Bat Masterson (1958-1961)
Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963)
Kung Fu (1972-1975)
The Life And Legend Of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961)
The Rifleman (1958-1963)
The Westerner (1960)
The Gambler started out as a hit country western song by Kenny Rogers. The song couldn't have been more than 5 minutes long and told the story of a Gambler giving out advice to a fellow traveler before at the end of the song he dies in his sleep. Five minutes then dead.
But that dead gambler ended up being the star and center for five TV movies starring Kenny Rogers. Much longer than five minutes worth of time and I never saw any sign of the guy coming close to a fatal nap.
For the first three movies Kenny Rogers' gambler Brady Hawkes found a sidekick in the form of Bruce Boxleitner. After The Gambler III though Bruce B. felt he might be getting a little old to be holding the reigns of Kenny's horse and bowed out.
For the fourth TV flick I think the producers might have been a little nervous about having lost one of their stars and having the whole film resting on Kenny's shoulders. I mean by this time the Gambler movies were two night four hour long monsters and while a likable guy as an actor Kenny was a great singer and chicken salesman. I picture someone on set saying, "Kenny don't act very well," and Kenny overhearing and thinking it was an order.
Sorry, watching what should have been a 90 minute B-western stretched to four hours has me a bit grumpy. Anyway, to compensate for Bruce Boxleitner leaving the filmmakers stocked the film full of other talent and attractions to support Kenny. The Gambler Returns became a huge tribute to classic westerns. The cast was studded with famous country faces. Country music star Reba McEntire, who is also a solid actress, costarred with Kenny. The cast was also full of familiar B-Western actors. You know, the guys not famous for a specific part but played the general camp cook in every other western or the guy who was "Guy At The Bar" in Gunsmoke, Bonanza and all shows in between.
But the real masterstroke of the film was in bringing in having The Gambler cross paths with the characters and locations from around seven different classic TV westerns. Having him cross paths with them all was cool but having all these legends being good friends with Kenny Rogers and selling him as being maybe more impressive than them... well that was pushing it.
The story of this four hour extravaganza had Kenny's Brady Hawkes heading to San Francisco to play in the greatest poker game of all time. The finale of his gambling career. Reba McEntire played Burgundy Jones, a... lady of easy virtue who is supplying Brady with the money for the game. She and her professional colleagues put up the money and planned to use their share of the winnings to help support the home they had for their children and local orphans (yes, the prostitutes ran an orphanage). So the plot is Brady Hawkes, his new sidekick Ethan Cassidy and Burgundy Jones have to go to San Francisco for a card game and this took four hours. Along the way they encountered the following characters for the following reasons. Please note that while all of these characters appeared in the movie they didn't all necessarily have scenes with each other.
At the start of the movie Brady Hawkes receives some help from Chuck Connors character of Lucas McCain from The Rifleman. The show The Rifleman had been about western pioneer and widower McCain raising his son Mark McCain on his own and dealing out justice with his distinctive rifle (duh). The second half of the movie begins with Burgundy Jones and Ethan Cassidy also crossing paths with son mark McCain. At this point in the story Kenny and his friends have temporarily parted company. Seeing a saddled but riderless horse rush by Ethan assumed there must be trouble and rushed to the rescue. As he brought the white horse under control the Lone Ranger's theme music dramatically flared to life. Then there was a loud shout of "cut" and Ethan realized that he had actually stumbled into a western being filmed. And who should be working on the film but Mark McCain (who of course was friends with Ethan). The director of the film (played by Mickey Rooney and named D.W. implying he was pioneer filmmaker D.W. Griffith) offers him on the spot the chance to star in the movie. Ethan says no and instead the part goes to Mark. Now they never say they are making a Lone Ranger movie (probably to avoid paying $$$ for the privilege) but they do play his music and the horse is specifically called Silver so figure it out.
The Life And Legend Of Wyatt Earp
Brady Hawkes arrives in Dodge City where Burgundy Jones and her friends live only to discover that he is not guaranteed to play in the San Francisco game. It seems each of the ladies has a candidate for the game and Kenny would have to win against them to earn the chance at the big game. Wyatt Earp showed up talking to a newspaper man about his life and legend. Wyatt apparently had actually left Dodge for a number of years and had just returned to Dodge and resumed his lawman duties. Guess what? Wyatt and Brady were old friends. Annoyingly the reporter was more awed by Brady than by Wyatt Earp! Luckily Wyatt Earp was just as annoyed.
In the middle of all this, bank robber rode into town to knock over the bank. They were very disappointed to find out the bank was empty because all the money has been withdrawn for the hookers' poker playoff. Hey, guess what? Kenny won! What were the odds of that? The robbers regrouped and attempted to hold up Brady, Burgundy and Ethan. One problem: Burgundy wouldn't give up the cash. The thief who had her at gunpoint moved slowly forward until he walked by a wagon out of which leapt....
That would be Cheyenne Bodie. The show Cheyenne had been about that character wandering the west and kicking butt. That's about as complicated as it ever got. And here he made his entrance doing just that. He jumped out fighting. And then Wyatt Earp stepped up to and they both sent the bad guys running, sprawling or to the grave depending. They even played the Wyatt Earp theme song as he shot some of them. Pretty cool really.
Once the bad guys were dealt with, Cheyenne explained to the gang that Wyatt had gotten him a job driving a stage for the army. Knowing they were in danger he loaded everyone into the stage and rode them out of town before the villains could regroup. Once they were on the road the villains struck again and there was another big fight which the good guys won. He then dropped them off at the next town and took off.
Just so you can follow along, at this point Kenny and his friends split up. In the fight in Dodge City Burgundy Jones got shot and now she would have to rest up for a week. Brady Hawkes decided to ditch her and head on to San Francisco without her. Ethan is furious, he and Brady fight and Ethan decides to stay with Burgundy (Reba or Kenny, I'd pikc Reba too. He might have fried chicken but she's easier on the eyes).
This is about where Part 1 ends. Kenny rode out of town and tripped a landmine the bank robbers had rigged up (they just would not give up). They blowed him up real good. In the real world they'd be picking up pieces of Kenny for miles around.
As Part 2 started we see the explosion again Brady Hawkes is seen flying through the air like a Warner Brothers cartoon character. He then came apparently landed on a horse as he came riding out of the smoke on two of them. Given how the mine was triggered every horse should have been dead. I know you have to suspend disbelief and all but this was taking disbelief, beating it to death and burying it in a shallow grave. IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE!!!!
Anyway, meanwhile, as noted above Kenny's friends ran into The Rifleman's son Mark McCain. Soon all three of them ended up in the town of Leadville where a rodeo was going on and they ran into two actors from another western in the only non-crossover in the movie...
The Virginian - No Crossover
It is not a true crossover and I only bring it up because if I don't I'll get letters. The Virginian was a western set in the Wyoming territories and starred James Drury as the Virginian who enforced law and order. His name was never revealed. Doug McClure also starred as a character named Trampas. Now in The Gambler Returns both these actors appear as cattlemen bringing their stock to the rodeo. Their characters are actually named after the actors themselves - Doug and Jim. I guess an argument could be made that the Virginian's name was Jim and that his friend was named Doug Trampas. Bottom line is they vagued it up so I'm not calling it an official cross. I mean the Virginian's whole gimmick was his name was never given. This guy had a name. I'm betting the producers couldn't afford to pay for the rights to the characters and made do as best they could. Close but no cigar.
Another character in this "epic" is temperance crusader Melody O'Rourke played by Park Overall, famous for the sitcom Empty Nest (this movie is also loaded with sit com actors). She shows up in Leadville looking to do away with all the booze in town. Some of the cowboys suggest that given the amount of hard drinkin' cowpoke are in town this might not be such a good idea.
Also in town is famous fight promoter Diamond Jim Brady on his way to promote one of his fights.
Ethan ended up to heading out to Melody O'Rourke's camp to check and make sure she was safe (such a gentleman). One of Diamond Jim's men named Sailor was also at the camp. Seems Sailor and Melody knew each other. Ethan ended up misunderstanding and going after Sailor in an attempt to protect Melody's honor. By the time everything was sorted out Sailor and Ethan were a bit too mad to care it was a mistake and still wanted to fight. Diamond Jim convinced them to wait. He had a fight promotion going on later anyway, why not have these guys fight it out as an opening match? So they agreed to wait. All that to bring us to the entrance of...
On the night of the big fight it is revealed that the celebrity announcer for the fights is none other that legendary lawman, gambler and star of his own western Bat Masterson. Bat was a cowboy but his gimmick was he dressed well. He wore nice clothes, a bowler hat and carried a walking stick. Much like Wyat Earp had said he had just returned to the west, Bat indicated he had been out seeing the world for a bit. Hey, guess what? He knew Brady Hawkes too. Okay, as they are both gamblers that kinda makes sense.
Bat did the introductions for Ethan and Sailors match and then sat down with Burgundy to watch the match. Ethan was in for a rude surprise: Sailor had been a boxert in the military. Sailor set about kicking Ethan's butt. At one of the round breaks Bat ran down to the ring to provide Ethan with some valuable information. Seems Sailor always dropped his guard when throwing a certain punch. Ethan might be able to capitalize on that. The fight started back up and, hey, guess what? Ethan used the info to start whomping on Sailor.
Now I have been leaving out oodles of plots not directly related to the crossovers (trust me, this movie had tons of extra movie padding plots). One of them was these plots was that much earlier in the story Ethan had been forced to marry Judge Roy Bean's daughter Ruby. He then skipped town and Ruby and her dad spent the whole movie chasing him. Ruby and her father even ended up at the fight. The judge wanted to wait until after he got to see the fight to approach Ethan. But with her "husband" in the ring kicking butt, Ruby couldn't help but yell out in encouragement. Unfortunately she distracted him and Sailor punched Ethan out in what has to be the loooongest slow motion punch ever. Several animals became extinct in the time it took to show that punch. Still, Ethan and company managed to get away from Ruby again. She ended up in the ring with temperance gal Melody duking it out in a misunderstanding over Ethan's honor. Meanwhile Ethan, Brady and Burgundy snuck out, stole an early automobile, and headed on to San Francisco.
Now I have to back up again to mention more plot points I've skipped. A running plot involved everyone trying to steal the stake money for the San Francisco game. I have mentioned the robbers who kept coming after the gang. Well the head of that gang was Cade Dalton, played by Jere Burns (he played the goofy Kirk on the show Dear John). Also after the money was one of the gambler Hawkes had beaten in Dodge City named Lute Cantrell. Lute was played by Christopher Rich (he played the goofy Miller Redfield on Murphy Brown). So as the movie went on (and on and on) these two and Hawkes just kept stealing the money from each other. By the time of the fight, Lute had the money and was heading to San Francisco on a motorcycle. Cade Dalton was on his tail with only one member of his gang left. Eventually Lute stopped for gas and while he was using the outhouse, Cade showed up and tried to steal the money back. It turned into a massive fight between the two western bad guys (Although I couldn't get past the fact they played sit com nerds. That really undercut the whole "tough guy" thing).
WHY DO WE CARE??? WHERE IS THE CROSSOVER??? JUST BECAUSE YOU SUFFERED THROUGH FOUR HOURS OF THE GAMBLER, WHY MAKE US SUFFER TOO???
Because I had to suffer, so must you. Actually it directly ties into the next crossover.
Haven't heard of this one? Well it was only on for four months in 1960. It starred Brian Keith (The Parent Trap, Family Affair, Hardcastle And McCormick) as Dave Blassingame - The Westerner. He was just another guy wandering the west helping people with his dog Brown by his side. Only he was cranky. He actually just wanted to settle down but the wussy pioneers kept getting in trouble and he kept having to bail them out.
Well that gas station the tough guy sit com nerds met up at? It was named Blassingame's Gasoline Filling Station. Seems Dave had settled down. He and Brown were sitting out front with their friend (played by Dub Taylor who has appeared in every western ever made). As long as it was just Lute and Cade punching each other out they were all just happy to sit back and watch. But when Cade's henchman showed up and pulled a gun Dave Blassingame sent Brown in to attack the gunman ("Old Brown prefers a fair fight").
Meanwhile, as all this went on, Brady Hawkes and company drove by and grabbed the money. With nothing to actually fight over, Lute and Cade calmed down. They decided they should actually team up against Brady. Wow, Miller Redfield and Kirk teaming up. I know I'm scared.
So Lute and Cade hit the road on the motorcycle. They actually get to San Francisco ahead of Brady, hire a bunch of thugs and set up an ambush for him in front of the hotel where the card game will be held. The bad guys attacked and Brady, Ethan and Burgundy run off to hide in San Francisco's Chinatown. One guess where this is going.
The bad guys chased everyone into Chinatown and attacked. To their surprise a certain butt kicking Chinaman named Caine leapt to the rescue. David Carradine had of course played Caine in the 70's TV classic Kung Fu. He turned the tide of the battle and the bad guys got stomped. I was actually excited to see some martial arts action but with four heroes in the fight all you get to see of Caine is a couple of moves and those were hardly spectacular. One kick was really kinda half hearted.
Once the fight was over... I dunno... it made me feel a little bad. First, as usual, Caine KNOWS THE GAMBLER. Come on!!!! Can just one person they meet not know him. Next, Caine dispensed some sage Chinese wisdom. See, Kung Fu was a show about ethics and morality and had some depth to it. It dealt with Racism and intolerance. So some wisdom... yeah... that's good.
Catching a dagger hurled at him by one of the last of the attackers, Caine turned to Brady and said, "It helps to have the eyes of an eagle and the reflexes of a cat." He then hurled the dagger off screen and accidentally hit a cat with it. Dahhhhh. So much for deep wisdom. Brady then explained that he and his friends needed to sneak into the hotel. Caine said he knew some people who could help him.
Cut to outside the hotel. Mixed with a group of Chinese cooks and dressed as Chinese cooks themselves they tried to sneak by the thugs by pretending to be... delivering Chinese takeout. In fact they were inventing it! Yes, what better way to honor the memory of Bruce Lee and Kung Fu, the show he created than by doing a joke about inventing Chinese takeout. Why??????
The ruse worked temporarily. It got them inside the hotel but shortly after that Cade and Lute arrived and realized their men had been duped. They rushed into the hotel and attacked. Luckily, Bat Masterson was there to also play in the card game. He jumped to the good guys' aid and helped beat the outlaws. I can't help but wonder if they had yet another cameo from a western character planned that fell through. Bat is the only character to pop up for more than one segment.
Also newly arrived to the hotel were Judge Roy Bean and his daughter. By this point Roy wasn't just after Ethan. He was in San Francisco to watch the big poker game. As Lute and Cade were beaten the Judge rooted through his old wanted posters and discovering one for Cade Dalton took him into custody. Ruby Bean was excited to get her husband back but at this point her dad was sick and tired of that whole thing. He told Ruby to just let it go, that Ethan was not going to stop roaming and settle down. Ruby was sadden for about 15 seconds before Lute Cantrell did something vaguely polite to her and she fell head over heels in love with him.
The end to those two plots. All that was left was the poker game and two more crossovers.
The big game was to have five players. Brady was one. Bat Masterson was number two. Number three was to be a man named Sir Colin played by Patrick Macnee (famous actor and all but not a crossover character). Turns out Sir Colin had defeated Brady Hawkes when Brady was gambling in Europe, badly shaking Brady's confidence. Player number four would be a surprise mystery player. Player five? Well if it's a poker game in the old west one of the players would have to be...
Maverick was a comedy western about a gambler/con man named Maverick who traveled the west finding adventure. Actually, it was about two guys named Maverick. Wait, make that three. No wait... four. See when the show started it starred James Garner as the troublemaking Bret Maverick. But then to kind of ground the show the producers introduced Bart Maverick played by Jack Kelly as a second lead. He wasn't quite as wild as Bret. The two of them alternated as lead character week to week and sometimes teamed up for an episode. Then James Garner got into a contract dispute with the producers and ended up leaving the show. Roger Moore (later to play James Bond) and Robert Colbert were brought in to help fill in playing yet two other members of the Maverick family.
Brady Hawkes would get to play against Bart Maverick. Unfortunately there isn't much else to say about his appearance. He made a quip about it not being a card game without a Maverick and played in the big final game but that's about it.
So then everybody was ready to play. All that they were waiting for was the big mystery player! If you are thinking this would be the big final enormous crossover... you'd be dead wrong. The final player was none other than President Of The United States Theodore Roosevelt, played by Claude Akins.
Okay, I guess if this was a true story and we were actually there the last player being Roosevelt would be AMAZING. But as a final big stunner for the viewer it was kinda weak. I kept thinking maybe he'd be important to the game, something stunning would happen that you needed him there for. But instead he just bowed out of the game when he found out his wife knew what he was doing and would be getting verrrry angry with him. So you bring in tough guy President Theodore Roosevelt just so you can portray him as hen pecked.
To cheer myself up I'm going right to the final and most unique crossover.
Have Gun Will Travel
This crossover happens even though the star of Have Gun Will Travel died well before this film was made and did not even appear in it. Have Gun Will Travel starred Richard Boone as the man known simply as Paladin. Like Bat Masterson he was not your typical "cowboy". Smart and refined Paladin was a gambler and gunfighter for hire. His calling card had a white chess knight - a paladin - on the front and "Have Gun, Will Travel" on the other along with info on how to contact him. His base of operation was the Hotel Carlton in San Francisco.
The big card game? It was being held in the Hotel Carlton. I didn't even notice. Then the game began and the dealer announced that the game would be being played with the late Mr. Paladin's personal deck of cards and that, by his rules, the game would last till dawn. I may have my gripes about this movie but that final Paladin plot point was freakin' awesome! There was no need for it in the plot but they threw it in and just worked! It was such a surprise and a nice tip of the hat to a character and actor who would never have been able to be in the film otherwise.
For those enthralled enough to want to know how it all turned out, the players were eliminated one by one until only Brady and Sir Colin were left. And you won't believe this but Brady won! Not only that, he donated his winnings to the orphans! And then an earthquake rocked the hotel. No, really. Then Brady makes a comment like, "An earthquake? In San Francisco? Impossible!" Then another tremor hits. The end. Ha ha ha. That Brady! He's such a card.
If all you are looking for is crossover info, stop here. I have just one more thing to add though. I have been hard on this film and would out of fairness like to draw attention to one of the parts of it I did find very amusing. There is one scene where Diamond Jim's chuck wagon cook has a speech that references eleven different western TV shows! For all my griping that scene did make me laugh. Now before you read it, let me say this very clearly: this site is not about reference jokes. If you are looking to e-mail me with some help for the site, please don't send me reference jokes unless they are full fledged crossovers. I present this particular reference joke as an exception, because it was very clever and because like I've said I've harshed the rest of the movie so much. That said, I present what I'll call "Cookie's Lament". Another of Diamond Jim's employees has just left after annoying Cookie who is preparing dinner. The curtain rises...
"I would love to give that foul a whiff of gunsmoke. Run his maverick butt right off of this wagon train. Of course he's probably already wanted dead or alive by some lawman. I wish Diamond Jim would get rid of him, settle down in some big valley, build a little house on the prarie, surrounded by high chaparral. Oh that would be a bonanza for me. I'm getting too old for this wild wild west. Oh well. Better get these doggies rolling before these steaks start turning into rawhide."
I think it's very funny.Other Cheyenne Links
Cheyenne and Bronco
Cheyenne and Kung Fu Part 2
Cheyenne and Kung Fu - The Legend Continues
Other Kung Fu Links
Kung Fu and Cheyenne Part 2
Kung Fu and Kung Fu - The Legend Continues
Kung Fu and Kung Fu - The Legend Continues Part 2
Other Maverick Links
Maverick and Bret Maverick
Maverick and Young Maverick
Other The Rifleman Links
The Rifleman and Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater
The Rifleman and Law Of The Plainsman
Kung Fu Season 2 DVD article!
Click here to return to main Crossover List
Buy these shows on Amazon.com and support this site at the same time! Check out the Gambler movie this article talks about as well as the various western shows it crosses over all on DVD!