James Garner had been kicking around Hollywood for a while before landing the lead in the television series Maverick, and it was the role of a lifetime for him. The show debuted in 1957, as something of a comedic Western. Bret Maverick was a charming cardsharp, who appeared to have an endless array of tricks up his sleeve. The second season of Maverick aired during 1958 – 1959, and has just been released to DVD from Warner Home Video.
Maverick was one of those rare TV programs that had it right from the very start. I am a big fan of the show, and already owned the first season, having purchased it last year. Just to catch up, I watched it again a couple of weeks ago, so I would be ready for season two. Okay, it was just an excuse to watch it again, but it did confirm what I thought. All of the elements that made Maverick so good were in place from the beginning.
I am not old enough to remember Maverick’s initial run on the ABC network, but it seems to have been very popular. It certainly attracted a high caliber of guest stars at least. A few of the well-known names who appeared in the second season include Martin Landau, Dan Blocker, Slim Pickens, Patrick McVey, Richard Long, Louise Fletcher, Clint Eastwood, and Connie Stevens.
The six-DVD set contains all 26 episodes, with a running time of 1300 minutes. For those who may not be familiar with the history of Maverick, the show aired for five seasons, from 1957-1962. Due to legal issues, Garner was only with it for the first three.
I believe the second season of Maverick was the best of the five. I could pick just about any episode of the 26 to back this up, but there are a few that I find to be particularly outstanding. The season opener is certainly one of them. “The Day They Hanged Bret Maverick” finds our hero framed for a bank robbery by someone who looked a lot like him. The scenes of the town excitedly building the gallows right outside his jail cell window are unnerving, and offer him a chance to ruminate about recent events.
“Escape to Tampico” is fairly interesting upon first glance, but even more so when you know a bit more about it. When I watched this on the Encore Westerns channel a while back, I noted that something about it seemed very familiar. So I did a little research, and discovered that it was shot on the set of the all-time classic Humphrey Bogart film, Casablanca (1942).
I mentioned Clint Eastwood as one of the guest stars earlier. In 1959, he was not quite the legend he would become. He got his start in TV Westerns, the biggest being his role as Rowdy Yates on Rawhide. He and Garner get into a pretty great fistfight during the “Duel at Sundown” episode of Maverick. Character actor Edgar Buchanan is Jed, the father of Carrie (Abby Dalton), and wants Bret to marry her before Eastwood’s bad-guy Red Hardigan does. “Duel at Sundown” mixes comedy, drama, and classic Western action in marvelous fashion. It is a fine example of what makes this series so good.
No review of the set would be complete without mentioning “Gun Shy.” This was a spoof of Gunsmoke, and it is great. Besides Bret, we have Marshal Mort Dooley played by Ben Gage, and Walker Edmiston doing his impression of Dennis Weaver’s Chester Goode. The show is very good on its own, but in retrospect, it is interesting to note that Maverick and Gunsmoke were on competing networks. Gunsmoke was one of the jewels in CBS’ crown at the time.
Those are just four of the 26, and the remaining 22 are just as good. For my money, James Garner was never better than he was as Bret Maverick, although he did a pretty good job later on as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. In any event, the second season of Maverick was just about as good as it got for this unique series, and is recommended.