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KURT RUSSELL & TIM MATHESON: 'THE QUEST' DOUBLE-FEATURE

year: 1976
combined grade: B+
Before Kurt Russell joined forces with director John Carpenter and Tim Matheson partied with the Delta Fraternity, the ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and ANIMAL HOUSE alumni, both lifelong child actors turned leading men, played estranged brothers reunited in the short-lived Western television series THE QUEST…

And while the first and only season isn't yet (and may never be) on DVD, the pilot episode and THE LONGEST DRIVE is available to the public...  Although the show starts out centering more on crippled gunslinger Tank Logan, played by Brian Keith, who winds up, once Russell’s Morgan and Matheson’s Quinton go to a small town where not only most of the story takes place, but the title is all but forgotten – and there’s not much of a quest, really, yet this is a fun, eclectic ninety minute ride nonetheless.

Russell is the both main character and sidekick. Serving as a Caucasian Tonto with a nickname of “Two Persons,” he was captured at a young age and raised by Native Americans, or as called back in the day, Indians, making his speech halting and his idealism strong, the polar opposite of the more narrow-minded white man surrounding the main stars, including Keith’s Logan...

Which doesn’t mean he’s not an endearing character readymade for audiences to root for: Montage scenes where Tank teaches Quinton (Matheson), who was a young doctor in San Fransisco, how to use a six shooter like a Wild West outlaw are fun and involving, allowing the always likable and wide-smiling Matheson to step out of his co-star’s shadow.

Russell and Matheson’s chemistry, which was to be the basis of the entire show’s plot about two estranged brothers searching for their missing sister, is overshadowed by Brian Keith and his connection with either sibling – as a mentor to one and an example of a flawed but ultimately kindhearted outlaw to the other. So much attention is given Keith, one would except him to headline the series that followed. 

And in the middle of the first and only season, a two-part episode titled THE LONGEST DRIVE has now become a "movie" although it's really a prolonged episode...

Which doesn't mean that DRIVE, where Russell's Two-Persons and Matheson's Quinton help another old man out, isn't a fully fleshed out yarn...

Unlike the intentionally endearing Brian Keith character from the pilot, Dan O'Herily is a tough old codger who, running a dilapidated ranch, needs someone, anyone, to herd his cattle across the plains for enough money to keep the business going. Although O'Herily's Matthew Hatcher does loosen up a bit, he's a hard boss to endure, mostly taking it out on Erik Estrada's Santos, a lifelong ranch hand.

Along with Estrada, who was a year away from his star-making CHIPS role, is an eclectic mix of "losers" including Gary Lockwood as a womanizing gambler; an out of place John Rubinstein as a young sketch artist (you'll notice his character's work above and below)...

 Keenan Wynn as an alcoholic cook (his son Tracy wrote most of the series); Woody Strode as a stubborn blacksmith; and two young brothers with underlying nefarious agenda to steal cattle along the way.

THE LONGEST DRIVE is an involving adventure as this unfit group head out under the scorching sun, and yet the snags that occur along the way, including an Indian visit and a group of armed teenage poachers, are resolved much too easily, leaving the two white trash rustlers with the most potential for an impending threat.

The last part, after a few characters bite the dust early, involve the survivors risking their lives to make the drive on time across the most dangerous terrain, although everything's summed up into one five minute scene where each character, practically dying from the heat, discusses their past, wherein a skinny, wimpy looking Rubinstein, reminiscing on his Yale Football past, takes you out of the Western genre peril... And yet he surprisingly pulls off a good fight scene earlier on, showing he's more than a token wet-behind-the-ears city slicker. And the chemistry between Russell and Matheson is so established and cozy they hardly interact at this point. So in a nutshell, THE QUEST, based on these two available episodes, seemed like a fairly decent show. Too bad, during the mid-to-latter 1970's, the Cowboy genre was no longer popular with television audiences. So keep your fingers crossed for a compete bagful of QUEST reviews, possibly coming to a frontier near you...
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