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"It’s always something," says grizzled cook Wishbone (Paul Brinegar) at one point to trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) after yet another crisis stalls their cattle drive. In the episode "Incident at Rojo Canyon," it’s a band of Confederate soldiers still fighting the Civil War. In "Incident of the Promised Land," it’s a bank scare and an embittered widow who strand the men without any money. But Rawhide was always more about character than cattle, blending gritty western action with compelling human drama. In "Incident on the Road to Yesterday," Frankie Laine (who sings the show’s essential theme song) guests stars as a reformed outlaw trying to square his former misdeeds before turning himself in, only to discover he’s being framed for murder. Anchored by Fleming, Rawhide was an ensemble series, although the presence of Clint Eastwood as Favor’s protégé Rowdy Yates, is of more immediate interest. Among his finest hours are "Incident of the Buffalo Soldier," featuring Woody Strode as a defiant African-American soldier on the run after killing a man in self defense, and "Incident at Poco Tiempo," in which Rowdy befriends two nuns being forced by two bank robbers to transport stolen money. Some of the most memorable of these episodes have little or no Clint at all. The best is "Incident of the Slavemaster," featuring Peter Lorre as a deranged cotton planter who is still keeping Union soldiers as prisoners. James Murdock’s good-hearted, but simple-minded Mushy is the focus of a light-hearted episode, "Incident of the Captive," in which he stages the kidnapping of his mother (Mercedes McCambridge, the voice of the Devil in The Exorcist), who has come to bring him home (who knew he ran away from home at 17 and that his real name was Harkness Musgrove III?). Rawhide used the western genre to tackle some timely issues, including racism ("Buffalo Soldier") and the neglect of war veterans ("Incident at the Top of the World," featuring Robert Culp as a morphine-addicted soldier). Through it all, Favor guides the herd and his men with a cool head, firm leadership, and unwavering principles. Even if you missed Season One and Season Two, the authentic stories, vivid characters, and indelible performances make it easy to pick up Rawhide’s trail. These episodes, indeed this classic series, are USDA prime.

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PA892064 Rawhide Season 3 Volume 1 DVD (1961/Clint Eastwood) $39.98 $35.99