At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

LAWMAN – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Archives)

By • Jul 24th, 2015 •

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John Russell disturbed me as a kid. He was so relentlessly severe, that even his relationship with his young, wet-behind-the-ears deputy, played by Peter Brown, made him seem like a punishing father figure. This off-put me more than any of the other WB western shows on TV. Gunsmoke’s Marshal Dillon was adult. Cheyenne was less severe, reticent and overpowering, shaped as if by the elements. Sugarfoot was a gentle intellectual compared with the others. Russell…was like a coiled rattler, ready to strike and kill if you made a wrong move.

Today, my opinion’s changed: I like him quite a bit. Tall and lean, he was a focused actor and utterly convincing in his role, that of a lawman who the townspeople have as many misgivings about as do the villains that he either brings to justice or dispatches with a bullet. Kind of like Henry Fonda in WARLOCK (1959). He knows the ‘good citizens’ who hired him will want to get rid of him at some point. And this is the cynical persona Russell adopts. Much later on, Clint Eastwood used him to great effect as a bad guy. Russell was 6’4”, and therefore good for Eastwood’s purposes, who was at least that tall, and needed villains who measured up to him in stature.

The first episode pulls out all the stops, meaning he has support from Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, and even Edd ‘Kookie’ Byrnes. WB was taking no chances. The only reliable face missing is Arthur Hunnicut.

The second episode, ‘The Prisoner,’ demonstrates the odd relationship Russell (Dan Troop) has with his timid employers. A murderous cowhand comes to town periodically and always leaves bloodshed in his wake. He likes to goad people, particularly older people, into gunfights. The townsfolk know this is reprehensible behavior, but they need the business his outfit provides, plus they fear the wrath of the outfit should he be jailed or tried or convicted. Troop arrests him, but quickly comes to realize that the man will be freed. The judge, it turns out, is of the same mind as the townsfolk. Frustrated, Troop arrives at a clever solution. He lets the swaggering killer loose, follows him to the saloon, and the next time he challenges someone, it’s Troop who stands in for the poor soul, and he kills the cowhand in a draw-down, doing what had to be done one way or another. The interesting morality of the ending is definitely thought-provoking, particularly for 1958.

Peter Brown migrated to the LAREDO series after LAWMAN ended its four-year run, and fell in with the likes of William Smith, appearing in films such as CHROME AND HOT LEATHER. He also won the title of the fastest gun in Hollywood. Apropos, perhaps, of that, he’s been married six times.

The shot of Russell on the back cover in the boxing ring, bare-chested, bleeding, is from a third season episode called ‘Samson the Great.’

Russell died in 1991 of emphysema, aged 70.

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2 Responses »

  1. The great western movies and series adapted for the small screen were/ are great compulsive viewing, long may they live ,

  2. I did not see Lawman growing up as in South Africa we were exposed to very few Western TV Series. My love for westerns came from reading the books my Dad read. Lawman has to be my ultimate favourite although there are quite a lot them come pretty close. Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, Bonanza, The Rifleman etc etc. I fell in love with John Russell the first time I saw him. At first I only manage to get hold of 2 episodes which I watched over and over then about 18 months later a friend of mine managed to download the rest. I was in seventh heaven. The pilot episode was brilliantly done as you were introduced to Dan Troop and learnt exactly what he was about. The kicking in of the sheriffs door is my favourite. It said “I am here and I mean business”. He was hard and tough yet had a soft side to him.

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