Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks a modern cattle drive Western would follow a quest for burgers in an L.A. traffic jam.
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), and Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 2 (published January 4th, 2008) are also available.
"On a trail drive, each and every man has his chore…There's one man in the outfit who has no chores of his own. He's got to be ready and willing to take on anybody else's. Yeah, that's me, ramrod of this outfit, Rowdy Yates."—Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates, in an opening narration
When Clint Eastwood landed his first big role on Rawhide, he had a name: Rowdy Yates. Rowdy was shy with the ladies, but adept with his fists and the horses and cattle he drove.
His star quality wasn't evident yet, though. Eastwood was second-billed behind Eric Fleming (Queen of Outer Space) as boss Gil Favor for most of the run. When Fleming quit after seven seasons, Eastwood became the lead. Viewers weren't impressed; that eighth season only lasted 13 episodes.
Today, though, the star of movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Dirty Harry is the main draw for Rawhide on DVD. It's his face that's most prominent on the cover, even though Fleming was the star.
You might also remember Frankie Laine's song, "Rawhide," which turned up in The Blues Brothers. Like "Secret Agent Man," it's the catchy, memorable theme to a TV show that many listeners have forgotten (if they'd ever heard of it).
Is there anything else exceptional about Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 1 besides Eastwood and a catchy theme song?
Facts of the Case
It's 1870 as Gil Favor's cattle drive endlessly travels the Sedalia Missouri Trail. Rawhide—The Second Season: Vol. 1 features 16 episodes on four discs:
"Incident of the Roman Candles"—Sheb Wooley (The Outlaw Josey Wales) as Pete Nolan is featured here as he takes a runaway boy home only to find killers waiting for the boy's bounty hunter father.
"Incident at Dangerfield Dip"—Unscrupulous cattle dip operators infect Gil's herd to force him to pay outrageous rates for cleaning his cattle. One of them gets killed, but that only makes matters worse.
"Incident of the Shambling Man"—A former boxer having a "spell" takes a swing at Rowdy. He and Gil agree to act as witnesses against the man, not realizing that his widowed daughter-in-law is setting off the spells to take control of the ranch.
"Incident of the Thirteenth Man"—When Wishbone goes into town to get a tooth pulled, he and Rowdy are "impounded" to serve on a jury for a murder trial in which the verdict will be debated with fists and fire.
"Incident at the Buffalo Smokehouse"—Outlaws take over a smokehouse as Gil's sipping coffee with the proprietors. The lead outlaw, who has already killed an elderly man, orders Gil to fetch his girlfriend as ransom for the hostages.
"Incident of the Haunted Hills"—A Native American cowhand joins Gil's expedition into Panaqua territory to find water for the cattle. That upsets both the surveyers in the territory and the Panaqua.
"Incident of the Valley in Shadow"—A bounty hunter has Gil's crew wanting to collect a reward for bringing a woman kidnapped and raised by the Cheyenne back to her birth parents, but does she really want to go?
"Incident of the Blue Fire"—The name of the stranger who rode into camp is Lucky, but the crew thinks he's a jinx. Meanwhile, the "blue fire" that's scaring the cattle has Gil worried about a stampede.
"Incident at Spanish Rock"—The Mexican Army sends a beautiful singer, pretending to have a sprained ankle, into the camp to lure the son of a revolutionary into a trap. Naturally, Pete and Gil are captured as well.
"Incident at Red River Station"—The dead man Gil finds on the trail had smallpox, and Gil may get it, too, since the nearest town prefers leeches to those newfangled vaccinations.
"Incident of the Devil and His Due"—When Gil investigates shots at a ranch, he's seen with the body. The suspicion surrounding Gil is heaven-sent for a priest who's trying to get church funds past a band of outlaws (including Neville Brand).
"Incident of the Wanted Painter"—A painter who ends up killing two men in self-defense doesn't know why anyone would be after him. Gil thinks it's because one of his paintings could help outlaws spring their leader from jail.
Luckily for DVD producers and Clint Eastwood fans alike, the second season kicked off in September 1959 with an episode about Rowdy Yates. Better still, the Day of the Dead setting, complete with cackling witch woman, has an ominous quality that reminded me of a lesser draft of one of his movies with Sergio Leone.
Eastwood is soft-spoken as Yates, but his "aw shucks" awkwardness gives way to toughness when fists are called for. His gentleness in encouraging a woman to try walking again seems oddly to echo his gentleness with a horse. Rowdy's a good horseman but not perfect; his facial expressions hint enough at the pain of his falls that viewers might wonder if Rowdy will share the same fate as the others who tried to break El Muerte.
The next episode features Sheb Wooley as scout Pete Nolan, who finds himself put upon as his young charge keeps running away, then finds himself in a tense situation as a prisoner of three ex-cons. As Pete, craggy faced Wooley, better known as the country singer who sang "Purple People Eater," has a maturity that makes him a good listener as well as a good fighter.
With the third episode, Rawhide—The Second Season: Vol. 1 returns its focus to the cattle drive and Eric Fleming's Gil Favor. Favor's a working man with a sense of honor who dutifully forges ahead, even when the odds are against him and his men. "I can't order any of you to go with me," he says when heading into dangerous territory, but Fleming makes Favor a believable enough leader of men that it's not surprising to see volunteers line up. Gil's not purely a good guy; Fleming makes his doubts about the vaccine in "Incident at Red River Station" a convincing moral dilemma. It might take a while to get used to his too-perfect leading man smile, but once you do, Fleming holds his own nicely with a stronger-than-average supporting cast.
When discussing the cast of Rawhide, let's not forget Paul Brinegar as Wishbone the cook. Although the prideful drawl of his voice sets him up as the sort of comic relief character who makes a whiskey bottle into a baby bottle, he's the first to volunteer on a dangerous mission; he's also the conscience of the drive ("Nobody ought to be laid to rest without a name," he says at an impromptu burial).
Once you have a few episodes under your belt, the banter between the men as Gil tries to talk them into unpleasant tasks (like riding a kid back to his mom) or Wishbone offers Rowdy lard as cologne for a date becomes, perhaps, the best part of the show. The actors work well together, giving Rawhide an ensemble vibe that lets each of its major characters shine.
Rawhide is seeded with small hints of a lonely life on the range, from the way a crowd forms when anything happens to the sadness on the men's faces as they mourn a woman they only briefly met to the anticipation with which Rowdy seeks out his mail when in town. "We're just drovers," Gil says when introducing himself; one marshal calls the men "two-bit saddle tramps." These details help to create three-dimensional characters.
The details are usually subordinate to the usual Western standoffs and shootouts, but one episode, "Incident of the Blue Fire," provides the payoff for all the little stuff. The normally unruffled Gil is snapping at his men ("If I told you every time you did something wrong, we'd still be in San Antone," he tells Rowdy, even though his second just stopped a potential stampede.) as he deals with memories of a friend lost on a similar occasion. His men are sympathetic, even though they're on edge themselves.
Small touches here and there help the look of Rawhide as well. Although the show was done on a tight schedule and sometimes looks it, the directors find room for nifty little images like a Mexican dance seen through flames or geysers erupting on a burial ground as the water's eerie sound becomes "the whispering of the dead." Rawhide—The Second Season: Vol. 1 has some grain and flecks, but isn't in too bad a shape for episodes more than 40 years old.
Rawhide opens each week with a narration, usually delivered by Gil Favor (although Rowdy, Pete, or Wishbone might take over this chore if they're the center of the story). The writers (and Eric Fleming) have fun with this nod to Western pulps, with lines like "I figure any power that can create the cow has got to have a strong sense of humor." Gil's ode to his hat at the start of one episode sounded a lot like Ford Prefect's talk about the importance of towels in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Extras are non-existent, but I would like to point out one feature that's considerate for a DVD of TV episodes: you don't have to wade through the previews unless you click on them specifically.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It seems like Gil or one of his men got taken hostage just about every other week, and the ritual scene in which the villain or antagonist dies at the end loses its O. Henry irony after a while. Those cold-hearted villains tend to ooze sameness as well as menace, too. And, of course, you can't get through an episode without a fistfight and some gunplay.
It's also worth noting that Gil gets saved a few times because Rowdy or Wishbone ignored his orders.
If you're a fan of Westerns or Clint Eastwood, Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 1 is worth a look. Rawhide kind of grew on me, mainly because of the cast's camaraderie as the characters fight the elements and human nature to drive the cattle to market.
With three standout episodes ("Incident of the Day of the Dead," "Incident of the Blue Fire," and "Incident at Red River Station") in a relatively solid set, Rawhide—The Second Season: Vol. 1 is a good place to get reacquainted with Rawhide if you're a fan or satisfy your curiosity if you're an Eastwood fan who's heard about the show. There are a few stories that are familiar and average, but the cast shines throughout.
By the way, Donald Trump wasn't the first prime-time star to fire people in primetime. Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood get to send a few drovers on their way.
Not guilty. Keep them doggies movin'.
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