MAVERICK Mondays: Number 15
MAVERICK: "The Spanish Dancer" (1958 Warner Brothers/ABC-TV) Starring Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Richard Long as Gentleman Jack Darby, Adele Mara as Elena Grande, Robert Bray as John Wilson, Tony Romano as Raoul Onate, Slim Pickens as Jed, Ben Morris as Harry, Mark Tapscott as Charlie, John Mitchum as Miner. Directed by James V. Kern. Teleplay by Robert Schaefer, Eric Freiwald and Robert Smith; Story by Edward Seabrook, Homer McCoy and Oscar Millard.
Dancer Elena Grande arrives to provide entertainment at the New Mexico mining town where Maverick and Darby have teamed to auction supplies to the prospectors. The temporary salesmen both take a shine to Grande, while she cuts a deal to perform at the saloon owned by a third potential suitor, Wilson. Miss Grande holds a grudge against gringos and prefers to keep the business arrangement platonic (she's raising the money to build her own cantina), but gringos Wilson, Maverick and Darby are undeterred--they all continue attempting to woo her.
In an effort to eliminate his competition, Wilson makes a $5,000 offer for the entire wagon of supplies. That offer rejected, Wilson next attempts to bankrupt Maverick in a poker game--another failure that ends with Bart and Darby gaining control of Wilson's Blue Rock Mine. When that mine turns out to be flooded, Wilson appears to have the last laugh--and Maverick's troubles deepen when Darby mysteriously disappears after publicly brawling with his business partner over Elena.
The Spanish Dancer is yet another winner from the landmark second season of MAVERICK. Six writers collaborated on this twisting tale, which was re-worked as an episode of THE ALASKANS a season later (with future MAVERICK Roger Moore taking the Kelly role).
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.'s availability to play Dandy Jim Buckley became limited after 77 SUNSET STRIP premiered--in fact, he made his final MAVERICK appearance (Shady Deal at Sunny Acres) the month before The Spanish Dancer aired. In anticipation of the inevitable, Richard Long was introduced as Gentleman Jack Darby, becoming the first and most popular in a long line of Buckley surrogates.
Gentleman Jack's debut, Alias Bart Maverick, established Darby as essentially the same character as Buckley: assuming Bart's identity to escape reward seekers. It was a script that
Darby's romantic interest in Grande (and stated weakness for the titular "type" in general) is unique to his character--Buckley's mind was always on the money. Much more honorable in this return trip, Jack Darby is Bart's amicable business partner here, with their friendly cooperation in a remote mining town recalling Bart's arrangement with Buckley in High Card Hangs. At least, they're completely friendly until Elena's arrival. Long was popular enough in the role to be the only recurring foil from the Huggins Era to remain after Coles Trapnell took over as producer for the third season (returning for The Goose-Drownder).
The Spanish Dancer was the only series appearance for Bray (LASSIE), who comes across as more of a sore loser than a powerful bully. Bray's an acceptable adversary, but the real standout in the guest cast is Mrs. Huggins herself, Adele Mara. Elena Grande is the most intriguing of her MAVERICK characters, and she gets a better showcase for her formidable dancing talents than she had in Seed of Deception.
The episode was the first of three MAVERICKs for both Slim Pickens (amusingly the Judge in the camp's court) and director James V. Kern, who excels at staging Bart's fistfights with Darby and his muddy wrestling match with Wilson. Kern makes other visually interesting choices (i.e. bookending the episode with Mara's dancing silhouette). The director would get his chance to stage a deception utilizing both Maverick brothers in the very next outing, Game of Chance.
HOW'D BART DO AT POKER?
A full house beats a flush, and gives him a $5,000 pot in the only hand we see.
WISDOM FROM PAPPY?
No wise fatherly advice this time around, though Bart has a line worthy of Pappy. "Money can't buy you friends. Money can't buy you happiness. Money can't buy you peace of mind. Confederate money, that is."
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Nicely developed con game almost rivals the aforementioned Shady Deal at Sunny Acres. As it is, The Spanish Dancer is more than entertaining enough, keeping the audience guessing about Elena Grande's affections to the literally explosive denouement, which stands as one of the series' most memorable. Bret and Dandy Jim aren't missed--Bart and Gentleman Jack handle this intriguing tale nicely without them, with the always stunning Mara in good support and Pickens providing some extra laughs. (***1/2 out of four)
|Gratuitous pic of Adele. You knew this was coming.|
MAVERICK currently airs Monday through Friday at 1 PM Central/2 PM Eastern without commercial interruption on Encore Westerns, and every Sunday night at 10 PM Central/11 PM Eastern on COZI TV.