The Wanted: Dead or Alive finale is the last time Steve McQueen acted on TV
A famous director and a beautiful locational made for a fond farewell.
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By 1961, Steve McQueen was already a movie star. The Magnificent Seven saw to that. The thrilling 1960 Western, a remake of the Japanese classic Seven Samurai, turned McQueen into a true action hero. But McQueen was still performing on TV, as bounty hunter Josh Randall on Wanted: Dead or Alive. (For younger generations, this was akin to how Bruce Willis did another season of Moonlighting after Die Hard.)
One could argue that McQueen was a movie star when Wanted kicked off in 1958 — he was on theater marquees as the star of The Blob the same week that Wanted premiered. So, by the time the Western reached its finale, "Barney's Bounty," in the spring of 1961, McQueen was undeniably too big for the small screen. Remember, this was a time when television was seen as a significant step down in fame from movies. This is why "Barney's Bounty" turned out to be McQueen's final TV role. He continued acting for another two decades, until his death in 1980.
But if "Barney's Bounty" was to be McQueen's farewell to television, at least he went out with cinematic flair. In fact, one of the great directors of Hollywood helmed the episode. Richard Donner was the visionary behind the camera in this fantastic finale, showing off his chops years before he directed The Omen, Superman, The Goonies and Lethal Weapon.
The setting, in particular, helped this Western tale stand out. In fact, it as "West" as you can get — the showdown takes place on the beaches of California. One rarely sees the ocean in TV Westerns, and Donner makes great use of the location, a gorgeous, rocky stretch of sand in Malibu. Actually, it's probably not far from where Jim Rockford lived on The Rockford Files, or where Charleton Heston discovered the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes.
Donner makes effective use of high, overhead angles, as the sun flickers off the rippling waves. Like any good cowboy finale, there is a "sunset," only John Randall does not ride into it — it's a sunset over the Pacific waters. The "Barney" of the story is neither Fife nor Flintstone, but rather Barney Durant, played by Noah Beery Jr., who, coincidentally, went on to be a regular in The Rockford Files.
There's even more for Western fans to be found here. Richard Alexander turns up in the episode as a blacksmith named "Nels Svenson" — which is funny, because he played the blacksmith Nils Swenson on The Rifleman! So, does this mean that Josh Randall and Lucas McCain exist in the same universe?