Monday, March 12, 2012

Classic TV Review: Tate

I've been watching a lot of old TV shows the past few months, in preparation for some trivia contests that I play in each year. This year I happened upon an old western that I hadn't seen before but which I found quite enjoyable: Tate.

Tate has the distinction of being the first TV program to feature a main character with a physical disability. Tate (his first name was never given) was a veteran of the Civil War, and had lost the use of this left arm in that bloody conflict. He wears a special leather sleeve-like sling on his disabled arm. Other than that, Tate is perfectly healthy, which is good, since he makes his living as a fast-drawing bounty hunter. As with most bounty hunter-styled TV westerns, Tate is very particular about which bounties he tries to collect. He has no real problem switching sides when he discovers he's on the bad guy's side of the situation, that way his story can be told without interference from Standards and Practices.

David McLean starred as Tate, playing the gunfighter as a taciturn man with not only the brains and willpower to do a lot of dirty jobs, but one with a soul and a conscience. McLean had already gained fame as the Marlboro Man in commercials and advertising for Marlboro Cigarettes (a product he later was a vocal opponent of when he contracted lung cancer).

The show was definitely not wanting for acting talent. Royal Dano, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Culp, Julia Adams, Robert Redford, Martin Landau, James Coburn, Frank Overton and Warren Oates all had prominent guest-starring roles on the program. Landau and Overton were particularly forceful in their roles; Landau portrayed a sheepherder who was wanted for the wanton destruction of a town in vengeance for the murder of his wife; and Overton portrayed one of Tate's closest friends, a man with no forgiveness in his heart for even the most trivial of wrongs.  Culp also plays an excellent role as a principled but rather strange bounty hunter who tried to bring in Tate for a crime he was wrongfully accused.

A clip from "Comanche Scalps", featuring David McLean, Frank Overton and Leonard Nimoy.

The show lasted 13 half-hour episodes, all of which are now available on DVD. The show had been a summer replacement for part of Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall and apparently the ratings didn't justify a further investment by the program's sponsor, Kraft Foods.

If you have Netflix, Tate is a series that is definitely worth renting and experiencing. It doesn't have the wry humor that many good westerns, but it has a dramatic punch to it that few other TV westerns had in that era.

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