The Virginian was the very first 90 minute western on prime-time television, and is about a man, only known as "the Virginian" who served as foreman on the Shiloh Ranch (owned in sequence by Judge Garth, the Grainger brothers, and Col. MacKenzie) in 19th century Medicine Bow, Wyoming. James Drury starred as the title character with the likes of Doug McClure, Lee J. Cobb, John McIntire, and Clu Gulager co-starring. It is in these settings that a variety of stories, much more based on character and relationships than the usual westerns, take place.
Judge Garth is convinced to go to Arapaho, Wyoming, by Roseanna Dobie (Joan Blondell), an old friend. Her son is dead and although it is claimed he had died when thrown off a horse, actually, an old friend of the Judge's, rancher/lawyer Frank Sturgis (John Dehner), had led a group of 13 men who had lynched John Dobie for allegedly beating to death a young woman who had rejected his advances. Roseanna (Joan Blondell) claims her son's innocence and demands his name be cleared by an ""after the fact"" trial. To clear their names and consciences, the Judge manages to get Sturgis to be the prosecutor and to participate in a ""trial"" with the 12 others involved in the lynching, including the dead girl's father, as the jury and the Judge as defence attorney.
The Virginian accidentally comes upon, and is held at gunpoint by, young Lon Mortison (Buzz Martin). The boy had been searching for a gambler who he thinks is responsible for his father's suicide and had already shot and wounded a man who interfered. In order to convince the boy to give himself up, the Virginian recounts in flashback how Trampas first came to Shiloh Ranch. He came seeking revenge on Judge Garth who had been forced to kill Trampas' father (Sonny Tufts) in self-defence. This object lesson serves to get Lon to realize the error of his actions and convince him to surrender to the Sheriff.Watch Now:Amazon
In Santa Rita the Virginian meets an old flame, Savannah (Gena Rowlands), who has been seeing a local man, a very jealous Gordie Madden (Robert Colbert). Savannah is accussed of murdering Madden and the Virginian gets Judge Garth to come and defend her. However, the cards are stacked against them as Madden's wealthy father (Everett Sloan) controls the town, including the Sheriff (Stephen McNally), and wants revenge.
Colonel MacKenzie finds a woman unconscious on a remote mountain trail on the way to visit his hermit friend Muley. He takes her to Muley's cabin and they wait for her to recover as no help is available. She wakes up but is slow to communicate and recover her memory. At the same time another visitor arrives with a lame horse asking to stay until his horse can travel again. As the woman recovers she is attracted to the Colonel in a romantic manner, thinking he is someone she knows, but remembers no details.
The Virginian and crew collect wild horses in the mountains which they are to take to Shiloh Ranch to sell to the army. However, tough widower Pa Kroeger (Eddie Albert) lives in the mountains with his four sons and a daughter and believes he owns the horses. When the Virginian refuses to turn them over, Kroeger goes to great lengths to try and stop the Shiloh crew from taking the animals. Complicating matters are the facts the Kroeger sons think there may be a more reasonable way to deal with the situation and the daughter is attracted to Trampas.
In Coyote Wells to deliver some cattle, the Virginian, Trampas and Steve Hill encounter Martin Reese (David Wayne). Reese had lost his wife and children to smallpox, had sold his farm, and now travels giving lectures urging vegetarianism. His lectures are not received well in cattle country and when one of his hecklers is found murdered, Reese is the main suspect, is seen as a murderous loony and is pursued by a posse. On the way back to Medicine Bow the Shiloh cowboys encounter a woman, Ellen Beecher (Barbara Barrie), who knows of Reese's whereabouts. Ellen has several orphans in her care and the Virginian and crew become involved in trying to help Ellen with the children and in finding and protecting Reese from the vengeful posse.
After delivering a herd of cattle to New Orleans, the Virginian meets and falls for a mysterious woman, Marie Valonne (Madlyn Rhue). He is attacked and the woman disappears. In his attempts to relocate her he comes into conflict with Johnny Madrid (Mark Richman) who controls some corrupt politicians. Despite the assistance of a local police detective, Dan Bohannon (Skip Homeier), the Virginian is unsuccessful in finding Marie and is only left with her picture.
Former n'er do well Willie Caine (Albert Salmi) is now a monk, Brother Thaddeus. He is involved in establishing a mission and boy's school on property owned by Judge Garth and Trampas and Steve Hill are helping to build the mission. A gang, including a former crony of Thaddeus', robs the train and Sheriff Abbott (Ross Elliott) locks him up as an accomplice. Thaddeus manages to escape and with the help of Trampas sets out to track down the gang and exonnerate himself.
Older cowhand Slim Jessup (James Gregory) is accussed of killing a man in Idaho and escapes east. He signs on with a Shiloh Ranch cattle drive to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. On the way the drovers are joined by a young man, James Cafferty (Bandon de Wilde), who wishes a different life than dirt farming with his widowed step-father (Frank Overton). The older Slim takes James under his wing and teaches him lessons in life before his past catches up with him.
Rancher Mike Tyrone (Ed Begley) purhases a ranch near Medicine Bow, and moves there with his daughter Margaret (Beverly Owen), and his two sons (Rees Vaughan and James McMullen). Tyrone tries to force surrounding ranchers to sell their spreads, eventually cutting off the water from a local river that the other ranchers use to water their stocks. However, the conflict is ended by an unexpected decision of Margaret Tyrone.
An orphan who lived with the Graingers in Texas 15 years earlier comes through Medicine Bow. He decides to stay and work for them and is very protective of the Graingers but his years away from them have changed him - in a bad way.
Martin Kalek (Lee Marvin) and his gang kidnap Judge Garth for ransom. The Virginian pays the ransom but the kidnappers refuse to release the Judge until they are able to escape into Idaho. The Kidnappers head off pursued not only by the Shiloh hands but also separately by a former crony of Kalek's called Sharkey (Warren Kemmerling) who is out for revenge on the criminal.
Ne'er-do-well Tom Newcombe is publicly hanged for murdering a woman because the local school teacher, Celia Ames (Colleen Dewhurst), refuses to alibi him. A mysterious man, Paul Taylor (Hugh O'Brien), comes to town, signs on to work as a Shiloh Ranch hand and begins romancing Celia. However, his odd behaviour begins to raise the suspicions of Judge Garth and the local Sheriff who wonder about the motives of the stranger.
Seeking some excitement in his life, Trampas joins a groups of older cowboys (Steve Cochran, James Brown, Claude Akins) who set off to find adventure in what they still believe is the wild, lawless West. However, their outdated attitudes lead them into trouble and eventually, tragedy.
A bounty hunter named George Wolfe (Broderick Crawford) comes to Medicine Bow, having been summoned by a now dead informant who told Wolfe a fugitive is in town. Although the informant had left a letter revealing the fugitive's identity in a lock box at the bank it can not be accessed until the circuit judge can return and issue a court order. Trampas, who had accidentally become involved with some felons two years before, thinks he is Wolfe's quarry and Wolfe is suspicious of him. Before matters can come to a head, however, an outbreak of typhoid fever intervenes.
After she calls for the President to bring in the army to rid the badlands of outlaws, newspaper editor Molly Wood, the Virginian's love interest, is murdered by four of those outlaws: O'Dell (Steve Ihnat), Horn (John Milford), Denver (Berkeley Harris) and their ruthless leader, Colonel Calhoun (Robert Lansing). The Virginian joins a posse but while the other posse members give up he eventually locates the villains' badlands hideout. He poses as a prison escapee, joins the gang and exacts his revenge.
New area rancher Ben Justin (Charles Bronson) is branding a calf when Trampas and Randy Benton and nearby rancher Tom Suchette (George Kennedy) arrive. Trampas politely informs the newcomer that following Stockmen's Association rules no calf should be branded until roundup but Ben says he will brand any calf found on his own land. Tom is less polite and threatens Ben if he does it again. Trampas tells the Virginian what happened so the Virginian visits the Justin ranch. On the way he notices some of Ben's cattle have broken through Justin's fence so Ben rides off when informed by the Virginian. The Virginian tells Ben's wife Mary (Lois Nettleton) that if her husband does not follow Stockmen's rules he will be denied access to the railhead to get his cattle to market and Mary tells him that Ben's young son Will (Bob Random) is her stepson. Ben returns to his ranch in the evening and has a hard time stopping himself from drinking. We learn he thinks he can not trust anyone because back EWatch Now:Amazon
A dispute ends with one man dead, the Sheriff unconscious, and the shooter on the run. The Virginian, Trampas, and David catch the shooter with his family. The softhearted David wants to let the shooter go but The Virginian won't go along.
Tate comes across a deaf and mute Indian boy, who is being hunted by a posse for the killing of a respected rancher. To prevent his being lynched, Tate brings the boy into town himself, and hopes to somehow learn his side of the story. But just about everyone in the town, including the judge, is too anxious to hang the boy quickly, so Tate finds he has to take on the role of defense counsel himself.
The Virginian arrives at Laura Duff's ranch to buy her Angus cattle, only to find that she has lost her head steer due to someone cutting her fence. While she suspects a hostile rancher who wants her land, her son insists that a friendly neighbor is responsible, not only for the cattle but also for the death of his father several months earlier.
In cooperaton with a progressive warden, Judge Garth gets a man named Matthew Cordell (Robert Redford), who had been in orphanages or prison most of his life, paroled into his custody to work at Shiloh Ranch for a year as a blacksmith. Cordell who had been mistreated his whole life, remains aloof and has several run-ins with the ranch hands. He saves Betsy Garth's horse and she begins to fall in love with him but he is more interested in Rita Marlow who owns the local dress shop. Trouble occurs when an old prison friend of Cordell's, Deke (Don O'Kelly), arrives and tries to get him to help rob Judge Garth.
Uncontrollable 16 year old Tabby McCallum (Joan Freeman) is chastised by the Virginian for shooting a shiloh steer. In retaliation she tries to burn down the Shiloh barn but is accidentally shot by a Shiloh hand, Sam Hicks (Charles Aidman). Tabby's brother Bruce McCallum (Carl Reindell), who is from the same mould as Tabby, claims she was deliberately shot while her father, Tucker (Charles Bickford), thinks her boy friend, Dan Flood (Bert Brinckerhof), started the fire. The result is a spiralling series of events which eventually lead to murder.
Columbian Enrique Cuellar (Ricardo Montalban) has inherited land which was leased and used by Judge Garth. The Judge wants to renew the lease or buy the land outright. He minimizes its importance to his operations even though it contains a pass needed to drive his cattle herd between its seasonal ranges. Enrique discovers this deception and demands a large amount of money for the land. The Judge decides to drive his cattle through the land before Enrique can get a legal restraining order and in turn Enrique begins erecting a barbed wire fence to block the passage. A violent confrontation seems inevitable but is prevented by an unpredictable event involving Betsy Garth.
Judge Garth is forced to shoot a man in self-defence but a passerby, Johnny Grey (Ed Nelson), who can prove the Judge innocent, leaves the scene. The Virginian trails Johnny to North Bend, Montana and along the way befriends Angelina Clump (Tammy Grimes) who is heading to the same town to get a job as a saloon singer. In North Bend the Virginian is forced to deal with two problems: Angelina receives threats to leave town from an anonymous stranger and Johnny Grey refuses to return to Wyoming unless he gets money from Judge Garth.
In Mount Gorpus, Montana, Kyle Lawson (Britt Lomond) is framed for the murder of Lawrence Kelland. Kyle had been having an affair with Kelland's wife, Leona (Dana Wynter). The Virginian and Trampas, friends of Kyle, go to Mount Gorpus to investigate the crime. Posing as a cattle buyer, the Virginian begins romancing Leona. Leona eventually confesses to the murder but the Virginian is not so sure she is guilty.