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"Ride A Dark Trail"*****
Original NBC Broadcast - 18 September 1963
[featured in "Backtrack" (1969 compilation movie)
Executive Producer Frank Price
Produced by Jules Schermer
Teleplay by E.M. Parsons / Story by Arthur Browne, Jr.
Directed by John Peyser
(shown on the ride-in)(all appear)
Lee J. Cobb as Judge Henry Garth
Doug McClure as Trampas
Gary Clarke as Steve Hill
James Drury as The Virginian
(No guest credits during the ride-in or opening production credits)
Full ending credits:
Sonny Tufts as Frank Trampas
Royal Dano as Faraway
Carol Byron as Winnie
Buzz Martin as Lon Mortison
Ross Elliott as Sheriff Abbott
Stuart Randall as Daley
Charles Fredericks as Fitch
Carleton Young as Judge Drucker
Richard Garland as The Deputy
Hal Baylor as Flake
Dort Clark as The Sheriff
Read Morgan as Mort
Will J. White as Bridger
George Savalas as Turnkey
E.J. André as Cook (Mr. André was credited but did not appear)
John Cliff as Dealer
Frank Sully as The Bartender
Virginian theme Percy Faith
Music Composed and Conducted by Lennie Hayton
Director of Photography John L. Russell, A.S.C.
Art Director . . . George Patrick
Film Editor . . . Carl Pingitore
Editorial Dept. Head . . . David J. O'Connell
Musical Supervision . . . Stanley Wilson
Set Decorators . . . John McCarthy and Perry Murdock
Color Consultant . . . Alex Quiroga
Color by Pathé
Assistant Director . . . Carter DeHaven, III
Sound . . . Earl Crain, Jr.
Costume Supervisor . . . Vincent Dee
(Doug McClure and James Drury wore different clothing than usual)
Makeup . . . Leo Lotito, Jr.
(Doug McClure was made up to look younger in some scenes)
Hair Stylist . . . Florence Bush
The title "The Virginian" by permission of EMKA, LTD.
Series regular characters appearing in this episode: Trampas, Judge Garth,
the Virginian, Steve, Sheriff Abbott, and Danny the bartender with Faraway
(who had also appeared in 1.18 "Say Goodbye to All That") in a major contributing role
"It was the start of a man's life."
By use of a flashback the Virginian tells the story of how Trampas, as a
young self-centered "liar and cheat," ended up at Shiloh after riding a
vengeance trail from Texas to Wyoming on the quest to find and kill the man
with the "big fancy gun" who "murdered" his father.
Young Lon Mortison is gunning for Burke--the "cold decker" whom he blames
for his father's suicide. With Sheriff Abbott looking to find him before he
hurts someone Lon takes refuge in the town stables. The Virginian has
been in Medicine Bow on business and comes in the barn
to get his horse for the ride back to Shiloh. Lon doesn't want to take
a chance on the foreman revealing his whereabouts and decides
to hold him hostage until he can make an escape. Trying to calm the boy,
the Virginian agrees "a man has to stick up for his own blood" and recounts
the story (by use of a flashback) of how "the same thing happened to a
partner of mine once . . . just a few years back:"
In El Paso a young slick cheat Trampas is stuck in jail facing a possible
prison term, but he knows his father (Tufts) will tell some kind of lie to
get him off. However, while waiting for Trampas to come up for trial, Frank
(who blames himself for his son's misdeeds, having taught him well in the
use of fraud and trickery) is "scared green" and begs Judge Drucker
for leniency toward his boy, promising to remain gainfully employed and
provide a home for him. As proof of his intentions Frank has a tax statement
on a piece of property with the note held by a Mr. Daley, whom he plans to
pay off with money from a cattle sale. Drucker releases Trampas
into his father's custody with the warning, "If this is some elaborate hoax
to defeat the law your son will be the only loser." Out of jail
the younger Trampas wants to hit the saloons, but his
father declares, "We're going to herd cattle" and takes him out to their
broken down ranch. Upon seeing the shambles Trampas,
suggesting they abandon the project and "live a little," refuses
to stick around and work the "cactus patch."
Frank makes known the seriousness of his commitment to
make some good out of the both of them by challenging the boy
to a fist fight, winning both the battle and his
son's agreement to stay. The next day Frank goes to town to find a buyer
for his steers. At the stock pens Judge Garth, in Texas to get a good deal
on "winter-poor cattle," promises to buy Frank's herd if it is sound.
But the elder Trampas, who knew nothing about ranching, had run diseased
mavericks in with the beeves originally sold to him by Mr. Daley, and now
the whole bunch were "rotten" with hoof and mouth disease. Distraught that
his son might now have to go to prison because he is unable to keep the
court appointed agreement, Frank blames Daley for his predicament and
fires his gun at him. One of the bullets hits Daley in the arm, and Garth,
who has been standing next to the land agent, is forced to shoot back in
self defense. Feeling "no good ever comes from dodging guilt" the Judge
wants to talk to Frank's son, but the sheriff and Daley persuade him
to leave town cautioning, "That boy is a wild one anyway. If you met
him now one of you would die." Garth "buys" the soon-to-be-destroyed herd
asking the money be given to the younger Trampas to "have something to
start out with" and comments, "It'll be a long time before I forget El
Paso." Then, instead of getting on the train back to Medicine Bow with his
stock, he rides off to Big Springs to look at some horses he'd heard about.
The deputy takes Frank's body back to the ranch but will not tell Trampas
who killed his "Pa." Trampas refuses to believe the sheriff's statement
that Frank had been killed in self defense and demands to know the name
of the man who "murdered" his father. The lawman won't divulge the
information, but Trampas discloses he had learned from a stockyard
worker, who had used the
Judge's firearm to shoot a steer with a broken leg, that the man "who did
it" was a cattle buyer from up North carrying "a fancy initialed six gun
whose name begins with 'S'." Somewhat relieved that Trampas is looking
for a man whose name begins with "S" the sheriff gives him the money
Garth had left for him and tells him to put it
to good use to hold on to his ranch. But Trampas refuses, feeling this
was merely a token to buy him off, and asks the sheriff how much
the killer paid him to keep his mouth shut.
So it is Trampas sets out on his quest for revenge.
As he is crossing a river his horse steps in a pothole and throws
him into the water. Judge Garth, who was drying out
after the same experience, tosses Trampas a rope
and pulls him to safety. Although grateful for his rescue Trampas
makes inquiries of the Judge and finds he is a cattle buyer from Wyoming.
Seeing Garth's empty holster Trampas asks the whereabouts of his gun.
The Judge replies, "The bottom of that river." The brash young man wants
to know the rancher's name and, drawing his pistol, demands he prove it.
The Judge has some letters which he hands to Trampas.
Trampas questions where Garth had ridden from then apologizes
for his rudeness when the Judge says he'd been looking at horses
in Big Springs. As Trampas puts his gun away Garth asks,
"You in trouble, Boy?" The reply comes,
"I was born in trouble. It goes with the name . . . Trampas."
Trying to lighten up the situation Garth laughs, "Can you prove it?"
Trampas comments, "Say, you're all right. And I'm glad your name is Garth."
He explains he is looking for his
father's killer and, when the Judge remarks "Sounds like a big job,"
savors the thought of vengeance and reckons there aren't that many
big ranches up north. There will be some owners whose names begin
with "S," but only one will be carrying that "big, fancy gun."
The Judge advises Trampas of the folly of revenge, but the hot-head
isn't interested in having anyone tell him how to live.
As Garth prepares to be on his way Trampas promises if
he ever gets to Medicine Bow he'll pay him a visit. Later at Shiloh the
Virginian notices the Judge seems moody and would rather not talk about his
cattle buying trip. Garth does, however, mention he had lost his gun with
the Shiloh brand inscribed in silver and, since the hands had given it to
him, asks the Virginian if he can have another one made without
them finding out about it--the gift had been important to
his men, and he didn't want them to think it was any less important to him.
Trampas' hunt continues as he follows the trail northward. But his ride
comes to an abrupt end when his horse falls after being frightened by a
rattlesnake. As destiny would have it, the hapless boy arrives
in Medicine Bow where he tries to cheat a liveryman by lying that
he has an expensive make of saddle to sell. Offered
but $6.00 Trampas challenges the stable keeper to a double or nothing "dead
even gamble" of pick which hand holds the pebble. Showing off his stack of
silver dollars, Trampas is enjoying a drink with Winnie (Byron) in the
saloon when the Virginian comes in looking for new hands and asks
him if he wants a job. This is an insult to the young man who replies,
"Suckers and mules, that's what work's for,
and mule's got enough sense to turn his tail on it."
He soon, however, sees some "work I am suited for" and heads to
the craps table where he proclaims, "I have a feeling this is my lucky day."
Caught throwing crooked dice Trampas "tears up the
place" trying to get away and objects to Sheriff Abbott
taking him to jail bragging Judge Garth and he were
"buddies." Garth, fully aware he's the one Trampas is looking for,
nonetheless pays the damages so the boy can get out of jail but insists he
will have to work at Shiloh until he's earned enough money to repay him.
Since "it's jail or work," Trampas reluctantly consents to the Judge's
terms. But that night he's disgruntled to see the ranch
foreman is none other than the one he'd "rung the tail" of in the saloon and
decides to make a fast buck so he can be "moving on."
Faraway (Royal Dano in a memorable performance)
wants to make Trampas feel welcomed at Shiloh, but the young
con-man tries to take advantage of the "nice fella" by offering to make him
a good deal on a phony diamond ring. The next morning the
Judge has received the new gun and is looking it over in his study when the
Virginian comes in to see him. Garth tells the foreman he
has an idea Trampas doesn't know much about
working cattle and asks him to "go along with him" as much as
possible. The Virginian admires the Judge's firearm and both agree it looks
just like the old one. As the ramrod leaves to get on with the job of
"marking hides," Garth puts the six shooter in its case then locks it in
a desk drawer. Out on the range Steve "gets on to" Trampas and calls
him a "three legged tenderfoot." Faraway stops the greenhorn from shoving a
hot iron "down Steve's teeth" then offers to teach him a few things about
branding. About this time the Judge and Virginian arrive to observe from
the hilltop, and Garth asks the foreman how Trampas is doing.
The Virginian isn't very impressed
with the young troublemaker and appraises, "He's no hand, that's for sure.
Can't tell if he ever will be. He's got a big itch. Seems to want the
world to scratch it for him." The foreman then mentions they were
having wolf trouble again on the South Pass, and Garth comments, "That's 20
head this week . . . Wolves, they're worse than rustlers."
Later in the evening, upon hearing Trampas is in a hurry
to pay back the Judge because every day
he stays there the trail of the man who killed his father gets
colder, the compassionate Faraway gives the boy his money pouch and
subtly suggests he sit in on the bunkhouse poker game. Trampas seems
to be winning every hand, claiming it is due to "clean living," until the
Virginian calls him. As the two men are about to have a confrontation
about cheating, the Judge rushes in with orders to set up
"fire camps" immediately because wolves had just killed seven
more head of cattle. Being the "best hunter," Faraway
is assigned to the South Pass and chooses Trampas to be his partner.
Faraway tries to assure him that the men would
forget about what happened at the card table, but Trampas insists,
"I won't forget." The young man offers to take the first watch, and
Faraway gives him instructions to keep the fire going since
that was the only thing that would scare away a pack of hungry wolves.
However, as the older man settles down
for a nap Trampas throws a few branches on the burning wood pile
then goes off to Medicine Bow to have a "little fun." The Virginian, who
is policing the pass, hears a scream and is horrified to find a bloodied
Faraway lying near a pile of ashes. In town Winnie is concerned it's getting late,
but Trampas has no worries since "Faraway won't tell nobody" and
continues drinking and laughing with the girl.
The Virginian locates Trampas in the saloon, and the drunken
boy asks if he has nothing better to do than spy on him. The
foreman tells him he'd just sent the doctor out to Shiloh for Faraway. When
Trampas asks why the enraged Virginian slaps him and says, "The fire went
out, and the wolves got to him. Now you get your things, and you get off
Shiloh, and don't you ever come back!"
As Trampas enters the bunkhouse to gather his belongings the
other hands react by complaining about the smell and converse that
"a varmint must have crawled under the bunkhouse and died." Trampas asks to
see Faraway, but the Virginian tells him to stay away from the injured man.
Trampas, however, sneaks in the Judge's house where he's taken aback to see
Faraway wrapped in bandages. The young man apologizes for
leaving him since he'd heard he won't be able to ride any more. But instead
of indignation toward Trampas Faraway is more
concerned for the boy's welfare than his own and plays it down by
saying he shouldn't have slept so hard and might end up thanking the
wolves because he'd always wanted a harness shop and now he could enjoy
sitting in the sun instead of being on the range baking in it. Trampas
acknowledges it was his fault for causing Faraway's injuries
then tells him he won't be seeing him
anymore because he has to get on with his "business" of finding the man who
shot his father. But first he was going to see how many Shiloh wolves he
could kill. During this time Garth and the Virginian have been in the study
discussing the wolf hunt, and Garth wonders "what shall we do about
Trampas?" When the Virginian informs him he had told the boy
to leave the Judge initially reacts with concern.
But as the foreman explains "I can't keep anywhere near a
happy crew with him around. He's a
liar and a cheat and this business with Faraway don't set
too well with anyone," the Judge tells the Virginian to give Trampas a horse
and get him off the ranch. The Virginian is annoyed Garth
would provide a mount for the young man since he'd
"already given him much more than he deserves" but consents to
do as he is told. As Trampas is leaving the
house Garth confronts him with "So you've added housebreaking to your
talents." Trampas insists he had to see Faraway and "never met him no
harm." The Judge retorts, "No, you forgot about him, forgot about
everybody except yourself. Well, you go on, turn your back on people.
Use them, chew them up and spit them out when you're through with them."
Trampas confesses, "I did wrong, I know it, I really know it,"
and asks to be able to stay and pay back the money he owed
or at least go on the wolf hunt. But the Judge's patience has worn thin
and he says, "You've done enough. Take your hate and ride with it.
There's no room for it here." Garth checks in on Faraway
who cries out that Trampas was planning
to go after the wolves and had to be stopped before he got hurt. At that
time the Virginian comes in stating Trampas had taken Steve's mare and
headed off for the hills. The inexperienced Trampas goes on the chase,
but his horse stumbles and he loses his gun in the fall.
As the wolves attack, Trampas jumps on a large rock and tries
unsuccessfully to fend the
animals off with a stick. To his relief the Judge and Virginian come to his
rescue. But as Garth puts away his gun Trampas notices the silver "S" on
the handle and realizes it was he who had killed his father. In
disbelief Trampas doesn't want to hear the Judge's simple explanation that
he had acted in self defense and asks, "That day on the river bank--why
didn't you tell me then, when I had a gun?" The Judge tosses Trampas his
weapon stating, "Take the easy way out. That's the way you like it, isn't
it. Yes he's dead, and this is your way to get out of it cheap like always.
You could stay here and work and sweat like everybody, but no, that wouldn't
be easy. We'd have to see each other knowing what's between us. Well, go
on and shoot! Maybe that's the easy way for both of us." Having given
Trampas an invitation or ultimatum the Judge turns his back on the boy and
mounts his horse. Releasing his frustration and pain the sobbing Trampas
fires the rest of the bullets from the Judge's gun into the ground then
stands in a daze. Without another word to the boy Garth walks his horse
past him, and the Virginian, who had been looking on in bewilderment,
now understands his boss's concern for Trampas and offers,
"It's a long way to Shiloh. You riding with me?"
It's time for Trampas to make a choice, and he takes up the
invitation. . . . Back in the present, the Virginian comments, "That's the
end of the story I guess, but it was the start of a man's life."
Lon agrees it's a good story but it doesn't apply to him.
The Virginian affirms, "Yes it does, and you know it,"
then states, "I'm not going to sit here all day.
I'm going to walk over to that sheriff's office and tell him you're in
here--unless you want to walk along with me."
The boy threatens to shoot the Virginian, but the foreman knows "You won't
kill me. I've known you half your life."
Lon lets go of his anger by firing the rifle bullets
into floor, then he and the Virginian walk out of the barn together.
Comment: This story is my favorite of the series. It would seem Trampas'
"life" revolves around this episode, and when set next to it most of the
other stories about him fit together sensibly and have more meaning. This
might explain some of Trampas' behavior in the earlier seasons as a time of
learning a new manner of living while sometimes reverting to his previous
ways. Just a few examples would be desiring to make a target of the new
clock the Judge had put up in town (1.04 "The Big Deal"), his lazy
inconsiderate attitude and prank to get back to the ranch to see Molly (1.05
"The Brazen Bell"), picking Steve's pocket in an attempt to be able to go
along on the trip to Casper (1.06 "Big Day, Great Day"), his desire to leave
Shiloh for more excitement (1.09 "West"), and his disobedience when he
sought a showdown with Ben Anders instead of staying at the ranch as he'd
been told to do (2.06 "It Takes a Big Man"). Because Garth probably felt
some sense of responsibility for Trampas and, aware of his past, understood
that change takes time it would also seem to explain the Judge's patience
yet firmness with him. Two cases in point: taking the "lodging" cost out
of his pay after Trampas told the schoolteacher Shiloh was a boarding
establishment (1.05 "The Brazen Bell") and giving money to Sheriff Abbott
for the damage bill at the saloon (which would also come out of Trampas'
wages) after the cowhand missed his monthly payment because he'd bought a
new shirt to attend a concert (2.12 "A Time Remembered"). Later comments by
Trampas such as, "Sure people change, you look at me" in 4.10 "Beyond the
Border" are more meaningful when one remembers this episode. So is his
insistence to NOT "take the easy way out," even when it cost him something
(2.13 "Siege," 3.26 "Dangerous Road," 4.09 "Show Me a Hero"). Then there was
his friendship with the Virginian (a good example 8.02 "A Flash of Darkness")
and the other hands (trying to keep Steve from "ruining" his life marrying a
saloon girl in 1.06 "Big Day, Great Day," seeking out David to ask him to come back to the
ranch after the two of them had argued in 7.17 "Crime Wave
in Buffalo Springs," and showing concern for Jim's unsuitable romantic
relationships in both 8.05 "The Family Man" and
8.24 "The Gift"). Also, his devotion to Judge Garth and Betsy (such as 3.04
"The Hero") and later the Graingers (excellent examples 7.23 "Storm Over
Shiloh" and 8.17 "Holocaust") become more significant when compared with his
previous self-centeredness. The compassion Trampas showed toward others in
such episodes as 1.21 "The Small Parade," 3.28 "Old Cowboy," and 6.26 "Seth"
could perhaps in some small measure have been the result of the same
treatment given to him by Faraway and seems more meaningful when we are
aware of Trampas' original "use them up and spit them out when you're through with
them" mentality. No, he never became the perfect human being--sometimes his
desire to help was misguided and ended in tragedy (4.17 "Men With Guns").
But from "the start of a man's life" we watch a "liar and a cheat" and a boy
who's "no hand, that's for sure" become the honest (feeling the gold was
costing his respectability in 4.04 "The Claim," returning the coin he'd put
in his pocket in 6.21 "The Hell Wind," refusing to be a part of an old
friend's fraudulent scheme in 7.09 "The Storm Gate") and hard working "top
hand" who was selected to teach others about the cattle business because he
was the "best one" to do so (5.09 "Dead Eye Dick," 6.10 "Paid in Full," 6.19
"Gentle Tamers"). These are but a few of the instances that could be
related. Even with the changes in producers through the series the
character of Trampas was developed more fully than any of the others,
and it all
started with Parson's and Browne's masterpiece "Ride a Dark Trail."
Note: The teleplay, directing, and acting were superb in this episode, and
about the only distraction in otherwise excellent film editing was a
continuity error in putting together stock footage for Trampas' ride from El
Paso to Medicine Bow. Trampas starts and ends the journey on one horse but
in between is shown riding at least two other different ones.
Trivia: Sonny Tufts, who seemed appropriately chosen to play Frank Trampas
because of a "family resemblance" to Doug McClure, portrayed Steve in the
1946 theatrical movie version of "The Virginian."
Portions of this episode were combined with 3.30 "We've Lost a Train" for
a 1969 theatrical release entitled "Backtrack." (bj)
Note: The name Trampas is a surname (Trampas' father was Frank Trampas).
In some episodes the younger was referred to as "Mr." Trampas (3.08 "A
Father for Toby," 3.21 "A Slight Case of Charity," 4.28 "Ride a Cock Horse
to Laramie Cross," and 8.15 "You Can Lead a Horse to Water" as a few
examples). However, in 5.22 "Melanie" Melanie asked if Trampas was
his first or last name. He replied, "Just Trampas"--which is probably how
most viewers remember him. (bj)
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