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The Rifleman [DVD]

Release Date:10/26/2004
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No less than Sam Peckinpah was the writer of The Rifleman's deubt episode, in which widower Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) and his son Mark (Johnny Crawford) arrive in North Fork in hopes of owning and maintaining their own ranch. Though essentially a man of peace, Lucas is forced to show off his astonishing skill with a rifle to win a turkey shoot in order to afford the down payment on the ranch--and in so doing he earns the disdain of the first in a long line of blackhearted villains who will learn the hard way that Mr. McCain is not a man to be trifled with (Incidentally, that callow bully who picks on the McCain in an early scene is Dennis Hopper! In later episodes, a pre-Bonanza Michael Landon plays a wounded bank robber who forces Lucas to hide him from the law; Paul Fix makes his first series appearance as Micah Torrence, here presented as a once-famous lawman turned drunken bum (though he'd pull himself together suffiently to become North Fork's marshal soon enough!); an insane judge (George Macready) plots to kill Mark after his own son is turned over to the local hangman by Lucas; Claude Akins appears a bank guard with some unfortunate "friends"; a filthy-rich and despicably cruel Frenchman (played by the doggedly non-French Akim Tamiroff) will stop at nothing to gain control of the McCain ranch; future Man From UNCLE Robert Vaughn is seen as a rule-bound apprentice marshal whose poor eyesight may prove to be his undoing; Vaughn's future Magnificent Seven costar James Coburn shows up as a crooked ranch foreman; spaghetti-western headliner Lee Van Cleef is menace personified as an ex-convict who comes to North Fork a-gunnin' for Marshal Torrance and John Carradine chews the scenery as a portrait photographer who was once the sadistic overseer of a Civil War prison camp (this episode is one of the few westerns to use a photo as a key piece of evidence in a murder trial!). Auterists should note that one of the first season's best episodes, "Shivaree", was directed by the underrated and brilliant Joseph H. Lewis (Terror in a Texas Town). And TV trivia buffs will like the episode titled The Indian, which serves as the pilot for the weekly western series Law of the Plainsman, starring Michael Ansara as Native American federal marshal Sam Buckhart. Originally telecast on Wednesday at 9 PM EST, Season One of The Rifleman easily outrated its rival network series The George Burns Show and The Arthur Godfrey Show, end up as America's fourth highest-rated series (and ABC's number one attraction!)~Hal Erickson