Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin: Davy Crockett - Series 1

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look at my DVDs.  Today, we get to one of the things that began my lifelong love of most things Disney, it's Disney's dramatization of the American folk hero, Davy Crockett.  This is dated in my notes at September 15, 2012.


As I'm sure I've previously blogged, I remember those early days of VHS when you had to rent both the VCR and the movies. And, being quite a young fellow at the time, my parents would always grab a Disney something to keep me and my siblings entertained. One night - possibly even the first VHS tape I ever saw - was Disney's Davy Crockett.

Again, Disney's Davy Crockett is a pop culture phenomenon that's been quite well-documented, and I'm unsure of what more I can write. When it debuted on The Wonderful World of Disney back in 1955, it just EXPLODED onto the scene. It was the kind of overnight success that is just unheard of for a TV series.

And when I saw that Davy Crockett movie when I was 6 or 7, I, too, was instantly hooked.

About 10 or 12 years ago or so, when DVD was new and exciting, Disney released a series of DVDs called Walt Disney Treasures, which were super-deluxe compilations of short films and episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney. When I saw that one of their releases was Davy Crockett: The Complete Series, I was like, "I WANT THAT NOW!" My parents heard my cries and I got it for Christmas.

Actually, when my parents got it for me, it sparked a fierce debate between them. They couldn't decide whether Davy Crockett was a TV series or a movie. I settled it by telling them they were both right. See, when making The Wonderful World of Disney back in the 1950s, Walt Disney had the bright idea to film it in colour, even though TVs were black and white back then. Disney's reasoning was two-fold.

1) He knew TVs wouldn't be black and white forever, so when colour TVs became the norm, the reruns wouldn't be dated.
2) He could edit episodes together into movies, and release them in theatres.

So that's how my parents were both right. There were five episodes total for Davy Crockett, and they were released into theatres as two movies.

And that's how I decided to tackle the complete series DVD. I decided to kick things off tonight with what some fans have dubbed "series 1," which was the first three episodes. These three episodes were edited together into the film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. So I decided to binge-watch all three episodes tonight.

In the series, we're introduced to Davy Crockett, as portrayed by Fess Parker. I have no idea if Parker is a wooden actor or not. I mean, maybe he's wooden, or maybe he's portraying Crockett as the stern, tough, hero history portrays him as. Crockett, though, when we first meet him, is cocky and full of swagger...always convinced he's right. And it does peek though that stern exterior.

Crockett is joined in his adventures by his friend and sidekick Gerogie Russell, as played by Buddy Ebsen, who would go on to great fame about five years later as Uncle Jed on The Beverly Hillbillies. He's the more fun-loving of the bunch, and Ebsen even gets a few opportunities to show off why he was such a legendary song-and-dance man back in the day.

And the theme song. That legendary theme song. I still find myself humming it when I'm on hikes and such. It's just so darn catchy. And, as the series progresses, it really does serve as a bit of a Greek chorus. A new verse of the song opens each act, delivering exposition as we need it. You hear it constantly throughout the series. No wonder it got drilled into folks' heads back in the day.

Episode 1:  Davy Crockett Indian Fighter

We're first introduced to Crockett when there's an Indian uprising, so Crockett and Russell volunteer for the militia to help shut it down.  There's much comedy to be had as Crockett and his practical mountain man ways clashes with the regular Army folks that he's forced to work with.  He has a constant foil in Major Norton, the by-the-book greenhorn who's his commanding officer.  He does manage to charm General Andrew Jackson, though, and Crockett is soon able to bring in Red Stick, the chief who's leading the uprising.

This one is just pure adventure.  It's full of good, goofy charm, such as Crockett's new hunting technique, when he tries to grin down a bear.  Or another scene, that starts dramatic and ends comically.  It looks like the war is going to last through the winter, so Crockett and the other militia men want to go home for a little bit to make sure their families are provided for so they'll survive the winter.  Major Norton refuses to let them go.  It leads to a standoff on a bridge where, despite all his military bluster, Crockett and his men just calmly walk through the barricade, and Crockett even takes orders from the men for any special foods they'd like. 

Episode 2: Davy Crockett Goes to Congress

This is probably my favourite.  You'd think there wouldn't be a way to find high adventure in politics, but darn it, Disney found a way.  Crockett and Russell head on to some new territory to build a new homestead for Crockett's family.  When they find that there's some local criminals who are running Indians off their land and re-selling it new settlers, well, Crockett doesn't take too kindly to this, so he takes the job as magistrate (I guess that's what they called the sheriff back then) and proceeds to clean house. 

Again, there's a great moment in here that I like, which shows to the strict moral code of Crockett and Russell.  So, they find the thugs and fight them off the homestead of their new Indian friend Charlie Twoshirts.  Crockett gets the upper hand on the ringleader, and one of the henchman is about to shoot Crockett in the back.  Twoshirts then pulls out his rifle and shoots the henchman.  As Crockett begins hauling the ringleader off to jail, Russell pulls Twoshirts aside and says, "Hey.  If there's any trouble over that shooting, just remember.  It was me who pulled the trigger."  Russell knew that, if there was going to be trouble, the racism of the day probably wouldn't allow Twoshirts a fair trial, so Russell was taking the fall to protect his new friend.  I just like that scene.

Anyway, once Crockett has brought law and order to the land, folks start wooing him to run for the state legislature.  Crockett is reluctant at first, but when he hears that a corrupt lawyer is running unopposed, he figures he'd better.  Once he accepts the nomination, that's when he hears tragic news.  His beloved wife Polly, who was back at his original homestead, looking after the kids while Crockett claimed their new section of land, had fallen ill and passed away. 

Talk about dealing with your emotions in a manly way.  Upon hearing this news, Russell asks if there's anything he can do for Crockett.  Crockett just says, "I just need some time to myself for a while," and he walks off into the woods by himself.  But when he walks away, it's almost like he's limping.  He's stumbling a bit.  This news is so bad, it's physically wounded him.  Good stuff.

When he's done grieving, Crockett begins his campaign.  His folksy charm and common sense approach makes him quite popular, and he rises from the state legislature to congress.  In congress, he frequently butts heads with his old commander Andrew Jackson, who's now the president.  And here's where the high adventure part comes in.  Jackson seeks to introduce a controversial bill to run the Indians off their land and make room for settlers.  Crockett is deeply opposed.  So, to get Crockett out of the way, he's sent off on a speaking tour.  Russell tracks down Crockett on the tour and brings word that the bill is being presented while Crockett is away.  Crockett cancels the rest of his tour, and he and Russell make a mad dash back from Philadelphia to Washington, where Crockett's allies are holding a filibuster to delay the bill's passing.  Crockett arrives, and delivers an impassioned speech that sways congress and kills the bill. 

This is actually mostly true, and as the Greek chorus/balladeers then tell us in song, the act killed Crockett's political career and cost him a run at the presidency. 

(Oops.  Just checked my facts on Wikipedia.  Crockett's speech didn't kill the bill, but it still killed his political career.)

Episode 3: Davy Crockett at the Alamo

Well, with politics done, Crockett and Russell ponder what to do next.  Crockett has an idea.  There's folks in trouble down in Texas, and he figures they should go and help.  On their journey, they're joined by a two-bit conman they dub Thimblerig, and a down-on-his-luck Indian they dub Busted Luck.  They arrive in Texas and hear that San Antonio has been overrun by General Santa Anna and his forces, so Crockett and his crew wind up holing up with the refugees in the Alamo.  And even those with a passing knowledge of history probably remember the Alamo. 

This episode is pretty good.  Tensions run high at the Alamo, and even lifelong friends Crockett and Russell soon have a falling out.  But they are able to make amends, leading to an action-packed finale as the Mexican forces finally storm the Alamo. 

And that's Davy Crockett: Series 1.  I was thinking about this earlier this afternoon, when I saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on one channel, and the Russel Crowe Robin Hood on the other.  I was thinking, "Man, I'm sick of these realistic, historically accurate takes on folk heroes.  I want to see the fantasy again!  I want to see the romanticism again!"  And that's exactly what Disney's Davy Crockett is.  I'm certain it's historical accuracy is highly questionable.  But it's all high adventure in the grandest sense.  And sometimes, you don't want the realism.  You want the romance.  And that's what Davy Crockett is.  Let's forget the history and enjoy the adventure. 

No comments: