Big Valley - Season 1
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The Powerful Saga of One Family's Lives and Loves in the Old West!
Venture back to the days when the land was still untamed and the West was still wild with Season One of The Big Valley, the TV classic starring Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Majors, and Linda Evans.
The Barkleys are the wealthiest and most powerful family in California's San Joaquin Valley in the 1870s, owning and controlling cattle herds, gold mines, citrus groves, and logging camps. Follow and share the family's trials and tribulations as matriarch Victoria Barkley leads her brood through joys and heartache, adventure and danger, and laughter and pain in Season One of this seminal and timeless Western Soap!
TV Westerns once ruled the primetime range, inspiring Jonathan Winters to joke at the time, "I like Westerns, I just don't like 15 of them in a row." The Big Valley came along near the end of the trail. Premiering in 1965, it ran for four seasons and earned an Emmy for "Miss Barbara Stanwyck," who stars as widowed matriarch Victoria Barkley. Her brood is a breed apart: Jarrod (Richard Long), the eldest son, who returns to the sprawling Barkley home in the San Joaquin Valley to practice law; excitable Nick (Peter Breck), who is in charge of the family enterprises, youngest son Eugene (Charles Briles), an inconsequential character who would ride off into the sunset by season two; and "shameful" and "spoiled" daughter Audra (Linda Evans), who, in the first episode, is a real kitten with a whip. As a family saga, The Big Valley is more Bonanza than Dallas with one groundbreaking, soap opera twist: the arrival of Heath (Lee Majors), the self-proclaimed "bastard son" of deceased community pillar Tom Barkley. This first season's most compelling dramatic arc is Heath's struggle to be accepted by his brothers (particularly the hot-headed Nick) and determination to stake his claim to "a name, heritage... what's mine."
The Big Valley rounded up a stable of great character actors, several at the beginnings of their careers. The episode "By Force and Violence" alone offers Bruce Dern as an escaped convict whom Victoria compels at gunpoint to help rescue Heath, who is trapped under a disabled wagon, and L.Q. Jones and Harry (Dean) Stanton as the bounty hunters on his trail. Several of the episodes cover some of the same ground: an old family friend is revealed to be less than trustworthy; Audra falls for the wrong guy; someone's got a grudge against the Barkleys. One of the season's most memorable episodes is a tale of redemption, "The Guilt of Matt Bentell," in which the man the Barkleys have hired to oversee their logging operations is the former warden of an apparently Abu Ghraib-like Civil War prison where Heath was incarcerated. Now that network television has put Westerns out to pasture, fans of the series and Western buffs who wouldn't be caught dead in Deadwood can enjoy The Big Valley's more traditional pleasures, including breathtaking cinematography (no painted Ponderosa backdrops), great Western action (the fight scenes pack a real punch), and involving stories. --Donald Liebenson
- 30 episodes on 5 discs
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The first TV drama to feature a powerful female lead (a woman the commercials proudly proclaimed had "backbone and bite"), it also dealt realistically with situations formerly taboo for TV. It began by revealing that Victoria's husband, Tom Barkley, a prominent, wealthy cattle rancher now deceased, had been involved in a secret affair leading to the birth of an illegitimate son. In addition to the ranch, the family controlled gold and silver mines, citrus groves as well as logging camps.
This five-disc (episodes on "A" and "B" sides) boxed set contains all 30 of the show's first season episodes, including its pilot. A few of these episodes were available years ago on poor quality VHS tapes, but this fantastic release represents the first time that the entire first season of the series has been available to the public in ANY format! As such, most of these episodes have not been seen uncut since the show aired more than 35 years ago.
The pilot, which introduces the powerful and proud Barkley family, depicts the conflict when the illegitimate son, Heath, abruptly arrives at the huge Barkley Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley, near Stockton, Calif., in the midst of a range war and claims his birthright.
After the recent death of his mother, Heath had learned his father's identify. None of the Barkleys had known of his existence, and it is later revealed that Victoria's husband had broken off the brief affair with Heath's mother and that she had never told him that she was pregnant. Victoria immediately accepts Heath and soon treats him as one of her own sons.
In addition to Miss Stanwyck (who performed many of her own stunts despite her age), the cast included Richard Long as eldest son, attorney Jarrod, Peter Breck as son and ranch foreman Nick, Lee Majors as Heath, Linda Evans as daughter Audra, and during its first season, Charles Briles as youngest son Eugene, a character who was dropped without explanation. Napoleon Whiting portrayed the family's servant, Silas, throughout the series.
First season episodes included in this set are: (Disc 1, Side A) Palms of Glory; Forty Rifles; Boots with My Father's Name; Young Marauders; (Disc 1, Side B) Odyssey of Jubal Tanner; Heritage; (Disc 2, Side A) Winner Lose All; My Son, My Son; Earthquake!; The Murdered Party; (Disc 2, Side B) The Way to Kill a Killer; Night of the Wolf; (Disc 3, Side A) The Guilt of Matt Bentell; The Brawlers; Judgment in Heaven; The Invaders; (Disc 3, Side B) By Fires Unseen; A Time to Kill; (Disc 4, Side A) Teacher of Outlaws; Under a Dark Star; Barbary Red; The Death Merchant; (Disc 4, Side B) The Fallen Hawk; Hazard; (Disc 5, Side A) Into the Widow's Web; By Force and Violence; The River Monarch; The Midas Man; and (Disc 5, Side B) Tunnel of Gold; and Last Train to the Fair.
As of this writing, the studio had not announced what, if any, special features would be included in the boxed set.
Just a few of the guest stars in this first season were Andrew Duggan, John Anderson (Richard Dean Anderson's father), Jeanne Cooper (Young and the Restless), Katharine Ross (The Graduate), Charles Bronson, Warren Oates, Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible!), Ron Howard, Anthony Zerbe, Claude Akins, Yvonne Craig (Batgirl), William Shatner (Star Trek), Bruce Dern (Laura Dern's father), Jill St. John, George Kennedy, and James Whitmore.
Here's hoping the remaining seasons of this award-wining series will be released ASAP! We can also only hope that this means other studios that own the rights to other worthy vintage westerns, like The High Chaparral, will get the message that there is an appreciative audience anxiously waiting and begin releasing these episodes on DVD complete season boxed sets.
The scenery is pretty enough, a cattle ranch somewhere in northern California. The Barkley family lives in what amounts to a fully appointed Victorian mansion. Somehow it feels just a wee bit too well appointed. One must assume that the fancy art objects and heavy Victorian furniture came by sailing vessel around Cape Horn before the Panama Canal.
The actors are also pretty enough, especially Linda Evans. In fact the actors seem to have been chosen for their ability to fill out tight trousers or form-fitting dresses, rather than thespian talent. They and the cowhand extras all have extremely white and newly capped teeth.
There is lots of action, lots and lots--gunfights and brawls and chases. I've seen only a few episodes, but there is a long fistfight scene in each one. The requisite number of chairs are broken and bottles crashed over heads--but no one gets a black eye or more that a slight, manly abrasion on the cheek. Remarkable--and not like any fistfight I've ever seen in reality.
The plots are not very realistic either, e.g., a cattle drive from northern California to San Diego, where the U.S. military is willing to pay a premium for beef. Why not butcher the steers and ship the meat out of San Francisco, which was much closer? What was the navy going to do with thousands of steers in San Diego? Other plots are also not logical or well developed.
Unfortunately most westerns, especially TV westerns, painted an unrealistic view of the actual west in the late 19th century. I maintain that a truer portrait of the west would have been more interesting, if not so decorative as, say, the curvaceous Linda Evans in a tight dress with her freshly coiffed hairdo and dazzling white teeth. On second thought, I prefer Ms. Evans.