Thanks to the Shout Factory, all 26 episodes of the 1965/66 B&W series THE LONER is now available on DVD.
Created by ROD SERLING and starring LLOYD BRIDGES , the show is set soon after the end of the Civil War , with Bridges as ex-Union captain William Colton.
The effects of the war has left Capt. Colton unable to settle down anywhere. We never hear about his family. He roams the prairies and when WHIT BISSELL asks, “Where’s home?”, his answer is “West, just West.”
THE LONER has quite a pedigree . Rod Serling ( of Twilight Zone fame) wrote many of the episodes. Directors include PAUL HENREID, TAY GARNETT, JOSEPH PEVNEY, DON TAYLOR and NORMAN FOSTER.
The guest stars in the 30 minute episodes include BARRY SULLIVAN DAN DURYEA, ANNE BAXTER, BURGESS MEREDITH, VICTOR JORY, JOHN HOYT, JAMES WHITMORE, SKIP HOMEIER.
I’d describe some of the episodes as routine, but the good ones are memorable.
The opening episode, “An Echo of Bugles” , set in a saloon, has TONY BILL as a young hot-head who is goading a ex-Confederate soldier, WHIT BISSELL who is just out of a Union prison. Bill steps on a Confederate flag and attacks BISSELL.
Colton steps in , saying he left the army a month earlier . He slaps the young man’s face and makes him clean the flag and apologise to BISSELL. Tony Bill returns later and challenges Colton to meet in an hour’s time for a shoot-out.
While waiting, there is a flashback to the war when Colton kills a young Confederate soldier and then finds the war is over. JOHN HOYT is his senior officer who wants him to stay on in the army, pointing out that Colton is a West Pointer with 12 years in the cavalry . But Colton says he is resigning and going West.
Back in the present, Colton shoots and only injures Tony Bill’s character.
In “The House Rules at Mrs. Wayne ‘s” , Colton visits NANCY GATES whose husband ( Colton’s army friend) was killed by the town bully. Her son Jamie is 8. She doesn’t want him to learn about guns and asks Colton to take off his gun.
The killer is still in town and the boy can’t understand why Colton won’t take him on.
In “The Kingdom of McComb”, Leslie Nielsen is a big land owner who wants to get a group of Quakers off his land. Although the Quakers can’t be violent themselves, they offer to pay Colton to kill McComb!
Leslie’s character is not the black and white one you might expect and the ending is hopeful .
“A Little Stroll to the End of the Line” guest stars DAN DURYEA as a man just out of prison and bent on revenge for the death of his son.
Great episode, “Westward The Shoemaker”, with David Opatoshu as a European emigre who is conned by card sharp Warren Stevens.
Another good episode, “The Oath”, with BARRY SULLIVAN as a surgeon who has lost a hand and thinks his working life is over.
A young gunslinger is ill and eventually Sullivan directs Colton on operating on the young man who needs his appendix removed.
In “One of the Wounded”, Paul Henreid directs ANNE BAXTER who runs a farm. Her husband has come back from the war traumatised and paralysed .Colton is looking for work and ends up helping Anne’s husband recover.
Not a great part for Anne.
An unexpected ,and the only comic episode in the series, “The Sheriff Of Fetterman’s Crossing”, guest stars ALLAN SHERMAN and is directed by Don Taylor.
Sherman is Walton Terley, back from the war and claiming to have captured 30 rebel soldiers singlehandedly.
The town make him sheriff and he employs Colton as his deputy. He admits to Colton he was only a cook and the rebels were surrendering.
He asks Colton to teach him how to fire a gun, but he ‘s a hopeless case. A gunman comes after him and Colton advises him to get out of town, but Terley won’t leave.
They await the gunman who is coming in on the stagecoach – to the strains of ‘Do Not Forsake Me’ !
A man dressed all in black gets off the stage and goes up to the sheriff, with everyone looking on from a distance. What they don’t hear is a cultured English accent – the man is exploring the West and thinks his outfit is appropriate for his journey. When the sheriff says he can’t carry a gun, he hands it over and the townsfolk are very impressed with their sheriff.
Lloyd’s sons, Beau and Jeff each appear in an episode, plus Lloyd’s daughter, Cindy.
A family affair!
I’ve enjoyed the series and would recommend it to western fans.