Have Gun – Will Travel’s Paladin [Richard Boone] lives by a unique code of honor that does not preclude the enjoyment of many pleasures. Wine, women, song – he loves them all. But as a greedy rancher finds out in, The Race, an episode from first half of the series’ fifth season, that also doesn’t preclude him from an appreciation of honor and maintaining a standard of honor, himself. It’s the combination of seeming contradictions that make Paladin so interesting – and why the series ran for six seasons and two hundred and twenty-five episodes.
Over the course of the fifth season’s first nineteen episodes, Paladin has to deal with much more than just a greedy rancher. Indeed, in The Education of Sarah Jane [one of several episodes that Boone directed himself], he finds himself in the middle of a feud between the Darrows and the Tylers – and dealing with the titular Sarah Jane Darrow, a wildcat of a young woman on the hunt for her father’s killer. The episode is notable another reason, too – early rocker Duane Eddy plays Whitney Tyler, the object of Sarah Jane’s wrath.
Then there’s the milquetoast farmer, Henry Grey [Charles Bronson], who almost loses his Greek mail order bride because he’s so browbeaten by his mother; and “the embezzler, convicted cutthroat, adulteress and murderer” from among whom he must choose to satisfy the demands of a bandit [one of the four killed the wife of a member of the band] – while discovering more honor in the person of the bandit leader [Solomon] than anyone else in his own company.
There’s a gambler who should have been a doctor [Odds For Big Red]; a woman who needs to heave some last words with her husband before his execution for murder [Hanging of Aaron Gibbs], a coward who takes on a bully, believing that he only has one more day to live – and then needs help to survive his’ fast gun’ rep when he doesn’t [Lazarus], to name but a few.
Even though he faced a lot of interesting, even extraordinary, characters, Paladin was even more interesting. He was fluent in many languages [speaking flawless Greek in A Proof of Love], well read [he’s seen reading Dostoyevsky in The Revenger, and quotes Heraclites in The Gospel Singer], a fencer and, naturally, pretty good with a gun – any kind of gun.
Boone proved to be an excellent director with a knack for humor. Besides The Education of Sarah Jane, he also directed A Proof of Love, Hanging of Aaron Gibbs, Squatter’s Rights and Lazarus. While Lazarus might his best effort in a comedic vein, he definitely directed the set’s most poignant episode in Hanging of Aaron Gibbs – also notable for the brilliant performance of gospel/folk legend Odetta as Gibbs’ wife, Sarah.
Richard Donner [Superman: The Motion Picture] turned in four very good eps, as well, directing Odds For Big Red, The Piano, A Drop of Blood and Blind Circle [in which Paladin has to stop an aging gun-for-hire and glimpses what the tail end of his own career might be like].
Most television series have a tendency to peak in their second or third year, but, as this DVD set shows, Have Gun – Will Travel maintained a high level of quality right through the first half of its fifth season. Have Gun – Will Travel: The Fifth Season, Volume One is proof of that.
Final Grade: A