Judge P.S. Colbert is so mean he once shot a rattlesnake just for hissing.
Our reviews of Rawhide: The Complete First Season (published February 14th, 2007), Rawhide: The Fifth Season (published September 30th, 2012), Rawhide: The Eighth and Final Season (published July 15th, 2014), Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Volume 1 (published June 23rd, 2011), Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Volume Two (published November 9th, 2011), Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 1 (published August 29th, 2007), Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 2 (published January 4th, 2008), Rawhide: The Seventh Season, Volume 2 (published March 21st, 2014), Rawhide: The Sixth Season, Volume 1 (published July 15th, 2013), and Rawhide: The Sixth Season, Volume 2 (published July 15th, 2013) are also available.
"Saddle Up For Thrills!"
I wouldn't go so far as to say they were hijackers, but a new pair of show-runners definitely sent things that-a-way for most of Rawhide: The Seventh Season, Volume 1. Producers Bruce Geller (Mission: Impossible, Mannix) and Bernard L. Kowalski (Baretta, Jake And The Fatman) both had plenty of experience working on western TV series before taking over the reins on this cattle drive procedural, but considering the length some of these episodes went to deviate from the formula, I couldn't help wonder whether or not they actually liked Rawhide before taking it over.
Of course, it's just as possible that the duo was looking to inject new life into the veteran oater by shaking things up, and by often reducing the regulars to supporting players (sometimes with shockingly little screen time), they certainly did that. Particular animus seems to have been reserved for trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming, The Glass Bottom Boat), who spends a good deal of time imprisoned—in one case, for killing a job-seeking family man with his bare hands—and otherwise suffers the ultimate professional humiliation of losing all but nine head of a herd that originally numbered over two thousand. Reportedly, Fleming grew so incensed by the treatment his character was being subjected to (including a fair bit of ridicule) that he started refusing to shoot certain scenes.
Whatever the producers' intentions, deconstruction of the format began with the season premiere, "The Race," which splits Favor from his longtime ramrod Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby) in the first scene. Feeling particularly unappreciated after an arduous herd haul, Rowdy tenders his immediate resignation to a bemused and belittling Favor. Soon thereafter, he's offered his first drive cattle as a trail boss, an opportunity he eagerly accepts. Still bitter, and feeling vengeful, Rowdy ups the ante by vowing to beat his ex-boss to market, and the steeplechase is on.
Make no mistake: it's a helluva powerful episode. Ditto "The Lost Herd," quite possibly the best of the bunch, and aided tremendously by sterling work from guest stars Royal Dano (The Undefeated) and Harry Townes (Gunsmoke). Considering the relative subjugation of the series regulars, the fortunes of these fifteen installments largely rises and falls on the quality of work turned in by actors passing through. Among the most successful are performances by Fritz Weaver (Holocaust) and Barbara Eden (I Dream Of Jeannie) in the epic two-part "Damon's Road," Oscar-winner Ed Begley (Sweet Bird Of Youth) as the title character in "Piney," a devilishly inventive bank heist caper, and the reliably wonderful Eddie Albert (Green Acres) as "The Photographer."
Of course, you can't win 'em all. "A Man Called Mushy" starts out strong, with the sweet but soft-brained cook's helper (James Murdock, Airport 1975) getting fired and being sold into slavery, but unfortunately, things fizzle out in the last act. Still, that's nothing compared to this set's absolute bum steer: "Canliss," featuring Dean Martin as the titular "deadliest gun in the West"—lately troubled by the shaky hand—heading for one last big show down. Martin, usually a sure-fire addition to any western, seems exhausted and uninspired here, his character aside. Not even the added firepower of co-stars Michael Ansara (The Comancheros), Theodore Bikel (The Defiant Ones), and silent film star Ramon Navarro (Mata Hari) can fix the fact that the script (by Oscar-winning Stirling Silliphant, In The Heat Of The Night) adds up to a bunch of brooding, flowery speechifying, and a conclusion that can't come too soon.
Ironically, the most affecting and unsettling episode here—running neck-and-neck with "The Lost Herd" as my favorite—could easily have come from another series altogether. "Corporal Dasovik" features only one Rawhide character; in a subordinate, witnessing capacity. Scenarist Lionel E. Siegel paints a searing portrait of a detached army platoon beset by chaos and menace from a variety of angles. There's a complete breakdown in the chain-of-command, supplies have nearly run out, and enemies (quite possibly including those the platoon have been assigned to safeguard) appear to be surrounding them while growing exponentially. The solid ensemble work is highlighted by Nick Adams (The Rebel) in the title role, and John Drew Barrymore (Never Love A Stranger) whose namesake daughter would go from befriending E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as a moppet to adult superstardom in her own right. Although it makes perfect sense in hindsight, I highly doubt that "Corporal Dasovik" was (as one critic suggested) intended as an allegory of the Vietnam war, seeing as how it was originally broadcast in December, 1964.
Fifty years. Rawhide: Seventh Season, Volume 1 shows its age with crackles, pops and occasional flashes, but somehow, rather than render these transfers unwatchable, they almost seem to…authenticate these stories. To be clear, the "age spots" are in the minority, and should be no reason for collectors to balk. Likewise, the mono sound gets 'er done just fine, with subtitles available for those who need 'em. No extras, I'm afraid—we're traveling light; without frills.
Well, it's time to dump my coffee on the campfire and turn in. Good night, sleep tight, and don't let the coyotes bite.
Not your standard ranch hash, but not guilty, neither.
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