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Friday, November 29, 2019

VINTAGE TV WESTERNS—WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE


VINTAGE TV WESTERNS 
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE 
Sympathetic bounty hunter Josh Randall (Steve McQueen) made his first appearance on an episode of the Western series Trackdown, which starred McQueen’s old New York motorcycle racing buddy, Robert Culp as a Texas Ranger. Randall’s character was popular enough to be spun-off into his own series, Wanted: Dead or Alive. Randall, of course, was laconic and laid back, often drawling the catchphrase, “Let’s go.” A Civil War veteran, he explained his new job as a bounty hunter saying, If he's got a price on his head, I've got an empty pocket. 

Randall was assisted in his endeavors by his horse, Ringo, and his sawed-off Winchester, known as a mare's laig (or alternatively a mare's leg). The gimmick gun became virtually the co-star of the show. Randall wore it in a customized leg holster, which made it easy for him to use with one hand—It's kinda like a hog's leg but not quite as mean. If I have to use it. I want to get the message across.

The King of Cool, Steve McQueen, started to developed his reticent anti-hero persona As Josh Randal in Wanted: Dead Or Alive. The series gave McQueen a springboard to stardom. His first lead actor appearance on the big screen was in the sci-fi movie The Blob, which was filmed shortly before he landed the lead role on Wanted: Dead or Alive.

However, The Blob was not released until after the premiere of the Western series, which was so popular it turned McQueen into a household name. As a result, McQueen’s new fans flocked to see The Blob, turning the movie into a monster hit, grossing $35,000,000 dollars against a budget of $955,000. McQueen was truly on his way.

Initially, the creators of the series had a hard time selling the show since movies and television had always portrayed bounty hunters as disreputable characters of dubious morals. Randall, however, despite being as tough as they come, often used part or all of his reward money to help others. He was also known to stand up for his prisoners if he felt they deserved it. These attributes made the character sympathetic, likable, and more than accepted by TV audiences.

Randall also helped his popularity grow by not only pursuing wanted outlaws. In his travels, he searched for hidden treasure, mediated family feuds, freed the unjustly accused, located missing husbands, sons, fathers, fiancées, Army deserters, a daughter captured by Indians, and even a pet sheep. Despite being a bounty hunter by trade, Randall proved again and again he was more interested in justice and people than in the pursuit of money.

When McQueen was offered a role opposite Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven, McQueen desperately wanted the part. He ran into a roadblock, however, when the producers of Wanted: Dead Or Alive would not release him from the series’ shooting schedule. To get around this obstacle, McQueen staged a car accident.

Making out his injuries were much worse than they were, the production of Wanted: Dead or Alive was forced to go on hiatus while McQueen recovered. Apparently, Mexico offered a cure for his ills while coincidentally being the location where The Magnificent Seven was filming. Undercover of his medical leave, McQueen shot the movie before returning to the set of his television show.

The Mare's Laig McQueen carried was a Winchester model 1892 carbine in 44-40 caliber, but the bullets in McQueen’s cartridge belt were 45-70 caliber. This anachronism was used because the 45-70s were more visually impressive than the relatively small rounds used in the 1892 carbine. 

Josh Randall’s trademark gun also provided a launching pad for the profitable merchandising of toys and other products in support of Wanted: Dead or Alive. Toy reproductions of the mare’s laig were sold in a variety of packaging—sometimes with a six-shooter and holster added. There was also a board game, comics, and an original TV tie-in novel. The second most popular item behind the mare’s laig gun as the Josh Randall action figure, which surprisingly actually bore a resemblance to the star of the show. 

In 1986, Wanted: Dead or Alive was rebooted as a feature film. The movie starred Rutger Hauer as Nick Randall, a Los Angeles-based bounty hunter and ex-CIA operative, who is a descendant of the character Josh Randall, played by Steve McQueen in the 1958 television series. The over the top action film co-starred Gene Simmons as a Middle Eastern terrorist. Simmons casting was a surprise, but he did bring a certain amount of talent to the role. Simmons was born in Haifa, Israel, speaks five languages, and as a member of the band KISS was an experienced performer.

Both James Cann and Mel Gibson had been considered for the part of Nick Randall. The producers settled on Rutger Hauer who reduced his usual fee for a leading part—which meant Caan or Gibson would have been double the price. Being 1987, critics were lukewarm, partly because they were skeptical of the film’s premise—an Arab terrorists coming to the United States and attacking soft targets like a movie theater. They also felt the film owed more to Rambo than the original TV series.

There were, however, ties to the Steve McQueen original, including a specialized weapon—or since a feature film has to be bigger and noisier, a trio of weapons. In the film, Nick Randall carries an H&K P7M13 and a Cold Steel Tanto (knife) along with a shortened Remington 870 shotgun. The latter sported a laser sight activated by the trigger and powered by a battery pack in the grip. The holster was custom made to accommodate both guns. 

Also similar to the original series, at the end of the film, Nick Randall gives instructions for his payment to be sent to the family of his onetime partner, whose death sparks the film’s action.
 













2 comments:

  1. Gene Simmons had a short run as a villain in 1980's movies. He was also in runaway with Tom Selleck and Never Too Young To Die with John Stamos.

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  2. I have a Marx miniature Mare's Laig on my desk as we speak, but it's in rough shape. I had the full-sized toy but I have it to Dave Lewis, cap gun collector extraordinaire. I bought it at an auction the the nitwit auctioneer kept calling it The Rifleman's rifle. Enjoyed the article.

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