Well, I've got a spare hour here. It was either write a review or watch an episode of Danger Theatre. And since I wrote my initial review, I've been watching Trackdown at the rate of two episodes a week as it airs at 8/7 central on Saturday mornings on MeTV. And while the series is generally pretty good, not every episode needs a review. Plus, I have a life. Even if a lot of it is writing reviews and recaps for current shows. :)

To recap: Trackdown is a 1957-1959 two season half-hour Western, starring Robert Culp as Hoby Gilman, a Texas Ranger who also works as the acting sheriff of the town of Porter. The episodes alternate between when Hoby leaves town to do something Ranger-y, and when he sits in Porter and deals with its trials and tribulations.


This approach gives Trackdown a variety, which probably helps make it entertaining. Instead of sitting around getting bored of Porter the way you might of Dodge City or the Ponderosa, about half the time Hoby hits the road. But he's got a "home base" to go back to for regular adventures, unlike the Mavericks or Jim West or Paladin. Yes, Paladin had the Hotel Carlton and Jim and Artie had the Wanderer, but it's not like they had full-length adventures there.

I've been watching Trackdown and generally been happier with the non-Porter episodes than the Porter episodes. The show works better when Hoby is a lone lawman in a town with no one to turn to. The Porter episodes so far tend to get a bit... preachy. In "Outlaw's Wife", people give the ex-wife of an outlaw who comes back to Porter the cold shoulder. In the next episode, "Chinese Cowboy", they do the same thing to a Chinese launderer (played by Keye Luke). Hoby is always the voice of reason, and you get the impression that the most of the Porter townspeople are... well, they're dicks.


Even one of the main recurring characters, Henrietta Porter (Ellen Corby, The Waltons) is kind of a dick. In "The Set Up", for instance, Hoby goes after the guy she hopes to marry when the guy acts really suspicious and a bank robbery occurs in town. Henrietta is the town newspaperwoman, and runs a series of exposes to run Hoby out of town. Yeah, she apologizes in the end when Hoby is proven right (again). But given they're supposedly friends and all, you'd think she'd give him a little leeway. Especially since his deputy Ralph (the ever-supporting Norman Leavitt) gets shot and almost killed during the robbery.

So while it's nice seeing Hoby have a home base to go back to so that he can have more standard home town adventures as acting sheriff, it's a bit disturbing and monotonous to see him cast as the lone voice of reason over and over and over again. Maybe it's just a repetitive period in the show's episodes (late 1st, early 2nd season), but it's really tedious.

That brings us to this week's MeTV episodes, "Matter of Justice" and "Tenner Smith." "Matter" is one of the "Hoby goes to another town" episodes. He helped clean up the town of Talpa a year ago. They call Hoby back when they capture an alleged bank robber. The bank robber, John Quince, keeps saying that his two buddies will return to Talpa, free him, and shoot up the town. There are only two witnesses to confirm that Quince robbed the bank: a really nervous saloon girl Mavis that is afraid for her life. And a young boy, Johnny, who is eager to testify and be a hero like Hoby.


Problem is, Mavis walks out of town rather than risk her life. And Johnny's mother reveals that Quince is her ex-husband, and Johnny's father. So at the end, Hoby refuses to let Johnny testify against the man who (he doesn't know) is his father. However, he grabs a wanted poster, tells the departing Quince that he can arrest him anyway because he's on a wanted poster. Quince draws and Hoby guns him down, and we see that the poster was for someone else entirely. At the end, Hoby just tells Johnny to basically shut up and not ask any questions, and takes the boy home. The end.

What's nice about the episode is how much is unsaid and undetermined. We never find out if Quince is the robber. Hoby keeps saying that Quince's buddies abandoned him. But... there's some guy Dorcas who rides into town and Hoby suspects that he's one of the buddies. He questions Dorcas and puts him face-to-face with Quince, and figures that they're not connected. But then Hoby tells Dorcas to get the hell out of town. Dorcas basically says, "to hell with this" and rides out. And... we never do find out if he was with Quince or not.

The townspeople are all afraid that the two other robbers will return, and they slowly start turning against Hoby. The guy who volunteers as deputy suggests they let Quince go and the normally imperturbable Hoby rips off his deputy badge and tells him to get out. At the end, one witness walks and the other one would be traumatized for life if he testified against his father. That and all the whiny townspeople lead Hoby to release Quince but bluff him into drawing so that he can gun him down. At the end, you get the impression that Hoby isn't too proud of what he's done.


Add to this Steve Brodie as Quince. Brodie is one of those "Hey it's that guy!" guys that was in pretty much everything from 1944 until 1988. Including such "classics" as The Wild World of Batwoman, which was duly enshrined on MST3K. His character Quince guy laughs. A lot. He's got a front-row seat to everything that's going on from his prison cell window. We're supposed to assume he's guilty, because he acts so guilty. But maybe he just likes laughing and can't help making himself look guilty as hell.

I also like that for once, Hoby is pretty much locked down by the law. Usually he's a big upholder of the law and he turns out to be right. Hoby so far is all, "Well, I can't do anything because he hasn't broken any law." Here, the law pretty much traps him. He's got no witnesses, his prisoner is either an innocent dick or a guilty dick, the townspeople are afraid, and if Hoby doesn't free Quince then his buddies may or may not ride into town and shoot the place up. Sucks to be Hoby.

The second episode, "Tenner Smith," feels like a backdoor pilot. And maybe it was. Maverick came along a couple of years later, and Trackdown backdoor-piloted Wanted: Dead or Alive so it's not like Trackdown never did it. Plus, Hoby really doesn't do anything in it. He gets knocked over the head and later is disarmed and forced to sit there and just watch the climactic showdown.


Why Maverick? Because the title character Tenner Smith is a wandering gambler. He often tosses off pithy sayings that you could easily put "My pappy used to say" at the beginning. Tenner isn't big on confrontation and doesn't carry a six-gun (although he has a derringer for "emergencies"). He meanders into Porter and gets into a card game with a young trail hand, played by George Brenlin, who also played a twerp picking on Michael Landon in the first season's "The Pueblo Kid." He looks a little like a very young Peter Falk and is another of those "Hey, it's that guy" (HITG) guys.

In any case, Brenlin's character Del objects to being cheated and Tenner shoots him in the arm with his derringer. Del goes whining to his trail boss, Fred Creight (Walter Sande, another HITG). Fred has no choice in front of his men but to call on Hoby to hand Tenner over. Hoby refuses since all the witnesses confirm that Tenner didn't cheat and the shooting was clean, and Fred threatens to have his men shoot up the town.

After a "You should really ride out"/"But I didn't do anything wrong and I like it here" conversation, Hoby rides out to the trail hands' camp. They sucker-punch Hoby and send him back to Porter tied to his horse. Tenner tends to him, he and Hoby banter a bit more, and then Hoby takes the gambler along to confront Fred. They all end up at the saloon, and Fred decides to determine if Tenner cheats by having him play a hand of cards with Del. If Tenner loses, Hoby turns him over to Fred. If Del loses, Tenner goes free.


Tenner loses but Fred decides, "Hey, he would have cheated to save his life and won" and therefore figures that Tenner is innocent. Del goes for his gun, Hoby does dick-all nothing, and Fred guns Del down. At the end, Tenner buys the saloon and shares a glass of champagne with Hoby. And demonstrates that he could have cheated but didn't because he isn't a cheating kind of guy except when he goes up against people who deserve to be cheated. Tenner pretty much dares Hoby to catch him cheating in the future, they share champagne and a hearty laugh, fall into bed together (no, wait, that's just me and the writer's bromance vibe), and the end. Except Tenner then became another recurring character on the show's second season.

Although Hoby does wake up in Tenner's bed. He's fully dressed, admittedly, but then he and Tenner argue over Tenner's coffee like an old married couple.


Along the way, Henrietta shows up to pull a dick move again, telling Hoby that the townspeople won't be happy if the trail hands tear up Porter. And again, we see Hoby pretty much trapped by the law. He can't kick Tenner out of town because Tenner apparently hasn't done anything wrong. But he can't disobey the townspeople, either, or let the trail hands tear up Porter. He's between a rock and a hard place, and really doesn't do anything to resolve the situation. That's why it seems like a backdoor pilot: Hoby is pretty superfluous to the plot.

Peter Leeds, another HITG actor, is a delight as Tenner. He's suave, debonair, has a back story to go with his name (he won a high-stakes poker game with four 10s), and does a lot to establish his character in a 30-minute episode. But there's lots of little moments in the 30-minute episode. The Fred character seems just as trapped as Hoby: if he doesn't get Tenner then his workers will either quit or "fire" Fred (probably literally), but he doesn't want to get into trouble with the law.

There's also Rusty Wescoatt as Joe the Bartender. He gets a brief bit when Fred tells him to pour drinks, and Joe basically tells him, "Get off your ass and get your own." Yeah, he just says out loud that they're not open for business, but Westcoatt conveys the unspoken subtext. His Joe the Bartender is sometimes credited, sometimes not, but he always has some kind of little moment when he shows up.


There's also a bit where Hoby wonders how Henrietta knows about the whole crappy situation. She smugly says that she has her sources, and Norman Leavitt as Deputy Ralph looks guilty. And Robert Culp shoots him a "If looks could kill, you'd be a basketcase" glare.

Still, Leeds as Tenner is the high point of the episode and you can see why they left him on the show. They set up his rivalry with Hoby as an equal, and until now Hoby doesn't have any rivals and equals in Porter. They have a lot of "I'm guilty of something but I'm not going to tell you what" back and forth going on. Tenner is in fourteen more season 2 episodes, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him. Which is more than I can say about Henrietta, or Ralph, or Hoby's buddy Aaron the barber. Maybe it will fizzle out, maybe it'll be the late 50s equivalent of Odo and Quark. We'll see.

Robert Culp is still lean and mean as Hoby. He's so thin he looks like he could slip through a screen door sideways. Hoby smokes like a chimney, although I like the cute little ashtray that Tenner puts into his new saloon. Obviously he was expecting Hoby.


As I noted before, I don't think the show is on DVD. It is airing on MeTV, and will probably loop around at least once. So check your local listings to see if you get MeTV. If it isn't on some channel like Encore Western, it probably will be.

But that's all my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
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Feb 14, 2017
I agree with almost everything you had to say about Trackdown in general. I definitely prefer the non-Porter episodes, and Henrietta is kind of a dick (although a handy exposition tool for a 30-minute show). Although if Hoby doing nothing is the criterion for an episode seeming like a backdoor pilot, then that description could equally apply to "Chinese Cowboy." Tenner works better as a sidekick than Aaron, especially when he wasn't calling Hoby by his first name. Where you saw Maverick, I saw Matt Dillon and Doc Adams, or maybe Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp.

"A Matter of Justice" was the second episode I saw and the one that turned me on to the show. Two of my three favorite episodes are non-Porter episodes, and this is one of them. I would have been slightly happier if it had ended with Hoby dropping the wanted poster instead of the "mind your elders" moralizing, but as the narrator said, if Quine wasn't guilty, he wouldn't have drawn. The same writer, David Lang, would the Have Gun - Will Travel where Paladin refused to alibi a man who left in a lurch, even though it would have been the truth, and the guy ends up getting shot in a dress.

Heroes & Icons also reruns Trackdown Monday-Friday at 5:30 AM.
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Feb 14, 2017
Although "Chinese Cowboy" strikes me as a potential series pilot as well. Kind of a prototype Kung Fu, as it were, with Keye Luke as Wong, the launderer and reluctant self-trained gunfighter who travels the Old West fighting prejudice and getting drawn into shootouts despite not wanting to.
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Feb 14, 2017
LOL! Right after I posted my initial replay, I had the same thought: prototype Kung-Fu. I can see that getting monotonous pretty quick, though, going from town to town outdrawing and gunning down bullies (or rehashing "Hey Boy's Revenge," with Wong in the Paladin role. "Why did they force me to do that? I wanted them to like me for who I am, not my skill with a gun."
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Feb 15, 2017
I could see them expanding it into the series. They'd have to develop Wong's backstory, probably give him a sister somewhere, let him learn some martial arts, provide more of a motivation than just "I want people to like me" and so on. Might not have been a great series, but Kung Fu had kind of the "I will fight only as a last resort" sort of protagonist. It's just that Caine knew Kung Fu rather than using a gun. Wong could have become a shoot-to-flesh-wound sorta guy.
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Feb 15, 2017
More than anything, "Chinese Cowboy" put me in mind of the '70s Gunsmoke episodes, where Matt Dillon is in Dodge at the beginning of the episode, goes out of town, the bulk of the episode focuses on the guest characters, and Matt returns to Dodge just in time to see the guest characters resolve things. Fortunately, CC was only 30 minutes and pre-anti-violence crusades of the late '60s/early '70s, so we were spared some of the angst-ridden handwringing of the later Gunsmoke episodes.
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Feb 14, 2017
In "Chinese Cowboy" (CC) Hoby got to be all righteous and remind Henrietta about the Constitution. And his overall message of "Different races should be treated the same because we're all Americans" is pretty much vindicated at the end when the townspeople try to make it up to Wong. But too little, too late.

I'm pretty sure there's no Constitutional equality argument about Old West gamblers. :) And there's no real vindication of Hoby at the end. The situation only gets resolved because of Tenner and Fred. Yeah, Tenner and Fred do what they do without Hoby convincing them of anything, really. Hoby makes Tenner face down Fred and Del, it's not like he convinces the gambler to face them or to double-bluff Fred's bluff.

So I'd argue that in CC Hoby is pretty active. He doesn't shoot anyone, true, and his hands are tied because Wong won't press charges. But at the end he's the lone hold-out for Wong staying in Porter... and proven right. So he's still doing stuff, it's just "Everyone is equal" speechifying rather than shooting and arresting people. :)
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