Paramount // 1959 // 1180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // February 14th, 2007
Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'
Thanks in part to The Blues Brothers, the theme song to this early
sixties western is much more well known than the show itself -- and that's kind
of a shame:
Move 'em on, head 'em up,
Head 'em up, move 'em out,
Move 'em on, head 'em out,
Rawhide is the story of a very long trail drive led by trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming). Savvy and hard-working but fair, Favor has a mixed bag of experienced men and wannabes working under him. There's Wishbone (Paul Brinegar) the cook (the real key to any successful drive); Mushy (James Murdock), his young assistant; old hands Quince and Nolan (Steve Raines and Sheb Wooley); and who's that young kid playing newcomer Rowdy Yates? Why, that's Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry), in his first major role.
The cattle drive itself is really not that big a plot point for the series. The drive is simply used as a device to keep our lead characters moving and in contact with a variety of situations and guest stars. Unlike Gunsmoke where trouble has to come into town, Rawhide's format allowed for a change of venue every week -- and with that a wider array of stories to be told.
According to production notes (which you'll find as a still card on the navigation screen for each episode) Variety called the premiere "a shambles" saying CBS "seemed to think of everything but a good TV show." And while it's true that the show didn't do all that well on its first outing, it climbed to the Top 20 within three weeks and stayed that way for four years.
Each episode title begins with the word "Incident" and that says a lot about the style of storytelling. "Incident of the Tumbleweed Wagon," where they meet up with a lawman transporting a wagon full of prisoners, one of whom is a lovely young woman. "Incident of the Power and the Plow," where the boys meet up with a land baron who thinks nothing of starting an Indian uprising for his own gain. "Incident of the Chubasco," where the men agree to aid a young bride's attempt to escape her tyrant husband. Some episodes deal with the natural dangers of the Old West, from lack of water to injuries on the trail to diseases that can wipe out the cattle -- or the people.
This mixed bag of stories allowed the series to take full advantage of the fabulous famous character actors of the era. You won't know most of their names, but I'll bet you'll recognize dozens of guest stars in these twenty-three episodes. There's Patty Duke's father (William Shallert), Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins), even the voice of Linda Blair's demons (Mercedes McCambridge). The regular cast is nice, but these guests really sell the show.
The other thing that sells it is its movie-like quality. The opening scenes are as expansive as the West. The music, which I have to think was done with a full studio orchestra, is right out of any feature-length western from the fifties.
Paramount did a nice job putting together this classic box set. I was concerned when I saw the grainy opening credits, but beyond a few additional pops and crackles the majority of the transfer is sharp and clean; amazing quality for a show that is over forty-five years old. Frankly, I'm surprised when shows of this age turn up at all. Think about that time in TV history...no one thought there would be an interest in these shows five years later, let alone forty-five. I'm sure they didn't anticipate the technology to deliver these shows on discs that anyone could watch day or night. Kudos to the archivists that kept these prints safe so we could watch them today.
Rawhide is a classic, there's no question, but it suffers from the same ills as most TV shows of the late fifties and early sixties. Much of the acting is stiff and the dialogue preachy. That's not meant as a slight to the actors (who are marvelous) or the writers (who have penned some great yarns), it's just the difference between drama then and drama now. Another difference is in the pacing. Most modern viewers will find the show slow going. There are action sequences, gunfights and brawls, raging rivers and cattle stampedes, but mostly the show is about the characters. Devote a full hour to each episode and avoid the temptation to fast forward.
There are no real extras include in the set, just the short production notes for each episode, which personally, I found fascinating.
For a show whose theme is known the world over, Rawhide is actually a rare gem. Out of syndication since the seventies, this box set is likely to be the first time many people have seen the show. If you're a fan of Westerns or even of early TV, this is a must have. Clint Eastwood fans will also want to add this to their collection. Fans of modern action dramas will probably want to pass. But honestly, if you can go back in time and watch with a fifties mindset, you'll be treated to some truly excellent storytelling.
Not for those in a hurry...this is one long, slow, dusty cattle drive.
Review content copyright © 2007 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1180 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fifties Web TV Westerns Pages