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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Revenge > Drama > Detective > Crime > TV > Blackthorn (2011/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1 + Volume Two (1959 – 1960/CBS DVD Sets)/Justified: The Complete Second Season (2011/Sony DVDs)/Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Volum

Blackthorn (2011/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume One + Volume Two (1959 – 1960/CBS DVD Sets)/Justified: The Complete Second Season (2011/Sony DVDs)/Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Volume Two (1962/CBS DVDs)


Picture: B (DVDs: C+)     Sound: B/C+/C+/B-/C+     Extras: C+/C/D/C+/C+     Film/Episodes: C+ (DVDs: B-)



If the Western is pretty much a dead genre, where did its elements go?  There are three places you can look.



Mateo Gil’s Blackthorn (2011) is part of a growing number of “what if, but we know it is not the case” tales that rewrite history is shaky ways.  In this case, we get Sam Shepard (who is good) here as Butch Cassidy as if he did not (yea, right!) die in his famed shootout and what happened next.  At first, this is interesting, but it quickly unravels despite its ambitions and best intents, including Stephen Rea in a good turn.  When Fox did their sequel to the massive 1969 hit Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, it was called The Early Years (reviewed elsewhere on this site) but that 1969 film was one of a kind and either way you go, you are doomed to bad storytelling.  Extras include Deleted Scenes, trailer, HD Net piece on the film, a Making Of Featurette and some short films by the director.  For more on the 1969 film, start at this link:





Then you have past successes when the genre was still alive and that includes a proliferation of hit TV shows.  This includes the very long running Gunsmoke, which CBS has slowly been releasing in half-season sets after a few compilations in advance.  The latest sets are The Fifth Season, Volume One and Volume Two covering the 1959 – 1960 Season period.  The show was still in its early black and whiter years, but Bonanza (which was in color before anyone had color TV) was about to challenge it.  We have only covered one half-season of Gunsmoke before, which you can read more about at this link:




The episodes look good for their age as did the previous sets, but the big surprise is that Volume One actually has a few much needed extras including a brief tribute to star James Arness who passed away and Sponsor Spots showing how many big companies wanted to advertise on the show.  It was a serious hit and this section reminds us of just how much.


As popular, but not as long-running was Rawhide and the latest Fourth Season, Volume Two set is as interesting and entertaining as the one previous half-season we covered at this link:




Seeing Clint Eastwood here is always amazing since he has been such a huge star in the decades since and still is.  I was also as surprised that CBS included extras here for a change too and they also include Sponsor Spots, then add a Season Five episode (Abilene) and short previews from the vault for two other episodes on this set: The Pitchwagon and The Devil & The Deep Blue.




The third way is not exactly post-modern, but the elements live in modern, current times and no show does this better than the underrated Justified: The Complete Second Season (2011) which I already recommended in its debut season at this link:




This time, the story arc takes Raylon Givens (Timothy Olyphant) back to an old family feud when he has to take on the criminal Bennett family headed by Mags (another great performance by Margo Martindale) who has a monopoly on “weed” in Harlan County and is looking to go legitimate in ways not apparent at first, but a strange twist involving an under-aged gal being harassed by a sexual predator they have hired sets wheels in motion no one could imagine.  This is a little stronger than the first season and almost tops it, but I would add it is some of the best TV of the year just the same and I wonder if they can top this.  I would still start with the first set, but if you join in here, you will not be disappointed.  Extras include Outtakes, Deleted Scenes and two making-of featurettes.



Yet another surprise is how good the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Blackthorn looks, with amazing detail and depth for a newer, stylized production.  Professional through and through, the color image is consistent, if limited.  The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on the Gunsmoke and Rawhide sets can show their age, but could not look much better, though the 35mm film has various rough spots as expected.  This is the best either show has ever looked on DVD form this period.  The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Justified is a little soft, but looks good for the format and once again, makes me wish for a Blu-ray release.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Blackthorn is also warm, top notch and though quiet at times, has a consistent soundfield and also delivers a solid mix throughout, while the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the Gunsmoke and Rawhide sets can be rough at times, but are not bad for their age either.  The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Justified has some of the better sound design for any TV show today, well recorded and engaging.  Wonder how it would be lossless?



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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