and that mask was completely unnecessary. One show in particular disturbed me. It is an account of how the Lone Ranger subverted the democratic process by stealing an election ballot box. He had good intentions, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I'm not a proponent of Machiavelli's motto that the end justifies the means. "Wild Bill Hickock" (with Andy Devine as Jingles providing comic relief) was the most enjoyable of the juveniles, but the plots were a little thin. "Hopalong Cassidy" has to be the best of the juveniles. The plots were detective stories transplanted to the Old West. "Straight Arrow" edged out "Red Ryder" for the dumbest show. "Straight Arrow" is a super hero disguised as a Comanchee warrior. He seems to be able to shoot his bow with remarkable accuracy in the most remarkable situations.