Paramount // 1961 // 757 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // June 23rd, 2011
"Every drive starts from scratch, and so does every drover." -- Gil Favor
By Season Four, Rawhide wasn't starting entirely from scratch. It had a strong cast that included but wasn't dominated by Clint Eastwood. However, there's a change at the beginning of the season that makes this set a little stronger than past sets I've reviewed: Gil Favor starts his own herd instead of driving someone else's beeves, and the drovers have a stake in the profits, if there are any.
There's also a recurring character with a name that will sound very familiar to MST3K fans: Clay Forrester.
Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Volume 1 contains fifteen episodes on four discs:
* "Rio Salado"
Rowdy (Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven) runs into both an outlaw and his long-absent father. Rowdy prefers the company of the wanted man, but his dad is looking for a way to collect the $5,000 reward.
* "The Sendoff"
The drovers meet a man (Darren McGavin, Kolchak: The Night Stalker) who knows a lot about beeves and a man (Claude Akins, Lobo) who may have a beef with their new drover.
* "The Long Shakedown"
Gil (Eric Fleming, Queen of Outer Space) is pushing the men hard, trying to cull a few weak drovers, but when he fires Quince (Steve Raines, Border Fence), he may end up with too few drovers to get the cattle to market.
* "Judgment at Hondo Seco"
Quince visits his brother (Ralph Bellamy, The Winds of War), a hanging judge who wants to send his daughter's fiancee to the scaffold.
* "The Lost Tribe"
When the drovers catch up to the tribe who stole some beeves, scout Pete (Sheb Wooley, Purple People Eater) wants to help the Cheyenne go to Mexico to avoid the reservation, but Rowdy, Quince, and Hey Soos (Robert Cabal, The Man Behind the Gun) plot to foil his plan.
* "The Inside Man"
Talkative Clay Forrester (Charles Gray, Highway Patrol) wants to join the drive; he's good but the drovers just don't like him much. There turns out to be good reason, since he's a cattle rustler.
* "The Black Sheep"
Rowdy reluctantly turns shepherd when he injures the flock's leader (Richard Basehart, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), who was feuding with the drovers.
* "The Prairie Elephant"
Wishbone (The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.) joins the circus to lead a wandering troupe to their next gig, but a clown, jealously guarding his beautiful wife, could make the trip tearful. Billy Barty guests.
* "The Little Fishes"
The drovers are more interested in fish than cattle when a man (Burgess Meredith, Batman: The Movie) who dreams of bringing shad to California joins the drive.
* "The Blue Spy"
The drovers rescue an actress stranded by Apaches, but her former lover, a Confederate soldier who unwittingly gave her information for the Union, is on the drive and plots to leave her out in the desert.
* "The Gentleman's Gentleman"
A butler (Brian Aherne, I Confess) poses as a lord, with the drovers' help, to stop the real lord's murderer from burning down a town. Jay Silverheels guests.
* "Twenty-Five Santa Clauses"
A con artist (Ed Wynn, Son of Flubber) claims his son is dying to fleece the drovers, but his wife wants to go straight.
* "The Long Count"
Clay Forrester turns up again, this time as a marshal overseeing the census. He doesn't tell the drovers that he's trying to count outlaws hiding on a ranch.
* "The Captain's Wife"
A captain's wife (Barbara Stanwyck, The Big Valley) subs in her own orders for her husband's when dealing with Comancheros -- until Gil comes up with his own plan.
* "The Peddler"
A peddler (Shelley Berman, Meet the Fockers) rescues a Native American woman from her abusive stepfather (George Kennedy, The Dirty Dozen). She returns the favor by saving his life, but will they be able to help the drovers out of a spot?
If you're already a fan of Rawhide and want to get reacquainted through a box set, the story of Gil's first trail drive as a herd owner makes this one a good choice. He starts out optimistic as he pursues his dream, but gets more frustrated as the pressures of business take over. In some of the episodes, this just makes Eric Fleming as Gil more sarcastic than usual, with lines like "There's no end to the bright ideas this outfit can come up with" as the drovers' various distractions endanger his -- and their -- future. However, the writers always make sure the viewers know the increased stakes, as when he tries to negotiate an advance and is only offered a grand for his entire herd, and there's talk of an economic panic which could make his efforts futile. Even the more typical Western stories have a little more urgency in this set.
"The Long Shakedown," the one episode that deals exclusively with the cattle business, hits the pressures Gil is under and their effects on the drovers' home well. Gil's decisions as trail boss are increasingly capricious and outright nasty as he begins to lock horns with the drovers. He fires Quince, a veteran hand, as young drovers come aboard. By the end of the episode, he faces the loss of his herd through his shortsightedness. "The Black Sheep" also focuses on the cattle business by forcing cowhand Rowdy to shift gears, with amusing results that might be surprising if you don't associate Clint Eastwood with comedy.
This Rawhide set boasts a lot of good guest actors, but Barbara Stanwyck is the only one who takes over the episode completely. As a manipulative wife full of political ambitions for her husband, she's intimidating and combative when dealing with Gil, but she's in command until the story's end. There's a thread of irony, a la The Twilight Zone, running through the guests' storylines, even as Rawhide puts its emphasis on the regulars.
There are occasional flecks or flaws in the picture, but the transfers held up decently. There are some night scenes that have problems, but that seems to be a problem with the original production.
A couple of bonus features are also included. Some of the episodes have their original "Here are a few scenes" promos, and original sponsor announcements are included. You won't see Clint Eastwood pushing Alpine cigarettes, but you will notice that some of Rawhide's sponsors, such as Rapid Shave, Lustre Creme shampoo, and Twinkle Cream for Silver, have vanished from TV screens, and possibly even store shelves. These may not be enough if you're someone who likes sets packed with extras -- and, yeah, a Clint Eastwood commentary on "The Black Sheep" would have been fantastic -- but they're neat.
While I haven't felt cheated in the past by half-season sets from Paramount, the continuing story about Gil's first drive as a herd owner breaks off in the middle here. I realize they were trying to keep the set price down, but maybe someone at Paramount should have watched the season to see how it flows.
The only episode that almost completely leaves the drovers behind -- "The Prairie Elephant," which focuses on a big top love triangle -- is also the weakest in this set.
The action scenes in the opening credits vary a little; I'm not sure whether this was the way they were originally shown or the credit sequences got mixed up in reruns.
Starting almost from scratch in Season Four gives Rawhide a little extra push that probably separated it from the herd in the '60s and still makes it worth a look. You might not think an old TV Western that underlines its action with the reality of economic panic would be very interesting today, but I'd recommend giving Rawhide -- and this particular set -- a chance. Even if you don't start to like the drovers, you'll still get the chance to see Clint Eastwood leading sheep.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 757 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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