The American TV people got a couple of actors who resembled Paul Newman and Robert Redford in appearance, and the scriptwriters gave them the same sort of world-weary hip dialogue as the big screen heroes.
For some reason the movie makers used the real name of one Western outlaw, Butch Cassidy for one of the film's anti-heroes, but made a more poetic name for his partner, the Sundance Kid. In actual fact, the two outlaws were Butch Cassidy and Kid Curry, and in the TV series, Kid Curry gets his share of glory at last.
THE POINT about Alias Smith and Jones,
however, is not its historical accuracy or its dramatic pretentions.
It has won its place in TV history simply because it is the last
of the Westerns.
Someone in America did a survey and found that only old folk and children liked Westerns on TV.
You might think that old people and children make up a very large audience, and you would be right.
But old folk and children have something other in common than a simple, good-natured love for the heat of horses' hooves and the bang-bang of six-guns. They also have no money, which in the American TV world is the most deadly sin of all. Grandpa and the kiddywinkies may be glued to the screen but they don't have money to buy things, and in America, the name of the game is buy, buy, buy.
So there will he no more TV cowboys. Cheyenne, The Big Valley, Bonanza, The Virginian, Tenderfoot... all that gunfire is silenced at last.
Perhaps they were not the best drama in the world but I liked them just the same. What I can never love is a system which puts money before people.
Only the old and the very young like Westerns, and the old and the very young do not have money so their taste is ignored. They do not count in a commercial society in which the ability to spend is all.
If I were a BBC producer I'd start makiing a TV Western right now. Of course it is a very American thing but the Italians, with Spaghetti Westerns like Fistful of Dollars, have shown that Europeans can make cowboy movies as well.
I hate to see the old West die. It was a much misused and over-exposed legend, but it was, all in all, a fairly honest and decent myth. It was certainly better than The Waltons, which has replaced Alias Smith and Jones on the 8 o'clock Monday spot on BBC-2.
THE WALTONS is a sentimental tale about a yokels in the Blue Ridge Mountains ofVirginia during the Depression. Barefoot and lovable is the phrase which springs to mind about the Waltons.
They are poor country folk, but they are not real. They are cleaned-up yokels, honiogenised, hicks.
This is the great Depression, but all the children have nice teeth.
This is rural America in the grip of the slump, but there is no poverty and, whis more there is no dirt.
This is the American South in a time of bitter racial hatred, but there are not only no blacks to be seen on the screen, but there is also no mention of them.
And The Waltons has swept the board in America, winning no less than six Emmy awards - the TV equivalent of the Hollywood Oscar.
The Western may have been escapism and the modern trend to make them with no bad guys - only good guys and neurotics - was not very brave, nor true.
But in time I think the Western will shine
out as glorious stuff compared to the sickening sentimentality
of the nostalgic look-back at the Thirties in The Waltons.
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