Western series in which an ex US Army officer is unfairly branded a coward.
48 episodes of 26 minute duration. NBC 1965-66.
This Western series starring Chuck Connors as ex-West Point graduate, Captain Jason McCord, who is cashiered out of the US Army for cowardice, was in fact created by Larry Cohen as an allegory of the McCarthy political black listings of the 1950's.
McCord had lost consciousness and somehow survived as the only survivor of the Indian massacre at the Battle of Bitter Creek in Wyoming. However, the top brass believed that he had fled the scene of conflict and kicked him out of the force, leaving him forever branded. The series followed his exploits as he tried to prove his innocence, wandering through the country with a broken sabre, the symbol of his shame. He managed to find work as an engineer and mapmaker in a variety of jobs and occasionally unearthed evidence in his favour, although the end of the series left his ultimate fate unresolved.
Connors, already famous on US television in The Rifleman (1958-63), was the only regular in the series -although his father, General Joshua McCord (John Carradine), did appear in several episodes. Creator Cohen went on to devise another no-ending series, The Invaders.
Most of season one's 16 episodes (early 1965) were in black & white (save for a three-part episode that was filmed in colour). The entire second season's run of 32 episodes (1965-1966) were filmed in colour. The entire series has been released in the US on DVD by a small DVD releasing company, Timeless Media Group (http://www.timelessvideo.com). Unfortunately, the episodes released on DVD are all syndicated versions running just over 22 minutes per episode.
"I didn't start out wanting to be an actor," said Chuck Connors when interviewed in the mid 1960's. By that time the 6' 5" New Yorker had starred in two popular TV Western series, firstly as widower Lucas McCain in 'The Rifleman' -which ran from 1958 to 1963 on US television- and then as Jason McCord in the short lived but now fondly remembered 'Branded', the tale of a US Army captain accused of cowardice.
Connors was the son of an Irish immigrant from Newfoundland and was born in Brooklyn in 1921. His parents christened him Kevin and the youngster grew up determined to be a sports star. "I was crazy about sport at school. I was always kinda big for my age, and I guess sport came natural to me." Indeed, young Kevin Connors proved himself to be an outstanding athlete and eventually became a favourite of baseball and basketball fans as a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Angels.
"I was thirteen when this guy came into my life," Connors recalled. "I remember one afternoon playing with a ball in the street when I saw these kids, a whole bunch of them, coming down the road carrying gloves, bats and baseballs. So I followed them and found out they called themselves the Celtics. John Flynn ran the club and he was like a father to them. John told me to grab a glove and take part in the game." John Flynn, a bank-teller by day, was to have a profound influence not only on young Chuck's life, but also on that of the entire Connors family. "In those days jobs were scarce and like a lot of families we were poor and living on relief. My sister and I didn't realise how poor we were. My dad had been out of a job for a long time." But John Flynn used his contacts to get Chuck's father a job in the police force. "Dad held on to the job that John got him from 1935 to 1960, when he retired." Flynn also coached the young Chuck until he got his first professional break.
When he eventually joined the Los Angeles Angels he became a favourite of many top Hollywood actors and moviemakers who were basketball fans. But service in the army disrupted his basketball career and following his spell at West Point Military Academy he was asked to play small guest roles in a number of movies. "I had never trained or studied to become an actor, I just stood there in front of the camera's and did what came natural to me."
However, it's for his television work and not the movies that Connors will be mostly remembered. Between his two best remembered TV series Chuck also starred as defence attorney John Egan in a 1964 series entitled 'Arrest and Trial', an innovative drama series that set the pattern for crime movies for years to come. In the 1970's Chuck resurfaced in the outstanding mini-series 'Roots', and continued to make guest appearances on popular shows such as 'The Six Million Dollar Man,' 'Fantasy Island' and 'Murder, She Wrote,' until his death in 1992.
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