Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Yancy Derringer (1958)

Yancy Derringer

Debut: October 2, 1958
Created by Mary Loos and Richard Sale
Starring: Jock Mahoney; X Brands
Synopsis: An adventurer gambler, and dapper Southern gentleman works as a secret government agent in post-Civil War New Orleans.

Trey: Yancy Derringer ran on CBS from October 2, 1958, to September 24, 1959. According to Wikipedia, Sale and Loos based the series on "The Devil Made a Derringer", a short story by Sale that appeared in All-American Fiction in 1938.  Sale was apparently a very successful pulp writer in the 1930s. The the original short story was about a destitute aristocrat who returns to New Orleans three years after the Civil War. In the story, Derringer is given no first name; "Yancy" was added for the series.

We watched episode 15, "The Fair Freebooter," on Amazon Prime. It originally aired on January 15, 1959. In it, the pretty river pirate Coco LaSalle threatens to cause an international incident after she robs Derringer's riverboat, stealing a jeweled necklace, once belonging to Empress Carlota, that is to be returned to the Mexican government. Yancy just wants to get his new shirts he bought from St. Louis back and sets a plan in motion to get both while escorting LaSalle to the Comus Ball.

Jason: I snapped to attention when Yancy declared his passionate intention to retrieve his damn shirts. He'd been waiting for three months already! If he can help smooth over international relations in so doing, fine, but he's got to look good!

Trey: Clothes maketh the man. Anyway, I'd seen the first episode of this series before, but that was all setup really, I imagine this one is more like most episodes. I think this is sort of similar to Barbary Coast with the same sort of spy-type doings and the touch of humor. I think it works better here than there, though. Maybe it's the 30 minute timeframe?

Jason: It definitely works better here! The 30 minute run length for this kind of material is starting to feel revelatory, despite the obvious limitations. At no point are we allowed to be bored as the story goes through its paces. Unlike M Squad, which felt ruthless in its devotion to delivering the plot with absolutely no fat, this episode's scenes almost feel leisurely in pace, allowing us to infer whatever we can about the characters through their dialogue and behavior. No info dumps here. 

Trey: No indeed! It's interesting to me how none of this historical background is explained. No brief exposition on Emperor Maximilian. No dialogue illuminating why an "administrator" is in charge of New Orleans. Either they expected the average viewer to know more history in 1959, or they expected audiences to just roll with it!

Jason: There's just no time for any of that! Here again, I think it works in the show's favor. The dialogue, always in service of the plot, still feels naturalistic enough that it carries us along, leaving any filling in of context to the audience. Kind of refreshing! 

Trey: Another interesting thing: mutiny appears to be stirring among Coco's men, but this doesn't really come to anything in the episode despite a fair amount of setup.

Jason: That's true, and maybe is vestigial evidence of editing for time. That said, this undercurrent of perhaps imminent revolt does lend some extra peril to the scenes in the pirate camp and communicates the treacherousness of this pack of weasels. 

I was further impressed by the seeming lavishness of the sets and costumes. Production values are strong for the era and the setting. 

My verdict: It was pretty good, leading me to wonder if further investigation of 1959 might reveal it be the peak of some kind of golden age of television. 

Trey: It does seem a particularly fertile era. I liked this one as well. It would be interesting to see where this episode fits in the "scale of quality" of the series.

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