Tag Archives: Timeless Media Group

DVD REVIEW: The Virginian: The Complete First Season – Epic Western Series Sprawls Across the Small Screen!

Virginian_CompleteS1

At one point in time, there were thirty seven westerns airing in primetime. Everyone knows that Gunsmoke was the longest-running of them all [and America’s longest-running TV series – tied just this year by Law & Order] and Bonanza is perhaps the most fondly remembered [as well the second longest-running western]. Coming in third, though, is the first 90-minute western, The Virginian.

Based on characters and situations first featured in Owen Wister’s novel of the same name, The Virginian ran for nine seasons, beginning in 1962. Quite possibly remembered best for its stirring theme music, by Percy Faith, The Virginian was a series that was willing to tell simple stories about complex individuals. The core cast included James Drury [in the title role], Doug McClure [Trampas], Gary Clark [Steven Hill] and Oscar® nominee [for On the Waterfront] Lee J. Cobb [Judge Henry Garth]. The setting was Judge Garth’s Shiloh Ranch and the nearby town of Medicine Bow.

Continue reading DVD REVIEW: The Virginian: The Complete First Season – Epic Western Series Sprawls Across the Small Screen!

TELEVISION: Wagon Train: The Complete Color Season – Experience One of the Most Influential Treks in Television History!

When Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek to NBC, he described it as “Wagon Train in space.” Without Wagon Train, there might well have been no Star Trek – or any of its sequel [and prequel] series. But Wagon Train influenced Star Trek in more ways than simply trekking through space. The series, which had a nine-year run – of which, only the eighth was filmed in color – was, along with Half Gun, Will Travel and a handful of other westerns a series that featured high quality writing and productions values. Combined with a talented cast, the series often featured stories that delved deeply into its characters – both regular and, especially, guest cast. This DVD set includes all thirty-two ninety-minute episodes from season eight and sixteen classic eps from the series’ black white sixty-minute format. I’ll use two specific episodes that have similar basic situations, but totally different points, to illustrate.

Wagon Train

From the eighth season, I choose the season’s second episode, The Fort Pierce Story, and from the black and white classic eps, I’ll choose The Clara Beauchamps Story – in both of which an officer’s wife has a drinking problem.

In The Fort Pierce Story, Captain Paul Winter’s [Ronald Reagan] wife, Nancy [Ann Blyth], drinks because she’s the only woman in the fort and can’t cope with the thought that her husband might not come back from patrol one day. The situation is compounded by the arrival of Chris Hale’s [John McIntire] wagon train – and orders from Washington that the garrison is to maintain a purely defensive presence that means the army won’t be able to give the wagon train an escort through Indian territory. Only the cleverness [and hidden compassion] of the garrison’s commander, Col. Wayne Lathrop [John Doucette], manages to work things out for everyone.

In The Clara Beauchamps Story, from the show’s first season, Clara [Nina Foch] drinks because of frustrated ambition. All of her friends’ husbands have been promoted while her husband, Col. Beauchamps [Shepperd Strudwick] commands a fort in the middle of nowhere. Their situation is complicated both by the death of an Indian by arriving reinforcements and the arrival of Major Seth Adams’ [Ward Bond] wagon train. Clara’s actions nearly unravel a delicate balance the colonel has maintained with the Indians, and the episode ends in both tragedy and triumph.

Wagon Train was always about people, though each episode had to have a certain amount of adventure to keep people interested. Like the Trek series it influenced, though, these stories were about character and issues, however outwardly camouflaged. Another classic first season episode, A Man Called Horse, is more about a man’s search for identity – an identity that might be found when he is captured by the Crow Indians. The idea here is that sometimes a man can literally make a name for himself, and in so doing, find a home.

While the series always looked good – and drew top flight guest stars – the color season showed its location work to great effect. Some of the panoramic vistas wouldn’t be out of place in a John Ford film. In any event, the DVD release of Wagon Train: The Full Color Season is cause for celebration. After decades of knowing, anecdotally, that the show influenced so many others [and especially Gene Roddenberry], there are now forty-eight episodes of the classic series available.

Because of the age of the series, and the varying condition of the archived episodes, there are some episodes that aren’t in pristine condition, but the quality of the series shines through.

The only features are half-hour interviews with two of the series’ most memorable stars – Robert Fuller [scout Cooper Smith] and Denny Scott Miller [Duke Shannon].

Grade: Wagon Train – The Complete Color Season – A

Grade: Features – C

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DVD REVIEW: M Squad – The Complete Series: Hard Boiled Cop Drama on Chicago’s Mean Streets!

What Dragnet was to Los Angeles, and Naked City was to New York, that’s what M Squad was to Chicago. The hard-boiled cop show starred Lee Marvin, in his first major leading role, as Lt. Frank Ballinger of the so-called M Squad. In Ballinger’s words, M Squad “is a special detail of the Chicago Police; we work on cases when requested by other departments, and when there are special circumstances.” Most of the show’s one hundred and seventeen episodes dealt with homicides. The Timeless Media Group collection of the complete series marks the first time the series has been released on any form of home video.

MSquad_Box Art

Although Lt. Ballinger had occasional support from various fellow detectives, the only other series regular was his immediate superior, Captain Grey [Paul Newlan] – as hands-on a boss as any cop could hope for. Ballinger’s cases ranged from deaths caused during escape from a robbery [caused by a cleverly disguised sailor hoping to get away when his ship sailed], to the case of a married businessman killed in an apparent robbery after breaking up with his mistress [the dead man’s wife was a friend of Captain Grey’s wife].

The series ran for four seasons and, beginning with the second, featured a theme composed by Count Basie. For all four seasons, the episodes’ scores were composed by jazz greats like Benny Carter and John Williams [who went on to score Star Wars]. Coupled with the stark black & white, noir-ish cinematography, M Squad was an effective combination of sizzle and substance.

Marvin’s Ballinger could be as brusque as Jack Webb’s Joe Friday, but was a bit on the empathetic side when dealing the victims of the crimes he investigated. He could be fooled by a pretty face, but not for long – and he had a very Sam Spade-like attitude to female criminals. He was smart and intuitive, and as perfectly capable of taking down bad guys with his fists as with a gun.

I could bore you with a list of guest stars who went on to bigger – if not necessarily better – things [among the ones listed on the box are two future Star Trek stars, a vigilante and a policewoman-to-be] but I’ll leave the fun of spotting them to you.

As for the quality of the set, it varies. Originally, Timeless planned a best-of set because they didn’t have access to all one hundred and seventeen episodes. The missing episodes were supplied by fans, making this a unique achievement. The result is something rare – a complete set of episodes from a groundbreaking, fifty-year old series that led the way in writing, direction, performance, production values and scoring.

There are no features included with the set – other than the liner notes that are duplicated on the back on of the slipcase and the interior foldout box, and a CD of Count Basie’s theme and jazz selections from the show’s score.

The variable quality of the episodes keeps the set from getting an A+ for content, but, as all episodes are definitely watchable, it doesn’t lose much.

Final Grade: A