LUKE SLAUGHTER OF TOMBSTONE
Luke Slaughter was an oddball western
that appeared on the overgrazed radio grassland
when Gunsmoke had already been on the air for six years.
If you think creative minds move forward and build
on the progress and innovations before them, thunk again.
Luke Slaughter neither matched nor surpassed Gunsmoke.
Instead, it de-evolved into something resembling
the early-1950s westerns Frontier Town and Wild Bill Hickok,
only without their charm or humor.
It's not as though producer William N. Robson,
and the writers and actors and technicians,
were unaware of Gunsmoke and the advancement
in the concept of the western wrought
by Norman Macdonnell and John Meston.
Robson & Co. worked at the same network,
either worked regularly or sometimes contributed to Gunsmoke,
and actually ran announcements for Gunsmoke.
The audition script for Luke Slaughter was unoriginal,
involving an annoying senior sidekick, a young punk that has to be taught,
a betrayal by a cowhand, a non-betrayal by a dubious cantina girl,
and a treacherous thieving trailboss.
Then there was the corny glorification of the main character,
the steadfast and honest trailboss.
Robson's production of it was neither here nor there on the prairie,
but it sounds like CBS needed to fill a time slot.
The series itself was a trail drive badly served
by mediocre writing; uninspired acting (except by three
regular guest stars--Lawrence Dobkin, Sam Edwards, and Vic Perrin);
random recycling of CBS stock music (despite credits
for Wilbur Hatch and Amerigo Moreno); and terrible sound patterns.
Indeed, it's an irony that Tom Hanley
was functioning instead as 'editorial supervisor' in this show
(the credits do not identify the sound pattern technicians.)
It didn't help that the announcer couldn't pronounce
the word Slaughter, and always seemed to be saying
Luke Swatter, Luke Squatter, or Luke Sweater.
Poor Sam Buffington himself was given idiotic
pseudo-terse-Dragnet drivel to read in the intro and at the end.
Put in this mess of a production, and clearly without any direction
or idea how to use his special voice consistently in the series,
Buffington suffers in the comparison with William Conrad.
It is puzzling why there was no instruction from Robson to Buffington
how to deliver his lines in a realistic and natural manner;
indeed, Buffington's delivery is somewhere between Conrad's
and the unnatural posturing of Michael Rye in the Gunsmoke audition.
So yet again, another step back.
Final proof of the total lack of inspiration in this series,
can be seen in the fact that Ben Wright appeared in two episodes,
and not once was he moved to do a hairpullingly annoying accent.
All that said, there are several episodes that a desperado
westerns addict can check out, without despairing too much
over lifetime lost listening to inferior material.
The 11th episode, aired May 11, 1958,
contains borrowings from Gunsmoke of the 'born bad' theme
and the incident in 'Pussycats.' It also has Apaches,
a six-horse hitch that becomes four,
and a mystery about why a Mormon murders.
The 16th episode, aired June 15, 1958,
features another romantic mystery courtesy of Gunsmoke,
with its Doc/'Cavalcade' storyline.
The 14th episode, aired June 1, 1958,
is actually a pretty good account of a cattle drive,
and is a good companion to the Gunsmoke episode 'Jayhawkers.'
The 15th episode, aired June 8, 1958,
was written by Tom Hanley and has Apaches uttering phrases
that sound very much like Swahili.
Copyright © 2011 E. A. Villafranca, Jr.
All Rights Reserved