Monday, May 16, 2011

The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin: “Top Gun” (Screen Gems TV, 1958)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The shorter piece we watched last night was an episode of the 1950’s TV show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin — which I hadn’t realized was a Western, set in the late 19th century and featuring the famous superdog with Rusty (Lee Akers), a child orphaned in an Indian raid in Arizona and taken in by the troops at Fort Apache, where he and Rinty (as R.T.T. was generally referred to in the dialogue) attempt to bring law and order to the nearby city of Mesa Grande. The episode we watched came from January 24, 1958 and was called “Top Gun” — claimed that the Dead End Kids, or what was left of them by then, were in it, but they weren’t.

It turned out to be a well-made half-hour Western short even though the download cut off the ending and it was a blatant ripoff of the 1950 film The Gunfighter, directed by Henry King and starring Gregory Peck as Johnny Ringo, aging gunfighter who just wants to be left alone to mind his own business but can’t because every time he settles in a town, not only does his reputation precede him but some young punk shows up, challenges him to a gunfight and tries to knock him off to build instant gunfighter cred as “the man who shot Johnny Ringo.” (Among the many people particularly impressed by this movie was a young, rather sickly boy in Liverpool named Richard Starkey; when he took up drums professionally, first with a little-known band called Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and then with a quite famous band called the Beatles, he drew his stage name, “Ringo Starr,” from Johnny Ringo.) The synopsis for this episode reads:

"Rusty and Rinty accompany a detail on a trip into town. Rip discovers Abel; the former town sheriff is concerned when his gunslinging son Toby arrives. Rusty bumps into Toby at the stables and is immediately impressed with his guns. Toby mounts up but Rinty attracts his attention to a broken saddle strap. While waiting for the saddle to be repaired Toby goes to a local saloon and immediately attracts a large crowd. Rip, an old friend, chats with Toby, who confesses to the loneliness of being a gunslinger. A young gun, Bart Desay, arrives in town expressly to kill Toby. Rusty is sent to bring Abel to the saloon, but he refuses. He does agree Toby can visit him if he leaves his guns behind. Desay finds Toby at the saloon and calls him out. Initially Toby won’t be baited, but eventually gives in. They draw, but Toby fires first, only wounding Desay in the hand before sending him on his way. Toby’s had enough and gives Rusty his guns, swearing he will never be a gunslinger again. He then visits his father but is ambushed by Deasy, angered at his defeat. Deasy’s attack fails when he is attacked by Rinty. Abel, now seeing his son has reformed, offers Toby the vacant sheriff’s job in the town.”

The print we were watching was missing the canis ex machina happy ending — it cut directly from the abortive gunfight to the closing credits — but otherwise it was pretty good, decently reflecting its roots in one of the finest Western films ever made and, at least at the beginning, in surprisingly decent print quality (it did get a bit foggier towards the abrupt ending).