‘The Rebel’ Season Two DVD Review: War is Over

The Rebel S2Something didn’t add up. The Rebel had 36 Season One episodes, then a whopping 40 for Season Two. Then the 1959-61 half-hour western series was canceled?

Shout! Factory’s release of Season Two on DVD Nov. 17 clears that up, thanks to a generous sixth disc loaded with extras. They explain how a botched negotiation with ABC caused the highly successful show — the network’s top Sunday night drama — to be axed.

Even so, The Rebel amassed 76 total episodes of stark if not dark western dramas — episodes with strong casts, plots, direction and performances. And with the new bonus features, we can gain an even greater appreciation and perspective for this standout in a vast herd of TV oaters.

They start with Looking Back at The Rebel, a 66-minute interview by Bob Anderson of writer-producer (he’d say producer-writer) A.J. Fenady, a classic, cigar-puffing Hollywood raconteur.

Fenady tells how he, director Irvin Kershner and star Nick Adams united to create the tales of Johnny Yuma, a disillusioned former Confederate soldier who roams the West soon after war’s end, armed with a sawed-off shotgun and wielding a writer’s pen, as he chronicled his journeys in a journal.

Sprinkled with on-set photos, Fenady’s interview in his manly, memento-strewn office reveals that his favorite episode is Season Two’s first: Appomattox, a riveting flashback tale of Johnny witnessing Lee’s surrender to Grant that ended the Civil War.

Like so many others, that episode had a wealth of guest stars, including George Macready (soon to lend his charismatic depth to my beloved The Outer Limits) as Lee.

Fenady then describes how The Rebel’s own success led to its downfall. The Rebel’s team made an impressive spinoff pilot called The Yank (featured on the bonus disc), a look at an ex-Yankee’s postwar POV while roaming the shattered South, starring a handsome young James Drury, later of The Virginian. ABC loved it, but only wanted 16 episodes as a mid-season replacement. Negotiations became bitter, a tentative deal with rival NBC fell through, and suddenly The Rebel was done.

Fenady also asserts that Adams’ 1968 death from an overdose was not a suicide, and Adams’ son and daughter agree in Nick Adams Remembered, a 19-minute interview. They relate how Adams came from an impoverished family of coal miners and was determined to have a better fate.

Adams is described as fun-loving, a natural actor and comedian and a formidable self-promoter. They also liken him to John Wayne, though I’d argue his Rebel persona was far closer to James Dean. They also call The Rebel “the role of a lifetime.”

A four-minute array of Nick Adams Commercials shows the actor pushing Crest, L&M cigarettes and Cheer detergent — relics of an era when a series’ stars hawked its sponsors’ products in ads at the end. In all, there are 17 15-second spots, and Adams does a fine job of salesmanship.

There’s also an 11-minute Production Still Gallery which plays as a video, no clicking needed. Fenady narrates offscreen for a fine spread of photos from the set.

Then there are the episodes, which bring to a close this remarkable Western saga. As in Season One, also from Shout! Factory, the original theme song sung by Johnny Cash is featured, for which Fenady credits the video label. (As with many series, theme music rights were a snag in syndication.)

The new medium of TV was littered with westerns in the ’50s and ’60s — some great, some bad, some so-so. The Rebel was one of the great ones. Enjoy.

— Bruce Westbrook

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