Have Gun, Will Travel: Season 4, Volume 1 (CBS/Paramount; $42.99)

(CBS/Paramount; $42.99)
(CBS/Paramount; $42.99)

On a dark and stormy night, sheets of rain pounded the window of Paladin’s suite in San Francisco’s swank Hotel Carlton. Inside, the soldier-of-fortune Paladin (Richard Boone) entertained a beautiful and mysterious blonde, who was stretched out on his Victorian settee, and who refused to reveal her name. Of course, Paladin had no right to complain, since neither his guest nor the viewing public ever knew Paladin’s real name either. A moment later, in perfect Dashiell Hammett fashion, the lady smiled demurely and aimed a gun at his face.

So begins the first half of the only two-part episode of Have Gun, Will Travel, “Quiet Night in Town,” originally broadcast on January 7, 1961, midway through the show’s fourth of six seasons.

Many consider the fourth season of Have Gun, Will Travel to be the first-or second-best of them all, partly because control of the show had been pulled away from creator/producer Sam Rolfe and passed to writer/producer Frank Pierson and Boone. Boone did direct a couple of that season’s episodes, though they aren’t among the favorites. As for Pierson, he eventually went on to script the 1967 Paul Newman picture Cool Hand Luke, and he took home an Oscar in 1975 for writing Dog Day Afternoon.

Unlike the previous three seasons, which are available individually or as a set, CBS/Paramount has decided to split the fourth season in half, which has some fans steamed. But half a season—19 episodes on three discs—is better than none. The set includes a few gems, such as the previously-described two-parter, but “A Head of Hair,” the third episode, is among the very best of the entire run.

That episode features Paladin attempting to rescue Mary Grange (Donna Brooks) from a group of Nez Perce Indians in Oregon. In a particularly fine performance that kicks the episode up several notches, Ben Johnson plays a hard-luck, alcoholic Sioux scout who replies to Paladin at one point, “No, I have no contempt for the army. Exterminating the Indian Nation is a dirty job; and they do it as well as the next.”

Harry Julian Fink scripted the episode. He went on to pen Sam Peckinpah’s 1965 movie Major Dundee, and he co-created Police Inspector Harry Callahan a.k.a. Dirty Harry, played by Clint Eastwood.

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