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Elfego Baca The Swamp Fox: Legendary Heroes DVD Review

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Disc 2: The Swamp Fox (Click links to jump directly to relevant portion of the review)

Directors: Harry Keller, Louis King

Cast: Leslie Nielsen (Francis Marion), John Sutton (Banastre Tarleton), Joy Page (Mary Videau #1), Tim Considine ("Young" Gabe Marion), Dick Foran (Gabriel Marion), Myron Healey (Peter Horry), Jordan Whitfield (Oscar), Richard Erdman (Sergeant Jasper), Barbara Eiler (Mary Videaux #2), Henry Daniel (Colonel Townes), Dorothy Green (Mrs. Townes), Mary Field (Cathy Marion), John Alderson (Sergeant McDonald), Louise Beavers (Delia)

3 Episodes: The Birth of the Swamp Fox, Brother Against Brother, Tory Vengeance / Originally Aired Between October 23, 1959 and January 1, 1960

Video and Audio; Bonus Material: "Walt Disney Presents Heroes of the American Frontier"
Closing Thoughts


Disc 1: Elfego Baca: (Click title to view that portion of the review)

3 Episodes: The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca, Four Down and Five Lives to Go, Attorney at Law

Video and Audio; Bonus Material: "The Many Lives of Robert Loggia", Galleries

Running Time: 352 Minutes (5 hours, 52 minutes) / Rating: Not Rated
Disc Two: 177 minutes (156 - episodes, 3 - introduction, 18 - extras)
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned / DVD Release Date: December 6, 2005
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $32.99
REVIEW CONTENTS
Page 1: Set Overview and Disc 1 - "Elfego Baca" Episodes, Video & Audio, Bonus Features
Page 2: Disc 2 - "The Swamp Fox" Episodes, Video & Audio, Bonus Features, Closing Thoughts


DISC 2

When you pop Disc 2 into your player, you are subjected to the usual FBI warnings, but then - what's this? - film historian and Disney fan Leonard Maltin! In an introduction (2:46) filmed at the Golden Oak Ranch, Maltin discusses what drew Walt to the so-called "Robin Hood of the American Revolution" (hint: his love of American history) as well as some of the "Swamp Fox" cast members that film buffs would know from elsewhere. Old film buffs, it should be pointed out, with the exception of now comedic goofball Leslie Nielsen.

Like the first platter, Disc 2 holds three episodes, which you are able to play individually or in succession. Each episode is divided into 5 chapter stops for semi-helpful scene access.

Colonel Francis Marion (Leslie Nielsen) and Major Peter Horry (Myron Healey): They look the part of 18th Century American troops, but do they act it? Francis explains the alliegances of his daughter-of-Tories love interest Mary Videau (Joy Page, step-daughter of movie mogul Jack L. Warner and the first of two actresses to play the role).

"THE SWAMP FOX" EPISODES

Episode #1: The Birth of the Swamp Fox (50:47) (Originally aired October 23, 1959)

American colonel Francis Marion attempts to break up a Tory-organized party he thinks is being thrown to make the patriots defenseless against an invasion in Charleston. He makes his exit the only way he can: by jumping off a balcony. The resulting ankle injury doesn't prevent Marion from doing his part to disarm the enemy. It also allows him time to stop home,
see his girlfriend Mary Videau, and slip to safety on Snow Island. There, with some help from Sergeant Jasper and Young Gabe, Marion (now dubbed and celebrated as "Swamp Fox") prepares his men to take the British by surprise and free their patriot prisoners. The next episode is previewed before the end credits.

Episode #2: Brother Against Brother (52:24) (Originally aired October 30, 1959)

The Tories have been burning down the houses of patriots and the patriots are prepared to retaliate...on the house of Marion's girlfriend Mary. The Swamp Fox steps in, certain that Mary shares his allegiances, but is surprised to find her throwing a party for redcoats and Tories. Later, with another act from Sergeant Jasper, Marion and his men plot another ambush on the British to reclaim more patriot prisoners with secret information they have obtained. The end of the episode includes previews for "Move Along, Mustangers" (the seventh installment of "Elfego Baca"), next week's program "Perilous Assignment" on the filming of Third Man on the Mountain in the Alps' Matterhorn, and then the forthcoming rock-climbing movie itself.

Swamp Fox and friend enjoy a round of "Pull the Old Guy Out of The Fireplace and Taunt Him." That old guy has the last laugh when he ties up Marion's wide-eyed nephew Young Gabe.

Episode #3: Tory Vengeance (52:23) (Originally aired January 1, 1960)

After Mary's servant boy is killed, Marion and his men pay a visit to the house of Tory leader Colonel Townes (Henry Daniel) where Mary (now played by Barbara Eiler) is and do a little barbaric play-acting to assure her safety. Mary tries to keep her espionage under wraps amidst the suspicions of Colonel Tarleton (John Sutton). After weeks away, Young Gabe returns as the governor's emissary. While his love interest Melanie Culpin (Sherry Jackson) is excited to see him again, Gabe is merely excited to be an officer. Over some concern, they make seemingly abrupt plans to wed, but his eagerness to be part of the action only finds him being taken prisoner by Colonel Townes and the Tories. The climactic scenes of this episode are slightly more memorable than what has come before, if only because the characters take temporarily precedence over the cause. Surprisingly, a key individual (one of the more interesting personalities) winds up dead when it's done. Does killing off one of the few identifiable figures put a damper in the rest of the series? I don't know, but if they see the light of DVD, the five remaining episodes should clue us in to whether things on "The Swamp Fox" got better or worse. The first of these is promoted, along with Third Man on the Mountain, at the end of this installment.

Francis and the boys enjoy some canned chow. Murky Marion wishes his show looked better in nighttime scenes.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like "Elfego Baca", "The Swamp Fox" is presented in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen ratio and, for the most part, color. All but the opening title sequence and closing previews are seen in full color, as they were filmed though they aired in black and white in 1959-60. Video quality is again quite good, with minor artifacts and subtle print damage being the only obstacles to perfection. For some reason, "Swamp Fox" doesn't look quite as pleasing as "Elfego" - a few medium-to-long shots stand out as being somewhat weak, whereas close-ups tend to hold up nicely. One other problem, which was also noticeable in "Elfego" to a lesser degree, is the lighting. Disney must not have perfected the art of lighting, as nighttime scenes tend to come off like day, only adjusted
so that whites look more like gray. "Swamp Fox" has its share of those and while maybe they were convincing in black-and-white, they look not quite right in color. At the same time, some dark scenes tend to look too dark (to the point of murky visuals) without capably conveying the concept of "night." It's a minor complaint and it probably dates back to the original filming rather than the DVD transfer, but it's a visual shortcoming worth mentioning. By and large, if not quite as satisfying as "Elfego Baca", "Swamp Fox" looks pretty dang good for a show in its late 40s.

The audio is as dated as you'd expect from a late '50s television program and comes across slightly less potent than does "Elfego." But there is little surprising to the two-channel Dolby Digital Mono track. Though there seems to be a little more distortion and a little less fidelity than Disc 1's slightly-older episodes, the presentation is far from disappointing and, considering the source, probably the best we can hope for with today's technologies. As is true of "Elfego", "Swamp Fox" is equipped with English subtitles which abbreviate a fair amount of the dialogue uttered.

Leonard Maltin appears cheery in his Disc 2 introduction. "Texas John Slaughter" is one of the Disney anthology series featured in the featurette "Walt Disney Presents Heroes of the American Frontier." Leslie Nielsen hasn't aged the way you might have expected...

BONUS MATERIAL

The retrospective interview with Leslie Nielsen that you may be expecting is nowhere to be found here. Instead, Disc 2's sole supplement is "Walt Disney Presents Heroes of the American Frontier" (18:05), a solid documentary on Walt Disney's foray into television and his desire to educate and entertain youths with the informative and rather popular "Frontierland" installments devoted to past American heroes, such as this DVD set's two featured shows. "Elfego Baca" and "The Swamp Fox" are, of course, covered,
as are "Davy Crockett", Walt's first and most significant anthology success, and "Texas John Slaughter", the longest-running "Walt Disney Presents" subject of its kind. With relevant clips from the series, archival photos and memorabilia, and comments from three interviewees (author/Disney aficionado Bill Cotter, film historian Frank Thompson, and UCLA history professor Stephen Aron), this piece provides nice context for the presented series, their production origins, and their effect on the public in the early days of television's acceptance. There's even a bit comparing "Crockett"'s depiction of Native Americans to the same in Disney's Pocahontas.

Disc 2's menus resemble Disc 1's, only they opt for a patriotic design more fitting of Francis Marion, with red bars and white stars at the top and below. Instrumental music accompanies all the menus but Episode Selection. None of the menus are animated outside of the traditional curtains-opening introduction.

Elfego Baca is the mustachioed face of New Mexico law. Despite the frilly cap, The Swamp Fox means business. No, seriously, he'll shoot you!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There are two ways to look at Elfego Baca The Swamp Fox: Legendary Heroes, depending on which of the two primary classes of Walt Disney Treasures collectors that you belong to. On the one hand, you get six vintage installments of Walt's anthology series that undoubtedly represent a significant chapter in the Disney studio's television history. These episodes, never before been released to home video in their original format and not rerun for quite some time, have been remarkably restored and are accompanied by a couple of solid new featurettes. This is likely the mentality of the Treasures completist, who can rationalize the list price based upon fond memories and/or the limited accessibility of seeing these classic shows in any other way. Part of me feels this way, which not only justifies its existence in the Treasures line but garners it a solid recommendation.

More discerning collectors, however, might find reason to skip this set. The decisions to pair up two shows and provide only three episodes of each both are bound to somewhat disappoint the biggest fans of either "Elfego Baca" or "The Swamp Fox" series. Yes, two series that may have unfortunately otherwise faded away are lovingly preserved here to be enjoyed by original audience members plus new viewers who hold an interest in American history, vintage television, Walt Disney, or any combination of those. At the same time, releasing them together and providing less than half of each show's short run will no doubt annoy anyone with a passion for/interest in only one of the two. I can partly sympathize with this sentiment too, having found "Elfego Baca" the livelier and better enduring of the pair. Though built from the same mold, neither series holds up as well as "Davy Crockett" or the several other Treasures volumes composed of finer animation and programming; I doubt either would fare particularly well with younger and/or more impatient viewers weaned on the pacing (and often pandering) of contemporary entertainment.

Those who enjoy the Crockett adventures and tonally similar early Disney live action work like Johnny Tremain, Old Yeller, and Third Man on the Mountain will likely find plenty to like about "Elfego" and "Swamp Fox." Those who do not will not. But all serious fans of Walt Disney owe it to themselves to discover these two period series with at least a rental.

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REVIEW CONTENTS
Page 1: Set Overview and Disc 1 - "Elfego Baca" Episodes, Video & Audio, Bonus Features
Page 2: Disc 2 - "The Swamp Fox" Episodes, Video & Audio, Bonus Features, Closing Thoughts

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Wave 5 on the Walt Disney Treasures Page | Treasures in Direct-to-Video Listings

Related Interview
UltimateDisney.com Presents An Interview with Leonard Maltin (December 2005)

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Review posted December 10, 2005.