Have Gun - Will Travel

Season 4 Episode 24


Aired Saturday 9:30 PM Mar 04, 1961 on CBS

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

Write A Review
out of 10
5 votes
  • One of Richard Boone's biographers called this episode "troubling". That's a understatement. The fact that it is strongly written, well-acted, and well directed does not, in my opinion, compensate for the terrible sense of "wrongness".

    So far, there has only been one other episode that I dislike; "Full Circle", for the same reason as this one: Paladin does not behave in the manner that three plus seasons have led me to expect. I can't help wondering if, at this point, Boone was already losing interest in the character and did not care how he appeared to the audience. (I would also be interested to know what sort of feedback they got from the fans on this one.)

    Paladin is at home, dividing his attention between a chess match with an agitated, apparently Russian visitor and a newspaper that Hey Girl fetches. Two young convicted killers escaped out of the courtroom window when their death sentence was announced. Their defence had been that they had not meant to kill the victim, only to frighten him as a "fandango". The sheriff on the case is Ernie Backwater, an old friend from the war. Paladin prompty decides to go to his aid.

    Paladin discovers one of the fugitives, attractive, charming Bobby Ulsen, happily fishing, apparently oblivous to the fact that he's a wanted man. The sixteen-year old plans to sell the extra fish he's caught, so that he can stuff himself at a local fair with cotten candy and ice cream. (Awwww....) Paladin addresses the youth with an oddly gentle tone of voice--a tone that vanishes when Bobby attempts to bash his face in with a rock. Bobby apparently misjudged the distance; that blow should have laid Paladin flat at the very least, if not out cold or dead, but Paladin springs up without a scratch, and deals with Bobby in a few moments. Some little time later they meet up with Sheriff Backwater and his deputy Sanchez, and the second fugitive, James Horton. Sanchez promptly quits, citing his fear of Lloyd Petty, the dead man's older brother, who was a well known gunfighter some seven or eight years previously, before he retired to take up a profitable career ranching. Petty plans to deal with the two killers personally, and Sanchez does not want to get in his way.

    James plaintively asks for ice cream (again, the ice cream) as his last request. It rapidly becomes clear that James is both slow-witted and immature for his age. Bobby, in a casual, friendly way, tells James that he will be able to eat all the ice cream he wants, since he'll die before he can get sick from it. At this brutal observation, James panics and flees, to be quickly caught by Paladin. James admits that he wanted the victim dead, in revenge for his insulting behavior, but it is Bobby who blithely announces that he was the one who did the actual killing. Bobby's expression at this point is a very clear "So what?" Paladin, however, is beginning to feel sickened at his part in this, which he jumped into more or less out of boredom. Sheriff Ernie doesn't like it much, either, but will abide by the court's decision. Bobby scores another bit of sympathy when he anxiously inquires about his dog's welfare. Too bad he didn't have a like concern for the human he murdered. (The dog will be looked after on a sheep ranch; don't worry.) There's an unrelated bit of unpleasantness, here: Ernie rather sarcastically offers Paladin the job of deputy, a job that pays 10 dollars a day and meals. He then matter-of-factly states that Sanchez, who has a wife and children, only got half that amount, presumably because he's only a Mexican. Did Ernie divert the other five dollars a day into his own pockets? They have a brief conversation with Lloyd Petty, who candidly admits that he did not care overmuch for his shiftless young brother, but will avenge him out of his strong family feeling. They seem to be trying to show the audience that the victim wasn't worth sympathising over. Is being an unpleasant personality justifiable grounds for murder?

    They make it back to town, and watch all the people disappearing, like prarie dogs with a hawk overhead. Ensconced in the jail, James greedily shovels down a plate of ice cream, while Bobby watches him with amusement. Paladin approaches him as he would a five-year old, and offers him more. James gleefully shouts that getting all this ice cream is worth dying for. Paladin smiles, but we are left to guess at how his expression changes as he turns from the boy. Ernie offers to get a minister for the boys, but both refuse, James because he'd been told that he was bound for hell anyway, Bobby, apparently, because he doesn't care.

    Paladin, in all the seasons we've known him, has shown a passionate respect for the law. He has dealt with other young killers before this, and is aware that even younger boys have killed and been killed, although they had the excuse of wartime. The boys had been properly tried and convicted--and they've admitted their guilt. This was a point in history when children did not remain children for long. Girls often married at appallingly young ages, and boys were expected to quickly shoulder adult responsibilities. Paladin's sole objection to their punishment is their age. In James' case, there is some point to this, as he obviously doesn't truly understand what he's done. His anger at the victim was the rage of a child, who, thwarted or insulted, screams "I'll kill you!" or "I wish you were dead!" However, Bobby, despite his charm and boyish good looks, has no such excuse.

    The townpeople are all locked up for the night, not a single light showing. Paladin wishes he could do the same, a sentiment one could not dream he would ever express. Ernie quietly reads off the opening statement made by the prosecutor at the trial, and the horror of the situation becomes clear. Up to this point, I had assumed that this "fandango" had been something along the lines of waving a gun around to scare their victim, only to have it fire unexpectedly, or perhaps playing around with a rope, with a similar tragic outcome. We learn that these two boys, to entertain themselves, had beaten the boy(at nineteen only three years older, a fact that Paladin ignores) not only with their fists, but with clubs and a length of chain. They then left the boy to slowly and painfully crawl in a desperate search for help, only to lapse into a coma and die two days later. And they didn't really mean to kill him? What the heck did they mean to do? Cripple him? You would think at this point that Paladin would set his sympathies aside. The entire statement, with its closing comment that no one has the right to take another's life, is quite profound.

    Lloyd Petty finally turns up at dawn, blowing in two of the jail walls with dynamite. Paladin and Ernie dispatch Petty's men, Ernie getting wounded in the process. Paladin then faces off with Petty and of course beats him to the draw. Seven or eight years into retirement and a lot of hard work ranching have naturally slowed Petty down, an obvious fact that does not occur to either Ernie or Paladin.

    Meanwhile, with the wall of their cell blown open, James has been frantically yanking on his chain, trying to escape. After watching him for a while, Bobby casually pops his own chain out of the wall with a flick of the wrist. Paladin levels his gun at him, then slowly lets it drop. Bobby looks at James with a "those are the breaks" expression, then abandons his friend without any attempt to free him. Ernie tells Paladin that he's made a mistake, but Paladin disagrees, saying that he made a judgement. He seems to have forgotten that the judgement was already passed, by the law that he sets such store by. I found myself wishing that Ernie had belted Paladin in his self-righteous face. He could also have arrested him for obstruction of justice. Paladin says that he made a judgment, but he made more than one, and this is where the episode gets ugly. The handsome, charming--and white--boy, the boy who knew perfectly well that he was doing wrong and chose to do it anyway, who admitted to the killing and showed no remorse for it, who tried to kill Paladin, is allowed to run. The dark, slow-witted boy, who really should have had his sentence commuted, the boy of "dubious" parentage, is left behind to hang. Why? Why didn't Paladin release him as well? Paladin shows no concern for the boy who is left bouncing helplessly off the wall and squealing in frustration and terror. He shrugs off the possibility, or, more likely, the probability, that Bobby will kill again, and the episode ends with a silly comment about Petty being slower than they expected. Actually, now that Petty is dead, and the townspeople are no longer in fear on that score, it's probable that some man or men will go after Bobby, and considering that he's alone, on foot, unarmed, and still chained, they will find him, or some outsider will.

    Have Gun--Will Travel, has become my favorite show. I watch it all the time, and after going through the episodes I start all over again. I even watch "Full Circle" when it comes up in the queue; it has its points. However, I am not certain that I will ever be able to watch this one again. It's far too disquieting.
No results found.
No results found.
No results found.