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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Bonanza: The complete episode guide part 1- season 1, eps 1-5

I've been collecting the excellent Bonanza part work from DeAgosti Publications, for a good few months now, the series is currently up to season two with more arriving each fortnight - so there should be a bunch waiting when I get home. It may work out an expensive way to collect the series, box sets are cheaper, but each issue comes with a detailed full colour magazine with some great articles and rare photographs - I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

Eventually I'll have the complete set, fourteen seasons, in a nice looking uniform edition. I used to love the series as a kid. And if I remember correctly it was shown on Sunday afternoon on BBC 1 over here, and I'm enjoying revisiting the saga of the Cartwrights. Finding myself away from home for a few months I took a bunch of the DVD's with me so I could watch the show whenever I was in the mood for some western adventure. And so here is the first part of the Archive's complete Bonanza guide.

Cue rousing theme tune - right from the off Bonanza was going to be a different kind of western. Creator, David Dortort said when pitching the series to the network, that our stories would delve into character, deal with human relationships, which is where the best stories are. The series was also to be filmed largely on location and in colour which meant that the stunning scenery would rival any of the big screen westerns. At this point in time most TV westerns had concentrated on the standard western themes - gunfights, good bad men and Indian attacks with little real character development. Bonanza set out to change all that. It transformed the western from being about the lonely gunfighter to the loving family.

The first episode, A Rose for Lotta features Yvonne De Carlo as guest star (a coup for this new series to get such a high profile guest star) and right from the start the family theme is set. There is now conflict between eldest Cartwright boy, Adam and Little Joe because Adam doesn't think Joe is showing enough maturity to help run the family business. This leads to fists being thrown with middle brother Hoss acting as peacemaker between his two fueding siblings. However tensions are soon eased as the Cartwright's have to pull together to fight off mine owners who want to ravage the timber on the Cartwright land and have enlisted famous actress, Lotta Crabtree (De Carlo) to woo the Cartwright boys. As a pilot its a good enough episode and shows how tough the Cartwright clan were initially depicted - they are positively antisocial and shoot at anyone who ventures onto their land. This was followed up by a particularly strong episode, The Sun Mountain Herd and finds the Cartwright's going up against several braves from the Paiute tribe who have been stealing cattle. Ben Cartwright and his sons visit the Indians and discover that the cattle have been stolen to feed the tribe, since the hordes of prospectors in the area are killing the antelope the Indians depend on for their food. They had not option but steal the cattle - either that or starve. This episode features a powerhouse performance from Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright as he tries to avoid an all out war with the Indians.

Episode three, titled The Newcomers gives a chance for Dan Blocker as the mammoth Hoss Cartwright to shine as he falls in love amongst hostilities between his family and the unscrupulous Blake McCall.

"Nobody's gonna destroy the Ponderosa. I'll fight for what's mine, what I believe in." Ben Cartwright.

MCcall has brought hydraulic mining into the area, a process will result in thousands of acres of virgin timber uprooted and entire mountains washed away. The Cartwright's are not going to stand for this and conflict is guaranteed, but the problem is that Hoss has fallen in love with McCall's fiancée. This is a great episode with some wonderful scenes between Hoss and Emily, played by seasoned actress Inger Stevens.

It's non stop action for episode four, The Paiute War - this episode displays how Bonanza always treated the Native American characters as real people which was something of a rarity for TV westerns who previously had depicted Indians in one or two ways - as savages of for comedic affect. But not Bonanza and Ben Cartwright finds himself doing his utmost to avoid an all out war. There are some great action scenes in this episode and it really does have a cinematic feel to it.

Five - Enter Mark Twain - plays mostly for humour but there is a backdrop involving scheming politicians and an illegal land grab. Right from the off Twain causes problems for the Cartwright when he writes a story for the local newspaper about a huge wild man living on the Ponderosa. The story results in hundreds of people trespassing on Cartwright land.

Bonanza was an immediate ratings success - TV was starting to overtake the cinema in the hearts of audiences everywhere, and each week thousands of Americans would settle down to watch Bonanza and soon the Cartwright family became household names. The series was just as successful abroad, particularly in the UK where it was the most successful  westerns TV series ever in terms of ratings.

When David Dortort was developing Bonanza he was at a party given for the cast of Wagon Train when Lorne Greene walked in. He recalls turning to his then wife Rose, and saying: "I think Ben Cartwright just walked in." They had found the actor to play the patriarch of the Cartwright clan. Purnell Roberts was cast next as Adam Cartwright and Dan Blocker came next as Hoss. Finding someone to fill Little Joe's boots was much more difficult and the producers considered several actors before settling on Michael Landon who was known to audiences for his role in I was a Teenage Werewolf.

And thus TV history was made.

1 comment:

David Cranmer said...

I have always respected the talent that was present in each Bonanza episode but I never became a fan. Always more of a Gunsmoke kid. But I would love to watch that first episode with Yvonne De Carlo. Great beauty and actress.