I don’t quite remember how or when I first came across The Rifleman as I wasn’t yet a planned entity when it originally aired. I did see it during my childhood, however, and vividly remember being charmed by the unique Western with heart at its core. Those memories were so vivid, in fact, that when I first learned about MeTV The Rifleman was the only show I began to DVR immediately after many years of not having seen it only to learn I did not outgrow its appeal.
As a Western The Rifleman features classic characters and situations true to the genre, as well as what one would deem a typical 1880s frontier setting as depicted in the movies and so forth. The action in the series is also along the lines of
Western fare – gunfights, lawlessness, etc. – all of which is entertaining. But what makes The Rifleman a standout is the importance the show places on relationships, particularly the one between Lucas McCain aka The Rifleman and his son, Mark.
Lucas McCain (played by Chuck Connors) is a widower struggling to raise his son amidst the backdrop of the Old West. As a homesteader, McCain lives on a small farm outside the New Mexico town of North Fork, but for all intents and purposes he serves as the town’s moral center and takes every opportunity to teach his son about human nature and its complexities. As such themes of redemption, forgiveness, judgment, character, fairness, sorrow and joy are woven beautifully into each episode of The Rifleman.
Lucas McCain: “Name callin’s a handy thing for some Mark. They smack a label on somebody or something and that’s it as far as they’re concerned. It’s kind of a special way of hating because they don’t take the trouble to understand.”
Mark McCain: “Well you have to put a label on some things, like say a pickle jar!”
Lucas McCain: “That’s right! But you be mighty sure there are pickles in that jar first! You see most times snap judgment can be cruel son.”
That’s not to say that there isn’t more than enough action in The Rifleman to keep the most ardent fan of the shoot-em-up satisfied. One needs only to see the show’s opening sequence – one of the best – to recognize why McCain is given the famous moniker. Lucas McCain is an imposing figure to begin with, Connor’s 6 ft 5 in. frame towering over everyone else in the show making the character’s physique match his strength of purpose. This is a man who walks the proud walk of the righteous. Add to all that the souped up rifle he carries around and you have one of the most memorable Western characters in all of television.
Lucas McCain: “You want to try your fast gun against my fast rifle?”
If the bad guys have any brains at all the answer to that question would always be “HELL, NO!” But bad guys are usually too self-centered and/or blinded by so much hatred they can’t think clearly so The Rifleman is given ample opportunity to show his skill. We – as in even those of us who are not gun aficionados – are always thrilled when he does. I have to admit that McCain’s style, firing the rifle from his hip, a position he gets into much faster than the (or my) eye can see is always exciting. But again, true to the moral fiber of the man, it is a skill used only as a last resort, when absolutely necessary – another unique attribute of The Rifleman.
Lucas McCain: “A man doesn’t run from a fight, Mark…but that doesn’t mean you should go running *to* one, either.”
The pilot episode of The Rifleman titled “The Sharpshooter” was written by Sam Peckinpah as an episode of Gunsmoke, but the episode never came to fruition for that program. Instead, it ended up as an installment on CBS’ Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater in March 1958. In September of that same year “The Sharpshooter” aired on ABC as the inaugural episode of The Rifleman, beginning the show’s five-year run on the network. I’d be remiss not to mention that The Rifleman is able to boast top names in entertainment as part of its roster – as guest stars, recurring characters and directors. Names like Ida Lupino, Bud Boetticher, Arthur Hiller and Peckinpah helmed the show through the years. The show’s two main players, Connors and Johnny Crawford as Mark are exceptional with Crawford showing acting chops well beyond his years. Also enjoyable to watch is Paul Fix who plays Micah Torrance, the Marshall and McCain’s best friend who depends on him consistently to help keep order in North Fork.
Just a few of the reasons why The Rifleman has enduring appeal.
Everything must be done according to the law.”
I can’t say whether I’ve done this show about justice any justice, but I can say it is a show I encourage everyone to watch, its timeless themes and deep heart sure to entertain and move the entire family. I will add that the fact that The Rifleman is included as part of MeTV’s Summer schedule alone proves the network is committed to quality television.
This post is part of the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to check out this blogathon’s complete schedule.