A bit of a tour-de-force for Alan Hale. A tale of a good man turned to the dark side by evil gold. (More pictures at the bottom of the page)
The story opens with a stranger (Alan Hale) riding along and running in to a bit o' trouble. His pack mule spooks and runs off, and while he's chasing it, he loses his riding horse too. So much for that. We'll meet him again later.
Then we see Jess riding along and coming onto a ranch that is not his. He's visiting old friends, but the ranch he rides up to is rather dilapidated. His friends, Stede Rhodes and his wife Anne are newly wed and living alone in the hills on this run down farm.
Jess stays for dinner and while Stede is out of the house, Annie lets on that all is not well. Stede is a born hunter, which is fine, otherwise they'd starve, but that's all he does. He doesnt work on the farm, plowing or planting, all he seems interested in is hunting.
Later, while they're alone, Stede tells Jess about his concerns that he's going to lose Annie and the farm, but he doesnt know what to do about it. Jess diplomatically makes some observations about what needs to be done around the place. He suggests they go back to Laramie where Stede can find work. Stede poo-poos this idea. Apparently he had a run-in with the law there about 10 years before. He was acquitted of a rustling charge, but he's still bitter about how he was treated.
Then Jess makes another offer. When they were first married, Jess had offered to loan Stede and Annie some money, which they refused. They refuse again now. But, he tells them they have some farming equipment and supplies at the ranch that are just sitting around rusting because they're not being used. Jess will take them to fetch them, bring them back and stay with them for awhile to help get things in shape. "You'd be doing us a favor by taking them off our hands," he says. Well, since you put it that way...
Stede and Annie accept, and plan to head to the ranch the next morning.
We now move once again elsewhere, where two miners are digging themselves out of a collapsed mine shaft. When they finally make it to daylight, they're hurt, but they survived and they vow to go after their "partner" who buried them alive in their own mine. Hmmm, could that be the man we saw earlier with the pack-mule?
Stede, Jess and Annie are riding along the trail when they see a (ta daaaaa) pack mule drinking at a watering hole. The owner doesn't seem to be anywhere around. They soon discover that the mule is packed to the gills with bags of gold dust. Stede automatically assumes they're all three rich and starts celebrating.
Wait a minute, Jess says, this gold doesn't belong to us. Stede disagrees and jovially suggests that Jess must be joking. Jess gets a bit testy, but insists that this gold belongs to someone and he's going to back-track and find them. If he can't then they'll take the mule to the sheriff in Laramie. If no one claims it, then maybe...
Stede is incredulous. He says Laramie isn't about to give up this gold to a mountain man like him. Anne pipes up and says that the gold didn't just "hop" into those sacks. Someone worked hard for it.
As Jess is leaving to find the owner, Stede pulls a gun on him, much to Anne's dismay. Like a good little wife, and whether she agrees with him or not, she obeys Stede and takes Jess' gun from him. Stede still tries to convince Jess they can take the gold and start a new life, maybe in San Francisco.
Jess says he can't figure Stede out. He won't take a loan from him, but he'll steel gold from another man. He tells Stede what he's doing is wrong and will only cause him trouble. Stede argues that neither one of them are strangers to trouble, and he wants this just as much for Jess as he does for himself and Annie.
Jess is having none of it and tells him to "Save it". He couldn't spend gold that didn't belong to him. Stede lets Jess know that he's either with him in this, or he's against him. There's no room in the middle.
Stede looks for all the world like he's going to kill Jess, and he probably was thinking about it, but he ends up running off Jess' horse and forcing him to start walking. Anne begs Stede to not do this. Jess is alone with no gun and no food. Stede argues that Jess is only a day or two out of Laramie, which will give them time to put some distance between them.
Anne is seething, but she relents. Stede tries to convince her that the owner is probably dead. Some old prospector who died on the trail somewhere.
Anne, who shows a bit of spine, tells him all she sees is the only man she's ever loved trying to justify what's wrong by telling her how good it's going be. He's trying to take the easy way out. He still sweet talks her and asks for her trust.
Jess spots his horse, and then a man trying and failing to catch it. The man is the guy who lost the pack mule, Roger Canby (Alan Hale). Jess stops him by pulling the man's own gun on him. Canby gives Jess a bogus yarn about how he lost his horse and his pack mule and he's just an honest fellow who's worked hard all his life and that gold is his reward. Jess accepts the story and they shake hands. He says he'll round up his horse and help him find his mule. That's our Jess, Mr. Gullible.
The two miners that were in the cave in are on foot tracking the mule. They come to the watering hole and mistakenly believe that all the tracks mean that Canby was meeting up with others. They decide to follow the tracks, even though they lead into the badlands.
That night, Stede and Anne have made camp. Anne's still not pleased, but she has stayed. Jess and Canby come upon them and Jess gets the drop on Stede with Canby's gun. He introduces Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes and tells Canby that they've been taking care of his gold.
Canby checks the gold and says it looks like it's all there. He wants Jess to have one of the bags for his trouble. Jess says thanks, but he'd better keep it all together for the trip into Laramie. He wants Canby to prove title to his claim so there won't be any misunderstandings.
When Jess goes off to take care of his horse, Canby implies that he recognizes Anne from somewhere. Stede is determined that Jess and Canby are not taking the gold from them. Stede doesn't believe that the gold even belongs to Canby.
That night, while all are sleeping Canby sneaks up on Jess, but Jess wakes up. He's too tired to stand guard, so Canby convinces him to let him take over so Jess can get some sleep, and hands the gun over to Canby. If Jess had been on his game, he would have realized that Canby need not have awakened him to tell him to get some sleep. He woke him up because he didn't mean to and if he hadn't, Jess would have an extra hole in his head about now.
Once everyone has settled again, Canby is about to kill Jess in his sleep, when the two miners show up and start throwing lead. The horses are scared off and Stede gets hold of a gun. One of the minors is shot and they back off. As Jess goes to get more shells, Stede pulls the gun on him and Canby, and the tables are turned once again.
Stede feels that the bushwhackers (the miners as it were) won't be able to whack them if there are no bushes to whack from. He plans to take the gold right across the badlands, and since they have no horses, Jess and Canby will be their pack mules. Hmmm, I can see where this is going.
The next morning, the Rhodes' and the two pack mules have come upon a small water hole. The water's foul, so Jess says they'll have to boil it. Stede insists they move on, even though Jess points out the next water hole is two days away. How he knows this, we know not. Stede says they can't take the time, he's seen the two men following them closely.
Canby suggests Stede better start squirting lead up in there, because here they are. Yup, the two miners are in the rocks above. They tell Stede to leave the gold where it is and move out. Stede takes a rifle shot, hunter that he is, and fells both of the miners.
Canby laughs and starts complimenting Stede on his shootin' skills. He distracts Stede for a moment and Jess makes a grab for the rifle. Stede bashes Jess in the head with the rifle and butts Canby in the gut with it. Anne tries to help Jess, but Stede makes her back off.
He orders Canby to start boiling water, then he tells Anne, there's only one of them to watch now, so he hands a gun over to her and goes to take a nap. Later, Canby is putting a bandage on Jess' head. Canby is orating on the awfullness of what gold does to a man, and how it only takes a little to turn them into animals. Canby deliberately gets a bit rough with Jess' poor head and distracts Anne enough to get the gun away from her. Here we go again.
He goes over and gets the rifle away from Stede. Just about then, Jess wakes up and wonders what the hell is going on. No Jess, it's not the head injury. I've seen the whole thing and I don't know what's going on either.
Canby has now turned from his laughing, jovial, charming self, to an evil-doer. He's going to make Jess, Stede and even Annie pack that gold across the desert for him. Jess finally catches on that the gold doesn't even belong to Canby and figures that it belongs to the two that were following them. Canby lets on that a third of the gold really does belong to him. The other two-thirds belongs to that buzzard-bait out in the rocks. Colorful.
Stede realizes that Canby used him to kill his partners and begins to get just a bit sick.
We find soon enough that the two pieces of buzzard bait, aren't dead after all. They were both hit, but are alive and still determined to get Canby. They figure they can move in and wait them all out since the others probably think they're dead.
In the heat of the day in the desert, they're limping their way to Laramie, standing at the corner of No and Where. Jess figures Canby's probably figuring on killing them all before they get there.
Canby shoots a rabbit and makes Jess, the only one of the four of them with a head injury, to fetch it. Sadist.
That night, over rabbit and water, Stede is sulking and Canby is reminiscing. He remembers where he knows Annie from. She was a saloon girl. Jess and Stede are bit stunned. Jess stands up to Canby and tells him to leave her alone. Canby takes a swing at Jess, and he almost shoots Jess, but stops just short, realizing that he would only be shooting his pack mule.
Meanwhile, the two miners have been spying. Canby and the others are camped on a table rock with loose shale all the way around. They can't sneak up on them, so they'll just have to wait until they come down in the morning.
As luck would have it, Jess doesn't make them wait until morning. Before that though, Stede apologizes and says how he was such a fool. Here's Jess, bandage on his head having got his bell majorly rung, hands tied behind his back, no gun, no horse, no prospects of living much beyond tomorrow. He's not in much of a forgiving mood. He does allow that it takes some doing to admit to the wrong.
While Jess and Stede are having a heart-to-heart, Canby is trying to get cozy with Anne. Since he knows she was a saloon girl, he figures she's easy. He starts getting a bit fresh, and while acting like she's going along, she takes some bullets out of the bullet holder on his belt. Jess distracts him for a minute, and Anne drops the bullets in the camp fire. When they finally go off, Jess makes a run for it and skitters down the slope and lands right in the lap of the two miners. No, not literally.
Since Jess' hands are tied an' all, they smartly deduce that Jess was Canby's prisoner. Jess is glad to see they're not dead like they thought, and tells them so. Aw.
Jess explains that Canby has him and the others back-packing his gold for him and probably intends to kill them before they get to Laramie. If they'll untie him and give him a gun, he'll help them get the drop on Canby and get their gold back for them.
The only problem with that plan is, they are exactly one gun short of actually having another gun.
Canby is yelling for Jess to get back up there or he'll put a bullet in the girl. Stede got one in the shoulder when Jess escaped, so he won't be any good for packing. Of course the two miners hear all of this, but only half believe it. Canby has no idea the miners are even still alive.
Finally, the miners relent and let Jess go, with one of their guns. They warn Jess that if he crosses them, they'll kill him the slowest way they know.
Jess gets to the top of the table rock. Canby has lost all respect for Jess, calling him soft for "coming in like a fish on a line." Jess of course, has a gun behind his back. Canby is getting less and less charming. He suspects Jess is up to something and orders him to turn around. Jess spins and manages to plug Canby with two in the chest.
Stede wants to know where the gun came from and Jess tells him it was the two that Stede had thought he'd killed. They were just playing possum.
The end has Jess at home, with Stede (his arm in a sling) and Anne at the table while Daisy feeds them. Jess and Slim are outside loading up a wagon with farm equipment. Oh yeah!! That's how this whole thing started!
Daisy pleads for Stede and Anne to come back and visit soon. Outside, the wagon is chock full of stuff. Brand new stuff. Jess says the Lewis brothers (the miners) wouldn't have it any other way.
As they're going, Anne says goodbye to Jess with a hug and a kiss, and not exactly a sisterly kiss either. She does it right smack dab in front of Mike. After they're gone, Slim, Daisy, Mike and Jess are on the porch watching them go-- Jess looking just a tad dreamy. Mike says, "There are some things ladies can do that I didn't know they could do." "What's that, Mike?" Daisy asks. "They can kiss a man and he'll smile for hours."
Jess takes a moment to let that absorb, then he takes off chasing the little runt across the yard and into the corral while Slim and Daisy laugh affectionately.
Annie's Favorite Moments:
I like the end, hokey though it is. Jess looks mighty fine in his fresh white pants and my favorite dark blue shirt, after being grimey and sweaty for the whole episode. Okay, besides the eye-candy, I liked the scenes where Jess and Stede argue over their opposing points of view. Jess is always virtuous as the day is long, but he is the moral compass and no one else is in this one. In fact, hardly anyone is what they first seem, except our Jess.
Notes of Interest:
Stede is played by Ron Harper, who was also one of the sons in "Duel at Parkison Town". Alan Hale plays a bad guy, but a jovial, likeable one, until he shows his true colors. He is so recognizable and true to type that it's hard not to think of him as The Skipper. He is awfully good though and does wonderful things with the script.
The Owie Factor:    Jess takes a fairly good knock to the head in this one and has to wear someone's petticoat wrapped around his head for half the show.
The Sometime Gambler