Have Gun Will Travel, “The Long Night”

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Looking at one of many favourite episodes of this ultra-cool and sophisticated cowboy show for the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon.

It was really tough to pick one episode of Have Gun Will Travel; the series had several standout stories and fine acting showcases over six seasons chronicling the exploits of the gentleman cowboy Paladin (Richard Boone). I love the show, and only discovered it a few years ago when it came out on DVD (and at the same time happened to be airing on Canadian TV). You’d be hard pressed to name a cooler cowboy than Boone, the possessor of that magical calling card that comes with its own theme music. There are a good dozen episodes that could be called essential, but I settled on The Long Night because it has a little of everything that I feel made the series great and unique.

hgwt6Boone plays a fearless man, an expert with a gun, but if he can work out of a standoff or an argument with his intellect, he’d always rather do that than pull his weapon: “I rarely draw it unless I intend to use it.” This is a man who plays chess against himself, and to every interaction and situation he brings a high level of perceptiveness, reason and logic. He can drill down to find the truth of a mystery in a way that sometimes rivals Sherlock Holmes. He never shies from confrontation and challenges, yet is so articulate, calm and strategic in his interactions that he usually gets people to change their minds or see things his way. A natural born leader who understands all aspects of the human personality (especially a lady’s nature), he always has a wise word for the troubled and a clever plan to get out of a jam.

The show had some fine writing that often reached for social commentary, which bridged the Old West to current times through a lead character with more modern sensibilities. There was always lots of opportunity to include some deep thinking on issues that might challenge audiences of the late 50’s and early 60’s, if you wanted to think deeply. If not, then you always had a plain fun good guy/bad guy action yarn that any kid could enjoy and follow further through cereal toys and comic books. All those things made Have Gun Will Travel and its hero Paladin so fascinating then and still, and most of them are on display to some extent in the episode The Long Night. Screenshot 2015-03-25 at 9.06.27 AM

As the episode begins, Boone is riding along minding his own business when he’s forced at gunpoint to wait under a noose, where’s he’s briefly interrogated by a bearded and intense Kent Smith, playing a prominent and powerful owner of “most of the Panhandle.” Smith tells Boone “she’s dead” then waits for a reaction. Boone has no clue what that means, and we soon learn that last night, Smith found his wife with some mystery man. As the man escaped, Smith shot at him, but his wife stepped in the path of the bullet and was killed. Now a distraught Smith wants that man to die too, but all he knows of him is that he wore a black shirt and rides a black horse. Viewers of the series know that Boone fits that description, and so do two other men in the area: James Best and William Schallert. Now all three stand under that noose and are told that one must confess to being the wife’s lover or all three will be hanged in the morning. We know Paladin’s popular with the ladies but his morals wouldn’t allow him to stoop to adultery (not to mention he’s the star of the show) so he’s out. Is it Best the handsome troubadour, or Schallert the refined rifle company salesman (who claims he’s never fired a gun before), or neither?

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Boone sums it up as they talk their way through that long night — they’re three men with three stories. Plus one tight spot and one deceptive widower. As Boone starts demanding more info, he also chips away at the details of Smith’s story and discovers that Smith actually murdered his wife a good half hour after the black shirted man ran off. Smith was treating his wife like just another piece of property, she turned to another for companionship and understanding, and he reacted not in the heat of passion but as punishment for disobedience. As Smith gets increasingly unhinged and immune to Boone’s reasoning and the other men’s pleas, Boone devises a plan that will only work if he confesses to being the wife’s lover. It’s a lot of character examination and tension to fit into 24 minutes and it works out to a tightly told tale.

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The Long Night was directed by Andrew McLaglen who helmed most of the season one episodes, and the script was by Sam Rolfe, the show’s co-creator, story editor and by season two, the show’s producer, making it a good representative sample of the series’ feel and spirit. You really get a good feel for Boone’s appeal in a story like this, and he was at his charismatic and charming best in those early seasons. Watching him here, gruff, tough, smart, uncompromising and determined, you can understand why it is, that even though Have Gun Will Travel didn’t beat competing show Gunsmoke in the ratings, the show could claim the edge in female viewership (it’s said that over 70% of the fan mail came from women). The only thing lacking in The Long Night which keeps it from being an essential is an appearance by Kam Tong as Paladin’s companion Hey Boy. But when you’re talking about great series, no one episode can do more than invite you to the whole; if you’re a fan you’ll fondly recall far more than one guest and tale, and if you haven’t seen Have Gun Will Travel, make sure to check out a lot more of this great western show.

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This post is part of the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts, please tune in through this link to see all the other classic episodes and series discussed March 27 -29. 

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26 thoughts on “Have Gun Will Travel, “The Long Night””

  1. Gosh, haven’t seen this show for decades. Will buy dvd and catch up. Sounds like a great episode.

  2. This episode sounds fascinating. You really made me want to look for it. I’ve seen many episodes of the show but not systematically, so probably lots to look forward to there someday. I’ve liked the ones I’ve seen–I’d sure like to see some Ida Lupino directed ones and I know she did a lot. Richard Boone was a magisterial actor and for someone with so much presence, he could also be very subtle

    1. Magisterial is a great word, he had such a strong presence, skillful actor. One of the Lupino ones was on my short list! These were showcases for writers, directors, actors, and I love that they could still just be cool cowboy stories for the kids. What a great time when Paladin could be your TV hero. Thank you for reading!

  3. What I’d love is a Blu-Ray edition of THE BEST OF HAVE GUN
    WILL TRAVEL- that would be beyond wonderful!
    One of my fave episodes is “The Moors Revenge” with Vincent
    Price and his real life friend Patricia Morison who celebrated
    her 100th birthday last week.
    Another very fine episode is LADY ON A STAGECOACH with
    the bewitching Delores Vitina (Vitina Marcus)
    Vitina has a fun website which is well worth checking out.

    1. You know both of those were on my short list, along with Genesis (his origin story) and The Man Who Lost, directed by Ida Lupino. This series really would look great on blu! Thank you

  4. I’ve seen this one too! A very good episode. Well developed characters, and it keeps you guessing as to what will happen next (I did figure out who the man in black was, but I still had no idea how the episode would end.)

    And I really liked the use of the song Best sings. I think it’s a variation on the old Irish folksong “I know my love.” That song is generally always done with a fast paced, bouncy tune, and from a female perspective:

    There is a dance house in Maradyke
    And there my true love goes every night
    He takes a strange girl upon his knee
    Well, now don’t you think, that vexes me?
    And still she cried, I love him the best
    And a troubled mind sure can know no rest
    And still she cried, Bonny boys are few
    And if my love leaves me, what will I do?

    But I liked the new version in this episode better. It had an ominous, eerie quality that really lent to the proceedings, and the lyrics took on the sinister beauty of an old Border murder Ballad:

    There is a place that I do know, where my true-love goes
    To drink her wine in her store-brought clothes
    And she sits her down on some brave boy’s knee
    Now don’t you know that vexes me?
    And still she cries, I love you best
    But a troubled mind can know no rest
    But a troubled mind can know no rest

    1. Thanks for that info, good song and he did a nice job of it. Yes even kind of projecting the outcome it still it has a lot of suspense. I also like this ep for being part of that first season which hooked me. Thanks for reading!

      1. You’re welcome, and thank you for bearing with a folksong bore 😉 When I saw the episode title in my blog feed, my first thought was: the one with that song! (mildly obsessed is the phrase, I suppose?)

        1. Ha! Not a bore at all! I enjoyed having that info added in the comments since the song is an important part of the story. Bring your obsessions here anytime, we all have them 🙂

  5. Kristina, you make me want to watch all of the episodes just from “The Long Night”! I’m very interested in seeing more of it! Excellent post, my friend! 😀 Great Blogathon! 😀

  6. As you know I have championed Boone as Paladin a couple of times and just last year finished the entire 6 seasons. Without a doubt my favorite tv western and Paladin the best character of the fifties/sixties western craze on the small screen.

    1. Those were the days when you could have a hero like Paladin, collect the toys and so forth. This is why the show works on a few levels,appeal for the ladies, the adults and the kids.

  7. Yes one of my favorite shows. I wasn’t alive yet when it aired on tv, but do watch it via Youtube and I am not surprised to learn that Boone got so much female fan mail, be still my heart when he quotes Shakespeare or other poems!

    1. See, this is what I’m talking about 🙂 I think he’s a fabulous leading man too. The writing and everything is great but his appeal is a huge factor. Thanks!

  8. Richard Boone has to be one of the most intriguing actors to star on network television. Everything came together to make “Have Gun – Will Travel” such a classic. I’ve heard a few of the radio programs, adapted from the TV show, and John Dehner (who has a special place in heart) was great casting for Palladin. Your description of the series and this episode is perfect.

    1. I really like him a lot and don’t understand some looks I get when I call him handsome. He was a totally charismatic and fascinating actor. Thanks for the kind words and for reading!

  9. Have Gun–Will Travel, along with The Wild Wild West, is my favourite Western of all time. I would have to think a bit about what my favourite episode would be but it could be “The Long Night”. Sam Rolfe’s script is perfect, one of the best examples of Have Gun–Will Travel as a literate Western. And then there are the guest stars! James Best, William Schallert, Kent Smith. “The Long Night” definitely had a great cast for a show that was well known for its great guest stars!

    Thank you so much for taking part in the blogathon!

    1. I had a tough time picking just the one episode, but I hope this was a good pick that captures the best of the series and can get people to try the show if they don’t know it. Thanks for hosting an event to celebrate classic TV, it was fun.

  10. I can’t believe I’ve not seen a single episode of Have Gun Will Travel. What an oversight – although I prefer to think of it as a something to discover! Love that it could be as deep and meaningful as you wanted it to be – sometimes that’s all you want from television!

  11. Just caught up with this very interesting and well-written post. I saw a few episodes of this show as a child but don’t really remember it well and have never caught up with it as an adult — my dad has recommended it and now your post has certainly cemented my interest. Blake’s description of Boone’s performance as “magisterial” is intriguing as well.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. Thanks, and you should watch some more HGWT when you can manage it, I think you’d enjoy. Boone has tons of presence and a great voice, and his approach to playing the intellectual gentleman gunfighter makes for kind of an unusual combo of character, casting and performance in a well written show.

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