Warner Bros. // 1979 // 637 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // June 1st, 2004
Good times with the good ol' boys!
The Dukes of Hazzard was a midseason replacement show created by Gy Waldron, who also wrote and directed a 1975 movie called Moonrunners about strikingly similar characters who ran moonshine. After some of the names were changed and the plot was tightened a bit, the concept translated perfectly into a TV series that came along at just the right time, after the success of Smokey and the Bandit in 1977. Riding high on that popularity, Americans checked out the show, and they stayed for seven seasons because of the strong characters, action, and fun.
Bo Duke (John Schneider) and Luke Duke (Tom Wopat) are cousins, who live with cousin Daisy (Catherine Bach) and the Duke patriarch, Uncle Jesse (Denver Pyle), on their farm in Connor, Georgia. The family business used to be running moonshine, but Jesse gave that up in exchange for Bo and Luke to be released on probation to keep the family together. However, those two always find something to get in trouble over, and that provides lots of hijinks with the law. They depend on their network of friends, including mechanic Cooter Davenport (Ben Jones), to be there in a pinch.
Meanwhile, Boss J.D. Hogg (Sorrell Booke) and his in-pocket sheriff, Rosco P. Coltrane (James Best), run Hazzard county like the crooks they are, and they count on naïve, trusting deputy Enos (Sonny Shroyer) not to notice what they're up to. Very often, Bo and Luke (with help from Jesse and Daisy) are forced to step in when corruption touches the people or the pride of their favorite stomping grounds, and that usually means firing up the General Lee, their modified Dodge Charger, for some chase scenes, jumps, and racing acrobatics. Yeeeeeeee haw!
Oh, how I loved The Dukes of Hazzard. Every Friday, by hook or by crook, I was in front of the TV set. These being the days prior to home VCR usage, nothing could tear me away, and it was just understood that chores of any kind would have to be postponed until after the show. I couldn't decide what excited me more: watching Bo Duke emerge through the window of the welded door of the General Lee, or the car itself. Every time that motor hummed, the wheels kicked up a spray of leaves, or the car sailed overhead in a spectacular jump, I was on the edge of my seat. Twenty-some years later, and the show still has the same effect.
Nor am I alone; The Dukes of Hazzard has remained extremely popular over the years, inspiring fan gatherings and jumps of replica General Lee cars, and recently it enjoyed a revival on The Nashville Network, pulling in a younger generation. In 2004 alone, a major motion picture and a General Lee video game are planned. With the release of the complete first season on DVD, Warner Brothers is creating a sort of fan nirvana for devotees of the show.
The show had something for everyone. Kids loved the chase scenes, racing shows, stunt work, and troublemaking; usually had a crush on one of the Duke cousins (Bo, Luke, or Daisy); and got a kick out of Rosco and his signature "gkew gkew!" exclamations. Adults generally went for most of that, too, but also appreciated the emphasis on family relationship building, the importance of having friends, and the surprising morality of the show, usually embodied by Jesse. At one point, Bo makes an impulsive mistake by betting the General Lee in a race and goes to Jesse for help, since not only was it a dumbheaded move, but Luke is part owner of the car. Jesse offers his advice and says, "You're risking something with Luke that's more important than an automobile," and when Bo walks away with his head down, you know this last part bothers him more than anything else. There's no judgment, just a simple statement of fact for Bo to consider and act on, and kids respond to this type of leadership more than most adults give them credit for. The show also kept audiences primed with freeze-frame act breaks that pretty much guaranteed you wouldn't get up to go to the refrigerator just yet.
Season One has just 13 episodes total, delivered in this set on three double-sided discs. The video transfer is not remarkable, but it looks pretty good for a 1978 TV show, and has bright, bold colors and a mostly clear image, with only occasional defects in the print (usually close to act/commercial breaks). The mono soundtrack has aged fairly well and is separated to a robust 2.0 surround that has very little static or hiss at normal volumes.
There aren't many extras for this Season One set, but I really enjoyed both the "20th Anniversary Hazzard County Barbeque" featurette and the commentary on episode one by John Schneider (Bo) and Catherine Bach (Daisy). Schneider, Bach, and many of the original and later season cast members get together to chat about the series. As they all gather, the joy at their reunion is evident in everyone's face, and again you really get that feeling of family and camaraderie that made the original series so great to watch. It actually put a lump in my throat to see them all together again, joking with each other, hugging, and eating barbeque.
The commentary for episode one is excellent. Schneider and Bach strike a perfect balance between scene-specific comments, behind-the-scenes stories, and joking and talking with one another. For instance, I never realized that Sorrell Booke, who played Boss Hogg, was a master of at least five languages, including Japanese, and that he was Yale educated. Apparently, he loved the character of Boss Hogg so much, he would make personal appearances in character for fans. What a cool guy. Also, and not surprisingly, Denver Pyle was much beloved by the cast and crew, especially the actors playing the Duke clan, and hearing about him only reinforced my respect for the man and the character.
Also included is a short feature with Rusty Wallace, NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth, and other race car pros in which they pay tribute to the show and to the General Lee, both of which had a big influence on a lot of these men while they were growing up and helped to create a surge in popularity for racing in general. There's a funny little bit in here where they name their favorite character...guess who gets the most votes? I'll give you a hint: She wore really short shorts.
I was disappointed that Schneider and Bach didn't do more commentary tracks, but this is mostly because they were so good at it and I just wanted to hear more behind-the-scenes stories and tricks. Who knew that Clorox on your tires would make them smoke? I realy hope they come back for Season Two and do at least a few. Although I enjoyed the reunion featurette, I would like to have seen some cast biographies, either as a featurette or as a menu-accessed on-screen feature. Fortunately, Schneider and Bach fill in a lot of that during the commentary, but it was still a conspicuously absent component to this set.
The Dukes of Hazzard has the distinction of being unabashedly corny, gleefully madcap, and pleasantly free of irony and cynicism. We connect with the characters because we want to lust for life the way they do. The show is a breath of fresh air, a knee-slapping good time, and so chock full of real (non-CGI) stunts, races, and vehicle chases, it's off the charts as far as eye candy. And that ain't whistling "Dixie."
Dukes of Hazzard: The Complete First Season is declared not guilty, and them Duke boys is free to go, but watch it, or ol' Rosco is gonna be on their tail!
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 637 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by John Schneider and Catherine Bach for Episode "One-Armed Bandits"
* "The 20th Anniversary Hazzard County Barbeque" Documentary
* "Dukes Driving 101" Racing Salute
* "The Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee" Video Game Preview
* Dave's Dukes of Hazzard Page