Though there was a huge boon of Westerns on TV during the fifties and sixties and therefore plenty of reruns of said Westerns, I am rather ambivalent to most of them, using most of them as background noise on the afternoons I’m not working a day job. However, a couple of them have captured my heart and one of them is The Rifleman.
The Rifleman features Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) and his son Mark (Johnny Crawford) building a life in the town of Northfork in the New Mexico territory back before New Mexico was a state and the 20th century was a thing. Lucas’s expertise with a rifle proves to be a valuable asset to Marshall Micah Torrence (Paul Fix) as they both try to keep some law and order in the Wild West.
The town had it’s share of familiar faces over the years. Hope Summers, Billy Quinn, Patricia Blair, Joe Higgins, Joan Taylor, and Harlan Warde all played recurring characters during the run of the show. Guest stars included: frequent TV guest stars John Anderson, Richard Anderson, Dabbs Greer (who played a different character in back-to-back episodes; I had to look it up when I first saw it to make sure Me-TV wasn’t airing them in a funny order or it was a season finale/season premier and it wasn’t), Kevin Hagen, William Schallert, Vito Scotti, John Dehner, and John Hoyt; lovely ladies June Allison, Agnes Moorehead (as a really fun character), Grace Lee Whitney, and Patricia Berry; Michael Landon and Dan Blocker before they were on the Ponderosa; Robert Culp, Martin Landau, and Robert Vaughn before they were spies; James Drury before he was the Virginian; Ellen Corby before she was a grandma; Frank DeKova before he was a chief of the Hekawi; Adam West before he was Batman; Lee Van Cleef, Royal Dano, Jack Elam, and Denver Pyle (because I think it was a law that they had to be on every Western TV show); some nobodies like Dennis Hopper, Sammy Davis Jr., James Coburn, Buddy Hackett, and Lon Chaney Jr; and Robert Crawford Jr (Johnny’s brother) and Jeff Connors (Chuck’s son).
(You have no idea how many people I left out. Watch the show to see a whole lot of familiar faces, many of them very young.)
North Fork, like many old west towns in these shows, is a magnet for some real jerks. Bank robbers, kidnappers, gunfighters, murderers, thieves, cattle rustlers, bullies. Naturally, this sort of thing leads to trouble and many times that trouble was solved with Lucas’s rifle. But! That wasn’t the lesson Lucas taught his son. He taught the boy that the rifle was the last resort and it was never something he wanted to use.
This sort of thinking, however, did not apply to anyone messing with Mark. Over the course of the series, Mark got kidnapped or taken hostage, I don’t know, more times than any normal boy is kidnapped/taken hostage during their years between 10 and 15. A few times a season, at least. Anyway, whenever someone threatened/kidnapped/hostaged Lucas’s boy, the shit hit the fan and then Lucas hit the bad guy. Repeatedly. Maybe choked him. Stomped him. Kicked him. Hit him some more.
The backbone of the series really wasn’t Lucas shooting bad guys; it was his relationship with his son Mark. As a widower, he did his best to raise his son right. And he loved his son, that was very clear. He protected him (when he wasn’t getting kidnapped and such) and educated him in the ways of morals and values. For a man that used his gun every episode, he wasn’t keen on his son picking up one of his own too soon. And just as the show didn’t shy away from morals, it didn’t shy away from father-son affection, either. There’s never any doubt that Lucas loves his son and he’s not afraid to show it.
Try getting away with that today. Folks would be hollering “sissy”.
I don’t think it would be smart to take that attitude with the rifleman.