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DVD Review: Rawhide: The Complete Fifth Season

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It is interesting to look back at the popularity of certain genres of television over the decades. I really don’t know what it says about us as a society, but there must be some correlation between what is all the rage in entertainment, and what is going on in the world. For example, I think that most would agree that the most popular format today is so-called “reality TV.“ As a child of the ’70s, I remember cop shows being the big thing, and prime-time soaps such as Dallas and Dynasty ruled the ‘80s. Back in the 1950s, when television really began to take off, Westerns ruled the roost. Rawhide was one of the biggest, (and best) of these, and aired from 1959 to 1965.

Paramount Home Video has just released Rawhide: The Complete Fifth Season as a two-volume, eight-DVD set. To employ a rather obvious pun, the show was still riding high, both in the ratings, and in the quality of the stories. The series focused on what had to have been the longest cattle drive in history. Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) was the trail boss, and introduced most of the stories. Rawhide also starred Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates, who went on to international fame as an actor, director, writer, and producer of feature films.

Season five of Rawhide originally aired on the CBS Network during the 1962-1963 season. Every series has its own style, and Rawhide was no different. The premise of a long distance cattle drive offered a surprising variety of situations for the characters to deal with. One quirk of the series involved the titles. Every single one of the 29 programs produced in the fifth season used the word “Incident” as the first word of the title.

“Incident of the Hunter” was the first episode of the fifth season. Besides the series regulars, there were a number of quite a number “drovers” involved. The term refers to the rank and file guys who drove the cattle. In “Incident of the Hunter” some of the drovers recognize a bounty hunter in their midst. With this realization, a few of them begin to recount some of their past escapades, in an attempt to figure out who the bounty hunter was after. As the season opener, this was an interesting choice, as it offers something of a psychological profile of the type of men who would join such a venture.

One of the elements that made Rawhide so memorable was its willingness to tackle controversial subjects. One such episode was “Incident at Quivira.” In this one, recurring character Mushy (James Murdock) decides to leave the drive in the company of a wild-eyed gold prospector, to locate a “lost city of gold.” It seems pretty implausible from the start, but what they discover is even stranger. The two come upon an encampment of deserters. Looking back, drawing a parallel between then-current events in Southeast Asia was probably not what the writers intended, but it is a very intriguing subject for a TV Western in any event.

Rawhide being a Western set in the late 19th century, there are a number of episodes which deal with conflicts between Native Americans and the white cattlemen. While I would not go so far as to call Rawhide 100 percent politically correct by today’s standards, there is no question that the writers at least tried to present a more balanced view of events than some other programs did. Two of the more notable “Indian” episodes in this season include “Incident of the Clown,” and “Incident of the Hostages.”

The fifth season of Rawhide featured quite a variety of guest stars, including
Ceasar Romero, Ruta Lee, Claude Akins, Madlyn Rhue, Keenan Wynn, Walter Slezack, and Lon Chaney, among many others. Paramount is offering he series in two ways. Fans can opt for either the full eight-DVD package, or the two individual volumes of four DVDs apiece.

I believe that the fifth season of Rawhide was one its finest. The show was filmed in black and white throughout its entire run, and the picture quality here is very, very good. There are no bonus features, but every episode opens with one of the greatest theme songs ever, done by Frankie Laine.

Rawhide: The Complete Fifth Season is definitely one of the week’s best DVD releases.

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