Our reviews of Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Fourth Season (published March 23rd, 2004), Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Fifth Season (published August 20th, 2004), Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Sixth Season (published November 17th, 2004), Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Seventh Season (published March 30th, 2005), and Little House on the Prairie: The Complete Nine Season Set (published November 13th, 2011) are also available.
Courage, determination, and love.
One of the finest series ever created for television, the third season of Little House on the Prairie is given DVD treatment for the first time. Does it stand the test of time, or has it aged beyond recognition?
Facts of the Case
Based on a series of nine novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the 1974-83 series tells the true story of the Ingallses, a frontier family living in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, during the 1870s.
Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon, Bonanza, Highway to Heaven) is a proud, kind man who understands the value of family in addition to hard work. His wife Caroline (Karen Grassle, Wyatt Earp) maintains the household while the three Ingalls daughters—sweet Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson, Happy Birthday to Me), fiesty Laura (Melissa Gilbert, now president of the Screen Actors Guild) and innocuous Carrie (twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush) romp in the fields.
Say whatever you will about Michael Landon, but the man knew how to make great television. In addition to Little House, he was also the guiding hand behind Father Murphy and Highway to Heaven, two superb shows also worth seeking out. His formula revolved around the family audience—by maintaining a clean, innocent tone, Landon created that rare commodity: timeless television. This series was great during the first run and it is even better now.
Little House on the Prairie was a staple when I was a young boy. My mother adored the show and always watched it, during the first NBC run and then again in syndication. In grammar school, I began to read the Wilder novels. I only own one, The First Nine Years, because it was the only one I couldn't borrow from the local library. I regret not purchasing the first eight when I had the chance, since I long to read them again but can no longer find them.
From what I remember, Landon remained faithful to the original novels. Oh, he changed a few things here and there (considering how long the series ran on television, some things were bound to change). Despite that, he remained faithful to the spirit and reality of Wilder's writings and life.
It's really a wonderful show, tackling such serious topics as racism (The Wisdom of Solomon, Injun Boy), mortality (The Hunters, Journey In The Spring) and health (To Live with Fear, Quarantine), yet a light, comic touch could be retained as well (Fred, Bunny). It's extremely well acted by all. The scripts are intelligent and moving without being overly sentimental.
All 22 episodes of the classic third season are spread out over six discs. On a scale of zero to five covered wagons:
• The Collection
Reverend Alden crashes his wagon during a fundraising effort. Ex-convict Caleb Hodgekiss (Johnny Cash) saves the reverend and takes his place. Rating: ****
• I'll Ride the Wind
Thinking he's winning a publishing contract, John Edwards is offered a college scholarship instead. What will this mean to his relationship with Mary? Rating: ****1/2
• The Race
Nellie challenges Laura to a horse race. Mrs. Oleson provides an expensive silver cup to ensure Nellie's victory. Rating: ****1/2
Nellie Oleson claims that Laura's horse Bunny paralyzed her. Mrs. Oleson demands that the Ingallses have Bunny destroyed. Rating: ****
• The Monster of Walnut Grove
It's Halloween night in Walnut Grove, and Laura mistakenly thinks Mr. Oleson has murdered his wife. Rating: ****1/2
• Journey In The Spring Part 1
Charles' mother passes away, and he travels to Wisconsin to bring his father Langford to Walnut Grove. Rating: *****
• Journey In The Spring Part 2
Laura grows close to her grandfather but that relationship is threatened when Bunny is injured and must be put out of its misery. Rating: *****
Laura receives a billy goat as a gift. The only problem is that the goat causes nothing but trouble! Rating: ***1/2
• The Bully Boys
The three Galender brothers arrive in Walnut Grove intent on causing trouble. Rating: ****1/2
• The Hunters
In this double length episode, Charles Ingalls is seriously hurt while hunting with Laura. It's up to Laura and blind Sam (Burl Ives) to find help. Rating: *****
The children are snowed in at school after a blizzard comes to Walnut Grove. Rating: ***
• Little Girl Lost
Carrie falls into a mineshaft after running off while Mary and Laura collect insects. Rating: ****
Isaiah Edwards (the late Victor French, who also directed several episodes) believes he has brought mountain fever to Walnut Grove and given it to his daughter. The town is quarantined for the time being. Rating: *****
• Little Women
Laura and Mary join Nellie and Ginny in a production of Little Women. Ginny decides to use it to help her single mother. Rating: ****
• Injun Kid
A half-breed boy returns to Walnut Grove to live with his grandfather, who hates Indians. Rating: *****
• To Live With Fear, Part 1
Mary Ingalls develops a life-threatening infection after a tumble in the barn. Rating: *****
• To Live in Fear, Part 2
Charles Ingalls and Isaiah Edwards join the railroad to make money to pay for Mary's operations. Rating: *****
• The Wisdom of Solomon
The Ingalls family takes in a young black boy after he runs away from home. Rating: ***1/2
• The Music Box Laura steals a music box from Nellie Oleson, who decides to practice genteel blackmail. Rating: ****
• The Election
Mary, Nellie, and Elmer are all running for class president. Rating: ***1/2
• Gold Country, Part 1
The Ingalls and Edwards families move to a gold town to try their luck at prospecting. Rating: ****1/2
• Gold Country Part 2
Greed sets in, and things get violent very quickly. Rating: *****
As with the Dark Shadows box sets, there is a disclaimer on the package of this set: Every effort has been made to include all available scenes of each episode while producing the highest quality DVDs possible. Due to the vintage nature of the material used, you may on occasion, notice audio and video glitches. I make mention of this because (1) I praise the honesty of the studio in acknowledging that this isn't a perfect transfer, and (2) it explains some of the inconsistencies present. Some episodes look fantastic, as new as the day they premiered. Others have some light grain and artifacts such as scratches, dirt, and specks present. There is one episode that looks fairly awful, even by television standards. Also, some episodes are missing scenes here and there. Still, you cannot fault the studio for this one. These episodes were filmed long before film restoration became a pressing issue in the industry. The fact that the episodes survive in any form is cause for celebration. It's obvious that Goldhil Home Media's technicians tried very hard just to get these episodes in good enough condition for DVD. For that, I applaud them.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. This is appropriate considering that most programs were recorded with mono sound back then. Again, there are imperfections present in some episodes that are beyond the control of technicians. The fact that they were able to restore many to near-virgin condition deserves praise. Some are riddled with telltale signs of aging, such as crackling noises. Still, they're plenty good as they stand.
There are no extras, other than an anemic "behind-the-scenes" section that amounts to what other studios would call production notes. Not much information is to be found here. A documentary or featurette would have been much better.
Fans of the novels and series will adore this set. These are the best presentations since the original broadcasts, and to have the complete third season will be a godsend. Retail is a bit steep ($59.99), but it's worth every penny. If you're unsure, check out the reruns on TBS or Hallmark. I guarantee you'll love this series.
Not guilty! Goldhil Home Media is given a special citation for their honesty about the transfer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Goldhil Home Media
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