The Dead Man’s Gun: Contemporary Supernatural Western

D

Welcome to day four of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Today we will discuss the Supernatural Western anthology Dead Man’s Gun. Although this show only ran for 40 episodes, it is one of my favorite contemporary Western anthologies.

I enjoy watching Dead Man’s Gun because it has an interesting premise, it follows the path of a mysterious gun that seems to have supernatural powers, a gun that destroys the lives of bad men and women and saves the lives of the good. It is like a cross breed of the old Western morality shows and The Twilight Zone. In a way, the gun becomes a character in the show, a hero of sorts, and each episode is like a short story, generally standing alone, although the final episode does have flashbacks and attempts to pull the story together.

Like many contemporary Westerns, Dead Man’s Gun was filmed in Canada and has some gorgeous scenery. The show does tend to be a bit dark and depressing, though, and most of the shows have a gratuitous sex scene, which can be a bit irritating after awhile when they are obviously completely unnecessary to the plot.

Episodes Like Short Western Fiction Stories

The show was created by Ed and Howard Spielman. Each of the forty episodes is narrated by Kris Kristofferson. Some of the episodes are outstanding, while others are simply mediocre.

Kate_Jackson_1976

Actress Kate Jackson stars in “Death Warrant,” an episode of Dead Man’s Gun.

The individual episodes often features popular stars, such as Rick Shroder in the spooky Civil War episode “The Deserter;”  Meat Loaf in the romantic “Mail Order Bride;” and Kate Jackson and Michael Moriarity in “Death Warrant;” Joanna Pacula in “Four of a Kind;” and “The Resurrection of Joe Wheeler,” starring Brian Kerwin.

Henry_Winkler_at_the_AIDS_Project_Los_Angeles_(APLA)_benefit_cropped

 Henry Winkler at AIDS Project Los Angeles benefit in 1990. 

The executive producer was Henry Winkler, who also wrote numerous episodes and stars in some of my favorites, including “The Imposter,” which aired in 1997, and “Hangman,” which aired in 1998.

“Hangman”

One of my favorite episodes is “Hangman,” which aired on September 18, 1998. The show stars Henry Winkler as Phineas Newman, a professional hangman who does not necessarily enjoy his work, but understand the necessity of his job. He also understands the necessity of tying a proper knot and measuring the neck of the criminal, determining his weight, and the rate of drop so the hanged man does not suffer.

Newman is not a particularly happy man. In fact, he is a lonely man, though he understands the important role he plays in the communities he is forced to visit. He does have an apprentice, though this doesn’t necessarily make him happy, either. He would prefer to have the need for hangings disappear. Clearly, he wants a better world. His apprentice, however, has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Newman.

When Newman is asked to prepare the noose for the Reverend Franklin Justice (Colin Cunningham), who Newman believes is innocent, Newman begins to question his ethics. Reverent Justice (clearly his name was carefully chosen) is accused of raping and murdering a young girl. Newman speaks with the Reverend when he takes his measurements for the knot and begins to question the guilty verdict passed against the man.

Newman knows how to tie a knot so the neck breaks quickly, thereby easing the pain when a man falls through the trap door on the scaffold. However, he also knows how to tie a knot that will break. When the time comes for the hanging, Newman makes his decision. He ties the knot, it breaks, and Reverend Justice is a free man because in the Old West, a man cannot hang twice for the same crime.

Then Newman begins to notice the Reverend is paying a lot of attention to a young girl in town. The girl, played by Lauren Lauder, resembles the last girl who was murdered. Newman slowly realizes he has made a mistake. He tried to play God, he tried to play judge and jury. He saved a guilty man from paying for his crime.

Newman, deeply regretting his decision to interfere, follows Reverend Justice and interrupts the man as he is attempting to murder of the young girl. Instead, Newman murders Reverend Justice. He is tried for the murder and sentenced to be hanged.

On the day of his hanging, his apprentice insists on tying the knot for his mentor and friend. He carefully measures Newman’s neck, determines his weight, the speed of the drop, and Newman assures the mournful young man that all will be well as long as he remembers to use his special noose.

Newman slowly marches up the scaffold. The crowd holds its breath, the apprentice places the hood over Newman’s head, then the noose. Newman drops, the rope breaks, and Newman is a free man.

Source:

  • “Hangman.” Dead Man’s Gun. Dir. Brenton Spencer. Perf. Henry Winkler.