DVD Review: Gentle Ben (Season One)

There are certain shows that you truly envy when you’re a kid. You sit in front of the TV wishing for the magical power to swap places with the kid on the other side of the screen. Sadly this switcheroo never happens. After a few year, we realize how foolish it was to even want the character’s fictional life. What was the point of wanting to go to the school with the Sweathogs or share a bedroom with the Brady kids? Those fantaises fizzled with age. Gentle Ben strangely enough is still dreamy. What kid wouldn’t want a pet bear, a trained raccoon and a fanboat? What adult wouldn’t enjoy such fun in a Florida wildlife park? Clint Howard had it all as a kid on the show. Gentle Ben: Season One has him living the good life while growing up on the fringe of the Everglades.

“Hurricane Coming” starts off the show that at first seems to be about a wildlife ranger played by Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke & McCloud). He’s talking to a family from the city eager to spend time on a house boat in the swampy Florida park. He’s not the real star when his son arrives to play with the kid in the family. But quickly the focus shifts to his son (Ron’s brother Clint Howard). Except the two humans stars get bumped out the way by Ben, the black bear. He’s an orphan that grew up with the family. The family on the houseboat is shocked at the arrival of the tame and hungry bear. The mom wants nothing to do with him. But she needs his help when a hurricane strikes the area. Can she overcome her bear-phobia? The pilot was directed by Ricou Browning. He’s best known for playing The Creature From the Black Lagoon and creating Flipper. Gentle Ben is cooler than Flipper just because you don’t have to always be in the water to enjoy his company. “Green Eyed Bear” brings Ron Howard (Arrested Development) into the swampy action. Although he’s not Clint’s brother. He’s the son of a man who kills a mama black bear. While Dennis takes in the orphan cubs, Ron wants them. Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker) is a poacher on “Fish and Chips.” “Voice from the Wilderness” brings out fellow Gunsmoke alumni Burt Reynolds (Smokey and the Bandit). Burt’s a pilot in a crashed plane. Dennis’ rescue runs into difficulties with the cargo.

“Invasion of Willie Sam Gopher” stars Jay Silverheels (Tonto on The Lone Ranger). He’s not happy that his son was taken to school by Clint Howard. “A Waste of Honey” gets Ben accused of destroying a neighbor’s honey operation. But it’s a frame up. Pat Hingle (Batman) and a fellow criminal are the real culprits. “The Ransom” brings back Oakland in a flawed concept of kidnapping Ben. They don’t seem to think out what it takes to keep a hug bear hostage. “The Wayward Bear” is a two part adventure of what happens when he wanders off during a visit to town. Trouble comes when he runs into circus folk. Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch is snagging and selling animals that wander off the reservation on “The Opportunist.” “Trophy Bear” makes Tom Poston (Newhart) play a swamp hunter gunning for Ben. How can kind Tom Poston do such a vile act? “Survival in the Swamp” puts Weaver on the trail of two fugitives hiding on his turf. One of the guys on the run is Bruce Gordon (The Untouchables). Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles) swears a legendary alligator is eating his livestock in “Ol’ Joe’s Gotta Go.” It’s up to Weaver to figure out if the gator is the real killer.

Gentle Ben is a fine dose of semi-wholesome family entertainment. This isn’t merely Father Knows Best in the Wild. There’s a touch of danger on the show. Every day Dennis Weaver goes to work with a chance of being killed by a wild animal or crazed hillbilly. He’s not living a safe life. This gives him a little bit more authority when he gives fatherly advice. He’s stared death in the face so he might know more about what he’s preaching than a dad that works at a mysterious office. Clint does a fine job as the young child whose playground is the swamp. He’s so calm when leading around a massive bear that could just squash him. He’s more nervous around hillbillies than man eating gators. The show only lasted two seasons which is strange since it seemed to go on forever. Gentle Ben: Season One maintains its charm with a boy with the coolest pets.

“Hurricane Coming,” “Green Eyed Bear,” “Fish and Chips,” “Gator Man,” “Voice From the Wilderness,” “Invasion of Willie Sam Gopher,” “Restless Bear,” “Battle of Wedloe Woods,” “Warden For Man and Beast,” “A Waste of Honey,” “Jennifer,” “Warden in the Bear Pit,” “A Medal For Ben,” “The Ransom,” “The Wayward Bear” (two-parter), Part 1, “The Opportunist,” “The Battle of Birthday Bay,” “Trophy Bear.” “Mama Jolie,” “Batter Up,” “Growing Pains,” “Fire in the Glades,” “Take a Giant Step,” “Survival in the Swamp,” “Who’s Afraid?,” “Greener Pastures” and “Ol’ Joe’s Gotta Go.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers appears to be taken off standard definition broadcast master tapes. There’s no confirmation as to why they didn’t get HD transfers from the 35mm source. Samuel Goldwyn company were notorious for losing track of the film elements so this might be the issue here. Things look good enough. You’ll marvel at Clint Howard’s front teeth. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Ben’s growl comes through the speakers. The episodes are subtitled.

Audio Commentaries have Clint Howard and his father Rance Howard on “Green Eyed Bear,” “Voices From the Wilderness,” “The Opportunist” and “Batter Up.” The two enjoy remembering their time in Florida with the critters. Rance talks about Gentle Ben being in production while Ron was back in Hollywood finishing up The Andy Griffith Show. He felt weird having to divide up his family for work.

Gallery of Rare Photography gives a different view of the Florida action.

Gentle Ben: Season One brings back the childhood fun of a kid with a tamed bear as a pet. The show is a bit tame, but not without major threats to the family. Dennis Weaver does well having to play third fiddle to a kid and bear.

CBS DVD presents Gentle Ben: Season One. Starring: Clint Howard, Dennis Weaver, Rance Howard and Gentle Ben. Boxset Contents: 28 episodes on 4 DVDs. Released: October 15, 2013.

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