21 March 2006 | dougbrode
a sturdy marshal (joel McCrea) watches over the town of Wichita, Kansas in the 1880s
This short lived western, which appeared at a time when the airwaves were so glutted with cowboy shows that some had to fall through the cracks, has developed something of a cult reputation as being one of the really good ones that somehow got away. In truth, much of it was standard stuff, with the decent minded lawman (Joel McCrea) and his young deputy (Jody McCrea), pretty much the same formula as you could find over at ABC with Lawman (Wichita Town was on NBC). There was a nice feel for the cowtown, however, and several intriguing elements that are worth noting. For one thing, though the father and son team of the McCreas were featured, they didn't play father and son, though they were an older and younger man in a father-son style relationship. Second, though the characters' names were fictional, they were supposed to be Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. (Young Jody's character's name was even "Ben Masters," allowing for a hint at the historicity they had to suggest rather than admit owing to the fact that Hugh O'Brian and Alan Dinehart had already done the story of that friendship over at ABC on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Perhaps that helps explain why Wichita Town never caught on - there was a sense of deja vu to it all, which doesn't mean that it wasn't good, only that it arrived a little late in the TV western game. Apparently, McCrea had wanted to play Earp on TV. One of his best B+ westerns of the mid-fifties was Wichita Town, in which he played Earp and Keith Larson (later in such TV westerns as Brave Eagle and Northwest Passage) was young Masterson. That film opened in theatres only months before the ABC Earp/Masterson series premiered. So McCrea backed off and then gave it a noble try with this one-season wonder. If hardly a classic of its type, this was a highly watchable variation on what then was an all too common theme, with McCrea bringing a certain substance to the role that most of the young cowboy stars then on the air couldn't come close to.