"Bearcats!" / "Powderkeg" (1971)

Rod Taylor played Hank Brackett in the pilot movie, "Powderkeg," and the series, "Bearcats!" on CBS.

Thanks to John Boyle for the contents of this page:

"Bearcats!" was Rod Taylor's second attempt at a weekly television series. It centered on a pair of soldiers of fortune in the American Southwest circa 1914. That timeframe gave the series a different flavor, being something other than a traditional Western, or yet another detective series set in the present. The concept appealed to Taylor when it was presented by series creator, veteran Hollywood writer/producer Douglas Heyes (who also had worked with Taylor on a "Twilight Zone" episode).

Taylor's character, Hank Brackett, is a former Army captain, a veteran of the Spanish-American War campaign in the Philippines. Brackett had left the Army and settled in the Southwest, where he became known as a troubleshooter.

At some point Brackett saved the young Johnny Reach (Dennis Cole) from unjustly being lynched as a cattle rustler. Together they cleaned up a couple of border towns in self-defense, and eventually people started coming to them for help.

Hank and Johnny had to get a bit mercenary about the jobs they would take and set their fee as a signed blank check. They would fill in the amount only after successfully completing their job -- the amount being determined by the degree of difficulty encountered. Their rationale was simple: If you could put a dollar amount on your trouble, then you didn't need their help badly enough.

Typically they worked for railroads, landowners or the government. As private citizens they were able to cross the Mexican border where normal lawmen or the military could not go.

The period during which "Bearcats!" was set allowed for the use of unexpected props in what was essentially a Western -- including machine guns and airplanes. In the first episode, they fought a bandit who stole an Army tank to rob banks. Another episode saw them fighting a group of Germans who were attacking Mexican villages dressed as U.S. soldiers, in an attempt to get Mexico to attack the United States, thus preventing America from joining the war against Germany.

Brackett was responsible for the clever plans the pair had to come up with to defeat their well-organized foes. As the younger of the pair, Reach would often do the more athletic stunts.

The main source of conflict in their relationship was a good-natured competition for some of the inevitably beautiful (and available) women they would meet in their adventures.

Taylor played Brackett with his usual light touch and charm. However, he could be tough and deadly serious if the circumstances demanded. Brackett reminds me of Taylor's character as Capt. Jack Savage in "Fate is the Hunter" (1964).

Off-screen, Taylor often was less than charming in his fights with CBS. He was adamant about making the show different, as he told a 1971 TV Guide article:

The one thing we've got going for us is the era. It was an interesting and funny era, with old-fashioned melodrama and hissing the villain. ... Let's play this partly for laughs, with the broad gesture and even maybe the girl tied to the railroad tracks. ... The show should have the feeling of looking at daguerreotypes.

He also fought to take the characters away from the Southwest occasionally and capitalize upon the onset of World War I. And there were fights over censorship, too, with Taylor roaring, "What do you mean I can't look euphoric after that night with the beautiful Mexican broad?"

Taylor won most of the battles, but the show lost the ratings war.

EPISODE GUIDE

Just like "Hong Kong" in 1960-61, Taylor's show went up against one of the most popular programs on TV: In its 8 p.m. time slot on Thursdays, "Bearcats" faced "The Flip Wilson Show" and lost.

Here's a guide to the series, which was produced by Filmways and Taylor's own Rodlor Inc.

0.1 -- "Powderkeg" -- April 16, 1971

In the series pilot TV movie, Brackett and Reach are hired by a railroad to rescue 70 hostages on a moving train. Guest stars include Fernando Lamas and Luciana Paluzzi, who also was Taylor's leading lady in "Chuka" and an episode of "Hong Kong."

1.1 -- "The Devil Wears Armor" -- Sept.16, 1971

A stolen Army tank is knocking over banks along the border. John Vernon (Dean Wormer in "Animal House") guest stars.

1.2 -- "Ground Loop at Spanish Wells" -- Sept. 23, 1971

German soldiers -- dressed as American troops -- are raiding border towns to start a war with Mexico. Henry Darrow ("The High Chaparral") guest stars as the Mexican Army pilot, Estaban.

1.3 -- "Dos Gringos" -- Sept. 30, 1971

A Mexican Army assassin is out to kill a revolutionary who's raising money in the United States. Guest star is Eric Braeden of "The Rat Patrol" and "The Young and the Restless."

1.4 -- "The Feathered Serpent " -- Oct. 7, 1971

A group of would-be revolutionaries hold a town hostage. Guests include Henry Silva, who appeared with Taylor in "The Story of Marjorie Reardon" and "A Gathering of Eagles."

1.5 -- "Hostages" -- Oct. 14, 1971

As revenge for his father's hanging five years before, an ex-convict kidnaps a priest and demands a town to hang one of its citizens. Guest stars Ed Flanders ("St. Elsewhere"), David Canary ("Bonanza" and "All My Children") and Erin Moran ("Happy Days").

1.6 -- "Conqueror's Gold" -- Oct. 28, 1971

A newspaperwoman hires Brackett and Reach to rescue workers being held at an archeological site by bad guys seeking treasure. Kevin McCarthy ("A Gathering of Eagles," "Hotel" and "The Hell With Heroes") is among the guest stars.

1.7 -- "Blood Knot" -- Nov. 4, 1971

Tensions erupt between Brackett and Reach when oil well sabotage -- and murder -- erupt in a town wanting to destroy an Indian village.

1.8 -- "Assault on San Saba" -- Nov. 11, 1971

A German military intelligence officer takes over a Texas prison for recruiting saboteurs. The puzzle for Brackett and Reach: How to break into a prison.

1.9 -- "Bitter Flats " -- Nov. 18, 1971

Brackett and Reach take on a ruthless rancher when the son of a friend disappears on a secret Army mission. Guest starring is Keenan Wynn, who also appeared with Taylor in "The Treasure Seekers."

1.10 -- "Tiger! Tiger! " -- Nov. 25, 1971

Brackett uses himself as bait to stop a saboteur who's destroying supply shipments.

1.11 -- "The Big Gun" -- Dec. 2, 1971

A renegade Army colonel steals artillery to destroy a convoy of explosives bound for England. Leslie Nielsen ("Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun") guest stars.

1.12 -- "The Return of Estaban " -- Dec. 23, 1971

Pilot Estaban (see Ground Loop at Spanish Wells, episode 1.2) returns to help surprise a gang that's out to rob and destroy a mining town. Henry Darrow reprises his role as Estaban. Also guest-starring is William Smith, who appeared with Taylor in "Darker Than Amber," "The Deadly Trackers" and an episode of "Masquerade."

1.13 -- "Man in a Cage " -- Dec. 30 1971

Johnny must rely on a convict to help him save Hank and a gubernatorial candidate.

 

 

Click for gallery

LINKS

IMDb - Powderkeg (pilot)

IMDb - Bearcats! (series)

Wikipedia

The Thrilling Detective: Hank Brackett and Johnny Reach

TV Party.com: Recalling "Bearcats!"

TV Guide article, Oct. 23, 1971

Bearcats is vintage Rod Taylor,
Australia Women's Weekly, 1972

Powderkeg plot is explosive, Australia Women's Weekly, 1973

 

VIEWERS GUIDE

DVD on Amazon.com

Episodes on YouTube

 

THE CAR

The soldier-of-fortune business must have paid well, as Brackett and Reach traveled in a new Stutz Bearcat -- then a $2,000 sports car that would be the equivalent of a Corvette, Ferrari, or Mercedes SL today. The Stutz Bearcat was the most famous American sports car of its era. Production continued well into the 1920s, when it entered folklore as part of the "Jazz Age."

The car provided the name of the series, although you could also assume that Brackett and Reach were "bearcats" -- tenacious fighters.

An actual 1914 Stutz -- valued at $40,000 in 1971 -- was used in "Powderkeg." For the series, Hollywood custom car builder George Barris was commissioned to make two authentic replicas of a 1914 Bearcat. (Barris also made a third car to display at car shows.) For safety and reliability, the replicas had modern engines and running gear.

The pair of replicas used in the show reportedly cost $25,000 -- this at a time when a new Corvette sold for $5,000 and the most expensive American car sold for $8,000.

John Boyle owns and restored one of the two TV cars (pictured at left in the show, and below, restored). Boyle's car is in Washintgon state. Barris' display car is in a Minnesota collection. The other TV car is now in a collection in Michigan.

 
         
   

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