It’s time to take a stroll down memory lane, kids — and I have a heap of CBS/Paramount DVD releases at my disposal. In this chapter of “Catching Up at the Video Store,” we shall venture into courtrooms, confessionals, saloons, and find ourselves witnessing some truly impossible feats, as well.
· Rawhide: The Fourth Season – Volumes 1 & 2 (1961-1962)
There’s just something humorous about hearing a young Clint Eastwood protest that he isn’t a bounty hunter, isn’t there? And that’s what happens towards the beginning of Rawhide: The Fourth Season — made just a few years prior to the actor achieving everlasting worldwide fame in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. These two volumes bring us all 29 episodes from this classic cowboy television goodness, wherein we follow the continuing adventures of everyone’s favorite drovers (Eastwood, Eric Fleming, Paul Brinegar, Steve Raines, and Sheb “Wilhelm Scream” Wooley). In this season, we meet the estranged father of Rowdy Yates (Mr. Clint), whom he told everyone was dead (and for good reason, too — the man’s a winner), and we’re also introduced to Charles Gray as Clay Forrester in Volume 2. Extras include a bonus episode from Season Five (though I believe it was originally part of Season Four), several original Sponsor Spots, and a few episodic previews.
· Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season – Volumes 1 & 2 (1959-1960)
What, more wholesome, western fun? You bet’cha! James Arness returns — along with series regulars Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake, and Milburn Stone — to Dodge City in two separate volumes that make up Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season. From murderous wanderers to backwoods families with questionable lineage, Marshall Matt Dillon (Arness) is on-hand to deal with them all once again. Aside from the usual superbly-made episodic fare that kept viewers glued to their TV sets for decades, Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season contains one of the earliest moments in the series wherein Matt begins to express a little concern for Miss Kitty (Blake). Meanwhile, good ol’ Doc (Stone) is just as ornery as ever — while Chester (Weaver) finds himself in a heap of hot water from a mad patriarch determined to kill him. Guest stars include John Carradine, Dabbs Greer, Wayne Rogers, Elisha Cook, Jr., and more. Volume 1 contains a short video tribute to Mr. Arness (which is compiled mostly of footage from the show’s long run and audio clips from the late star himself, who passed away in 2011), while Volume 2 is a barebones affair.
· Mission: Impossible – The ’89 TV Season (1989-1990)
You’d think that, since the folks at CBS/Paramount put a tribute clip together for James Arness, they would extend the same compliment to his older brother, Peter Graves — who passed away a year before. They didn’t, unfortunately (nor did they on the previous volume), but that shouldn’t dissuade you from diving into Peter’s final regular role — wherein he returns for a last hoorah as Jim Phelps, head of the Impossible Missions Force. And, seeing as how this was the ultimate run of the IMF on television in general, the writers and producers of this series decided to go all out — and invoke such surefire ratings amphetamines as Neo-Nazis (hey, you can’t go wrong with them), cults, space travel, and Triads, too. In fact, the aforementioned gang episode features a wonderfully impossible moment of a fellow foiling a ninja star with a sniper rifle. Now that’s some damn good hand-eye coordination right there, kids! A class act all the way ‘round. Enjoy.
· Perry Mason: Season 6, Volume 2 (1962-1963)
With all the recent talk of a proposed Perry Mason reboot starring Robert Downey, Jr. (er…), one instantly longs to revisit the vintage television favorite with Raymond Burr. Of course, when you go diving into Perry Mason: Season 6, Volume 2, you’ll notice that four of the earliest episodes don’t in fact feature the towering charm of Raymond Burr all that much. You see, it was during the middle of the sixth season (where this volume begins) that Senor Ramon was out sick — and so, several guest stars take over in good stead (with Raymond making cameos, usually in a hospital bed). And so, Bette Davis, Michael Rennie, Hugh O’Brian, and Walter Pidgeon step up to play lawyers of different colors, who work with Mason’s regular crew (Barbara Hale and William Hopper) and go head-to-head with DA Burger (William Talman). And trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Bette Davis as an attorney! In a way, it would have been nice to see some these characters return in their own series. Alas, this will have to do. It’s damn good fun either way.
· Matlock: The Seventh Season (1992-1993)
What is it with lawyers solving murders anyway? Of course, when you’re Andy Griffith, you can set your mind to doing anything — and figuring out how to put a homicide puzzle together is just one of the perks, folks. Having been ditched by his former network, NBC, Andy now found himself being broadcast on ABC — and a complete change in cast and location came with it. Joining the seemingly undefeatable Ben Matlock and his private investigator Conrad (Clarence Gilyard, Jr.) are Ben’s older divorced daughter, Leanne (Brynn Thayer) — who is also an attorney (and a mystery, since Ben only mentioned he had one daughter) — and lawyer/private investigator Cliff Lewis (Daniel Roebuck), while the location of the series transports to North Carolina. Sure, the show is just as predictable as it was when it first aired (and the video quality hasn’t improved any, either), but anyone that’s even remotely familiar with Andy’s Southern charms won’t be disappointed. And if you’re not, this is just as good of a time to start as any other.
· Mannix: The Sixth Season (1972-1973)
One of the most-loved clichés to be had in the long-running series Mannix has always been that moment in any given episode where star Mike “Touch” Connors takes a flying leap out of a moving car and rolls down the Hollywood Hills. Believe it or not, there is actually an episode in Mannix: The Sixth Season wherein Joe Mannix does not do that — a formula reversal that was unexpected to say the least. Why, even Connors’ co-star Gail Fisher gets to do a little more this season (which is nice to see) and there’s also a new opening credit sequence to be found here. In this season, Mannix goes against the mob, looks for a missing heiress south of the border, and even finds himself in the crosshairs of a young, thin Rip Torn! Additional guest stars include Burgess Meredith, Anthony Zerbe (in a rare good guy role), Geoffrey Lewis, Carol Ohmart, Robert Reed, Martin Sheen, John Vernon, Adam West, Clu Gulager, and Elsa Lanchester.
· Father Dowling Mysteries: The First Season (1987, 1989)
In the world of primetime television, nobody is exempt from solving crimes. And, while many may attest that Father Dowling Mysteries was a bit of a crime itself, there’s no denying that there’s something wholeheartedly fun about seeing Tom Bosley as a Catholic priest on the hunt for murderers, kidnappings, missing persons, and the like. And honestly, with all the tired pedophile stories and jokes about alcohol abuse being flung in the direction of Fathers near and far, it’s nice to see one that contributes to society (although I confess I still enjoy watching Father Ted every now and again). Apart from boasting some of the worst Photoshop ever (look on the reverse side of the cover), Father Dowling Mysteries: The First Season begins with the show’s original 1987 TV Movie pilot, Fatal Confession, before proceeding with the eight-episode first season from ‘89 (it was a mid-season replacement). Co-starring in this fun ‘80s NBC treat are Tracy Nelson as Bosley’s Sister sidekick, Mary Wickes, and James Stephens, who is the recipient of the show’s most famous line: “Father Phil, could you take 10 o’clock Mass? I’ve got a murder to solve.” And they say priests have no sense of humor.
Happy viewing, kids.