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Reviewed by Will Harris
f you caught our review of “Betty White: In Black and White,” you saw where we offered some general-principle praise to Johnny Legend, the company which has taken to releasing themed compilation DVDs. It’s hard to offer too many compliments to the look of the content, given its age and the fact that the inexpensive pricing of the discs reveal how little was spent on restoration, but given that much of the contents is material that’s been previously unavailable on DVD, the company is filling a void in both product and television history, and we have to give them credit for that.
This go-round, Johnny Legend has come up with a strange yet cool idea for a set, diving into the vaults and coming up with episodes of various TV westerns which featured guest appearances by future members of the cast of “Star Trek.” I’m not sure how many other genres would present such an opportunity, but given the popularity and proliferation of westerns on the small screen during the 1950s and 1960s, they could’ve easily expanded this beyond a two-disc set, particularly given that they’ve filled out the second disc with an honest-to-God feature film. But we’ll get back to that, and when we do, you’ll see that the film in question actually proves to be one of the best reasons to buy this set, relatively speaking.
Disc One kicks off with “Tate,” which starred David McLean as a bounty hunter who lost the use of his left arm during the Civil War and now travels the dusty trail in search of enough work to pay for the surgery that will give him back the use of his arm. It’s hard to imagine a show in the early 1960s with a physically disabled lead character, which may be why it only lasted for 13 episodes, but it was still enough time for Leonard Nimoy (not to mention Robert Redford) to turn up in “Comanche Scalps,” an episode about a client of Tate’s who’s seeking revenge for the death of his brother. Nimoy plays one of the Comanches here, but when he turns up next, in an episode of “Bonanza,” he’s playing an unscrupulous card dealer. The plot of this episode – entitled “The Ape” – couldn’t be more inspired by “Of Mice and Men” if it tried, but it still plays pretty well. What’s really annoying, however, is that Johnny Legend didn’t pony up for the theme song for “Bonanza,” resulting in some generic western-sounding music playing over the credits. Pretty dodgy, guys. The last item on Disc One, however, just about makes up for it: it’s a two-part episode from the series “Outlaws,” and in addition to putting William Shatner in the spotlight, you’ll also see Cloris Leachman, Jack Warden, Edgar Buchanan (“Green Acres”), and Victor Buono (King Tut on “Batman”).
Onward to Disc Two, which begins with the oldest artifact of the set: an episode of “The Lone Ranger” featuring DeForest Kelley. From there, you get an episode of “The Last of the Mohicans” with James Doohan, along with ostensibly the only bit of bonus material on the set. (Read more about in the Special Features section of the review.) Next, it’s back to “Outlaws,” this time with Nimoy turning up as – what’s this? – another card hustler! Makes sense, though: there was lots of illicit gambling going on in the Wild West, you know.
Now, it’s time to talk about that feature film. It’s called “White Comanche,” although it’s also known as “Rio Hondo.” Frankly, the former title makes more sense, given that it stars William Shatner playing – get this – twin brothers. One’s a cowboy, one’s an Indian! The back cover would have you believe that this movie is right up there with “Plan 9 from Outer Space” when it comes to sheer awfulness, but it’s not as bad as all that – or, at least, it wouldn’t be if you took Shatner’s performance as Notah, described on the back cover as a “peyote-smoking psychotic,” out of the equation. If you’re enough of a “Trek” fan to be swayed by this disc, then you’ll have semi-fond memories of Shatner screaming out, “I AM KIROK!” That was low-key compared to some of his work in this film.
Western fans will arguably enjoy “Trek Stars Go West” more than actual “Star Trek” fans, especially that two-part episode of “Outlaws,” but if you’d like to see Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty before they took their wagon train to the stars, you’ll probably get a few chuckles out of the set.
Special Features: None, technically. But it was nice of Johnny Legend to slide in a brief clip of James Doohan’s first appearance on “The Last of the Mohicans.” You see, Doohan turned up on an episode of the series called “Scapegoat,” where he sported a moustache and played what’s described as “an angry villager.” The following week, he turned up again, this time minus the moustache (and now credited as Jim Doohan), to play a villainous Indian in an episode entitled “Way Station.” The first appearance was apparently negligible, as you’d suspect from the generic character description, but for your viewing amusement, they’ve still included a glimpse of one of his scenes. Funny what a difference a ‘stache makes…