Sunday, 17 April 2011

Anderthon: Sacramento California!

Four Feather Falls
episodes 34-39



Teething Troubles

Rocky’s off his feed, and Tex can’t understand why – but eventually, he gets the horse to explain that he’s suffering from toothache. When Doc Haggerty comes to have a look, Rocky refuses to open his mouth. It seems he’s very attached to his teeth, and doesn’t want to have one extracted, no matter how painful it is. No amount of promises, bribes or cajolery (not even unlimited free candy) can get Rocky to open his mouth. Meanwhile, Mr Jackson is coming back from doing business in Silver City, and is bringing the travelling dentist with him – but Rocky runs away to seek the attention of the Indian medicine man. This doesn’t achieve anything, as he’s unable to get the medicine man to understand him. (It might be Indian magic, but as we were quite specifically told, only Tex can actually speak to Rocky.) Back in town, Rocky agrees to have his tooth extracted, as long as Tex does the same. Fortunately, the sheriff has an old wisdom tooth that Doc says should come out. But when Rocky follows him into the dentist’s wagon, his toothache miraculously goes away and he doesn’t need an extraction after all – leaving poor Tex in pain, minus a tooth and with a bandage wrapped around his jaw. This was quite a disappointing episode, as nothing much happened. Obviously it was intended as a jokey episode, but the punchline was predictable and disappointing – and without any bandits or other villainy for Tex to combat, it’s like there’s something missing.


Fancy Shooting

The most exciting thing to happen in town since Ma Jones had a sale: the saloon is playing host to Buck Reevers, a gunslinger renowned for his fancy shooting – “the fastest and bestest in the Westest” as the advertising banner has it! Tex is concerned that such a reputation will attract maverick gunslingers to the town, eager to prove themselves against Buck. He’s also convinced that Buck is nothing more than a showman, and wouldn’t be much use in a confrontation with a real gunfighter. Big Ben has already been slagging him off. But as ever, the bandit proves himself to be all mouth – when he encounters Buck Reevers outside town, he’s all deferential to him. Later that day, Ben gets an unexpected visitor at his shack – the gunfighter called Lightning Lew, who’s come to challenge Buck Reevers. Looks like Tex’s prediction is going to prove right. While Buck Reevers is giving his demonstration that night (shooting clay pipes out of racks, holes through playing cards, that sort of thing) Big Ben lifts one of his bullets for Lightning Lew to examine. It turns out to have only one quarter of the charge of a real bullet – so the gun has almost no kick, enabling Buck to keep his aim steady – but he’d be nothing in a real gunfight. As soon as the challenge is issued, Buck goes to pieces and begs Tex for help. Tex has already agreed to take part in Buck’s show (volunteering to have a cigarette shot out of his mouth) and tells Buck that he’s going to have to go through with the show as if he isn’t afraid. When Lightning Lew bursts into the saloon, the magic guns come to the rescue, shooting the gun from Lew’s hand and the fag from Tex’s mouth – which feat Tex then attributes to Buck, who was so fast on the draw no one even saw his guns move. (What’s strange is not that people buy this, so much as they don’t wonder that Tex had something to do with it – after all, the entire town knows about the magic guns by now.) It seems odd that Tex seeks to preserve Buck’s reputation, when he’d earlier expressed such disapproval – but as he explains to Rocky, he wouldn’t want to deprive a man of his living. And more importantly, he’d rather that guns were used for entertainment than for violence. It’s interesting to hear such sentiments from a man who uses guns as part of his everyday work, but it does seem to be Tex’s belief. He’s aware that the nature of frontier life means it’s necessary for him to use his guns to enforce the law, but he looks forward to the day when they’ll no longer be necessary. It’s a lesson that perhaps the pro-gun lobby in America today ought to take to heart.


Ride ‘em Cowboy

There’s a terrific shot at the beginning of this episode, with Pedro and Fernando framed in extreme close-up with the jailhouse in the background. They proceed to spy on Tex as he’s presented with a new pair of boots by the townsfolk. Tex is going to be riding in the forthcoming rodeo against Bart Stevens of Silver City. Pedro and Fernando are currently in the employ of Stevens, who needs their help to knobble the opposition. So while Tex is distracted, Pedro steals Tex’s new boots and throws them down a well. Unfortunately for Tex, he’s already given his old boots away to a passing drifter. He can’t possibly ride without boots! The rodeo gets under way with a shooting competition. Grandpa Twink is representing Four Feather Falls – but Fernando has fixed his gun, so it blows up in his face (harmlessly!). Bart Stevens lends Twink his own gun, but that just fires a flag saying BANG! Luckily, Tex turns up and lends Twink his own rifle – and grandpa goes on to prove that his old reputation as a sharpshooter is still deserved. Next up is the rodeo riding, which Tex has to do without his boots. Needless to say, he can’t keep his balance on Rocky’s back and comes a cropper. Help is at hand though: Chief Kalamakooya has magicked the boots out of the well, and Tex is able to complete the rodeo events. Bart Stevens now believes that Pedro has double crossed him, and decides to take care of things himself. He dopes Rocky before the final buggy race. This doesn’t have quite the effect intended however – although Rocky becomes sluggish and looks like dropping out of the race, once he realizes what Stevens has done to him, he seems to find new reserves of strength and determination, overcoming the doping to pull ahead and win. Tex then catches Stevens arguing with Pedro and Fernando (villains falling out as ever!) – Stevens pulls his gun and a stand-off follows, but once again the magic guns settle the day. The villains are arrested, with the sheriff of Silver City taking custody of the disgraced Stevens.


Ambush

A nice bit of continuity following the building of the railroad a few weeks ago – now, money shipments no longer have to be brought in by buggy, at risk from thieves and bandits. The latest delivery is coming in from Dallas by train, accompanied by one William J Hatton, a senior clerk from the bank there. Mr Jackson gives Tex a letter of authority to meet the train and take charge of the money. As it turns out, almost the entire population of Four Feather Falls are riding back on the train with Mr Hatton, having been attending a fair in Dallas. The train is ambushed by Indians led by Red Scalp. (I expressed my surprise a few episodes back when Tex was able to catch a locomotive up on horseback, but here the Indians have no difficulty keeping pace with the train – maybe I’ve over-estimated the speed of steam trains in this period…) Everyone draws their guns, and starts trying to fight the Indians off – yes, even Ma Jones, who seems quite bloodthirsty about it! But the Indians stop the train, and demand that Hatton and the money are handed over – after which, the others can go free. Hatton agrees to give himself up for the sake of the others. But it’s all a put-up job. Hatton has done a deal with Red Scalp to split the money with him. When the train finally gets in to Four Feather Falls and the passengers tell Tex what’s occurred, he sets off in pursuit immediately. Red Scalp has been cunning though, and left multiple confusing trails which Tex is unable to follow. Needless to say, Red Scalp double crosses Hatton. However, he allows him one chance to escape: as the Indians bed down for the night, they leave Hatton barefoot inside a ring of fire. If Hatton can walk across the flames, then he can go free. Tex soon turns up, Dusty having caught the scent of the smoke from the fire. He ties strips of blanket round his boots to enable him to cross the flames to Hatton, who comes clean about his conspiracy with Red Scalp. Rocky, proudly mentioning his descent from prime showjumping stock, then leaps over the flames to carry Tex, Hatton and the money to safety. With the money safe in the bank, Tex takes Hatton back to Dallas under arrest – by train.


Horse Thieves

Pedro and Fernando are once again bemoaning their lack of money, but unable to come up with a plan to make any – when Big Ben turns up at their shack with a proposition. He wants them to steal horses, as he’s got a buyer lined up who’ll pay for as many as they can get. In Four Feather Falls, Tex is in the saloon, where he’s once again been enticed into singing for his friends. This time, Twink asks to hear Tex’s own song – in other words the end title theme, “Two Gun Tex of Texas”. It’s a somewhat strange idea to have Tex singing the theme music, especially as it’s about himself! Meanwhile, Pedro and Fernando sneak into town, and steal all the horses in the stables – including Rocky. Dusty comes to raise the alarm, but it’s too late. The bandits are already riding out of town. It turns out that everyone’s horse was in the stables that night, so there are no horses left in the whole of Four Feather Falls! Tex is unable to mount a pursuit. Dusty sets off on his own initiative, and manages to track the stolen horses to where Pedro and Fernando have made camp. They corral the horses and await the arrival of Big Ben with their money. Dusty encourages Rocky to jump over the corral fence. (He didn’t need any encouragement to leap over fire last week, but here he seems uncertain that he can do it…) On the way back to find Tex, they spot Big Ben heading for his rendezvous. Dusty tracks the bandit, while Rocky fetches Tex to catch Ben up. When Pedro and Fernando see Big Ben approaching, they drop their guard – which is foolish of them, since it’s really Tex on Ben’s horse and wearing Ben’s hat. Holding them at gunpoint, he takes them in for being “no-good horse thieves”. Pedro objects – they’ve very good horse thieves. They just stole the wrong horse this time! This is the last appearance of our three regular villains, so it’s nice that they get to team up one final time.


Happy Birthday

It’s Tex’s birthday, and the whole episode revolves around the preparations for his party. As a finale, this is something of a damp squib: no danger, no jeopardy. You want Tex Tucker to go out on a high, upholding the law and sorting out the bandits once and for all. In that regard, the previous instalment would have made a better conclusion. I suppose I’m thinking in modern terms here, where you expect a series finale to be a grand adventure that sums up the ethos of the show in glorious style. Where are Pedro, Fernando and Ben coming into town for a final showdown with their arch-enemy? Instead, what we get here is Martha baking a cake. Chief Kalamakooya uses his magic to help Makooya grow some flowers on the prairie, then conjures up a pair of riding gauntlets for the townsfolk to give Tex as a present. There’s a slight moment of jeopardy when an eagle snatches the gauntlets from the back of Twink’s cart, but Makooya spots it and fires an arrow to frighten the eagle into dropping them. Finally, everyone gets together for Tex’s party. He blows out all the candles on his cake – save the last two which he manages to pick off with his magic guns. (I’m just amazed that he fires his guns at a cake on the table, around which all his friends are sitting. How he doesn’t actually hit anyone, I’ll never know. Still, I suppose they are magic guns…) Tex has a great birthday, and the episode ends as Dusty tries to get some cake off the table - he pulls the tablecloth and ends up with the cake falling on top of him!


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I’ve been a bit disparaging about some of the final episodes, I know, but overall I really enjoyed Four Feather Falls. As I’ve pointed out previously, there’s a lot to praise about the show: the sets are extraordinary for a children’s puppet show of the period – especially the Main Street and the prairies. The cinematography and lighting has been excellent. Generally speaking, the puppetry has been to a high standard too – occasionally wires are visible, but realistically no one would expect puppets not to have wires operating them. Compared to other programmes, such as Bill and Ben, the wires are quite unobtrusive. Walking is always a problem for puppets though – they seem basically to just hop along the ground. On the other hand, travelling shots of characters on horseback have been well achieved. Perhaps that’s the answer: they need to have some sort of vehicle for the puppets to travel around in…

One thing I’ve noticed about Anderson fans is that they’re often very aware of the names on the credits – people like Reg Hill, Bob Bell, John Read, Derek Meddings and Barry Gray are very familiar – and yet there never seems to be much discussion of the writers. I think the unsung hero of Four Feather Falls is the entertainingly-named Phil Wrestler, who wrote two thirds of the episodes, and really understood what made the series work. The balance between surreal humour and realistic drama really comes across in his work – those episodes I’ve especially singled out (such as A Sheriff Rides Alone, Gun Play, Gun Fight on Main Street) are his. Yet Wrestler seems to have left the series before the end – and his name never crops up in the Anderson fold again, which is a shame. Later episodes are written by Jill Allgood, and frankly they’re not as good – most of those I’ve really had bones to pick with (Bandits Abroad, Teething Troubles, Happy Birthday) have been hers. I think the difference is Allgood was writing children’s television, whereas Wrestler was writing for a general audience – child-friendly but with appeal to adults. (There are also a couple of decent scripts by Hugh and Martin Woodhouse towards the end of the run, a fact which will become important very soon…)

1 comment:

Roose1982 said...

You're blog has inspired me to take a look at Four Feather Falls in more depth. I bought it on DVD recently in the Network sale, and in all honesty, I've only actually sat down to watch episode 1 (admittedly, that was to listen to the Gerry Anderson audio commentary).

Hope you enjoy Supercar - again, I've only seen a handful of episodes, but all the ones I have seen I've enjoyed.

Have fun
ROSS