LAREDO: Review of a Comedy/Western Classic

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Pilot From The Virginian

Produced by Universal Television in 1965, NBC introduced a new version of what most folks thought would be like The Virginian because the pilot was an episode (We’ve Lost the Train) taken from the already well liked western drama. The drama taking place was about three Texas rangers stationed near the Mexican border town called Laredo. The Texas rangers were Reese Bennett (Neville Brand), Chad Cooper (Peter Brown) and Joe Riley (William Smith) under supervision of Captain Edward Parmalee (Philip Carey). Laredo had all the adventures and storylines like its introduction brother. It had an extremely talented cast and popular guest stars. But audience beware, this is not your typical western and where The Virginian had scenic views and mostly drama, Laredo takes a different angle to a western front with a lot of localized filming done with a background setting that’s not exactly believable. Some viewers called it a little campy. That’s exactly what they were meant to see. It is sort of like a comedy sit-com only with all the action packed adventures of a true western. Entertainment at a humorous point of view gave Laredo an audience looking for an hour of fun every Thursday night at 8:30. Opposite other networks popular works, they were fighting for ratings.

As the Story Begins

The Texas rangers in this story were once Union Army soldiers searching for adventure after the Civil War. Chad joined the rangers to get those Americans responsible for selling guns to the Mexicans who killed his friends while working border patrol. Joe Riley was an ex-gun fighter working his way to serve the right side of the law. The group of ex-soldiers keep getting themselves into all kinds of trouble while fighting rustlers, bank robbers and other villains. One step ahead of their Captain Parmalee with their wild schemes and less than admiral intentions, these rangers fight for justice with whatever means they have.

Laredo aired its first episode (Lazyfoot, Where are You?) September 16, 1965. With special guest stars like Burgess Meredith who played Grubby Sully and Mario Alcalde as Lazyfoot , the show was a hit. This episode had the rangers searching for a gang of out-laws whose leader was Lazyfoot. In their search they meet a gold prospector who keeps them otherwise occupied. Laughter outweighs the drama as the show takes off.

Week after week of funny schemes and chaos made for great entertainment. One episode in the first season, (The Heroes Of San Gill, episode #14) was extremely funny as our funny guys want to attend a fiesta in San Gill. Captain Parmalee gave them direct orders to stay away from there before he leaves on a trip. But as the mice will play when the cats away, so did our rangers scheme up a plan to put them right smack in the middle of the celebration they were told to stay away from.

Another episode worthy of mentioning is (A Very Small Assignment) from season one, episode #25. Reese is suffering from a bad tooth ache as the story begins. As no one else can be bothered to retrieve the new school teacher from the train station in Gutter’s Gulch, Reese is elected for the duty. As the two head back to Laredo they are teased and tormented by a group of out-laws who think the school teacher is some gentleman of great importance because of him being escorted by a Texas ranger. There’s an hour of true Reese moments in this humorous adventure.

On to Season Two

Despite from being aired opposite such shows as Bewitched and My Three Sons, Laredo was earning ratings well enough to bring on another season and add another ranger Erik Hunter (Robert Wolders)to the cast. Texas ranger, Cotton Buckmeister (Claude Akins) appeared multiple times but never was listed as a cast member. Guest stars of well known talents helped bring Laredo yet another season without a hitch. Three of season one’s episodes were even turned into a feature film in 1968 called Three Guns for Texas. Going into season two, their time slot was changed to 10 p.m. on Friday nights and yet another competition for ratings as they aired opposite shows on other networks like 12 O’clock High and the Friday night movies.

One of season two’s episodes which comes to mind while thinking of the new ranger Erik Hunter is Episode # 37 (Any Way the Wind Blows), Eric is out to catch bank robbers who are performers in a circus. He decides to go under cover as a Magician to catch the thieves. It’s a very entertaining storyline.

Captain Parmalee is centered around, season two’s Episode #50, (Enemies and Brothers). The brother the captain thought died in the war comes forward as Bart Cutler who is really Frank Parmalee. Jack Kelly plays this character well as a special guest star.

After Two Seasons

Laredo was canceled after only two seasons like many of the shows of its time. But one thing a little unexpected happened in 1969, titled Backtrack, it was none other than Laredo’s pilot taken from the 1965, season three, episode #30 of The Virginian (We’ve Lost the Train) edited for the movie screen.

Laredo is now being played on Encore Westerns weekdays at 3:00 p.m. EST.


Here’s a page devoted to Peter Brown:

http://www.peterbrown.tv/bio.html

And a page about the late Neville Brand:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0104507/bio

The Heroes of San Gill

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