Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Americans, "The Guerrillas"

“The Guerrillas”
March 20, 1961
Starring Darryl Hickman and Dick Davalos
Guest starring Robert Culp, Berry Kroeger, Sonya Wilde, Strother Martin, Norman Alden, Cyril Delevanti, Gertrude Flynn, Pauline Myers, Peggy Stewart, George Kennedy, James Seay, Ken Mayer, Patrick Waltz, Terry Ann Ross, Paul Lambert
Music by Van Alexander
Produced by Frank Telford
Written by Andy Lewis
Directed by John Florea

One of the most unusual television westerns was set during the Civil War. THE AMERICANS starred former child star Darryl Hickman (THE GRAPES OF WRATH) and Dick Davalos (EAST OF EDEN) as brothers from Harpers Ferry who fought on opposite sides. Like MAVERICK, most episodes featured either one brother or the other, and rarely did Hickman and Davalos appear together.

“The Guerrillas” features Davalos as Jeff Canfield, the brother who joined the Virginia Militia, but the best part in the script by Andy Lewis (KLUTE) goes to the great Robert Culp (I SPY). It wasn’t unusual for dramas during this era to act as disguised anthologies, crafting stories around colorful guest actors and leaving room for the stars to just drop in.

Culp plays Finletter, a sensitive sort who joins up with a band of deserters, creeps, and thieves from both sides of the Conflict that use the war as cover for their criminal mischief. He doesn’t seem into it, though; one of the guerrillas calls him a “right peculiar fella.” He got tired of killing for the Union and deserted, joining up with the guerrillas a few days later.

Led by the stuttering Keezer (Berry Kroeger), the cutthroats lay siege to the town where Jeff’s grandfather (Cyril Delevanti) lives, burning homes and hassling the womenfolk. Jeff, on leave from the Confederate Army, doesn’t meet up with them until the end of the second act. Indeed, Lewis and director John Florea are more interested in the bad guys and their internal politics. Paine (Norman Alden) tries to organize an overthrow of Keezer’s leadership, but when it fails, he frames Finletter.

In addition to the actors already mentioned, “The Guerrillas” is of interest because of supporting roles taken by Strother Martin and George Kennedy, whose Internet Movie Database profile neglects his part as a friendly deaf-mute who helps Jeff rescue the town from Keezer’s men. A friendship of sorts begins to develop between Jeff and Finletter, who call each other “Yankee” and “Reb,” as they band together, but one feels that it isn’t destined to be a long relationship.

THE AMERICANS premiered on Monday night in RIVERBOAT’s old timeslot against ABC’s CHEYENNE and CBS’ combo of TO TELL THE TRUTH and PETE AND GLADYS. The ratings weren’t there for either brother, and NBC cancelled the series after seventeen episodes.

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