Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wagon Train: The Malachi Hobart Story (1962)

Franchot was the special guest star for Wagon Train's fifth episode in its fifth season. The Malachi Hobart Story aired on January 24, 1962, with Franchot as the title character. Franchot showed up in a handful of western shows in the 1950's and especially, the 1960's. Despite their identification of him as a former film gentleman, the public seemed to embrace Franchot in these rugged cowboy roles and frankly, he was compelling in them. In that gravelly older-Franchot voice, he masterfully adopted a southern accent (so much so that sometimes I hear it faintly in later roles that didn't require it!) and cowboy swagger.

Duke (billed here as Scott Miller-later called Denny) stumbles upon Malachi Hobart (Franchot Tone), a seemingly gracious Southern man who makes his living as a traveling preacher. Malachi extends his camp to Duke, sharing his supper and his shelter.

Duke leaves the next morning to check on friends George and Martha, only to find that drunkard George has died and his long suffering wife Martha paid a traveling preacher $300 to pray George into heaven. Martha believes it was worth the money not to worry about her husband's soul...until George shows up at the door! Turns out he was not dead at all, just off on an epic bender. Duke promises to get the cash back and seeks out Malachi.

Duke confronts Malachi and learns that Malachi is a major conman. Then, Duke does something unexpected. He decides to join Malachi in a gold detector product grift. Malachi guarantees that the detector will sound an alarm when gold is buried underneath it. Of course, it's only an alarm clock inside a box. As sidekick, Duke buys the detector in front of a group of men, then brags about all the gold he found with it. As Malachi gains interest in the product, Duke (hiding) shoots the detector and exposes what's inside. Malachi has to race out of town in his wagon, with Duke jumping in the back, to avoid injury.

When Duke asks Malachi if he ever feels bad about what he does, Malachi answers that he often does more good than harm. Here is that scene in full:

Duke convinces Malachi to seek shelter with the wagon train. The families are eager for a preacher and a moving sermon, and Malachi delivers. Then, when the collection plate is passed around, Duke exposes the fraud once more, changing Malachi's life forever.


The Malachi Hobart Story episode is another great piece of Franchot's television work. Fortunately, this episode is easy to find and watch in its entirety! It's available to stream on the Internet Archive if you click here.

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