Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BRET MAVERICK - THE COMPLETE SERIES

Actor James Garner is probably best known for two signature television roles: wandering Old West card shark and conman Bret Maverick, of the 1950's TV program MAVERICK, and as private eye Jim Rockford on the quintessential 70s series, THE ROCKFORD FILES. Both characters were created by writer Roy Huggins, and shared a number of common traits, which Garner embodied perfectly. In fact, after his six season run on ROCKFORD, Garner dug out his old black hat and string tie, and returned to his roots with 1981's sequel series BRET MAVERICK. It only lasted one season, but it was a pretty good show, and is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

After years of roaming the West, surviving on his wits, his poker skills, and - when necessary - his derringer, gambler Bret Maverick wins a saloon in Sweetwater, Arizona. Deciding to settle in the town (over the objections of many of its solid citizens), Maverick buys a spread and retires to the life of a gentleman rancher. But of course, it's not that easy. His own restless nature and hunger for excitement undermines his life of leisure, and before long he's back to gambling and looking for the big score. But his life is different now, and he has friends and neighbors who don't always appreciate his schemes...

Much more of an ensemble show than the original 50's series, BRET MAVERICK features a fine supporting cast, most notably country singer Ed Bruce as Maverick's best frenemy, Tom Guthrie. As the ex-sheriff of Sweetwater, Guthrie ends up as Maverick's cranky partner in the Red Ox Saloon. Rigid, moralistic and honest to a fault, Guthrie often finds himself in opposition to his roguish friend. Other regulars include Darleen Carr as the local newspaper editor, Ramon Bieri as the town's banker, and Richard Hamilton as Maverick's cantankerous ranch foreman.

The initial scripts were a bit clunky, and it certainly suffered from not having MAVERICK creator Huggins involved, but there was plenty of Garner charm. The show had high production values and excellent performances by both guest stars and regulars, with Ed Bruce really standing out. His skill was especially remarkable, as it was his first acting job. (He also wrote and sang the theme song!) Still, despite decent ratings and steadily improving storylines, the network cancelled the show after a single season.

The newly-released manufacture-on-demand DVDs from Warner Archive collects all 18 episodes on five discs. The episodes are presented in their original, 4x3, 1.37:1 television aspect ratio and feature Dolby Digital mono audio. Overall picture and sound quality is very good, with only the occasional speck evident and clear audio. There are no bonus features included.

BRET MAVERICK is an enjoyable TV Western, with plenty of charm. Garner is his usual charismatic, engaging self, and the show is plenty entertaining. Recommended.

Buy This Disc at Warner Archive.