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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Bonanza: The complete episode guide part 3- season 1, eps 11-15

Episode 11, The Truckee Strip, is a great episode even if it does repeat an earlier theme of Little Joe falling in love. This time though it's Romeo and Juliet out west. The episode starts with the Cartwrights in a spin because Luther Jessup (a young James Coburn) has chopped a tree down on the Truckee Strip, a beautiful piece of land whose ownership has long been the subject of a feud between the Cartwrights and the Bishops.That we have never seen the Bishops in Bonanza before, doesn't matter and the history of the fued is told within this episode - apparently years previously a judge had ruled in the Cartwrights favour. The problem is that things get even more complicated when Little Joe falls for Bishops daughter, Amy. It's an all action western with a great climax and James Coburn is excellent as the scheming Pete Jessup.

The following episode - The Hanging Posse must rate as among the top episodes of the first season . It starts with the killing of a rancher's wife by a trio of drifters. The rancher Flint Johnson comes into Virginnia City with his dead wife and immediately a posse is formed to track the men down. The Cartwrights are in town and there' some nice comedy when Hoss buys a dimes worth of jelly beans, these brightly coloured sweets had become very popular following the Civil War and it's nice to see authentic little details like this, which help to colour things out. Fearing that the posse will become a lynch party, Little Joe and Adam decide to go along to keep things legal.

Away from the Ponderosa, the story opens out and this is a brilliant example of western television at its best.

The Vendetta episode came next and followed a string of strong episodes, but this retelling of High Noon, with Hoss in the Gary Cooper role trumps them all. Little Joe and Adam have departed from Sacramento to buy some cattle and Hoss and his father, Ben are in town to conduct some business. They become involved in a bank robbery by the feared  Morgan gang, and together the two men stop the attempted hold up. Hoss draws and shoots Billy Morgan but Ben has been wounded too. The Morgans grab their own wounded man and ride off.

Ben is patched up by the town doctor but it is decided he is not fit enough to travel back to the Ponderosa and he has to rest in a room in the town hotel until he is able to ride. Billy Morgan later dies of his wounds and the Morgans swear revenge. Then the posse who had gone out after the Morgans all return, dead, slung over their horses -the tension now builds as Hoss finds nobody in town is willing to help in the coming fight with the Morgans. Ben, still recovering, is unable to help his son but as far as he knows the town is behind them.

A truly excellent episode

The Sisters (episode 14) is less successful. It starts off with Adam fighting an old style duel to protect the honour of a lady who has been insulted. Adam wins but doesn't kill the other man, one John Henry but tells him that if he ever again says one wrong word to Sue Ellen Terry, he will kill him. Ben Cartwright is furious at his son for, what he sees, as a foolish and risky fight. Buddy Ebsen guest stars as a sheriff in this episode and whilst it doesn't live up to the quality of the previous three, it is nevertheless fine entertainment.
It is worth pointing out that this episode is considered a fan favourite, especially by those who favour Adam Cartwright.

The Last Hunt (episode 15) may be light on action but it is nevertheless an excellent story -Little Joe and Hoss are away on an hunting trip when they come across a highly pregnant squaw who is trying to escape her tribe. The woman may be due to give birth at any time and the Cartwrights know they can't leave her alone, nor though can they take her back to the Ponderosa as she is far too delicate for the trip.

The problem is that the snows are due to start and if the trio are still on the mountain when the storm starts, then all ways off will be blocked until the spring. However because of the squaw's condition they have no option but to remain on the mountain until she gives birth and is fit enough to travel. There is some great comedy in this episode as Joe and Hoss attempt to make the girl comfortable and survive off the land.


Dan Blocker could have been a professional boxer - he won several amatuer fights but decided against turning professional. His trainer stated that he had all the skills needed except one - the killer instinct. He was just too soft hearted. Given his size, he was six foot before he was sixteen pro football seemed an option for the hulking boy, but Blocker turned his back on sport and decided to concentrate more on academic subjects. He served in the Korean war and saw action when his squad was pinned down.

"I tasted real mortal fear, "Blocker later told a friend.

After the army Blocker had to decide between acting and teaching. With a young family to support, teaching seemed more stable but acting could be more lucrative. The young actor found himself cast in episodes of Cheyanne and Wagon Train, but he always seemed to play the heavy. Blocker was cast in The Restless Gun by future Bonanza creator, David Dortort but after Blocker played the part of Tiny in Cimmaron City he decided to give up acting and return to Texas and a teaching post. Dortrot then offered him the part in Bonanza and the rest is history.

On May 13, 1972, in Los Angeles, Blocker died suddenly following routine gall bladder surgery, of a pulmonary embolism. The cast and crew of Bonanza were shaken by his death, and the writers took the then-unusual step of referencing a major character's death in the show's storyline that autumn. Bonanza lasted another season, but the final season in which Blocker did not appear is the least-requested in reruns.

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