Wednesday, June 05, 2019

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






"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"









HONDO: "Hondo and the Hanging Town" (ABC-TV/MGM/Batjac Productions 1967) Original Air Date: December 8, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards.  Guest Stars: Dan O'Herlihy as Phineas Blackstone, Gary Crosby as Sergeant Tom Bixby, Morgan Woodward as Colonel Jake Spinner, Denver Pyle as Judge Amos Blunt, Bing Russell as Sheriff Thompson, Quentin Sondergaard as Stoner, Edward Colmas as Father Verona, Jamie Farr as John-Chee, Steve Mitchell as Morrison, Walter Scott as Hokti.  Written by Stanley Adams and George F. Slavin.  Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.

Introduction to the HONDO Episode Guide and series overview is at this link.

En route to Tucson to marry his fiancee, Bixby gets as far as Red Rock before he finds the knifed body of Father Francis.  Catching a glimpse of a fleeing Indian, Bixby goes to alert the local authorities and consequently finds himself charged with the murder and robbery.  Hondo and Buffalo are given the assignment of delivering the Sergeant to the court in San Pueblo for the trial.


"Bushwhackin' a Padre just about heads the list for gettin' up a necktie party."

Taking the prisoner from a leery Sheriff Thompson, Hondo quickly realizes that even a successful delivery to the court will be a daunting task.  Stoner leads a lynch mob seeking justice for the beloved Padre, and would have competition if not for beguiling snake oil salesman Blackstone's distraction of the Red Rock locals with his sales pitch.  Bixby profusely claims his innocence, but hasn't a prayer without a lawyer, the Father's missing artifacts, or the identity of the Indian he saw.  Lengthening the Sergeant's odds: hanging judge Blunt will be presiding over the trial and powerful (Confederate) Colonel Spinner "runs things" in San Pueblo--including Stoner's posse and the legal prosecution.


Making Sergeant at Fort Lowell seems almost as deadly as dating Paul Kersey.  Able (Hondo and the Superstition Massacre) and Daniels (Hondo and the Singing Wire) and an uncredited three striper in the two part opener are among the casualties to date.  Bixby appears all but certain to join them for much of Hondo and the Hanging Town, which interestingly is the highest rated episode of the series by voters at imdb.com.  Delivering wall-to-wall action and compelling courtroom drama, the ranking has substantial merit. 


"The war's over, Colonel."

Vigilante justice based on prima facie evidence was already addressed unconventionally in Hondo and the Mad Dog, but this Slavin/Adams script finds another novel wrinkle.  Bixby faces a prejudicial atmosphere because he's a United States soldier in the fiefdom of Colonel Spinner, who in 1870 still wears his Confederate uniform everywhere and angrily condemns Lane for "pandering for Yankee favors".  Steely-eyed Spinner would rather hang a U.S. cavalryman than pause to consider the possibility of an Apache's guilt.  A former Virginia volunteer, Spinner's clothing, profession, speech to Hondo and post-War migration southwest are all indicative of a loose basis on Jubal Early.


Spinner is only slightly more iron-fisted than Justice/Judge/Sheriff Blunt, who proudly "saves the taxpayers a lot of money" by wearing several hats.  Neither is used to much of an opposing force in court, which is where traveling peddler Blackstone comes in.  It's Lane who observes the salesman's curious surfeit of legal knowledge and learns that Blackstone used to be a far more talented prosecutor than Spinner.


Disappearing into snake oil and alcohol after wrongfully sending an innocent man to the gallows in Massachusetts (as John Rutledge, attorney at law) Blackstone has changed his name, forged a far less prestigious avocation, and crossed the country in guilt.  His soul is as empty as that Efficacious Elixir, but the conscience isn't gone--Phineas kindly suggests that the tonic is "best taken at night, for example.


"Mister Rutledge, these are good people.  This is a good town!  All we want is justice."

It takes another man who knows a hollow feeling all too well--Hondo--to persuade the huckster to use that silver tongue for redemption in the courtroom.  While Blunt clearly seems to enjoy passing sentence, he's also taken aback at any suggestion that those taxpayers aren't getting a just court for the money.  Learning that prior defense attorneys fought that ego to no avail, Rutledge feeds it, displaying superior legal knowledge respectfully, gaining critically needed leeway in the process.  Blackstone doesn't entirely disappear: dazzing with brilliance won't be all that's needed in this venue, so the potion pusher's ability to baffle with bullshit also comes in handy.  (About those 'medicinal' terms: Flux is legit, at least.  Gastric lumbar caronitis?  Not so much.)



"How come a smart trader like you would trade a sorry looking burro for a good horse?"

Hondo and the Hanging Town is exciting, but this second installment taking Hondo, Buffalo and Sam on the road isn't quite perfect logically.  Take the critical courtroom revelation by Father Verona, combined with Bixby's description of the horse he saw: wouldn't that mean, since Hokti already had the horse, that he was revisiting the scene of the crime on the mount he'd just traded for?  And if so, for what reason, with the trade already made and the watch disposed of?  Buffalo notices the lopsidedness of that transaction just in time, but listen closely: Beery bloops the line, which is delivered exactly as written at the top of this paragraph.  No one caught this?


A whopping four special guest stars make the opening credits this time around, with O'Herlihy (THE TRAVELS OF JAMIE McPHEETERS) the headliner.  Nevertheless, Crosby (son of Bing, of course), Woodward (who passed away this February at age 93) and Pyle all receive prominent billing.  It's a deep bench when Russell and Sondergaard are relegated to fifth and sixth positions.  Jamie Farr actually guest starred in back-to-back weeks, with his pivotal cameo here followed by a much meatier role in Hondo and the Gladiators.


Hondo and the Hanging Town provides plenty of the action we've come to expect without skimping on the promised courtroom theatrics.  Perhaps Slavin and Adams tried to do a little too much--the attempted apprehension of Hokti reads thrillingly in the shooting script, but (possibly due to time or location constraints) isn't captured nearly as well on film.  An addition, the proceedings get hurried at times and a tad contrived on occasion during the trial.  Regardless, this one is still a winner, vindicating the new focus on tales taking the scouts outside Fort Lowell.


HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?

Emberato lets Spinner's fightin' words slide, but he still had to have sore knuckles at the end of this journey.  Lynch mob leader Stoner gets a thorough thrashing when he attempts to relieve Lane of the prisoner; a bartending bully gets a single but decisive punch for gratuitously abusing John-Chee; murderer Hoti meets a grisly end after resisting Emberato's attempted citizen's arrest; and finally, Hondo responds to Morrison's obstruction of justice by completing the quartet of KO's.


IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?

To the relief of the locals, the only barroom fisticuffs take place in San Pueblo.


A DOG'S LIFE:

While rarely out of sight, Sam is a bystander for most of Hondo and the Hanging Town.  As always, though, he comes through in the clutch when a shotgun wielding Morrison gets the drop on Lane.


Hondo and the Hanging Town is solid, if a bit too ragged at times for the highest rating.  For his part, Crosland keeps you from pondering any loose ends until after the closing credits.  Still another fine, well-plotted entry overall, with an intriguing story and a typically strong guest cast.  (***1/2 out of four)



HONDO airs every Sunday morning at 11:15 A.M. Eastern Time (10:15 A.M. Central) on getTV.

The complete series is also available on DVD from Warner Archive.

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