Rawhide: Season 2 Volume 2
Like anyone growing up in the late fifties and early sixties I watched as much television as possible. Remember that this was the era of the eleven inch, black and white screen, the single three inch speaker and the universal remote was the youngest family member who had to get up to turn the knobs. This was also the golden years of television. The series that were around back then created the genres that are still around decades later. There was also something special about TV back then, it was the era of the western. Every single boy had a cowboy hat, boots and play six shooter. Even the girls refused to be left out and clamored for a fringe skirt cowgirl outfit and hat. The vast majority of television programming was dedicated to the American old west. Every network, all three of them, filled their schedules with one variation of the theme after another. Most of those series are now only a small footnote in the history of television. Several remain today as cult classics and the undisputed leaders in this field. After ‘Gunsmoke’ one TV western still stands above the rest ‘Rawhide’. This was ‘THE’ show to watch back then. We kids would put on our cowboy gear, make the coffee table into a covered wagon and sit there mesmerized by the action. This is more than an old television show; for many of us this is a piece of our personal history.
The folks over at Paramount Pictures have the most incredible vault of classic television series imaginable. Anybody would love to be able to sit there for a month or two watching the myriad of shows they have on tap. Since this is not a likely prospect it is very fortunate that Paramount has been in a sharing mood. Lately they have been bringing out DVD set after set of series from these golden years. Now they have the second volume of the second season and like the previous ones, it is fantastic. The thing about ‘Rawhide’ is it may have been one of the most famous television westerns but it was not very typical of the genre. Most westerns had the required action. There were good guys with white hats and bad one wearing black and the Native Americans, ‘Indians’ back then, where rarely more than savages. Rawhide took a different slant. It was a dramatic series that just happened to be set in the old west. The six-shooter was there but not as important as the moral and emotional dilemmas the characters faced each week. The stories were centered on the characters over mindless action. It was possible to do this back then. Now so much of television has degenerated into mindless pap that it is easy to forget just how powerful this medium is. In those days everything was new and the studios were willing to take a chance. Rawhide stands the test of time because it dared to be different. So bring in the youngsters and let them see television the way it was meant to be. If they complain just make them stand behind the TV holding a set of rabbit ear antennas like we had to.
The premise of the series is elegant in its simplicity following the lives a group of cowboys working on a cattle drive. Many westerns showed cowboys riding around, shooing cattle now and again but it always felt like the cowpokes really didn’t have a whole lot to do. This series depicted the arduous struggle to move a heard of cattle from one location to another. It was a daily hardship battling the weather, rustlers, the cattle and even each other. The drama of the series came organically from the realism of the characters and stories. These were the kind of men that built the west. At the head of the chain of command is Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), the trail boss. He is the one in command of the drovers and support staff on the drive. He is a man who has been around and seen it all. Although he is grizzled and tough he is also fair. His right hand man is Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood), the ramrod. It is up to him to work along side the men making sure they do things right. While the men keep the cattle in line it is up to Rowdy to keep them moving in the right direction. Also in constant attendance is Wishbone (Paul Brinegar) the camp cook. He you are responsible for providing a group of hungry cowboys with chow you have to be ready for just about anything. He depends on his assistant Mushy (James Murdock). One of the senior wranglers is Hey Soos (Robert Cabal) he is not a stranger to getting into trouble. Usually there to scout out the land ahead is Pete Nolan (Sheb Wooley).
This series doesn’t look or feel like a television show at all. It is more like short, 50 minute, movies. The production quality here is spectacular. There is more emphasis on the plot than action. The fight scenes are just a small part of the series and this set it apart from the large pack of westerns back then. Life on a long cattle drive was shown in a realistic fashion. On such a trek boredom was the real enemy. Cowpokes looking for some excitement on their down time would head off to the nearest town and typically get into some mess or another. There are also plenty of slice of life shots. In one the men side around the chuck wagon, the center of cattle drive society, and grab a snack, mend their clothes, get in a snooze or tend to their saddles. These quite times were usually disrupted by some form of mayhem. Either it is a group of cattle rustlers out to steal the heard or an Indiana attack that forces the cowboys into action. Each episode was titles ‘Incident at …’ which is extremely fitting. These stories are notable incidents on an otherwise routine cattle drive.
Every episode begins with Gil waxing philosophically about some aspect of his line of work. Whether it is how the good Lord swells a little stream so it takes days to cross or the economics of bringing in the heard on time and in sellable shape Gil gets to show off his deeper side. This was also the series that made a star out of Clint Eastwood. He is more than an actor; he is a true renaissance man who has achieved fame as an actor, director, jazz musician, composer and even a politician. This is where it all began for him. He could stare down the meanest bad guy with a single stare and if necessary back it up with his six-shooter. Also gaining a good deal of fame here was the singer of the theme song, Frankie Lane. This song has lived on long after the series was cancelled and is known throughout the world.
Paramount certainly took care of the original elements of this series. The black and white full screen video is incredibly clear. There is a little speck every so often but over all the video is excellent. This is better than I remember the show ever being. the Dolby 2.0 mono is clear and without flaw. These episodes are completely re-mastered and it shows. Typical of an older television set for Paramount there are no extras included. That really doesn’t matter here; the series is a great buy on its own. This is a must have for everyone that appreciates quality television.