The Complete Series
COLT .45

Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray $79.95
167 half-hour episodes / B&W / 1.33:1 / SDH
Available from MovieZyng

Whereas some movie studios hid their TV efforts under nom de plumes in the 1950s to avoid the acrimony of theatre owners, Warner Bros. jumped right in and proudly declared their TV productions, even calling their initial anthology series Warner Bros. Presents, which begat Cheyenne and led to a bevy of successful western series, including Sugarfoot, Maverick, and – once the TV western craze had cooled down – private eye shows 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, and SurfSide 6, among others. Nearly all of these were hour-long shows, with the exception of the half-hour westerns Lawman (debuted in 1958) and Colt .45, which aired from 1957-1960  but has rarely been seen since, and and which is now available in a gorgeous boxed Blu-ray set from the Warner Archive.

Loosely inspired by a 1950 Randolph Scott Warner Bros. western of the same name, Colt .45 gives us Wayde Preston as Christopher Colt, nephew of firearms manufacturer Sam Colt and a traveling salesman for the new Colt Single Army Action “Peacemaker” revolver in the 1870s. Or IS he? No, that turns out to be a ruse; Christopher is a secret agent working on various assignments for the U.S. government and the salesman shtick is just a façade, although he’s fast enough on the draw and such a deadeye shot that I’m quite certain that, legitimate or not, he probably topped the Colt sales figures every month over genuine company representatives.

Colt .45 debuted on the ABC network in the fall of 1957 on Friday nights at 10 opposite the hit police procedural series The Lineup; for its second season, it was moved to Sunday nights at 9 as part of what ABC hoped would be a killer lineup of Warner Bros. westerns, following Maverick and the debut of Lawman. Ratings dropped precipitously, however, not helped by the fact that Preston balked at the low pay (reportedly $200 a week), long hours, and dangerous stunts, and half the season ended up in reruns. For the third and final season, ABC brought in Donald May as Chris’s cousin Sam Colt, Jr., moved Colt. 45 down to 7 pm opposite Lassie, and the lightning bolt that drew the Colt was no match for a collie with that kind of personality.

All 67 episodes (26 from season 1, 13 from season 2, and 28 from the final season) are spread across 10 discs; the packaging lists 68 episodes, but don’t get confused: the season three episode The Hothead is listed under both seasons two and three, although the show itself is in the season three set only, where it belongs.

We decided to sample one show from each disc, selected at random, all of which impressed us with the beautiful restoration job, and came away with the following observations.

If the program had one lacking, it was Wayde Preston himself. Tall and handsome with a nice head of curly hair, he wasn’t much of an actor, demonstrated questionable posture, and dressed badly, from what appeared to be a skintight pantsuit that he’d never be able to sit down in (see the season one opening credits) to a shirt with two columns of enormous buttons, just like the ones that the Monkees would make famous a few years later, and let’s face it, no matter how famous your gun is, your tough-guy reputation is going to suffer in retrospect if you look like Davy Jones. Still, he WAS ambidextrous and lightning-quick on the draw and when you have a sidearm the size of an emu, you’re bound to blaze some sort of legend across the landscape. Probably noticing his lack of personality, Warner Bros. had him try growing a mustache, which DID add a bit of gravitas to the role, but due to backstage conflicts, he was replaced by Donald May as Sam Colt, who makes a show out of being called “Chris” and correcting people, although I suppose that was merely penciled into the margins of existing scripts. May was no better than serviceable and when Preston eventually returned (sans mustache) it was hard to tell the two apart.

Producer Bill Orr, interviewed for the book Warner Bros. Westerns (McFarland Press, 1985) stated that Preston “was down on the set shooting a process shot where he had to get up on top of the coach, and he didn’t want to do it. He said it was a stunt – they should get a stunt man.” Preston was out and May (who’d later star in the Warner Bros. show The Roaring 20’s) was in.

As for the episodes themselves, they tend to be simple, entertaining, and violent, with Colt (either Christopher or Sam, take your pick) usually filmed shooting right into the camera, so thanks to the beautiful HD transfers, be prepared to jump off  your couch at a moment’s notice. The low budget and need for speed in the filming of the episodes didn’t allow for much artistry and the various directors whose credits we followed didn’t make a distinct impression, although Lee Sholem (veteran of The Adventures of Superman and Tarzan movies) probably got the best scripts, and we enjoyed Herbert L. Stock, director of some of our favorite American-International monster movies, using his Teenage Frankenstein Gary Conway in the season three episode Absent without Leave. Among the other familiar faces we spotted were Leonard Nimoy, Adam West, Three Stooges foil Kenneth MacDonald as Colt’s chief in the early episodes, Lee Van Cleef, and… well, about 150 others.

There is no bonus material, but the episodes are listed in the packaging and easy to wade through. The 4K scans of what appears to be pristine material is as impressive as any “old TV show” on Blu-ray we’ve had the pleasure to experience, and we’re hoping that Colt .45: The Complete Series – the best classic TV release of the year so far – is only the first in a long line of upcoming Warner Bros. TV classics.

There was a gun that won the West
There was a man, among the best
The fastest gun or man alive
A lightning bolt when he drew that Colt .45.

He carried the message of law and of order
Into a wicked land
With a Colt Single Action Army revolver
Blazing from either hand!

There was the right, there was the wrong
The gun was quick, the man was strong
And peace was made when they arrived
A lightning bolt when he drew that Colt .45.