Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A formative milestone in kid's entertainment, tv hype, and merchandising mania, The Davy Crockett
phenomenon has survived much longer than the two tv series that Walt Disney launched in 1954 and '55.
Part of his major push into live action that literally raked in the cash (alongside his theatrical
smash, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), The Davy Crockett tv shows were photograped in color,
even though the first broadcasts were in black and white. Savant had the raccoon hat, the whole works,
and can remember getting in a heap 'o trouble because I whacked my older sister on the head with a
toy gun while watching the ending. Served her right for sitting in front of me.
1. Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter. Davy (Fess Parker) and his pal George Russel
(Buddy Ebsen) go to West Tennessee to help Andrew Jackson defeat murderous indians. After showing
up the foolishness of the Army as represented by Major Tobias Norton (William Bakewell), Davy
goes mano a mano with war chief Red Stick (Pat Hogan) and secures peace.
2. Davy Crockett Goes
to Congress. After sticking up for Indian rights and pacifying West Tennessee, Crockett serves
a stint in Congress, again championing Indian rights. Ex-officer Norton is now a political wag who
tries to get Davy out of town so a bad bill can be passed,
but Russel brings Davy back to argue on the floor of the House, and good triumphs.
3. Davy Crockett
at the Alamo. Always looking for a fight involving freedom, Davy goes to Texas to help Jim Bowie
(Kenneth Tobey) hold off General Santa Anna. With him he brings idealistic cardsharp Thimblerig (Hans
Conreid) and confused Indian Busted Luck (Nick Cravat). George Russel comes along too but is upset
when it appears Davy has gone along with Bowie's deception about expected aid. Yet when the chips are
down, Russel sneaks out with a message and then sneaks back in, to fight to the end with his old pal.
4. Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race. Davy and George get snared into a race of dueling dirty
tricks with Mike Fink (Jeff York) and his crew of swarthy river rats.
5. Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. Working their way back upriver with the now-friendly
Mike Fink, Davy and George take on a band of thieves who jump keelboats while disguised as Indians.
Once the height of schoolyard hipness, and now something of a curiosity, the Davy Crockett shows are a
fascinating example of a talented, savvy, and adventurous Walt Disney striking out in new entertainment
directions. 1954 had to be a pretty busy time for the master entertainer; besides producing one
of the biggest shows on television and continuing with his animated classics, he was also finishing
up his Jules Verne movie, shooting underwater in the new CinemaScope process. Oh, and he was also
launching the Disneyland theme park!
As television shows from 1954, these are pretty impressive. Most of the competition were half-hour
cheapies like Dragnet and Highway Patrol, shot on an assembly line so that a week's
work might yield 3 or four complete shows. The Davy Crockett shows are nicely produced, utilizing
top Hollywood talent and clearly shepherded by Disney himself. His animation writers and art directors
got a chance to move into live-action, and matte whiz Peter Ellenshaw had more opportunity to do great
work. Shooting on location, Disney also used his brain by filming in color, with the idea of
issuing the series as a standalone movie after the black and white television debut. For actors, he
found Fess Parker, a folksy, handsome tall fellow with a sober face. 1
To back Parker up (and dramatically hold the show together), Disney nabbed Buddy Ebsen, a musical
comedy star with a middling career at MGM, who had clearly seen better days.
The series holds up better as light entertainment, than good drama or accurate history. Davy Crockett already
had some of the best publicity in U.S. history before Disney, and this show turned him into Yankee
Doodle, Mr. Deeds and John Wayne rolled into one. The scripts are smart 50s concoctions, co-opting
the Civil Rights movement by having Crockett, a lowly Army scout, make personal deals with Indian
chiefs, promising that their treaties with the U.S. government will be honored. Charming Washington
with a line of palaver that suggests a totally un-cynical Will Rogers, Crockett's untarnished idealism
is shown to be an innate American virtue that triumphs over bureaucratic evil, simply by providing a
The Alamo episode tells the official story that Texan independence was a battle for
Freedom pure and simple, a point Savant won't argue here. For 1954 audiences confused by the lack of a
clear ending to Korea and the growing feeling of hostility in the Cold War world, this affirmation
of American values, even if based on total falsehoods, was exactly what we wanted to see. The
downbeat ending evoked a glorious continuity, from the Alamo, through Wake Island, to Iwo Jima. 2
The storytelling in the first 3-show series is klunky but effective. The Ballad of Davy Crockett is used to round out each
show and assure us that this is one special man we're watching, and it's a very hummable tune. Younger
viewers will finally find out where the source of the Dr. Demento favorite, the un-PC Pancho Gomez
comes from. A great deal of Disney's animation success can be attributed to his great songwriters
and composers, especially the songs and music that held together his late-40s 'medley' movies; and the
ballad here is a shrewd carryover. One cute observation is that each chapter begins with a book cover
that says 'Davy Crockett's Journal', written
by himself. This makes the Alamo chapter where Davy kicks the well-bucket, quite an achievement
The freedom to recklessly rewrite history is a staple of American movies, and until
Oliver Stone, few moviemakers were ever taken to task for it. The picture is fascinating for its 1950s
whitewash of everything Crockett. The only obstacles in Crockett's career (at least until the Chinese-horde
Mexicans march in) are individual thugs like Mike Mazurki, or sneaky politicos like William Bakewell. The
frontiersman's purity sees him through every lowpoint, as with the death of his wife. The politics of
the shows are remarkably two-faced, in one chapter calling the native Americans 'sneaky red-skinned
varmints', and in the next coddling them as needy victims. This lack of insight on the subject of
Indians was a commonplace in the 50s, as can be seen here in the fact that war chief Red Stick is given
the buffalo-horned headpiece of a plains Indian, even though his hunting ground is Alabama and Florida.
The scripts are simple and efficient, and make great use of the Sancho Panza rule of heroism: to make
your hero beloved, give him a doting sidekick. Buddy Ebsen is easily the best thing in these pictures,
as he plays a great second fiddle to the rather dull Fess Parker. They even let him dance a bit, and
he's too smart a performer to do anything show-off, just a few jig steps. In the Alamo episode, the
script gives Davy two additional sidekicks. The wonderful Nick Cravat, Burt Lancaster's non-speaking trapeze
partner in several pirate pictures, plays a sad sack (and illogically loyal) Indian, and Hans Conreid
(The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) does great work
with his foppish cardsharp, turning nicely from a the comic to the serious as the story darkens. All
three stick it out to stay with Davy to the very end.
The second series, shot in 1955, is a marked improvement overall, with more emphasis on scripting and
character, and much more lavishly produced. Besides the Bluto-like Mike Fink, you've got Kenneth Tobey back, this
time as a Popeye-ish goon in Fink's boatload
of merry thugs. Nowhere near as pious as the first series, these stories are ostensibly 'based' on
the pamphlet penny-dreadfuls that championed Crockett's adventures. The action is more violent, the
heroes are no longer squeaky clean, and there are no more attempts made to twist history into a
The keelboats that figure in the story look like miniaturized versions of the boats in one of Savant's
favorite Hawks films, The Big Sky. Disney seemed to make one kind of movie but like others, because
he was constantly casting actors from genre efforts like Them! and The Crawling Eye.
With very broad comedy and a constant sense of good natured fun, the two second-series entries are
This Disney Treasures collection comes in an attractive tin that like all non-standard packaging, ends
up being a storage nuisance. Disc one contains the three 1954 shows, and disc two the 1955 followups, along with
a short docu on the Crockett Craze and an interview with Fess Parker. Disney's official host Leonard
Maltin does a good job interviewing a Davy C. expert in the docu, and the Fess Parker interview is
done at the actor's Santa Barbara winery. Parker looks like a happy guy who graciously rode the
Crockett craze for all it was worth, and who spent his money wisely.
Posters included in the printed inserts tout the theatrical features made by
re-editing the shows for the big screen. The versions on this disc are clearly the original
broadcast edits, as they start in black and white, and segue to color as the shows begin. Every so
often, there's a transition shot or a dissolve that didn't exist in the color version, and the film
pops back to black and white again. There are also a couple of scenes with inferior color, for which
the elements must have faded. Overall, the color is reasonable and the picture not too grainy. I don't know
if these shows were shot with a Tech camera or the new Eastman single strip, but the grain could
account for slightly flawed material in either process. Full b&w promos for the next week's shows on
the Walt Disney TV show are included. The end credits even retain the original promo voiceover
touting 20,000 Leagues, Disney's big 1954 Christmas theatrical sensation.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Davy Crockett: The Complete Televised Series rates:
Supplements: Docu, interview.
Packaging: Double keep case
Reviewed: Dec 30, 2001
1. Found by Disney, of course, in the great monster movie, Them!.
The docu on this disc pretty much clears that up, even though the Davy Crockett expert interviewed
isn't aware of Parker's great featured bit in that film: "Like tuh 'scared the pants off
me! Sorry, Ma'am!".
2. This in contrast to Disney's faithfulness to the almost subversive nature of
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, casting Captain Nemo as an embittered anticolonial terrorist.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2001 Glenn Erickson
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