Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Lawman: The Complete Second Season: A Warner Archive TV Series Review

TV Western fans have a treat in store, as Season 2 of LAWMAN was recently released by the Warner Archive.

What's more, Season 3 has come out just in time for Christmas!

John Russell and Peter Brown again star as Marshal Dan Troop and his deputy, Johnny McKay. Like the first season, Season 2 runs 39 episodes.

As much as I enjoyed Season 1, which was reviewed here in August, I feel the show really comes into its own beginning in Season 2, with the addition of Peggie Castle as feisty saloon owner Lily Merrill.

As seen in "Lily," the first episode of the season, Lily and Dan initially have a prickly relationship. When Lily opens the Birdcage Saloon Dan sternly warns her that her establishment better not cause any problems, and he's not very happy when someone promptly turns up murdered in the alley behind the saloon. The culprit is a crooked dealer (Ray Danton), and by the end of the episode the ice begins to thaw, as Dan accepts a drink from Lily.

Over the course of the series Dan and Lily develop a subtle, adult relationship which is most enjoyable to watch.

I love this show's compact storytelling, with the episodes running roughly 24-25 minutes. The brisk run time makes a nice change of pace from the many longer-format TV Westerns which are closer to an hour -- or in the case of THE VIRGINIAN, even longer!

Within the confines of the short format there is still some nice character development and room for compelling stories. In one of my favorite Season 2 episodes, "The Breakup," young Johnny is shaken after having to kill two men in self-defense and decides to turn in his badge. This provides some moving scenes, given Dan's paternal feelings toward the orphaned Johnny and Johnny's fear of letting down the man he always refers to respectfully as "Mr. Troop." We also see hints of how Dan and Lily's relationship has evolved in her concern for Dan.

Lily's character is also gradually fleshed out, such as in "The Exchange," when her ex, Frank (Mike Road), turns up in town, up to no good. We learn that Lily has a little boy being raised by her sister, and that Frank plans to disappear with the child unless Lily is complicit in a bank robbery.

I can't say enough about John Russell in the title role. He's truly a man's man, tough, smart, and honorable. Russell was only in his late 30s but no one could have played the role with more authority. I suspect Russell's real-life military background may have helped inform his unflinching portrayal of Marshal Troop; he served in the Marines on Guadalcanal. I've read that Russell dyed the gray streak in his hair to give the character added maturity.

It's fun seeing the faces who turn up from episode to episode. For instance, it was a bit of a shock seeing a haggard-looking Tom Drake as an alcoholic in "The Hunch," but the one-time "Boy Next Door" did a fine job. He turned up later in the season in a completely different role.

Other guest stars include James Coburn, Lee Van Cleef, George Kennedy, Kenneth Tobey, Karen Steele, Jack Elam, DeForest Kelley, Paula Raymond, Joel Grey, Regis Toomey, Richard Arlen, Troy Donahue, Allan "Rocky" Lane, Catherine McLeod, Robert J. Wilke, and even Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale!

It was fun to pick out James Garner's longtime stand-in, Luis Delgado, as the wordless man who drives the bodies to the undertaker in "The Breakup." Delgado can often be spotted as an extra in MAVERICK, but I hadn't noticed him in another Warner Bros. Western before. I wouldn't be surprised if he can be found in other shows filmed on the lot!

Another plus for the series, as I mentioned in my Season 1 review, is its evocative theme music. Orchestral versions of the LAWMAN theme make effective background music in some episodes, such as at the moving conclusion of "The Breakup."

Although the Warner Archive site doesn't indicate the initial copies sold there are pressed, my set did indeed consist of silver-backed pressed discs. The print quality is excellent.

LAWMAN is high up on my list of all-time favorite TV Westerns, along with MAVERICK and THE HIGH CHAPARRAL, and I strongly recommend this beautifully produced set for Western fans.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Jerry E said...

I fully support Laura's recommendation for this fine series. Just like Eric Fleming's quiet authority in the 'RAWHIDE' series, it is John Russell's same authority that underpins 'LAWMAN'. It is one TV western that I certainly knew of when it was made and first shown but never had the chance to see it until more recent years. It immediately became one of my absolute favourite TV western series and I agree with Laura's feeling that it is a true benefit that episodes are under the half-hour -tight, compact and to-the-point. These sets would make a terrific Christmas gift(to yourself)!!

12:00 AM  
Blogger Terence Towles Canote said...

I love this show. I saw the entire run when it aired on Encore Westerns a couple of years ago and I can't recommend it enough.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Nice to encounter a fellow Eric Fleming/Gil Favor fan. Because of Eastwood's later fame (and Fleming's early death?), a lot of people seem to forget about the cornerstone of the show. I have two RAWHIDE videos on my channel, one for the whole cast, and one devoted just to Mr. Favor. Please feel free to check them out.

"Quiet authority," or "calm masculinity" (Barbara Fuller describing Bill Elliott), was something all the great western leads possessed. Nowadays the western is dead, and we're left with angst-riddled gym-rats. Not a fair exchange!

I also think the half-hour format works very well for western/adventure shows. THE RIFLEMAN, WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, and YANCY DERRINGER (yes, I have it now), immediately come to mind as well. The best LAWMAN episodes seem to be exemplars of this strength (I haven't seen them all yet.) Another John Russell show I'm interested in seeing is SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE, co-starring Chick Chandler. I have both seasons (acquired on sale), but haven't got around to them yet.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Maricatrin, I also welcome chatting to a fellow Eric Fleming fan! I always appreciated him fairly well back when the show was first shown but as age and maturity (well I hope so anyway) overtook me my appreciation of the Gil Favor character grew enormously, especially since I bought the stunning CBS DVD sets. That series just doesn't date - classic.
As to the 30 minute episode issue, "LAWMAN" impresses so much because of its tautness. Of course, Warners mostly made hour-long shows but another 30 minute show of theirs was "COLT .45" which, from the limited amount I have seen, was also rather good. Very hard show to find though - I am really hoping for a full, restored series issue by Warner Archive maybe.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this show and agree it got better when Peggie Castle came into it.
It's amazing how good the writers are at coming up with 25 minute plots which are always dramatic and exciting.
Loved the two Joel Grey episodes .
Two gripes - that streak of grey hair and Peggie's tuneless singing!!

6:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much to all for your comments!

Vienna, it was great to get your feedback, thank you for coming back to this post months later to leave your thoughts!

Best wishes,

11:07 PM  

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