HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Monday, November 19, 2012


(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at back in 2007.)

Three of the main things that make me glad I own a DVD player are Steve McQueen, Westerns, and classic TV.  So when WANTED:DEAD OR ALIVE, SEASON TWO fell into my hot little hands, my inner joy buzzer went haywire.  This is the good stuff, pardner!

Steve McQueen was effortlessly cool in whatever he did.  His "Josh Randall" character is a bounty hunter, but instead of the cold, ruthless type we usually associate with that occupation, he's more of a kind-hearted Good Samaritan who spends much of his time getting involved in other people's problems and helping them out.  This gives the stories a lot more variety than they'd have if Randall just tracked down bad guys all the time, although we often get to see him do that, too.  But even then, there's always some novel twist that makes it more interesting than the standard "good guy vs. bad guy" yarn.

Since Steve is the sole continuing castmember, the show's premise is similar to that of "Route 66", "Then Came Bronson", "The Fugitive", "The Incredible Hulk", etc., in that the main character travels from town to town interacting with a different set of guest stars in each episode and getting himself mixed up in their affairs.  (Josh Randall has one advantage over the others, though--he doesn't have to find a different odd job in every town.)  And if you enjoy watching great character actors as I do, the endless assortment of notable guest stars in these episodes is a constant source of delight.

In "The Hostage", Lee Van Cleef makes a very imposing outlaw who breaks out of his jail cell and threatens to kill the captive Josh Randall unless he's given safe passage out of town.  "The Empty Cell" features both classic horror icon Lon Chaney, Jr. and Star Trek's DeForest Kelley in fine performances.  In "Bad Gun", King Donovan plays a prissy gun salesman from the East who hires Randall to lead him into the badlands to track down "Curly Bill" Brocius, simply to exchange a defective gun that he sold him!  Even Tony "Scarface" Montana's mother, Miriam Colon, shows up in the episode "Desert Seed", along with Kurt Russell's real-life father, Bing, who would later appear with Steve in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. 

Other familiar guest stars include Brad Dexter and Robert Wilke (also of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), Warren Oates, Richard Farnsworth, John Carradine, Gloria Talbot, Dabbs Greer, John Dehner, child actor Richard Eyer (THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD), Everett Sloan, Royal Dano, Virginia Christine, Claude Akins, Beverly Garland, Philip Ahn, James Westerfield, Charles Aidman, Jean Willes, Jay "Tonto" Silverheels, Susan Oliver, William Schallert, Dyan Cannon, Martin Landau, Mara Corday, voice-over legend Alexander Scourby, R.G. Armstrong, Mort Mills, and Virginia Gregg. Wow!  As I've said before, this kind of consistently fine guest star line-up gives fans of these actors the feeling that they're watching an "all-star cast" during several episodes.

This DVD set consists of four discs in three attractively-designed slimline cases and contains 32 episodes from the classic series which ran from 1958-61.  They're so beautifully restored they could've been shot last week, and the cinematography is feature-quality.  Each episode is a 26-minute mini-Western that wastes no time in getting the story going and keeping things moving right up till the end.  Some of the scripts are penned by such familiar names as Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Star Trek's Fred Freiberger and Samuel A. Peeples, and contain some choice dialogue.  "Can you hit anything with this?" someone asks Randall in one episode, indicating his unusual gun.  "It's happened," he drawls.

My favorite TV Western of all time is still "The Rifleman", but "Wanted: Dead or Alive" is now a close second.  Like Lucas McCain, Josh Randall packs a distinctive weapon--the "Mare's Leg", a sawed-off 1892 Winchester lever-action rifle that he carries in a holster.  Unlike Lucas McCain, however, Randall rarely uses his gun, preferring to talk his way out of violent situations rather than shooting his way out, and the body count on an entire season of this show is lower than a few trips to town for Lucas McCain.  But the drama and excitement levels are just as high, and the fact that Randall isn't tied down by home and family gives him the chance to partake in a wide assortment of storylines that could never take place on shows like "The Rifleman" or "Bonanza." 

The sole bonus feature on this 4-disc set is a brief (approx. 11 min.) featurette entitled "The Women of Wanted: Dead or Alive", which is pleasant but not very informative.  But the 32 episodes of the show themselves are sufficient compensation for the lack of extras. 

Besides, the main thing that makes WANTED:DEAD OR ALIVE, SEASON TWO such fun to watch is that Steve McQueen is just so darn cool.  I'd watch this show just to see him even if it was a piece of junk, so the fact that it happens to be one of the finest Westerns in TV history makes it absolutely essential viewing for his fans.  Just out of curiosity, I checked to see when this series reached its "jump the shark" point, and the unanimous verdict was: never.  As one voter put it:  "The shark wouldn't stand a chance against Steve."

Buy it at
Read our review of Season Three



Cole Thornton said...

I fully agree with your review. You could tell Steve was going to be a big star. Just watched the Fourth Headstone from Season One. Awesome.

Porfle Popnecker said...

I knew from your screen name that you're a western fan.