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The Rifleman Season One Episode One

The first episode of The Rifleman was not made as the first episode of The Rifleman. It was actually made as an episode of Zane Grey Theater titled The Sharpshooter. The episode was written by Sam Peckinpah, whose name will be well known to fans of westerns. Zane Grey Theater wasn't even the original show that the episode was written for. It was meant to be an episode of Gunsmoke. Luckily for Chuck Connors, they turned it down. It was directed by Arnold Laven, which is a name you probably don't know. He was a producer and director who would direct episodes of classic shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Wagon Train, Planet of the Apes, Shazam!, The Secrets of Isis, The Six Million Dollar Man, CHiPs, Hill Street Blues, The Greatest American Hero, and the A-Team among many, many more. He also directed a movie titled The Monster That Challenged The World that went on my to watch list based on the name alone.

The story is about Lucas McCain and his son Mark coming into the town of Northfork looking to buy a ranch. Lucas enters a shooting contest, but he'll be up against a shooter backed by the corrupt Jim Lewis (played by t.v. mainstay Leif Erickson) who holds the town in an iron grip. The hot shot (pun intended) is played by a young Dennis Hopper, who looks amazingly clean cut and sane in this role. McCain has to reckon with Lewis' threats against not only Hopper's character, but against his son Mark as well if he doesn't throw the contest. Lucas has to make quick decisions that will affect his son's opinion of him, his ability to stay in town, and the well being of Dennis Hopper.

The story is a bit light, but it's engaging. Connors does a convincing job of coming across as both very caring and well meaning, and also very mean when the occasion calls for it. Hopper already shows the charisma that would help him become a movie star. They don't delve much into Lucas' past in this episode, and the sheriff who plays a big part in most of the show is not present here, the sheriff in this one being a man who tries to do what he can but is ultimately beholden to Lewis. The main relationship of the series is that of father and son though, and that is in full effect here. One can already see the elements that made the show one of the most popular westerns on television.


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