Laredo: The Complete Series, 1965–67
Timeless Media Group, 12 discs (2,713 minutes), 2009, $98.98.
The old black-and-white Maverick TV series cheerfully combined humor with Western action, and Laredo took that notion to a colorful new level. Spun off from an April 1965 episode of NBC’s The Virginian, the series debuted on that network’s fall lineup with the same Texas Ranger trio losing some of their edge for the sake of laughs. Neville Brand, a real-life hero of the European Theater during World War II, plays gruff and sometimes dim but mostly lovable and goodhearted Reese Bennett. He is forever muttering, “Those guys,” and, “Some day,” after being fooled or teased by smooth operator Chad Cooper (Peter “I Once Was Lawman’s Young Deputy” Brown) and strongman Joe Riley (William Smith). Sometimes the Three Musketeers of the Rangers amuse their boss/straight man, Captain Edward Parmalee (Philip Carey, who was Custer in The Great Sioux Massacre), but he usually remains stern and, thankfully, at his desk at Laredo, Texas, headquarters. In the episode “Quarter Past Eleven,” Chad, Joe and Reese try to scare off a squinty-eyed gunslinger (Lee Van Cleef filling the bill to perfection) whose Main Street showdown with the captain is scheduled for 45 minutes before high noon. Each episode is loaded with shoot- ’em-up action along with delightful doses of roughhouse humor.
Sometimes guest Rangers, played by such fine character actors as George Kennedy and Jack Lord, arrive on the scene to aid or impede Reese, Chad and Joe. In “Meanwhile, Back at the Reservation,” even a 14-year-old “Indian” (played by heavily made-up Kurt Russell, future Wyatt Earp of Tombstone) becomes a spunky young Ranger. Grey Smoke’s earpiercing Indian yell delights Joe, who once lived with the Comanches. The kid helps Joe, Chad and the captain deal with nine cutthroats who figure they can handle the shorthanded Rangers. Yes, the Rangers are shorthanded whenever wacky but ultimately effective Reese isn’t around.
Brand quit during the second season (apparently he had drinking and reliability problems and was also bitter about the show’s pending cancellation). Another fine character actor, Claude Akins (as Ranger Cotton), saddled up, but things just weren’t the same in Laredo. Actually things had already changed for the worse at the start of the 1966–67 season with the needless addition of splashily dressed Ranger “hunk” Erik Hunter (Robert Wolders). The Western Writers of America recently voted Laredo the 25th best TV Western series, but it was better than that when Reese was the most important piece in the Ranger puzzle.
Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.