Alias Smith and Jones was a series which made a great many friends in the UK, broadcasting on Mondays at 8.00pm on BBC2 in the early 1970s. The Beeb’s second channel used to have a reputation for securing American shows that were just a little offbeat for its schedules of the time, and this was no exception. And you had the chance to win one of three sets of the ENTIRE SERIES in our DVD competition.
Three series of the show were made, and Fabulous Films give you the option of buying these individually or in one collector-friendly complete set. Created and produced by Glen A Larson (he of Magnum PI, Knight Rider, and Buck Rogers fame), this was a Western series that originally aired Stateside on ABC from January 1971 to January 1973. Tragically, this was one of those series not just remembered for its excellent production values, but also for having to replace one of its two leads mid-season, due to suicide.
It starred Pete Duel and Roger Davis as Hannibal Heyes, and Ben Murphy as Jedediah ‘Kid’ Curry, outlaw cousins who are trying to reform. Operating primarily in Wyoming, according to their ‘Wanted!’ posters, they had been the “… leaders of one of the worst bands of desperadoes the Territory has ever had to deal with… Reward $10,000.”
There are two streams of thought as to the origins of the series. On the one hand, it has similar themes as the 1969 film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. The names ‘Smith’ and ‘Jones’ were used as aliases in that movie when, prior to one of their final hold-ups, the characters are outside a bank in Bolivia, and Sundance turns to Butch and says “I'm Smith and you're Jones.”
They also borrowed some of the movie’s characters, including Kid Curry – who was a real life cold-blooded killer. In order to lend them an element of audience sympathy, Heyes and Curry were presented as men who avoided bloodshed and were always attempting to reform and seek redemption for their ‘prior ways’ – something that was outlined in the opening credits every week: “Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two most successful outlaws in the history of the west. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone. This made our two Kansas cousins very popular with everyone but the railroads and the banks.”
Also established in the credits was that they had to stay out of trouble in order to gain amnesty for their crimes to date. As the Governor’s Assistant notes: “’til then only you, me and the Governor will know about it. It'll be our secret.” And so Heyes became Joshua Smith, and Curry was Thaddeus Jones.
The second stream of thinking which ebbed towards this series was an ABC-TV Movie of the Week from 17 March 1970 entitled “The Young Country”. This was written and directed by Roy Huggins, who was a writer and producer on Maverick (1957-1962), mainly on the earlier seasons. The story has a feel of that format, as it concerns itself with Stephen Foster Moody, who is ‘a serious student’ of gambling rather than seeing himself as a ‘professional’ who, after serving in both the Union and Confederate armies during the war, “took an oath to avoid hard liquor and hard work”.
Aside from the plot, we have links to Alias Smith and Jones in that Roger Davis plays Moody, and Pete Duel was Honest John Smith, his partner and competitor-friend. Interestingly, it turns out that Duel was originally cast as Moody, with Huggins swapping him to the other role when he became aware of Davis. According to a video interview, Davis states that Duel had no problem with this, and saw it as a good move for both of them. Huggins, meanwhile, went on to be the Executive Producer on Alias Smith and Jones.
Tragically, despite never shooting anyone on screen, the story goes that Pete Duel shot himself on New Year’s Eve 1971, aged just 31.
ABC insisted the show carry on, threatening breach of contract if they didn’t, and within 12 hours of Duel’s death they were re-shooting scenes, with original narrator Roger Davis taking over the role of Heyes on Season 2 episode 19 “The Biggest Game in the West”. The role of narrator then fell to television journalist and previous host of The $64,000 Challenge, Ralph Story.
Davis had not limited himself to narration on the series to this point, as he had appeared on-screen in episode 4 of season 2, playing Danny Bilson in “Smiler with a Gun.”
The decision to continue so quickly was heavily criticised and the show was cancelled after just 17 more episodes. Some say the demise of the TV western series was happening at the time, which didn’t assist matters. Interestingly, many fans of the Pete Duel version of Heyes, who were very upset at the sudden change, have since noted that in retrospect Davis, and the episode quality of his run, was just as good.
Guest stars to look out for include:
Roger Davis insists that following the cancellation of the series, there were attempts by Roy Huggins to relaunch the show for another season, filming in Spain with the BBC co-producing. Given the success of the series in the UK, this isn’t beyond the realms of possibility, but the attempts came to nothing. Davis went on to guest star in the likes of McCloud, Ironside, The Rockford Files, The Bionic Woman, Quincy ME, Wonder Woman, Galactica 1980, The Highwayman, Matlock and Night Man.
Ben Murphy, meanwhile, went on to be a huge Cult TV star, fronting Gemini Man (a spin on The Invisible Man), Lottery!, Berrenger’s, Dirty Dozen: The Series and The Chisholms, co-starring in Griff with Lorne Greene, and guest starring on the likes of Marcus Welby MD, Trapper John MD, Fantasy Island, Matt Houston, Hotel, Scarecrow and Mrs King, Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, The Twilight Zone, Shades of LA, Dr Quinn Medicine Woman, Silk Stalkings, Baywatch Nights, Seven Days, The District, NCIS, JAG, Judging Amy and Cold Case.
The significant extra on this set is a commentary on the pilot movie from Glen A Larson. This is a leisurely stroll through some of the memories, and sounds like it was recorded about a decade ago. It would have benefited from Glen being prompted by someone interviewing him, but it does feel like he’s actually watching the footage with you, something that on occasion with other curated commentaries you don’t get.
All in all, a series worthy of any Cult TV collection, and the comedic action-adventure makes for fun viewing. Well worth checking out!
Alias Smith and Jones – The Complete Series is out now from Fabulous Films / Fremantle Media Enterprises. The ten disc set has a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of 2,566 minutes approx, and a RRP of £69.99 – or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com
Alternatively, Season One is a four disc set, running time of 771 minutes approx, with a RRP of £29.99.
Season Two is also a four disc set, running time of 1,184 minutes approx, with a RRP of £29.99.
Season Three is a two disc set, running time of 611 minutes approx, with a RRP of £19.99.