Have Gun – Will Travel – The Outlaw

S01Ep02 – “The Outlaw”“Mister, you killed nine men. I never heard anyone say you made allowances for your opponents’ ability with a gun.”

Probably the most difficult episode of a new television series to write is the second one. The pilot, the first episode, is of course difficult as well, as it needs to lay out all of the particulars of a given series, introduce all of the primary characters, and make an audience interested enough in seeing what becomes of them to return for more the following week. But for all that, the first episode also has a particular remit, a job to do. The second episode, however, needs to be a solid and strong example of just what the series is going to be like on a regular basis. Typically, a pilot installment will have a somewhat larger budget as well, since a series that has been picked up for an entire season has been budgeted across its entire run of episodes.

These were the conditions facing HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL creator Sam Rolfe when he sat down to put together the script for what would become the second episode of the series, “The Outlaw”. And fortunately, he stuck gold, with an excellent and nuanced performance from newcomer guest star Charles Bronson. bronson would be featured in later episodes of HGWT as well, but it’s really in this first appearance that he shines the brightest. As well, Richard Boone is beginning to grow into the roll of Paladin as well, and this installment does a lot to establish a number of the specific characteristics of the hero which would be on display in the coming months and which would serve to often separate him from other similar gunslingers on television. In particular, here Paladin is caught in a situation where he is more sympathetic and has more in common with the man he is hunting than those agents of the law who are likewise on his trail. The episode aired on September 21, 1957 and was directed by one of HGWT’s most called-upon directors, Andrew McLaglen. It’s a well put together adventure and a crackerjack episode.

The episode opens with Paladin taking his leisure in the lobby of the Hotel Carlton, reading one of the many papers he scours for possible situations where he can ply his trade. but his attention is caught by an exchange taking place between Hey Boy and a visitor to the hotel, a Mr. Alcorn. Paladin inserts himself into the conversation, learning that Alcorn had testified against notorious gunman Manfred Holt. Holt swore to get even with Alcorn, so when Holt escaped from Sheriff Ludlow for the fourth time, Alcorn ran. Paladin offers Alcorn his card, saying that he’s not a bounty hunter, but his services are for hire for a fee.

We segue to the Black Mountains, where Holt has been hiding out, eluding his pursuers. Paladin approaches in the midst of gunfire, as the Sheriff and his men seem to have Holt cornered. The Sheriff isn’t too happy to see Paladin, and he indicates that they caught up with holt before the killer could reach his wife’s cabin, which is a short distance away. Paladin is taken aback to learn that the Sheriff has no intention of taking Holt in alive, he’s been made too much a laughingstock thanks to Holt’s frequent escapes. “Hang later, shoot now–what’s the difference?” the Sheriff says. “Well, that’s an interesting question, Sheriff,” replies the Man in Black, “what is the difference between murder and justice?”After Holt’s pack horse eludes the Sheriff’s men, Paladin hangs back as they first scout out the area then head out in pursuit of the fugitive. “Mister…you’re on your own.” the Sheriff tells Paladin.

As the posse rides out, Paladin hangs back and circles around. He’s spotted evidence that Holt wasn’t on the pack horse that lit out but rather had concealed himself in the treetops. he’s able to get a jump on the escapee. Holt asks Paladin why he didn’t tell the Sheriff if he was aware that Holt was there the whole time, and Paladin replies that Ludlow would have killed Holt. Paladin intends to make sure that Holt faces justice as ordered by the court. “A man ought to be let to die like a man. ,At the hands of a man.” says Holt as he gets up on his horse, and when Paladin tells him that he’s here on Alcorn’s behalf, the killer responds with a spit. “Man can’t even fight his own fights.” Paladin interjects on behalf of his client, leading Holt to state, “Look, I’da seen that he had a gun. I never yet shot a man but he wasn’t holdin’ a gun and was facin’ me.” Paladin has no sympathy for his captive’s code of honor, as it pointedly doesn’t take into account the lack of ability of anybody Holt might have been facing.

As the two men prepare to head out, Holt asks paladin for a favor. it will take them two weeks to get back to Laramie where a noose is waiting for Holt, and Holt intends to escape if he can. But what he really wants to do is to give a present to his newborn boy at his in-laws’ cabin a half day’s ride from their current position. if Paladin will take him to that cabin, Holt promises that we will go with Paladin to Laramie without any further trouble. “Look, mister, I ain’t begging you. I’m offering my word. Since you heard the rest about me, maybe you heard too that my word is good!” Learning that Holt has never so much as laid eyes on his son, Paladin comments, “Well, you ought to see him before you go to Laramie. And I give you my word that you will.” And with that, an odd friendship is struck between the two men.

It’s a friendship that is tested on the road to Holt’s in-laws’ cabin. At one point, as they crest a hill and look out over the Wyoming countryside, Paladin turns his back to Holt, giving the other man a clear opportunity to steal his gun. “Aw, Paladin, you oughta be ashamed of yourself, turning your back like that. Ya tempt a man!” But Paladin feels secure in knowing that he’s got Holt’s word. “Well, I been known to lie!” the fugitive tells him. The duo sees members of the Sheriff’s posse in the distance, hunting for Holt, and Holt suggests that they may be able to bypass the hunters by using a tricky bit of trail that he knows. The two men pass the time by talking about Holt’s son. His father-in-law wants to call the boy Hubert, and Paladin tells Holt that the name means “bright mind.” A good name for a scholar, notes the Man in Black. Holt insists that his son is going to be a man, and he tells Paladin to call him by his first name–Manfred.

As the two men walk their horses up the narrow trail, their conversation continues. “Yeah, there’s no denyin’ it. Still, a man has to be what he is. You know, I don’t like someone, I just reach for a gun, just about as natural as you’d reach to scratch an itch.” When Paladin tells him that he could let off steam by simply fighting, Holt tells him, “Oh, I’m no good with my fists. I’m good with a gun. What’s the sense to fightin’ when you’re gonna get licked?” Holt laments that it doesn’t feel right to him that he’s going to die by hanging and not on his feet like a man–and that his boy will have to carry that shame with him. Paladin is sympathetic, but he’s got his duty to carry out. “But Manfred, the way a man dies is less important than the way he lives.”

Then, disaster strikes–Paladin’s horse bolts, knocking him off the cliffside. He falls to an outcropping a short distance below, but there is no way that he can scale back out without help. Holt is about to throw Paladin down a rope when he pauses mid-action. Holt explains to Paladin that the Man in Black is bringing him in to hang, and that he’s got to do what he needs to do and take off. “Manfred! I thought you never killed anybody except with a gun!” yells Paladin, stopping Holt up short as he’s about to ride off. After a pregnant moment, Holt returns to the cliffside with a rope, and helps Paladin to climb back up to safety. “No thanks called for. You didn’t turn me in to Jake Ludlow when you could’ve, so I owe you my life there. And you wouldn’ta been down there if ya hadn’t gone off your trail so’s I can see my son. Now the way I see it, now we’re quits.” Paladin agrees that the two men now owe one another nothing, and Holt tells Paladin that he will break away and escape if he can.

As the pair nears the cabin, they can see that the Sheriff and his men have beaten them to it. Paladin approaches the structure on foot, having secreted a stone into his horse’s shoe to make it limp. He tells the Sheriff that the two men that the Sheriff had diverted to try to pick up Holts trail were shot and wounded by Holt, and that they need medical attention. The Sheriff is dubious, but he and his deputy ride out, leaving Paladin with his “lame” horse behind. This clears the way for Holt to approach and finally see his wife and child.

When Holt emerges from the cabin, he gives Paladin a cigar, and tells his friend that he’s delivered his gift to his son: his name. The boy will be called Manfred Holt Jr. But Paladin also notices that Holt has also picked up a gun for himself, and since their deal is off, this can only mean one thing. “Paladin, I’m not goin’ back to Laramie with ya.” When Paladin asks Holt about Alcorn, the man who hired him, the killer replies, “Oh, I just wouldn’t feel right knowin’ he was walkin’ over the same Earth I am. I’d see that he had a gun.” And now, Paladin is heartsick but resolute. “If I let you go, there’ll be other men, and some of them pretty helpless. And you won’t like them and you’ll have to kill them.” Holt agrees, telling Paladin once again, “A man just has to be what he is. Guess that holds for you, too.”

The two men square off, agreeing to fire when the next drop of water falls from the well pump. In a bit of business that’s perhaps a bit too on-the-nose, Holt tells his opponent: “Don’t try anything fancy like winging a shoulder or the leg. you know, a man like me, we either kill or he kills you.” The two men fire, and Paladin’s bullet finds its mark whereas Holt’s only gets Paladin in the aforementioned shoulder. As the killer falls to the ground, the cries of his son can be heard from the house. Paladin apologizes to his fatally wounded opponent, who says he never asked Paladin what the name Manfred stands for. “It’s an old German name. It means man of peace.” the Man in Black tells him, and with a chuckle, Holt expires. When Holt’s widow Sarah emerges from the cabin, Paladin ruefully shakes his head and tells her, “He wouldn’t let me avoid it.” She tells the gunfighter that her husband only shared his life with the men he respected, and his death is the same way. The Sheriff and his posse ride up, intent upon arresting Paladin for having waylaid them and sneaking Holt back. But with the killer having been executed, Paladin is entitled to the reward. Paladin’s eyes are cold as he rises, and the deputy stammers that maybe some of that money could wind up going back here to the widow and child. “You let it be that way.” Paladin tells the men pointedly, before riding off alone.

One thought on “Have Gun – Will Travel – The Outlaw

  1. The director of this episode (and others), Andrew Victor McLaglen, was literally born into the world of movies, particularly Westerns. His father was Oscar-winning English-born actor, Victor McLaglen, who would co-star with John Wayne in a number of films for multiple Oscar-winning director, John Ford.
    Andrew McLaglen learnt his craft from Ford and would go on to direct a number of Western movies starring, amongst others, Wayne and James Stewart as well as numerous episodes of TV “oaters”.
    The movie gene remained in his family as two of his children, Josh and Mary, would go on to successful careers in the industry: she as a producer and he as both producer and first assistant director. His more recent credits including the X-Men franchise and “Logan”.
    Finally, you have said a number of times that you’re not a fan of Westerns, but please permit an Englishman the impertinence to suggest that Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy” – “Fort Apache”, “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” and “Rio Grande” – transcend that description, particularly in their ruminations on the nature of duty. They also contain Victor McLaglen doing his best “Oirish” comic relief.

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