Alias Smith and Jones [1971]

This warm, comedic western appeared on televisions a year after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a surprise blockbuster. Both lighthearted Westerns follow two outlaws who have won the hearts of the public. In TV bandit version, it's because "they never killed anyone" while being ever-so-charming as they steal from banks and trains. In the pilot episode (which aired as a TV movie in January 1971, followed two weeks later by the series), the premise is set: Hannibal Heyes (Pete Duel) and 'Kid' Curry (Ben Johnson) want to go straight when they discover the governor is offering amnesty, a historical fact. However, it's stipulated they need to go "straight" for a year before amnesty will be given. So they rename themselves Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones as they attempt to go straight, but lawmen--unknown of the secret deal--are on their heels. Usually the pair goes out of the way to stop a crime from other bandits. A good double-cross is usually thrown in too. Heyes/Smith is the brainier one with an eye for the ladies. Curry/Jones is more brawny (a relative term), possessing the proverbial "fastest gun in the west." Highlights of the 14 episodes includes "Wrong Train to Brimstone," as the two board a train of detectives looking for Heyes and Curry, and "A Fistful of Diamonds" where we don't know who is conning who. The revolving door of guest stars is pretty impressive. Susan St. James, Earl Holliman, and Forest Tucker appear in the pilot. Later shows find Burl Ives as a gambler, Susan Strasberg as a casino owner, Fernando Lamas as a mentor of Heyes', Keenan Wynn as a stationmaster who captures the bandits, plus Juliet Mills, Patrick Macnee, L.Q. Jones, Slim Pickens, Sam Jaffe, and J.D. Cannon, who appears in several episodes as a detective on the trail. Add those talents to the easygoing charm of the two stars, and even the thinnest story is enjoyable to watch. This was the first show Glen A. Larson (Magnum, P.I. , Knight Rider) created and produced. His copy of the Butch formula (and the some extent, the previous comedic TV western Maverick) worked well enough for the struggling ABC network to quickly order a second season (the show was especially a hit with the younger set). However, by the end of 1971, the tragic suicide of Duel made the show a dead end, despite the addition of Sally Field and instantly recasting Smith with Roger Davis (who supplied the show's opening narration up to that point). A flash in the pan (50 episodes) seen year later holds up well enough, and has been preserved to supply an excellent picture quality. --Doug Thomas

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