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Series / Wanted: Dead or Alive

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Wanted: Dead or Alive is an American Western television series that followed a Dramatic Half-Hour format and stars Steve McQueen as the bounty hunter Josh Randall. It aired on CBS for three seasons from 1958-1961. The black-and-white program was a spin-off of a March 1958 episode of Trackdown, a 1957-1959 western series featuring Robert Culp as a Texas Ranger named Hoby Gilman.

McQueen's character of Josh Randall is a Confederate veteran and bounty hunter with a soft heart. He often donates his earnings to the needy and helps his prisoners if they have been wrongly accused. Randall carries a shortened Winchester Model 1892 carbine, called the "Mare's Leg", in a holster patterned after "gunslinger" rigs then popular in movies and television.

The 1987 film of the same title is a Setting Update of sorts starring Rutger Hauer as Randall's great-grandson, who is also a bounty hunter.

The series contains examples of:

  • Always Gets His Man
  • Anachronism Stew: The Mare's Leg is a cut down Winchester model 1892 carbine in 44-40 caliber, but the bullets in Josh's cartridge belt are 45-70 caliber rounds used in the larger, more powerful rifles of the day. The producers wanted to use the 45-70s because they were more visually impressive than the relatively small, pistol sized rounds actually used in the 1892 carbine.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The "Mare's Leg" is too short to be fired like a rifle and if fired like a handgun requires an awkward and uncomfortable angle on the wrist. Although visually striking, from a practical standpoint it is almost useless for self-defense.
  • Bounty Hunter: Josh. Some episodes like "Sheriff of Red Rock" had him deal with less scrupulous bounty hunters who would try and jump him to take his prisoner and claim the reward for themselves.
  • Crippling the Competition: In "The Bounty", a ruthless bounty hunter, feared for the speed of his shooting, is pursued by a band of Apache seeking revenge for an old man he had killed. Rather than killing him, they cut off his right thumb, removing his ability to cock a hammer one-handed and thus destroying his speed as a gunslinger.
  • Dating Catwoman: In "Journey for Josh," Randall is transporting a female bank robber while keeping an eye out for her male partner. They eventually fall in love. The episode manages to work in Fourth-Date Marriage (as it seems Randall decides to spend the rest of his life with her) and Cartwright Curse, as her partner kills her and is then killed by Josh. And they only had half an hour to squeeze all that in!
  • Death Faked for You: In "The Martin Poster", Andy Martin digs a fake grave for his brother Carl, who was wounded during their escape, so that anyone following them will assume he died.
  • Designated Girl Fight: In "Fatal Memory", the female Villain of the Week is tackled by the daughter of the man she was attempting to frame, while Josh fights the villainess' brother outside.
  • Detective Patsy: More than once Josh is hired by someone to track down a missing person or wanted fugitive, who is using Josh as a fall guy for their real plan.
  • The Drifter
  • El Cid Ploy: In "The Passing of Shawnee Bill", Josh ties the body of Bill to the saddle of his horse and sends it galloping out of the box canyon where he is trapped. Dalt, the man who has been stalking them, assumes Bill is making a break for it and fires several shots into the body, giving Josh time to get behind him and get the drop on him.
  • Evil Twin: "Hero in the Dust" features a twin who seems to have no redeeming qualities — who seems to be bad to the bone, and frames his brother for his crimes; the focus is on the "good" brother, who troubles over their relationship and turns to Josh to see that it ends with both of them alive.
    Pete Weaver: Now, there is a difference between you and me... but the only ones who can tell that difference is you — and me.
  • Hand Cannon: The "Mare's Leg" in .44-40, despite the .45-70 cartridges on Randall's belt.
  • A Handful for an Eye: In "Dead End", a Mexican cowhand tries sneaking up on Josh as he is asleep. Josh, who is actually awake, palms a handful of dirt from the ground and tosses it in the cowhand's face as he gets close.
  • Hanging Judge: In "Miracle at Pot Hole", Randall brings a suspected murderer to Pot Hole, but fears the man won't receive a fair trial when he finds the townspeople in the grip of a power-mad bully who serves as the hanging judge over a Kangaroo Court.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: The use of the 1892 carbine when the series is set in the 1870s.
  • Iconic Item: Josh's sidearm, the Mare's Leg: a cut down Winchester model 1892 carbine in 44-40 caliber. In-Universe the gun is distinctive enough that people who have never met him can identify him by it.
  • In the Back: In "The Martin Poster", Andy Martin shoots the doctor who has just saved his brother's life in the back as he walks away, so as to leave no witnesses.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: In "To the Victor", Josh Randall's problem is a town where the women (led by Liz, the daughter of Sheriff Strata - get it?) withhold themselves from the men in a protest against guns. After an attack on the town which they can't protect themselves against, the women give in unaware that Josh had arranged for the attack.
  • Obfuscating Disability: In "Dead End", a ranch manager confined to a wheelchair after an accident with a bronco hires Josh to track down a ranch hand who allegedly stole the cash from the ranch's cattle sales. When Josh finds the cowhand, he is already dead: shot in the back. The ranch manager then appears, walking with a limp. He faked how the bad accident was, then murdered the hand, stole the money, and hired Josh. He plans to murder Josh and frame him and the cowhand for the theft.
  • Pistol-Whipping: In "The Bounty", a rival bounty hunter clubs Josh into unconsciousness with his own mare's leg.
  • Punny Name: In "The Martin Poster", Dr. Leach's name is probably a conscious joke. At one time, doctors bled their patients (using leeches) to correct the balance of "humors", to restore the patient to health.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: Sawed-off repeating rifle actually.
  • The Sheriff: Josh runs into the full gamut - from those who are respectable and firm believers in justice to corrupt hicks and petty tyrants who use the badge to bully the townspeople they're supposed to protect. Josh usually finds a way to bring the corrupt ones down by episode's end.
  • Stab the Scorpion: In "Dead End", Josh is holding a Mexican cowhand he suspected of attempting to bushwhack him at gunpoint. The Mexican pulls a hidden knife and throws it Josh. The knife goes over his shoulder and imaples the rattlesnake slithering on the the log behind him.
  • Super Window Jump: In "The Martin Poster", Andy Martin escapes from Josh by jumping through a closed window and running off with not cuts, bruises or any other damage.
  • Tae Kwon Door: In "The Martin Poster", an outlaw is hiding behind a door waiting to jump Josh. Tipped off by the marshal's eye movements, Josh uses his elbow to slam the door back into the outlaw.
  • Thirsty Desert: "Rawhide Breed" takes place in one of these. Josh and another man are trying to cross it after their stagecoach is attacked, with little water to be had and hostile Indians in pursuit.
  • Unorthodox Reload: Josh would frequently flip-cock his "Mare's Leg".
  • "Wanted!" Poster: When on a job, Josh often carried the poster of the person he was trying to capture so that he could claim the reward.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The first episode, "The Martin Poster" sees the outlaw Andy Martin murder a doctor and take his supplies after he treats his wounded brother.