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Series / The Westerner

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The Westerner is a highbrow American Western series that aired on NBC from September 30 to December 30, 1960. Created, written and produced by Sam Peckinpah, who also directed some episodes, the series was a Four Star Television production. The Westerner stars Brian Keith as amiable, unexceptional cowhand/drifter Dave Blassingame.

Dave Blassingame was a basically decent, ordinary man who was handy with a gun and his fists. A cowboy and drifter, he could sometimes behave amorally in his quest to get enough money together to buy his own ranch, but always did the right thing in the end, and remained true to himself.

The Westerner is generally regarded as the first 'adult' western on television. Its grittiness, moral ambiguity, and complex plots set it apart from most other westerns. Sam Peckinpah, the creator of the series, insisted that the actors clothing were convincingly aged and grungy. Blassingame would not be riding into town after crossing a hundred miles of desert in a neatly pressed outfit. The saloons he frequented would not be the generic Hollywood mock-ups of every other TV western; they would be real, so real that the people at home could smell the stale beer on the floorboards, the sour stench of tobacco juice in the spittoons. After the series was canceled by the network executives, Sam Peckinpah and Brian Keith were both suggested to continue the show but with a softer approach for larger audiences, for kids. Both men told the producers to go to hell.

Tropes in The Westerner include:

  • Bar Brawl: In "Brown", a barroom brawl erupts around Dave and Burgundy during a Fourth of July celebration. They ignore it and keep drinking as it rages around them.
  • Bar Slide:
    • The bartender in "Jeff" performs a completely unnecessary one: sliding a bottle and galss along the bar to Dave, who is less than a foot away.
    • In "Brown", Dave and Burgundy hold a conversation in a crowded saloon while sliding a bottle back and forth between them along the bar.
  • Bounty Hunter: In "Going Home", Dave sees two women pushing a cart with a badly wounded man inside. Dave helps protect the trio from the bounty hunters after the $2000 reward out for the man's capture.
  • Canine Companion: Dave Blassingame is accompanied everywhere by his faithful dog Brown, a lop-eared yellow Mastador (Mastiff/Labrador Retriever mix). Brown was played by Spike, the same dog who starred in Old Yeller.
  • Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing: After being tied up by the Ritchie brothers in "School Days", Dave is able to escape by wedging a knife into a drawer and using it to saw through his bonds.
  • Death by Falling Over: In "School Days", an Abhorrent Admirer attempts to rape the Schoolmarm. When she fights back, he knocks her down and she hits her head on a desk, killing her.
  • Dig Your Own Grave: In "School Days", a rancher who is planning on lynching Dave tosses him a Bowie knife and orders him to dig his own grave at gunpoint.
  • The Drifter: Laconic cowboy Dave Blasingame wanders the Wild West with his faithful dog Brown in his unending quest to become rich enough to buy his own ranch.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Burgundy Smith's first appearance in the series is his well-polished boots exiting a saloon in "Brown". The camera follows his boots as he walks along the boardwalk till he stops, then pans up to show him opening a bottle of champagne.
  • Gardening-Variety Weapon: In "Mrs. Kennedy", crazed rancher Marsh Kennedy attempts to stab Dave while with a pitchfork while Dave is sleeping in the barn. A scream from Mrs. Kennedy awakens Dave in time to shoot Marsh.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The bad guy in "Jeff" is Denny Lipp; a bare knuckle boxing champion who soaks his fist in brine to harden his punches. He wipes the floor with Dave until starts starts fighting dirty.
  • Hat Damage: In "Brown", Dave shoots Burgundy Smith's hat off his head as a warning when Burgundy tries to steal Brown away from him.
  • Humble Goal: Dave's only goal in life is to make enough money to buy himself a modest ranch.
  • Money Mauling: In "Mrs. Kennedy", crazed rancher Marsh Kennedy takes two saddlebags filled with gold double-eagle coins belonging to his wife's rich Uncle Henry, and uses them to smash Uncle Henry's head in.
  • Never Learned to Read: Dave Blassingame is illiterate (an unusual piece of realism for a 1960s TV western), although he can read numbers. In "School Days", he is taking lessons from a Schoolmarm to learn how to write his name.
  • New Old Flame: One appears in the first episode "Jeff", with Dave travelling to a town after hearing his old flame is working as a saloon girl there.
  • Pet Gets the Keys: Subverted in "School Days": When Dave wakes up and finds himself bound hand and foot, he calls his dog Brown in and tries to get him to undo the ropes. Brown just licks the ropes and then goes to help himself to uneaten food on the table, leaving Dave to figure his own way out of the ropes.
  • Roll in the Hay: In "Mrs. Kennedy", the eponymous Mrs. Kennedy sets her cap for Dave, and attempts to seduce him in the barn, leading them to making out in a hay pile.
  • Schoolmarm: In "School Days", Dave is taking lessons from a schoolmarm to learn how to write his name. When she is murdered, Dave is framed for her murder.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Lovable Rogue Burgundy Smith will never use a plain word is a three syllable synonym is available. A Running Gag is him then having to dumb down his commentary so his audience understands him.
  • Sesquipedalian Smith: Lovable Rogue, Con Man and all round pain in Dave Blassinghame's ass, Burgundy Smith.
  • Sled Dogs Through the Snow: In "Brown", Lovable Rogue Burgundy Smith attempts to acquire Dave's Heroic Dog Brown so he can sell him as a sled dog leader to prospectors in the Klondike.
  • Two Shots from Behind the Bar: In "Jeff", the Indian barman garbs a shotgun from under the bar and tries to murder Dave. He misses with the first barrel, and Dave ensures he never gets to fire the second.
  • Weighted Gloves: Denny Lipp, the bad guy in "Jeff", does the bare knuckle equivalent of this trope: soaking his fists in brine before a fight to harden his punches.