Have Gun - Will Travel

Season 3 Episode 25

The Hatchet Man

Aired Saturday 9:30 PM Mar 05, 1960 on CBS

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

Write A Review
out of 10
8 votes
  • Not one of the better episodes, perhaps, but still interesting. A rare view of a significant sub-culture of San Francisco.

    The background music, naturally, has a Chinese flavor to it, making it unique. For a change, Paladin is not ensconced with a young lady. He's in the lobby, studying a Chinese poster and growing steadily more irritated with Hey Boy, who does not want to help him translate a certain passage. I wish they had mentioned just where Paladin got the thing in the first place. Did he pull it off a wall somewhere while taking a stroll through the city? Perhaps someone actually posted it on a wall of the Carlton itself, and Paladin confiscated it before a member of the staff pulled it off and threw it away.

    The poster is a proclamation of a reward of $1000 (perhaps that is what caught Paladin's eye) for the death of a certain "race traitor". A man walks up behind Paladin and translates one word as "Detective"--as in Detective Joe Tsin, who seems to be San Francisco's first Chinese police detective, and perhaps its first Chinese policeman, period. The man and Paladin exchange cards. The visitor is Detective Inspector Clarence Macgruder. Paladin inquires about the previous Inspector, Brophy, and learns that Brophy's corrupt behavior had gotten him demoted to a patrolman. Macgruder, despite his polite perusal of Paladin's card, already knew who--and what--Paladin is, and, in fact, came to request his assistance. San Francisco was having a great deal of trouble with various criminal Chinese "tongs". With Joe Tsin's expertise, the police are finding matters much easier. Unfortunately, one of the tongs, the "Association of Gentle Brotherhood" (the irony's thick enough to cut, here) has decided to take Joe out of the game. Joe, for his part, is convinced that he must deal with the problem by himself, or lose honor. The police department is equally convinced that they are going to lose a valuable officer if Paladin is not willing to help. For the second time in this scene, there is a casual reference to the corruption of the police department, as Paladin offers to donate his wages (such as they are) to the Police Widows' Pension fund, as long as none of it goes for graft. Macgruder candidly admits that it will be some time before that problem is corrected.

    Having decided to start by visiting Joe's father, Paladin requests Hey Boy's help to locate him. Hey Boy confesses that, unlike Joe Tsin, he is more interested in staying alive than in keeping face. However, his friendship with Paladin is stronger than his fear. Paladin appreciates this, as well he should.

    Joe's father, Hoo Yee, is, in fact, the head of San Francisco's Chinese branch of the YMCA. I'm presuming that Joe Tsin created a new name for himself for the use of the police department, because I believe his last (family) name should actually be Hoo. (He may have made the change just to avoid a lot of jokes.) Where before there had been references to police corruption, there now comes references to the problems faced by the Chinese community. Hoo Yee comments that, while the police do little to prevent the crimes committed by the tongs, they also ignore crimes committed by whites against Chinese in general--what today would be called "hate crimes". Joe and his father both want the tongs suppressed, because their behavior leads the white community to think that all Chinese are like that. Joe's father and his fiancee, Li Hwa, admit that while they don't want Joe to die, they would despise him for losing face in the matter. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place...if Paladin's to be of any use at all, it will have to be done very carefully.

    Joe had spotted Paladin going in to his father's place, and follows him as he leaves, thinking that Paladin is some troublemaker. When he confronts Paladin, I found it amusing to note that, while his speech is precise and dignified, he also spices it with some American colloquialisms. Paladin suggests that they talk things over at the nearest police station, and Joe agrees, handcuffing them together. By this time, a number of bystanders have gathered to watch. Moments later, they are attacked by two assassins. Joe and Paladin respond with beautifully choreographed teamwork, and send the two men running for cover. I find this next part perplexing. Joe quickly realizes that Paladin had been sent to help him, and is overcome with shame that Paladin assisted him in the fight. Well, what else was he supposed to do? He didn't ask to be handcuffed. Was he supposed to just stand there, an unwanted drag on Joe's arm, and very probably get himself killed in the process? Like Paladin, I can't comprehend what honor there is in getting oneself killed uselessly--and thereby allowing the enemy to win. Joe rushes off into the night, needing to prove that he's a better man than Paladin. Li Hwa knows exactly what he's going to do, and takes Paladin to show him--apparently she felt that simply telling him would be insufficient. Joe didn't waste any time--he must have found a sign painter who worked at lightning speed, putting up a proclamation of his own. Joe put a direct challenge to the head of the tong, Loo Sam--or to one of his representatives--to meet for a fight before midnight. Loo Sam, naturally, is not going to fight on his own account. He has many trained fighters, and will choose the best of them all, his personal bodyguard, to fight with Joe. Joe cannot possibly win a fight against Sing Chuck, whose name means "His feet are swift to shed blood". Paladin is still gamely trying to resolve this situation without losing more of Joe's face than he already has. He can't intervene directly in the fight, but perhaps he can still shift the odds. Once again he calls upon Hey Boy to lead him to Loo Sam's gambling establishment. Hey Boy is more frightened than ever, which gives you an idea of the courage he is showing--far more than Joe Tsin, if you ask me. Not needing him further, Paladin sends him on his way, asking Hey Boy to toast his memory if he fails to return. Hey Boy pragmatically replies that he will toast him with rice wine, as French wine makes him ill. These friends understand each other very well, and Paladin sends him on his way with a smile.

    The guard at the door is very startled when this tall Occidental shows up, and lets him in with a very token pat-down for weapons. Paladin shows his usual aplomb, completely ignoring the stares and the dying away of conversation. He exchanges a few words with Loo Sam, who mentions that the police department's Chief Inspector is a "dear friend". (More corruption.) Paladin then casually pushes his way into one of the card games going on, to the astonishment of the players. Loo Sam promptly fetches his bodyguard, who has been taking a snooze prior to his fight with Joe. Paladin loses his self-possession for a moment, as he takes in the size of his opponent, then recovers himself and takes off his coat. He's not dressed in his standard working clothes underneath, instead wearing a comfortable, stretchy black sweater.

    I had seen it mentioned elsewhere that Paladin has some training in the martial arts, and perhaps that idea came from this episode. Actually, it looks more like he's calling on his formidable experience with boxing and brutal bar fights, combined with the grace and skill acquired from swordfighting. It's a fairly equal contest, as Sing Chuck proves when he finally decides on the easy way and grabs for a gun tucked in his sash. Paladin, of course, also has his little gun, overlooked at the door, and reacts faster. He also comes close to shooting Loo Sam, who also has a gun, but leaves him to face Joe.

    This is where the plot starts to fail. Joe's challenge was to Loo Sam or his representative. Li Hwa pointed out that Loo Sam had many highly trained killers at his command--Sing Chuck was just the best of them. There does not seem to be any reason why Loo Sam could not choose another killer to fight for him, yet Paladin leaves, convinced that Loo Sam will have to fight for himself, or accept the loss of face.

    Paladin returns to the place apparently designated for the fight. Li Hwa is there beside Joe, as well as a considerable crowd. The minutes tick by, and no challenger shows up. Loo Sam has proven his cowardice, and the effectiveness of his tong is now broken. (You would think that they might start up a real reign of terror to prove otherwise, but perhaps the other members of the tong will now quit out of shame.) Joe is perfectly well aware that Paladin did something to achieve this happy result, but as it was not done in public view, it can be overlooked. Paladin points out that, Joe being an American citizen, he needs to learn to fight his battles with teamwork, for the honor of the whole, not the honor of the individual. Perhaps he mentions this because he knows that this situation may well come up again with one of the other tongs.

    There's an amusing touch at the end, one that I can easily see occurring elsewhere, not just in the Chinese communtity. With the crowd assembled to watch the fight to the death, a street vendor also turned up to turn a little profit on the situation. I'm not sure just what he would have been selling, but he presented Paladin with a free helping. Paladin responded with a courteous bow before strolling back to the Carlton. All done in one evening. The Widow's Pension fund isn't going to be getting much. Perhaps Paladin will include a donation.