THE WESTERNER was a 1960 TV series created by Sam Peckinpah and starring Brian Keith as a drifter who wanders the West with his dog, ‘Brown’.
With a theme similar to Lloyd Bridges’ The Loner, Brian Keith , as ‘Dave Blassingame’ meets all sorts of folk and trouble on his travels. We don’t learn a lot about him, except he sometimes talks about having a ranch in the future.
We learn he can’t read or write, but from time to time, he tries to learn.
The show only had 13 episodes before being cancelled. Brian Keith wore the part very well, as a peaceable man ready to defend himself when necessary. It doesn’t look as if the series had much of a budget.
There are plenty of fist fights and shootings, so a lot of violence typical of Peckinpah , though Blassingame only lashes out when pushed.
Of course his name alone – ‘Dave Blassingame’ – can bring trouble, though in a nice contrast, Malcolm Atterbury as the local sheriff says, “I like that. It’s a good name.”
( I’ d love to know how Sam Peckinpah came up with this very unusual surname.)
The series is well worth watching for all the well known supporting names in the cast, including,one of my favourites, John Dehner who appears in three of the lighter episodes,playing a character called Burgundy Smith who tries to buy Blassingame’s dog, and is a rival for a lady Blassingame has an eye for.
(Keith’s ‘co-star’, Brown’ is a very well trained dog who was also ‘Old Yeller’. Blassingame has quite a few conversations with ‘Brown.’)
Other guest stars include Robert Wilke, Arthur Hunnicutt, Sam Jaffe, Ben Cooper, Katy Jurado . One episode has Malcolm Atterbury and Adam Williams ( both fresh from “North By Northwest”).Incidentally, Adam Williams, whom I liked in VICE SQUAD and THE BIG HEAT, was born in 1922 and died in 2006. According to IMDB, he never made another TV/ Film appearance after 1978 when he was 56 yrs old.
Hunnicutt plays an old prospector ready to kill Blassingame for gold .
In a powerful episode, reminiscent of The Ox-Bow Incident, Blassingame is set up for a murder. With no real proof, R.G. Armstrong tells Dave to dig his own grave.
A young teacher has been killed and Dave’s connection is that she was helping him – “I was learning how to write my name.”
Richard Rust plays the deputy who tries to stop what’s happening.
A surprise in this episode was to see William Tracy whom I remember so well as the fast young go-getter from The Shop Around the Corner who stole every scene he was in.
In his early 40s at the time of the series, I kept thinking Tracy looked and sounded like Herbert Mundin.
I know he is made up for the role and it is 20 years later, but such a change.
( British born Herbert Mundin tragically died in a car crash at the age of 40 in 1939.) Mundin was in so many 30s films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mutiny on the Bounty.)
William Tracy served in the Second World War for 5 years and when he returned to Hollywood he only made a few films in the 1950s. A pity he didn’t get a studio contract and some decent roles. He died in 1967, aged 50.
Another episode has a Marie Celeste like opening , Dave coming into a small Mexican town which is deserted, though food is on a stove and the cantina has drinks on the table. Katy Jurado guest stars.
The 13 episode box set has recently been issued in the U.K. by Renown. The series was previously released in America by the Shout Factory in 2017. The U.S. release had the added extra of the 1959 episode of the Zane Grey Theatre, “Trouble at Tres Cruces” which first featured Brian Keith as the ‘Dave Blassingame’ character.
And a slight mistake in the U.K. set – the cover says the series was made in 1962.
The whole series seems to be in the public domain and can be viewed on You Tube. I don’t rate it quite as highly as IMDB reviews suggest. It’s all down to the writing of course and four or five of the 13 episodes are very good in my opinion.
Brian Keith subsequently appeared in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Deadly Companions” in I961 and continued to have a successful career, mainly in television including his own show, “The Brian Keith Show” in which he played a doctor. He was also in a long running sitcom, “Family Affair” from 1966 to 1971. Another long running hit was HARDCASTLE AND MCCORMICK (1983-86).He and Ben Cooper appeared in another western, “The Raiders”(1963). It seems a pity Brian’s career on screen only really got started in the 50s – he was active in stage and radio in the 40s after the war. I liked him in TIGHT SPOT, CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL, ROUGH COMPANY. His laconic manner suited Noir.
Just after the series was cancelled, Brian had a big success in THE PARENT TRAP with Maureen O’Hara and Hayley Mills. There was also an attempt at a reboot of The Westerner in 1963, in an episode of the Dick Powell Show called ‘The Losers’, with Lee Marvin and Keenan Wynn in the roles,played by Brian Keith and John Dehner. Brian Keith, born in 1921 and the son of character actor, Robert Keith, was suffering from cancer when he took his own life in 1997.
I plan to pick up that Renown release at some point.
Hope you enjoy it.
Vienna, I really enjoyed reading your fine write-up on Sam Peckinpah’s TV series THE WESTERNER. I first remember reading about Peckinpah’s THE WESTERNER in a film periodical of some type, back during the late 1970’s. The writer was writing about the “Jeff” episode, in particular. So, I’d been reading about this TV Western cult series for years, but like most had never seen it. That of course is the very definition of a cult tv show or movie, no one can see it. I’m thankful for the SHOUT! FACTORY COLLECTOR’S EDITION released in 2017, for finally giving me the opportunity to own and view this, in my opinion, excellent TV Western. I’ve enjoyed watching this gem of a TV show and also listening to the commentary. I highly recommend it. Fact is, it is due for a re-watch.
About the name Dave Blassingame, how Peckinpah came up with name, I don’t really know. Although, I can conjecture as well as anyone, I guess. David Samuel Peckinpah’s maternal grandparents Denver Samuel Church and Louise Derrick Church, had a 4,100 acre cattle ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Young Sam’s earliest memory is of being strapped into a saddle, when he was two years, for a ride up into the high country. On this ranch worked an old cowhand, who was a partial inspiration for the Dave Blassingame character. I think, unless my memory fails me, that I read about this, decades ago in the book BLOODY SAM: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAM PECKINPAH(1991) written by Marshall Fine. This particular old cowhand is also responsible for the line that Peckinpah wrote for Crazy Lee(Bo Hopkins) in THE WILD BUNCH(filmed 1968, released 1969), about “kissing a black cat’s back nether region.”
Well, back to the name Blassingame. I think it may have been a play on Peckinpah’s own name. His first name was David, so we have Dave, and we have Peck-in-pah. which leads to Blass-in-game, maybe. At this time, I can’t recall the old cowhand’s name, but it seems like it began with a B, either his first, or last name. I’ll try and find out, if I can.
Also, in 1991 Brian Keith would make another appearance as Dave Blassingame, the Westerner, in THE GAMBLER RETURNS: THE LUCK OF THE DRAW with Kenny Rogers.
Thanks Walter. Enjoyed reading your comment. It’s good a rare show like this finally gets seen.
Vienna, I made a mistake concerning the source of the old cowhand story. After re-thinking, it is more likely from Paul Seydor’s SAM PECKINPAH: THE WESTERN FILMS(1980), which I read in 1980. I also read Doug McKinney’s SAM PECKINPAH(1979) in 1980. Both are good books, especially Seydor’s.