STUDIO: Disney
MSRP: $32.99
RUNNING TIME: 4 Hours, 42 Minutes

"The Nine Lives of Robert Loggia" featurette
"Heroes of the American Frontier" featurette

The Pitch

"Davy Crockett was more popular than we expected. Any other well-known historical figures we can pillage? No? How about obscure ones?"

The Humans

Leslie Nielson as Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox; Robert Loggia as Elfego Baca.

The Nutshell

Following in the Frontierland tradition of Davy Crockett, Elfego Baca and the Swamp Fox were unleashed on the amiable audience of "Walt Disney Presents…" in 1958 and 1959. Do the names ring a bell? They didn’t for me, because I am a product of the modern school system, but apparently they were a couple of patriots that fought inustice, the English, and illiteracy, each in their separate times.

Elfego Baca was a Mexican-American who made a successful transition into American culture, becoming a sheriff, a lawyer, and a politician at different points in his life. Disney portrays him as an affable, incidentally brave man with a driving goal of uniting his Mexican people with the American culture he finds so appealing.

This is, essentially, a condensed version of the Revolutionary War.

Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, is the real-life basis for the protagonist in Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, a revolutionary who formed a band of marauders to harry and annoy the British as they invade his home turf. His knowledge of the swamps of his country makes him a vicious adversary who, in real life, broke the back of the British lines as they tried to overwhelm the Carolinas.

The two heroes complement each other well on this set: Elfego Baca was a social hero, while Marion was an agent of less subtle change, and both successes in their own ways.

The Package

The Disney Treasures collections always have fine-looking packaging, with their tin cases. The internals are pretty decent, as well, with some reproduced original artwork.

This set features one disc for the Swamp Fox and one for Elfego Baca; each disc has three episodes on it. For completists, it’s worth noting that these discs do not contain the entirety of the heroes’ runs on "Walk Disney Presents…," but rather work as "best of" collections. Each features the premier episode of its respective hero, as well as two other adventures. There’s not a lot of continuity going on, so casual viewers won’t miss much.

The sound and audio are no more than you’d expect from remastered 50s television. Though the shows were originally broadcast in black-and-white, Disney had the foresight to tape in color, and the color prints is what you get on these discs, in fullscreen. The sound is in Dolby remastered stereo, and is free of noticeable blemishes.

"Dear Jesus, I offer up this hat as sacrifice to–
What? Crockett gave his life? Damn it!"

The Lowdown

Neither of these two characters have the immediate sense of good-natured cool that made Davy Crockett’s on-screen adventures so popular with audiences. (Crockett also had a way better theme song.) Where children and adults were drawn to Crockett’s tall-tale mystique — killin’ b’ars, grinnin’ down mountain lions — there’s a lot less to attract them to the stories of Elfego Baca and the Swamp Fox, unless they’re really fond of men with high ideals.

Robert Loggia, as Elfego Baca, is charismatic and fun to watch. The character’s nickname is "el Gato," because he was said to have had nine lives, like a cat. How do we know this? Because a crap ton of people tried to kill him. His premier episode features him running like a jackrabbit and getting holed up in a mud hut, into which four-hundred rounds were pumped, dynamite was thrown, and burning brands were tossed. He emerges unscathed, after a suitable dramatic interval. His heroism doesn’t leap out and grab the audience; it’s much more passive than Crockett’s, or even Francis Marion’s, and less fun to watch as an adventure story.

Leslie Nielson, as the Swamp Fox, is plenty active, but a touch on the repetitious side. The historical Francis Marion Is famous for spending a lot of time hidden in a swamp and occasionally reaching out and torching a few British. That’s not a lot of variety in action, and, unfortunately, Leslie Nielson’s small screen exploits in his name are about as varied, with the small addition of a love story, of course.

Neither disc is particularly bad, but both lack that quality of heroism that works like a copy of Seventeen to Dave Davis: the sacrificial, adaptive focus that put a coonskin cap on the head of every kid under twelve the year Crockett hit the airwaves.

6 out of 10