Here are capsule impressions of selected episodes from season five of "The Virginian."
RIDE TO DELPHI -- Guest stars, Angie Dickenson, Warren Oates, Harold J. Stone, Ron Russell.
While tracking stolen cattle, The Virginian encounters an old friend desperate to conceal her saloon girl past. Middling yarn doesn't inspire Drury or rest of stellar cast except for pioneering black actor Bernie Hamilton, who's rock-solid as a proudly self-sufficient homesteader. Hamilton's presence signified the belated beginning of some racial diversity in the series' casting.
THE CAPTIVE -- Guest star, Susan Strasberg.
John Grainger shelters a white girl raised by Indians while her birth parents are sought. Director Don Weis taps the magical sensitivity of former Broadway Anne Frank Strasberg in absorbing drama. Her defiance at being forced to live under a white man's roof sparks a stormy confrontation with Charles Bickford over dining rooom etiquette. In his early episodes as the new owner of Shiloh, Bickford emerged as a stern but benevolent, kingly figure that viewers could easily warm to.
AN ECHO OF THUNDER -- Guest stars, Linden Chiles, John Anderson, Jason Evers.
Trampas is dissatisfied with a nervous sheriff's explanation of a friend's death and seeks his own answers. McClure rides high in traditional saga, put over with gusto by director Abner Biberman, that has the nostalgic tingle of a Randolph Scott oater from the fifties. Other rewards include Anderson's leathery magnitism, Franz Waxman's stirring score and McClure's agile maneuvering through a harrowing climactic gunbattle.
DEADEYE DICK -- Dreamy adolescent with a dime-novel sensibility idolizes The Virginian. Amusing episode puts Drury in unaccustomed light comedy situation that doesn't topple into silliness thanks to the steady hand of director Ida Lupino. Alice Rawlings is perky and endearing as the naive dreamer, and McClure is very funny in a comic relief stint.
BELOVED OUTLAW -- Elizabeth Grainger is determined to tame a wild white stallion with kindness and patience. Sara Lane's fresh, outdoorsy appeal and a remarkably expressive equine co-star breathe life into standard horse opera reminiscent of "My Friend Flicka." The sturdy Lane opened the door to more adventurous storylines than were feasible with the series' original ingenue, the rather dainty Roberta Shore. Lane lacked Shore's embracing warmth though.
LINDA -- Guest stars, Diane Baker, Frank McGrath.
During a stagecoach trek, The Virginian meets a mysterious woman linked to a criminal conspiracy and falls under suspicion himself. Sophisticated script by Frank Fenton provides blue-suited Drury with dapper vehicle, easily his best of the season. Baker lends her usual elegance to unusual role, and feisty former "Wagon Train" regular McGrath is still the life of the party in one of his last roles.
THE LONG WAY HOME -- Guest stars, Pernell Roberts, Michael Burns, Noah Beery Jr.
Roustabout struggles to settle down and reconnect with his estranged wife and son. Free at last after years of playing the colorless Adam Cartwright on "Bonanza," Roberts feasts on meaty role of charismatic born loser, and even gets to sing. Drury, McClure, Bickford and Beery back him with their customarily good work. Earnest, wide-eyed boy actor Burns is too sticky.
VENGEANCE TRAIL -- Guest stars, Ron Russell, Mary Ann Mobley.
Revenge-bent brother of robber Stacey Grainger killed in self-defense joins a Shiloh cattle drive. Director Thomas Carr, an old hand at churning out tightly budgeted oaters, makes patchwork epic, heavily reliant on stock inserts, fairly atmospheric. The forthright Drury and L.Q. Jones as the carefree wrangler Belden add flavor. But Russell and Don Quine do not, and sumptuous Mobley has a meager role. The brooding Quine didn't project enough personality to sink a very deep bootprint in the series.
THE MODOC KID -- Guest stars, John Saxon, Harrison Ford.
The Graingers are held captive by fugitive bank robbers. The "Introducing Harrison Ford" credit is too optimistic: Stardom was still a galaxy far, far away for the durable actor. He's fine here as a moody bandit, but suspenseful episode belongs to Saxon's swaggering Modoc Kid and the steely Bickford. Good to see amiable Clu Gulager back on board and ready to save the day as deputy sheriff Ryker after a half-season absence.
MELANIE -- Guest stars, Victor Jory, Susan Clark.
An eastern woman visiting Shiloh falls in love with Trampas, but a dark cloud hangs over their romance. McClure dutifully takes his turn at weepy story similar to the mawkish "Felicity's Spring" that Drury slogged through in season three. This episode is easier to take, thanks to a more polished production, a less sudsy script and tactful acting by McClure and sugar-free budding star Clark.
BITTER HARVEST -- Guest stars, Larry Pennell, Whitney Blake, John Lupton.
During a produce-buying trip, The Virginian gets unwittingly caught in the middle of an escalating dispute between ranchers and homesteaders. Agreeable episode written by Andy Lewis finds mature angle to ancient B-western plot and comes up with surprising resolution. Drury obligingly makes way for gritty turn by Lupton as a peaceful sodbuster who abides by his principles despite taunts and bullying. Supporting player Russ Conway is equally good as a stoic boss rancher who also wants to avoid gunplay.
A WELCOMING TOWN -- Guest stars, Robert Fuller, Frank Overton, Carole Wells.
Trampas suspects a traumatized girl knows more about a puzzling death than she's willing to say. McClure sifts clues like a sagebrush Perry Mason in modest mystery graced by the gifted, gorgeous young Lynda Day George, who steals spotlight from guest stars with a vibrant performance as the tormented keeper of secrets. Odd to see Fuller, the quick-draw star of "Laramie," without a gunbelt.