4 a.m. “Have Gun, Will Travel: The Hanging of Aaron Gibbs” – Western Drama
(1961, CBS Home Video/Paramount Home Video) The urbane gun-for-hire known as Paladin (Richard Boone, who also directed the episode) assists a woman (played by the folk singer Odetta) in traveling to a mining town where her husband (Rupert Crosse, the first black actor to receive a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination) has been sentenced to hang for his role in a cave-in that killed several men. In their grief, the miners have refused the wife visitation and even a burial for her husband, prompting Paladin to step in and engage both sides in airing their grievances and emotions. Told through smart and understated work by all involved, “The Hanging of Aaron Gibbs” is indicative of the quality evident throughout this popular and critically acclaimed Western drama’s run on CBS from 1957 to 1963. The script, by Oscar nominee Robert E. Thompson (“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”), favors issues of basic human dignity over racial conflict, and the cast, anchored by Boone’s intelligent and quietly charismatic lead, deliver the material with remarkable deftness for an episodic Western. This is the episode to watch (or show) for those wary of black-and-white TV Westerns; it’s far beyond the standard network horse opera in terms of story, scope and performance. “The Hanging of Aaron Gibbs” is included on the sprawling “Complete Series” set, which compiles all 225 episodes of the Emmy-nominated series on 35 discs.
5 a.m. – “Danger Has Two Faces” – Thriller
(1967, Fox Cinema Archives) Fleeing a Communist assassin while on secret assignment in East Berlin, American agent Peter Murphy (Robert Lansing) runs into dissolute playboy Mark Wainwright, who happens to be his exact double (also played by Lansing). When the killer mistakenly executes Wainwright, Murphy assumes the dead man’s identity to move among the rich and powerful for the purposes of his mission. The most interesting aspects of this Cold War thriller – culled from four episodes of the short-lived ABC series “The Man Who Never Was” – have little to do with the actual story itself, which is well made but mostly by-the-numbers ‘60s spy material. The main selling points are instead the European locations, which lend much production value, and the fact that two women – writer/producers Teddi Sherman and Judith Plowden – helped to create the series during a period in the industry largely dominated by men. Most previous home video incarnations offered a black-and-white print, but Fox Cinema Archives’ DVD-R is presented in its original color format.
6:30 a.m. – “Devlin: Sandy’s Choice” – Animated/Adventure
(1974, Warner Archives Collection) You wouldn’t think that a stunt motorcycle would be anyone’s first choice to aid in solving a mystery or other problems – and you would be right – but that didn’t stop the Devlin siblings from using one in this short-lived but well-remembered cartoon from Hanna-Barbera which ran for 16 episodes on ABC in 1974. Inspired in part by the exploits of Evel Knievel, “Devlin” concerned motorcycle rider Ernie Devlin, voiced by cartoon veteran Michael Bell (“The Smurfs,” “Voltron”), who toured the country with his brother Tod (Mickey Dolenz) and sister Sandy (Michelle Robinson) in a traveling circus. Most of the scenarios requiring their intervention were the usual cartoon nonsense – lots of escaped animals and inclement weather – but the Devlins also dealt with issues that at least orbited real-world problems. Case in point: “Sandy’s Choice,” which has the Devlins’ aunt and uncle catching Ernie’s act and (quite understandably) insisting that pre-teen Sandy leave the circus and live with them. The debate and its resolution (which should be pretty easy to figure out, given that Sandy is present for the remaining nine episodes) isn’t exactly high drama, but it’s interesting to see a Saturday afternoon animated series address issues of appropriateness, safety and responsibility in the course of an episode. If that punctures your nostalgia balloon, Ernie and the kids deal with an ill-mannered rock band named Lucifer (!) in the very next episode (“Sandy’s Idol”). Warner Archives’ double-disc set contains all 16 episodes.
Also: Shout Factory has the first season (1964-1965) of “Daniel Boone,” with former Davy Crockett Fess Parker as the legendary frontiersman, and the final season (1977-1978) of “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” with former James West Robert Conrad as WWII ace pilot Pappy Boyington. Both are pleasant comfort-food action series with dependably manly players (Parker and Ed Ames in “Boone,” Conrad, Dirk Blocker, John Larroquette and Elvis’ pal, Red West,” in “Black Sheep”).
There are more ‘70s men doing guy-type things in “Chopper One” (Sony Choice Collection), a short-lived cop drama from Ronald Austin (“Charlie’s Angels”) and exec producer Aaron Spelling, with Dirk Benedict and Jim McMullan as LAPD officers protecting a bevy of familiar TV faces (everyone from Dick Van Patten to Nick Nolte) with their police helicopter. Meanwhile, “Death Follows a Psycho,” from the curiously titled Mr. Fat-W Video, is not a long-forgotten giallo, but rather two episodes of the Lorne Greene private eye series “Griff” (1973-1974) stitched together a la “Danger Has Two Faces” to fill out a 90-minute syndicated time slot. Greene’s cop turned detective tangles with a bomb-toting Ricardo Montalban in one episode and helps clear old pal Harold J. Stone (Pops Felcher from “The Rusty Heller Story”!) in the other.
And last, but certainly not least, is “The Best of Grady” (1975, Sony Choice), which includes only nine of the ten episodes of this “Sanford and Son” spinoff; no reason has been given (as of yet) as to why the third episode, “Merry Birthday, Happy Xmas,” has been left out of the set, though music clearance or tape quality are the most likely culprits. No matter, really; the chief reason to watch is Whitman Mayo’s singularly weird turn as the addled, malaprop-spouting Grady, who despite being saddled with a square extended family (Joe Morton of “Scandal” is his son-in-law) in Westwood, still manages to seem like he’s appearing in an entirely different series (different dimension, really). Redd Foxx turns up as Fred Sanford in Episode 2, and Robbie Rist puts in an appearance, but it’s Whitman Mayo’s world here. We’re just watching it.