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Have Gun Will Travel: Complete First Season

Paramount // Unrated // May 11, 2004
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 21, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Series:

Westerns dominated the airwaves in the early days of television.  In 1958 for example, there were 18 new western shows broadcast.  They were inexpensive to make and had a lot of action so that both audiences and the producers liked them.

TV westerns started off as children's shows, with the likes of Red Ryder and Hopalong Cassidy.  Walt Disney entered the field with the highly regarded Zorro and Davy Crockett series that are still popular today.  But the genre started to mature in the mid 1950's.  The successes of some big screen movies like High Noon and Shane led television producer to create more adult oriented westerns.1  These shows were more violent, with the hero actually killing people sometimes, not just shooting the gun out of his hand.  The scripts were tighter, with more thought put into them.  These absolutely shows dominated the ratings.  Seven of the top ten rated shows were westerns in 1958, and the following year the genre was given its own category at the Emmys.

Of all the western shows that have graced the small screen, there are three or four that nearly everyone acknowledges are excellent.  Gunsmoke tops most people's list, and Maverick is also universally as a great show.  The other western most fans cite as being a classic is Have Gun, Will Travel staring Richard Boone.  Western fans can now rejoice, since Paramount has released the entire first season of this superlative western on DVD.

Richard Boone plays Paladin, a gentleman living in style at a fancy hotel in San Francisco.   He dresses in white and is accustomed to the finest food and wine.  A man of culture, he can quote Shakespeare and Socrates with equal skill.  Everyday he reads newspapers from around the western part of the US.  When he finds someone who may be able to use his help he puts one of his cards in an envelope and mails it.  On the card is his symbol, a white chess knight, and his message:  Have Gun Will Travel.  Wire Paladin, San Francisco.  His gun is for hire, and the cost is $1000.

When he takes a job, he changes from the cultured dandy into a rough and tumble gunslinger.  Dressing in all black, he carries a gun on his hip and a Derringer up his sleeve.  He is quick on the draw, but would prefer to outwit his opponent, and he is not above using his fists if the situation calls for it.  Paladin was also very honest and highly principled.  He would never take a job if he didn't think that he was on the side of justice, and the few times that he was tricked into doing so, he was quick to turn on his employer.

Have Gun Will Travel is more than your run of the mill gunslinger show though.  Paladin often acts as a detective, having to track down his man, and sometimes discovering that things are not what he was led to believe.  Paladin out thinks his opponents as often was physically dominating them.  The appeal from Have Gun Will Travel didn't come only from the fight scenes, but rather the way Paladin would outwit his adversary.  This was often more interesting than the obligatory fight scene.

This first season includes some excellent episodes from this classic show.  Some of the standouts include:

The Outlaw:  When Manfred Holt breaks out of jail and kills two deputies, the banker who testified against him hires Paladin to recapture the convict.  But when Paladin catches up to Holt, he finds that the man just wants to see his newborn child.

Strange Vendetta: An assassin shoots a Mexican nobleman that Paladin befriends.  It is his dying wish to have his body returned to his hacienda in Mexico.  This was an interesting story with a nice twist.

The Long Night:  One of the best shows in the series.  A ranchers wife has been murdered, and Paladin, along with two other men, have been caught and accused of the crime.  The rancher gives them until dawn for one of them to confess, or else he'll hang all three.  A very good story that has a great conclusion.

The Yuma Treasure:  Paladin is hired to help track down an elusive Indian chief with a cavalry major.  They want to sign a peace treaty with the Apache and avoid a war, but the soldiers are more interested in finding gold.  A solid story that includes a helpless Paladin stripped to the waist and staked out in the sun.

The Teacher:  Paladin protects a schoolteacher who has been teaching about war crimes that were committed during the civil war.  Unfortunately the people who committed them aren't too happy with what she's saying.

These are only a few of the excellent stories that are in this series, there are many others.  Of course, like any other series this one has its share of lame episodes (Gun Shy where Paladin is looking for a chess set and gets caught up in a romance with an innkeeper's daughter comes to mind) but these are few and far between.  Overall an excellent series.

The DVD:


The two-channel mono sound was appropriate for the show.  It wasn't dynamic but the dialog was easy to hear and there wasn't any hiss.  There was a slight slurring when people spoke words that started or ended with an 's,' but it was minor, and a common defect in old audio tracks.  Overall this is a good sounding DVD set.

There are Spanish subtitles only.  I found it odd that they didn't include English subs for those who are hard of hearing.


I was very impressed with the video.  The full frame black and white picture looks great.  There is wonderful contrast and excellent detail.  Some of the episodes have a little graininess to them, but it isn't a major issue.  There are some slight print defects, instances of dirt and specks, but these are not so common as to be distracting.  A great looking series of shows.

The Extras:

There were many guest stars on this show; Jack Lord, Charles Bronson and June Lockhart just to name a few.  Each episode has a text guide to the guest stars that appear in that show.  They also included notes about the production and interesting bits of trivia.  This was a nice feature that prevented me from having many sleepless nights trying to remember where I had seen a certain actor.  There were no other extras.

Final Thoughts:

This is a very good series.  No, it is not very realistic, but neither are many of today's top grossing movies.  This show dishes up solid entertainment in nice half hour chunks.  Western fans that haven't seen the show should definitely check it out.  The good-looking transfer and many excellent stories make this set Highly Recommended.

1) Ironically, the success of westerns on TV meant the death of western movies.  Why would anyone pay money to see some guys riding around the outskirts of LA when they could watch it at home for free?  Since the quality of the TV shows were fairly high there wasn't a lot difference between the TV western and a B-movie that you'd see at the theater.  As televisions proliferated, westerns disappeared from the silver screen.

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Highly Recommended

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