Rawhide [1938]

It has the indisputably greatest TV theme song ever, not to mention the young Clint Eastwood in a starring role, but if that's all you know about Rawhide, then this four-disc, 16-episode set, the first of two expected volumes from the 1959-60 season, will likely be a revelation. Like many series of its ilk, and other ilks as well, Rawhide combines elements of action, drama, humor, and a little romance. But this is a horse opera of a different color. The action is muted; there's little in the way of gunplay, a lot of scenes are fairly talky, and even though the show is nominally about an endless cattle drive, Eastwood's Rowdy Yates (who appeared in all 217 episodes produced during an eight-year run) and the other hands (including the gruff but righteous trail boss Gil Favor, played by Eric Fleming, and the cook Wishbone, amusingly rendered by Paul Brinegar) don't spend a whole lot of time tending to their cattle, often finding themselves distracted by the turbulent personal lives of the folks they encounter along the way. In fact, while it may be a Western, the show emphasizes characters over cows: the cruel ranch owner (Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors plays a Mexican woman--go figure) whose husband, daughter, and employees all despise her; the punch-drunk old bare knuckles boxer whose widowed daughter-in-law harbors a secret agenda; the Indian cowhand (played by John Drew Barrymore, father of Drew) estranged from his tribe for joining up with the white man. There's also a pronounced psychological element (our heroes match wits as well as weapons with evil townsfolk, Indians, revolutionary Mexicans, and even a killer puma), and a little mystical mumbo-jumbo ("haunted" hills, a Druid curse, the appearance of St. Elmo's fire on the cattle's horns in a lightning storm) to boot. And while Gil, Rowdy and company are sometimes too trusting, they're fair and honest guys who defend strangers, stand up for folks in need, and invariably do the righteous thing. Add to that some nice transfers of the show's great-looking black & white cinematography and a chance to hear Frankie Laine sing "Rollin', rollin', rollin', keep them dogies movin'" twice in every episode, and what's not to like about Rawhide? --Sam Graham

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