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Monday, April 1, 2013

Howdy, Kids! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup DVD Review

Howdy Kids! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup is a collection of television westerns from the 1950s. Fourteen different programs are represented here, including The Lone Ranger, The Ranger Rider, The Roy Rogers Show and Sky King. I am too young to have caught these programs when they first aired, but when I was growing up the UHF channels would mostly play re-runs of old shows, including lots of old westerns on the weekends. I have to admit I usually switched to the monster movies, the Creature Double Feature on Channel 56, and so didn’t catch a lot of these shows. But even though I missed these shows as a child, I enjoyed watching them as an adult.

Mostly, they’re what you’d expect. That is to say, there are lots of stage coaches being held up, lots of gun play and fist fights, lots of ex-crooks who have decided to go straight after serving their time, and lots of honest people refusing to sell their land or businesses. There is also plenty of great horse-riding and fantastic landscapes. And, interestingly, lots of narration at the beginning of episodes. But some of these shows were surprising. Most of the shows are in glorious black and white, though a couple on the third disc (The Cisco Kid, Sergeant Preston Of The Yukon) are in color. Some of these shows are seriously good; a few are not so good. There are two episodes of most of the programs, though a few have just one. Each episode is just under a half hour.

Here is a rundown of the shows included in this three-disc set in the order in which they’re presented.

The Lone Ranger – This is still probably the most well-known of the television westerns, with its famous opening music and that shout of “Hi ho, Silver.” The program stars Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The opening narration description of the Lone Ranger includes the line, “He was a fabulous individual” (which makes me smile). There are two episodes. The first, “The Renegade,” has The Lone Ranger and Tonto splitting up after Tonto receives a smoke signal. But the Lone Ranger learns that any Indian found off his reservation will be arrested as a renegade, due to supply trains being raided. There is some narration throughout, and a lot of explanation as dialogue at the end, which is weak. But it’s still a fun show. The second episode, “Six Gun’s Legacy,” begins with a raid on a stage coach. One of the bandits looks like the man they shot, and he takes the dead man’s place in order to claim his legacy. However, the man they shot, Bob Walker, still breathes, and the Lone Ranger and Tonto find him. The Lone Ranger does some more explanatory dialogue at end.

The Range Rider  - This is one of my favorite programs in this collection. It’s one of the most believable and enjoyable shows, and features some good performances. Plus, it has that opening song, “Home On The Range.” It stars Jack Mahoney as The Ranger Rider and Dick Jones as Dick West. You can overlook the silly voice over at the beginning essentially selling you on the show – “The Range Rider with his thrilling adventures of the great outdoors…And Dick West, all-American boy.” There are two episodes. The first, “Convict At Large,” begins with three men robbing a stage coach. One of the robbers recognizes the driver of the stage coach as a man he’d done time with (and who has since gone straight). The people, eager to blame someone for the robberies, go after him, causing him to run. The Range Rider and Dick West soon help him, and the sheriff thinks they’re outlaws too. The second episode, “Bullets And Badmen,” features a group of criminals, the leader in need of a doctor, having been shot. Meanwhile The Range Rider and Dick ride into town, Dick in need of a dentist he’s reluctant to visit (I totally understand). They run into a friend who’s been shot, so they go looking for the doctor, and of course meet the criminals.

The Rifleman – This is another excellent show, starring Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as Mark McCain. Sadly, there is only one episode of this program included. In “Day Of The Hunter,” a man named Cass Callicott (John Anderson) comes to town to challenge Lucas, saying that he, not Lucas, is the best rifleman. He’s a legend whose reputation is all he has left, so Lucas doesn’t want to compete with him. But there’s actually a lot more going on in this episode; it has a lot to say. Chuck Connors is good, and even the boy is really good in this one.

The Adventures Of Rick O’Shay – This show is possibly the worst in the collection, but fortunately there is just one episode. It stars Steve Keyes as Rick, Bob Gilbert as Pawnee and Ewing Brown as Gopher. In “Stagecoach To Danger” two women, including the governor’s daughter, are traveling by stagecoach and want an escort. A villain intercepts the message. The bad guys tell Gopher (who is acting as the escort) that they got a message from the governor saying he wants them to pull a fake stage coach robbery and kidnaping to give his daughter and niece a little excitement. In addition to that ridiculously dumb plot point, there are awkwardly staged and poorly shot scenes and some bad acting. There is lots of fighting, but who cares?

Fury – This is a rather silly show starring Peter Graves as Jim Newton and Robert Diamond as Joey. There are two episodes of this program. The opening narration tells us “There was only one Fury. Fury, king of the wild stallions.” Fury obeys the voice of Joey, the boy who once saved his life (this is also explained in the opening voice over). The voice over even introduces Joey’s school teacher (who doesn’t actually appear in either episode). Peter Graves is Jim, who seems to be Joey’s father, except that Joey calls him “Mr. Jim” rather than “Dad.” (And of course I can’t help but think of Airplane, especially as that boy was named Joey too.) In the first episode, “Killer Stallion,” a wild stallion is raiding a ranch, and those folks think it’s Fury. Fury leaps his fence at night to go play with another horse. That white horse goes and frees Mr. Stevens’ horses. Yes, this is more than a bit silly. But the footage of the horses is great, and the two horses eventually fight. The second episode, “Scorched Earth,” has a strong anti-forest fire message. Seriously, this is like a filmstrip they’d show in school in the fifties. There is even an insert shot of a Smokey Bear membership card. Joey is appointed a junior ranger, and after he reads some rules, he exclaims, “Gosh, that makes you feel good inside.” And the ranger encourages Joey to share the information with his friends at school. Joey becomes an instant zealot, even lecturing his horse on how to put out a fire. The fire footage is actually pretty good, though a station ranger has magic binoculars.

The Roy Rogers Show   This is a totally enjoyable show starring Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and the horse Trigger. The end credits song is “Happy Trails.” This set includes two episodes. In the first, “Bad Neighbors,” Roy sees two men shoot at Granny, and he fights them. Granny fell and rolled down the hill, and she tells Roy, “It was easier than walking, and I made better time.” Everyone thinks the men are after her furs, but they’re actually after her property. In the second episode, “The Setup,” trouble is brewing between the homesteaders and the ranchers. Roy, Dale and Pat find a wounded man, Frank Stewart. A homesteader had his house burned down, so folks are on edge. Apart from some silliness regarding wallpaper, it’s a really good episode.

Annie Oakley – This is another fun program, starring Gail Davis as Annie Oakley (she is beautiful), Jimmy Hawkins as Tagg, and Brad Johnson as Lofty. There are two episodes. In the first, “Sharpshooting Annie,” Annie is riding with some kind of carnival. Their stagecoach is held up by a gunman on a white horse. The money was to go to charity. Annie suspects someone connected to the show is involved. In “Outlaw Brand,” Tagg and his friend are making money to go to the country fair. John’s uncle Joe does some quick shooting to protect Tagg from a rattlesnake, which surprises everyone, as they all thought he knew nothing about guns. Johnny and Tagg clean out Joe’s attic to sell to an antique dealer so they can go to the fair. Johnny finds guns and old newspaper articles, so clearly Uncle Joe is hiding something. This is a really good episode.

The Adventures Of Kit Carson  - This show stars Bill Williams and Don Diamond. In the first episode, “Thunder Over Inyo,” Kit is sent to check out a gold strike. There is something that is really funny because of the edit. Kit rids toward the camera, and we hear some sort of shout from off screen. But his horse’s mouth moves exactly in time to the voices, making it seem like the horse is shouting. I watched it four times. But generally I’m less interested in this show than others. In the second episode, “The Desperate Sheriff,” Kit’s friend is the new sheriff, and has caught a criminal he needs help holding onto.

The Adventures Of Champion  - This was a show I was completely unfamiliar with, and totally love. It stars Barry Curtis as Ricky and Jim Bannon as Sandy, and features Champion, the wonder horse. There are two episodes. In “Hangman’s Noose” a man discovers oil on Holt’s property. Holt is not known as the friendliest person, so the man has little trouble setting him up on a murder charge in his efforts to secure the oil for himself. This has the most interesting story, which is surprising considering that the show’s star is supposed to be a horse. In “Bad Men Of The Valley” a couple has bought the Benson ranch, and will be Ricky’s new neighbors. Meanwhile, some men shoot a marshal, and Champion leads Ricky and Sandy to the body. The bad guys hide in a place on the old Benson property, and meet that new couple, one of whom has a shady past. My favorite line: “I tried going straight two or three times myself once.”

The Cisco Kid  - This is a really bad show, due in part to the two leads (Duncan Renaldo as Cisco, and Leo Carrillo as Pancho), who are pretty weak. Their interactions are goofy, but the show overall is just awful. There are two episodes. In “Freight Line Feud,” a man’s gambling debts lead to more trouble for Western Freighting Company. Cisco and Pancho arrive to help. In the background of an action scene, you can see a random rider. In “Ghost Town,” Cisco Kid and Pancho are chased by three men into some weird territory. The men won’t follow them there. The Cisco Kid and Pancho run out of water, but find a woman. She delivers some awful dialogue, then leads them to a ghost town. Geez, she’s terrible.

Sergeant Preston Of The Yukon  -  This show, based on a radio drama and starring Richard Simmons, is definitely a bit different from the others, though it still has narration at the beginning (“with his wonder dog, Yukon King” - all animals are “wonder” animals in westerns). The beginning also includes a simple map for those who don’t know where the Yukon is. In the first episode, “Crime At Wounded Moose,” masked criminals terrorize the area. After they rob a bank, a town meeting is called, and Sergeant Yukon, a Mountie, is sent for to help. A man with a criminal past is suspected to be the leader. The bad guys meet in a cabin, and for some reason they still wear their hoods. Halfway through the episode, the narrator explains what’s happening. In “Trapped,” a new couple, with no experience in trapping, arrives in the area. There is also a thief about. And there’s this bit of narration: “Being a woman, Eileen, knew cotton stretches when wet. The greasiness of the stew also helped release her.”

Sky King – This is one of the best and most enjoyable shows in this set. It stars Kirby Grant as Sky King, Gloria Winters as Penny, James Dobson as Joe and Jacqueline Ravell as Frances. There is only one episode of this show. Titled “Bullet Bait,” it opens with two guys hijacking a truck. Meanwhile Joe is late for his own wedding, having run out of gas. Joe comes upon the hijackers, and is forced to help unload the truck. He escapes, so the two men stake out the wedding, waiting for Joe to show up. Joe sends his bride a letter telling her her life is in danger. She shows it to Sky, who flies to the lake where the letter was sent from. Sky and Penny find Joe almost immediately. The bad guys find him too.

Red Ryder  – This show stars Jim Bannon as Red Ryder, Jean Dean as Lindy, and Lyle Talbot as Martin. There is only one episode. Titled “Whiplash,” it begins with Red Ryder finishing his part of a roundup. But the other ranchers want Red to be in charge the rest of the way. And of course, there’s trouble. This episode features a whip fight between two men. Check out the school in the background of the last shot – clearly just a flat.

Buffalo Bill, Jr. – This is one of the weaker shows in the collection. It stars Dick Jones as Buffalo Bill, Jr.; Nancy Gilbert as Calamity, his little sister; and Harry Cheshire as Judge Ben Wiley. There are two episodes. In the first, “Blazing Guns,” bandits have been robbing folks regularly, and people are unsure how the bandits are getting their information. In “Legacy Of Jesse James” some men are after a treasure chest buried by Jesse James. This episode messy, with lots of exposition and flashbacks. It seems like the second part of a two-part episode.

There are no special features in this collection. Episodes are not divided into DVD chapters, but rather each episode is a single chapter.  Howdy Kids! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup is scheduled to be released on April 9, 2013 through Shout! Factory.

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