A resident of the upscale Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, Paladin is a gentleman of refined tastes. He smokes only the finest imported cigars, wears expensive tailored suits, tips lavishly, and has a regular boxed seat at the opera house. No one knows exactly what he does for a living. In one episode, the desk clerk remarks: "He must have investments all over the West. He's always going away on business trips."
Paladin meets his prospective client Holgate (Harold J. Stone) aboard a train heading to Bender, Wyoming. Holgate, who's in the sheriff's custody, explains that the son of Max Bender--the man who founded the town--"caught a bullet" from him. For a fee of $200, Paladin agrees to ensure that Holgate is delivered safely to trial.
By the end of the episode, guns have been fired and two people are dead. But, as is often the case with Have Gun--Will Travel, the outcome is unexpected and yet satisfying. Paladin honors his contract, gets paid, and maintains his code of ethics along the way. In one of the best scenes in the episode, Paladin explains his ethics by quoting two passages from Robert Browning--as the sheriff and Holgate gaze at him with perplexed expressions.
Richard Boone, who forged a solid if unspectacular screen career, is superb as Paladin. I can't imagine anyone else in the part...or really parts. Paladin is almost a man of dual personas: the gentleman dressed in white and the gunfighter garbed in black. They are one and the same person, of course. The gentleman gets tough in a few episodes and the gunfighter, as previously noted, quotes poetry and still smokes those fine cigars. It's like the black and white pieces on a chess board, one side of the game board mirroring the other. It's an appropriate analogy given the chess piece--the knight--inscribed on Paladin's card and holster.
"A Matter of Ethics"," written by series co-creator Sam Rolfe, is a strong outing in an outstanding TV series. In addition to Dickinson, it features a nice supporting turn by Strother Martin as an attorney that doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. It's a good introduction to a great series. Start with it and you can look forward to even better episodes penned by the likes of Bruce Geller (the man behind Mission: Impossible) and Gene Roddenberry (who created some sci fi show that aired in the late 1960s).