7 reasons why 'The Rifleman' should be your favorite Western
Cultural critics have often declared the death of the Western. They say the same thing about rock & roll. The most American of genres, the western is a resilient artform. Quentin Tarantino's upcoming The Hateful Eight filmed its gorgeous landscapes in 70mm and dusted off spaghetti western master Ennio Morricone to score the soundtrack. Slow West with Michael Fassbender is one of the top rated movies of the year. Cowboys will always be cool.
Of course, MeTV has always been a homestead for classic television Westerns, with our Rope Opera block Weekdays 12–4PM and Most Wanted Westerns every Saturday from 9AM–7PM. There are many options to get your fill of leather, horses and gunpowder, but here are seven reasons to make The Rifleman your new favorite.
1) Master directors Sam Peckinpah and Joseph H. Lewis helmed many episodes.
Lewis directed Gun Crazy, one of the cooler noir flicks of the 1950s with beautiful shots that make film majors drool. He oversaw over 50 Rifleman episodes. The entire series itself was the brainstorm of Peckinpah, the master of the realistic western. It began as a script for Gunsmoke, which was rejected due to content. Instead, it became its own show. Many characters were based on Peckinpah's experience growing up on a ranch. Essentially, The Rifleman is hard-boiled and grittier than the rest. Peckinpah wanted to keep pushing the boundaries of the western. He left after the first season and would go on to craft The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs and other classics.
2) It was the first prime time series to depict a widowed parent raising a child.
Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) was a pioneer parent on American television. Steered by Peckinpah's hardy scripts, Lucas taught his young son, Mark, tough, honest lessons. Which leads to…
3) There was no sugar coating.
Not every ending was a happy ending. For the era, that was rather groundbreaking.
4) Chuck Connors was a three-sport pro athlete.
The Brooklyn native was on the first ever Boston Celtics squad in 1946. He left the team to join his boyhood heroes, the Brooklyn Dodgers. He eventually joined the Chicago Cubs in 1951 and played first base. Oh, and he was drafted by the Chicago Bears, too. Here's a great piece of trivia, basketball nuts: Connor was the first professional player credited with shattering a backboard. The tough guy thing is no act.
5) A young Dennis Hopper stars in the first episode.
Keep an eye peeled for the pilot episode. In it, Hopper plays a sharpshooter. The actor would return in a later episode as a different character.
6) Sammy Davis Jr. also portrayed a sharpshooter.
The Rat Packer pops up late in season four as Tip Corey, a deadeye with a deadly reputation. The song and dance man was pretty nifty with a pistol, too. His quick draw and spinning skills are no joke.
7) The rifle, of course.
A show called The Rifleman would be nothing without an awesome firearm. The modified Winchester Model 1892 featured a wide hoop for a level (check it out in the photo above), allowing McCain to cock the weapon by spinning it at his side with a quick flip of the wrist. So that's where Schwarzenegger learned the trick in Terminator 2.