Sunday, 10 April 2011

Anderthon: Rootin' Tootin' Highfalutin

Four Feather Falls
episodes 21-26

Election Day

Tex has to stand for re-election to the post of sheriff. To an Englishman, used only to voting for politicians every few years, the extent of the democratic process in America – where even public officials like sheriffs and judges need to be elected – has always fascinated. Particularly in the case of a sheriff – presumably, you need to have a candidate who wants to do the job and has some degree of competency for it – and one imagines that popular incumbents often get returned unopposed. Indeed, in some small close-knit communities, one supposes there must be elections where there aren’t even any challengers standing. It looks like this is about to happen in Four Feather Falls too, as everyone nominates Tex Tucker for the post. (Ma Jones comments that it’s a waste of time, just something more for men to do a lot of talking about.) But then Fernando throws a spanner in the works by nominating Pedro for sheriff. It’s another crazy plan of course, seemingly motivated by the idea that if Pedro wins, they’ll be able to move out of their shack and into the jailhouse.

The plan involves Fernando stuffing a replica ballot box with votes for Pedro, and switching it for the real one. They enlist the help of Big Ben, putting aside their usual animosity with the promise that having Pedro as sheriff will make life easier for the bandit community as a whole. So while Ben causes a distraction, Fernando and Pedro switch the ballot boxes. (Election fraud in America? Who’d have thought it? I wonder if George W Bush’s cronies ever thought of this one…) Unfortunately for the bandits, Jake and Dusty spot what they’re up to, and Jake sends Dusty to fetch Tex. (Although Jake talks to the dog and expects him to understand, Dusty only responds to him with barks and growls – since as we’ve established, he can only actually talk to Tex.) Tex races after Big Ben, who’s making off with the real ballot box. But meanwhile, Pedro is declared the winner of the election, as every vote counted is for him – which puzzles the townsfolk, many of whom know they voted for Tex. (See, they’ve overdone the extent of the fraud and it’s lost all plausibility. They should have kept the votes more balanced and let Pedro win by only a narrow margin.) When Tex returns with the real ballot box, he’s able to grant the bandits their wish to live in the jailhouse – although they weren’t expecting it to be behind bars.

Gun Fight on Main Street

A man called Cass Morgan arrives in town. When he meets Big Ben coming out of the saloon, he pulls a gun on him and there’s a tense stand-off. Ben says he has no quarrel with Morgan – but Cass tells him he has a score to settle with Ben’s old partners, Ike Tobin and Billy Pindo. Ben says he hasn’t seen them for years, but he’s looking forward to them catching up with Morgan. He wants to be there when they kill him! Ben goes back to his shack, where in fact Tobin and Pindo are currently hiding out, and passes on the message. Meanwhile, Tex gets back to town. It turns out Cass Morgan is an old friend of his, and they talk over old times. Then Cass explains why he’s really here. He’s after Tobin and Pindo for holding up a stagecoach and killing the driver – who just happened to be Cass’s kid brother. Tex is not keen on private vendettas being fought in his town, but he’s unable to intervene in anything that happens outside Four Feather Falls. Tex goes to send a couple of telegraph messages, and while he’s waiting for the reply, Tobin and Pindo arrive in town. They meet Cass in the main street, and guns are drawn. Tex arrives in the nick of time, guns drawn on both parties in a tense stand-off. He’s had his reply now, and knows that Cass Morgan himself was the one who held up the stagecoach – unaware that his brother was the driver. He’s tried to divert the blame onto Tobin and Pindo by spreading his story that he’s hunting them for his revenge. In another tough choice for the lawman, Tex has to put their old friendship aside, and take Cass in.

Chance of a Ghost

Mr Jackson the bank manager is acting as an agent for the owners of the Eureka mine, and trying to negotiate its sale to one Zeke Harmon. But Harmon will only offer about a quarter of what the mine is worth. It’s clear that they’re not going to make a deal, so they head back to town. That night, two ghosts walk the mine tunnels and frighten away the nightwatchman. The ghosts are actually Pedro and Fernando with sheets over their heads. (Fernando, typically not thinking things through, continues to smoke his cigar under his sheet, setting fire to it and scorching his face.) Anticipating the plot of every Scooby-Doo episode by nearly a decade, they have in fact been hired by Zeke Harmon to make everyone think the mine is haunted, thus driving away the miners and forcing the price of sale right down. Having been paid off already, Pedro spies an opportunity to make even more money when Mr Jackson offers a reward to anyone who can rid the mine of ghosts – all they have to do is stay away and they’ll be no ghosts in the mine! As ever, Dusty overhears them talking and alerts Tex. Confronting Harmon at the mine, Tex runs the crooked businessman out of town. But Pedro, discovering that the bag of money he’s been given actually contains buttons, takes over the task of chasing Harmon off himself!

Once a Lawman

This week, Big Ben has hooked up with the Boysie Gang, who are continually robbing Jackson’s bank. Although Tex tries to give chase, he quickly loses the trail and seems to give up. It would appear that his failure to stop the gang has really demoralized the sheriff – and what’s worse the townsfolk seem to have lost confidence in him as well. (This seems to be some sort of comment about how fickle the public can be in their support for officials/politicians.) The ringleader of the dissent is Mr Jackson, and his very public criticisms finally force Tex to hand in his sheriff’s star. He leaves town the next day, leaving the people to wonder quite what they’re going to do until a new sheriff can be appointed. Tex doesn’t get very far before he’s captured by the Boysie Gang. He tries to do a deal with them, telling them he’s finished with the ingrates in Four Feather Falls – and that he’ll help them steal the next consignment of gold from the bank. Despite disagreements between Big Ben and the Boysies over this, the gang eventually accept Tex into their ranks. (But then Ben’s relationship with the Boysies is somewhat antagonistic – he really knows how to pick his partners!) This is all played straight and seriously, leaving the viewer to think that Tex really has gone rotten. The gang hold up Mr Jackson and Twink carrying a shipment of gold, and a desperate shootout ensues. When Tex appears, magic guns and all, to tip the balance, Jackson starts laughing – Tex turns his guns on the gang, having finally caught them red-handed, and Jackson reveals that the whole thing was a plan he and Tex cooked up to outwit the bandits. Which is a relief. This is another really tough episode, with Tex out on a limb in a dangerous situation.

Land Grabbers

The rancher Abe Weeks is in trouble again – this time one of his neighbours, Morg Fenton, wants to buy Abe’s ranch to expand his own land. Abe doesn’t want to sell, but this doesn’t worry the unscrupulous Fenton, who pays Big Ben and Red Scalp to help him shoot up Abe’s homestead, in an attempt to frighten the rancher into selling up. Abe manages to make a break for it, and flees to Four Feather Falls. But Tex tells him as the ranch is outside the town’s boundaries, there’s not a lot he can do about it. Nevertheless they hatch a plan. Tex buys the ranch from Abe (presumably for a nominal fee, but we don’t see their negotiations) so that the threat posed by Fenton does become his business. A stand-off at the ranch sees the disarmed Tex facing the guns of Fenton and Big Ben, with Red Scalp on guard outside. Luckily, Rocky and Dusty come to the rescue: Rocky charging through the door to deliver Tex’s guns, while Dusty takes care of the guard by taking a huge bite out of the seat of Red Scalp’s pants! (One presumes Tex will sell Abe the ranch back for the same nominal fee – somehow I can’t see our straight-up sheriff taking advantage of the situation…) There’s another surreal moment as Dusty chases Red Scalp back into the homestead – the Indian slams the door behind him to reveal the words “THE END” painted on it. “The End?” says Dusty. “Well, so it is!” and the episode concludes.

A Cure for Everything

There’s a snake oil salesman in town: Hyam S Wright, who’s selling bottles of his guaranteed “cure for everything” medicine. Doc Haggerty isn’t too pleased that people are turning to this hocus pocus instead of consulting him. The final straw seems to be when Abe Weeks’s daughter is sick. Doc rides out to see her, prescribes bed rest and she’ll be right as rain in a couple of days. Meanwhile, Abe has bought some of Wright’s phoney medicine and now everyone thinks that’s what cured the little girl. (Wait a minute there! Abe didn’t have a wife and daughter last week when he fled his ranch and left it at the mercy of Morg Fenton and Big Ben – I mean, he wouldn’t have left his family behind, would he? I worry about these details.) In addition to his medicine, Wright has also set up a bath tent, and is selling people a soothing bubble bath. He talks Tex into giving this a try, leading to the somewhat daft scene of Tex singing in the bath, whilst Dusty and Rocky enjoy their own bubbles in the adjacent tubs. Tex discovers that Wright’s medicine is just bottled water, and consults with Chief Kalamakooya about whether there can be any truth in Wright’s claims about its efficacy. Kalamakooya is quite certain that only Indians can have medicine men, whereas white men have doctors. It’s an arrangement that seems to suit everyone fine – and again emphasizes the way the series respects Indian culture and spiritual beliefs. Nevertheless, Tex believes Wright is bottling his water from the Indians’ sacred spring – this turns out to be true, though quite how Tex knew this is anyone’s guess, especially since the “medicine” really is useless bottled water. A real Indian medicine man would have to add various herbs and then utter magic incantations before he could cure anyone with the spring water. Well, whatever, Doc Haggerty is happy that Wright is shown up as a phoney. And at least his bubble baths were genuinely soothing – so much so, that Rocky sneaks away to give himself another bath!

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