Yancy Derringer and the Wolf Who Stands in WaterA column article, Riding Shotgun by: Don McGregor
I never thought I'd see the TV series Yancy Derringer, with Jock Mahoney, on DVD looking as spiffy as Yancy in his ruffled shirts and brocades.
I never thought every episode with Pahoo Ka Ta Wah (Pawnee for Wolf Who Stands In Water) firing his double-barreled shotgun and blowing bodies, Sam Peckinpah style, up off the floor and slamming into walls or hurtling over tables released in a Complete Series set, chronologically in order on disc, with all the unusual amount of continuity of the series intact.
Yancy Derringer was a one season show, from 1958 to 1959.
I knew there would be a cult desire for this show, set in New Orleans right after the Civil War, with Jock Mahoney truly different than his persona as The Range Rider series from the beginning of the 1950s. But were there enough fans to support a release?
Most people reading this on Comics Bulletin probably have never even heard of the show.
Fans of Jock Mahoney especially remember it, and also the imposingly stoic X Brands, as the mute Pawnee who is a memorable visual presence through-out the 34 episodes, who speaks with his hands, his shotgun and the large knife sheathed on his back, handle sticking up over his shoulder.
The sign language between Jock and X Brands is effective, and according to Brummett Echohawk, a spokesman for the Pawnee Indians, the two used Pawnee language with a high degree of accuracy.
Now, before I go into details on the series, here's what fans and collectors want to know about Timeless Home Media's DVD release:
Every episode of Yancy Derringer is included in the set.
The episodes are uncut.
With the exception of "The Gun That Murdered Lincoln", I have never seen episodes of Yancy Derringer look so crisp and defined in its often night-time New Orleans setting. Timeless makes note of the condition of this print. But it's watchable. And it is uncut. I'd rather have it this way than not at all.
The one downside, for me, really, is that the only theme available on the set is the instrumental version. All the prints are from Official, and apparently none of those had the version with lyrics.
"They say that Yancy Derringer had ruffles at his wrists,
brocades and silver buckles
and iron in his fists."
It's really the only thing that saddens me about this set, because as I wrote, I have never seen them in such fine condition. The theme with the lyrics, just as it has with the Johnny Yuma, Rebel, theme sung by Johnny Cash, may be lost as this becomes the definitive set. I wish there had been a way to include the vocal version of the theme song, even as an extra; but there may be many reasons that I am not aware of that kept that from happening.
For all I know, the folks at Timeless may not have even known there was another version of the theme song.
Yancy Derringer was a Desilu release, and as with many of their series, the production values are high for its time. The sets have an effective period feel to them, from Bourbon Street lit by street lamps to the shadowy docks.
In episodes like "Hell and High Water" (with Charles Bronson on a rampage to kill Jock) the show uses an unusual amount of matte work to visually convey a plantation and New Orleans threatened by a storm that will flood the city. The screenplay takes time to note that this is not the first time New Orleans is at the mercy of floods and storms. And the threats still exist today. Much of the background in Yancy Derringer is about gambling, and the gamble for New Orleans is always high stakes tragedy.
The show was created by Mary Loos and Richard Sales.
Mary Loos was the niece of Anita Loos, who based her experiences with men to write Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Anita was a trailblazer, one of the first women writers in Hollywood. Mary apparently had a better choice in men. She and her husband, Richard Sales, who was a prolific pulp writer in the 40s created the series. I don't believe I have ever read how Jock Mahoney became the star of the project. It was unlike any role he had played before. In Hollywood he was primarily known as a premiere stunt-man, an expert rider capable of doing extra-ordinary horse stunts and fight sequences. Yancy seldom rode a horse. He was all disarming smiles, having a dashing good time as the dandy with the ladies, especially
Yancy is worlds apart from his famous role as The Range Rider, and Jock truly revels in the character's easy charm and effortless commanding ease. As is the case with the Range Rider (and Dick Jones), Jock seems to have a real relationship with his co-star. At a flick of the wrist, Jock doesn't even have to turn to X Brands to know where the knife is that is going to tossed to his hand, which he thrusts up to catch the heft of the blade, never having to look to gauge where it is.
Mary Loos and Richard Sales write many of the episodes, giving it much more continuity than most series of the time. Not only is there a large supporting cast from week to week, but characters from previous episodes reappear, and no one has forgotten their last encounters. One of the few other shows that I can recall doing this, a few years earlier, is The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brien. In those days execs often did not believe the audiences were capable of following a continued story, and did it rarely. Memories of characters had nothing to do with anything the audience had seen before. Early comedy shows like I Love Lucy and Burns & Allen did continuity regularly, but it wasn't commonplace in dramas.
A lengthy story arc on TV would not happen until 77 Sunset Strip's last season, in "Five".
That five-part series has an incredible cast, and may be the first mini-series ever done on television.
I was surprised to see Irving Wallace's credit line as a writer on a number of the episodes. This only a few years before he writes The Chapman Report, which becomes a best-selling novel. Wallace saw the impact Kinsey's book (and study) on women's sexuality, and must have seen he'd have a ready-made audience for a fictional account of women and sex.
Along with Cole Trapnell (who wrote many Cheyenne episodes for Warners), they continually added new, interesting characters to the cast.
Claude Akins appears in Episode 2, "Gallatin Street", as the deceptively amiable Toby Cook, who rules the harsh gambling and prostitution area. Yancy accepts the challenge to stride nonchalantly down Gallatin Street, filled with cut-throats waiting to kill him. You can stride with nonchalant confidence if you know you have someone like Pahoo leaping from roof-top to roof-top above you, covering your every move, and having sticks of dynamite in hand just in case the shotgun and blade aren't enough back-up. Toby shows up again in "Collector's Item", still smiling in your face as he plans to cut your throat. The show uses some historical figures in its fictional story-telling, famed photographer Mathew Brady used to take the smile off Toby's face in this one.
Beverly Garland first shows up as woman pirate Coco LaSalle in the episode "The Fair Freebooter", and she appears to have a great time flirting with Yancy, and giving the men she leads a hard time. Beverly shows up again as Coco in "The Wayward Warrior", and this time she even gets to disguise herself as a man, so that the Administrator of New Orleans, John Colton, won't recognize her. They may have had to film quick, but it gave her room to play.
Francis Bergen was Madame Francine, who ran the most grand of New Orleans pleasure palaces, with many of the women who work for her appearing through-out the series, unusual in that most series used different performers for background. Francis was married to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. She was mother to Candice Bergen, whose name is more recognized by many these days than her parents.
While the show often recognizes the devastation of the Civil War, it really concentrates on looking forward, to the United States being United. Yancy may be an incorrigible figure on the streets of New Orleans, but he works for the Administrator, John Colton (Kevin Hagen) as an undercover agent. Often he has Yancy locked up in a cell by the end of an episode, with another continuous character, the jailer (Larry J. Blake) who serves Yancy and Pahoo champagne and fine foods, even when Yancy is constantly beating him at cards.
My favorite supporting character is Jody Barker, the constantly on the hustle pickpocket of the lantern lit streets of night-time New Orleans, who frequently but reluctantly helps Yancy with some scheme. Richard Devon's face is recognizable from the '50s and '60s; he seems to be in about every drama series, normally as a bad guy. Here Devon's comedy timing is perfect as he tries to talk himself out of sticky situations, stay on Pahoo's good side, and try to be inconspicuous when the law is hovering around.
X Brands only speaks in sign language in the entire series. He is so consistent in his performance that many viewers thought he was really mute. Even when I had not seen any episodes of this show for years, his character stayed as an image in my head. Seeing them now, I know why. There is a deep earnestness set in his eyes, in his non-judgmental face. His eyes are always penetrating, observing. Even when Yancy is in jail, Pahoo seems to go into a trance, withdrawing inside himself, holding his own counsel, until he can be free again.
In "Longhair", a disgraced General Custer comes to New Orleans. We meet another new character, Colorado Charlie, who will allow the series to venture beyond the confines of New Orleans when it wants, and yet have it be a part of Derringer's history.
The script describes in detail the atrocities Custer has inflicted on Indians, including the massacre of a village where he knew there were only women and children, and slaughtered them all.
The last shot of "Longhair" shows Yancy and Colton standing, watching Yancy's riverboat, the Sultana, take Custer away, with Pahoo standing in the middle, slightly behind them.
Colton tells Yancy he should be proud for saving…
And Yancy cuts him off saying, "Pahoo Ka Te Wah."
Colton replies, "I was going to say Custer."
And Yancy, quietly, says, "I wonder what fate we saved him for?"
In a beautifully realized visual ending, captured so perfectly, the camera slowly zooms in a Pahoo's face, filling the screen, with silent strength and anger. It's a powerful moment, an indictment, Pahoo's face telling the future we know with implacable power.
"Fire on the Frontier" could easily have been entitled "Pahoo Goes to Washington" to stand before Congress and tell the government in Washington of the promises that it has broken and the carnage it has wrought.
By the way, some people believe Pahoo's name is spelled Pahoo Ka-Te Wah. Most every place I have seen it, though, has it spelled as Ta.
I am not positive of this, but I don't recall any TV series using yank wires when someone is shot. While Jock Mahoney was so noted for so many amazing stunts in film and in his earlier series, The Range Rider, it is Pahoo's using of his double barreled shotgun, pulled out from under the serape draped over his shoulder. When Pahoo fires, flames blast out, and when people are hit they are yanked up into the air, over stair railings, off stairs, into walls. When Pahoo shoots at a doorknob, there's only a hole left where it existed.
I don't think even Peckinpah did that in his early episodes of The Rifleman.
I always wondered why there were so few stunts in Yancy Derringer. It wasn't that Jock wasn't up to doing complex stunts. In a video I saw years ago of Jock at a western convention, I know he said Yancy Derringer had been renewed for a second season, and everyone thought it was a "go", and then the sponsor decided it wanted to do a comedy, and what the bad guys could not accomplish, the mad men advertising execs did.
Yancy and Pahoo were gone.
Yet, viewing these good prints of the show, I see Jock did do stunts, though they are often quick, and though the camera is not really set to fully exploit the jumps and swings. On these prints you can see how lithe Jock is.
After the cancellation of Yancy Derringer, Jock went on to become the oldest actor to play Tarzan. He would become severely ill during the filming of Tarzan Goes to India, but he never stopped filming, even while losing weight to dysentery and fever.
I can't write this piece and not implore Timeless to do a complete Range Rider DVD set.
The company has worked with Gene Autry's Flying A productions. I'm not a big Gene Autry fan, but Timeless and Autry Productions did a magnificent job with the Autry TV series. The prints were not only pristine, they kept the original openings and the commercials that Gene did during the show. It still amuses me, perversely, I guess, to see Gene chomping on Wrigley's Spearmint Gum and throwing the wrapper off into the brush as he rides away on Champion.
I know Flying A sold off The Range Rider and Buffalo Bill, Jr. and Annie Oakley, but I also know good prints exist of these shows. I know some still have the original commercials. Table Talk pies was the main sponsor of the Range Rider. I can still see the Double T's.
I also have to write that there are stunts in The Range Rider that never appeared anywhere else on film.
And who the hell would do them now?
I met Dick Jones when I was at a Hopalong Cassidy convention with Grace Bradley Boyd. I miss you, Grace. In her 80s she was still the most vibrant woman and story-teller.
Anyhow, in talking with Dick, he talked about how Jock had come up to him the first day he met and introduced himself and then said, "I do my own stunts, how about you?"
Now, Dick claimed he really hadn't done a lot of stunts before, but you'll never tell that watching The Range Rider. In the opening titles, Dick leans over the side of his running pinto. I don't mean horses the way they run on film now. I'm talking horses running full out, in furious speed, with grace and motion, pure visual cinema. And Dick leans over, bends under the galloping horse's neck, and shoots his gun at the bad guys.
As a kid, I always wanted to be able to do that.
I can't think of any reason you would need to be able to do that, except that you had the confidence to know you could, and know you could get away with it and not end up trampled under the running hooves, and that you would look cool as hell doing it!
I've seen Jock leap over two horses to land in the saddle of the second; leap off a running horse onto the back of another hell bent for leather horse, standing on its back, and yanking the bad-guy out of the saddle! The Range Rider, in its best episodes, is a B Western with the dull spots cut out.
During the course of the series, Jock does sword play, has a bullwhip fight, does Kendo; I can't recall all of his inventiveness off the top of my head.
Anyhow, Timeless, the point of all this is, now that Yancy Derringer is out, why not release some beautifully restored, uncut, commercials included prints of The Range Rider.
And while you're waiting, Yancy Derringer is already done.
Go over to Amazon.com or or your other favorite online retailer.
Yancy and Pahoo will make a double-barreled holiday gift!