The episode starts oddly; Paladin is in the lobby with a gun drummer and a really bad attitude. It's hard to see why. After all, he's dealt with salesmen before. Perhaps he's dealt with this particular one before. (That would make for an interesting recurring character.) His excuses are lame, also. Surely while on the trail for long periods he does not rely solely on canned beans, and he has made previous references to hunting. The man shortly gives Paladin a reason to be annoyed; he idiotically loads two cartridges in the shotgun and starts waving it around a busy hotel lobby. At this point, Hey Girl interrupts with a letter. (I suspect that, for whatever reason, her voice was dubbed by someone else; the pitch was higher than I've heard her speak anywhere else, and it was almost stereotypically Oriental, sounding like "Mr. Pala-Tin" rather than Hey Girl's educated English.) Paladin makes a silly comment about unloaded guns being more dangerous than loaded ones, which I assume was a sarcastic slam at the drummer. The letter is not a typical cry for help; the sheriff of Arroyo, California, suggests that he might find it interesting to check out the varmints that have infested the town. The drummer seizes his chance for one last pitch, and Paladin's reaction is startling. It's rather like Bruce Wayne having a bystander casually mention that he knows that Wayne is also Batman. It makes no sense, for by now many people must know that Mr. Paladin, San Francisco fop, is also Paladin, Gunslinger Deluxe. Not to mention the fact that Paladin mentioned his profession just moments before. Paladin makes a point of carefully unloading the shotgun before making his exit. The only explanation I can think of is that Paladin, with either of his guns, and hunting men or meat, is a sharpshooter, and is deeply offended at the notion that he would choose a weapon that fires a wide spray at the target.
In Arroyo, (with his beautifully crafted rifle with its embossed chess knight in full view) Paladin is perplexed to find the town quiet and seemingly normal. He finds the sheriff's office empty, but two men are more than happy to direct him to the nearby feed building. Paladin ambles in that direction. A shot from the building sends him scrambling over a water trough (always handy cover in the street). After carefully retrieving his hat (just the thing to worry about when you're under fire), Paladin makes his way to the building, nearly getting a faceful of shot through a window before slipping around to the door and getting a faceful of shotgun in the hands of a small, scruffy woman. Paladin introduces himself, and gingerly extracts the letter. Approaching for a closer look, the woman gets her gun nabbed. Far from being upset, she laughs approvingly and introduces herself as Maude Smuggly, Sheriff. A man named Yates had shown up, trying to buy up property. When that failed, he returned and tried to claim it in the name of the railroad. (Either Yates is a fool or he thought that the town was; he should have waited a while and sent someone else to negotiate.) Maude's sheriff husband led the fight against Yates, leading to his death and three others. Somewhere in the commotion, it came out that there was oil in the vicinity. Maude doesn't understand the fuss. Paladin points out that people are finding valuable uses for it, and asks why she won't sell. Her reply is succinct: "I don't like the way they ask." Offering him coffee, she mentions that Yates sent a man to her place to kill her. One of my books on Richard Boone describes this episode as played strictly for laughs, but I disagree. The scene where Maude quietly, almost wearily, describes how she buried the man where she killed him, because he was too big to drag away, is very potent. Paladin's expression as he listens is subtly done. He forgets to drink his coffee until she's finished, which is a good thing, as it would have shattered the mood. The humor resumes, as his eyes bulge and he chokes. Maude is not one for the sissy notion of throwing out old coffee and making fresh; she builds on the foundation. However, she is willing to thin it with whiskey. When Paladin learns that she uses the same still to make whiskey, crude oil and kerosene ("keeps the lamps happy") he quietly puts down his cup and we see nothing more pass his lips.
On to business. Maude wants to deal with Yates and his gang the simplest way possible, and offers one hundred dollars a head, then hikes it to a thousand. Paladin is oddly outraged at her unbusinesslike behavior: one only doubles the prices when bargaining. It's a moot point anyway, as he will not kill for money. Jeanette Nolan launches into a superb performance. First she snaps that there is no law and order in the town, then she gets this lovely quaver in her voice and begins moaning about the poor widow woman, five husbands gone, no one to turn to...all the while she is peeking at Paladin, trying to gaudge his reaction. Paladin is listening, not too patiently. No dice. Maude suggests that he escort her to the saloon, so that she can buy him a farewell drink. It quickly becomes clear that Maude is waiting--and hoping--that something will happen that will force Paladin to take a hand. The same two men emerge from the saloon, one leaving to tell Yates. The other starts to needle Paladin, arrogantly mentioning his name, Ted Greve, as one Paladin should know. Paladin takes his time mulling it over, then reveals that he not only knows Greve, he knows of his humiliation in Aibilene. Greve naturally goes for his gun, but Paladin is shocked when Maude beats them both. They probably should have cut in the camera a little tighter, because Greve merely pitches forward, and lies there like any other dead body we've seen. Paladin describes him, more realistically, as having been virtually sawn in half. He's outraged at what was the next best thing to a bushwhacking (which bothers Maude not at all) but given what he said to Greve, in front of a woman (and whoever was listening inside the saloon) he had to have known someone was going to die in the next two seconds or so. Pragmatic Maude points out that Paladin now looks like he's firmly on her side, and suggests that he take cover. She herself goes to her office.
With the first shot, Paladin concedes that she has a point. He probably thought he was going to have to break the door down, but Maude courteously opens it for him. Paladin hurtles across the room with such force he almost goes up the wall, and drops back with a dazed look. Maude points out again that, like it or not, he's stuck in the situation, and abruptly asks if he's married. Paladin gives her an exasperated, "what's that got to do with anything?" look and shakes his head. Maude lowers her gaze. I love this moment, because in the next instant it becomes very clear just what she was looking at when she said "I like the way you move." Ooooh, yeah. Sheriff Maude is prepared to face the bad guys with Paladin, shoulder to shoulder. However, Paladin, whose male ego has been getting bruised, asserts his manhood and orders the female to take shelter in the back cell, behind two locked doors, prepared to shoot the first man who manages to get through. Maude protests, and Paladin repeats the order. Maude listens to this masterful, masculine statement, then makes a motherly inquiry as to whether he got nicked by the gunfire. With her expression, and her tone of voice, she deftly reduces Paladin to a five-year-old. ("Diddums get a boo-boo?") Paladin knows it, too; his reply is irritated. Once back in the cell, Maude unlocks the window (bit dangerous, that; if she can unlock it, a prisoner could pick it) and crawls through.
Yates finally makes his appearance. He plans to kill Paladin, the dangerous one, first (more fool him), allow Maude to escape town, then kill her out on the roads. Paladin, however, isn't obliging enough to answer Yates' invitation to come out and leave. The resulting gunfire leaves Yates dead. Paladin steps out and brings down another gang member (a nice stunt by Hal Needham, although you can see him spring forward a little from the roof). Another shot rings out, and he spins to learn that Maude just saved him from a backshot. Maude steps out onto the outside staircase, and promptly falls down it (another good Needham stunt, although the initial trip looked contrived). Paladin comes to her side, and thereby pays her back when the man she shot revives enough to fire. Paladin deflects his aim, but Maude still gets it in the arm. He scoops her up and carries her to her office. (No mention of a doctor.)
Bandaged and lubricated with what looks like a fairly decent brand of alcohol, Maude coyly suggests that he would make a good sheriff (Paladin does not even snort a response to this) because after all, sheriffing's no job for a woman. In the case of Maude Smuggly, Paladin begs to differ. She then goes on to imply that she'll be needing a sixth husband. Historic moment, folks: presumably this is Paladin's first marriage proposal. He respectfully declines. No hard feelings, she needs someone a bit older and wiser, anyway. We learn, to no great surprise, that her nephew is the ubiquitous, incomparable Monk. That's two uncles, a mother, and an aunt that we know of; wonder if any more relatives are lurking about? Charming to the last, as he is with all women, Paladin takes his leave. Maude urges him to come back for a visit. It may be a coincidence that he spurs his horse into high gear just after she mentions that the coffee is always on....
Wonder how far he got before he realized that he hadn't gotten paid?