Original air date: September 24, 1968
Synopsis – Murdoch Lancer has built his empire, a 100,000-acre cattle ranch in the San Joaquin Valley of California. His two adult sons are estranged from him. Scott, the eldest, was taken from him when his first wife dies shortly after Scott’s birth. Scott is raised by his wealthy grandfather in Boston. Johnny, the younger son, was taken by his mother, Murdoch’s second wife, when she runs off with another man. Johnny is raised in somewhat inferior circumstances and has made a name for himself as the notorious gunfighter, Johnny Madrid. When another gunfighter, Day Pardee, threatens the Lancer ranch and shoots Murdoch in the back, Murdoch has no choice but to locate his sons, and make them an offer of a partnership for their help in defeating Pardee and his crew.
I’ve re-watched this episode so many times, and there is just so much to talk about. First of all – the different versions. I’ve watched the full 59 minutes of the black and white unaired pilot; and the 50 minute version that originally aired in 1968. I don’t consider this second version the actual pilot because there was that extended version. We may never know why the decision was made to trim it down to fit into a one hour time slot (with commercials), but luckily someone had the full version – or did they?
There has been some speculation that the 59 minute black and white version may have also been trimmed.
On the IMDb page for the episode there is a section called “Trivia”. The following is posted there:
“The Lancer pilot was originally a long format TV movie named “Homecoming” but when the series was picked up, the pilot was edited to the standard one-hour show length and retitled “The High Riders.“
There is no indication of who posted that bit of information, or if it’s even accurate; however, while doing some research for the series I came across this great post from Melinda Young’s Blog – Fiction For Real – The Blog. Melinda makes a compelling case as she discusses key elements of the existing footage, and outlines a very plausible argument that the pilot may have indeed been movie length by discussing what’s missing from the footage. An interesting approach – and it makes sense.
I could never do justice to the points that Melinda makes, so I highly recommend that you take the time to go through them thoroughly – and decide for yourself (links below). Her blog has some extraordinary insights not only on the pilot episode, but she has also written some remarkable character studies of each of the three Lancer men and Teresa. Sink your teeth into these – I have, multiple times. BTW – her entire blog is a goldmine, and I’m really enjoying all of the other nuggets (ok, stupid pun).
Lancer: In Search of the Lost Elements
Now for my thoughts, as I watch the episode. I’ve chosen the 59 minute black and white version.
Some thoughts on the opening credits –
- The Lancer logo that we all have come to love has not been added to this version.
- James Stacy gets top billing as the “starring” role; and Wayne Maunder in the “co-starring” role. That changes later.
- “Introducing Elizabeth Bauer” is credited in the opening, whereas in every other episode she is listed in the closing credits.
- Andrew Duggan of course takes the place of honor, although not listed with the “And” in his title card.
- The font used is very 1960’s.
I decided not to blog a scene by scene appraisal or examination, but to discuss my observations and favorite scenes – hoping to start some dialogue. I think most people that are reading this have already watched and studied this episode a great deal – and if not, what the heck are you waiting for?
So mount up, here we go —
The First Morro Coyo sequence
- One of my favorite parts in this sequence is when Murdoch gets a shot off at Day Pardee, who is concealed in the bell tower. The bullet goes astray and hits the bell. Pardee is fabulously portrayed by Joe Don Baker, and his reaction is spot on great acting.
The Boston sequence
- Scott must have some sort of reputation – maybe as a playboy, because Barbara’s father is hellbent on getting in that room. There are plenty of men that wouldn’t mind seeing their daughter have a match with a wealthy and highly respected family.
- Scott makes a quick getaway, but not before grabbing an apple and making a witty remark – which is such a great trait of Scott’s character. Wayne Maunder delivers these witty and often caustic remarks to perfection. Scott’s witty repartee with the Pinkerton agent gives us some insight into his character. He uses his sharp wit as a kind of weapon.
The Mexico sequence
- Prisoners are being executed by firing squad and as the guns are fired, Johnny Madrid, waiting for his turn flinches at the sound and says “…lution” finishing the word of the man who just yelled “viva la revo….” before he was shot. (thank you Char E and Sally D for setting me straight – I initially heard something different!).
- In the 59 minute version we have one of the best action sequences of the episode as Johnny and the Pinkerton agent have to run for their lives. James Stacy portrays Johnny Madrid perfectly as the “action hero”. It’s shamefully trimmed down to fit into the one hour time slot of the original airing, and if it had been kept intact it would have made a perfect bookend to the action sequence at the end of the episode.
The Second Morro Coyo sequence (and how we get there)
- Johnny, now dressed in his iconic red shirt and silver concho pants, flags down the stage to Morro Coyo (I’m watching the black and white version, but we all know the shirt is red). He turns his gun over to the driver (a little reluctantly) and proceeds to climb in almost landing in the lap of one of the other passengers – Scott. This is where we can give a bit of a wink and a nod, because as viewers we know something that neither one of them knows.
- Teresa asks, “Mr. Lancer?” and of course they both answer. This is such a great scene when both Johnny and Scott learn that their travelling companion is actually their half brother. The realization on their faces is priceless.
The Lancer sequence
- We see Murdoch Lancer looking at two photographs – his two wives. The tone and music of the scene is sentimental, and as Murdoch sees his sons as grown men for the first time the look on his face is almost wistful. They he breaks the silence with one gruff word – “Drink?”. Oh Murdoch, why open with that?
- Murdoch’s gruffness is belied by the tiniest (almost) smile that he has when Johnny kind of back-talks him.
- I love Scott’s eyes as he looks at both Johnny and Murdoch when Johnny disrespectfully calls Murdoch “old man”.
- I call the rest of this sequence “guy talk”. It’s not what you think – what I mean by that is (in my experience) men have a knack for getting on the same page when something needs to get done. They may be strangers – but when push comes to shove, these three men are speaking together, putting crap behind them to work together for a greater cause.
Scott’s Bedroom sequence
- In my opinion, one of the best scenes in the entire series. This sets the tone for the relationship between Johnny and Scott. Johnny tries to use a form of intimidation – the tough guy persona, and Scott is having none of it, once again using his wit and sarcasm as his weapon of choice. Johnny may be fast with a gun, but Scott is just as fast with his sharp tongue and quick wit.
- Teresa also sets the tone in this scene when she tells them to think of her as a sister. She’s not going to be a love interest for either of them in the series.
- Great all around scene – I love watching both Johnny and Scott show off their horsemanship; but more importantly to me, this is where Johnny is paired with Barranca. To the fans of the show Barranca is part of the cast. There is a bond between Johnny and Barranca likely because of the bond between James Stacy and Barranca. I know there was more than one “Barranca” used in the show, but the knowledge that one of them was the personal horse of James Stacy makes his interactions with the horse that much sweeter. There is an article where James Stacy talks about buying the horse from John Wayne, but the spelling of Barranca in the article has only one “R”. Does anyone know which is correct – most of the fan fiction that I see use a double “R”.
Third Morro Coyo sequence
- Johnny rides into Morro Coyo and interrupts a group of thugs lounging in front of the saloon, harassing an old man. He says something in Spanish to the old man that sounds like “vete a casa”, which means “go home”. That sounds about right. He confronts the thugs and then (almost foolishly) pulls his gun to show the lead thug that he would likely be dead if he had decided to pull the trigger. But he is outnumbered and the thugs now have their guns pointed at him. He’s in a bad spot, but Day Pardee comes out of the saloon and stops them from taking him down. I just love Joe Don Baker in this role (even though he’s a bad guy) – the way he Texas drawls the name Johnny Madrid – priceless.
- In the saloon Pardee and Johnny are having a drink. Pardee tries to recruit Johnny by telling him that there’s plenty of money there – running people off of their land and homes, even killing, must be pretty lucrative. Johnny replies “that’s what I hear”. Pardee is a gunfighter, not a rancher, so what are his intentions – it’s never explained; but don’t gunfighters hire themselves out? Who is Pardee working for? Is he stealing the land to re-sell it? I doubt it – too much risk to try to get that to stick. So why is Pardee killing people and kicking them off of their land – is there someone else pulling the strings, and he’s only the hired gun in it for some sort of big payday? It does make me wonder.
- Teresa brings Scott to town to buy some new clothes. The scuffle that Scott gets into with Pardee’s men, from the moment Coley enters the store to the moment that Scott is ready to go back in to buy his clothes, is 2 minutes 21 seconds in the black and white unaired version; and 2 minutes in the color aired version. What did we miss? Teresa screaming at the bad guys to stop and throwing something, and Valmero in anguish at the destruction of his store; but we also missed some important content as far as Scott’s character is concerned. In the color version he is thrown out of the store looking like they got the better of him and he was beaten, and he is to a certain extent; but what we miss from that version is his actual fight. In the black and white version, with only an additional 21 seconds, we see Scott give as good as he gets. He shows that he can fight back and has some fighting skill, he’s just outnumbered. It doesn’t sound like a big deal losing 21 seconds, but in an action sequence 21 seconds is a long time. Losing that little bit of time does Scott a disservice.
- When Teresa runs over to the saloon hoping that Johnny will jump in an help Scott, Johnny says “nope”. Teresa’s earlier wide-eyed admiration of Johnny at the corral seems to fade at his refusal.
At the Water Sequence
- Teresa’s look when Johnny rides up is a look of complete distaste. She’s letting him know that she’s not happy with him.
- Scott finally gets fed up with Johnny’s smart mouth and takes a swing at Johnny (he kind of deserved it).
- As Johnny rolls down the bank and almost into the pond, his hand does go into the water – barely. I never noticed that before. At first I thought it was because of the longer version that I’m watching, but no, it’s in both versions – very quick, but if you look carefully you can see it.
- Johnny reveals his anger about his father, and it’s up to Teresa to set him straight and disclose the truth, which is in complete contrast to the lie that he obviously grew up with. I don’t believe there is any indication in the series of what actually happened to Johnny’s mother – but we assume she’s dead. It’s a pivotal moment for Johnny, which I believe is what guides him to his decision with his father and new family. Great scene.
Scott’s Bedroom Sequence and a Decision is Made
- Just prior to returning to Scott’s bedroom, both he an Johnny see what Day Pardee is capable of. Johnny’s face says it all.
- Scott has a plan, but Johnny disagrees. Murdoch sides with Scott. Johnny explains his reasoning to Murdoch, but because he still has that tiny little chip on his shoulder, and Murdoch isn’t 100% sure of Johnny’s loyalty, the conversation ends with Johnny leaving, giving no indication to Murdoch where he stands at this point. You can see the hurt on Johnny’s face and the disappointment on Murdoch’s.
Getting Ready for a Battle Sequence
- Scott puts his plan in motion, while Murdoch and Teresa have a fireside chat (am I the only one that thinks Teresa could have done a better job with the fireplace poker as she attempts to roll that log in the fireplace?)
- Johnny is back in Morro Coyo and Pardee asks him if he’s made up his mind. Cleverly, Johnny says that he has made up his mind, but never explicitly says in what way he made up his mind. They ride to Lancer.
- It’s almost daylight and Scott is riding back to Lancer with his men. The men spread out and take up their posts waiting for Pardee. Scott is in the house with Murdoch and Teresa. Scott asks where Johnny is, and Murdoch says “gone”. Scott’s expression is both sad and disappointed.
- Pardee, his men, and Johnny are looking down at the ranch, and he has them fan out and take their positions. He moves to a vantage point behind a tree, and Johnny follows. Johnny tells Pardee that he’s on his land, and wants him off. Pardee finally figures it out and asks, “are you another Lancer”. Before he can reply, Coley – one of Pardee’s men – pulls his gun and tries to kill Johnny. But Johnny Madrid is fast, and he takes down Coley and manages to get a shot off at Day Pardee. As he jumps on his horse to flee, Pardee is yelling for his men to get Johnny.
The Chase Sequence
- Johnny is making a mad dash for Lancer, with Pardee’s men hot on his heels. He turns and shoots as he’s riding hard, and manages to get a couple Pardee’s men.
- Scott hears the gunfire, and runs to the window. He and Murdoch leave the house, Scott taking position on the second floor landing – he sees Johnny, but doesn’t recognize him from that distance. He yells, “here comes the first one” and readies his rifle.
- Johnny clears the first fence, and then clears the second fence. It’s at this point that Murdoch recognizes the rider as Johnny, and yells, “wait – it’s Johnny”. But Pardee has cleared the fence as well and takes aim at Johnny. Johnny falls from his horse.
- Scott begins to go to Johnny’s aid, but Murdoch stops him and tells him “it’s no use”.
End of the Battle Sequence
- Johnny is still on the ground, but starts to move and manages to shoot a couple of Pardee’s men. Scott realizing that Johnny isn’t dead runs over to protect him, and with the help of Cipriano, pulls him to safety. Pardee takes aim at Scott, but Johnny warns him. Scott shoots, and kills Pardee. Without their leader, the few remaining men abandon the fight and run off. Lots of shootin’ goin’ on, but Lancer is victorious.
- And this is where we hear Johnny admit to Scott, “you had your plan, and I had mine”.
- Scott tries to help, but Johnny says he can make it. Unfortunately for Johnny though, he starts to stumble, and Scott has to throw him over his shoulder to carry him back to the house.
- Our characters are in an attorney’s office. We have no idea how much time has passed, but Johnny has recovered from his gunshot wound. As Murdoch promised, they are signing the partnership papers. When it’s time for Johnny to sign, Murdoch explains to the attorney “that name should read John Madrid, not Lancer”. As the attorney begins to make the correction, Johnny speaks up, “no, let it stand”. Murdoch’s grin says it all.
And there you have it, my commentary on the pilot episode of Lancer. It’s a long post, and I don’t believe that I’ll have to be so detailed on the rest of the episodes, but there was a lot to unpack with this one. A lot of explaining and some back story to cover. Thank you for your patience, and I hope you enjoy my critique and side commentary.
Please let me know in the comments below what you think, and if Lancer means as much to you as it does me, I’d love to hear from you!
- Joe Don Baker as Day Pardee
- Anthony Caruso as Toledano
- Robert Adler as the Stage Driver
- Paul Fierro as Cipriano
- Lisa Jak as Barbara
- Gordon Jump as the Pinkerton Agent in Mexico
- Sean McClory as Coley McHugh
- Alberto Morin as Don Valmero
- Stanley Waxman as the Attorney
Some final thoughts:
- Has anyone else wondered why Scott grew up with the Lancer name. Later in the series, we get an inside look at the adversarial relationship between Murdoch and Scott’s grandfather. I always wondered why someone that wealthy wouldn’t legally have the name changed. Am I overthinking it?
- In the second episode Teresa now uses “Murdoch” rather than “Mr. Lancer”. I’m glad they made that change. It only makes sense – she grew up there and she is like a daughter to him. Hearing her refer to him as Mr. Lancer just never sat right with me.
11 thoughts on “Season 1: Episode 1 – High Riders”
This is a nice beginning to your episode write-alongs.
The dry good store fight: In Scott’s defense, in the black-and-white version, he’s holding his own against two men. It isn’t until a third man joins the bad guys (his entrance is easy to miss) that Scott is truly outnumbered.
As for your question about why Scott would have used the name Lancer in Boston, there’s no evidence in “The High Riders” that he does. He knows the name, but did he use it? Author Kit Prate makes the reasonable assumption that he would have been raised using his mother’s maiden name of Garrett and that he began using Lancer when he left home for the war. The only argument against his name being Garrett is that for him to have his mother’s name and not his father’s would raise doubts about his legitimacy among Boston society’s gossipmongers. As much as (we learn later) Scott’s maternal grandfather dislikes Murdoch, the stigma of illegitimacy would have been a powerful motive to keep the little boy’s name Lancer. However, the grandfather could have made a big show of legally changing the boy’s name to Garrett to make the child his own and to squelch gossip. Ultimately, the bottom line is we don’t know, and we never will. That leaves plenty of creative room for the fan fiction writers, however!
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Interesting points, but now I have even more to ponder – questions that will never be answered, but are stuck in my head. Darn that short 2 season run! So much could have been explored. For example, the thought that Scott may have used the Garrett name until he joined the war makes me ask, why did he never seek out Murdoch? He’s a pretty confident character and I believe even headstrong. He didn’t let his grandfather push him around until Murdoch was threatened. A man of wealth and privelge that joins a war – when he probably didn’t need to – shows grit and character. Even if Harlan Garrett poisoned his mind against his father when he was a child, I think adult Scott would make up his own mind. The fact that he was so quick to agree to Murdoch’s partnership leads me to believe that he was capable of deciding for himself who Murdoch Lancer was. It’s funny, Johnny was the gunfighter; the “tough guy” that people seemed to fear at just the sound of his name, but Scott always seemed to be the more confident of the two. As you point out, we’ll never know, but the open space that’s left gives the fan fic writers a lot of room to move. I love that all of them (including you!) keep this show alive for us. Thanks so much for you comments.
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I think I can understand some of these points about Scott’s character. I am the eldest child in my family, and was brought up to be obedient and not to question personal things too closely. I was desperate to get away, and actually managed it aged 16, moving 180 miles north. Once away from the influence of my parents, I found a completely different world. I became a different person – even changing my name (my Father had me christened Ann without an ‘e’ so people would not call me Annie. I have been Annie ever since). So, I can see Scott perhaps feeling somewhat oppressed, finding an opportunity (ie joining the calvary) and grabbing it with both hands to start a new life, find himself and become the character we love. Much like the freedom Johnny found once his mother was dead and he had to fend for himself.
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Annie H – I agree with you – Johnny was on his own and independent at an early age. Scott probably had some independence in the cavalry – as much as you can have taking orders. His grandfather in a future episode seems quite domineering and manipulative, so leaving Boston and eventually staying at Lancer gave Scott the opportunity to be his own man. I think one thing that the creators/writers did that was so perfect was to have Scott be an ex-soldier. That way the show avoided the silly tropes of having a soft big-city guy learn to get tough in the west. We’ve seen that done too many times – and it’s pretty old. I’m grateful that they didn’t go down that road. Appreciate your comment!
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One of the things that always hits me watching High Riders was how little reverence was given to Johnny for his heroic ride into the ranch with all of Day Pardee’s men in hot pursuit. “Johnny’s plan” obviously pulled together at the last minute more than likely saved the ranch. – Although a last minute decision due to his inability to kill Day straight away.
Johnny knew the risks if his plan to kill Day did not work. But assuming no one imagined that plan becoming a suicide mission with him leading close to 35 of Dey Pardee’s men right onto the front range. Scott would surely think his newly discovered brother was a bit of a risk-taker. Murdoch never understood it and would more than likely keep stating ” if you ask me, that was a most foolish plan.”
There were close to 35 men out there charging towards Lancer. If even half of them had come charging toward the Ranch at the same time from more than one direction, Lancer would have been surrounded by Pardee’s men and the entire family would eventually all be dead as a result. Visions of Pardee and his gang robbing the place of all the best liquor, silver, and smashing all the pretty china probably danced in Johnny’s head. Then – just like the day before – they would have kidnapped the Lancer women, slaughtered them, took turns and maybe even making Murdoch watch. Pardee’s gang of neighborhood varmints were a special kind of low life. But Johnny already knew what they were capable of. Obviously much more than just “bad manners”.
Johnny, by virtue of somehow convincing Day Pardee’s men to chase him all at once, eliminated the probability of those riders surrounding Lancer on all sides. Johnny though his heroic ride to Lancer – proceeded to break the Pardee Gang’s original formation leading all of those men straight into what you might call “the Lancer shooting range”. Pardee’s gang upon Day’s instructions were galloping at warp speed into the Lancer front lawn in a blind frenzy. By them charging in almost a straightaway double line, the Lancers in turn were able to pick them off one by one easily from their vantage point.
Certainly, Scott gets the full credit for being a marksman with a rifle and killing Pardee. But Johnny was the one who got them there to that victory.
CFLYNNIE – Awesome summation! I believe you are spot on. Johnny told Murdoch that he had something else in mind, but Murdoch didn’t seem to be interested in what he had to say – all he wanted to know was why Johnny was in town and did he already find Pardee. Johnny caused Pardee to divert from his plan, which in turn allowed Lancer the luxury of seeing the enemy riding hard right at them. Anything else would likely have been more stealthy and taken them unawares, or split them up too thinly. Johnny put one big fat wrench in their plan. That’s why in the “Mexico Sequence” above I point out that Johnny is the perfect “action hero”, and if that entire scene had aired uncut it would have made a beautiful bookend to the chase scene. Those damn “powers that be” – they made a poor decision as far as I’m concerned. Thanks for your comment.
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Linda – Exactly. Once you see the color version that was aired – production wise it is more tightly edited and has a professional air to it. But the action scenes with Johnny Madrid and they seemed to cut all the shooting Johnny did during the ranch battle. If one had never been able to see Johnny in the first version – you might think he was kind of lame.
Another good thing about the color version – the additional music works very well – check the sequence when Johnny & Scott arrive on the Stage with Teresa meeting them. There are other spots, but I noticed it most in that scene.
People are making so many excellent points. For me, the beauty of the High Riders crisis/final battle is all four of the characters – Murdoch, Scott, Johnny, and even Teresa – make essential contributions to saving the ranch and reunifying the family. If even one of them hadn’t stepped up, the place would’ve fallen. Murdoch hung tough against the bad guys, he inspired enough loyalty to keep the core group of vaqueros at the ranch, and he was willing to offer his sons a tempting enough deal to encourage them to stay; Scott earned the vaqueros’ respect (the horse jumping scene), tricked the bad guys into thinking the ranch was undefended (the terminated pursuit into the San Benitos), and took charge of the hacienda’s defense with such authority that he inspired ranch hands to become soldiers; Johnny busted up Day’s plan by killing his second in command and forcing Day to charge the ranch before they were ready; Teresa sets Johnny straight about his belief that he and his mother were kicked off the ranch and tells him that Murdoch loved his mother, even asking for her in his near-death delirium all these years later, which forces Johnny to reassess his hatred of “the old man” and see him as someone worth defending. Their contributions interlock so perfectly that their interdependence becomes camouflaged. While we all have our favorite character, the reality is The High Riders doesn’t have a hero – it has a team of four. The story’s depth is part of why we still love Lancer all these years later.
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Melinda – as usual, you put everything together with so much insight that it makes me dig deeper into my own thoughts and opinions. All of their actions together make them a family. The original pilot was so thought out and written (and acted to perfection) to make that point. I still wonder why future episode focused so much on guest stars and split them up so much. The very next episode fits into the timeline all wrong. I believe that someone familiar with production mentioned that “Chase a Wild Horse” was filmed next, and that makes sense to fit there. It amazes me that people so invested in creating a show would make such odd decisions – but I guess the networks rule. I mean, look what happened to poor “Firefly”.
We may never know why “Chase a Wild Horse” was aired after “Blood Rock.” It might have gotten delayed in post-production. “Wild Horse” has a lot more exterior scenes than “Blood Rock” – maybe there were weather delays. Maybe one of the actors got sick or sprained an ankle. There’s a lot of scrambling that goes on behind the scenes in TV production, and series air episodes out of order for all kinds of practical reasons. Luckily, we have the choice to watch them in the order we choose.
Hi! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!
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