Judge P.S. Colbert does everything he can to avoid getting a raw hide.
Our reviews of Rawhide: The Complete First Season (published February 14th, 2007), Rawhide: The Fifth Season (published September 30th, 2012), 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 1 (published March 13th, 2014), 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.
"I guess everything changes eventually. Either changes or dies."—Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood).
The new trail boss is mostly right, aside from leaving out the "all of the above" category, which, unfortunately applies here: Rawhide: The Eighth And Final Season corralled a mere thirteen episodes before CBS unceremoniously put the veteran cattle drive saga out to pasture, midway through its 1965-66 campaign:
• "Encounter At Boot Hill"
Which seems a downright dirty shame, considering that a number of changes had been made, effectively pumping new life into the series. Season Seven had been—for better and worse—a decidedly schizophrenic affair, owing to a game of "musical chairs," with producers being hired and fired, and the resulting episodes being shuffled out of order.
You'll notice that most of the old gang has forgone this roundup. Aside from Rowdy, the only familiar faces belong to steadfast ramrod Jim Quince (Steve Raines, Macho Callahan), and chow master Wishbone (Paul Brinegar, Life Stinks).
The new boys include Oscar-nominee John Ireland (All The King's Men), earning second billing for his eight appearances. Ireland lends weight to the cast as wise and trusty scout Jed Colby, who even manages to score himself a solo episode ("That Vasquez Woman"). Ian Cabot (David Watson, Beneath the Planet of the Apes), brings hands across the water, as a virile Brit who can quote you Shakespeare, chapter and verse. Simon Blake (Raymond St. Jacques, If He Hollers, Let Him Go), distinguished himself in battle as a Buffalo Soldier before signing on, and distinguishes himself here as the only newbie who appears in every episode, and as the series' lone African-American regular.
Refreshingly, Rowdy and his cohorts never make an issue of Blake's skin color, and they do not treat him as a subordinate. Racism does rear its ugly head however, in a powerful episode called "Escort To Doom," guest staring the always-fascinating Rip Torn (Men in Black) as Jacob Yellow-Sun, the half-breed chief of a Chiricahua Indian war party.
"I look at Yellow Sun, and I see a man whose skin is as white as the men he says he hates!" snipes Quadero (Christopher Dark, None But The Brave), a tribesman who makes no secret of his desire to usurp Yellow-Sun's status.
Later, Yellow-Sun finds himself riding alongside Blake, and the two men get to jawing…
Yellow-Sun: You work for the white man. Why? You're no longer a slave.
This exchange, which explains so much without getting wordy, is emblematic of the tight and focused writing that defines this truncated season. There are all-too familiar setups (A mine shaft cave-in; a south-of-the-border clash with Mexican revolutionaries; a family of malevolent simpletons), but each is distinguished by the fresh twists applied to make them springboards for original and exciting material.
Just as importantly, there's no shortage of top-tier guest stars on this mission: Charles Bronson (Hard Times), Bruce Dern, (Nebraska), Robert Blake (Electra Glide In Blue), Mercedes McCambridge (Oscar-winner for All The King's Men and the demon-possessed voice of Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist), Cesar Romero (Batman: The Movie), Warren Oates (Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia), Rory Calhoun (The Red House), Johnny Crawford (The Rifleman), and a pair of ladies deserving of being called "Broadway Royalty"—for the famous roles they originated on the great white way—Carol Lawrence (Maria in West Side Story), and Jill Haworth (Sally Bowles in Cabaret).
But for my money, the biggest kudos must go to Clint Eastwood, who imbues Rowdy with a new sense of maturity and reason that suits his new role as top dog. This air of calm self-assurance and thoughtfulness would aid Eastwood immeasurably as he made the transition from small to big screen superstar. Needless to say, the cancellation of Rawhide ended up being the best thing that happened to his career since…well, since he scored the role of Rowdy Yates in the first place!
For those who've been collecting this series on a set-by-set basis, the condition of these transfers are pretty much what you've come to expect: a little grain, a little dirt, sharp images, solid black levels and a sturdy mono soundtrack. No extras. Again.
Of course, none of the rest of the fellas on this drive fared nearly as well as Clint Eastwood after cancellation, but before you worry about 'em too much, just remember that "Good vittles, love and kissin' are waiting at the end of the ride."
Though all too brief, this last season made for a fine farewell. Not guilty.
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