Appellate Judge James A. Stewart couldn't find Rapid Shave in a store near him.
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 Two (published November 9th, 2011), Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 1 (published August 29th, 2007), and Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 2 (published January 4th, 2008) are also available.
"Every drive starts from scratch, and so does every drover."—Gil Favor
By Season Four, Rawhide wasn't starting entirely from scratch. It had a strong cast that included but wasn't dominated by Clint Eastwood. However, there's a change at the beginning of the season that makes this set a little stronger than past sets I've reviewed: Gil Favor starts his own herd instead of driving someone else's beeves, and the drovers have a stake in the profits, if there are any.
There's also a recurring character with a name that will sound very familiar to MST3K fans: Clay Forrester.
Facts of the Case
Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Volume 1 contains fifteen episodes on four discs:
• "The Sendoff"
• "The Long Shakedown"
• "Judgment at Hondo Seco"
• "The Inside Man"
• "The Black Sheep"
• "The Prairie Elephant"
• "The Blue Spy"
• "The Gentleman's Gentleman"
• "Twenty-Five Santa Clauses"
• "The Captain's Wife"
• "The Peddler"
If you're already a fan of Rawhide and want to get reacquainted through a box set, the story of Gil's first trail drive as a herd owner makes this one a good choice. He starts out optimistic as he pursues his dream, but gets more frustrated as the pressures of business take over. In some of the episodes, this just makes Eric Fleming as Gil more sarcastic than usual, with lines like "There's no end to the bright ideas this outfit can come up with" as the drovers' various distractions endanger his—and their—future. However, the writers always make sure the viewers know the increased stakes, as when he tries to negotiate an advance and is only offered a grand for his entire herd, and there's talk of an economic panic which could make his efforts futile. Even the more typical Western stories have a little more urgency in this set.
"The Long Shakedown," the one episode that deals exclusively with the cattle business, hits the pressures Gil is under and their effects on the drovers' home well. Gil's decisions as trail boss are increasingly capricious and outright nasty as he begins to lock horns with the drovers. He fires Quince, a veteran hand, as young drovers come aboard. By the end of the episode, he faces the loss of his herd through his shortsightedness. "The Black Sheep" also focuses on the cattle business by forcing cowhand Rowdy to shift gears, with amusing results that might be surprising if you don't associate Clint Eastwood with comedy.
This Rawhide set boasts a lot of good guest actors, but Barbara Stanwyck is the only one who takes over the episode completely. As a manipulative wife full of political ambitions for her husband, she's intimidating and combative when dealing with Gil, but she's in command until the story's end. There's a thread of irony, a la The Twilight Zone, running through the guests' storylines, even as Rawhide puts its emphasis on the regulars.
There are occasional flecks or flaws in the picture, but the transfers held up decently. There are some night scenes that have problems, but that seems to be a problem with the original production.
A couple of bonus features are also included. Some of the episodes have their original "Here are a few scenes" promos, and original sponsor announcements are included. You won't see Clint Eastwood pushing Alpine cigarettes, but you will notice that some of Rawhide's sponsors, such as Rapid Shave, Lustre Creme shampoo, and Twinkle Cream for Silver, have vanished from TV screens, and possibly even store shelves. These may not be enough if you're someone who likes sets packed with extras—and, yeah, a Clint Eastwood commentary on "The Black Sheep" would have been fantastic—but they're neat.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While I haven't felt cheated in the past by half-season sets from Paramount, the continuing story about Gil's first drive as a herd owner breaks off in the middle here. I realize they were trying to keep the set price down, but maybe someone at Paramount should have watched the season to see how it flows.
The only episode that almost completely leaves the drovers behind—"The Prairie Elephant," which focuses on a big top love triangle—is also the weakest in this set.
The action scenes in the opening credits vary a little; I'm not sure whether this was the way they were originally shown or the credit sequences got mixed up in reruns.
Starting almost from scratch in Season Four gives Rawhide a little extra push that probably separated it from the herd in the '60s and still makes it worth a look. You might not think an old TV Western that underlines its action with the reality of economic panic would be very interesting today, but I'd recommend giving Rawhide—and this particular set—a chance. Even if you don't start to like the drovers, you'll still get the chance to see Clint Eastwood leading sheep.
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