And so I'm back with another of my not-so-frequent pre-current-TV reviews. Why Maverick? I'm a fan of the show. I'm not a big fan of Westerns: I tend to find shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza and The High Chaparral and The Big Valley as painful as having teeth pulled. But I'm always up for an off-beat Western. Give me Maverick or Have Gun, Will Travel or The Wild Wild West or Wildside or Outlaws any day.
For those not familiar with the show, Maverick aired on ABC from 1957 through 1962. It had a twisted production history: the show originally starred just James Garner as Bret Maverick. Warner Studios couldn't produce enough episodes in time, so they brought in Jack Kelly as "Brother Bart". Kelly and Garner alternated episodes, and sometimes the two of them appeared together.
The show ran five seasons, but Garner left to pursue a film career at the end of season 3. So the producers brought in Roger Moore as Beau Maverick, the brothers' cousin who was raised in England. Moore wasn't happy with the quality of the writing, and left at the same time they brought in Robert Colbert to play a third Maverick brother, Brent. Colbert didn't last long, and they unceremoniously fired him and ran out the rest of the series with Kelly appearing solo. Although ABC did alternate Kelly's original episodes with reruns of Garner episodes.
The show also had a rich supporting cast of allies and conmen: Big Mike McComb, Dandy Jim Buckley, Samantha Crawford, Gentleman Jack Darby, and Doc Holliday among others. Several of them showed up in the episode "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres", a The Sting-like episode where Bret gets money taken from him and calls in Bart and his allies. They con the banker responsible with an elaborate scam while Bret sits on a porch and whittles.
"Shady Deal" is a good example of one of the things that made Maverick an offbeat Western. The show often went for comedy, and Bart and Bret (and Beau and Brent) were poker players and con men. They were lousy shots, although good fist fighters, and cheerfully admitted they were cowards. Like most Western heroes of the period, they had consciences and typically came through in the end to beat the bad guy, get the woman, and/or settle for a cheaper reward rather than a profitable crime.
The first season of Maverick is more of a typical Western, with at least one episode adopted from the works of prolific Western writer Louis L'Amour. The episodes focus primarily on Bret until later when Bart is introduced. Early on, the episodes were more... Western-y. Bret would usually do something non-traditional, but the early episodes featured robbers and gunfights and Bret traveling around conning crooks. Later episodes did parodies of other Westerns of the period, making reference to Gunsmoke and other popular Westerns of the time.
"The Quick and the Dead" also features the first appearance of Doc Holliday. Here he's played by Gerald Mohr and is more historically accurate. The real-life Doc Holliday was a gunfighter, gambler, and dentist who was dying of tuberculosis and had a mean streak a mile wide. TV series of the period tended to sanitize him a bit, and even the later episodes of Maverick when he was recast and played by Peter Breck made Doc more easygoing. "Quick" mellows him to some degree by the end of the episode. But throughout the episode he's more of a threat to Bret and to the real villain than anything.
Mohr was a big actor in the 30s through the 60s. He started with Orson Welles' Mercury Theater, continued on radio, moved to film, and ended up on TV. His last film role was in '68, the year he died. You couldn't throw a rock without hitting Mohr on TV, and these days he's a staple of retro TV networks.
Also in "Quick" is John Vivyan, who only had one starring role as Mr. Lucky in the show of the same name. Vivyan often played cultured characters, but also gave good "bad guy". He plays a villain suckering Yancy Derringer in an episode of that show, and in "Quick" he plays the main bad guy.
Which brings us to the episode. Bret is trying to clear his name because he's been caught by a marshal holding stolen money. Bret won the money in a poker game, and tracks down the person who lost to him. The man, Parker, lives out in a cabin and is inexplicably reluctant to help Bret clear his name. Parker does give Bret a description of the robbers he got the money from, but then refuses to go with Bret to tell the marshal what happened. They fight, and Parker is accidentally killed with his own gun.
Bret searches for the robbers and the trail leads him to the town of Banberra. There he finds one of the robbers, Stacey "Johnny" Johnson (Vivyan), dealing blackjack at a local casino. Bret flirts with the owner, Cora Beth, (Marie Windsor) and gets hired on as a dealer. He finds out Johnny has built his reputation on backing down Doc Holliday during a poker game. Since Bret has played Doc before in an off-screen game, Bret finds it hard to believe Doc would back down to anyone.
Doc eventually shows up at the casino because he's looking for Johnny and wants to address the slur to his reputation. Said "addressing" means shooting Johnny dead. Problems arise when Doc finds Bret vaguely familiar and assumes he's Johnny. At the same time, Bret is trying to get evidence on Johnny to clear his own name, so he can't let Doc kill Johnny before he has it.
Bret ends up borrowing a thousand dollars from Cora along with a marked deck. He then proceeds to keep Doc occupied by letting him win $1,000 at blackjack by "cheating" him. Bret and Doc banter back and forth, and I like Mohr as Doc. He's an educated man, but also a stone-cold killer. Doc lets Bret distract him because he's winning, but Mohr gives the impression Doc would cheerfully kill Bret, and anyone else who crossed his path, if the whim struck him.
We also find out Doc let Johnny live the first time because Johnny was on a winning streak. And Doc considers it bad luck to kill a man when he's winning because it will bring Doc bad luck.
A local gets liquored up and tries to shoot Doc in the back. Bret spots him and shoots the gun out of his hand, even though Bret isn't supposed to be a very good shot. Doc wonders why Bret saved his life, and eventually figures out that the cards are marked and Bret has been conning him. He's not too happy to learn that, but admits he admires Bret and tells him to get out of town rather than shoot him on the spot.
It turns out, Cora was behind the whole robbery scheme, and has the money in her safe. We get a padding scene where Bret breaks into her safe and takes some bills as proof. However, the marshal shows up and tells Bret they captured the other two robbers and cleared Bret's name. So they don't need the money and he's free to go. So basically, the whole "Bret has to keep Johnny alive to clear his name" plot is a bust, and the whole thing resolves without any of Bret's shenanigans.
As Bret prepares to ride out of town, Johnny confronts him figuring he's a lawman. But Doc finds them and tells Johnny to shoot. Despite the fact Johnny has a gun in his hand and Doc has to draw, Doc outdraws and kills him. Doc then tells Bret to draw. Bret puts on his gun belt, and Doc apparently admires his pluck and decides to ride out with him. Which is as mercurial as Doc was reputed to be, but makes for an odd bit of storytelling. It does paint Doc in a better light than the rest of the episode. And gives him a reason to show up with Bret down the road.
The ending is also a bit reminiscent of the end of "War of the Silver Kings", the premiere episode. Big Mike McComb (Leo Gordon) is a nemesis of Bret for the most of the episode, but comes to respect him and rides out with him at end.
Overall, "Quick" shows Bret in his "best" light. He's determined to clear himself, but he doesn't want to endanger himself in the process and relies on his card-dealing skills. It has a great performance from Mohr as Holliday, and Vivyan as Johnny is good. Windsor as Cora doesn't have a whole lot to do as the owner of the casino who reveals that she's even badder than she initially appears. She does have a few good moments: regretting that she has to pay $1,000 to keep Johnny alive and then finding out that she needn't have bothered when she cuts him loose. And her pointing out it's no longer a beautiful day when the law takes her away at the end.
Take away those moments and characters, and the episode is padded out. The fight with Parker at the end seems unnecessary: Bret could have just found Johnny without having to get his description from Parker and then accidentally killing him. The bit with the drunk trying to kill Doc gives Doc a reason to hang out with Bret, but it's out of nowhere and doesn't resolve anything else. And while the episode portrays Doc as a bit more vicious than most Westerns of the period, at the end it does redeem him somewhat so he can be buddies with Bret.
But overall, "Quick" is a good episode of the series, particularly the first season. Maverick hasn't yet become the light-comedy Western it would in later seasons. But if you think plotting and characterization was stuff that didn't come along for a decade or two, Maverick is a good show to check out to find out TV writers could deliver the goods back in '57.
But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Written by Gislef on Jul 7, 2019