Friday, June 13, 2014

Rawhide: The Eighth and Final Season DVD Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
One of the most celebrated Westerns in television history rides into the sunset in time for Father's Day when Rawhide: The Eighth And Final Season is now available on DVD. Saddle up with Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood as his iconic character Rowdy Yates is promoted to trail boss in the series' final episodes. The action packed four-disc set includes over 11 hours of digitally remastered episodes and features guest stars such as Bruce Dern, Rip Torn, Robert Blake, Cesar Romero, Charles Bronson, Rory Calhoun and Ralph Bellamy.
Show (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Being a fan of Clint Eastwood, I'd heard about his early start in television and his role on "Rawhide" but I hadn't seen the show itself. I'd heard the catchy theme song before but that was it until I was given the chance to review the show's eighth and final season where Clint Eastwood's character Rowdy Yates becomes the lead for the show and the new trail boss after the previous star Eric Fleming left the show. It was Eastwood's big break but the show was cancelled which turned into a hidden blessing for Eastwood since he went on to become a superstar right after that when he starred in the first of the "The Man With No Name," trilogy, For a Few Dollars More

Set in the 1860s, "Rawhide" follows a group of drovers who have been hired to deliver around 3,000 cattle to far away buyers. Each episode shows the herd being escorted along a dusty trail where Rowdy and his men always encounter some kind of issue that makes up the episode. Sometimes, it could be thieves, or a power hungry mayor, some kind of catastrophe, or even good people that need help against the corruption around them. And despite their own schedule that they had to keep, Rowdy or his men could always be counted on to step in to help. 

One thing about this season that really surprised me was the fact that as the star of the show, Clint Eastwood is barely in it compared to shows of today where the main star is front and center for most of the episode. In "Rawhide," Eastwood's character often plays second fiddle to his men which was really surprising. Sure, he'd have to eventually rescue or fix a situation that his men got into, but the bulk of the episode was about those men and what they were doing to get into trouble. This show was much more about the ensemble cast which would have been okay if they had the same kind of presence that Eastwood had, but they didn't. Some of them come across well, like crusty old Wishbone (Paul Brinegar), John Ireland as Jed Colby, or Raymond St. Jacques as Simon Blake. 

Another surprise was how progressive the show was for the time and setting for the show. It was refreshing to see Simon Blake be treated equally like the rest of the men despite being black. Blake was even one of Rowdy's trusted men who was frequently left in charge. The show's attitudes towards women was also ahead of it's time and this season even offered an entire episode devoted to the concept of allowing women to vote. I also enjoyed seeing the various guest stars who were all very good in their roles. Some of them later became well known like Charles Bronson (who is very good in his one episode this season as a ruthless gunslinger), Bruce Dern, Cesar Romero, and others not as well known but very effective. I enjoyed this season but I wanted more Eastwood which brought down the score for me. Without his charisma and screen presence, the rest of the show quickly becomes just another generic western. While fans of this show may have been unhappy with its cancellation, I don't count myself as one of them, because it freed Eastwood up to go on to bigger and better things.
Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This 1.33:1 transfer looks pretty good overall with a fairly clean picture that appears in better condition that its age would suggest. The show is in black and white and looks good in close ups but there are some soft looking shots here and there. 
Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
"Rawhide's" Dolby Digital mix is decent but it's nothing to call home about. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand and the sounds of the cattle come through well. The various sound effects also sound good as does the music for the show. This isn't an all enveloping sonic experience, but it works for the show.
Extras (0 out of 5 stars)
There are no extras included on this set which is going to bring down the final score.
Summary (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Having only watched this season, I can only base my opinion of the show from these thirteen episodes. As expected, Eastwood is fantastic in this show even though he isn't onscreen as much as I would like and when he is absent, the show suffers for it. There's a lot of great guest stars and I liked that the show was very forward thinking in its portrayals of minorities and women. The video and audio quality are pretty good for a show this old but I wish they had included some extras, especially considering that this was the show's final season.

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