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.