Air Date: Dec. 4, 1971 (ABC)
Production Companies: Universal Television
Running Time: 90 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Calvin Clements Jr.
Directed by: Michael Caffey
Cast: Gene Barry, Janie Rule, James Drury, Slim Pickens, Charles McGaw, Donald Moffat, Logan Ramsey
We’ve been working through our 70’s TV movies chronologically. However, we’ll occasionally backtrack to see if any we missed the first time have become available. Such is the case with today’s film.
Although it never quite combusts, The Devil & Miss Sarah (1971) is a slow burn genre hybrid just interesting enough to be entertaining. It aired nearly one month to the day after Black Noon, which was previously credited as being the first occult western television movie. It’s strange that the second one was so close behind. I’d rate them about the same.
The Native Americans in the Old West setting of the tale believe a man named Rankin (Gene Barry) is the devil. They refuse to look him in the eyes, which is why the movie opens with him tied to the ground wearing a hood. We don’t know how they apprehended him, but Marshal Duncan (Charles McGraw) soon arrives to escort him to prison.
A band of loyal followers is always close behind, and when they mortally wound Duncan, Gil Turner (James Drury) and his wife, Sarah (Janice Rule), take Rankin into their custody. As strange things happen, Sarah is frightened and encourages Gil to release him. He’s a man of principle, though, and is stubbornly committed to finishing the job.
It’s not clear whether Rankin is literally the devil, although he's able to negatively influence Sarah. This might only be because she’s easily suggestible; you see, she’s clairvoyant. If he’s not the devil, he’s at least aware of her vulnerability and is smart enough to manipulate her. Either way, there’s no doubt he’s the bad guy.
He tries to turn Sarah against her husband, to the extreme of telling her she must kill him if she wants to be free. Gil’s only crime against her seems to be that he doesn’t listen to her, but Rankin is able to use that information to his advantage. I didn’t think she’d do it, but when The Devil & Miss Sarah takes a legitimate supernatural turn near the end, I wondered.
The differences in opinion between the spouses grows when they discover an outpost that Rankin’s men have ravaged. Stoney (Slim Pickens), Appleton (Donald Moffat), and Holmes (Logan Ramsey) join their journey. As strange things continue to happen, the tension escalates and the debate of staying the course or releasing Rankin becomes physical.
This serves the purpose of emphasizing Gil’s singular belief in doing what’s “right” by completing Marshal Duncan’s work. In the end, it’s him against everyone else. Then, it’s him against Rankin. Since this is a Western, it should come as no surprise that there’s a shootout. The ending probably will surprise no one either.
Gil’s final words, though, seem to put the circumstances in perspective, while keeping the facts ambiguous. In a way, The Devil & Miss Sarah reminds me of the Paul Naschy film, El caminante (The Traveller.) Rankin’s antics aren’t as extensive (or graphic) as Leonardo’s; however, they’re both representations of a force of evil wreaking havoc on Earth.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Devil & Miss Sarah as well as all the great movies from this series...