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Davy Crockett - The Complete Televised Series DVD Review

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Show & DVD Details

Director: Norman Foster
Writers: Tom Blackburn, Norman Foster

Cast: Fess Parker (Davy Crockett), Buddy Ebsen (George Russel), Basil Ruysdael (Andrew Jackson), William Bakewell (Tobias Norton), Helene Stanley (Polly Crockett), Pat Hogan (Redstick), Eugene Brindel (Billy), Ray Whitetree (Johnny), Mike Mazurki (Big Foot Mason), Jeff Thompson (Two Shirts), Hans Conreid (Thimberleig), Kenneth Tobey (Jim Bowie/Jocko), Nick Cravat (Bustedluck), Jeff York (Mike Fink), Walter Catlett (Colonel Plug)

Running Time: 368 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio)
Dolby Digital Mono (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: December 4, 2001
Originally Aired: December 15, 1954 - December 14, 1955
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $32.99

 
Review by Jack Seiley

align=center>Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee
Greenest state in the land of the free
Raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree
Killed him a bear when he was only three
Davy . . . Davy Crockett
King of the Wild Frontier!

Describing the significance of Davy Crockett is a daunting task. It’s both a historical event and a pop-culture phenomenon that defined the childhood of an entire generation of people. Though not having been there myself, I imagine it must’ve been very much comparable to the crazes that I went through as a young kid, whether it was Jurassic Park, Star Wars, or The Lion King. But from seeing archival footage and hearing eyewitnesses talk, it even appears to have been much bigger than those.

Despite the “King of the Wild Frontier” not holding any memories of my young life, as it does for others, I still have great affection for the series. I find the show incredibly fun to watch, which I chock up to the characters.
They may not be entirely accurate historical representations of their real-life counterparts, but I couldn't care less. Davy makes a great hero figure, and his sidekick George Russel is a very likeable guy. They have great personalities with genuine warmth, and I find it easy to care for them. Their friendship is touching, especially when it culminates to an instance in the third episode which becomes fairy emotional.

Adding to the enjoyment is the feeling of stepping back in time in our nation’s history. Whenever I watch Davy Crockett, I feel like I’ve time-traveled back to the 1950’s and have gotten a glimpse of what it was like for kids back then. The only would-be negative effects coming from the 50’s aura is a layer of cheesiness. These certainly aren’t the most realistic pieces of television by any stretch of the imagination, and much of the violence comes off as being “fake” by today’s standards. Yet, even for a 16-year-old who has grown up with the special effects of this and the last decade, it doesn’t tarnish my admiration of the series one bit.

Davy and George

There’s a great emotion I get when I watch Davy Crockett. It partially has to do with the subjects I’ve already addressed, but I think much of it has to do with the sense of watching a hero fight for what he believes is right, and my having a hell of a good time doing so. Even up to this day, the series is oozing with entertainment and all-American nostalgia.

Davy made his debut on DVD as part of the Walt Disney Treasures – a series of limited editions with vintage material, devised and hosted by film historian Leonard Maltin. The set is called “Davy Crockett: The Complete Televised Series,” and presents each episode in their original form, as part of the Disneyland anthology TV show, complete with introductions by Walt Disney.

Released among the first wave of Walt Disney Treasures on December 4, 2001, only 150,000 copies of “Davy Crockett: The Complete Televised Series” were produced. Each of these DVDs comes in a collectable, individually numbered tin with a cardboard band that wraps around it, with reproductions of Roy Disney’s and Leonard Maltin’s signatures. Once the band is removed and tin is unsealed, we find a black alpha case (double the thickness of the standard amaray cases) inside that holds both discs. Within, there is an 8-page insert with a tribute to Walt Disney, a note from Leonard Maltin, and a layout of the discs’ supplements. Also included, a postcard-sized lithograph replicates the original poster artwork for the first theatrical movie release of the TV episodes. (See the end of this review for a note on the theatrical releases.)

During late 2003, “Davy Crockett” was also found in the Ultimate Disney Treasure Chest - a box set of all 7 Treasures thus far released, available exclusively at Costco. Like all the Treasure sets in this box, “Davy Crockett” was without the collectible tin and the lithograph. Aside from this, the insert and the disc content remain the same.

Video & Audio

All of the episodes on this set are exhibited in their original aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1. Though initially broadcasted in black & white, they were filmed in Technicolor, which is how they appear here. Still, because of the age of the prints, instances occur when the color subsides and the footage is briefly shown in black & white. The majority of the material is in color though, as Walt apparently would have shown it on television if it had been possible on their original air dates. I found the quality of the transfer to be quite pleasing, with minor imperfections (other than the notable one already referred to). Colors seem natural and detail is relatively good.

Mono sound is the audio for each episode. This is probably what you’d expect for a TV show soundtrack that’s 50 years old, with little bass and a relatively flat effect overall. However, it can be heralded for its complete clarity. I can’t recall any dialogue or effects that sounded muddy or hard to discern. Here’s a completely acceptable track that doesn’t need anything more.

Disc 1 Content

Starting off with a promo for other installments of the Walt Disney Treasures (1:20), disc one then presents an introduction from Leonard Maltin (1:12), who gives some background information while standing on the Disney studio lot in Burbank, CA. Then, the menu is unveiled, which presents illustrations from Davy Crockett’s journal (as seen in the series) set to the wonderfully catchy “Ballad of Davy Crockett.” There’s an option for “Captions”, which offers a single English caption for the hearing impaired, and an option for “Adventures” – this selection takes us to the episodes.

Leonard Maltin introduces the episodes Walt Disney concludes them

Episodes

Each of these is introduced by Leonard Maltin in a roughly minute-long segment, who explains that originally, Davy’s journeys were only going to be told in a 3-part series, with no plans for further installments. Those first three are presented here.

“Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter” (53:40) – The show that started it all gets us acquainted with the main characters, and their situations, before immersing us in the midst of adventure. Davy and his pal George are summoned by the U.S. military, led by Andrew Jackson, to help track down and fight a band of Injuns (if you’ll let me be politically incorrect for once) who are rebelling against the White Man.
This one offers some suspense, leading up to a one-on-one tomahawk fight climax, with a conclusion some may find unexpected.

“Davy Crockett Goes to Congress” (53:39) – For the most part, this second installment exchanges adventure for drama, spending some time fleshing out the main characters more. We follow the events leading to Davy’s bid for congressmen, and once he gets the position, the actions he takes to give the Native Americans fair rights concerning land.

“Davy Crockett at the Alamo” (53:20) – Feeling like a suitable conclusion to a trilogy, Episode 3 reunites us with Davy and George as they join with a riverboat gambler and an outcast Indian. Together, they head for the Alamo to help the Texans hold up, and find that they have bleak outlook. (If Pee-Wee Herman is reading, this section provides further proof that there is no basement at the Alamo.) Nonetheless, our heroes stick it out to fight a vigorous battle to the death. I think this provided a very poignant ending to the series, but as we know, it continued on.

Disc 1's Episode Menu Tussling on the River

Disc 2 Content

The menu matches that of the first disc. “Captions” again offers the English subtitles, “Adventures” lists the remaining TV shows, and “Supplemental Features” houses all the bonuses.

Episodes

Yet again, Maltin gives a one-minute intro to each episode. As he explained before, there originally weren’t any plans for Davy to go beyond 3 parts. Once the series became overwhelmingly popular, the character made a return in two more installments that are presented as legends, rather than representations of historical incidents. While the first three covered distinctly separate incidents per episode, these next two feel more cohesive. Though, they are more lighthearted than the first batch, which I thought made them less satisfying but still fun.

“Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race” (53:39) – Davy and George return to meet a new rival: Mike Fink, the self-proclaimed “King of the River,” a boisterous and pompous character who challenges them to a race with money as the bet. As the opponents make their way down the Mississippi River, aggressive competition ensues, filled with sabotage and battles of whit.

“Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (54:09) – Picking up almost right where the last left off, Davy and George make friends with Mike Fink, banding together to bring justice to a group of bandits who pretend to be red-skins. It’s a race against time to take care of them before a conflict arises between the real Indians and the White folk.

The Davy Crockett Craze A Conversation with Fess Parker Still Gallery

Supplemental Features

Though there’s not the usual abundance of extras we’ve grown accustomed to, there’s a small helping of interesting features. Note: while the packaging lists “interviews with Buddy Ebsen,” no such bonus is found here.

“The Davy Crockett Craze” (19:05) has Leonard Maltin interviewing author Paul F. Anderson (whose book has the same title as this featurette).
Anderson spends most of the time explaining Davy’s place in history, and hearing his well-put view points is rather enjoyable. This is basically just a video of the two men talking, but it’s peppered with archival footage and photos.

“A Conversation with Fess Parker” (17:05) is another interview, edited almost exactly like the previous, where Maltin visits the man who played Davy Crockett at his winery in California. Memories of how he got the part, what it was like to make the series and the reaction from fans are all recalled by Parker. This is a low-key documentary, but a very nice inclusion for the set.

A Still Gallery holds 87 stills, consisting of production photos, press materials, and merchandise. A nice little “easter egg” can be found by selecting the coonskin cap atop Davy’s head in the illustration next to the menu – a clip from the episode of the Disneyland TV series “The Disneyland Story” (which can also be found on the Disneyland U.S.A. Treasures DVD), showing Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen, and a few other backwoods folk singing the “Ballad of Davy Crockett.”

Fess Parker croons the theme song in an Easter Egg For the colony, and for oppresed bugs everywhere!

Closing Thoughts

Though dated, the Davy Crockett series’ exuberant spirit isn’t diminished and I always love going on adventures with the iconic figure and his appealing pal. Considering what many find entertaining these days, it certainly isn’t for everybody, but I recommend that all reading this review view it at least once. For those who are fans of the series, or Disney buffs, you will find this set to be a worthy exhibition of the series, with some pleasant extra material on the side.

Of course, with only 150,000 copies produced, “Davy Crockett: The Complete Televised Series” can be hard to find. The only remaining copies that are still in stores that I know of are the copies inside the Costco box set (I remind you that these don’t have the tins on them). At the moment, this set is available online at Costco.com, for close to $125. While pricey, this is actually a good deal, considering that single copies of the Treasures sets have been going for close to $100 on places like eBay. If you want Davy, I suggest grabbing the box as soon as possible before it is no longer offered. Otherwise, if you’d rather not spring for the box, and want the collectable tin, your best bet is ebay.com.

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Post-review note: Two theatrical releases of the Davy Crockett TV series were presented as full-length motion pictures. They consisted of strung-together episodes from the series, cutting some bits of the original TV shows and adding new animation to link them together. The first was called Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, which contained the first three episodes, released in 1955. The second was Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, culled from the last two episodes and issued in 1956. These 2 movie incarnations are now available together in the Davy Crockett: Two Movie Set, which has been reviewed here.

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Review posted March 21, 2004.