Branded (1965)

Overview

This reviewer really wanted to like this triple-disc boxed DVD set, mostly because he is a big fan of the series Branded. The Larry Cohen-created western series, which ran for two seasons (1965-67) has long lingered in the memory as one of the better mid-1960's westerns. Chuck Connors plays former United States Cavalry Captain Jason McCord, an officer court martialed and drummed out of the service for cowardice in the massacre at Bitter Creek, in which 31 men including Brigadier General James Reed (John Litel), ...
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Overview

This reviewer really wanted to like this triple-disc boxed DVD set, mostly because he is a big fan of the series Branded. The Larry Cohen-created western series, which ran for two seasons (1965-67) has long lingered in the memory as one of the better mid-1960's westerns. Chuck Connors plays former United States Cavalry Captain Jason McCord, an officer court martialed and drummed out of the service for cowardice in the massacre at Bitter Creek, in which 31 men including Brigadier General James Reed (John Litel), his mentor, died; he offered no defense, and wants no vindication -- for he knows that the only way in which he can be vindicated is to destroy the reputation of General Reed, who was in command but no longer in control of his faculties; and if that happens, then McCord knows that certain members of Congress will use the evidence of the general's senility at that stage of his life as the basis to abrograte the treaties that he negotiated just a few years earlier with the Indian Nations. And so every week, at least in the first season, McCord faces scorn and abuse as an alleged coward, the man who ran from Bitter Creek and left his men and his commanding officer to die (John Candy did a brutally funny satire of Branded, entitled "Yellowbelly," on SCTV). Appearing long after the genre had crested in popularity, Branded had an underlying plot and theme -- a quest for survival but, specifically, an avoidance of redemption for its main character -- that seemed to reflect the moral ambiguities that society was soon to face head-on during the Vietnam era. The series has arrived on DVD from Marathon Music & Video under license from its broadcast syndication distributor, King World, in very disappointing condition, in a mid-priced set containing the show's complete first season. The problem isn't so much the film-to-video transfers, which seem to do as much as possible with the available prints, so much as the sources themselves. Evidently, King World was only able to provide prints -- not even negatives -- that were edited for syndication, running less than 22 minutes, while the original broadcast episodes would have run 25 minutes; and depend upon it, watching the best of these shows, you do miss those two or three minutes -- there are plot holes and gaps in the action and continuity that occasionally make this disc very frustrating to watch. Additionally, the end credits all have a jump and a gap in their continuity because the producers used prints that had their visuals (and soundtracks) edited, specifically to remove plugs for cigarette sponsors; The Twilight Zone did the same thing for years, but much more smoothly, and restored everything for disc. Even some of the standard footage in one of the opening credits sequences -- depicting Connors' character being stripped of his rank -- is visibly damaged in certain episodes. Still, one is able to appreciate the rawness of Richard Cunha's photography in the spare, minimalist early episodes of the first season. Moreover, film buffs will love a lot of what's on Disc One in those first few shows, just based on the directorial credits -- feature film veteran Richard Whorf directed the first episode, Survival (which uses a brilliant script by Cohen), and Joseph H. Lewis directed the even better second episode, The Vindicator, which apparently was the pilot and explains the underlying arc of the series. The episode is a good one and has one of the best scenes ever played by June Lockhart, as the widow of one of McCord's fellow officers. The third episode, "The Test," is one of the best pieces of directorial work ever delivered by Leonard Horn, including a great subjective tracking shot as one character enters a Comanche village; it's marred by some bad stunt doubling, but also benefits from a great performance by Jason Evers and one of the best episode scores ever delivered by Dominic Frontiere this side of The Outer Limits. The fourth episode, co-starring Jeanne Cooper, is dark and a bit soft in focus in its first reel, and generally doesn't look good anywhere -- episode five, The Bounty, by contrast, looks beautiful, while episode seven has visible frame flashes and very unsteady sound, which is a pity, as it features a pair of veteran players, Joan Leslie and John Ireland, who are well worth watching. It's followed by the most interesting episode of the entire season, Coward Steps Aside, which reunited Chuck Connors with his Rifleman co-star Johnny Crawford, in a story that owes a little bit to The Tin Star, the Anthony Mann western starring Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins; in this show, Crawford plays a young deputy who must rely on McCord for help when the town in beseiged by gunmen. Disc One concludes with a Rifleman episode that is available in much better condition in MPI's Rifleman DVD set. Disc Two concludes with a three-part episode shot in color that includes a big supporting cast, including John Carradine, Patrick Wayne, and Wendell Corey (and what is arguably one of the worst performances in the history of television by Peter Breck, as a Mexican bandit); those color episodes look to be in significantly better shape than most of the black-and-white shows. As a bonus feature, the producers have included a very unentertaining episode of Four Star Playhouse co-starring David Niven and Chuck Connors. Disc Three follows the same pattern as the others, and includes The First Kill, featuring Oscar-winner James Dunn in an excellent supporting performance; also interesting to see are Very Few Heroes, which features Tom Drake and Kathryn Hays (best remembered as the gentle mute alien in the Star Trek episode The Empath) as a vengeful gun-toting ranch owner; and One Way Out, an eerie episode in which McCord is trapped in a ghost town by the vengeful father (John Dehner) of a man who died at Bitter Creek, and features Native American actors X Brands, Iron Eyes Cody, and Eddie Little Sky. That disc's bonus feature is a pretty fair six-minute Chuck Connors biography. Each episode gets a single chapter, and all three discs open onto a simple menu, listing each episode and the bonus program. There is no language selection or other audio extra, and the packaging is a little sloppy, including misspelled titles and words and major actors left out of cast lists. It's still a somewhat rewarding release, but with a little more work in some basic areas it could've delivered a lot more value -- the problems won't stop this reviewer from buying the second season of the series, but it will lower his expectations considerably.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 8/24/2005
  • UPC: 011301637130
  • Rating:

  • Source: Timeless Media Group
  • Region Code: 0
  • Time: 7:15:00
  • Format: DVD

Scene Index

Disc #2 -- Branded the First Season, Disc 2
1. Leap Upon Mountains [22:17]
2. Coward Steps Aside [22:11]
3. The Mission (Part 1) [22:02]
4. The Mission (Part 2) [22:07]
5. The Mission (Part 3) [22:02]
Disc #3 -- Branded the First Season, Disc 3
1. The First Kill [22:16]
2. Very Few Heroes [22:12]
3. One Way Out [22:10]
4. That the Brave Endure [22:13]
5. A Taste of Poison [22:01]
6. Price of a Name [22:15]
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Menu

Disc #1 -- Branded the First Season, Disc 1
   Episodes
      Survival
      The Vindicators
      The Test
      Rules of the Game
      The Bounty
   Extra
      The Rifleman: "Day of the Hunter"
Disc #2 -- Branded the First Season, Disc 2
   Episodes
   Extras
      Four Star Playhouse: "Vote of Confidence" (1955)
Disc #3 -- Branded the First Season, Disc 3
   Episodes
   Extra
      Chuck Connor' Biography
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