“’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 had 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 dialog, 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 dialog 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 five 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 second volume of the fifth season we get another 19 episodes on 3 discs. Highlights of the season include: In The Exiles, Paladin is hired by Mexico’s General Ortega to track down government bonds that were taken by the former exiled Count and Countess. A delicate job, to be sure. In The Hunt, a Russian Prince hires Paladin for a hunt … him. It’s a variation on The Most Dangerous Game. In an episode that likely inspired an Elton John album title, Paladin is hired to find a woman’s fiance, who might not really want to be found. He has his reasons for disappearing in Don’t Shoot The Piano Player. Paladin must locate a misdirected shipment that contains a new invention … nitroglycerin. Can he find it before the unfortunate recipients get blown to bits? Find out in Hobson’s Choice. You’ll never look at those UPS guys the same way again. A priest and a Samurai walk into a bar… You’ve heard that one before? Then you must have seen the episode Coming Of The Tiger. In Darwin’s Man, a father takes the axiom of survival of the fittest too far. He encourages his sons to fight to the death over his property. Can Paladin come up with a more peaceful solution? Find out in Darwin‘s Man.
Guest stars include: Bill Mumy, James Hong, William Conrad, John Mitchum, and Gerald Price.
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 English Mono audio track. No fancy remastering into 5.1 or anything like that. However, the sound is very good and, most importantly, the dialog is very clean and clear.
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 fifth 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.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani