Wagon Train: The Cliff Grundy Story (1957)


On December 25, 1957, Dan Duryea appeared as the guest star of the 15th episode in the first season of the classic TV show, Wagon Train. This was Dan's first of seven appearances on the show. He played Cliff Grundy, an aging prospector (and long-time friend of Flint McCullough) wounded in a buffalo stampede.

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The Cliff Grundy Story: Thoughts on the Show


Written and Posted by Sarah
This may have been a rather odd choice for a Christmas show, but it's my all-time favorite Dan Duryea episode. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is one of my two favorite Dan Duryea performances. It was this show that really "hooked" me on Dan's acting and got me started on the hunt for pictures and details about his life and career.

This episode gives Dan the chance to play a nice (and funny!) guy. It also gives him a chance for some of the funniest one-liners to come out of a Wagon Train show. The show really centers around Dan and Robert Horton, and the two worked fabulously together. This would be my Number One TV recommendation for any Duryea fan!

The Cliff Grundy Story: Full Synopsis


A Strange Rider
The plot is a variation on the tried-and-true survival story. Major Adams (Ward Bond) and Flint McCullough (Robert Horton) are surprised when a lone rider appears galloping across the horizon. A shot rings out, so the Major and Flint assume that the rider is being chased by unfriendly Sioux. The opening credits fade in as Flint gallops to the rescue.

The Major and Charlie Wooster (Frank McGrath) are surprised to see that Flint appears to know the rider. Yep, it's good old Cliff Grundy, Flint's buddy from Army days (fighting for the Confederacy in the War Between the States). Cliff is the outgoing, boisterous, story-telling Western prospector. Always looking for gold but never striking it rich. No band of Sioux is anywhere near the place --- Cliff just figured that a galloping entrance would bring more of a welcome. He joins up with the train and entertains the travelers with wild tales of his "true" adventures.

The Fateful Buffalo Hunt
The following morning dawns bright and early, and Flint organizes a band of men to go hunt some buffalo for food supplies. They find a large herd, but the first shot sends it into a stampede (using some fabulous old footage!). Everyone manages to ride clear of the herd except for Cliff whose horse stumbles. Flint rushes to the unconscious Cliff and gets him back to camp where the Major does what he can. It looks like Cliff will only survive a few hours --- a day at best. The Major decides to take the train on in the morning; if Cliff survives the night, then Flint will stay behind.

Another passenger on the train, Craig Manson (Russell Johnson), decides to stay behind saying that he "kinda took a shine to the old fella." What we all know (that Flint hasn't figured out yet!) is that this guy is the unwholesome, greedy sort of chap. Manson was listening attentively to Cliff brag about a gold mine that he was on the way to claim, and now he's hoping that Cliff's dying words will disclose the exact location of the gold strike.

Manson's Treachery
Cliff survives the night, so Flint and Manson erect a tent and settle down to wait it out. Days are passing, and Cliff still survives. Manson sneaks to Cliff's bedside when Flint isn't looking and tries to force the old man to disclose the location of the mine, but Flint catches him in the act. Flint bans Manson from the tent. Everything seems to be settled --- that is, until a Sioux scout appears on the horizon. They know that he'll be back "with friends" the following day, but Flint refuses to leave Cliff. Manson takes matters into his own hands, slugging Flint over the head in the middle of the night, taking all the guns and horses and emptying the water barrel.

Flint wakes up in the bright sunshine of early morning with a headache and feeling a bit groggy. Cliff is awake and "feeling right pert," as he's stretched out on his cot. His sarcastic attitude vanishes, though, when Flint explains their predicament. Cliff, moving slowly, gets out of bed and walks outside the tent. He and Flint decide that the only thing they can do is set out for the nearest settlement, Fort Varney. This is a four to five day hike, and it won't be easy without water and food --- as well as an injured Cliff.

Two Men in the Wilderness
Half of the show tracks their progress through the western wilderness. Flint supports Cliff as the trudge mile by mile, but they have to rest often. Cliff tries to convince Flint (more than once) to leave him saying, "All I'm doing is holding you back." Flint states that the only way they'll get to Fort Varney is "together." The travelers get caught in a dust storm, a rain storm and attacked by a bear. In a nice scene where Cliff describes what he wants out of life, we learn that he saved Flint's life during the war.

Flint leads them to a mountain stream, but all they find is a dusty riverbed. Poor Cliff, exhausted and in pain, collapses and refuses to continue the journey. Flint manages to convince him to get up, and they stagger on. A long fade and we see the travelers, both hardly able to walk. Cliff collapses onto the ground and Flint falls with him. Always a good scout, Flint has his ear to the ground and hears a group of horses in the distance. Missionary Indians --- they're saved!

Arrival at Fort Varney
After the black fade (originally meant for a commercial), we find our heroes cleaned up and refreshed in the Saloon at Fort Varney. Manson is lying under a sheet in the other room, having arrived in town with a Sioux arrow in his back. Good old Westerns --- the bad guy always pays!

Cliff and Flint say goodbye to each other; Flint is heading back to the wagon train, while Cliff is going to steak out his goldmine --- which "ain't no mineral type." Turns out that the "mine" is a rich widow lady who's been wanting to marry Cliff for years. He tells Flint that he figures it's time he marries and settles down. If he can. The men shake hands and Flint returns to the train.