Colt .45: The Complete Series Blu-ray Box Set Review: Revolving Peacemaker

Ask anyone not collecting Social Security to name an old Western TV series and you’ll likely get one of two answers: Bonanza or Gunsmoke. However, the genre was a juggernaut during the formative TV years in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with one of the lesser-known series finally making its way to Blu-ray in this exceptional new box set.

Buy Colt .45: The Complete Series Blu-ray

Originally broadcast on ABC between 1957-60, Colt .45 stars Wayde Preston in a very loose adaptation of the 1950 feature film. Set in the 1870s, the show follows Preston’s adventures as the character Christopher Colt, a member of the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps working undercover as a Colt .45 gun salesman while he roots out injustice in the frontier. Given the character’s ramblin’ nature, the series revolves entirely around the lead, with no other regular cast members. This opens up the opportunity for an entirely new adventure in each episode, but removes the easy familiarity of a roster of frequently recurring characters.

The half-hour episode format seems like a poor choice for a Western, and indeed many of the stories seem rushed and half-baked. We no sooner meet and get acquainted with each episode’s cast before Colt is on to his next town in his never-ending quest to eliminate outlaws. His gun-salesman persona is never much in play after the stellar pilot episode, since he barely has time to get each town’s players straight before he leaves, let alone establish a cover identity. The Warner Bros frontier town set gets stale fairly quickly, no matter how they try to redress it and shoot alternate angles, but that’s partly the product of having this new luxury of bingeing episodes.

Future Batman Adam West guest stars in three episodes as three different characters, and watching his masterful work here is a stark reminder that he should have been a top-tier star instead of getting relegated to obscurity after Batman typecasting. He acts rings around the amateurish and wooden Preston, to the extent that it’s like watching two different shows when he’s onscreen. Other notable guest stars include Lee Van Cleef, Charles Bronson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Conrad, Angie Dickinson, and Bonanza’s Dan Blocker.

The show ran into some controversy in its final season when Preston apparently walked off after a dispute about having to do his own stunts. The producers quickly roped in replacement actor Donald May, playing Colt’s equally tall “cousin”, Sam Colt Jr. It’s fascinating to watch his debut episode, as there’s no mention of the switch, he just shows up (with his own reshot title sequence) and gets down to business as usual, which happens to be an unexpected run-in with Jesse James. It’s even more intriguing when Preston returns in the following episode, with the two then trading off as leads for the remainder of the run, except for one fantastic episode starring both actors. 

The box set includes all 67 episodes in black and white, making their home video debut. This is no mere compilation of the show though: it’s an impeccable remaster from 4K scans of the original camera negatives. Each episode is Criterion quality, completely devoid of flaws and rendered in stunningly precise detail. This is clearly the definitive presentation of the series, far better quality than early TV viewers could have ever hoped to pull in on their antennas, and one of the best black and white reproductions I’ve ever seen in movies or TV. Mono sound is also crisp and clear, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. The series is housed in separate standard multi-disc Blu-ray cases for each of the three seasons, with the three cases stored in a slipcase.

The lead acting performances are shaky, the writing is scattershot, but there’s plenty of treasure to be found amongst the guest performances and occasionally inspired scripts. The best thing about the box set is how amazing the episodes look in this new remaster, giving new generations the opportunity to explore the Wild West of early TV in this immaculate collection.

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Steve Geise

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