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The Rifleman (1958-1963)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Over a Barrel

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Rifleman on DVD

This black-and-white western TV series, co-developed by Sam Peckinpah and consisting of half-hour episodes, barely registered a blip on my movie radar. But now that I've seen it, I'm as hooked as if it were currently on the air.

This amazing new four-disc box set from MPI Home Video contains 20 episodes, two of them directed by Peckinpah himself. Former Brooklyn Dodger Chuck Connors stars as the tough guy cowboy widower Lucas McCain who can fire a rifle faster than most folks can draw a pistol. He lives with his son Mark (Johnny Crawford) who helps keep things from getting too violent (nevertheless, the show was infamous for its level of TV violence). Episodes feature very young-looking guest stars like John Carradine, Buddy Hackett, Dennis Hopper and Michael Landon.

One episode in particular, "The Vaqueros," took my breath away. Martin Landau stars as a sinister-looking Mexican who steals everything, kidnaps Mark and leaves Lucas to die in the desert. It's directed by B-movie legend Joseph H. Lewis who made the mini-masterpiece "Gun Crazy" in 1949. Other episodes, like the one featuring Sammy Davis Jr., slip easily into misguided sentimentality, but the box set as a whole hits a bulls-eye.

MPI has since released the entire series in five DVD box sets.

Starring: Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford, Paul Fix, Warren Oates, Jack Elam, Royal Dano, Denver Pyle, Lee Van Cleef, Robert Culp, James Coburn, John Carradine, Buddy Hackett, Dennis Hopper, Martin Landau, Michael Landon, Sammy Davis Jr.
Written by: Sam Peckinpah, Arthur Browne Jr., etc.
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah, Joseph H. Lewis, etc.
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 570 minutes
Date: March 21, 2002

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