The Rifleman and Modern Society

Something funny happened on the way to the couch.

I have recently moved to a farm property where we put up a house.  Before we got the Dish set up, we were restricted to whatever channels the digital rabbit ears (do they call them that anymore?) could drag in.  I found myself watching TV shows on MeTV that brought me back to my youth.  I have very much enjoyed watching those old Emergeney! shows, along with The Rifleman

To tell the truth, I am only using the dish to get my sports fix and using the digital rabbit ears for the occasional bit of entertainment.  But I have become recently re-devoted to The Rifleman.

When I was a child I remember watching reruns of The Rifleman.  You remember the opening scene, don’t you?

I have been endlessly fascinated how I view this show now versus when I was a kid. 

When I saw the first show a few months ago, I knew that he got off an extra shot in the opening scene, and immediately recognized that the modified rifle he carried around wasn’t even in production until 20 years after the show is set.  I saw that there was no kick, and hardly any smoke, also wrong with that particular firearm.  I also knew that the rifle must have been double modified – not just that screw in the trigger to make the trigger go off each time he slammed home the rack, but that in some of the ways he shoots it, the cartridges would simply fall out of the weapon unless there was some sort of modification.

But that is all just gun nut stuff and pretty minor unless you are a stickler for detail like me.  You can see lots of other things that they didn’t have in the New Mexico territory in the 1880’s as well, if you take a close look at the show.  Or you can sit back and just let it happen.  Which I do most of the time.

After watching for a bit, I noticed how huge of a man Chuck Connors was.  Upon reading his wiki, I found out that he played professional baseball and basketball, and was even drafted by the Chicago Bears for football, but never saw the field in that sport.  Here is a photo of him from that wiki entry from his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers:

I also am now much more interested in the production of the show, namely how they ride the horses, have them tacked up, and how they drive them.  There are stagecoaches with teams of four, and all sorts of other carts and things that have more relevance now that I actually own some horses.  The wife is the one that rides and drives, but I find it interesting.

The Rifleman is a force for good.  He isn’t Robin Hood by any means, rather is more of a justice vigilante.  He isn’t a deputy or marshall of the law, as that duty falls to Micah on the show.  However, The Rifleman dispenses plenty of instant justice as he sees fit.  And it is always justified.  The Rifleman is the good guy.  At times, judge, jury and executioner. 

He is a single dad raising his son right.  In a scene at a restaurant he asked Mark, his son, what he wants for dinner – Mark replied that he wanted the special cake of the day.  The Rifleman replied “before that”.  Mark wavered, so The Rifleman ordered for him – meat and potatoes and double serving of vegetables.  “After that, cake”.  No arguments from Mark, just a nod and obedience.

The Rifleman doesn’t take sh1t from anybody.  If you steal from him you get punched.  But you will never meet a kinder gentleman if everything is going smoothly.

In the town that the show is set in, North Fork, everyone is walking around carrying guns of every sort.  The Rifleman almost always has his rifle in his hand, even when going shopping, or to a restaurant, or whatever.  To these men, the guns are portrayed as tools of the trade.  And now that I am living on a farm, I will say that a gun, especially a long gun, is indeed a tool that is required.

I don’t think a show like this could ever be pulled off today.  Nor do I think that the Hollywood and/or TV executives would make one.  There is a rumor that there will be a remake of the show, but we will see.

As the moral standards of the US have declined, the TV content has submarined as well.  It would be amazing if in todays market a show that featured a
1)  single dad raising son right
2)  white guy
3)  force of good
4)  vigilante
5)  people walking around with guns that aren’t cops

would ever get off the ground.  It just wouldn’t happen.  The show was made in the late fifties and early sixties when attitudes were different and to me, things were simpler.

Times change.  As someone famous told me once, “you can’t go home again”.

Cross posted at LITGM.

20 thoughts on “The Rifleman and Modern Society”

  1. I don’t remember the reruns because I saw the originals. And that’s why I may be off base in my recollection. But one other thing I would add to your list of contemporary taboos the show violated was an absolute sense of right and wrong derived from a higher authority. While the show was in no way overtly religious, there was no question that when he was acting as a force for good it was not what he decided was good off the top of his head but what was commonly recognized to be the right thing to do. Some episodes involved the resolution of moral dilemmas but the resolution was always guided by generally accepted action principles. It is the relativization and optional utilization of these principles that prevail today that make so much of what is being created today abhorrent.

    A baseball star and a TV star (I didn’t know about the NFL); I always thought Chuck Connors was the luckiest guy outside the Mercury astronauts.

  2. Thanks for the reminisces. That picture of him swinging the bat…..if he was a big man, his head must have been enormous!

  3. Dan – I too am stuck on MeTV! To have shows that were at the top of the Nielsens in their day – all rebroadcasted…love the old Newhart, Twilight Zones, Cheers…and…the Rifleman (just to name a few – being at work I had better hurry this up!)

    Funny when I wanted it as a child…remembering it all these years I used to joke that here was a rancher who just wanted to live in peace with his son and he had to kill someone every week.

    But getting reacquainted as you say it wasn’t like that – good life lessons from knowing when to back away to horse trading (as an aside I think young Johnny Crawford dudnb’t hav a lot of common sense getting himself in some big trouble…but then we wouldn’t have had a plot during those times ;-))

    As an aside that production company duo is still in business I think.

  4. Dan as to your other contention that they couldn’t make this today I am not so sure – but the culture in Hollywood is so different from most Americans – the divide is what would stop it – not the reception. Getting producers and networks to make it would be the hindrance. Plus the audience is so segmented with cable TV that the networks just fill up the air with cheap-to-produce reality shows.

    I also read that Conners wanted more salary than the producers wanted to give but of course they relented and Conners was a big reason for the success.

    Also, the early ones had Sam Peckinpah as writer – and I think when he left a lot of the script quality declined. But it is interesting to see how many actors there who would go on to big success –

    (trying to slow down and avoid the crazy typos!)

  5. Chuck Conners was great in “The Big Country” as a bad guy. That’s a good movie if you are looking for another. Greg Peck looks a bit of a prig early on but it works as part of the plot.

    I watched Shane for the 500th time last night. The trouble handling an actor who was only 5’5″ was a challenge. The tall guys were not very common but did very well. Even if they couldn’t act (I’m looking at you, Sterling Hayden) they were very easy to cast as the girls could be tall. I wonder how tiny Veronica Lake was. She did three big movies with Ladd.

    Alan Ladd was a champion diver and gymnast but very short.

  6. Michael – I agree – Conners was a great bad guy in the BC – made just as the Rifleman was starting. I think it is one of the great unappreciated westerns. Some BC trivia – Wm Wyler and Peck got into a huge fight over an opening scene where they are driving the buggy to the entrance of the ranch – Peck – filming this outside Stockton at the time, stormed off the set and stayed in LA for 3 days. That is the problem with having a leading man also a producer.

    They wouldn’t speak to each other for 20 years.

    At an award for Wyler Peck went behind the stage and wanted to congratulate him.

    “Greg”, Willy said, “I’m still not redoing the scene!”

    Wyler had to rush off to film Ben Hur and regretted not taking more time to edit the BC – perhaps if he had it would have been considered by everyone to be a great Western and not just me ;-)

  7. Lucky you. I find when I watch the old shows: Outer Limits, Prisoner, Rifleman, Mary Tyler Moore, MASH, Paladin; Wild, Wild West; I find them to uniformly unwatchable. There’s something about TV shows—and maybe movies—that wears away over time. So few worth watching ten years later, or more.

  8. I should have added: do you need the DISH to get your sports? I’ve found I can afford all I can watch via Internet. It’s not everything I would like to see, but the quantity is there.

  9. @Erisguy – I find – with those of sitcoms – humor is humor because it is based on human relations. And those Twilight Zone episodes – some of them to me are amazing writing – 20 minutes to develop a plot and hit you with something completely unexpected at the end.

  10. Erisguy – I watch a lot of different sports and appreciate the variety dish offers plus the hd
    is fantastic. In addition the Internet here at the farm is serviceable but not the best.

  11. I have reactions similar to Eris. I haven’t owned a TV in nearly 20 years, but I occasionally come across an old show on YouTube and am usually disappointed (Biggest let-down: F Troop, even though I still consider it the last vestige of vaudeville shtick. Some of those jokes had to be older than Bob Steele).
    I still can’t forget Mad magazine’s Rifleman parody, though.
    Johnny Crawford: Tell me about Maw, Paw, haw?

  12. Well, I’m pretty obsessed with Perry Mason; my husband likes Newhart. Yes, the values, the pace are different. I think we mau branch out to Dobie Gillis and Peter Gunn, but I don’t know if they’ll work. I suspect part of it is what we bring to them.

  13. “I watch a lot of different sports and appreciate the variety dish offers plus the hd is fantastic. ”

    Ah. No internet then. I have a distant (as in miles) friend who has dish. The variety and quantity are mile wide and mile deep. More than I can watch. You’re fortunate.

  14. If you want a really jarring time warp, try some of the Little Rascals/Our Gang episodes. I recall watching them repeatedly in the 1950’s. That probably explains many of my personality traits and attitudes (not just the bad ones). I still enjoy Gun Smoke. Never really got into Ponderosa, but it had a great run. I guess I found it too kind and gentle to ever get me to suspend disbelief.

    Not only do I find the recent reality shows hollow, but the “sitcoms” are really based mostly on sexual innuendo and hawking progressive social philosophy and causes. I suppose there are many folks as shallow and boorish as represented, but I usually am able to avoid them. I certainly don’t find them entertaining. Do they vote? Shoot, that’s what I thought :(


  15. I remember when Bonanza was on NBC and one of the first shows in color. Half of America tuned in Sunday night to watch it. The first years were based on actual stories of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode But I think after a few years they ran out of material for that subject.

    I get a kick out of this ad for Chevrolet – and Bonanza – when America was excited around October and the new models were coming out

    (when GM was king instead of some basket case needing rescuing)

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