The 32-episode fourth (and penultimate) 1960 - 1961 season of the classic TV Western "Maverick," which the equally classic Warner Archive recently released on DVD, is notable for cast changes. The release is also memorable for coming close on the heels of the release of the previously reviewed third season of this series.
The especially good fourth-season premiere episode introduces a pre-Bond Roger Moore as Maverick cousin Beau Maverick, who is named for the oft-quoted Pappy of brothers Bret and Bart Maverick. The origin story of Beau is that he grew up with his cousins but is returning from living in England for five years to engage in the family vocation of being a traveling professional gambler.
Said aptly titled premiere "The Bundle from Britain" is easily the most fun one of the season; it is a variation of the Mark Twain story "The Prince and the Pauper" in that it has Beau accepting a job posing as a visiting British aristocrat who would rather continue his own Old West gambling career than obey the directive of his father that he become a man by spending time at a ranch.
The ensuing hilarity is notched up when Bart gets involved in the fun; suffice it to say, the numerous scoundrels who scheme in this one do not require any schooling in their art.
The following "must-see" clip, courtesy of YouTube, from "Bundle" expertly demonstrates both that Moore brings the same charm to the role of Beau as he displays as Bond and that the chemistry between him and Jack Kelly as Bart is as good as the match between Kelly and Bret portrayor James Garner.
The other big casting change is that the uber-awesome Garner makes his final appearance as Bret roughly one-third of the way into the fourth season in an episode that is aptly titled "The Maverick Line."
The "Line" episode is one of the always awesome joint Bret/Bart episodes. This outing has the les fils Maverick scrambling to accept lucrative offers regarding a recently inherited stagecoach line. The obstacles include an unscrupulous attorney and an equally untrustworthy ranch owner.
Much of the humor from Buddy Ebsen of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Barnaby Jones" playing very laid-back stagecoach robber Rumsey Plumb. Nonchalance regarding Acme-style threats against the lives of the Mavericks also generates laughs.
This departure of Garner prompts a "Cousin Oliver" casting change in the form of having Robert Colbert of the uber-awesome Irwin Allen sci-fi series "The Time Tunnel" appear as younger brother Brent Maverick in fourth-season episodes titled "The Forbidden City" and "Benefit of the Doubt."
"Doubt" is a more typical Western than "Bundle" and a handful of other fourth-season episodes. This one, which involves a Maverick being in the wrong place at the wrong time, gets Brent wrapped up in nefarious doings related to the princely sum of $7,000 that goes missing in the immediate aftermath of a robbery.
The seemingly shifting alliances and spirited interaction between a dance-hall performer and her more tomboyish sister add to the fun of this enjoyable caper.
In addition to Ebsen, Bart gets to rub shoulders with another '60s sitcom legend in the very amusing "Hadley's Hunters." This one guest-stars Edgar Buchanan as Sheriff Hadley who takes a Charles Foster Kane approach to establishing his reputation as a legendary lawman; he simply creates a criminal if none exists.
An unfortunate confrontation at a saloon places Bart on Hadley's enemy list, and the efforts of Mr. Maverick to clear his name in the face of a formidable opposing force provides for an especially entertaining hour of television.
Bart is also featured in the truly compelling two-part season finale titled "The Devil's Necklace" that is worthy of release as a theatrical film. The '60s sitcom star in this one is John Dehner of "The Doris Day Show" as the thoroughly unscrupulous Luther Cannonbaugh.
The massive literal and figurative death toll from Cannonbaugh's misdeeds, which include actively inciting Indian violence and kidnapping an Indian girl to sell her into slavery, include an entire fort full of soldiers, the sweet and loyal wife of a cavalry officer, and the career of the commander of the fort.
An additional '60s sitcom element of this episode is that the set that is used for the fort is almost certainly the same set that was used for Fort Courage in the classic "F Troop" series.
These episodes and the 20-something other ones in the fourth season demonstrate both that the series seems to include an increasingly large percentage of light-hearted episodes as it approaches the end of its run and that the appeal of the series extends well beyond fans of westerns. The same can be said of future "The Rockford Files" star Garner's follow-up western-comedy series, which is the previously reviewed "Nichols."
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Maverick" or "Nichols" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.