Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Maverick Report - "The Goose-Drownder"

"The Goose-Drownder" took me completely by surprise. Its goofy title (a colloquialism for a torrential downpour) and the presence of Gentleman Jack Darby (Richard Long) led me to assume it was a comedy. There are comic moments in "The Goose-Drownder". However, for the most part this tense episode surges with drama. 

The goose-drownder strands Bart and Darby in a decrepit hotel in Silverado, Nevada. The town's population of one consists of Boone Gillis, the hotel's elderly but spirited caretaker. Gillis watches in amusement as his two poker-playing guests--bored silly after being cooped-up for a week--start wagering on the chance to slug each other. Bart wins and almost collects on his bet, when a stagecoach suddenly arrives through the deluge. 

 A woman passenger anxiously asks for help for her ailing brother. After Bart helps the pair get settled in, he realizes that the man isn't just ill--he's been shot, and is bleeding badly. Plus, he's armed. The woman and another passenger tend to the wounded man, whom Gillis has recognized as The Arapaho Kid, a murderous bandit. 

The woman is familiar to Bart, as well. She is Stella, a dance-hall girl he met in Abilene only months before. They spent some meaningful time together. Not that meaningful to Stella, perhaps--she absconded with Bart's watch and his $350. 

When Bart gently confronts Stella about his watch, she pretends not to remember him from Abilene. Then, she 'fesses up, but refuses to return the watch. Later, Stella admits to Bart that the man she's caring for isn't her brother, but someone who rescued her from the saloon. She tells Bart her life story. Bart urges Stella to give her story a happy ending by leaving the abusive gunslinger she's entangled with. Blinded by her foolish love for the bandit, she contemptuously calls Bart a "boy" who could never measure up to a "real man" like the Arapaho Kid. 

Meanwhile, Darby has learned why the Kid and his crew were on the stage in the first place--to steal its cargo, the payroll of a local mine. He also learns that the stage driver is an imposter, and discovers the murdered body of the real driver in the floodwaters. 

Back inside the hotel, Bart is forced to operate on the increasingly delirious Kid. Bart successfully removes the bullet, but the dying Kid turns on him and orders Stella to shoot Maverick. Stella hesitates. Bart tenderly begs her to save his life, and her own, by not committing murder. He admits he has deep feelings for her, but won't try to hold on to her if she feels nothing for him.

The Kid sneers at Bart's heartfelt declaration and tries to kill him and Stella. Maverick beats him to the draw. Darby glibly congratulates Bart on his lifesaving "performance" with Stella. Bart promptly decks him. "Just collecting a debt," Maverick insists. But, Darby wonders if there was something more to that punch. The rain subsides and Stella leaves on the next stage to find a new life. Bart watches her go, and then he and Darby prepare to move on. Until the rain starts again... 

Jack Kelly expertly shows us several sides of Bart's personality in "The Goose-Drownder". One minute, Bart is bantering with Darby; the next he's reminiscing with Stella; then, he must perform makeshift surgery on a half-crazed outlaw; finally, he has to plead for his life. Since Stella has caused almost nothing but trouble for Bart, we (like Darby) wonder if he is merely to trying to save his own skin when he earnestly professes his love for her at gunpoint. The truth is never revealed, only hinted at when Bart--with his face hauntingly framed in the rain-fogged window--sadly gazes at Stella as she prepares to leave on the stage.

Stella is played with refreshing realism by Fay Spain. Stella isn't the hackneyed dance-hall girl with a heart of gold. Nope, she is one tough cookie, and at times it's hard to tell if she has a heart at all. The rest of the cast of "The Goose-Drownder" is top-notch as well, especially venerable Will Wright as Gillis.