“Five-Gun Final,” an episode of “Frontier Town,” finds a wild west lawyer hero and his W.C. Fields sound-alike sidekick investigating a new newspaper that is trying to put the responsible competition out of business through the 19th century equivalent of insider stock-market information.
It’s a pretty good mystery at the start … with gun-toting Atty. Chad Remington looking for an apparent leak in the news flow. Telegraphed out-of-town livestock prices are showing up in the “Dobe City Democrat” before they are printed by its competition, “The Independent” — whose correspondents gathered the cattle sale info in the first place. His solution: A couple of attempts at fake news to trap the opportunistic publisher.
With only a half hour to tell the tale, there is not a lot of character development beyond the cliches of the dedicated editor, his pretty daughter, and a printer who — surprise — drinks. These won’t surprise anyone who has listened to other programs where the Western genre crosses trails with the newspaper drama. The story even has a couple of red herrings and a bar room scene, but not much surprise at the end. Still, it does argue for the importance of newspapers as a source of information even on the cattle trail.
Radio historian J.David Goldin dates the episode as July 09, 1949 and identifies the star aa Jeff Chandler — sounds like “Tex Chandler” on the recording. Paul Franklin was the writer-director, and Wade Crosby played the alcohol-oriented right-hand man. Goldin also credits Franklin with the radio adaptation of a more famous Wild West newspaper yarn, Edna Ferber’s “Cimarron” eight years earlier. Further coincidence, the DigitalDeli radio history blog found a 1949 ad promoting “Frontier Town,” comparing it to “Cimarron” (a hit novel and movie) as a serious-minded Western in a medium full of children’s cowboy action shows: ”Radio’s first authentic class-A half-hour Western dramatic series. The Cimarron and Red River of radio.”
The “Five Gun Final” episode title is a tip of the hat to a classic newspaper play and movie, “Five-Star Final,” which I have written about in relation to the radio series “Big Town.”
The announcer’s scene-setting opening speech for “Frontier Town,” given over rising chords from a studio organ, is also reminiscent of the intro to early episodes of “Big Town” a decade earlier… Paul Franklin also had a hand in that series.
In “Big Town” every episode had a newspaper focus, while in “Frontier Town” this is the only newspaper story mentioned in Goldin’s plot summaries at Radiogoldindex.com
The audio recording above is from the old time radio collection of Frontier Town episodes at the internet archive. If you are a fan of this series and run into other episodes mentioning newspaper editors or reporters, please let me know!