“Have gun, will travel reads the card of a man. A knight without armor in a savage land…”. Those words ended every episode of Have Gun Will Travel, sung by Johnny Western in a time that such words could be sung without irony. Outside of Richard Boone’s black-clad, craggy Rhett Butler gone-to-seed gunfighter, that song was all I could really recall about this venerable Western from television’s golden age. Would it, like so many revisited shows from my youth, ultimately disappoint? Or would it hold up fifty years after it was originally broadcast, viewed as it would be by the far more jaded, cynical man I’ve grown into?
The verdict? It’s pretty darn good.
Now, just to set the record straight, I wasn’t even born until Have Gun Will Travel been off the air for at least a year. However, during my teen years, it was a staple of a late night revue show on one of my local television stations. I spent many a night staying up until three in the morning watching it, along with other classics like The Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners, and The Fugitive. Shows with that kind of personal history are inevitably remembered in a bubble of nostalgia that can be quickly popped when viewing them so many years after they were relevant and edgy. Last year I started re-watching The Twilight Zone and was pleasantly surprised how well it plays now. Some aspects (and some episodes) are still clunky, and if Rod Serling wrote the dialogue you knew that some of it would be laughably stilted, but the stories are still awesome, the direction is tight, and the acting, while often stylized, is generally quite good.
The same thing applies to Have Gun Will Travel, with the added bonus that none of the dialogue was written by Rod Serling (that I am aware of). Being from the era of the thirty-minute drama, episodes had to be compact and get their stories told without wasting time. And most of the stories in season four are very compelling, featuring fine performances.
In the show, Richard Boone plays a gentleman gunfighter named Paladin, who works out of a posh San Francisco hotel. Pretty much every episode opens with him receiving a telegram hiring him for a mission and then heading out into the wild west where he deals with all sorts of shady characters and situations.
In the first episode of this volume he is hired by a woman to protect her husband, who is being harassed because of his suspected involvement in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. After arriving he discovers an insidious manipulator pulling the strings of the townsfolk and must resolve the issue, six-guns blazing. For a man who claims to solve problems without resorting to violence, he certainly seems to shoot a lot of men down. Which is fine with me, because them lowdown varmints always seem to have it coming.
Other episodes see Paladin robbed and left for dead, recruited to collect taxes from reluctant ranchers, attacked by a puma, acting as a lawyer for an innocent man accused by a corrupt judge, drinking and raising hell with a mountain man, hunted like an animal, and much, much more. Oh, and two of the things I just mentioned happen in the same episode!
Overall the show holds up very well, the writing is solid, and even after all these years, Richard Boone’s Paladin is still one cool customer.
Have Gun Will Travel is presented in its original 4:3 ratio. Its black and white images are quite clean for a show of this era, though its age does show. There is a definite graininess in the images, but what do you expect? It’s a fifty-year-old television show for heaven’s sake.
The only track here is an Engish Mono audio track. No fancy remastering into 5.1 or anything like that. However, the sound is very good and, most importantly, the dialogue is very clean and clear.
There are no special features on any of the three discs in this volume.
There’s a lot of show in this little package, clocking in at just over eight total hours, and fans of the show will not need any endorsement to go out and add it to their collections. However, this is only the second half of the fourth season, and CBS splitting it up into two volumes while maintaining each package at this price point seems like too much of a cash grab to recommend a purchase. Add to that its total lack of special features and it becomes clear that the studio pushed this out with no real regard for fans. Good show. Rent it.