Pernell Roberts - Desideratum

Pernell Roberts - Desideratum

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 Post subject: Elegy for a Hangman - What do you think?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 05, 2016 2:25 pm 
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“Elegy for a Hangman”, in all honesty, has to be one of my favorite Bonanza episodes, not just since it’s an Adam episode, but because it showcases his intelligence, his sense of justice, fairness and the inherit rights that should be afforded everyone. Unfortunately, it’s also the episode where I lost all respect for Ben, because I found him to be a hypocrite. In writing my recent ghost story, I revisited this episode many times, not just for the characters but also for the plot in general. The storyline is in keeping with such wonderful legal courtroom dramas such as “12 Angry Men” or “Inherit the Wind”, except “Elegy” takes place long after the sentence has already been carried out, with the trial, along with the judge, now under scrutiny. This story was also much like “The Ride”, in that Adam had taken up the gauntlet to address the question of whether a man was wrongfully hanged, and like that episode the town was pretty much indifferent to his cause; and in fact, some felt the man deserved hanging. What was different was not only was he standing opposed to a very popular Senator and a beloved Judge, but his own father didn’t support his actions. Early on in the episode, when Adam attempts to get his father to open his eyes to the potential that his friend, Judge Whitaker, might have done something improper in regards to the Jolly hanging, Ben subtly insults Adam by stating he had a habit of “sticking your neck out for the underdog”. Of course, there’s also the initial scene in the saloon after Adam’s grandstand performance, where Ben hangs in head in what appears to be shame, with no acknowledgement whatsoever of his son and he’s at his friend, Judge Whitaker’s table. Finally, we have the confrontation between Ben and Adam, just after Adam’s arrival back in town. Adam is contrite in admitting he wishes he’d never gotten “mixed up in” this situation, before confiding that he’s found evidence to prove that the judge isn’t the man his father believes him to be. Almost apologetically, Adam surreptitiously seeks his father’s understanding and support when he asks “do you want me to go on with it?” Instead of offering even the slightest modicum of support to his own son over that of an old friend, Ben bluntly replies with “You’ve got to live with yourself. You’ve got to do what your conscious tells you is right.” But the coup de grâce, is after the mock hearing when Ben pointedly walks over to show his support of Judge Harry Whitaker without so much as a nod, a hand to his shoulder or any type of acknowledgement whatsoever of his own son, Adam. His own child, who was in the right by proving that an innocent man was wrongfully hanged due to Ben’s old friend, Judge Whitaker, whose failure to perform his sworn duty because of his own secret desire for that railroad to be built in the territory, and possibly his own ambitions of one day sitting on the Supreme Court, as promised to him by the devil’s henchman – Senator Prince.

As to Judge Harry Whitaker, not only was he a doddering, old man with a serious drinking problem, he was a judge with a sworn duty to uphold the law and it was his legal obligation to offer its protection to Carl Jolly whose only ’crime’ was being cantankerous along with owning a vital piece of land wanted by the railroad. Twice in the episode he admitted that he felt Jolly was an obstructionist to the good of the territory, which demonstrated his lack of impartiality toward the man, which no doubt impeded his ability to provide a fair and impartial trial. A good judge would’ve recused himself from the case, but the Judge sold his soul to the devil in the personage of Senator Prince and presided over the trial sentencing an innocent man to death. So is Judge Whitaker evil? Yes, because he put his desires to be liked and to advance his career over the life of an innocent man.

Now, let’s put this shoe on Ben’s foot. If it were him or one of his sons’ that was wrongfully accused, wouldn’t he want justice? Wouldn’t he want his day in court? Wouldn’t he want proper due process and protection under the law? If one of his sons had been accused, arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced and hanged in three days with such flimsy evidence wouldn’t he expect, or more likely, demand the judge in the case to answer his questions? Wouldn’t he want some type of hearing on the matter?

So, what do you think?

Do you feel that Judge Harry Whitaker was evil? If so, why; If not, why not?

Do you think that Ben was a hypocrite by supporting his friend, because in doing so, he really didn’t want the truth revealed, and thus justice to prevail?

Do you think this situation caused a rift between Adam and Ben? Please remember, Ben did support his old friend, over his eldest son.

Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness.


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