Judge P.S. Colbert has but three loves: his rifle, his pony, and thee.
Our reviews of The Best Of Bonanza: Volume One (published October 22nd, 2003), Bonanza: The Official Second Season, Volume 2 (published November 6th, 2011), Bonanza: The Official Fifth Season (published April 20th, 2013), Bonanza: The Official First Season (published October 7th, 2009), Bonanza: The Official Fourth Season (published December 16th, 2012), Bonanza: The Official Seventh Season (published September 10th, 2014), and Bonanza: The Official Third Season (published September 16th, 2012) are also available.
Mark 'em: thirty four Ponderosa-sized adventures are packed into Bonanza: The Official Sixth Season:
• "Invention Of A Gunfighter"
Bonanza's sixth year heralded two historic milestones for the perennial oater. After three years as runner-up, the Great Granddaddy of family Westerns finally climbed into the pole position, sitting atop all other weekly entries during the 1964-65 season.
Fittingly, a steep mountain peak towers over Little Joe (Michael Landon, Highway To Heaven) in "Between Heaven And Earth," my official selection for this season's highlight, which arguably contains the finest performance of Landon's career.
A puma hunt sends Joe scurrying up "The Eagle's Nest," a sheer-faced rock slab with a dangerous pitch. Almost before he knows it, both his quarry and his rifle are gone, and all that remains is the sudden realization of how far he has to fall.
What's this, Little Joe afraid of heights? Little Joe isn't afraid of anything! He's always ready to take on the meanest Hombre, break the wildest Bronc, wager the biggest bet on the table—anything to prove that there's nothing "little" about the youngest Cartwright.
Until now. The barrel of his rifle gleams in the sun, resting in a crag on the mountainside that mocks and taunts him, (literally) haunting his dreams, and fouling his temper to the point that he seems unconcerned about anguishing his helpless father Ben (Lorne Greene, Earthquake) and causing irrevocable harm to his best friend Mitch (a brilliant performance by guest star Richard Jaeckel, Sometimes A Great Notion). Must see TV, indeed!
Now about that second milestone: Unhappily, the sixth would be the last season featuring eldest son Adam Cartwright, as actor Pernell Roberts chose not to extend his contract. The classically trained thespian—who'd performed Shakespeare on Broadway and Eugene O'Neill on the big screen before signing onto Bonanza—had given several interviews during his tenure as a Cartwright, bemoaning the drudgery and monotony he felt performing on a weekly horse opera, which—as he saw it—gave neither his character, nor his varied skills as an actor chance to grow and flourish.
To be fair, by the year six, things had gotten a bit formulaic—albeit a winning formula with an even-measured mix of drama, comedy and kick-out-the-stalls action. That's right; this year resembled the ones before it by continuing to pump out a startling number of top-notch installments, many of which shone on a spotlight on Ben's first born, who, if nothing else, went out in a blaze of glory!
Consider the delightfully whimsical "A Knight To Remember," pairing hapless Adam with a most unlikely rescuer—an armor-clad horseman who claims to be King Arthur of yore (expertly played by the masterful Henry Jones, Deathtrap), but behaves more like infamous knight-errant Don Quixote de La Mancha. Mining a much darker vein, "The Search" finds Adam tracking a man said to be his mirror reflection, who also happens to be running up large tabs in his name, and leaving havoc in his wake. On the plus side, he gets to spend a fair amount of time making out with a saloon girl played by the luscious Lola Albright (Peter Gunn). Nice work if you can get it, eh, Cartwright?
Luscious pretty well describes the look of these full-frame episodes, the latest stellar restoration job from Paramount/CBS DVD. Between the Dolby Digital mono mix and the English SDH subtitles, the audio portion of the proceedings more than holds up its end of the bargain, as well. Bonanza season set collectors have come to expect copious extras, and this set delivers: Archival promos from Chevrolet and NBC, photo galleries, commentaries, and a pair of musical clips from variety shows of the era, one showcasing Landon, the other featuring Greene, belting out his million-selling, 1964 chart-topper "Ringo."
Reportedly moody, and given to mostly keeping his own company on the set, Roberts (who passed in 2010 at the age of eighty one—ironically, outlasting his three co-stars) maintained for the rest of his life that he never much enjoyed his tenure on Bonanza, and what's more, he never regretted his decision to leave. Nevertheless, his contribution was invaluable, and though the series ran for an additional eight years following his departure, the Ponderosa's property value never fully rebounded.
Thanks for the memories, Mr. Roberts; vaya con Dios, amigo.
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