Have Gun - Will Travel

Season 1 Episode 20

The Last Laugh

Aired Saturday 9:30 PM Jan 25, 1958 on CBS
out of 10
User Rating
16 votes

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Episode Summary

The Last Laugh

A rancher blames Paladin when a practical joke goes awry and his wife is crippled in a riding accident.

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  • Quite an interesting episode, showing, quite realistically, how a combination of circumstances can develop to turn a simple situation into a tragedy.

    Paladin's traveling by stage again, either to or from San Francisco, and makes a stopover in an unnamed town.

    Peter Whitney apparently planned to make a career on Wall Street, but the Depression intervened. He ended up as an actor, and his size and appearance locked him into playing mainly big, mean guys, or big, slow-witted guys. Here, it's the latter. Lovingly tending his elderly horse, he has to drag him out of the way when the stage comes through at a rather reckless pace. Slow witted he may be, Judd Calhoun is quick to anger, shouting a death threat after the driver. A group of lounging men laugh at him, and one, Ed McKay, suggests that a burr under the saddle is a good way to perk up a tired horse.

    Ed McKay is an evil man. While he doesn't appear to be a criminal type, he loves sowing discord, and does not care how much harm results--as long as he isn't blamed for it. Rather than doing so himself, he urges another man, Mickey--a man approximately half Judd's size--to demonstrate the burr trick for Judd. All in good fun, no trouble at all.

    Meanwhile, the passengers leave the stage. (When we first see Paladin, he's comfortably sprawled out on one whole side of the stage, but as they emerge, it's clear that he was sharing the seat with another man. Perhaps they picked up a hitchhiker.) Nora Bordon, who has been away on a two-week visit back East, greets her husband Gil with enthusiasm, tossing aside her suitcase, which promptly bursts open. With a pile of feminine clothing at his feet, Paladin begins rather diffidently to gather them up. When Gil finally notices this, he takes great exception to Paladin's courteous behavior. Nora hastens to smooth things over (and presumably she does this a lot). She's not very successful, but there is a disruption. Realizing that a burr will hurt his horse, Judd has picked up Mickey and begun to throttle him. Gil leaps in and calms things down. We learn that Ed once worked for Gil, who fired him for being a troublemaker. Gil tells Judd to go back to the ranch and stay away from the worthless "saddle bums". "Bums" is right. It's broad daylight of a perfectly nice day--why are all these men hanging about town instead of working?

    Having gathered up the suitcase, it flips open again, and Paladin and Nora burst out laughing, to Gil's irritation. Ed draws Judd aside and claims that they are laughing at him. It doesn't seem likely that Mrs. Bordon would laugh at her husband's ranch hand, and Judd has a fierce loyalty to his employer. Ed switches tactics, and suggests that Judd get back at Mickey by putting the burr under his horse's saddle. Judd shows no concern at causing someone else's horse to suffer. Here is one point that didn't make sense--Judd works for Gil, and lives on his ranch. However, while Ed is aware that Gil just purchased a horse, Judd is not, even though Gil had "test-ridden" the horse for a week before making his decision. Ed relishes the idea of seeing his former employer down in the dirt.

    Fate causes the first shift in the circumstances. Having played a dainty lady for her mother's benefit, Nora is anxious to ride, and quickly persuades Gil to let her ride the new horse back. Oddly, Gil promptly heads off to the livery stable, leaving his wife to adjust the saddle leathers to fit her legs. With his innate courtesy, Paladin offers to assist. Having seen that Ed tricked him about the horse, you would think that Judd would knock him into next week, but the fast-talking Ed not only avoids personal mayhem, he somehow persuades Judd that the trouble he'll get into for admitting to the trick will be worse than letting Mrs. Bordon take a fearful risk. The horse reacts as you would expect from having a mass of needles rammed into his back. Paladin cannot get control of the frantic beast, and it's only a matter of moments before Nora is thrown. The horse stumbles over her legs. (Obviously fake legs, but it's done quickly enough not to detract too much.)

    It looks as though half the town has gathered to await the doctor's visit. Among them, Paladin strikes a wrong note. We'll find later that they had a reason for showing that he smokes cigars, but cigars have a long association with festive occasions--engagements, weddings, births. Seeing Paladin casually puffing away among the apprehensive crowd makes him look indifferent. He's not, of course. He's interested in why a quiet horse would suddenly go beserk, and equally suddenly calm down again. Ed and Judd are worried about the way he looks at them. (It's quite possible that Paladin was already suspicious, but it's also possible that his look had been nothing more than a casual glance, and their guilt did the rest.) Ed tries to prevent him from getting close to the horse, but they're interrupted by Gil. His wife's legs are both broken, with a chance of permanent damage. He wants to know what happened. In the dead silence all around, Paladin steps forward and displays the burr (and a big, ugly one it is) he found under the saddle.

    Ed set the sitution in motion, but it is the quick-tempered Gil Bordon who turns it irrevocably onto the path leading to tragedy. He pulls his gun and makes it clear that someone is going to pay dearly for the prank. If Judd had been considering telling the truth, he's certainly too frightened to do so now. Perhaps as anxious to defuse this situation as to make some easy cash, Paladin offers his services, and Gil gladly accepts. Ed rushes to set the blame elsewhere--right on the stranger in town. As usual, Paladin's rationality gets nowhere--logic is swamped by the surge of emotion. Paladin has absolutely no motive for pulling such a stunt, and the accusation comes from a man Gil knows to be a troublemaker--knowledge that had just been recently refreshed. Nevertheless, he immediately accepts Ed's version of events, especially after Mickey steps forward and adds that he saw Paladin messing about with the saddle. Ed's twist on the situation changes it from a unfortunate accident to a malicious stranger deliberately arranging to cause a woman harm. Seeing that a reasoned discourse is not possible, Paladin pulls his gun, disperses the crowd, disarms the men carrying guns, and makes a rapid exit on Gil's new horse.

    One week later, Nora has improved to the point where she is at home and sitting up in a wheelchair. It's presumably early in the morning, and Gil prepares to commence yet another search for Paladin. They feel that they're getting close--they found one of his fancy cigars by the riverbank. (Very unlikely that Paladin would go dropping clues, so it's no surprise when we learn shortly that Paladin wants to be found.) Nora urges her husband to stay with her, but Gil is bent on extracting revenge for her, and assumes that she would have done the same in his place. Nora points out that she would first make certain that she was chasing the right man. Ed, who had come to the door to tell Gil of the cigar, sneeringly suggests that she has become captivated by Paladin. Gil immediately decks him. More evidence of his quick temper, perhaps, but you might expect a similar reaction from any husband. As well as being a troublemaker and a coward, Ed's not too bright. He insults an injured woman, under her own roof, right in front of her husband. Mickey, who is a witness, is also not too bright; he ignores the fact that Ed brought that punch on himself, and suggests that Ed quit the posse. Ed's malice, however, has grown. No longer content with causing arguments, fights, and such, he now wants to see Gil kill Paladin--at which point he will no doubt reveal the fact that Gil murdered an innocent man (making sure that all the blame falls on Judd, of course).

    After the posse rushes off, Paladin appears so promptly that it's amazing that the last couple of men did not see him. He quietly knocks and enters the ranch house, politely informing Nora that the "borrowed" horse has been returned. Nora could have screamed instantly, but obviously she has strong doubt of Paladin's guilt, and just makes the scream a tentative suggestion. Recognizing her hesitation, Paladin simply spreads his arms out and smiles. Nora asks him directly if he caused the accident, Paladin

    denies it, and Nora believes him. (It's in his eyes, don't you know.) He wants to speak with Judd, before the posse returns. Nora directs him out the back way when the cook shows up to tell her of the returned horse. Nora stalls him as best she can, but the cook still sees Paladin talking with Judd and rushes off to find Gil.

    In the barn, Paladin plays a remarkable one-man game of "Good cop, Bad cop", alternately reasoning and bellowing at Judd. It doesn't take long to get Judd badly rattled, and it slips out that the prank was to have been played, not on Gil, as Paladin had thought, but Mickey. Paladin taunts Judd into proving that he's not afraid by telling the truth. However, once the men are in the barn (and faced with Ed's cold stare) Judd backs down and accuses Paladin. Gil prepares to lynch him. Paladin loses his gun, but not his tongue; he rapidly needles Gil into fighting him one-on-one, in spite of Ed's frantic urging for Gil to shoot the unarmed man.

    It's not much of a contest (an angry man is at a disadvantage). Growing frantic at the sight of his battered employer and friend, Judd finally breaks down and confesses--including Ed's part in the proceedings. With the truth already out, Ed viciously draws and shoots the hapless man. Definitely not too bright--up to this point, the whole thing could have been passed off as an accident--a stupid accident, but an accident nonetheless. Judd's murder was utterly senseless. Everyone freezes. This next part was not very well done. I suppose they wanted to show off Paladin's speed and skill, but no man is faster than a bullet. (Well, there's You-Know-Who, but this is a different show.) Paladin feints to one side, and Ed fires and misses. That's possible, but Paladin then takes a long dive across the barn, snatches up his gun, and shoots Ed, who had plenty of time to shoot him. It would have been more plausible if Paladin had slipped out his little derringer. It would also have worked well if one of the other men had fired when Paladin distracted Ed. Or even if all the men had fired, but I doubt if that kind of mass violence would have been allowed.

    Far too late, Gil recognizes the part he played in this mess, and brokenly asks Paladin how he can set things right, but there is no easy answer. They leave the barn, as the other men gather around Judd's body. There's a nice little touch here. Paladin's dive had caused him to crash into Mickey, who disappeared off-screen. It's not likely that anyone would have noticed or cared if Mickey simply walked over, but they showed him more or less being carried by one of the bigger men, and rubbing at his neck.

    The ending was too "up" for me--especially since this show does not flinch at unhappy endings. In the trip from barn to house, Gil has apparently found his "easy answer"--two thousand dollars. He and Paladin come quite cheerfully into the house to face a frantic Nora. No mention of the two dead men, no explanation of the gunshots that undoubtedly caused her panic. Gil has gotten what he deserved--a few bruises for the life of his ranch hand, and Paladin will get his payment for the job he performed. Paladin hands the money to Nora to help pay for her medical expenses. He has already recommended that she see a certain doctor in San Francisco--a man of great medical skill, but poor poker sense. Paladin anticipates getting his pay back in very short order. One can only hope that Gil will learn to contol his temper.moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • When Paladin hands Gil his card, the close-up has Gil holding the card parallel with the ground. The camera then cuts to a medium shot, and Gil is instantly holding it at a 45 degree angle to the ground and tilted away from him.

  • QUOTES (4)

    • Nora: Thank you. And please forgive my husband's temper. Sometimes I think he'd rather fight than eat.
      Paladin: Well, that's. uh, good for the waistline, hard on the knuckles.

    • (Standing over Nora Borden's broken suitcase and scattered clothes)
      Paladin: Well, I'll be glad to help--
      Gil Borden: We'll manage without your help!
      Nora: Don't take him so seriously, honey! (To Paladin) You know, my husband isn't always as hotheaded as this--just during his waking hours.

    • (Gil Borden crouches over Judd's body)
      Gil: What can I do, Paladin? What can I do to make up for all this?
      Paladin: You want an easy answer, don't you?

    • Gil Borden: Here ya are, Paladin. It's not enough for the misery I caused you.
      Paladin: Well, here's the one that suffered the misery. I want you to take this. Miz Borden? For your medical expenses.
      Nora: I...really--
      Paladin: Don't worry about it. I'll get it back.
      Nora: How will you get it back?
      Paladin: That doctor I told you about. In San Francisco? He's a first rate doctor--but he's a second rate poker player.

  • NOTES (0)