Mill Creek Entertainment continues to release specific genres in large-scale sets that often bring back high quality but forgotten movies and television series. I've reviewed a few big sets from Mill Creek, including "Horror Classics: 50 Movie Pack" and "Adventures of Robin Hood – The Complete Series" here at DVDTOWN, and those sets were eleven and twelve DVDs, respectively. It's a formula that folks likely enjoy for its quantity as much as its value, and there's probably no slowing the trend.
The latest large-scale set is "Western TV Treasures," a look back at popular Western television shows from 1950 through 1973. Spread over twelve DVDs and running over 63 hours, any Western lover will likely drool if they get their hands on this set. It walks viewers back to a time when television was extremely different for those making it and those watching from home, but does so in a manner that forces the attention on the content and episodes more than the production and nostalgia.
Most folks have a favorite Western film, television show, character or moment. This genre has tried to regain some foundation for new generations, but for many reasons that are complex and beyond this review's scope, it hasn't been able to stand firm. Maybe it's a parallel that reflects how the era is long gone through its waning popularity in modern media and entertainment, or perhaps its popularity is still high but less visible. Whatever the case, Westerns don't take charge on television or in theaters as they once did. While this DVD release may not change that, it will provide fans with a way to reminisce and share some favorite moments.
Like most other large-scale sets, you'll probably recognize some shows here very easily. Others you may never even have heard of. The same goes for the actors. Very few are alive today, but there's no doubt they helped shape the public and media perceptions which stood solid decades ago and still linger today.
There are many similarities across the episodes. Horses, gunfire, cowboy hats and friendship all seem to find their way into most programs. There's also some new pushes on the envelope, like "The Cisco Kid" showing up in color with good-hearted Latino lead characters, or Annie Oakley taking a tough, no nonsense approach to stopping the bad guys (literally…bad guys).
Another commonality is the constant "good versus evil" theme. We typically see the good guys' perspective in "Western TV Treasures," as the heroes took center stage and rarely, if ever, lost any struggle. Heck, there was even a show titled "Judge Roy Bean," focusing on a man who rode the bench with sass, justice and comedy well before any daytime television judge took form. Horses also seemed to have a sixth sense for right versus wrong, like in "The Adventures of Champion," a series about a boy, his uncle and his surprisingly on the ball horse.
What I really appreciated was how easily the characters, both male and female, seemed to take on their roles in many different series. Even today's most famous actors and actresses are human at best, and just can't do everything naturally. For people like Kit Carson, Gabby Hayes and Roy Rogers, there didn't seem to be any real issues. It was like watching a bear in his natural habitat, and thanks to equally strong supporting cast members (most of the time, at least), these shows were pretty consistent with atmosphere. Sure, not everything was authentic back then, but it was likely closer to the real thing than we'll ever go back to today.
It's worth noting that this set, like its siblings, is without any fluff. No fancy menus, no subtitles, no alternate audio tracks, no extras and no commentaries. I suppose the real objective is to jam these with content and keep the price under a certain figure, and that's fine. Just don't expect much context beyond some short blurbs on the individual DVD sleeves.
Below is a show, episode and disc breakdown. The number in parentheses next to each series indicates the total episodes from that series on each disc.
DISC ONE: "The Adventures of Champion" (10) and "Tate" (3)
"The Adventures of Champion" starred Barry Curtis and Jim Bannon, and was set during the 1880s where Ricky North (Curtis) lived on his Uncle Sandy's ranch and had great adventures with Champion and Rebel, the dog. "Tate" introduced a one-armed Civil War vet to the Old West who doubled as a gunfighter and justice bearer.
DISC TWO: "The Gabby Hayes Show," (11) "Lash of the West" (1) and "Night Rider" (1)
Gabby Hayes shared his popular Old West stories throughout these episodes, many featuring outlandish tales about roping cattle and riding horses across the plains. "Lash of the West" brings Western star Lash LaRue and his horse Black Diamond together to share some classic memories and stories, while "Night Rider" puts Johnny Cash, Merle Travis and Eddie Dean together in one series highlighting Cash's character (Johnny Laredo) and his efforts to escape his many enemies.
DISC THREE: "Cowboy G-Men" (13)
Russell Hayden and Jackie Coogan are Pat Gallagher and Stoney Crockett, government agents determined to bring justice throughout the West, no matter the bad guys in the way.
DISC FOUR: "The Adventures of Kit Carson" (12)
Kit Carson and compadre El Toro traveled throughout the southwest spreading justice and peace in this super popular mid-1950s western.
DISC FIVE: "The Cisco Kid," (3) "Judge Roy Bean" (4) and "Buffalo Bill, Jr." (6)
The Cisco Kid (Duncan Renaldo) and associate Pancho (Leo Carrillo) did a lot for Latinos on early American television. As the first real Latinos portrayed positively on U.S. programming, the two helped combat a stereotype or two and also stood up for the little guy. "The Cisco Kid" was also the first western to be shot in color. Edgar Buchanan plays Judge Roy Bean, a no nonsense gentleman who fearlessly addressed crime and inequality. Lastly, Buffalo Bill, Jr. and his sister Calamity worked closely with Judge Wiley to reign in outlaws and renegades.
DISC SIX: "The Adventures of Jim Bowie," (7) "Dusty's Trail" (3) and "The Range Rider" (3)
Alamo hero Jim Bowie might best be known for a knife, but here he's in the south keeping things safe and sound. In "Dusty's Trail," wagon master Callahan and assistant Dusty get to lead a wagon train down Misadventure Avenue, especially as they're untrained and have no idea where to go. Jock Mahoney played the Range Rider, a quick to draw but honest and upstanding justice bearer.
DISC SEVEN: "Annie Oakley" (13)
Early girl power was exhibited in this series featuring Gail Davis as the lead female with the fastest draw in the west and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
DISC EIGHT: "Annie Oakley" (14)
See disc seven description.
DISC NINE: "Sheriff of Cochise/United States Marshal," (4) "Stories of the Century" (2) and "The Tim McCoy Show" (4)
Sheriff Frank Morgan was charged with protecting Cochise County, AZ, and was never afraid to get dirt under his fingernails if it meant he'd get the job done. "Stories of the Century" pits two railroad detectives together as they patrol the nation's train systems. Tim McCoy shared personal experiences with actual movie clips and fun fictitious adventures with an all age audience.
DISC TEN: "Hudson's Bay" (12)
Focusing on the Hudson's Bay Company, this series followed different groups and demographics as they sought to attain fame, fortune and adventure via the fur trade.
DISC ELEVEN: "Hudson's Bay" (6) and "The Roy Rogers Show" (6)
Set on the famous Double Bar R Ranch, singing cowboy Roy Rogers, dog Bullet and horse Trigger had more than enough fun and excitement during their six year television run.
DISC TWELVE: "The Roy Rogers Show" (11) and "The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show" (1)
Dale Evans joined up with Rogers for a Western tribute and variety show that included fun songs, comedy sketches and some surprise guest stars.
Whew! This is a hefty offering, no doubt. So if you're ready, grab your hat and saddle your horse. There's a Western television mountain with your name on it waiting to be conquered.
Mill Creek has preserved the television episodes in their original glory without any amendments, so you can expect some pretty rough viewing. The episodes are mostly in black and white, with noticeable cracks, grain and inconsistency throughout these full screen transfers. What's funny is how recent, at least in history terms, this stuff was actually on the air, and how far we've come since then regarding picture quality. You'll appreciate whatever television you have and enjoy today after seeing some episodes in this set.
Also rocky. It's inconsistent and will require you to adjust your volume frequently, despite a Dolby Digital 2.0 transfer. The sounds you'd associate with the Old West are all there, but it's often a struggle to pick them up. Dialogue is stronger and crisper in the later series than the earlier ones, but doesn't really hold any sway.
Zip. Zero. Zilch. I suppose when you've got over 63 hours to go from, you may not need much else.
A Final Word:
As a very extensive offering, "Western TV Treasures" will probably entertain big time fans with little difficulty. It's pretty bare bones, and you'll need either prior knowledge or the Internet to find out much more information about the series featured throughout. This set is a strong value that will hold its own physical space on any shelf you choose. Twelve disc cases tend to have that impact.