Appellate Judge James A. Stewart checks out another volume of a TV Western that makes his day.
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 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.
"This is a drover. He's tough and he's durable. He has to match his strength and skill against the orneriness of cattle. Normally, he's steady going and dependable, except once in a while when the orneriness of the cattle rubs off on him. Then I've got a problem, and it's usually a bad one. I'm Gil Favor, trail boss."
In Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 2, the trail drive continues as Gil Favor (Eric Fleming, Queen of Outer Space) and his team of drovers move the ornery beeves along the Sedalia Trail.
That means dealing with mustang traps, floods, and stampedes. It also means dealing with horse thieves, explosives smugglers, and escaped convicts, to name just a few of the more cinematic hazards the drovers face.
Rawhide also boasts two stars who went on to bigger and better things—Sheb Wooley, the country singer who penned "Purple People Eater," and a fellow by the name of Clint Eastwood, who went over to Italy to do a couple of spaghetti Westerns.
Facts of the Case
Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 2 has sixteen episodes on four discs:
"Incident of the Night Horse"—A mustang wrangler says he won't let Gil's herd pass unless the drovers help him find the mysterious night horse that killed his son.
"Incident of the Sharpshooter"—An escaped convict who took the identity of a lawyer slain by Comanches frames Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry), then takes his case.
"Incident of the Dust Flower"—Bashful Pete Nolan (Sheb Wooley, Hee Haw) pretends to be a spinster's fiancee to impress her aunt.
"Incident of the Champagne Bottles"—Wishbone's wine palate might be dubious, but it's enough to tell that what's in a wagon full of champagne bottles is "bottled fire" (nitro glycerin). That's bad news for Gil and Rowdy, who are taken prisoner by the thieves who stole the nitro from the Army.
"Incident of the Stargazer"—The woman Pete escorted back to her ranch says the man claiming to be her husband is an imposter. Wishbone poses as an astrologer to check it out. Buddy Ebsen guests.
"Incident of the Dancing Death"—A gypsy queen places a curse on the drovers, believing one of them killed her son. Gil says it's just "tricks," but his men aren't so sure.
"Incident of the 100 Amulets"—Visiting his family ranch, Hey Soos (Robert Cabal, Around the World in Eighty Days) is stoned by townspeople who think he and his mother are witches.
"Incident of the Deserter"—Wishbone's as tired of cooking salt pork and beans as the drovers are of eating it. Will he trade the trail for a new life with a beautiful widow?
"Incident of the Murder Steer"—A steer with the word "murder" branded on its side keeps appearing—and disappearing again. Each time, the drovers find a body. Is one of the men a killer?
"Incident of the Silent Web"—A French poodle turns up in camp, and its owner, a girl who saw her father murdered, soon follows—along with an escaped convict.
"Incident of the Last Chance"—The Taming of the Shrew goes West as a couple from Boston joins the drive after their wagon is struck by lightning.
"Incident in the Garden of Eden"—Rowdy's getting on everyone's nerves so he's sent on a cattle-buying trip, where he butts heads with ranch foreman Winch (John Ireland).
My last encounter with Gil Favor's trail drive was Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 1. Clint Eastwood's name in the credits piqued my interest, as it probably did for many of you. What I found was a Western drama highlighted by a strong cast that works well together.
It appears that, as Rawhide kept rollin', rollin', rollin', it started to carve out its own personality. The writers started to pick up on the fact that audiences liked the banter between the drovers. Cranky cook Wishbone (Paul Brinegar, High Plains Drifter) rustles three episodes and his bickering with cook's louse Mushy (James Murdock), along with the sarcasm of Quince (Steve Raines), play more of a part in the stories.
There's more poking fun at Western conventions. Heck, don't you know something's going to happen when Rowdy says, "It ain't natural, everything going so easy"? Two episodes—"Incident of the Sharpshooter," which finds everyone believing a convict's a lawyer because he has the flashy duds, and "Incident of the Music Maker," which finds a Swiss village in the Old West—roll out high-concept conceits for their laughs, while episodes like "Incident of the Deserter" and "Incident of the Dust Flower" rely on the characters to move the story along. The least effective of the tongue-in-cheek episodes, "Incident of the Tinker's Dam," has some laughs as Wishbone introduces his brother 'round the camp but squanders an intriguing plot about a peace treaty.
The leads—Gil Favor, Rowdy Yates, and Pete Nolan—start to come across as less flashy versions of the Maverick brothers. Like Bret and Bart, they're heroes who are reluctant to take action but will come through in the end. Unlike the dandy gamblers, they're "just drovers" as they'd put it, hard-working men driven by a duty to bring the cattle to Sedalia.
There's also a sense of surreal paranoia in a handful of episodes. The drovers become a fearful mob whenever there's a gypsy curse or murder steer in the vicinity. They find themselves on the receiving end in a big way in "Incident of the 100 Amulets." These elements are introduced with the thoughtful quality of a Twilight Zone story. Superstition isn't totally rebuked in a Rawhide episode, since gypsies and murder steers eventually point the way mystically to justice.
You'll also get to hear budding country singer Sheb Wooley sing a couple of tunes on the trail and hear Clint Eastwood's rough draft of an immortal line ("You want to stop me? Nahh, I don't think you'd better try it.").
There's some grain, as you'd expect with an early TV show, but the picture holds up reasonably well. The sound's good but not spectacular.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Swiss cattle rustlers? While there's plenty of drama, there are a couple of episodes that'll rub you the wrong way if you don't like whimsy in your Westerns.
As always, Clint Eastwood is the center of attention on the DVD case cover. That's not a total lie, since he's a strong performer in the Rawhide ensemble, but keep in mind that it is an ensemble.
If you've already picked up one or both of the Rawhide sets already out there, you'll want this third release as well. Rawhide has a way of growing on you, perhaps even if you're not a big Western fan.
Not guilty. Head 'em up. Move 'em out.
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