The first appearance of the third musketeer, Roger Davis, who replaces the ill-fated Pete Duel, in the newer episodes is imminent, planned for Sunday 29th in its usual "Afternoon Entertainment for Everyone" slot. Pete Duel died in Hollywood last new Year in circumstances which are still not very clear and rather confusing. (Suicide? Murder?) These circumstances, which have so many followers, resulted in the popular series hitting the news headlines.
When Roy Hill, director of the more than serviceable film, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" planned to show violent and unjust repression of the social world using two marginalised human beings, he weighed up the risks to be taken in an intelligent fashion. The most important things was that the two robbers should strike the spectator as likeable. Choosing two handsome young men was already one way of winning over the female audience; the cleverness of the script and characterisation would do the rest.
In creating 'Alias Smith and Jones', Roy Huggins has achieved something similar. Any production which seeks commercial growth responds to market research and offers a product for which there is a demand.
Television series have to respond still more markedly to this obligation, for they are based on a typology and on certain key personalities rather than on the development of a storyline, since success depends on the fact that the people - and what they represent - appeal to the mass of spectators, rather than on particular interest generated by any one of the episodes. This general phenomenon has hardly any exception, except perhaps for the case of 'Mission Impossible'.
On TV the western storyline has always been interpreted as a struggle by one individual, never as a collective struggle, and in this respect 'Alias Smith and Jones' is no exception. The plot is little more than a re-working of the 'generous bandit' theme, with the protagonists in search of an amnesty in this case. It's very probable that this approach will be a very popular one in North American mythology, as the original title shows: "Alias Smith and Jones", converted in this country to "The Two Musketeers" to adapt it approximately to the European mythology, in the same way that they would have changed a series on 'Jose Maria' "El Tempranillo" to something such as "The Robin Hood of the Sierra Morena."
Where an appreciably large difference in the treatment of the plot is felt, is in the resources and reasons used by these two men for seeking their re-integration into society. This approach, which could melodramatically take advantage of the sympathy, which is the average man feels for their search for redemption and the desire to live in peace, changes our feelings when it explains in the first episode that leaving their former lifestyle is in no way a repentance, rather it is a response to the reinforcement of train security and improved bank protection.
Their search for amnesty is merely used as an introduction and explanation for why they get into trouble; they rarely repeat their desire for a pardon, and on the odd occasion when they do, it is only to escape from the mess they have got into in that particular episode. To escape from trouble they use their superior ability with guns only as a last resort.
The theme of the likeable robber is continually reworked by the cinema industry and, of course, television can do no less. The conventions of the small screen simply have to be followed, for many and varied reasons that it is not the appropriate time to repeat here. Smith and Jones will continue to seek for an amnesty and their bodies will not be shot to pieces by government troops. Until they are successful, the concise scripts, brought to life by a group of fifth- or sixth-rate directors (with the exception of, for example, Barry Shear, who continues to have a sad success on the fringes of television with "The President") will show us the escapades and adventures of those two 'expert bank and train robbers'.
The humour in this series is a vital ingredient, just as it was in "The chick on the television" and "Two idiots in a tight spot". As Robert Altman (also trained in small screen productions) declared so eloquently, saying things in an elegant fashion can give so much more meaning! For this reason, the violence in the direction will be conscientiously reduced and camouflaged, following the example set by the script. In each case, no-one could say that it is the work of a refined group of directors, rather it is the work of a group of practical and efficient directors, despite the occasional error, like that of Vincent Sherman [CJC's Note: Vincent Sherman directed "Miracle at Santa Marta", which originally aired in the US on 12/30/71], in directing the episode broadcast on 24th September in Spain. Sherman practically destroyed the plot with an absurd game of camera work and vulgar and childish montage. It was clearly noticeable that his work is dated and he is out of touch with almost everything. For to be in the director's seat, it is not enough to show the equivalent of an equity card - an historical portfolio. As an example, we could have reviewed recently in Spain one of his most famous works, "The City before me." We will make no further comment.
The directorial work with the actors in the series is daringly brilliant and no cause for regret. The themes do not demand great creations on the personal level and everything works out well, due to an easy formula, which oscillates half way between reliance on overacting and compliance with experience. Because moreover, there is the risk of 'failure', run by any series, which doesn't count a star, universally known for his work on the big screen among it's cast, this cast is drawn basically from the ever-present unknowns and second-strings, who form the most restrained and numerous sector in any company of young actors, whether we wish to recognise the fact of not. Duel and Murphy belong to this group.(1) Without doubt, this quality derives from an apprenticeship in the many schools of acting, which flourish in those countries, where the acting profession is held to be important; Spain, sadly, does not figure among them. The proof of this statement is clear: What results would you get, if you gave any of these scripts and also any director to Spanish actors?
Quite definitely, "Alias Smith and Jones" is not only to be recommended as a pleasant way of passing Sunday afternoon, as some people suggest, but also as necessary viewing for many Spanish scriptwriters and directors, so that they can learn develop the skill of manipulating a script; a skill which is more complicated than it seems.
(1) In Spain, we were first able to see
Pete in the confusing film "Canons for Cordoba" by the
equally confused Wendkos. We saw Murphy in no less a film than
"The Graduate" by Nichols.
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