The Lone Hand

Talkie of the Week: The Lone Hand

USA 1953, 80 minutes, color, Universal International Pictures. Director: George Sherman, Written by Joseph Hoffman and Irving Ravetch. Cast: Joel McCrea, Barbara Hale, Alex Nicol, Charles Drake, Jimmy Hunt, James Arness, Ray Roberts, Frank Ferguson, Wesley Morgan.

Plot summary: In order to secure the survival of his family, Zachary Hallock gets involved with the wrong side of the law and thus puts the trust of his son and newlywed wife to the ultimate test.

The Lone Hand 1953Review: As a widowed father who is trying to start a new life with his son (Jimmy Hunt), Zachary Hallock (Joel McCrea) works hard on a little farm he only recently purchased and soon occupies with his new wife. In order to overcome the sudden loss of his harvest, he gets involved with a local gang of outlaws who are notorious for their robberies. His son, raised to be inquisitive and righteous, gets suspicious of his father’s new source of income and soon starts asking questions like his stepmother Sarah Jane (Barbara Hale). Unable to tell them the truth behind his actions, Zachary loses his son’s respect and his wife’s trust. It takes an unexpected turn of events to win them both back and make them understand the situation.

Shot in Colorado in 1953, The Lone Hand would be the first out of two movies starring Joel McCrea and Barbara Hale. As a reliably gifted Western star, McCrea governed the movie from the start, supported by Jimmy Hunt’s touching performance and Barbara Hale’s always hearty and wholesome presence. Together, they turned this little film into a memorable experience for anyone who is fond of family Westerns with a dash of suspense. Unavailable on DVD so far, the film is a gem that can be seen in occasional reruns on TV and deserves to be passed on from one generation to the next.

Watch a teaser here.

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Gunsmoke

TV classics: Gunsmoke

USA 1955-75, 20 seasons,  635 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each (1955-61), then 50 minutes, CBS, black & white, then color (1966-75). Created by: Norman MacDonnell, John Meston. Cast: James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, Dennis Weaver, Ken Curtis, Burt Reynolds, Buck Taylor, Glenn Strange, Roger Erwing

Plot summary: Life can be tough in Dodge City, a typical town in American West, but Matt Dillon upholds the law against crooks and gangsters with a little help of his townspeople friends.

Review: Originally a radio show launched in 1952, Gunsmoke became the longest living Western program on television. Lasting a good twenty years, it was canceled by its network CBS in 1975 and replaced by two Mary Tyler Moore spin-offs. Although the show had been on the decline in ratings, the cast and crew were surprised to hear about the cancellation after they  had survived a previous plug-pulling threat in 1967. Despite sagging ratings after switching from a half-hour to a full-hour show in 1961, Gunsmoke had won a faithful fanbase who continued to enjoy and support the program until it finally went off the air in the mid 1970s.

The program, like so many others of its era, was a continued success in reruns. It was also picked up again in a number of television movies in the late 1980s and early 90s, featuring Gunsmoke’s hero Matt Dillon (James Arness) after his retirement. In the first movie, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge, he was supported by his on-screen love interest Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake) and their former co-stars Buck Taylor and Fran Ryan.

All in all, Gunsmoke was a show that picked up the legend of the American West and the myth of the frontier. In best Western tradition, the show offered an imperfect hero who was given a variety of excellent scripts over the years. Although criticized for not being as realistic and gloomy as the original radio show, the TV adaptation soon picked up a pace and life of its own. James Arness was a great pick for Marshall Matt Dillon who tried to uphold law and order in Dodge City. He was surrounded by a convincing cast of supporting characters, including Amanda Blake as saloon owner Miss Kitty. Although the background information on each character was meager, Gunsmoke also lived off the tension, animosities and amities of its recurring characters.

Thirty-seven years after its demise, the show is still a decent program to watch if not a joy. It’s not as light-hearted as The Adventures of Kit Carson used to be from 1951-55, nor as “soapy” as Big Valley from 1965-69. It continues to be a phenomenon of its own with a very genuine group of characters who lose and win as they live their lives in the prairie of the Wild West.

Available on DVD. Gunsmoke sample episode “Help Me, Kitty”