I suspect that the reviewer was not particularly familiar with the show. He referred to the "gimmick" of a second gun. Anyone who has watched even a few episodes of "Have Gun" knows that Paladin's little derringer is not a gimmick--it's S.O.P. As soon as Paladin lost control of his signature gun, regular viewers would have been watching for the appearance of the derringer just when it was needed.
It's a rather eye-popping opening. The Carleton is a respectable hotel. While poker is not forbidden, games are conducted in private rooms. The same can be said for Paladin's constant parade of nubile young women. Yet here we see, in one of the Carleton's public rooms, with open doors through which anyone can look in, the sort of scene you would expect to find in a saloon or poker palace. Smoke, booze, cards, and provocatively dressed young women. The only difference is that the people are more expensively dressed. And Paladin is right in the middle of it all.
You would expect that the modestly dressed, disapproving young woman standing at the threshold would stalk away in righteous indignation, but she is determined to speak with Paladin, in spite of Hey Boy's assurance that she's wasting her time. (Welcome back, Hey Boy--we've missed you!) Paladin has just returned from a long, arduous job. While Hey Boy was obviously exaggerating when he said that Paladin had not slept in two months, Paladin is exhausted--to the point where he cannot easily fall asleep. Apparently drink and debauchery is his prescription for insomnia. (I can't help wondering if the Carleton would have permitted this poker party if it had been anyone else but Paladin who requested it. Paladin gets away with an awful lot at the Carleton.)
The young woman "casts her bread upon the waters" in the form of a couple of gold coins (one, presumably, for Hey Boy), which succeeds in catching Paladin's attention. He hands over his cigar, drink and poker hand to the young woman ensconced on his lap, and goes to see what's what. The young woman's disapproval does nothing to maintain his interest. He's openly startled when she takes him firmly by the arm and drags him over to a nearby settee, introducing herself as Adella Liggett. Paladin unceremoniously thrusts a bottle into her hands so that he can extract a card and hand it to her. Adella has already seen one of his cards, tacked up in her brother's study as a reminder of Satan's presence in the world. I loved how Paladin snatched the bottle back as soon as she mentioned her brother was a preacher--did he fear a temperance lecture? Adella is a professional nurse, which, even after Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, was still apparently regarded as an unsavory profession for a woman to undertake. Adella had presumably done so in the face of her brother's disapproval. She had come to Paladin thinking that Satan's representative would not be concerned at the idea of a woman nurse. This tickles Paladin's wit, and he asks what Satan can do for her. The town of Goldfield, Nevada had just lost the only doctor in a hundred mile radius, and Adelle, fresh from four years of training and full of zeal, wants to offer her services. She was disappointed, but not daunted, by the fact that the town only wants a doctor, not a nurse, even in the face of a mining accident that has left a great many injured. Presumably a doctor will make his way there sooner or later, but she intends to give what help she can, whether they like it or not. Paladin wants a day to get himself rested, but Adella, having seen how he was "resting", insists that they get underway immediately.
After sixty miles' travel, the weary Paladin decides to stop for the day. Adella is surprised, as they only have a few hours more to go. She overlooks his concern for the horses, and sniffs at his need for rest. Paladin is quite aware of why she does not want to stop for the night, and assures her that even if she did rouse his carnal impulses, he's too tired to act on them. It's hard to say whether Adella was more shocked at Paladin openly speaking of such matters, or his implication that she has not--yet, at least--"roused" him.
Starting to tether the horses, Paladin spots smoke from a campfire nearby. He sees no reason why they should intrude on their temporary neighbors, but the new nurse is anxious to see if anyone has need of her aid, and marches off to see. Paladin does not quite mutter imprecations under his breath as he gathers the horses and follows, but he's plainly restraining himself. They come upon two men putting the last few rocks on top of a grave. The younger one squats beside it, staring silently. The older man, Deke (excellently played by George Kennedy) is full of good fellowship and piety. Paladin, not unnaturally, wants to know what's been going on. Deke says they've just buried their partner, "Lucifer" Blake, who had been hit in the back with an Indian arrow. Adella, not surprisingly for a nurse, is full of sympathy, but Paladin is full of suspicion--which is not lessened by his discovery that the man's boots and coat, and possibly more, had been stripped off before burial. The boots look nearly new, and pragmatic Deke sees no reason why they should be left to moulder with their owner. He hastily bids the other man, Reamer, to show hospitality by offering the lady some water, and mentions, almost as an afterthought, that they have had no food for three days. Adella at once offers to share some of their supplies. She obviously expects Paladin to object, but he, while looking irritated, lets it slide. Reamer brings the saddlebags and dives into them, shocking Adella and rousing her sympathy further. Deke deprecatingly says that they would be satisfied with some scraps. Paladin, meanwhile, notes that Blake's coat has no sign of an arrow hole in the back, and Deke quickly states that the attack took place at noon, when it was warm enough not to need a coat. Adella is outraged at Paladin's suspicions, but Paladin goes on to question why, if the attack took place at noon, they had just now finished burying him?
Deke dithers, but only a bit; he says that Blake took a while to die, and then digging the grave and hauling rocks took some time. (Paladin's attitude seems to indicate that he thinks the idea of a noon attack is questionable. Also, there is no discussion as to what Deke and Reamer did in the face of the attack--did they fight? Did they run? Was it just one lone sniper who fled after killing just one of them?) Deke starts to wonder if Paladin is a lawman, which of course causes Paladin to wonder why he would think that. Deke offers to let Paladin take Blake's papers to the authorities. He stands, hat in hand, beside the grave, with his eyes closed and an expression of extreme piety on his face, which vanishes as Paladin comments that when he reports at the nearest town (50 miles further on) they will send men back for Deke and Reamer. Why should men be sent, as they've done nothing wrong? As far as Paladin's concerned, if they've done nothing wrong--which is becoming more and more doubtful--there's no reason to object to an investigation. And after all, they're stuck out in the middle of nowhere without food or horses, they're going to need assistance. Reamer, who has been pretty quiet up to this point, suddenly decides to take offence at Paladin's implications, which he takes as an accusation. Paladin points out that his duty as a citizen demands that he report the situation and let it be investigated, but Reamer ignores this; he's itching for fight. So does Adella, who is more concerned with feelings than with logic or duty. Deke is willing to let bygones be bygones--if Paladin apologizes. Paladin doesn't see that he's done anything worth apologizing for, but, egged on by Adella's indignant comments, allows that he apologizes IF he's wrong.
Reamer decides that he needs to defend his honor, pulls a knife, and jumps at Paladin's back. Paladin probably didn't need Adella's scream to warn him; he whips about and shoots the boy in the arm. Reamer immediately falls, holding his arm out and gasping in agony. (I have seen others, including Paladin and Sheriff Maude Smuggly, take a bullet in the arm without reacting so hard.) Paladin quietly walks over to the horses and fetches Adella's medical bag. Adella promptly forgets that Reamer initiated the attack, and accuses Paladin of shooting an unarmed boy. Paladin waves Reamer's knife at her, which she takes and puts in her bag. Some little time later, Deke comments on her tender care, and implies that Reamer had been kicked out of his home by his mother at an early age. Paladin, who has been lying quietly close by, abruptly asks if Deke has the arrow that killed Blake. Deke gets very exasperated; they left the arrow where it was, being afraid to pull it out and cause more harm. Adella comments acidly that she's glad that Paladin is not a good shot; the arm was not broken. Paladin dryly informs her that the bullet went just where he wanted it to. This gets Deke worked up again, and Paladin pulls his gun before Deke's anger spills over. Deke acknowledges Paladin's speed, and makes a point of tossing away the stick he had been carrying, so as to make Paladin feel safer. Adella furiously implies that Paladin needs his gun in order to feel like a man. You can see that Paladin is getting almighty annoyed with her constant put-downs, but keeps silent. Deke seemingly tries to smooth Adella's ruffled feathers, but goes on to imply that Paladin is a suspicious, evil-thinking man, who, as a result, has to be good with a gun. He settles himself for sleep, reminding Paladin to awaken him when he's ready to start shooting. Reamer offers to take Adella wherever she wants to go, so that she does not have to stay with Paladin, but Adella gently refuses, thinking that Paladin cannot help being the way he is. Paladin restrains himself some more and keeps silent.
Some time later, Reamer speaks to Adella about his mother. The impression is that he did not leave home until Deke came on the scene and told Reamer that his mother was an evil woman. Reamer does not really seem to think so, and we can take anything Deke says with a large grain of salt. He says that he dreams of her, the face of an angel--only her face is Adella's. Adella, flattered, overlooks the fact that he's only known her a few hours. Paladin listening to this with an disgusted look on his face, suddenly gets up and walks over to Deke, nudging him with his toe. His curiosity has gotten the better of him, and he wants to see the body. Deke is annoyed, but agreeable, if it will ease Paladin's suspicions. Adella sighs over a man who cannot trust anyone. Reamer abruptly complains that he's burning up, and begs Adella to fetch some snow from a patch just over yonder--out of sight. Once she has bustled off, Reamer quickly retrieves his knife from her bag and hides it.
Adella returns with the snow, and begins patting it on Reamer's face. Deke asks Paladin--purely hypothetically, of course--what he would do if he didn't find the arrow. Paladin is now satisfied that his suspicions were correct, but he draws his gun and insists that Deke continue to open the grave. Reamer puts his knife to Adella's throat, and her startled cry distracts Paladin enough that Deke can hit his arm with a rock, making him drop the gun. Paladin nevertheless gets the better of Deke, but there's Reamer and Adella to consider. Deke collects Paladin's gun, threatening to use it. Reamer, still holding Adella hostage, assures her that Deke is only joking. Paladin seems to think so, too--he stands there, smiling at Deke. Perhaps it's satisfaction that he was right about them, or perhaps it's just that he knows something Deke doesn't. We see his hands drift to the front of his gun belt. It's just a matter of time before that derringer makes its appearance.After Deke steps over to them, Reamer lets Adella go and goes to fetch the horses.
Both Deke and Reamer have been interesting characters. Deke seems open and friendly, casually spouting bits from the Bible with an easy piety, but you can at the sort of man he really is, with his quick looks, sudden bursts of anger, and sly digs hidden behind a sympathetic manner. Reamer is another matter. At first, one gets the impression that he's a youngster caught in the sway of Deke's charismatic personality. His attack on Paladin could have simply been a boy flexing his testosterone, so to speak. Even taking Adella hostage could simply have arisen from his desperation to get away. At the end, however, he shows that he's as twisted as Deke, as he looks at the woman who gave him food, cared for his injury and offered him constant sympathy--and proposes to rape her. The only reason Deke puts him off is that he's in a hurry to get away. Paladin suggests that perhaps they might send men and horses back for Adella and himself--but Deke assures him that it won't be necessary. Adella, her last illusions gone, cries out in protest, and Paladin, with an expression that suggests that he knew it would come to this all along, brings up the little derringer and shoots Deke off the horse. Adella screams--it's been a very tense evening, after all--but does not succumb to hysteria. Reamer, unbelieveably, drops down at her feet and starts begging her not to let "him" take him away. Adella simply looks at him in shock, and Paladin matter-of-factly hauls him away from her.
It's hard to tell if they waited until morning to get under way, and we don't see if they took time to bury Deke, but they probably did. Paladin asks Adella where she wants to go. Adella, rather shamefaced, thinks that Paladin believes that she should go home and stop forcing herself in where she isn't wanted. Paladin might have found her exasperating, but he no doubt admires her strength and boundless compassion. He will take her to where she is needed. They set off, Reamer trotting behind them, tied to Paladin's horse. It's going to be an awfully long walk for him.
A wonderful episode. All the characters played off each other very well. I can't imagine what that reviewer was thinking.