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Series / The Rifleman

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The Rifleman is an American live-action western that ran from 1958 to 1963.

The story is about Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) and his son, Mark McCain (Johnny Crawford). Mark's mother and Lucas' wife died of an illness when the medicine failed to reach her in time. Lucas enters a turkey shooting contest to buy a plot in North Fork, New Mexico, but throws the contest to a younger gunman (Dennis Hopper) when the man who runs the town threatens Mark's life. Lucas confronts the man who runs/owns most of the town, who killed the younger gunman's relative/guardian. In the saloon Lucas, with a bit of help from Hopper, kills the man and his henchmen. The judge in the town invites Lucas to stay, which he does and buys the ranch.

The Rifleman is notable for being the first primetime television series about a single parent. It also is distinguished among Westerns by the fact that the main character almost never carried a pistol. True to the show's name, McCain's rifle is prominent in the series, appearing in virtually every episode. While not all episodes were resolved with violence, McCain did rack up a substantial body count, killing 120 villains in the show's 5-year run, a pretty staggering amount for a protagonist who was not in the military, law enforcement, or security services.


The show was created by Arnold Laven and ran on ABC. Among the show's more notable crew members was Sam Peckinpah, who wrote the Pilot and wrote and directed several other episodes.

The Rifleman is available completely and legally on Hulu. Oh, and if the "widower and son take over the running of a frontier settlement" premise sounds familiar but you could have sworn it took place in the Alpha Quadrant, it may be because Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was originally pitched as "The Rifleman IN SPACE!"


Tropes related to The Rifleman:

  • Abusive Parents: The adoptive father of a boy, whose similar-looking father Lucas killed in the Civil War, hates him bitterly and takes every opportunity to try to get him killed in a shootout.
  • Adult Fear: A number of times Mark's life is threatened. In the first episode, "The Sharpshooter", Lucas deliberately loses a shooting match for fear of Mark being killed by Jim Lewis.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Lucas often ruffles Mark’s hair.
  • The Alcoholic: Micah Torrance, who gets a second chance from Lucas.
  • Alliterative Name: Mark McCain and Lucas' late wife Margaret.
  • Always Someone Better: Lucas tells Mark that there's always someone who's a better gunman in "The Angry Gun".
  • Anachronism Stew: The rifle itself; The show takes place roughly from the late 1870's to about the 1880's. However the rifle is a modified 1893 Winchester. Maybe justified since Lucas made the rifle and it was perhaps an earlier Winchester such as an 1873 one and it simply resembled a later model.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Lucas will chew Mark out for disobeying orders, usually because said orders are meant to keep him safe. However, he’ll calm down, apologize, and explain himself once he’s sure there’s no immediate danger.
  • Anti-Villain: Many episodes feature villains with sympathetic backstories but end up on the wrong side of the law, and occasionally Lucas's bad side:
    • Sammy Davis Jr. in "Two Ounces of Tin," playing a gunfighter who wants to run Micah out of town, or else kill him, to avenge his father's death at the hands of North Fork's townspeople. Despite being a villain, he befriends Mark and Lucas tries to talk him out of his plan, without success.
    • Claude Akins in "The Safe Guard" as a retired gunfighter who works as a bank guard, then is manipulated into helping with a bank robbery. Though his plight's depicted sympathetically, he crosses the Moral Event Horizon when he kills a bystander during the robbery, and Lucas guns down him soon afterwards.
    • Royal Dano as a wounded Confederate veteran in "The Sheridan Story," who holds Lucas and Mark hostage in a revenge plot against Union General Philip Sheridan.
    • Cesare Danova as the title character in "Baranca," a bandit who arrives in North Fork to avenge the murder of a Mexican farmer. He and Lucas butt heads and have a fistfight, but eventually wind up on the same side when the murderer's gang attempts to free him.
  • Bandito: A whole band of them appears in "The Vaqueros".
  • Bears Are Bad News: The mountain man in "Day of the Hunter" is done in by a bear he didn't see coming because he was so focused on getting McCain to duel him.
  • Berserk Button: Lucas is fairly even-tempered, but that goes right out the window if Mark is in danger.
    • On the flip side, Mark will fight anyone who insults his father’s character.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Lucas McCain frequently performs this trick when he doesn't want to kill the person or even persons he is facing off against. Typically, it is a fast hip shot blasting a pistol out of a person's hand leaving them clutching a seemingly unwounded hand in pain.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: Lucas for an episode where some gunpowder went off in front of him and temporarily blinded him. He still managed to use his rifle with amazing skill.
  • Bullying a Dragon / Mugging the Monster: Both of theses occur frequently, sometimes in the same scene.
    • Many folks like to challenge Lucas. Sometimes they know of his reputation, and just want to prove who is better, and other times, they see him as some dumb sodbuster who doesn't know who he's messing with.
    • One Gentle Giant gets on the wrong end of two sore brothers. The big guy has no issues tossing them around, but that doesn't stop them for very long — fools learned the hard way.
    • Some bullies messed with one Japanese noble's servant. Turns out that the noble is a Samurai, and his servant is a Battle Butler.
    • Some racists mess with a Chinese laundryman, and his son. Turns out, All Chinese People Know Kung-Fu.
    • Some folks also messed with an Italian Count, who turned out to be a crack shot with a revolver.
  • Daddy Issues: Lil, though she and her father do rebuild the relationship.
  • Easily Forgiven: Lucas gave lots of people second chances, but YMMV on how much they were deserved.
  • Evil Twin: Lucas has one who comes back for an episode.
  • Gun Twirling: Of the "twirl a lever-action gun to cock it" variety. Lucas' rifle was specially designed to allow this, and also could have a screw put through the lever so that it would hit the trigger every time he cycled the action.
  • Handicapped Badass: One episode involved a blind man who could tell who someone was by their footsteps. He even (unknowingly) attacked and got the upper-hand in a fight with Lucas.
    • Lucas himself became this for an episode where he was temporarily blinded. It helps that he was a badass before that happened.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Lucas is so devastated by his wife's death that he never remarries, and her memory is often brought up.
  • Historical Domain Character: Samuel Clemens turns up in town in one episode. Mark can't stop squeeing. Union General Philip Sheridan also puts in an appearance.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Lil.
  • Hunter Trapper: In the episode "Day of the Hunter", one of these tries to goad Lucas McCain into killing him in a showdown.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Lucas McCain frequently displays uncanny shooting ability with his rifle. He almost never misses and is as fast or faster than gunfighters with a pistol. He does most of his shooting from the hip with pin point accuracy. Other feats include shooting weapons out of opponents' hands, not missing despite being blinded, and landing a shot with a improvised rifle made out of a bit of junk lumber for a stock and pistol.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: In the Title Sequence, it's preceded by a rapid firing of 12 shots and the announcer calling out, "The Rifleman!"
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Duke Snider, Chuck Connors' former Dodgers teammate, once played an outlaw in one of the episodes.
  • It Will Never Catch On: One episode has Mark come up with the idea of a dishwasher, but with the current technology (he proposes a leakproof box that's then attached to a horse) it's not practical.
  • The Load: Mark McCain. Somewhat justified since he's just a kid, but still. A good 80% of the conflicts are directly caused or made worse by him. And he's useless.
  • Manly Tears: With Mark unconscious and suffering from typhoid fever, Lucas breaks down completely as he begs his ailing son not to die.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In "The Vision" (Season 2, Episode 26), Mark contracts a bad case of typhoid fever. On the edge of death, he dreams - or sees - himself in a heavenly valley with a woman who appears to be his mother. See Missing Mom below. Is it merely a fevered dream? Or is the valley the edge of heaven, and is his late mother's spirit comforting him through his illness?
  • Missing Mom: Margaret, Mark's mother and Lucas' wife died due to disease when Mark was only six, leaving Lucas to care for his son alone. It comes up frequently in the various episodes whether from Lucas reminiscing, Mark asking a question, or another character bringing it up in someway.
    • She actually does appear. The spirit of Margaret McCain returns to help Mark through a bad case of typhoid fever in "The Vision" (Season 2, Episode 26). She's wearing a bridal gown with a veil and her wedding ring. Upon revealing her face, Mark doesn't want to leave her side, so she gently tells him that he must go back bestows Mark a flower to give to her husband.
    Margaret: Give him this. Until we can all be together again.
  • The Neidermeyer: One episode had an Army Major was this to his troops and the civilians of North Fork. Fortunately, everyone in North Fork realized how insane his military command was, and his superiors got a message from Lucas McCain about his incompetence, recalling the Major back to headquarters. However, the Major spun the story, claiming that his superiors needed his command elsewhere, even leaving his Lieutenant with this message: "Lieutenant, remember, the key to command is a firm hand, discipline!"
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Averted with Mark, surprisingly for the day. He is 11 at the beginning of the series and 15 at the end, allowed to age naturally.
  • Papa Wolf: Lucas McCain is this in spades. Some of the other fathers also get in on this, such as the Chinese laundryman, who shows a group of racists what he can really do when they put him and his son in danger.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Numerous characters in the show, both good and bad, carry Colt Peacemakers.
  • The Seven Western Plots: A ranch story chronicling Lucas McCain's trials in raising his son Mark on his own and running a ranch in North Fork, New Mexico.
  • Shared Universe: With of all things the TV movie series The Gambler... more specifically The Gambler Returns, where an elderly Lucas McCain and an adult Mark McCain appear, still played by the original actors, and yes, they are identified by name.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Lucas' first kill in the Civil War was a very young man; when Lucas thinks he sees the same man alive, he gets a severe Heroic B So D.
  • Shirtless Scene: Lucas spends most of "The Vaqueros" without a shirt, and his hair all messed up. And it is awesome. He also frequently is shirtless while performing manual labor on a hot day.
  • Spin-Off: Michael Ansara appears in two episodes as the Native American US Marshal, Sam Buckhart. Ansara's character later received his own show, Law of the Plainsman, which ran 1959-1960.
  • Stern Teacher: "The Schoolmaster" focuses on a strict new teacher who gets on Mark's bad side, and vice versa. Naturally he gets better as the episode goes along.
  • Suicide by Cop: In "Day of the Hunter", a Hunter Trapper tries to goad Lucas into killing him a duel.
  • Third-Person Person: Baranca, the Mexican gunslinger in the same-titled episode.
  • Unorthodox Reload: The "flip-cock method" became the show's gimmick.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Mark is sometimes guilty of this, particularly when chatting with strangers about his father.
    • In one episode, a son of a barber gets fed up with Mark's boasting about his father, and a couple of mean-spirited buffalo hunters get into it, hoping to gun down the barber for pure malice.
  • Worthy Opponent: How General Sheridan describes Blandon and the rest of the Confederates.


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