Westerns were king during television’s Golden Age, and nobody stood as tall as Richard Boone playing Paladin, in Have Gun – Will Travel. The program aired from 1957-1962, and the final installment of the series has just been issued on DVD: Have Gun – Will Travel Season Four Volume 2.
The 19 episodes collected on this three-DVD set feature a number of guest stars and directors. Among the more famous acting names are Buddy Ebsen, George Kennedy, and Ken “Festus” Curtis. Ida Lupino directed one program, while Boone himself directed three. There was even a script written by the young Gene Roddenberry.
The series followed a fairly standard outline. The show would open with a scene inside the luxurious Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, which Paladin called home. He would often be chatting up a countess or some such refined lady, only to be interrupted by Hey Girl (Lisa Lu) with a telegram or message of a pending job. Paladin’s card reads “Have Gun – Will Travel,” and he is known as the best hired gun in the West.
The variety of storylines is a cut above typical Western fare of the era. While there is a fair amount of action, many of the plots are more psychological than anything else. “The Gold Bar,” (directed by Ida Lupino), is a good example of the “counselor” role that Paladin often found himself in. A meek bank teller (John Fiedler) steals a bar of gold from the bank safe. The bank manager does not know that it was his own trusted employee who stole it, and hires Paladin. Later, our hero convinces the teller to break back into the bank and replace the bar before the auditor arrives.
Then there is “The Cure,” which finds Paladin helping the original Calamity Jane reclaim her lost fortune, and her dignity, which she lost due to her heavy drinking. “El Paso Stage” was written by Gene Roddenberry, and stars a truly villainous Buddy Ebsen as a crooked town marshal. This is one of the better ones of the season, and is modeled after the film 3:10 To Yuma.
The series ended with “Soledad Crossing,” and it went out on a high note. Paladin is leading a convicted killer into the Oregon town of Soledad, where he will be hanged. When they arrive at the bridge to go into town, they are turned back, as the area is in quarantine. Soon the hangman arrives, as well as a man and his daughter. All are forced to wait out results of the outbreak by the side of the river. The tension is high as the group wonders whether any, or all of them are infected. All the while there is the threat posed by Paladin’s prisoner, a man who has nothing to lose.
One of the notable aspects of Paladin’s character is worldliness. Besides being a crack gunman, he is a wine connoisseur, a master chef, and speaks several languages. Throughout the show, the only other regular character besides Paladin is the hotel’s Hey Girl, who appears to be Chinese. She tends to his every need, and is obviously smitten.
All of the episodes were filmed in black and white, and have been very well preserved over the years. The print quality is excellent throughout the set. Have Gun – Will Travel is worthy of its reputation as one of the best Western TV shows of the era, and the final run of the series never faltered.