Other Cowboy Stars – Clu Gulager in “The Tall Man”

June 23, 2011

I have watched a half dozen episodes of the western TV show “The Tall Man.”  It ran between 1960 and 1962 and starred Barry Sullivan as Pat Garrett and Clu Gulager as Billy the Kid.  The conceit is that Pat and Billy are best pals who have weekly adventures in a small western town.  It’s got a real American Playhouse feel to it, the same fuzzy B&W look and lots and lots of close-ups.

Most episodes center around Billy not resembling the historical Billy the Kid, but being a neat guy and a swell buddy.

Every couple of episodes the writers  come up with an invention to transform him into the Billy we all know, a half-mad killer.  In the episode entitled LEGEND OF BILLY, a newspaper man creates the myth of bad Billy to sell papers and Billy almost ends up living up to his new reputation.  In THE LAST RESOURCE, a grieving Marshal is out for revenge for his murdered daughter and unfairly decides Billy is the monster responsible.  The best example I’ve seen is the plot device in TIME TO KILL — Billy falls off a horse, gets a concussion and a pile of medicine which makes him act like a loco killer.

TIME TO KILL has this great line, “We only have to live with ourselves, Whiskey Man.  Billy’s got to run out his clock with that Devil inside him.  It’s getting close to twelve.”

And then there’s the Tall Man himself, Barry Sullivan as Pat Garrett.

This is the first I’ve seen of Barry Sullivan.  He’s likeable and I respect his acting.  I just don’t see him as a leading man.  Especially paired with the charismatic Gulager.  I mean, here they are together.

If you know anything about history, it’s weird watching this show knowing that one of these good buddies is going to kill the other!  It’s too bad they never shot that episode!

Oh, and a very weird P.S.

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2 Responses to “Other Cowboy Stars – Clu Gulager in “The Tall Man””

  1. MDavis said

    Actually, it turns out that Gulager’s portrayal of BTK may, in fact, bear closer resemblance to the real man than that previously accepted. Contemporaneous accounts do, in fact, have him as being smart, literate, likable and discount the exaggerated reports (21 murders, etc.) written by the Eastern newspapermen.

  2. Anonymous said

    Gulager’s portrayal of Billy the Kid is the most believable and entertaining of all those who have portrayed him in the past. He can gravitate from funny to deadly; from romantic to callus, in an instant. His friendship with Garrett is genuine, yet precarious, He comes across as dangerous, yet lovable. I think it is Gulager’s best acting, ever.

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