Thursday, June 28, 2018

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Sudden Town" (1967)








"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!" 

HONDO: "Hondo and the Sudden Town"  (1967 ABC-TV/MGM/Batjac Productions) Episode 11; Original Air Date: November 17, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards, Willam Bryant as Colonel Crook, Michael Pate as Vittoro, Glenn Langan as Victor Tribolet, William Benedict as Willie, Gene Raymond as Senator Alden Knight, Rod Cameron as Martin Blaine,  Leonard Stone as Gus Kelso, Tom Reese as Chad Wilson. Written by Palmer Thompson.  Directed by Harry Harris.



Former Senator Alden Knight--the "Silver Knight of the West"--and partner Martin Blaine arrive in the territory intending to revive the ghost town of Surprise, Arizona and its eponymously named silver mine in the heart of Apache hunting ground.  Game driven out during the previous boom is just starting to come back to the area, but Knight's name still carries a lot of weight in Washington: the troopers are under orders to protect the real estate investment fronted by the ex-Senator (yet quietly masterminded and largely financed by Blaine).


It figures to be a short exploration since Surprise No. 1 has been grubbed out for years, but Blaine has already arranged to make success certain.  Having made those preparations, Kelso blackmails Blaine for a higher cut of the profits.  Blaine's response is to kill two birds with one stone by having Kelso silenced permanently and framing the Apaches for the murder.  Meanwhile, employees are hired, Tribolet trades freighting services for land, and business is booming in the former Surprise, now renamed Silver Knight.  There's only one thing missing--actual silver bullion from the all important mine.


"It's kind of like tryin' to patch up a leaky water trough.  You plug up one end, the other end busts open."

Hondo and the Sudden Town brings another external threat to the ever-fragile peace in Arizona Territory.  This time, it's newly private property purchased by the politically connected that threatens the treaty, and all based purely on chicanery.  The geological test is likely as fraudulent as the scheme--note that it was apparently done without Vittoro's blessing, unlike the survey in Hondo and the Superstition Massacre.  This highly artificial stimulation is initially successful, trickling profits all the way down to the newly employed town drunk Willie.  But the gravy train stops with the white man--Apaches will face a great challenge in putting food on the table if the ghost is revived permanently.


"Your word has always been good, my Son."

Vittoro hears about the return of settlers from his scout, and for once we see the wise old Chief's patience tested--along with (briefly) his faith in Hondo Lane.  The end of Emberato's two moon timetable finds Silver Knight still filled with miners and more traffic on the way.  Even the Chief's son-in-law isn't immune to being scuffed up a bit when it appears that Lane was lying.


"You've been put out to pasture for pennies."

His love for taking center stage is intact even after he sours on the deal's legitimacy, but Senator Alden Knight isn't the expected blowhard.  An honest statesman for most of his adult life, Knight ended up pushed out by "a younger man with a chestful of medals" and facing his winter years financially insecure.  A widower as a young man (like Hondo) who never remarried, he longs for the cheering crowds almost as much as monetary gain.  Becoming Blaine's figurehead is understandably appealing, for Knight's political career could be resuscitated right along with the mine.


"My friends, a new day is dawning for this territory!"

By the time the Senator discovers the dirty dealings beneath the facade, it's too late for the frontman to bail--his name is on everything.  A decent man unwittingly ensnared in Blaine's web, the Silver Knight is a tragic figure in the end.  The cost of retaining his moral sense is losing that sterling reputation that took four decades to build and meant far more to the Senator than money.


Little wonder that Blaine and Tribolet hit it off--in fact, the latter even seems awed by the newcomer at times.  Blaine is just as bastardly as Fort Lowell's resident magnate, yet even more skillfully connected at the nation's capital and smoothly efficient at eliminating obstacles without ever getting his hands dirty.  Martin Blaine coolly imposes his will on forces both physically (Wilson) and politically (Knight) powerful without ever breaking a sweat.  Blaine's lone error is choosing the bigoted Wilson for the most unpleasant task--the henchman is simply too ignorant of Apache ways to convincingly pin Kelso's demise on the tribe.




Hondo and the Sudden Town was the first of back to back segments directed by Harry Harris, who handles the show's fisticuffs better than anyone outside of Lee Katzin.  Reliable heavy Tom Reese (FLAMING STAR) gets two bouts with our titular hero.  For once, Reese isn't the most physically imposing actor on the set with 6'5" Rod Cameron around.  The grandiose actor was widely known for his canny business sense in real life, choosing first-run syndication for all three of his 1950's vehicles (for the fatter residuals).  Cameron proves to be an inspired choice for Blaine, one of his few villainous roles on the small screen.


Cameron (STATE TROOPER) rates special guest star status in the opening credits, but Gene Raymond gets the showier part as he recounts his greatest D.C. glories at the saloon and later baffles 'em with BS when explaining the scheme's profitability.  Likely better known as the husband of Jeanette MacDonald than for his own lengthy career, Raymond is unexceptional but credible.

Beery and Benedict (R)
Hondo and the Sudden Town was the last of four appearances for longtime Bowery Boy Billy Benedict as saloon fixture Willie.  It is somewhat surprising for a character actor with 317 IMDd listings and a career spanning 53 years, but these four episodes are Benedict's highest number for any TV series.   The Oklahoma native went uncredited frequently, but that only happened to him once on HONDO (Hondo and the Comancheros).  Incidentally, the real Surprise, Arizona has become something of a sudden city in the 21st century: the population has more than quadrupled (from 30,848 to 132,677) since the year 2000.



HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?

Damn close to a six-pack.  As noted above, henchman Chad Wilson runs afoul of Hondo twice, failing to get revenge in the rematch.  The ill-fated Kelso and Blaine also end up on the wrong end of Hondo's fists.  Lane's ring record is marred a little by Apache braves angered at the white man's continued intrusion, but to be fair, it took a sneak attack by four of them.



IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?

Hondo's brief dispatchment of Kelso caused no property damage, and every other fracas took place outdoors.


A DOG'S LIFE:

Sam's the one who locates the key evidence convincing Hondo of Apache innocence in Kelso's killing, and also gets to display his horse-fetching skills.  Sam also gets some amusing visuals during the montage of rebuilding Silver Knight, and Harris never has him far from the action.


MISSING MINUTES:

This might be the episode harmed most by edits in syndication, as every TV print I've seen is missing the crucial scene at Destarte's grave between Senator Knight and Hondo.  We learn a lot about Knight's early life before public service in a short time (including somewhat surprising commonalities with Lane) and the monologue is crucial to the final resolution, which seems a little rushed without it.




NAGGING QUESTION:

Which state did Senator Knight represent for forty years?  If he was the Silver Knight of the West, even California wouldn't have been a state long enough in 1869 (the year in which Hondo is set).  Louisiana (admitted 1812) is the most westward state that would fit that timeline.


Writer Palmer Thompson contributed scripts to over three dozen TV series before his untimely death at age 51.  While Thompson's tale of Surprise has few of them, he does have a great grasp on these characters and the rather heart-rending arc of the unfortunate Knight is compelling.  Speaking of sad fates--ABC's quick hook for HONDO become official just days before this superb installment arrived.  A real shame, for Hondo and the Sudden Town displays a show in full stride after only eleven installments.  (***1/2 out of four)




HONDO airs at 10:15 A.M. Central every Sunday morning on GetTV, and on Saturday, June 30th GetTV airs a HONDO marathon from 11 AM until 7 PM Central which includes this episode.  




HONDO: THE COMPLETE SERIES is also on DVD from Warner Archive.

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