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Gunsmoke's Hackett: Earl Holliman & Morgan Woodward Guest Star

Gunsmoke's Hackett aired on March 16, 1970. Earl Holliman stars as Will Hackett, an ex-con gunslinger seeking revenge against former partner Quentin Sargent (Morgan Woodward) who had run out on him during a train robbery years earlier.

CBS-TV's Gunsmoke (1955-75) is the longest-running western in the history of the small screen for good reason – quality. Earl Holliman and Morgan Woodward guest star in the 1970 episode "Hackett," the story of an ex-convict gunfighter returning to Kansas to confront his old partner in crime.

Gunsmoke's Hackett: Cast & Credits

William Kelley wrote the teleplay for "Hackett," with longtime Gunsmoke hand Vincent McEveety in the director's chair. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
  • Doc Adams (Milburn Stone)
  • Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake)
  • Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis)
  • Newly O'Brian (Buck Taylor)
  • Will Hackett (Earl Holliman)
  • Quentin Sargent (Morgan Woodward)
  • Geneva Sargent (Jennifer West)
  • Tully (Robert Totten)
  • Bronk (Ken Swofford)
  • Sam Noonan (Glenn Strange)
  • Lathrop (Woody Chambliss) 

Earl Holliman early in his Hollywood career - Los Angeles Times

Hackett: Episode Synopsis

Will Hackett, who had just served a ten-year sentence in the Missouri penitentiary, returns to Kansas to look up "Quentin Sargent" (real name: Schuyler), a one-time member of his outlaw gang. Sargent had cut and run during a robbery years earlier, and Hackett is here to settle the score. Hackett wanders onto Sargent's farm outside of Dodge City, jawing a little with his old partner and eventually introducing himself to Sargent's wife Geneva as the new hired hand.

After dinner, Hackett rides into Dodge City, where he strolls into Miss Kitty Russell's Long Branch Saloon. Although told that the bar is about to close, Hackett begs to differ, drawing down on barkeep Sam Noonan and demanding a bottle of their best whiskey. Kitty eventually tells Hackett that the bottle is on the house, indicating that he should just leave. Hackett does, but not before engaging in a test of wills with Sam.

Hackett has two partners stashed in Dodge, where they are washing away the trail dust via a hot bath and downing their fair share of whiskey. They plan to hit up Sargent for three fast horses and several sticks of dynamite to be used in an upcoming train robbery. Sargent, living in fear of his criminal past, duly obliges, getting the horses and buying the dynamite at Lathrop's mercantile in Dodge on credit. 

While Sargent was away, Hackett had made a pass at Sargent's wife. Sargent leaves a note at the Dodge City marshal's office, which is read by Doc Adams to deputy marshal Festus Haggen, informing them that a train robbery is in the offing. Doc telegraphs Matt Dillon, with Festus and Newly riding out to meet the train. After dynamiting the track, the three outlaws are surprised by Marshal Dillon, who shoots both Tully and Bronk. Will Hackett, however, escapes the ambush and hightails it back to Quentin Sargent's place, where he plans to extract his cruel revenge.

Hackett: Air Date & Network Competition

"Hackett" debuted over CBS on Monday night, March 16, 1970, in the 7:30-8:30 (ET) time slot. Network competition was The Music Scene (ABC) and My World and Welcome to It and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC).

Hackett: Analysis & Review

"Hackett" is in the same mold of many Gunsmoke episodes – the rogue ex-con outlaw returning to Dodge for revenge. A menacing, dusty, unshaven Earl Holliman (1928-) has a field day as the mentally unbalanced Will Hackett, confronting his old partner Quentin Sargent and initially charming the woman of the house. Holliman makes for a grand villain, entering the Long Branch Saloon in one harrowing scene where he demands a bottle of whiskey. Sam the barkeep engages in a heated discussion with Hackett, calling him nothing but a "gun bum" with a big mouth. When told by Sam that the shotgun resting on the bar isn't loaded – he had just cleaned it in fact – Hackett has to find out for himself, placing both barrels against Sam's chest. He then squeezes each trigger – click, click – fortunately proving Sam right.

Holliman's Will Hackett may remind some fans of another Hollywood crazy – Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) – in the 1980 horror film The Shining. In one scene, Hackett wakes up Quentin and Geneva Sargent at the crack of dawn, making good on his promise to build them a new roof. With hatchet in hand, Hackett is seen smashing his way through the rotted timber, raining down pieces of wood and shingle and "apologizing" for the noise.

But Will Hackett's final insane act comes in the Sargents' barn, where he grabs an ax and wails away at a tool shed, which holds a hiding Geneva Sargent inside. Heeere's Hackett?

Gunsmoke was billed as one of television's first "adult" westerns, and the later episodes certainly fit that description. The strong hint of sexual assault is here in "Hackett," as the ex-con makes a play for Mrs. Sargent while the two are alone in the house. Later, while trying to smash his way into the tool shed, the deranged Hackett promises bad things for the lady of the house who smells like soap.

"Hackett" is episode #25 from Gunsmoke's 15th season. "Hackett" can be seen in its entirety on YouTube and elsewhere. 

Top Image

  • James Arness as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke - CBS-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Comments (1)

I love tis series on Gunsmoke episodes, William.

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