Stoney Burke (1962–1963)
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Jack Lord never gave a better, more heart-felt performance than as Stoney Burke, but Warren Oates almost stole the show as his shifty but lovable best friend Ves Painter. Jack Lord played Stoney as quietly noble, while Warren Oates played Ves as the opposite of quietly noble. They made a great team. Bruce Dern was also memorable as another of Stoney's friends. Three superb actors.
Dominic Frontiere's rousing theme music was impossible not to respond to.
Conrad Hall's black and white photography was stunningly beautiful, turning "Stoney Burke" into a moody noir rodeo drama.
Leslie Stevens created another superb series the next year with "The Outer Limits". Sadly, Stevens shows weren't business successes, and his production company Daystar went out of business. From then on, Stevens was a hired gun (mostly at Universal), and his work was never again as striking.
I wish ABC had given "The Fugitive" to Leslie Stevens to produce, rather than to his fellow independent producer Quinn Martin. Stevens was much more creatively ambitious than Martin, if not as astute a business man. Leslie Stevens did two of televisions' greatest, most original noirs: "Stoney Burke" and "The Outer Limits". Stevens would have been a perfect fit for "The Fugitive". Conrad Hall's black and white photography was made for "The Fugitive" as was the great directing of Gerd Oswald and Byron Haskin on "The Outer Limits". Stevens' touch could have made a fine series even better, although you have to wonder who he would have cast in the lead.
This series far exceeded my hopes or expectations. The formula is an old and good one. Stoney Burke (Jack Lord) can be viewed as a knight on a quest to win the Gold Buckle (National Rodeo Championship), with Cody (Bob Dowdell), Red (Bill Hart) and E.J. (Bruce Dern) as squires. Burke can at other times be viewed as an almost messianic or Christ-like character with the others as his disciples. Either way, he is a man who is pure at heart and dedicated to winning the Gold Buckle. He is NOT however a man who will do ANYTHING to win that Gold Buckle. He is highly principled and honest. His high principles and morality are contrasted against another of his followers, Ves Painter (Warren Oates), who is one of the least moral or principled characters ever to play a regular role in a series.
The series is much like other 1960s television, with the main characters traveling from town to town, meeting different people in each episode, and becoming embroiled in their dramatic life struggles. This gives the best character actors from the era lots of opportunities. The format enables the writers to examine every dramatic possibility. There is romance (of course) and corruption and greed and dilemmas of conflicting commitments and self-destruction and small-town prejudice and salvation. In one way, the earliest episodes are some of the best.
Leslie Stevens wrote all the earliest and he understood the characters the best. He obviously LOVED the Ves Painter character, and the episodes Stevens wrote are those that Ves is his most vivid and vile. Warren Oates steals many of those shows, spouting some of the best and most colorful dialogue and providing both comic relief and intense frustration. Stevens also made sure that Stoney's followers/friends had a lot to do with the action. They get into many scrapes with- and on behalf of- Stoney. In the middle of the 32 episodes, when other writers took over, the followers move farther into the background and the series suffers a little for it. Still, that being said, I can't say there's a dog in the entire 32 episodes. Even the weakest shows are good, solid TV drama. I was hoping that the series would end strongly and I was not disappointed. Stevens wrote and directed the final episode, in which all the recurring cast members play an important part. Stoney takes a mythological journey during which his soul and faith are at stake and he is almost literally staring at the abyss. 'Nuff said. You'll have to watch it.
You can't talk about Stoney Burke without talking about the music and photography. Dominic Frontiere's music is very lush and romantic and is employed judiciously throughout the series. Just as he did the following year with the Outer Limits, he provides just the right flavor to the emotion of each situation. Outer Limits fans will be shocked at how much of that series' music was lifted directly from Stoney Burke. At times, it almost felt like I was watching an Outer Limits episode, but without the aliens.
Conrad Hall took over all the photography after the first 6 or 7 episodes, when Ted McCord fell ill. Hall was McCord's camera operator. I cannot possibly praise Hall's B&W photography as much as it deserves. Under the least visually interesting directors, such as Tom Gries, he is perfectly competent and quite good. Under the more daring or innovative directors his work is sublime. He does things with camera movement, lighting and angles that gives me chills. His work makes good scenes great and great scenes unforgettable. His work here is some of his best B&W work- and that's saying a lot.
I highly recommend the series to anyone who likes old B&W-era TV, and especially to fans of Jack Lord (you'll see some of Steve McGarret's stalwart integrity here), Warren Oates, Conrad Hall or 1963 Lincoln Continentals, Thunderbirds and pick-up trucks, for that matter.
What also made this show stand out were some of the guest stars that made the show a noir classic...top notch actors ranging from Ina Balin to Robert Duvall, James Coburn, Scott Marlowe, Sally Kellerman, to Charles Bronson, Burgress Meredith, James Mason, Jack Elam, Dub Taylor, Michael Pollard, Diane Baker, to Dyan Cannon just to name a few. After 32 episodes the show was canceled due to low ratings with the final episode of the series that aired on May 20,1963. After the success of "Stoney Burke",Leslie Stevens created the following year an anthology science fiction series that would become one of ABC's biggest hits of the early-1960's "The Outer Limits"...the phenomenal success of that series lasted two seasons before it was gone by mid-1965. After the success of "The Outer Limits",Stevens tried his hand an another TV-series and it wasn't as successful and by 1966 Daystar Productions went out of business. From then on,Stevens was a hired gun at Universal where he produced and directed several shows,among them was "The Name Of The Game"
If ABC had given "Stoney Burke" a chance it would have been around much longer which would have blossomed into a full run series....imagine if "Stoney Burke" stayed around to make the transition to color during it's second season which never happened.....Imagine if ABC have given Leslie Stevens the chance to produce "The Fugitive" rather than independent producer Quinn Martin or better yet imagine if Leslie Stevens was given the chance to helm "Star trek" at NBC instead of Gene Roddenberry...but that never happened. During the early-1960's Stevens did two of television's greatest most original noirs...the modern day western "Stoney Burke",and the science fiction anthology "The Outer Limits"...who knows what the outcome would have been since Stevens put a touch that could have been even better,much less given it a longer stay.
Two shows went on television about the rodeo circuit Stoney Burke and The Wide Country. Sad to say that both failed to find an audience in an increasingly urban viewing audience.
That is sad because the rodeo itself is drama and any number of decent stories were created with that background in this series. The characters too were a likable bunch. Having been a PBR fan and having met some real bullriders I can attest that most are definitely a likable people.
Jack Lord was just such in this series. But he had a quest for the championship Golden Buckle in his chosen event to be given in Las Vegas. Just like the PBR today has its finals there. It was the Holy Grail Of Saddle Bronco Riding.
Stoney Burke had the usual collection of peers cast like Bob Dowdell of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and a rising Warren Oates who would soon be pretty much on the big screen. Oates played a character named Ves Painter who was quite an operator. It was the first real notice that Oates got.
Both Lord and Oates had really good careers and Stoney Burke gave them quite a boost.
I jumped the gun. Recently purchased complete Stoney Burke series. I had forgotten it was only one season!