Rawhide was pretty huge in its day and while it might be easy to dismiss it five decades since it was originally started showing on CBS in 1959, the show lasted eight seasons and remains fondly remembered to this day – and for good reason. Rawhide was a great show and it holds up well. One of those rare breed network shows to combine genuinely interesting and believable characters, exciting adventure, romance, action and suspense in a timeless setting: the old west.
The premise for the series was a remarkably simple one, but it left itself wide open for possibitlities. Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) is a trail boss responsible for leading his group of cowboys from Texas to the northern states where they're to drop off their herd. Along to help Gil is his right hand man, Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood), a tough guy with a good head on his shoulders. Along with their crew, Gil and Rowdy encounter all manner of situations as their journey expands, from native indians to rough terrain to deceitful cons out to steal their money to personal issues such as friendship, romance, and comraderie.
It was those situations, more so than the simple premise itself, that makes Rawhide work. The idea of a bunch of burly cowboys showing bovines across the frontier lands of America in and of itself doesn't sound all that exciting but thankfully the writers on the series were smart enough to allow us to get to know the man along the way and in turn start to care for them a little bit, at least enough to want to keep on watching. There's just enough suspense and human interest to move things along nicely and enough character development that we do see things progress without having to shift the emphasis from the more action oriented bits to soap opera style relationship turmoil (though we are treated to a few moments of that here and there as well).
Aside from the novelty of watching a very young Clint Eastwood in a defining role before he went on to become a box office sensation by way of Sergio Leone's Fistful Of Dollars, the show also features a few recognizeable faces cropping up here and there in guest appearances from Leslie Nielsen to Lon Chaney Jr. to Dick Van Patten to DeForest Kelly, among others! Supporting Clint and Eric Fleming, who is also excellent in his lead role, are Sheb Wooley as Pete Nolan, Paul Brinegar as Wishbone, Steve Raines as Jim Quince, Rocky Shahan as Joe Scarlett and James Murdock as Mushy Mushgrove. They make for a nice ensemble cast and while the focus is almost always on Eastwood and Fleming, these supporting players bring a lot to the series in terms of character, color, and fun.
Rawhide was also considerably grittier than any western show to come before it. While obviously on the level of something like HBO's Deadwood the series did push the envelope a little bit for the time – when people got shot, they got hurt, the heros were human and therefore flawed, and people often times made mistakes. The character of Gil in particular was often wrestling with moral issues throughout the series and while he was a good man with the best of intentions for all in his employ, he was hardly immune to human error despite the fact that he truly did believe in being just and fair with all.
The complete list of hour long episodes contained in this set are as follows and presented in the following chronological order in which they were broadcast:
Incident of the Tumbleweed Wagon
Incident at Alabaster Plain
Incident with an Excutioner
Incident of the Widowed Dove
Incident on the Edge of Madness
Incident of the Power and the Plow
Incident at Barker Springs
Incident West of Lano
Incident of the Town in Terror
Incident of the Golden Calf
Incident of the Coyote Weed
Incident of the Cubasco
Incident of the Curious Street
Incident of the Dog Days
Incident of the Calico Gun
Incident of the Misplaced Indians
Incident of Fear in the Streets
Incident Below the Brazos
Incident of the Dry Drive
Incident of the Judas Trap
Incident in No Man's Land
Incident of a Burst of Evil
Incident of the Roman Candles
Highlights from the set include:
Incident Of The Tumbleweed Wagon: In the first episode we're introduced to Gil, Rowdy, and the rest of the Rawhide cast when a pair of bandits murder the lawman in Gil's camp tasked with escorting them to prison. With the deputy dead, this leaves Gil in charge and it's up to him to bring these two cold blooded killers in to stand trial for what they've done and to see that justice is served.
Incident At Alabaster Plain: Back during the war when Rowdy was a prisoner of war he made friends with a fellow inmate and now that the time has come for that man to get married he wants Rowdy there to celebrate with him. Unfortunately for all involved, the bride to be's mother turns out to be a crazed murderous woman who wants back into her life so that she can claim her share of a family inheritence.
Incident On The Edge Of Madness: The immortal Lon Chaney Jr. guest stars in this episode where, when the crew is heading north with their herd, they find themselves with a desertion on their hands. It seems that the scars of the Civil War are a little too fresh for some of the southerners on staff which puts the crew in a tight spot. When Gil and Rowdy set out to try and talk the guys into coming back on board they find out that a mysterious woman is the one who actually organized the desertion and that she plans on making the south rise again.
Incident Of The Power And The Plow: Gil needs to move the heard across some private property and so he sets out to get permission from the land owner, Jed Reston (Brian Donlevy), who obliges his request. During the movie, however, Gil finds out that Jed is a racist and that he holds a deep hatred for the natives in the land. Jed's son, Matt (Dick Van Patten), has been beating on one of the local Commanches who Jef has screwed over in a deal to buy a plow and Gil aims to set things right which proves to be tricky once the townsfolk show up.
Incident At Barker Springs: An old gunhand named Brazo has retired from his wild and wooly ways but soon has to take matters into his own hands one last time when his younger brother decides that he wants to follow in his footsteps. Brazo, having learned the error of his ways, doesn't want his kid brother to follow suit and so Gil and Rowdy have to get involved to stop him from going down the wrong path in life. DeForest Kelly and June Lockhart guest star.
Incident Of The Town In Terror: Rowdy gets sick and so do two of the steers in the herd and soon enough the guys think that there might be a case of anthrax going around casing all of this. No one in town has any medical training at all except for a young woman who has been to two years or nursing school. She's willing to treat Rowdy and might be able to save him but unfortunately the town they're near wants nothing to do with him for fear that his sickness will spread.
Incident Of The Curious Street: Rowdy and Favor are riding around the area trying to gather up a few stray cows when they come upon an old ghost town that was once a thriving mining community. A man named Matt Lucas has hung around to take care of the place but soon Rowdy and Favor start noticing that Matt might not be alone afterall and it looks like Matt might be behind a murder in the area and holding a few innocent people hostage against their will.
Incident Of The Cubasco: Rowdy, Gil and the rest of the guys are bringing in the herd when they find themselves coming up on some odd terrain in the form of a plateau where the winds tend to be high to the point of being dangerous. Gil hires a wagon man named Tom to help out, but Tom's got other plans in that he hopes to smuggle in a strange woman dressed in a bridal gown along for the ride with the Rawhide crew. When a wealthy man shows up looking for a man and a woman who happens to be his wife, the guys know that something is up and soon then find themselves staring down at three dozen hired guns ready to claim that woman back for good.
Incident Of The Calico Gun: Gil and Pete are out making the rounds when they come across an old cabin set ablaze where they meet a young woman named Jenny who has just lost her parents to the fire. Gil, bring the nice guy, invites her to come along with his crew, and they'll help her get to nearby Silver Junction where she can get things going again. It turns out that there's more to Jenny than Gil first thought when three bandits show up and want to take the crew's payroll for themselves.
Incident Below the Brazos: Gil and the boys finally make it to Paradise Valley but when they do they find that the farmers are armed and ready to take them on lest they turn the herd around. It seems they don't want the cows going across their lands for fear of whatever damage might be done. When a lightning storm causes the herd to stampede a man is killed and the widow urges Eli (Leslie Nielson) to go out and avenge her husband's death which puts Gil and Rowdy in a sticky situation.
Incident Of The Burst Of Evil: Rowdy comes across a man who has been beaten up, claiming that the Comanche's were the ones who did it and that they've aiming to steal the cows from the crew. From there he meets a young lady who he helps out of a tough bind. She offers him a mirror for his help and when Rowdy refuses she sneaks it into his saddlebag. It all ties into the Indian plan to steal the heard, but how? What does the mirror have to do with all of this?
The first season of the show was shown in black and white and that's exactly how all the fullframe episodes in this set are presented – as they should be. In terms of image quality, things could be better but they could also be a whole lot worse. Contrast levels look good and there aren't any serious issues with edge enhancement or compression artifacts but there is some print damage present in a few spots that pops up from time to time and things could look a little cleaner. That being said, at least the detail levels look pretty decent here, and the image remains fairly clean throughout playback. Grain is there, as should be expected, but it never gets out of hand. All in all, Rawhide looks decent, even if it doesn't look fantastic.
The only audio option contained on this set is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track. No alternate language dubs are provided, nor are there any subtitles save for an English language closed captioning feature. How does it sound? Not bad, truth be told. The limitations of the original recordings are evident but that doesn't detract from the series. These are older mono tracks and they sound that way but dialogue is clean, clear and free of any hiss or distortion and the levels are well balanced. The score sounds nice, the famous theme song from Frankie Laine in particular, and aside from a bit of hiss here and there you won't find a whole lot to complain about.
This is where Paramount drops the ball, unfortunately, as the only 'extra' on this release is a bonus episode from the second season of the show, which fans will inevitibly get when the second season is released, making it kind of pointless:
Incident of the Roman Candles: In the season finale, Pete and Quince are out doing their thing when they meet a young man named Davy who claims to have seen his father and grandfather killed by some Indians who in turn ran off with his mother. Gil thinks his story is fake but and the local officer of the law tells him that there are no Indians in the area at all. They finally track down Davy's home and the woman who answers the door denies knowing him, but there's something very wrong with this whole situation, something that Gil and Rowdy do not want to get involved with unless they absolutely have to.
Aside from that, each disc contains a brief text biography of Clint Eastwood and each of the episodes contains some basic production notes. There are menus and chapters for each episode – that's it.
While this series really should have gotten some legitimate special features, nevertheless the show holds up well decades later. The episodes look and sound quite good for a television that that's nearing it's fiftieth birthday and Rawhide – The Complete First Season comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.