26 Men: Volume One

26 Men: Volume One (1957)
Alpha Video
Cast: Tristam Coffin
Extras: Chapter Stops, Trailers

In 1957, ABC TV(via ABC Films) proposed to shoot a Western TV series to compete with Warner Brothers' huge hit, "Maverick." The result was a rough-and-tumble outdoor saga called "26 Men".

Filmed mainly on location in Arizona, "26 Men" aired on ABC television between 1957 and 1959, and was based on stories of the Arizona Rangers around 1901. Many of the tales were based on actual file incidents, adding authenticity, as the Rangers brought various outlaws and killers to justice. There are 26 Rangers, because, as Captain Ryning says, "That's all they're willing to pay for".

Public Domain giant Alpha Video released this sparse DVD at the end of 2005. It's low-budget, but it's fascinating. One of the best Western series of the 50's, "26 Men" starred Tristam Coffin. The tall, silver-haired Coffin was usually cast as a crooked lawyer, a shifty businessman, or a gang-boss in B-pictures. In 1949, he starred in Republic's "King of the Rocket Men". Here, in the weekly Western "26 Men", he plays Captain Ryning of the Arizona Rangers. Coffin is perfect in the part of the tough Ranger captain.

Episode Two features one-time "Our Gang" star, and Hollywood celebrity, Robert Blake. "26 Men" was filmed on location around Camelback Mountain, the Superstition Mountains, and at Cudia City. Named after it's founder, Cudia City was a 2-street Western set at 40th Street and Camelback in Phoenix, Arizona. It mysteriously burned to the ground in 1967. But, Mr. Cudia's name lives on.

Alpha Video's unrestored transfer is from the original 35mm print. It contains white-outs, spreckles, cuts, and splices. The mono track fades poorly in several desert locations. Yet, somehow, the material overcomes these shortcomings.

As "extras", there are four chapter stops, one for each of the first four episodes and a catalogue, and three trailers for a couple of independent features that have never been seen anywhere.

As a curiousity, Arizona fans can marvel at the pristine landscape of the Phoenix, Scottsdale area 50 years before freeways and shopping-malls marred it forever. "26 Men" is a fast-moving, outdoor adventure-ride down memory lane. And it may have the best theme song of any Western series, written by Russell Hayden. "This is the story of 26 men who rode the Arizona territory… 26 men who lived to ride again and fight for the right and the liberty of all…" Corny huh? I love it.