In this made-for-TV western, Steve Forrest stars as James Devlin. A hired killer and a notorious outlaw, Devlin has finally been captured and is sent to the gallows. At first, it seems as if the hanging’s been a success and Devlin’s life has been extinguished at the end of the rope. But then, while his body is at the funeral home and is being prepared for burial, Devlin suddenly opens his eyes and reveals that he’s alive.
No one can figure out how Devlin manage to survive being hung, especially not Devlin. However, Devlin is now alive and free to leave town. Has Devlin been sent back to Earth to serve God or did he just get lucky? Devlin may not be sure himself but he is determined to turn around his old ways. That starts with protecting a widow (Sharon Acker) and her son (Bobby Eilbacher) from Lew Halleck (Cameron Mitchell), a greedy businessman who wants their land and is prepared to go to any lengths to get it. Devlin is not only still as good with a gun as he was before his execution but, having survived his hanging, he can now read minds!
The Hanged Man was designed to be a pilot for a weekly TV series and watching it, it’s easy to imagine how the show would have developed. Devlin would have traveled around the old west, helping out a new guest star every episode and presumably trying to discover why he had been returned to life. It’s not a bad idea for a show, though the pilot film doesn’t do enough with it. Despite the fact that Devlin might be undead and that he now has the power to read minds, it really is just a conventional western, featuring the saintly widow and the evil land baron and all of the other familiar tropes of the genre. It may begin with Devlin coming back to life but it ends with a shoot-out that could have been lifted from any number of old TV shows.
Still, as far as made-for-TV westerns are concerned, this one is entertaining enough. Steve Forrest is a good hero and, as always, Cameron Mitchell is a good villain. I wish they had done more with the supernatural aspects of the story but The Hanged Man is good enough for undemanding fans of the genre.