Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Laredo: The Land Grabbers

Today we are watching Laredo with Captain Parmalee and his Texas Rangers. Action and humor with three fictitious Texas Rangers--what more could a cowgirl want on a lazy winter afternoon?

This series had an all-star cast, a mix of military veterans and seasoned actors, including war hero turned steely-eyed actor Neville Brand as Reese Bennett; soap opera hunk Peter Brown as Chad Cooper; William Smith, who appeared in over 300 films and television productions, as former gunfighter Joe Riley; and yet another war hero and seasoned actor, Philip Carey, as Captain Parmalee.

Veteran actor Philip Carey played Captain Parmalee in Laredo.

The series was directed by Irving J. Moore, et al, and produced by Universal Studios for NBC. Unfortunately, it only lasted from September 16, 1965 to April 7, 1967. I suspect it was yet another victim of the dwindling interest in westerns.

The cancellation of this show is a bit surprising as it is a combination western/comedy, and comedies are always popular, as are shows about the Texas Rangers, though this show focused more on the characters than the Rangers organization. The show also had frequent guest appearance from stars such as Kurt Russell.

If I had any criticism of this show, it would be focused on the plot/story line, which is where my criticism generally falls. The actors are all pros, and as I stated before, visually appealing, as well. Although Neville Brand's voice is grating, this is also part of his appeal as a comedic actor--laughing at the tough guy in the bunch. His co-stars, Brown and Smith,are handsome, muscular, and often shown without shirts. Between the Texas Rangers theme and the shirtless hunks, the show should have covered a wide audience comprised of men and women.

In today's episode, "The Land Grabbers," the Rangers arrive to round up land grabbers trying to jump claim on prime pieces of land before the next day's land rush.

I am now interrupting this program to point out that many of the land grabbers and homesteaders are shown with donkeys. As I watch these western television shows and films, I notice that every last one includes donkeys in an obvious attempt toward realism. There is an interesting controversy brewing in Texas right now, a debate as to whether or not donkeys, or wild burros, are an exotic animal since they were first brought to what is now the American West and Southwest by the Spaniards in the 1600s. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department claims they are an exotic species, so they have issued an extermination order for these wonderful creatures that have served miners, pioneers, and farmers for hundreds of years. The Wild Burro Protection League has more information.

Back to our regularly scheduled program, the rangers have chased off a small group of land grabbers (also called Sooners) and are now informed that this is an ongoing issue before land rushes. "There's a smell of something for nothing in the air," Reese comments. "Yep, it's a powerful attraction," Captain Parmalee replies. I'm beginning to sense there is a corporate organization behind the land grabbers--there's a bit too many men trying to jump claims in this scene.

The Rangers arrive in town to find Land Commissioner Smoot peering over his eyeglasses, grumbling about having only three Rangers and the lack of more support. "There's 40 square miles between here and the Los Alamos River," he declares, and Captain Parmalee assures him they are more than capable as the Rangers stand back, looking very tough and scary.

A woman (Audrey Dalton as Mrs. Coverly) appears on the scene, of course, and where I smell trouble, Ranger Chad Cooper smells nothing but perfume. As Cooper flirts and Reese tells Civil War tales to the children, a small group of men is pushing their way to the front of the line in front of the Land Commissioner's tent. Yup--corporate. Big money. Corruption.

Reese and Cooper both arrive at the woman's tent at the same time, Reese as a guest of the woman's son, Robert. Oddly, the family speaks with greatly differing accents. Mrs. Coverly sounds like she came from Colorado, her son sounds Australian and her father, British. (Did I say great acting? I may have fudged a bit on that one.)

Joe Riley sees the two men having tea with the woman and her father, Major Donaldson (Alan Napier, who was also the butler, Alfred, in the Batman series), and sneaks away. It's possible he senses trouble, but more likely he's running to tattle like a school boy on his partners--remember, men in westerns are always referred to as "boys." Riley reports the tea party to Captain Parmalee, who stomps off the chastise the wandering Rangers.

The Captain informs them that the notorious Burt Sparr is in camp with his gunslingers, intimidating the pioneers who have gathered for the land rush and registering his "boys" as homesteaders. Those darn boys again!

The townsfolk make random accusations that the Rangers might be paid off by Sparr. They are grumbling. I've often wondered what the actors say while they're grumbling. Do they say "grumble grumble grumble?" Or do they say, "hey, when is the chuck wagon coming by today?"

Captain Parmalee replies to the grumbling by stating that he will personally dismiss any Ranger who is found assisting a homesteader. This, of course, is a lead--obviously, one of the Rangers is going to assist one of the homesteaders.

Mrs. Coverly, with her wiley womanly ways, bats her pretty eyes of some or another color at Ranger Cooper and asks for his assistance with her father, who she suspects will be risking his life in the land rush. Major Donaldson intends to wear the uniform from his previous service with the Lancers as he makes his rush for a piece of land by the river. Cooper advises him to take the first piece of land he sees as the river plots are the most coveted, but Donaldson insists. The plot thickens...

Captain Parmalee tries to convince Smoot to start the race later, which would foil the plans of Smoot's men. They would ride into town to declare their ownership and discover the race didn't start yet. Smoot refuses to comply. "Take away his glasses and he couldn't tell the difference between the hind end of a camel and a horse," Captain says. Now there's a leading statement...

Without informing the Captain, the Rangers devise a plan to accidentally break Smoot's glasses, then tell him it is noon when it is actually 1 p.m., an hour later, thus buying time for the Captain's plan. Reese breaks Smoot's glasses then volunteers to assist him. When the first of the land grabbers arrive, the Rangers ride out to arrest them. Captain Parmalee tells the Rangers to return the flags and stakes to the land plots for the homesteaders. On the way, Sparr's boys knocks Riley unconscious. Surely, this will leave a brain injury of some kind.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, Major Donaldson dresses in full uniform and lines up for the race. Much to the chagrin of the homesteaders, the race starts an hour later, as the Rangers planned. Donaldson rides out to a river plot, plants his stake, then passes out. Reese guides Mrs. Coverly and her wagon to the site and the Rangers help load Donaldson into the wagon.

Cooper, of course, changes clothes with Donaldson, donning his uniform, then starts back to town to register the land, thus aiding one of the homesteaders against the Captain's orders. Sparr's men spot him and knock him to the ground, unconscious. Riley, Reese and Cooper finally meet up and return to town. Reese assists Smoot in documenting the land ownership. Smoot tries to identify Major Donaldson, but all he can see without his glasses is the uniform, which of course is worn by Cooper. Ownership is approved and Donaldson, Coverly, and her precocious little boy have their land by the river.

The last of the Land Grabbers ride in to town. Captain Parmalee raises questions about their actions based on the fact that their horses are not sweating. Smoot agrees, and they lose their land. Cooper says goodbye to Major Donaldson, Mrs. Coverly and the boy, and promises to return often to visit the lovely Mrs. Coverly. As the men ride out of town, Captain Parmalee makes suspicious comments, revealing that he is well aware of the actions of his "boys," breaking Smoot's glasses and assisting in Donaldson's grab for a piece of land. That Captain--he knows everything! Stay tuned...

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