The Virginian

Season 5 Episode 22


Aired Wednesday 7:30 PM Feb 22, 1967 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (2)

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  • Introducing Susan Clark

    Instead of reviewing this episode, I would almost prefer to review the lead guest star, a very young Susan Clark. Clark, born Nora Golding, is a Canadian actress who has gone on to achieve notable successes in film and television. While this appearance on The Virginian is not her first acting credit, it was her first significant role in Hollywood.

    One has to understand that even after the studio system changed, companies like Universal, which owned and produced The Virginian, still put young actors under multi-year contracts. Susan Clark was one of those new young talents that Universal was grooming for success in a slew of projects and what better way to promote her and help audiences become familiar with her than to give her a pivotal role on an episode of this highly rated western.

    Susan Clark's first feature film would not be released by Universal until July of 1967, about five months after the initial airing of this episode. Probably Universal had NBC rerun it in the summer close to the premiere of 'Banning,' in which Clark plays a supporting role in a Robert Wagner-Jill St. John melodrama. Later, in the fall of 67, Universal would assign her a two-episode role in Ben Gazzara's hit show Run for Your Life. So her career was off and running. Other more prestigious projects like 'Coogan's Bluff' and 'Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here' would quickly follow.

    It is interesting to note that while Susan Clark fared very well in Universal film projects during the late 60s and early 70s, she began to find a real niche in TV movies in the mid-70s and by the 80s, she had segued into a long-running role on her own television series, Webster, which costarred her husband Alex Karras.

    But it is this very early appearance on The Virginian that is so fascinating to watch. Her performance is pitch-perfect as a society girl with a short time to live who invariably finds love with ranch hand Trampas (Doug McClure). She is required to play the role icily and warmly as a woman who has decided to embrace what time she has left in order to live life to the fullest. The ending of this episode where she is forced to break Trampas' heart is truly heart-wrenching.
  • Trampas falls in love and comes as close to a happy ending as most series regulars ever will.

    Susan Clark was an actress who 40-some years ago was known for her upper crust style sexiness, as she exhibited in films like 'Tell Them Willie Boy is Here' opposite a laconic Robert Redford and 'Coogan's Bluff' (the film that gave birth to the series 'McCloud') opposite an even more laconic Clint Eastwood. Melanie is the role that claims to "introduce" her to the TV audience, and it was a nice, juicy one that ran the gamut of emotions.

    Clark's Melanie is stuck up and out of place when she arrives with her father in Medicine Bow to stay at the Shiloh Ranch. We know there's something not quite right going on by the veiled conversation between father and daughter. Either she's had some sort of doomed love affair or she's been involved in some scandal back home in Chicago. Or . . . it's the dreaded unknown fatal disease that leaves its victims looking vibrant and gorgeous until they're pretty much struck down dead.

    The latter is the case. But Trampas doesn't know that as he starts off being insulted (she gives him a tip for carrying her bag), then intrigued, and finally charmed by the pretty guest with the ridiculously diverse wardrobe. (Why did the series regulars wear the same outfit over and over, while guest stars were rarely seen wearing the same thing twice?) There's plenty of time to flesh out their feelings, as this is the focal point of the episode, and no scenes are wasted on useless sub-plots. We see her struggling with whether or not she should allow herself to get this-close to the ranch hand, and for a brief instant she vacillates over his proposal of marriage. But ultimately she says yes, so plans are made to announce the engagement. Everybody's happy: Melanie's father, who wants her to have a couple years of wedded bliss; Grainger, who wants his pal's daughter to find some happiness without breaking Trampas' heart in the balance (someone he professes to think of like a son!); Elizabeth, who gets to shine all the silver for the engagement party. Even The Virginian seems okay with the fact that Trampas is spending more time on picnics and buggy rides than mending fences or rounding up cattle.

    A little kid played by one of the Howard boys (Clint, in this case) and his runt puppy are the plot device that figure in the tragic denouement. We never know whether Trampas figures out why she jilts him so abruptly, but since Melanie will probably never be mentioned again, we can write our own postscript. Maybe Grainger takes pity on Trampas and tells him the truth after Melanie's departure . . . but too late to change her decision to go home to die. Would Trampas be angry with being left out of that decision? Maybe no more angry than being dumped in front of all his pals.

    We'll never know. The episode takes the easy way out. But it's still entertaining while it lasts, watching Trampas pick out a piece of land for a homestead and figure out how he's going to keep his spoiled bride happy on his $30 a month. We learn some Trampas backstory about the loss of his own mother and the nomadic lifestyle he had with his gambler father, and we're led to believe he actually kept a rather large cameo necklace that belonged to his mother all these years, a gift he bestows on Melanie and she secretly slips in his saddle bag before she leaves.

    All in all, the episode tells a pretty satisfying story of the tragic love affair of one of the series regulars. Considering the foregone conclusion (something *has* to happen to break them up, after all), it's worth watching all the way through.