Sunday, October 26, 2008

TV REVIEW OF ''ALIAS SMITH & JONES: "Return to Devil's Hole" (1971)

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry act like evangelists of the straight and narrow lifestyle in director Bruce Kessler's "Return to Devil's Hole," in a splendid example of their social capitalist's strategy of networking with people that someday might help them out of trouble. Everything in this episode written by Knut Swenson from a story by Roy Huggins using his pen name John Thomas James reinforces the show's theme about our desperado heroines going straight to obtain amnesty from the territorial governor. The big difference in this first season episode is that Kid Curry remains the periphery while Heyes carries out the bulk of the task. Hispanic star Fernando Lamas, Diana Hyland, and Brett Halsey guest star in this episode. Interestingly, Halsey returned for a second appearance on "Alias Smith & Jones" during its third and final season in episode eight for director Jeff Corey's "The Day the Amnesty Came Through" (1973)but Halsey played a different outlaw, Ed Starr, hiding out with a different band of outlaws with a woman.

Hannibal Heyes (Pete Duel) escorts a headstrong but duplicitious woman, Clara Phillips (Diane Hyland), to Devil's Hole. Clara claims that her husband is hiding out with the gang, even though her husband has been cleared of any criminal charges. The good citizenship theme gets a thorough work out here as Hannibal eventually convinces his old friend and outlaw chieftain Big Jim Santana (Fernando Lamas), who has spent the last seven years in prison, that he should forsake the owlhoot trail and go straight. Clara persaudes Hannibal to take her to the Devil's Hole so that she can tell her husband whose hiding out there that he has been cleared of all criminal wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Heyes leaves Kid Curry behind because they are expecting to see a man about a job for them and Heyes doesn't want them to miss a chance at doing something honest. After a lengthy ride across the wilderness, Heyes reunites with some of the old companions, among them Big Jim Santana (Fernando Lamas) who runs the gang now. They swap blows and then guzzle some rotgut whiskey. Big Jim has a terrific idea for one big job. This robbery, in his words, will be "the biggest the Devil's Hole gang ever did." Afterward, he plans to retire to South America. Big Jim aims to rob the Wells Fargo clearing house in Denver and he has recruited an army of outlaws to do it.

No sooner do Heyes and Clara reach the Devil's Hole than she shoots on sight one of Big Jim's men Hamilton (spaghetti western actor Brett Halsey of "Roy Colt & Winchester Jack") and accuses him of corrupting her 17-year old daughter. Big Jim is considerably upset by Clara's wounding Hamilton and demands the truth from both parties. Indeed, Big Jim has his own unusual honor code. He explains, "You see, in my business, I have to have faith in my men, and my men must have faith in me. Without it, we don't . . . Well, we don't have a chance." Since Hamilton is going to be riding with Big Jim, then Big Jim must know with certainty that he can trust the man. Learning the truth turns out to be a difficult as neither person wants to come clean. Big Jim and Heyes talk to a wounded, bed-ridden Hamilton and he confesses that he knows Clara, but he never corrupted any 17-year old daughter. What he did do is steal Clara's $25-thousand dollars' worth of jewelry. Big Jim wants to get to the bottom of these lies. Clara says that she has a picture of her daughter, but it is back in town in a suitcase. Big Jim sends Heyes back to fetch it.

When Big Jim isn't trying to get to the truth ("When I say I demand honesty from my men above all else, that is exactly what I mean.")he grilles Heyes about the incredible notion of going straight. "Those stories about you giving up are not true, are they?" Heyes nods, "They're true. Times have really changed since you've been gone." Big Jim agrees, but adds, "Well, I know times change and we change with the times. It's part of the progress." Heyes points out, "Well, that's what I did. I progressed right out of the business." Nevertheless, Big Jim has a difficult time accepting Heyes as a law abiding member of society, especially one who has to hide out. Heyes explains that he has to "walk on eggshells" ... "until I prove to the governor that I can lead an honest life." This means that they have to "duck out of the way of every passing lawman." Big Jim spent seven years in prison and doesn't plan to go back. Now, he has been collecting a gang to attack a major money sorting place in Denver, the biggest job that he has ever staged. The search for the truth and the turnaround that Big Jim experiences makes this one of the best "Alias Smith and Jones" episodes.

The Clara Phillips character is unusually headstrong. She spends quite a bit of time tracking down Heyes and Curry to get to Devil's Hole. After Heyes leaves to retrieve the picture of Clara's daughter, Clara and Big Jim get to know each other intimately. Clara asks Big Jim how he became an outlaw. Big Jim observes that it had "something to do with my family being cheated out of our lands in New Mexico." He adds, "I suppose I inherited a certain disregard for the law."

This is one of the most visually beautiful episodes, too, with a "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" type song called "Take A Look Around" played over visually scenic outdoor shots. However, it came as a rude awakening when I heard a portion of the same song used in a "McCloud" episode.

As Big Jim rides off to San Francisco in the stagecoach with Clara, Curry
observes, "You know, Heyes, I think we did a whole lot better by Big Jim than we did by ourselves." Heyes shrugs, "I don't know. I think we have a very good and important friend in San Francisco now, if we wever get into serious trouble."

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