Shortly before Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuted, William Shatner made an appearance in a western alongside James Arness.
In a rather different type of role for the actor who turns 92 today, William Shatner guest-starred in “How the West was Won,” a western from the 1970s that starred James Arness, Bruce Boxleither, and Kathryn Holcomb. It was a serious guest spot on the episode “Amnesty” with Shatner taking on the role of Captain Robert Harrison, a man who deserted the Army after he disobeyed a direct order so he could save his wife.
Harrison’s wife, played by Vera Miles, followed her husband out west when he was guarding a garrison. She was captured, and Harrison was given the option of giving up the garrison or watching his wife die. He was under strict orders not to leave his post, but he did it anyway, asking for volunteers to help him save his wife. Every man under his command volunteered, and every man save Harrison died.
William Shatner showed a different style to his acting in this role.
Gone is the self-assured man who wore authority like a comfortable coat. In its place is a guilt-ridden man who has been trying to convince his wife to leave him for twenty years. Blinded as a result of the battle, Harrison is both bitter and self-deprecating, and Shatner plays up both. But it’s the ending of the scene that is both shocking and heartwarming, proving that Shatner isn’t a one-man show when it comes to acting.
It’s only a nineteen-minute clip, but it’s a great look at the difference between the character of Captain James T. Kirk this torn Army officer who doesn’t even want to be alive.