In the Summer of '67, Judge P.S. Colbert took a Cimarron Trip. He remembers nothing.
"A land of infinite promise and ever-present danger."
Dateline: The border region between Kansas and Indian Territory.
Let's eavesdrop, shall we? Here's a drop-in on conversation between Marshall Jim Crown (Stuart Whitman, The Comancheros) and Native American Willie Snake (Valentin de Vargas, Touch Of Evil), whose camp has just been set-upon by marauding horse thieves:
Snake: I need help. You! We fight back together.
Oh no, he didn't! Just go 'head and try suggesting that Jim Crown is not a man. Or, that he's against justice for that matter—Why, you might as well accuse him of being a Nazi storm trooper, or a card-carrying Belieber!
Proof positive that Jim's exactly the sort of square-jawed fair-dealer the wild west needed for balance (in order to give law-abiding, God-fearing folks a sporting chance) exists in the form of those twenty three episodes—spanning eight discs—collectively known as Cimarron Strip: The Complete Series.
Though the name probably won't ring bells but for the most devoted TV horse opera fans, Cimarron Strip cast quite a long shadow when it first appeared in September 1967; taking up ninety minutes of CBS' Thursday night schedule on a weekly basis.
Though my deadline wouldn't allow me time to get through every one, having sampled a healthy cross-section of episodes, I can attest to the fact that it not only served as a perfect showcase for its ruggedly handsome leading man (coming to the small screen after a decade on the big one—peaking with his Oscar-nominated performance as a pedophile in The Mark), but Cimarron Strip also made great use of its near feature-length (approximately 71 minutes per installment), delivering consistently well-crafted stories and action of a surprisingly cinematic caliber.
"No man is an island," as the saying goes, and though Marshall Crown is the territory's lone lawman, he gets solid backup from the nearby Wayfarer's Inn's friendly staff. There's Inn manager MacGregor (Percy Herbert, The Saint), a wily raconteur from the Hebrides; Earnest young Francis Wilde (Randy Boone, The Virginian), who moonlights as a photographer (both men also frequently serve as Crown's deputies); last but certainly not least, there's young and fiery Dulcey Coopersmith (Jill Townsend, Poldark), an angelically beautiful blonde with an overbite that could tempt the devil himself. Sorry, fellas: Dulcey's heart is exclusively set for the good Marshall.
Of course, the show's format was custom designed for nasty villains who come in the guise of famous guest stars, and Cimarron Strip has no shortage there—ironically, many of them being played by actors made famous playing good guys, including Oscar winners Jon Voight (Coming Home), Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies), and Broderick Crawford (All The King's Men); Telly Savalas (Kojak), Richard Boone (Have Gun—Will Travel), David Carradine (Kung Fu), and Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun).
My personal favorite villain is the title character in "The Legend Of Judd Starr," who makes one of the grandest entrances I've ever witnessed. Handcuffed and heavily guarded, Starr (Darren McGavin, A Christmas Story) is being marched to the gallows. While making his way through a blood-lusting crowd, the condemned man sports an ear-to-ear grin, and pauses briefly to address his audience, saying: "Well, glad you could make it, folks. I hope you have yourselves a real fine time." Durned if he doesn't look like he means every word of it, too!
Now it's time to let the other shoe drop. Though E1 Entertainment can certainly be commended for bringing out this true one-season wonder nearly fifty years after the fact, I can give them near zero credit for the presentation of these full-frame transfers, which teem with dirt, debris, and all manner of visual challenges, including night scenes that are truly indecipherable, and a color palette that alternates between blanched and bleeding, often within the same episode! The mono sound isn't as bad, but she's certainly nothing to write home about, either. English SDH subtitles are available, and I heartily suggest that you use them here.
The set offers one extra: an eight-minute interview with Whitman, which, despite its fleetness, imparts some very interesting information about the making of the series. At eighty-six years old, the star could easily pass for a man fifteen years younger, and what's more, he's a consummate gentleman. Future star interviewees should take note.
One more thing: Cimarron Strip was gifted by one of the all-time great instrumental theme songs, courtesy of three-time Oscar-winning composer Maurice Jarre (The Tin Drum). The years in-between be damned, I'd almost be willing to bet that this number could race up the charts today; either as it stands, or in sampled form by some hot young hit-maker.
Izzy Azalea? I'm talking to you.
A split decision. See above review for details.
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