Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Episode 5: The Soul is the Warrior

This was easily one of my favorite episodes, mostly due to the chemistry and interplay between the main characters: Caine, the local sheriff (Pat Hingle) and a boss landowner, Rankin (John Doucette). What happens is, Caine comes into town looking for Danny. He doesn't find him, but he does find a man Danny wronged (we're starting to learn Danny is a real card, perhaps the anti-Caine), and when this man tries to whup Caine's ass and then kill him, the sheriff, protecting Caine, shoots him dead. This puts the sheriff at odds with the man's dad, Rankin, who, as an agricultural/cattle boss in the real 19th-century sense, is the local law; everything bends at the behest of his monied hand.

Again, the Old West theme is being played out with Caine as a peripheral character. The theme is the legitimate law, as personified by the righteous sherrif, against the corrupt power of the boss, wonderfully played by boom-voiced Doucette. The frontier, with its absence of order except that which is imposed by strength, puts in question which is the greater power, the law or the money. Boss Rankin has a bit of Apache blood in him and credits some of his virile, angry behavior to this. He's also obsessed with snakes, because he is afraid of them. He keeps a big pit of venomous rattlers on his property precisely because it is one of the few things he fears.

The situation between Rankin and the sheriff escalates until Caine finds a way to intervene. In a showdown, Caine asks Rankin if Rankin will forget his vendetta if Caine faces Rankin's snakes. Rankin, the Apache in him finding perhaps some instinctive kinship with the Shaolin in Caine, agrees to this test. We have seen by now that one of Caine's supernatural, Shaolin-taught abilities is that he can calm animals (he used it on a wild horse in the first episode, and calms various dogs and things). Caine centers himself and walks through the snake-pit. When he emerges unharmed, Rankin is incredulous, moved, the situation resolved. Doucette even has a great line in Apache – I'm sorry, I don't remember what it was, I'll have to look it up, but it was something like, "Damn! That Shaolin dude is the man!"

Though I have tried, over the years, to familiarize myself with movies of all genres, I'm not terribly familiar with westerns. Doucette is apparently a veteran character actor who played a lot of bad guy roles. Wikipedia says he was considered by many to be the fastest draw in Hollywood! Hingle is excellent, too, and apparently a well-known character actor like Doucette. You'll probably recognize them both if you see this episode.

Five out of five yin-yangs. I just feel this episode is what the series is all about: Caine as spectator-participant in a classic western story with great actors personifying the genre and an ending you don't see coming. IMDB for the episode here; IMDB on Doucette and Hingle. And apparently, Ron Bishop, the guy that wrote this episode, was a veteran writer for "Gunsmoke" and is considered by many to be one of the best TV western writers ever.

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30 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

While I liked the Kung Fu shows, and watched them with my brother many years ago, sorry, Charlie, I'm not *that* into it to join you for every episode. (Though, my wife and I are expecting our 4th child in July. . . . hhmmm?)

But, I will forever think of David Carradine as Caine/Kung Fu. No matter where else I see him.

Often, I'll see him on the History Channel about some Wild West topic. Funny how a guy who played a Chinese immigrant, usually an outcast or treated like a 2nd class citizen in the shows is so tied to the Wild West.

Mike

12:36 PM  
Anonymous ex-lion tamer said...

Nice review -- I love this episode, too, and you pinpointed some of the reasons why. However, you forgot to mention another renowned character actor who appears in it: Jim Davis, none other than Jock Ewing from Dallas, a few years before he took that career-defining role.

He has a secondary part here, but it's pivotal. Davis also appears in the second-season episode "The Well," which also features Tim McIntire, who himself has a very pivotal role in season three.

Anyway, your blog is great -- keep up the fine work of letting the world know why Kung Fu is such a stellar work of television art.

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlie:

Was there an episode of Kung-Fu where there was a large cement figure or statue of a woman? White and made of cement? And someone hugging it and crying? Or is this just a dream I had as a kid back in '74 after eating too much ice cream? :)

Thanks, Mark

12:49 AM  
Anonymous ex-lion tamer said...

In response to the previous post regarding an episode about "a large cement figure or statue of a woman," yes, there was such an episode -- two, in fact.

You're remembering "The Cenotaph," the two-part second-season finale. It guest-stars Stefan Gierasch in a dual role, one of which is McBurney, an apparently deranged Scotsman intent on burying his "wife" in a particular location while being pursued by seemingly everyone in the west. Caine reluctantly assists him, and flashes back to a conflict he had in China with a warlord and his concubine (Gierasch plays the warlord, too).

It's a great pair of episodes that function well as a two-hour movie. They nicely set up some of the themes to come in season three, and David Carradine does some of his best acting for the series in his scenes with Gierasch.

One note: On the packaging of the Warner Bros. season-two DVD set, the episodes are incorrectly titled "The Cenopath" -- a word that doesn't exist in the English language. Oops.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! Mark

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Blogger Josh Wilker said...

I am very happy this blog exists. Please keep it rolling.

They just started showing nightly episodes on a local station here in Chicago. Last night was "Spirit Helper" co-starring a young Don Johnson as an Indian in a loincloth who spoke with the same halting rhythms as Caine. Johnson (softly): "You ... are my ... spirit helper. There is ... nothing... you cannot do." Carradine (softly): "I ... am just ... a man."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rankin said in Apache "Man - it is sometimes hidden" about caine to jock ewing from dallas.

Caine is able to walk amongst the rattlesnakes as he is shaolin - and being shaolin, he is one with the universe, thus one with the rattlesankes, tigers, horses whatever. And what creature would attack itself?

He is also without fear, and that is another thing Rankin valued, his own (supposed) fearlessness - caine offered him his fear for the sherriff's life. Rankin learned that he is not without fear and that he had a lot to learn about life and humility still. Excellent episode.

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Blogger Greg said...

Hi Charlie. Very pleased to find your blog - I've also re-discovered the Kung Fu show on DVD, and am enjoying it very much.

One thing I'm interested in is all the Budhist philosophy - where did it come from? Were such things well known or documented at the time? Who provided it to the writers?

David Chow is credited with being kung fu advisor to the show. Do you think he provided such content? Or maybe your theory about John Furia having input is the key?

BTW - you can stop some of the spam comment posts you're getting by changing your Blogger settings. Just switch on "Show word verification for comments". More about the can be found here http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=42520

regards

Greg

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