Sunday, June 8, 2008

"We're in trouble..."

Because I’m such a huge fan of the public domain television collections released by Mill Creek Entertainment, I decided to splurge a bit and purchase their latest offering of Essential Westerns (I know, I know…that may be a bit of a misnomer)—which contains 150 episodes of western-themed TV favorites. Granted, a great deal of this material (26 Men, Annie Oakley, Bonanza, The Range Rider, Sheriff of Cochise/U.S. Marshal) has been previously released by other P.D. DVD companies—but since a good many of these programs that were in my collection were sold off in The Great DVD Purge of 2007-08, it’s kind of nice to welcome them back into the Rancho Yesteryear fold at a nominal price. (And they’re inexpensive, too.)

There are some real obscurities on this Mill Creek set, though: nine episodes of a 1960 summer Western series on NBC called Tate, which starred David McLean as a Civil War soldier returning to his former life to take up gun slinging…since his right arm itself is in a sling, having been injured in the conflict. (Timeless Media Group has, however, released the full series in a DVD collection of its own.) There are a pair of episodes from a 1960-62 series entitled The Outlaws, which starred Barton MacLane, Don Collier and Jock Gaynor as lawmen preserving law and order in the Oklahoma Territory during the 1890s. The novelty of Outlaws was that each of the stories were told from the bad guys’ point of view, though this changed in the second season when the program dropped MacLane and Gaynor to focus on Collier’s Will Forman as the main character (Forman, a deputy marshal in Season 1, was promoted to marshal in Outlaws’ last season).

But the series that attracted my attention the most was Rango, a short-lived 1967 sitcom starring Tim Conway as Rango Starr—a bumbling Texas Ranger whose father (the head of the Texas Rangers) has had assigned to Deep Wells Rangers Station in the late 19th century. Conway’s co-stars were Guy Marks (The Joey Bishop Show) as his cowardly Indian sidekick Pink Cloud (and let’s be honest—Marks is as convincing an Indian as his former boss Bishop was in Texas Along the River) and character great Norman Alden (Electro Woman and Dyna Girl) as his long-suffering superior, Captain Horton. Rango—probably the worst lawman since Barney Fife started keeping his solitary bullet in his shirt pocket—would constantly screw-up the simplest of assignments…but with the same amount of luck that befalls angels, fools and drunks would manage to capture the bad guys in miraculous fashion.

Rango is represented by four episodes on Essential Westerns, and I suppose “In a Little Mexican Town” (04/14/67) is probably the best of the quartet (Rango wants to capture notorious bandit El Diablo in the worst way—and winds up doing so); your enjoyment of Rango will depend a good deal on your tolerance for Conway (who I loved on McHale’s Navy…and that’s about it). I will say this: the plots may be pedestrian but it’s difficult not to crack a smile at Conway’s antics since the man is extremely adept at physical comedy. The series—an early offering from both Aaron Spelling and Danny Thomas, who also did The Guns of Will Sonnett and The Mod Squad—falls somewhere between F Troop (of which I am an unabashed fan) and Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats (which has a small cult following on the Net…and I’ll be damned if I can figure out why).

Speaking of Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats, the episode “The Golden Fleecing” (02/11/67)—which I mentioned in this Salon write-up as having not seen—is on Essential Westerns, and while I continue to scratch my head at the number of people who’d like to see this series complete on DVD it is the funniest of the Petticoats outings I’ve watched so far. Green Acres’ Pat Buttram plays a Mr. Haney-like character in “Fleecing”; an ex-con who wants to go straight with a legitimate business though the siren song of his former criminal ways keeps a-calling. There’s an amusing scene where Buttram is left alone in the town’s bank due to a fire alarm and everywhere he looks he sees money lying around, tempting him…and causing his eyeballs to pop out of their sockets in the process. What makes this episode doubly enjoyable is the added bonus of having radio’s favorite hillbilly, Judy Canova, play Pat’s devoted wife.

Mill Creek has a pair of new public-domain-on-TV collections due out this July 22: the first, Spies & Lies, contains fifty installments of espionage and adventure from the likes of Biff Baker USA (starring Alan “Skipper” Hale, Jr.), Dangerous Assignment (with Brian Donlevy and Herb Butterfield reprising their radio roles), Foreign Intrigue (with Gerald Mohr!), Passport to Danger (Cesar Romero) and Wire Service…among many others. BobH—“the Master of His Public Domain”—has discussed this release over at the Home Theater Forum, but I’ll probably take a pass on it.

I’m much more interested in Essential Family Television, which contains a cornucopia of goodies like Ozzie & Harriet, Love That Bob, Burns & Allen, Make Room for Daddy and many, many more. I realize that most of the shows featured in this set have been made available (I’ve got a lot of them collected already) but there are some real obscurities like The Adventures of Hiram Holiday, The Dennis Day Show, The Jim Backus Show (better known as Hot Off the Wire) and The Slowest Gun in the West that are definitely worth a flutter. Slowest Gun is a 1960 comedy special written by Nat Hiken that stars two of my comedy idols, Phil Silvers and Jack Benny (as Chicken Finsterwald)—as well as an amazing supporting cast in Bruce Cabot, Ted de Corsia, Jack Elam, Jean Willes, Parley Baer, Lee Van Cleef, Marion Ross and Jack Albertson…just to name a few.

1 comment:

Bobh said...

Those Mill Creek TV episode compilations really deliver the most bang for your buck and they always manage to find and include a few rarities that no one else has released on commercial DVD. It's a good ploy to get folks like me to buy sets where I might already own half or more of the episodes.

"The Adventures of Hiram Holiday" is an entertaining show that actually has had a DVD release, albeit on the obscure (and out-of-print) Cascadia Entertainment label several years ago as part of their "Golden Years of Classic Television" line. I believe that Cascadia is no longer in business, but they did manage to release eight episodes from "Hiram Holiday." I also noticed that "Sea Hunt" is included in the Essential Family Collection. I'll be surprised if MC includes more than a single episode of this series; it will probably be "Mark of the Octopus" which has been included in collections from Diamond Entertainment and the Falcon Picture Group. That's a series that I would buy on release day, but it's owned by MGM and is probably not a candidate for any near release.