The Hour After Dawn

First Impressions:    A very good Slim and Jess episode. Slim is asked to take over for the sheriff, with Jess as his deputy, during a crisis.

The Story:    Four men ride into Laramie and tie up outside of the bank. Three of them go inside, leaving one outside to hold their horses(that's never a good sign). While the others are inside, the man holding the horses spots a deputy coming out of the sheriff's office across the street. He gets nervous and tries to signal his friends inside. The deputy becomes suspicious. When the other three men come out and they all begin to ride a way, the deputy, who seems a little slow on the uptake, shouts for them to halt and begins shooting. The horse-holder turns and shoots the deputy and he dies, but not before shooting the horse-holder as well. Slim and Jess are among the townspeople who come out to see what the ruckus is about.

The posse is on the trail of the three that got away. Jess, who is reading the signs, reasons that the men are not trying to get away, but are actually headed back into town. They decide that the outlaws must be intending to break their friend out of jail, so they ride back to town themselves.

Back at the jail, the sheriff gets a good look at the captured outlaw and remembers him as Billy Pardee, who recently broke out of prison in Texas. Billy's half-brother is another powerful outlaw named Con Creighton. The sheriff seems nervous, but he deploys his men, including Slim and Jess inside and outside the jail to defend against either the three men they were looking for, or Con Creighton's entire gang.

Jess heads out to pick his spot, but first he mosey's over to Maude's Diner. After inquiring about what's for dinner tonight (first things first,I always say), he warns her about staying indoors after it gets dark. Maude has a contract to feed prisoners in jail, so she heads over to the jail to ask the sheriff if she wants her to bring dinner over.

Inside the jail, Maude sees the prisoner for the first time. Slim and the sheriff don't seem to notice, but she seems to recognize him. She arranges to bring dinner over for the prisoner and the sheriff's men and then leaves.

Later that night, Slim and Jess are outside watching the street and conversing about their situation. Jess opines that the sheriff doesn't seem to be tough enough for this job and is worried that the sheriff will "turn tail and run when someone starts throwing lead at him". Slim is a bit more sympathetic telling Jess to not be too hard on the sheriff, it's a hard job.

Just then, a covered wagon comes rolling into town. Since it's so late, it seems a bit strange, so Slim goes over to the sheriff's office to alert the men in there. As the wagon gets closer, Billy yells to it from his cell window to warn the men inside. Seven or eight men come out of the wagon and a gun battle ensues. When the dust clears, most of the men have gotten away and the sheriff has been shot in the shoulder.

At the Doctor's office, we learn that the wound is not serious, but the sheriff's wife is very concerned and agitated. The sheriff talks a very reluctant Slim into taking over as sheriff, with Jess as his deputy. Slim only agrees because there is no one else.

The next day, Jess and Slim are eating (well, only Jess is eating) at Maude's diner. Slim is apparently "too mixed up" and forgets how to eat, according to Jess' teasing. Slim mentions to Maude that he noticed that she seemed to know the prisoner. She admits at first she thought she did, but she was wrong. As Slim and Jess are leaving, she makes it a point to tell Slim to be extra careful.

The circuit judge arrives on the stage and Slim and Jess escort him to the jail to meet with Pardee. They decide on a trial time in one hour (boy, talk about swift justice).

At the trial, the judge finds Billy Pardee guilty and sentences him to hang "the hour after dawn" tomorrow and Slim must carry out the sentence.

As Slim and Jess escort Billy back to the jail after the trial, they notice a lot of strangers in town who seem awfully interested. Later, Jess is heading up a crew who is building the gallows. Slim and he talk about the impending hanging. A couple of townsmen come up and tell Slim that the stages are being turned back by Creighton’s men and no one is getting in or out of Laramie.

Slim goes back to the jail where Maude is just bringing in the dinner. As the others search the meal, Maude tries to slip Billy a small gun out of her pocket, but Slim grabs it just in time. Maude is embarrassed, and Slim escorts her back to her diner. There he confronts her and she confesses that she and Billy are married but that she actually left him over a year ago. She’s not still in love with him, but she doesn’t want to see him hang either. Slim commiserates with her, but there’s nothing he can do. Billy must hang at dawn.

Meanwhile, Jess is finishing up with the gallows and putting his tools away when two men approach him and back him into an alley. They have a message for Slim and they proceed to beat up Jess and leave him in the alley.

After awhile, Slim misses Jess and begins looking for him. He hears Jess moaning in the alley and finds him just getting up. Jess tells Slim that the message was “get out”. Slim helps Jess out of the alley, but he refuses to go to the Doctor. Slim goes off to see the sheriff.

At the sheriff’s house Slim tells Mort that he must take the job back. Slim isn’t cut out to be sheriff and he doesn’t want the job. The sheriff refuses at the urging of his wife who is very agitated and scared. Having failed to resign, Slim goes back to the jail. He and Jess have a good conversation about “what’s bothering” Slim. It’s not all the strangers with itchy trigger fingers, it’s not the fact that most of his deputies except Jess have deserted him, it’s not that the townspeople are no help at all. It’s that Slim has never killed anyone who wasn’t trying to kill him first. He’s uncomfortable with hanging Billy. Jess is supportive, but the bottom line is, they have to do it in the morning.

By dawn, it’s apparent that Slim hasn’t slept at all. Jess is sleeping on a bench and Tooie, the only deputy left, is in one of the chairs. Slim gets everyone up and prepares to take Billy to the gallows.

Out on the street, Slim, Jess, Tooie and Billy encounter Con Creighton and a couple of dozen men. There’s a long silence and suddenly Jess and Slim realize that the townspeople have taken up positions behind them. Con Creighton realizes that he is outgunned and apparently decides that Billy isn’t worth it and starts to turn away. Outraged at being deserted, Billy lunges for Con, who turns and shoots Billy, then the gun battle ensues.

In the melee, Billy is killed by the sheriff who has shown up to help, finally. A lot of Creighton’s men, and Creighton himself are killed. Slim and Jess survive unscathed.

The sheriff takes his badge back from Slim and makes his wife pin it on. He apologizes to Slim who says it’s okay, he was there when he was needed. As Slim and Jess leave town, Jess teases Slim. Jess is going home, but Slim should ride over to a neighboring town. When Slim asks why, Jess tells him he hears they’re looking for a new sheriff there, with experience. Slim shoots him a dirty look which Jess ignores.

Annie's Favorite Moments:   This is just a good all-around episode. I guess my favorite moments involve Jess being relagated to the role of porter for the judge. When the judge first gets off the stage, Jess is stuck with his luggage. And later, the judge imperiously asks Jess to "carry those papers", and then adds, "and don't forget my bag". Jess goes along good-naturedly.

I like Slim's angst over having to hang a prisoner, and Jess' unwaivering support. Jess is both literally and figuratively behind Slim the whole way

Jenny's Favorite Moments:   A wonderful episode!   Of course, I love the way Jess stands by Slim through this very difficult time.   But I also love it when the townspeople come through for our guys in the end.   It seems rather unusual for a western like this to have so many times where the townspeople come through for the heroes, but it happened quite a few times in Laramie (Shadow of the Past, Marshals, I think others that I can't think of at the moment).   It's yet another thing that sets Laramie apart from the rest for me.   Maybe they should've come through earlier, but they were there when it counted.   I love Jess and Slim, so I want the townspeople to appreciate and support them too.

Notes of Interest:    Billy Pardee is played by perennial favorite character actor and future Acadamy Award winner, Ben Johnson.

The sheriff in this episode is named Mort Corey, but he is not, I repeat, is not the Mort Corey we grew to know and love in the later seasons. Only the name is the same. This guy was a loser. (Aww, c'mon Annie, tell us what you really think.)

The Owie Factor:    We'll give this one bandaid and a tip of the nurses cap to poor Jess who gets beat up by two of Creighton's men. Okay, so it usually takes at least three to get the better of our Jess. My theory is that Jess was in a weakened condition after working all day in the hot sun building that gallows. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Annie's rating: Five stars. Man I love this episode. Good solid story, great execution (pardon my punnery), entertaining and dramatic.

Jenny's rating: Five stars. I loved this episode too.  A great Slim and Jess story.  Definitely one of my favorites.

Ride or Die



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