Saturday, May 22, 2021

THE CHRISTOPTHER LEE BLOGATHON: How the West Was Won, 1978


Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews present The Christopher Lee Blogathon, May 21-23, 2021. Thank you, Barry and Gill.  Day 1   Day 2   Day 3


When the auspicious 20-year run of Gunsmoke came to an end, executive producer Toronto-born John Mantley, his star James Arness, and his writing and directing team turned to an epic television series inspired by the epic sweep of the 1962 film How the West Was Won. Set in the tumultuous years of the American Civil War, Zebulon Macahan, a respected frontier scout returns to Virginia to assist his brother's family in moving west to avoid the conflict. Avoiding the Civil War proves impossible, but the family does become part of the migration. 

The series premiered in 1976 with four episodes and concluded with 11 episodes in its third season in 1979. We are looking at the epic opening episodes of season 2 from 1978 with Christopher Lee among its distinguished guest cast.

Vickie Schreck (Jessie), Fionnula Flanagan (Molly), Kathryn Holcomb (Laura)
Bruce Boxleitner (Luke), James Arness (Zeb), William Kirby Cullen (Josh)

The stories of the Macahan family intersect throughout the story. The home base is a farm where those who remain are adjusting to the death of their mother Kate and the arrival of their Aunt Molly Culhane (Fionnula Flanagan - Emmy nominee). Laura becomes enamoured of a strong-willed Mormon (John Reilly) and they face the bigotry rampant toward the religious sect. Luke hits the trail running from a wronged past and the gunfighter's reputation he does not want. He will become involved with a canny sheriff (Lloyd Bridges) and his spitfire of a daughter (Elyssa Davlos). 

Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke), Horst Buchholz (Sergei)
Our multi-linguist actors and characters converse in Russian

Zeb Macahan is in the Dakotas where the State Department, through Major Drake (Peter Hansen) requests his expertise as a hunter and scout. A party of Russian noblemen led by The Grand Duke Dimitri (Christopher Lee), the Csar's brother no less, are making a grand tour. They wish to hunt; they wish to hunt buffalo, 200 or so kills should satisfy their plans. Zeb wants nothing to do with the entitled noblemen, particularly the arrogant nephew Sergei (Horst Buchholz). Zeb is friends with the Sioux and he will not trespass on their territory nor do anything to the buffalo stock so necessary to their survival. Zeb walks away from the government's "offer."

Trisha Noble (Valerie), Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke)

Major Drake turns to the talents of another scout Coulee John Brinkerhoff (Cameron Mitchell). Brinkerhoff hates all Indians and his agenda includes deliberate trespass of treaty lands and antagonizing the Sioux into a fight. Face to face with the Sioux, the Grand Duke understands the concept of discretion being the better part of valour while the hotheaded Sergei treats the Sioux as if they were Russian serfs. The result of the confrontation finds Sergei and his mistress Valerie (Trisha Noble) taken captive and one cavalry officer dead.

James Arness (Zeb), Ricardo Montalban (Santangkai)

The war chief of the Sioux, Santangkai (Ricardo Montalban - Emmy winner) is justifiably angry. He will keep the unlooked-for Russian hostages until the American government admits their intrusion onto Sioux land and the killing of the buffalo. He seeks retribution. Santangkai tells all of this to his friend Zeb Macahan, who will relay the terms of releasing the hostages to the man now in charge, General Stonecipher (Brian Keith). 

A small party of unarmed men from each side meets in a meadow to exchange cash and, on the part of the Americans, a cagily worded apology. It should have been a simple matter to complete the transaction. Sergei had plans of his own and once his hands were freed he rushed to whip Santangkai and found death at the hands of an outraged Sioux brave. A brave dies at the hands of a Russian guard. The outrage of the Grand Duke will of course be appeased by further violence sanctioned by his government hosts. Washington will be alerted and Washington will send orders.

Peter Hansen (Major Drake), Brian Keith (General Stonecipher), Van Williams (Captain MacAllister)

General Stonecipher has his own opinion on the circumstances. He knows they are in the wrong and therefore must assert themselves to save face. He will do his duty; he will not deny the facts. Zeb Macahan has his opinion and he leaves the Fort to offer his assistance to Satangkai. "Are you going to make the whole Sioux nation suffer because of one man, General? One man who was such a jackass, it was a miracle he didn't get killed years ago?"

Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke)

The Grand Duke has an opinion that he does not keep to himself. The trip to the American frontier has opened his eyes to much, and that much is that America is a failed experiment. "You! How dare you speak of Sergei in that manner? I will not tolerate this, General. Sergei lost his life as a direct result of this man's miscalculations and he is paid to know that the Savage can't be trusted. You cannot let him go. I insist that he be punished."

"You are fools, all of you. Do you really imagine that you can have a society where every man considers himself the equal of every other man? Where every serf and every peasant opposes his betters with impunity? Where a man like Macahan can defy your authority and walk away without any fear of being punished? No, gentlemen, this is folly, sheer folly. One day soon this nation will crash around your ears and I, for one, will await that day with great pleasure."

The story of the Grand Duke's royal tour and its repercussions plays out over the episodes Buffalo Story, Mormon Story, and Interlude. It is a tale of adventure, of loyalties, of sacrifice, and of shame.










(Caftan Woman is currently still in the hospital due to her transplant recovery. This post was published at her request by her daughter Janet.)






44 comments:

  1. Hi Patricia and Janet - best wishes for a speedy recovery for sweet Paddy - thinking of you!
    Had no idea that the epic 1962 film was remade into an epic TV miniseries, with a cast just as impressive than the original! Particularly a die hard fan of the marvelous Mr. Montalban but also Bucholz, Keith, Flanagan, Boxleitner and of course, the ever versatile Sir Christopher Lee. Will look for this so I can finally see it!
    - Chris

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    1. Indeed, a cast for the ages and an excellent, wel made program. The quality of the production must have been known to attract such as Christopher Lee.
      Ricardo Montalban's Emmy win was his only competitive acting award in his long and versatile career.

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  2. Thanks for this wonderful review Paddy, and what a cast this definitely looks like one to check out. Thanks for joining the blogathon x

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  3. This may well be my favourite episode of How the West Was Won, primarily because of Christopher Lee and Ricardo Montalban (even if he is a bit miscast playing a Sioux). It is also probably one of the few times James Arness had a co-star who was as tall as he was! Both he and Christopher Lee were well over six foot.

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    1. A very involving and emotional story. My rewatch was after many years and it moved me as it did the first time.

      Arness mentioned on Gunsmoke DVD commentary that a Montalban guest appearance (Chato comes to mind) was one of his favourite episodes because of the guest star.
      I certainly could have done with more Lee and Arness scenes but for the sake of story I cannot fault a thing.

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    2. If the first season had four episodes and the third season eleven, was this a series or a mini-series?

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    3. I believe the producers and the network were at odds. Mantle considered it a series but it was a high cost one that the network wanted to keep under control. Prestige vs budget.

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  4. I don't think I saw these episodes and enjoyed your post! It's good to see you writing, and I hope your hospital stay is nearing the end of the finish line!

    Sending lots of good wishes!!!
    Laura

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    1. Thanks, Laura. This was one I happened to work on ahead of getting word of the transplant. Although, in the last few days my brain has turned to reading, actually checking out news (!), and looking forward to future posts for the blog (!!). My next step is a rehab facility and then home. Everything in its proper time.

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    2. That sounds very good indeed if you're beginning to feel interest in reading and blog writing!! It sounds like things are on the right track! Hope you'll be able to advance to the next step and move to rehab soon. You are in my thoughts daily!

      Best wishes,
      Laura

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    3. Thank you. That means so much to me. I look forward to the days of hospitals as a memory.

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  5. Leave it to you to dig out this nugget in the career of Christopher Lee. I miss those days of sweeping TV mini-series and historical series. There was a lot more entertainment and a lot more depth to broadcast TV in those days. TV movies, too. Thank you for this, and thanks to your secretary. Janet is kind of like Effie in "The Maltese Falcon" and that must make you Sam Spade. I'm glad you're on the case.

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    1. I looked at an article on returning network programming this fall and found one program I watch. In the days of yesteryear I knew the entire schedule by heart and lived for those special close-ups in the TV Guide. Yet, even then television was referred to as a wasteland. Could the critics have imagined today, their heads would explode. How you must dig for your treasures.

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  6. Sir Christopher Lee is full of surprises, isn't he? I wasn't aware that there was a TV series based on the movie, let alone one with such an impressive cast. Thank you so much for taking the time to be a part of our blogathon. Above all, I wish you good health and a speedy recovery! :)

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    1. Thank you for the good wishes. They really help keep me in a positive frame of mind. I remember at the time being so impressed that Christopher Lee was part of this cast. As always, he was a perfect choice giving one hundred percent.

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  7. I bet Christopher Lee is utterly fab in this role. (But, when wasn't he?)

    P.S. Love the caricature!

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    1. One of Janet's animation buddies did the caricature as a thank you for sweets I made for them during their student days.

      Lee and Buccholz conversing in Russian on an American western is a genuine treat.

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  8. I love this choice for the Chris Lee blogathon because it’s a perfect example of his versatility. He is one of the few actors to be associated with a truly iconic role (Dracula) that didn’t overshadow his other films.

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    1. So true. His longevity and versatility find a Christopher Lee who speaks to generations of audiences.

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  9. Absolutely fascinating review! 👍
    I have never heard of this series, which surprises me considering it's amazing cast!

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    1. The series was familiar to me but there are others I am discovering through that internet that impress and surprise me. We are lucky to have a world of entertainment at our fingertips.

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  10. JOHN REILLY did two episodes of GUNSMOKE. The first one was TO RIDE A YELLER HORSE(with LOUISE LATHAM and KATHLEEN CODY). The other one was THE WIVING(with HARRY MORGAN and KAREN GRASSLE). Both aired in 1974. The first one was during the 19th season and the second one was during the show's final season.

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    1. The wind down of the series was sad for this fan

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  11. A speedy recovery to you, Paddy Lee!

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    1. Thank you. It is a one day at a time process, but then, isn't everything?

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  12. Best wishes for a speedy recovery! The best thing about this blogathon is all the posts that have you saying, "I never knew that existed, or that Christopher Lee was in it!" He's the Visa card of actors -- he's everywhere you want to be in retro movies and TV: every kind of movie genre and every kind of budget from grade Z to blockbuster A, UK TV, American TV, you name it. This looks like a fascinating role in ... wait for it ... something I never knew even existed! :)

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    1. I'm finding the same thing. We are all fans and we "know" Christopher Lee, yet through the blogathon we are still discovering new things about him.

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  13. JAMES ARNESS was born on May 26, 1923. That was 98 years ago today! (His passing was in 2011.) I also want to mention that WALTER SCHENK and RICHARD COBOS won an EMMY AWARD for ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP for HOW THE WEST WAS WON. This was in 1978.

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  14. How the West Was Won was a quality program with one of classic television's top leading men. James Arness continually impresses me.

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  15. I also want to mention that JOHN WAYNE was born on May 23, 1907. That was 114 years ago. (His passing was in 1979). JAMES ARNESS was born the day that DUKE turned 16! As you know GUNSMOKE had a great cast and some of the most talented guest stars ever!

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    1. Gunsmoke fans are lucky that James Arness was under contract to John Wayne's Batjac production company and the boss encouraged the young actor to accept the television offer.

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  16. Paddy Lee, I'm so glad that you are progressing well onto the road to recovery. I really like the neat caricature. Best wishes always.

    An interesting and somewhat surprising choice for the Christopher Lee Blogathon, then again, maybe not. I first viewed HOW THE WEST WAS WON series made for television when it originally aired from 1976-79 and have very fond memories of this trail blazing TV series. These shows weren't the usual hour long episodes, rather this series had a continuing story-line, which was presented in weekly, feature-length broadcasts. This was a high quality TV for the time.

    I agree so much with Jacqueline T. Lynch in that I also miss those 1970's and 1980's sweeping TV mini-series, Best Seller series, and Historical series. Those were the days for good solid entertainment that also made you think. I could go on and on. I'm glad that we can get several of these series on DVD.

    Again, thank you for triggering my memory.

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    1. My pleasure, Walter. When I think of the "event television" we were treated to, I wonder at its seeming absence. I will admit that there is so (too) much TV these days that I simply cannot be bothered to sort through it all. Maybe I am lazy, but I must be brought kicking and screaming to something that may be both worthwhile and new.

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  17. A great choice for the blogathon as I'm sure many people, myself included, were not familiar with Lee's participation on the series. Thanks for providing some enlightenment and best wishes on your recovery.

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    1. Thanks so much. Blogathons open our eyes to so much.

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  18. I want to mention that GAVIN MacLEOD died May 29 at the age of 90. When I read the news of his passing I first thought of THE LOVE BOAT where he played CAPTAIN MERRILL STUBING then I thought of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW where he played MURRAY SLAUGHTER. He was on a MURDER, SHE WROTE ep that I've mentioned before-the one with ANNE FRANCIS as his wife. Her sisters were played by ELAINE JOYCE and CONNIE STEVENS. The ladies were singers and DONALD O'CONNOR was also in it. I also want to mention that Gavin did two eps of THE ANDY GRIIFITH SHOW-one in black and white and the other in color. He guest-starred on GOMER PYLE, USMC and three eps of THE BIG VALLEY. He played a prison guard in the one titled ALIAS NELLIE HANDLEY. It was one of his villainous roles. Gavin had a more diverse career than some people probably realize. P.S. THE LOVE BOAT came on in 1977 and Gavin is the first cast member of that show to pass away. He had a very likable presence on TV.

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    1. I loved Gavin on MTM. I first watched him on McHale's Navy and he impressed me in movies (The Sand Pebbles) and as a recurring villain called Big Chicken on the original Hawaii 5-0.

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  19. I had no idea Christopher Lee was on this show, but now I'm going to have to look for these episodes. It's always fun to see his earlier stuff.

    Hope you're doing well.:-)

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    1. Lee's was such a long and varied career, we can spend decades trying to see it all. Decades of fun!

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  20. ARLENE GOLONKA died on May 31 at the age of 85. You will probably recall her from her two eps of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. She also did two eps of THE LOVE BOAT. Of course, GAVIN MacLEOD was on those shows. Arlene also did two eps of MURDER, SHE WROTE and guest-starred on POLICE WOMAN and THE BIG VALLEY. Arlene is best known for playing MILLIE on two color eps of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and also MAYBERRY RFD (1968-71). She was the love interest of SAM JONES(KEN BERRY). Millie worked at the bakery. Arlene was as cute as a button and had a unique voice. She was a good actress.

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    1. I don't think I would trust anyone who didn't appreciate Arlene Golonka.

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  21. CAFTAN WOMAN, I hope you're doing well. I hope you didn't go back in time and run off with one of your movie men! HA HA! Just kidding.

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    1. Hospital and Rehab wears you down to build you up. I finally arrived home in July (9th), and I hope this lasts.

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