Twilight Zone episodes generally have a moral, but I fail to see any moral in this one. What exactly is the point? What are they trying to tell us, if anything? Maybe it's that actors are often not as tough as the characters they portray, but so what? That's why they're called actors. And maybe they're trying to tell us that Old West villains sometimes get a bad rap, blah! blah! Okay, maybe "Jesse" wasn't Charles Manson, but he was a menace to society, so let's stop the lionizing please! The late Larry Blyden was not an untalented hack, and played the part well as Rance McGrew, the tough lawman who always got the best of "Jesse" in each episode of his fictional TV series, but Arch Johnson, otherwise a fine actor, was badly miscast as the Old West outlaw, who shows up to make sure that Rance's TV series gives Jesse and his friends their due, so-called. I agree that James Best would have made a fine Jesse James, as would James Stacy, or even Mr. Blyden himself. They all looked the part much better than Johnson, who might have made a good marshal. The silly plot is compensated for somewhat by the entertainment value.
Many Twilight Zone afficionados consider Showdown with Rance McGrew to be one of the weaker episodes of the entire series and I concur with this assessment for the most part. Although the episode itself is not very good it's mostly a case of an interesting concept being ruined by poor casting. The script itself, which has the ghost of Western outlaw Jesse James haunting a no-talent actor over how James is being portrayed on the TV screen, is actually interesting and original. Unfortunately, a good idea got ruined by weak casting and the episode becomes a mess.
They should have cast a then current cowboy star as Rance McGrew. Either Jack Kelly from Maverick or Eric Fleming from Rawhide would have been great in the role. Almost anything would have been better than Larry Blyden, an untalented hack who eventually became a game show host because it was the only way he could get work in Hollywood. I didn't find Arch Johnson very believable in the role of Jesse James either. Johnson was a decent enough character actor from the 60's who was the wrong choice here. James Best should have been cast as Jesse James. He would have played the hell out of the role especially if he had been opposite someone like Fleming or Kelly.
Though it's always interesting to speculate about what might have been we're stuck with what we have on the screen. Showdown with Rance McGrew is a lesser entry in a great series. Skip it if you want to see what the Twilight Zone is really about.
Television actor Rance McGrew is a man who proves impossible to deal with on the set of the Western themed television show of which he is the star. One day while filming a scene, he receives a rude awakening when he is transported to the Old West.
While bad episodes of "The Twilight Zone" are very rare, this is definitely one of them. I believe this episode ranks along with another third season episode titled "A Piano in the House," as one of the worst of the series. The episode is poorly written. Jesse James is angry with McGrew because of the inaccurate portrayals on the show. Yet the "true" portrayals as seen in this episode are even worse in my opinion. The scene at the end revealing Jesse James to be McGrew's agent is just ridiculous. McGrew claims never to have had an agent! Terrible episode.
Not one of the brighter moments of the series but calling Larry Blyden an untalented hack is just plain ridiculous. I agree that Blyden wasn't right for the part & neither was Arch Johnson as Jesse James. The idea of having Eric Fleming & James Best as the main characters might actually have worked to the shows advantage. The episode does have a few laughable moments but that's about it. Larry Blyden gave a much better performance in his earlier episode A Nice Place To Visit. Ironically, Rod Serling was asked to play the part of Rocky Valentine but turned it down.
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