Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Big Valley: Teacher of Outlaws

Tonight we are watching The Big Valley "Teacher of Outlaws," filmed in 1966, this episode was directed by Michael Ritchie and based on a story by Lou Morheim.

Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) is at the Mission School in Stockton, substitute teaching in a pink pinstriped blouse with tiny brown bows, brown riding skirt and her trademark green eye shadow. She walks out to her buggy and climbs inside, prepared to leave, When a group of scripture-quoting boys on horseback, "Sam Beldon's boys," surround her buggy. (Yes, of course these are grown men, but remember, men are always "boys" in westerns). One of the "boys" leaves his horse to join Victoria on the buggy seat and they ride off, leaving a rather confused boy (this one is actually a boy) standing in the Mission doorway, watching.

The Barkley Clan: Audra, Victoria, Heath, Nick, and Jarrod.
(Linda Evans, Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Majors, Peter Breck and Richard Long.)

The rest of the Barkley clan arrives at the Mission on their various horses, but Jarrod (Richard Long), the oldest son, sends Audra (Linda Evans) back to the ranch. "This is no place for a woman," big brother tells her, and she dutifully obeys as the men ride off in search of Mom with a good old fashioned posse following behind.

Victoria is transferred from buggy to horseback, then blindfolded with the pink scarf removed from the neck of one of the "boys" who was apparently trying to get in touch with his feminine side. She is led to an outlaw ranch. Sure enough, she meets Sam Beldon, Patriarch of the rather large Beldon clan--there are "boys" straddling porch railings, seated on horseback, standing in doorways, wandering aimlessly in front of the camera. It appears that Sam Beldon has been a busy man. However, it soon becomes apparent that these boys are his sons. Victoria has been kidnapped by an outlaw gang! (Insert gasp of horror here.)

Victoria is led inside. Some of the gang members flirt with her--remember, Victoria is a very attractive woman in spite of her pea green eye shadow! Sam Beldon pulls out his corncob pipe and a textbook, then informs Victoria that she will be teaching him to read. Yes, Victoria has been forced to become a teacher of outlaws, and what's worse, she appears to be enjoying herself!

This is a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, or Stockton Syndrome, one might say, since The Big Valley takes place in Stockton, California. Stockholm Syndrome is a situation where the victims becomes emotionally attached to his or her kidnapper. First identified in 1973 during a botched bank robbery in Stockholm. Victims were held captive for six days, emotionally bonded with their kidnappers, and later defended their captors at the trial. These feelings are believed to be caused by a mistaken belief on the part of the victim that a lack of abuse from the kidnapper is actually an act of kindness.

In all fairness, Beldon does have redeeming qualities, at least in my mind. In an alphabet picture book he easily identifies the difference between a pronghorn antelope calf and a spotted fawn, which he describes as one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. He also describes his late wife as "soft and fresh as a new sunrise." His poetic description of his home, the place where he buried his wife, is heart-wrenching. Apparently, I'm starting to feel a bit of Stockholm here!

Victoria does not attach to all of her kidnappers, though. When the young man with the pink scarf breaks into the conversation to update Beldon on important criminal business, he pauses to gaze lustfully at Victoria, who is clearly old enough to be his mother, but the men in the gang refer to her as a "pretty girl" who "gives a man an appetite." I'm beginning to suspect they do not realize they have kidnapped the Victoria Barkley! Meanwhile, Victoria's own boys are finding more clues, and coming closer and closer to the outlaw hideout. (Insert dramatic organ music here.)

In the middle of a lesson, the boys suddenly leave, and Sam Beldon leaves with them. They ride into a nearby town to commit a robbery. Victoria, of course, tries to sneak away and discovers she's been left alone with a leering outlaw wearing...a purple scarf. These boys are stylin'!

The outlaws start their robbery with a distraction, tossing dynamite into the livery stable, which I obviously did not feel the least bit comfortable about as I watched the frightened horses running from the explosion. Next, they start a hay wagon on fire, and the townsfolk realize it is a trick. I cleverly figured this out when someone shouts: "It's a trick!"

The sheriff runs from his office, firing his gun. Clearly, this man is not Matt Dillon. He only manages to shoot two of the Beldon Boys. If this was Dodge City, Kansas, Matt Dillon would have finished off every last one of them outlaws!

Beldon retreats, concerned for the safety of his outlaws--the scripture quoting outlaw is dead, another has a stomach wound and will not survive. They carry the wounded man into the ranch house. Beldon insists that the pink-scarfed outlaw fetch a doctor. See what I mean? Of course you emotionally attach to this man--he cares for his boys! As he stares lovingly into the eyes of the dying outlaw, the outlaw says, "bury me by the spring, Sam."

One of the outlaw boys steps inside and announces the gang is deserting Sam Beldon. They believe the gang is cursed. Beldon does not shoot the man like a proper outlaw. He shouts at the men to leave. "Who needs ya!" he asks rhetorically.

Victoria, never one to sit quietly, begins to goad him now. "The twilight of Sam Beldon," she says. Alone with the leader of an outlaw gang, she cleverly decides to pick a fight. Sure, that's what I would have done. She dares him to use his gun, then says goodbye and walks to the door. Of course, he shoots the wall beside her and she returns to her seat.

Beldon then removes a beautifully-carved headstone from a chest and explains that he made it for his wife's grave, that he wants to learn to read so he can carve her epitaph onto the headstone and read the words when he is through. Victoria, and Darla Sue Dollman, both begin to cry. (Insert deep sigh here.)

And the Barkley boys are getting closer.

The doctor arrives at the outlaw ranch. It is clear he recognizes Victoria, who quickly introduces herself as Miss Keller, the Stockton schoolteacher. Victoria offers to assist the doctor by holding the lamp. As he reaches for his equipment, she notices a gun in his bag and slips it into her skirt. When the doctor announces he cannot help the dying outlaw (of course he can't help him. Anyone who watches westerns knows a stomach wound is a death sentence.) Victoria pulls out the gun and declares that she will shoot Sam Beldon unless he lets the doctor go free. He agrees...and she tosses him the gun! Yup, that's right folks--Stockholm!

The Barkley posse finds the doctor, dehydrated, his boots worn down, dirt and scratches on his face. You would think he'd been walking through a desert for months, though he's less than an hour away.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Beldon tries to lift the wounded outlaw onto a horse, but the outlaw dies in Beldon's arms. Beldon buries the outlaw and says goodbye. Victoria urges Beldon to turn himself in. "Have you ever seen a hangin, Miss Keller?" he asks. What was she thinking? Kidnapping, robbery--back then, men were hung for stealing a horse!

The two remaining outlaws realize the ranch is surrounded. Nick Barkley (played by the very handsome Irishman, Peter Breck, who has rather attractive dimples when he smiles) shouts out for his mother, and the outlaws suddenly realize they have "the queen bee of the whole valley" in their hideout. Clearly, them outlaws are done for! Suddenly, the pink-scarved outlaw is no longer calling her a girl. Now, she is referred to as "lady." Beldon accuses her of laughing at him and she assures him she saw him only as "another pupil wanting to learn." Yup, Stockholm.

"Another time, another place," Beldon tells Victoria longingly, then instructs pink scarf to take her outside to her sons, but pink scarf insists on holding her hostage. As he walks away with her, Beldon shoots the outlaw in the leg and Victoria escapes. The outlaw drags himself to the posse, who is waiting to fix his leg up so they can hang him proper. Beldon continues to fire his gun out the window as the Barkley boys run from tree to tree. I kept waiting for Heath (Lee Majors, who later becomes the bionic man) to do a backflip or a few rolling somersaults like they do in modern westerns, but alas, he disappoints. He does make it to the ranch house, though, and kills Beldon, then hugs his surrogate mother, Victoria, lovingly to comfort her.

They bury Sam Beldon at the ranch house, which was equally disappointing. I thought they should have taken his body to his home and buried him next to his wife like any good Stockholm victim would have done. Instead, Victoria stood sadly over Beldon's grave, then said, "The cat saw the rat, the dog saw the cat. I'll bet they sure did have a good fight." Then she placed the open book on his grave and climbed onto her horse. She didn't even return the headstone to the grave of Beldon's wife, which I thought was the least she could have done, seeings how he restrained himself from harming her and treated her with so much kindness! Apparently, I have a far more serious case of Stockholm Syndrome than she does! Tune in tomorrow...

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