S01ep28 – “Killer’s Widow” – “You sent for me, offered me a job in order to accuse me of stealing your money? Mister, you’re playing a dangerous game.”
One of the requirements of a show that ran for as many episodes as did HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL (225 in total) was a pressing need to find new stories to tell within the constraints of the narrative set-up of the program. Like many series of its era, HAVE GUN was rigidly constructed. A viewer knew that each episode was likely to open with Paladin at his home base at the Hotel Carlton, where he’d engage in some banter with Hey Boy (or, in season four, Hey Girl) before being presented with a problem calling for his particular skills. That problem would form the basis for the rest of the adventure. And yet, even early on, the writers and producers of HAVE GUN were looking for ways that they could stretch wat was possible on their program. The style and tone of any given episode might be more overtly comedic or downright brutal. This one falls square in the middle.
This particular episode is a departure in that, while it follows the pattern of the series to a T, it’s actually about what happens in the aftermath of a Paladin adventure. It also highlights some of the important characteristics which separated Paladin from the average western hero of the era–his education, his intelligence, but most importantly, his compassion. In these divided times, compassion seems to be a quality that is in short supply, and it’s one of the aspects of Paladin that makes him such a compelling figure to me. He’s just as tough and sure-aiming as any other western hero, but he’s also got a respect for other cultures, a love of learning, and an appreciation for knowledge. And he seldom makes the easy choice, preferring to hold his actions to a higher standard as much as possible. The episode was written by Albert Aley and directed by the ubiquitous Andrew V. McLaglen, and it first aired on March 22, 1958.
The episode opens along familiar lines, with Paladin’s gaze caught by a pretty newcomer to the lobby of the Hotel Carlton. But before he can make his instroductions, Hey Boy arrives with a special delivery letter for him. It’s from E.J. Randolph, the president of a bank in Colton, Wyoming where Paladin had recently brought a bank robber to ground. The letter indicates that Paladin left the job unfinished and that there is a large bonus payment in it for him if he will come to see Randolph and finish what he started. There’s also a clipping enclosed about Randolph offering a reward for information leading to the recovery of the money stolen from the Colton Bank. Paladin is a bit confused by this, but he dutifully rides out, leaving the pleasures of the woman’s company for another occasion.
Reaching Wyoming, Paladin pays a call on the Colton Bank. There, he is warmly welcomed by E. J. Randolph. Paladin, though is all business, and he cuts through Randolph’s small talk, telling the man that the last time Paladin was in town, Randolph was away, so the two have never met before now. Randolph indicates that he got Paladin’s card from John Griffin, who had earlier called upon Paladin to bring in Steve Morrow, the man who’d robbed the Colton Bank. In that robbery, Griffin’s son was killed, and he wanted to see Morrow face justice. Unfortunately, Paladin had no choice but to shoot and kill the man as he resisted capture. But he pointedly tells Randolph, “I’m not a bounty hunter. I do some jobs that other people can’t or won’t do. Steve Morrow’s case was unfortunately a matter of self-preservation for me.”But the $30,000 that Morrow had stolen from the bank was never recovered–and Randolph believes that Paladin is the one who made off with the loot, while also pocketing the reward for Morrow. He’s heard of Paladin’s lifestyle in San Francisco and has connected the dots for himself. Randolph has summoned Marshall Jaffey and demands that Paladin be arrested for the theft. But without any evidence, Jaffey can’t do anything. (Having worked with Paladin previously, he also doesn’t want to arrest the Man in Black.) Spitefully, Paladin indicates that now that he knows the money is still missing, he may attempt to locate it himself, prompting Randolph to offer a 10% reward for its return.
The Marshall warns Paladin that if he finds stolen money on his person, he’ll have to bring him in. Paladin asks Jaffey about the whereabouts of Rose Morrow, the dead robber’s widow, and is corrected by the Marshall that her name is Lucy, not Rose, but that she’s still out on the Morrow farm. Paladin rides out to the spread, stopping to admire the beautiful roses planted out front. He also notices the auction notice posted on the door to the house: the whole spread is going to be auctioned off for back taxes. Without her husband, Lucy Morrow has not been able to keep up with the cost of the place. When Paladin compliments the roses, recognizing them as an eastern variety that must be difficult to grow in Wyoming, Lucy explains to him that they were a present from her husband. But she has no where else to go and no money to get her or her infant child there if she did. She reveals that Paladin gave her his fee from John Griffin as some small compensation for having killed her husband. But the guilt of his actions weighs heavily on Paladin’s shoulders. “I’m not an executioner, Mrs. Morrow. I tried to bring him back.” But the words are of no consolation to the widow.
Upset, Paladin rides over to John Griffin’s ranch, where he is welcomed warmly as the man who brought down Griffin’s son’s killer. Paladin questions Griffin’s hand Clete about his and Griffin’s son’s pursuit of Morrow, hoping to find some clue as to the whereabouts of the missing money. Griffin tells Paladin about how, when it became known that the money from the robbery had never been recovered, the whole town went out to dig up the mesa in which Morrow had hidden out in the hopes of finding it. But it was never located. Griffin also indicates good-naturedly that he expects to purchase the Morrow farm for the scant hundreds of dollars that are owed in back taxes. The townspeople figure that he’s owed it given that Morrow had killed his son, so nobody else intends to bid against him. Realizing that Lucy Morrow will be left homeless and destitute, Paladin asks for mercy on her behalf. “Griffin, Lucy Morrow didn’t kill your son.” But Griffin is intent on having his revenge on Steve Morrow, even if it’s only by proxy. “My only hope is, somehow, he’ll know.” he says.
That evening, Marshall Jaffey comes to Paladin’s room to check up on the Man in Black and to find out what progress he may have made in locating the missing money. Paladin is convinced that the money is hidden at the farm, despite the fact that Jaffey and his deputies practically tore the place apart looking for it. But Paladin is sure that Morrow would have wanted to have provided for Lucy. “Morrow loved his wife. He spoke about her when he was dying.”, reveals Paladin, and he asks Jaffey about the auction. The Marshall confirms that Griffin will likely take the whole farm for a fraction of what it’s truly worth, because the townsfolk figure that he’s owed something for the loss of his boy. When Paladin asks the Marshall to somehow intercede, the man tells him that if he wasn’t so law-abiding, Paladin would be in jail based on Randolph’s accusations. But the conversation has sparked an idea in Paladin’s mind.
Heading back out to the farm, Paladin is confronted by Clete and some of Griffin’s ranch hands, who are intent on making sure that nothing interferes with the auction tomorrow. They’ve got Paladin in a crossfire, but when Lucy opens the front door, awoken by the noise outside, Paladin leaps through it, knocking the widow out of harm’s way. He returns fire through the window, killing one of his two attackers and driving Clete to flee. Once again, though, Paladin has brought death to the Morrow farm, and he apologizes to Lucy. “Did it have to happen at all, Mr. Paladin? Or have guns and killing become your way of life” All Paladin can say in response is a quiet, “No”, followed momentarily by, “I hope not.”
The next morning, we find Paladin at the General Store, where he makes a very loud and very public show of purchasing a shovel. He also confirms with the Marshall when the auction for the Morrow farm will be held. At the auction, Griffin attempts to have Paladin arrested, but Jaffey tells him that Mrs Morrow already corroborated Paladin’s story about how his hand was killed. Griffing is also surprised by all of the people in attendance for the auction, which he thought would be a fait accompli. Jaffey indicates to the crowd that anything bid over the amount of back taxes owed will go to Mrs. Morrow. As expected, Paladin begins bidding against Griffin for the farm. When Griffin complains that Paladin won’t have the money to make good on his bids, Paladin idly brushes his newly-bought shovel and tells him, “Oh, I’ll have it. I’ll have it when the time comes. Now my bid was $500.00” To Griffin’s consternation, other parties among the crowd join in the bidding as well, convinced that the missing money must still be somewhere on the property. Griffin finally wins out, but the cost to him is $5000.00, most of which will be given over to Mrs. Morrow.
The Marshall, Griffen, Randolph, Paladin and Mrs Morrow move inside the farmhouse, so that Randolph can fill out a promissory note to Mrs. Morrow for the money owed her on the purchase of the ranch. When this is finished, Paladin instructs Randolph to fill out another note, this one for $3000.00–the amount of the reward for recovering the missing money, which has already been turned in to the Marshall. Paladin worked out that the money had been hidden beneath the one rose bush that was withering as a result, and he and Lucy dug it up and turned it in at the same time they gave testimony about what happened with the shooting on the farm. Griffin is outraged, but Paladin tells him, “Griffin, you remember what you said last night about hoping Morrow would somehow know? Well, so do I.”
“Mrs Morrow, I’m afraid this is small compensation…for a man you loved” says Paladin quietly as he passes Lucy the two notes. When she tries to give him some of the money, Paladin refuses, indicating that a rose from her rose bush is a more than adequate fee for him in this instance. “Mr. Paladin, “ Lucy tells him, “You are a remarkable man.” But Paladin refuses the compliment: “No. Just a man who’s used a gun perhaps too often.“