The Big Valley (1965-69) is one of my absolute favorite TV shows. I've loved it since I was in single digits. You can bet I was excited when they finally released it to DVD! Until then, I had about a dozen eps to watch, all taped off cable TV at my grandparents' house in the summer back when I was a teen.
Happily, one of the eps I did have was this one, "A Time to Kill," which originally aired on January 19, 1966 -- fifty-four years ago this month :-) I first saw it in the mid-1990s, though. To this day, it's one of my favorite Big Valley eps.
Quick shout-out to the powerful, prolific director Bernard McEveety. He directed just about every show in existence in the 1960s, or so it seems. Including 31 eps of my beloved Combat! and 11 of The Big Valley. Some of his eps on both shows are my faves. Wonderful director -- not showy, knows how to utilize long shots and closeups, long takes, quick takes... but you're not spending a lot of time thinking about his directing while you're watching the ep, unlike some edgy directors (both from in the '60s and today, let's be honest). He tells a story clearly, which I LOVE.
ANYWAY! On to the ep. Which starts out with a bright young stranger arriving in Stockton, CA. He's cheerful, dapper, and played by William Shatner. Annnnnnnnnnnd now you know why this is one of my favorite episodes, huh?
This fellow heads straight for the offices of Jarrod Barkley, Attorney at Law. Very purposeful about it. Why does he need a lawyer? we wonder. He seems too cheerful to be in trouble. Well... we'll find out.
He doesn't give a name to Jarrod's secretary, just hands her a little something from his pocket. He says if she gives it to Jarrod, that's all the introduction he needs.
Doesn't Shatner look charming in that bowler hat and striped suit? My goodness.
Anyway, Jarrod Barkley (Richard Long) flings open the door of his office and stares at the stranger.
And then he picks a fight with him.
Haha! Not a real fight. They're old friends!
What did that guy hand the secretary? One half of a silver coin. Jarrod keeps the other half on his watch chain. This is his dearest old friend, Brett Schuyler (William Shatner), from back in his law school days! Come to visit him at last! Let all Stockton rejoice!
But there are two dudes in grey suits who are not rejoicing. We'll find out why later. Don't worry about them now. Rejoicing is in order, remember?
Jarrod brings Brett home to the Barkley Mansion. Rejoicing occurs. You can see Heath (Lee Majors) is getting very serious about his rejoicing here in the foreground, while Nick (Peter Breck) is taking a more... Nickish approach to things. The Barkley matriarch Victoria (Barbara Stanwyck) welcomes Brett and insists he stay with them, not at the hotel in town.
Not pictured is Audra (Linda Evans) -- she's sitting just out of the shot here, on the right side, facing Victoria and Brett. The camera panned over to her in a second or two, but then Heath was out of frame, and I just won't stand for that, so... here we are.
Brett is happy and charming and jovial and handsome. Everyone likes him. Everyone's glad he's here.
But what's this?!?!? Why does Brett have all that money hidden in the false bottom of his suitcase? we wonder. And what kind of guy has a false-bottomed suitcase, anyway? The music assures us that yes, this Bodes No Good.
Audra flirts a little with Brett. This is basically her only real scene, so she makes the most of it. Brett flirts right back, charming and cordial and handsome. Did I mention handsome? Yes, handsome.
But when Audra leaves, his expression turns... well... sinister. Oh dear.
And then another random stranger comes to see Jarrod! This one truly is a stranger, though. Says his name is Monroe (James Griffith) and he's a federal agent. Says he's after Brett.
What could a federal agent possibly want with dear, sweet, charming Brett? we wonder. Could it have anything to do with all that money in his suitcase? And we'd be right. It does. Monroe says that Brett is a counterfeiter. And that he's here to pass bad money.
Of course, Jarrod doesn't want to believe him. This is his best friend from his law school days! He can't possibly have turned into a counterfeiter over the past, what, fifteen years? (My math here is based on Richard Long being 39 in 1966, which coincidentally is how old I am right now, and assuming that Jarrod must be the same and probably got out of law school around the age of 24.)
Buuuuuuuuuuuuut the seed of suspicion has been planted in Jarrod's mind. He watches his mother and sister get charmed by Brett over breakfast, and he wonders.
He doesn't just wonder, he sneaks up to Brett's room and rifles his things. And what does he find????
A sweet little gift from Brett to Victoria. A hostess gift of some sort, no doubt. Nothing to worry about.
(And DUDE, Brett has crazy nice handwriting. I suspect he got some girl at the shop where he bought the gift to write that. I mean, it's basically calligraphied.)
Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut Jarrod checks Brett's other suitcase, just in case, where, of course, he finds the money.
So much money. Why would an honest man have so much money in his suitcase? we wonder.
Jarrod hates himself. But he takes a couple of the bank notes he finds in Brett's suitcase over to Monroe and his fellow federal agents for inspection. He hopes against hope that they're genuine, not forged. That there's some real, legal reason for Brett to have all that money.
(My 8-yr-old loves this picture. I had to screencap it just for her.)
The federal agents inspect the banknotes Jarrod brought them.
And guess what? They're genuine! Not counterfeit! Jarrod is so relieved. His friend is exonerated. At least, in his eyes. Those federal agents are still suspicious.
This shot is only here to show off Jarrod's gorgeous law office. We almost never see this place. It's wonderful. Wow. I could live there.
(Once in a while, I start to suspect I fell in love with the wrong Barkley boy. Until I watch a Heath-centric episode, and then I remember that I chose the right one after all.)
Jarrod offers Brett a job working for him in the lawyering business here in Stockton. Brett is seriously touched. He says he'll consider it.
It's the next morning, and Jarrod has taken Brett over to the bank to deposit some money. Which Brett totally told Jarrod about earlier, I just forgot to cover that part. I mean, I can't put the whole episode in this blog post. That would be silly!
Brett asks for a tour of the bank. The banker happily obliges. Anything for a guy who just deposited several thousand in cash and says he intends to deposit more soon.
He takes Brett right inside the safe. Brett seems to know an awful lot about safes, electric alarm systems, and so on. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Next thing we see, Brett is riding up to a shack on a horse, wearing totally different clothes.
Random side note: William Shatner is an excellent horseman. It shows, even though we only see him on a horse twice.
Inside the shack are two suspicious characters. Oh nuts. Brett is on the wrong side of the law after all. :-(
But dude. Shatner in that hat, though. Yowza. I don't care what you think of Shatner as an actor or a person -- you can't deny he is one handsome man.
Brett's brought some of the Stockton bank's bank notes with him. His counterfeiting pals are pleased. But Brett is conflicted. He says he's done all he will do, and they'll have to pull off the bank job without him. His partners confuse him with a lot of nonsense about the Barkleys being users and snobs, which we ALL know is totally a lie, but it makes Brett doubt Jarrod's friendship.
Still not tired of Shatner in that hat. I wish he'd made more westerns!!!!!!!
Here's something I've noticed McEveety likes to do in episodes he directs. When he hits a scene with really meaty character development and juicy emotions, he'll start out with a wide shot, then the next one of that central character will be a little closer. And pretty soon, we'll get even closer.
And when we hit the juicy, meaty, tender, ripe center of that pivotal and emotional scene, we'll be right up in the actor's face, where we can't help but feel along with them. And he'll often keep us there long enough that we almost feel uncomfortable being that close to anger or grief or fear, or whatever the emotion is. It's very effective in a subtle way.
Anyway, at supper that evening, Brett gives Victoria that present Jarrod found in his luggage. It's a bottle of lovely perfume. Victoria is pleased.
I crack up while watching this bit, because everyone sitting very properly at the supper table, enjoying their coffee and dessert and whatever... and Nick is sprawled out like he's at a poker table in a saloon somewhere. Oh, Nick, why???
(Answer: Nick does what he wants, that's why.)
Brett excuses himself from the table, and Heath and Nick let Jarrod know they're not super fond of his friend. This is just about their only dialog in the whole ep, so relish it while you can.
Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd now it's night and Brett and his pals are breaking into the bank. Argh.
Jarrod stews. He is stewing, and he doesn't care who knows it. Kind of a Jarrod thing, to stew. Nick fumes, Heath glowers, and Jarrod stews. (Audra blows a fuse now and then, and Victoria goes all cold and glittery. Now you know what all the Barkleys do when faced with Tough Problems.)
Victoria comes downstairs and finds Jarrod stewing.
Victoria is a wise mama. She knows Jarrod needs to talk. So she listens.
She listens and understands and offers a little advice. Victoria excels at seeing to the heart of problems. Mmm, I love her so much.
Then she leaves, and Jarrod goes back to stewing.
Back at the bank, the crooks are inside now. Brett starts looking for something. Is it behind this picture frame? Nope.
Is it behind this picture frame? Nope.
Ahhh, it's behind this picture frame. But... what IS it?
It's not jam jars or a whiskey still or the bank's private collection of vanilla extract-in-the-making. It's batteries! Those are the 1880s-ish version of batteries! Check it out -- Big Valley is educational!
Once Brett disconnects the electric alarm system, one of his pals starts cracking the safe.
They have to hide while the sheriff makes his rounds, but then they're back at the safe. They get into the safe, and there, can you guess what they do? Oh, it's so sneaky!
They take all the real money out and replace it with counterfeit money!
And then they lock the safe back up, reconnect the electric alarm, sneak back out of the bank, lock it back up, and make a clean getaway.
Next morning, the Barkleys are at breakfast. Jarrod has come to a decision: he's going to offer to take Brett into his law practice as a full partner, not an assistant.
Brett comes down to breakfast and starts to say goodbye because... after all, he's gotten what he's come for. But before he can really say anything, Jarrod cuts him off.
Jarrod is filled with friendship and kindness. And, secretly, remorse for suspecting Brett of being a Bad Guy. He makes his offer, urging Brett to stay in Stockton and join his law firm.
Oh, poor Brett. After everything he's done, robbing the bank where Jarrod introduced him as a friend, totally betraying Jarrod's trust... and now Jarrod offers him a full partnership, even though Brett has never practiced law, just got his law degree and then went off into the wild blue yonder.
What can he do? we wonder. How can he turn down such a wonderful offer of friendship and trust?
By saying goodbye anyway. He makes excuses and insists he needs to leave on the noon train.
Jarrod offers the Barkley carriage to drive him into town. They shake hands and say goodbye.
After Brett has gone, the Barkley's butler, Silas (Napoleon Whiting) tells Jarrod that Brett left something behind in his room.
It's his half of that silver coin. Oh my. This goodbye is final. He's never going to see Jarrod again, and he knows it.
Jarrod knows it too. And now he's all suspicious again.
But wait! Brett has had a genuine change of heart! He rides back to that shack and confronts his erstwhile partners.
He makes one tie the other up, then ties up the first one himself. Takes all the money and leaves, explaining he's going to do the right thing, though he doesn't elaborate on how.
Jarrod rides into town. He inquires at the train station to find out when Brett's leaving, only to learn that Brett changed his ticket from the noon to the midnight train.
Isn't Jarrod a handsome man too? I love how his eyes match the background in this shot.
Next, Jarrod goes to the bank. Has Brett made any withdrawals? No. But the bank manager does say Brett knew a lot more about bank security than he'd expected. Now Jarrod is really suspicious. How suspicious?
Night again. Brett sneaking around by the bank again. I think we all know what he's up to, right? Even my 12-yr-old had figured it out by now.
But not Jarrod. He's not privy to the info we have about Brett stealing the money back from the other Bad Guys. Jarrod doesn't even know there are other Bad Guys involved! All he sees is Brett breaking into the bank. (And hey, how come the bank doesn't have a back door? Is this really the only entrance?)
Oh, Jarrod, stop jumping to conclusions!!!
Unlock the door? Check. Disconnect the alarm system? Check. Use the combination your buddy figured out last time to open the safe? Check.
Leave the door unlocked behind you? Check. Ooooooooooooooooops.
Brett switches all the money back. No harm, no foul. He's going to leave town and never come back, and everything will be fine. Except that Jarrod gets the drop on him. Brett tries to explain. Jarrod's not interested in his excuses. He tosses that half coin back to Brett and basically says they're through.
And then the other Bad Guys turn up! They get the drop on Jarrod. They're going to steal the money all over again. And they're probably going to go ahead and shoot Brett and Jarrod so there won't be any witnesses.
But Brett's standing right by the picture that's hiding the disconnected alarm system. And he's got that half coin in his hand. And he's a very sneaky fellow. And metal conducts electricity.
And as soon as that alarm goes off, the other two baddies make their escape. I'm not sure they know Brett's already made the switch, and that they're making off with their counterfeit money, not the real goods.
The law arrives and takes care of those two, and Brett and Jarrod walk out the door... and Jarrod totally gives Brett up to the sheriff as part of the gang.
I think Brett's a little annoyed about this. But hey, a Barkley's gotta do what a Barkley's gotta do.
Monroe says a few things about being right and being fair and about the money in the bank being genuine after all, and so on. Surprise! Now Jarrod knows that Brett was switching the money back.
And then Jarrod says that hey, you know what? Brett, you're gonna need a good lawyer now. Maybe Jarrod could be his lawyer?
And Brett is totally fine with that. He knows now, more than ever, how clever and intelligent, yet kind, Jarrod is. The end.
Whew. Man, that's a good episode. A chance for Shatner to really shine in a complicated role, and a chance for Jarrod to shine at being all Conflicted and Suspicious and Clever. Which Jarrod is very good at, indeed.
Is this review ever going to end? we wonder. Yes, it is. Right now.
This has been my contribution to the Beyond Star Trek blogathon, hosted by Quiggy and myself this weekend! Visit the main blogathon page here on my blog or Quiggy's on his blog to find links to all the great posts people have been writing for this event.