Have Gun – Will Travel: The Fourth Season, Volume One
Directed by Buzz Kulik et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 490 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: March 2, 2010
Review Date: February 27, 2010
Just about every aspect of the classic television western Have Gun – Will Travel is now iconic: the theme music and that haunting title song sung over the closing credits, the calling card with the show’s title followed by “Wire Paladin/San Francisco,” the main character’s all black outfit with its signature gun and holster, its easy transitions between comedy and drama depending on the story it’s telling. Viewing these episodes from the first half of its fourth season brings back vivid memories of Saturday nights spent in front of the television from long, long ago. The show has lost nothing over the decades, effortlessly telling its stories with a minimum of fuss but featuring a raft of appealing (and in many cases soon-to-be award-winning) guest stars supporting one of television’s most commanding leading men: Richard Boone. The craggy-faced, often taciturn actor is picture perfect casting as the Lancelot of the Old West, riding in to save the victimized from those who wish to steal from or harm them. He also directs several of the episodes this season, often the more comic-oriented pieces.
The fourth season of the series represented the last year in its lifespan in which the show would command among the largest audiences for a broadcast series. The show ranked third in popularity at the end of the season, its third year in a row at that lofty position (and last; the following season would mark a sharp drop off in popularity though never out of the top thirty shows). Perhaps the show’s winning formula, a person in some kind of distress comes to or sends word to Paladin for assistance and his command as something of a troubleshooter for the weak or distressed allows him to investigate the situation and take whatever measures are necessary to help his client, kept audiences coming back for more season after season. Whatever the reason, the self-contained half hour episodes still play beautifully today, the tight scripts and western locales offering up copious amounts of entertainment bang for the buck.
Among the jobs Paladin finds himself involved with in the first half of this fourth season are aiding his nemesis in attaining his share of a popular San Francisco nightclub, rescuing a captured young girl from the Indians, umpiring a baseball game between a professional team and a group of rowdy townsfolk, assisting Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg and his cohorts during the western leg of their around the world in eighty days trip (without David Niven, Cantinflas, and Shirley MacLaine, alas), intervening in the trial of a young man unfairly incarcerated for eight years, working with an elderly female sheriff being bullied by the town’s menfolk, and finding a runaway princess and bringing her back to assume her duties (shades of Roman Holiday).
The guest stars who show up in these nineteen episodes represent some of the best actors working in television at the time: Robert Blake (two episodes as different characters), Martin Gabel, Ken Curtis, Mike Mazurki, George Kennedy (two episodes as different characters), Ben Johnson, J. Pat O’Malley, Jack Albertson, Martin Balsam, Denny Miller, Don Grady, Denver Pyle (two episodes as different characters), Parker Fennelly, Jeanette Nolan, Lou Antonio, William Talman, Hari Rhodes, Brett Somers, Jack Weston, Peter Falk, Warren Oates, Andrew Prine, Patric Knowles, Albert Salmi, James Best, Sydney Pollack, and Kevin Hagen.
Here are the nineteen episodes found on the three discs which make up this release:
1 – The Fatalist
2 – Love’s Young Dream
3 – A Head of Hair
4 – Out at the Old Ballpark
5 – Saturday Night
6 – The Calf
7 – The Tender Gun
8 – Killing of Jessie May
9 – Poker Fiend
10 – Crowbait
11 – Marshall’s Boy
12 – Foggbound
13 – The Legacy (this story of greed overcoming common sense was my favorite)
14 – The Prisoner
15 – The Montebank
16 – Sanctuary
17 – Quiet Night in Town, Part I
18 – Quiet Night in Town, Part II
19 – Princess and the Gunfighter
The program’s 1.33:1 television aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in these transfers. Sharpness is excellent in these programs, and the grayscale rendering looks far better than it has any right to with vivid contrast leading to exquisite black levels and terrific shadow detail. Yes, you’ll see an occasional scratch and some dust specks here and there. There is also some slight moiré in some clothing patterns, and herringbone jackets tend to flash, but it’s fairly minimal and not distracting. The episodes have been divided into 5 chapters each.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is decoded by Prologic properly into the center channel. The show has a great deal of talk, and it’s delivered clearly and distinctly along with sound effects and music cues though fidelity is naturally limited by the era’s typical sound recording techniques. Some episodes evince a slight hiss, some light crackle, or a pop or two but again, nothing terribly distracting.
There are no special features at all on the disc.
There are trailers for other CBS/Paramount releases including The Wild Wild West, Perry Mason, The Streets of San Francisco, and The Untouchables.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Another classic western of its era, the first part of the fourth season of Have Gun Will Travel offers gorgeous video transfers and more than adequate sound. Fans will certainly not be disappointed with the episode content (though splitting seasons in half may not be optimum for them) though the lack of any bonus material is a slight frustration.