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TV Review: Gun Control on The Rifleman, “The Anvil Chorus” Episode 154, 1962

Ideas about gun control were an obvious and somewhat common theme in vintage Western movie making. Hollywood having always been fairly left wing, you might expect some sympathy among liberal screenwriters.

But if your professional commitment is to writing a credible story rather than buttressing a political point, you might tend to get sidetracked from your beliefs. Archie Bunker's development into a genuinely and properly beloved character makes a good example. Sitting down to actually write a gun control story in a frontier town, the obvious plot point is that bad guys are going to take advantage and prey on the citizens. Duh.

I ran into a particularly interesting example of this in an episode of the Chuck Connors series The Riflemen, episode 154 (of 168), "The Anvil Chorus" – originally broadcast December 17, 1962 in the middle of their last season. Writing is credited to Arthur Browne Jr.

In this episode, Marshall Torrance is out of town, and has deputized the blacksmith Nils Swenson. Not to put too fine a point on it, the blacksmith is a big fat idiot who really likes his little taste of authority. Celebratory gunfire at a wedding gave him excuse to insist on everyone in town handing in their guns. After all, as he explained to Mark McCain (the rifleman's teenage son), people won't object to giving up their guns so long as they know there's someone such as him that they can trust looking out for them. He likes himself.

Naturally though, quicker than you can say "unarmed victims" there's some outlaws laying plans to rob the bank. Soon enough, the idiot deputy marshal and the boy are being held prisoner in the jail. The boy tries to be supportive, but after sufficient humiliation Deputy Swenson volunteers that perhaps that whole thing about banning guns was a bad idea born of liking his taste of authority. Gee, ya think? Of course, a private citizen with a gun, i.e. Dad, shows up to save the day.

This was all decently written and executed, but it was the epilogue that caught my attention. With the bad guys locked up, father and son had a moment to wax philosophical. The idealistic young Mark allowed how Nils had the right idea.

Mark: You know Pa, I can't help but think what Nils was trying to do was really right. Someday this town, this whole territory is gonna be so different that people are just going to change their ways.

Lucas: Maybe so son, but it will take a lot of changing to make them give up their guns.

Mark: Yeah but I think it will happen. You know someday I think this street right here will have buildings that stick up right to the sky. And we'll have machines that will take the place of horses. Like the train took the place of the covered wagon.

The episode ends with father and son laughing at the boy's silly idea that machines could somehow take the place of horses. Ha!

The screenwriter went to some effort to work up a good literary explanation advocating gun control, even right after he's just portrayed something dramatically expressing why it wouldn't work. See, people are going to do a lot of changing. Things progress. It's just like how covered wagons gave way to trains, and the future implication of cars and tractors that would soon be replacing their horses.

But this whole childlike/childish vision is based on false analogy. Cars are different equipment than horses, and they run completely differently. That's an upgrade to completely different technology.

Whereas people remain people. Essentially, Arthur Browne is arguing for the malleability of human nature – a central tenet of modern socialist type liberals. Whereas I'm not buying much of that. Human beings looks like will always be mammals, with basic adaptive mammalian nervous systems.

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