As television reared its ugly head in our homes in the 1950s, many popular radio programs from the '30s and '40s (and well before that, too) made the jump to TV. One such show was Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Although it’s been seen on DVD before, this new set featuring the entire 33 episode first season has been beautifully restored and digitally remastered on DVD from Infinity Entertainment and Classic Media.
The brainchild of George W. Trendle (who also helped to develop both The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet into the icons they are today), the wholesome character of a very earnest and law-abiding Canadian Mountie named Sgt. Preston first appeared in the radio series Challenge Of The Yukon in the late '30s. The TV series premiered in 1955 (the same year the radio program ended) and starred Richard “Dick” Simmons (no relation to that other Richard Simmons) as the red-coated policeman who seemingly patrolled the entire Yukon on his own, defending the innocent and giving chase to the bad guys (of which there were many). Substituting for the Yukon was Southern California’s Big Bear Lake, with its lush scenery only adding to the fun.
Sergeant Preston is a real man’s man: he obeys the law to the hilt, doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t drink or smoke, he’s idolized by all, and he always saves the day. Of course, Sgt. Preston couldn’t handle such a lonely task on his own, and so with him every step of the way are his faithful animal sidekicks, Rex the horse and Yukon King the wonder dog. Actually, in all honestly, Sgt. Preston wouldn’t make it ten feet without his loyal canine companion: whether there’s an outlaw on the run, a man about to burn to death in a house afire, or a small child who’s just plain lonely, Yukon King always seems to come through while Preston is just riding around making sure his nice red coat never gets dirty. King kicks some serious ass, that’s all there is to it.
I shudder to think what would happen if a show like Sergeant Preston Of The Yukon were made today. For starters, it would be called just plain Preston. Our main character would be a very rugged and unkempt (and rogue) hotshot Mountie who has been banished to patrolling the Yukon after punching his superior in Ontario. Instead of King, there would be a petite-but-rough half Native-half Caucasian beauty who would initially start out as a guide but would later become part of the crew. The sexual tension between both characters would always be present — but it would take well into several seasons before they ever dared to explore their feelings. A third character would be a wild-haired, articulate, talky, and brainy college grad who studies forensics and finds most of the clues that Preston pieces together. His explanations would always feature a CGI cutaway montage and the whole company would also make inventions and traps out of the natural elements around them. Fight scenes would utilize a lot of high-wire stunts, techno music, and 360-degree camera movements.
But you know what’s really scary? I probably just gave Jerry Bruckheimer another dumb idea — and so that’s why I’m holding onto this DVD set of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: Complete Season One, it’s an entire fourteen-and-a-half hours of delightfully adventurous and innocently good fun for families and/or anyone that’s been desensitized by modern television.
So anyway, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: Complete Season One comes to DVD in a 5-disc set with about six to eight episodes per disc. When compared to the many grey-market and bottom-of-the-barrel "Best Of Classic TV" collections that are out there, this release has everyone beat in terms of quality — sure, it's still pretty evident that this is a fifty-four-year-old television show (some episodes are in better shape than others), but Infinity and Classic Media have really done a nice job here. Each standalone episode is presented in its original standard TV ratio from the time period (1.33:1) and the good ol' mono sound comes through just as good as ever (well, better, actually). I did notice that the sound was off by a second for the first half of the series' premiere episode on Disc One (which gave it a rather weird dubbed foreign show feel), but this problem cleared up on its own with no problems.
The only real downside I could see with this set is the lack of any subtitles or closed captioning and the absence of any special features. Hopefully, Infinity Entertainment and Classic Media will dig up an old network promo or bumper that's lying around somewhere for the next set (one can hope, at least).
Crack open a case of Canadian beer and enjoy (only be sure to say "Well King, this case is closed!" afterward).