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Howdy, Kids!! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup (DVD Review)

6 May, 2013 By: Mike Clark

Shout! Factory
$24.97 3-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Roy Rogers, Chuck Connors, Gail Davis, Jock Mahoney.

Roy Rogers is plenty hacked off, and we can tell it from the intensity in his punch-outs of two rent-a-villains hired to bilk an old lady out of some property. These are highlights of this 24-episode companion to Shout! Factory’s 2008 Hiya, Kids!! A ’50s Saturday Morning, which utilized the same format to honor the likes of “Winky Dink and You” and “Ding Dong School” star Miss Frances, who did shill for Wheaties but was never known to have scattered much sagebrush.

As my old NYU film prof William K. Everson used to note, Rogers’ theatrical features got increasingly violent in the post-World War II era, a trait that carried over to NBC’s “The Roy Rogers Show” — which, like the other half-hour TV series represented here, was one of the zillion TV offerings that went 98% of the way toward killing off the theatrical ‘B’ Western by the mid-1950s. This was, of course, an era long before today’s so-called “helicopter mothers” (a phrase I love) tried to employ parental controls when it came to entertainment. As a welcome result, it was normal for even small kids to sit around the set and salivate over Roy’s 1-2 pugilistic combos or Trigger stomping a bad guy in a low-angle upward shot (the affected rib cage or nose cartilage would be off-camera) or Roy’s tooth-baring and all but rabid “wonder dog” Bullet ripping out the chimes (at least in our childhood imaginations) of the same assailant. “Do Good to Your Enemies,” sang Roy spouse Dale Evans in her self-penned hit “The Bible Tells Me So” — though even at age 7 or 8, any ’50s youngster with a sense of irony was able to pick up on the disconnect between that motto and what we actually saw on the Sunday night Roger-Evans broadcasts.

Roundup’s other selections are more benign, and almost none originally aired on Saturday afternoons — not that the target demographic here (almost exclusively nostalgia junkies and pop anthropologists) will care about that particular letter of the law any more than the villains here do about letters of the law in general. “Fury” and “Sky King,” both represented here, did air on Saturday mornings, with the former pointing up how important horses were to the boilerplate TV Western genre in general (both Fury and “The Adventures of Champion,” starring Gene Autry’s four-legged best friend, rate two entries apiece). “Champion,” “Annie Oakley” (Gail Davis as a riding-shooting girls’ role model of the day), “The Range Rider” and “Buffalo Bill Jr.” were all from Gene’s Flying A Productions, which came close enough to cornering the market for Autry get rich enough to bankroll first baseman Ted Kluszewski’s famed sleeveless muscle-jerseys after the cowboy-turned-team-owner bought the new Los Angeles Angels Major League Baseball team in 1961.

Both “Rider” (starring onetime stuntman and Sally Field stepfather Jock Mahoney, billed as “Jack”) and “The Adventures of Kit Carson” point up the 19th-century challenges there had to have been when it came to finding a good dry cleaner on the range to take those gamey stains out of buckskin — while the first of two included Carson shows and the sheer totality of The Cisco Kid emphasize the degree to which stereotypical Mexicans (pass the frijoles) carried the sidekick or supporting player day. “Cisco” and “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” deviate from the others here by boasting color photography, though parts of the latter place actors against a wind-machined white backdrop (kind of a William Wellman Track of the Cat effect) to suggest Klondike whiteouts. Color does make the budgets look slightly less cheap, but make no mistake: These were frugal affairs all around. And even by cheapie standards, there’s one show here — “The Adventures of Rick O’Shay,” which I’d never heard of — that’s emaciated enough to suggest what an Ed Wood Western might have looked like. (Of course, then we’d have been talking cashmere instead of buckskin.)

By the late ’50s, it was just about over for predominantly syndicated kiddie TV heroes, as more-expensive Westerns began to dominate primetime (an episode of “The Rifleman,” however welcome, seems miscast for this predominantly daytime-oriented set). And by the ’70s it was really over. That’s the decade when my best friend and I went to see Roy Rogers open one of his roast beef eateries with a Northern Virginia personal appearance — just in time for a teen punk to knock his hat off with a heaved pie. Roy’s verbal response (“lemme at that little son-of-a …”) showed he was still doing no good for his enemies.

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