HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL follows the story of professional gunfighter Paladin who, after the Civil War, settles into San Francisco's Hotel Carlton where he awaits responses to his business card. Upon receipt of $1,000, Paladin will leave his suite to chase down whatever mission of mercy or justice his clients commission. Featuring a photo of a white knight chess piece, the business card simply says "Have Gun - Will TravelWire Paladin, San Francisco."
Episode for episode, the second season of Have Gun, Will Travel (1958-59) is even better than the first. With a bona fide hit on their hands, CBS didn't mess with success, and these 39 episodes pushed ratings even higher with sharp direction (mostly by first-season veteran Andrew V. McLaglen), a wide variety of attention-grabbing plots, and intelligent, sensible dialogue. All of the first season's strengths are carried over, and while 41-year-old star Richard Boone (as the refined gunslinger-for-hire Paladin) is rarely given a serious test of his talents, he commands his role with depth, humor, and impressive displays of physical agility. (By comparison, series regular Kam Tong had almost nothing to do this season; he's relegated to routine duty as Paladin's Chinese hotel valet "Hey Boy.") Future Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry hit his stride this season, writing nearly a dozen episodes including the playfully spooky "The Monster of Moon Ridge," and other contributors included novelist Irving Wallace and Bruce Geller, who would later create Mission: Impossible! And while McLaglen helmed the vast majority of episodes, Have Gun set a TV milestone when Ida Lupino (with "The Man Who Lost," featuring Jack Elam) became the first woman to direct for a TV Western series.
The "Wire Paladin" production notes provided with each episode are thoroughly researched, providing extensive guest-star credits and making wide-ranging connections between Have Gun and many other TV series, films, and serials of the '40s, '50s, and '60s, especially Roddenberry's Star Trek. Among the noteworthy guest stars are Lon Chaney Jr., Charles Bronson, Harry Morgan, Joseph Calleia, Harry Carey Jr., Suzanne Pleshette, Morey Amsterdam, Vincent Price, Edward Platt, and many stalwart character players from TV's golden age. The season starts well with "The Manhunter" (in which Paladin is forced to kill a young gunman and faces the wrath of his vengeful family), and Paladin's unique brand of frontier justice is memorably dispensed (along with generous quotes from Shakespeare, Milton, etc.) in such highlights as "The Man Who Wouldn't Talk" (with Bronson), "The Ballad of Oscar Wilde," "The Moor's Revenge" (with Price), "The Scorched Feather" (with Chaney) and several others. The opening credits are slightly modified as the season progresses, and Paladin's travels take him into the mountains (for some outdoor adventures late in the season) and even to Alaska, the series' most distant destination. Image quality suffers in later episodes (some mastered from vintage kinescopes or murky syndication prints), but the fact that all 39 episodes are fully intact is a blessing to anyone with fond recollections of this superior TV Western. --Jeff Shannon