Our reviews of Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Third Season (published February 19th, 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.
Timeless family values of love, courage and friendship.
The fourth season of the popular 1977-83 television series Little House on the Prairie debuts on DVD for the first time. Does the series still stand the test of time or will it fade away? Let us journey onward with this review.
Facts of the Case
When we last left the Ingalls clan in Season Three, they left the "Gold Country" of California for the safe haven of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. After returning home, Charles (Michael Landon, Bonanza, Highway to Heaven) provides for his family the only way he knows how: hard work. Caroline (Karen Grassle) runs the house and continues to be the pillar of strength. Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson, Happy Birthday to Me) is working towards becoming a teacher until tragedy strikes towards the end of the season. Laura (Melissa Gilbert) is still the spunky tomboy who likes to go froggin' in the lake and play baseball with her best friend Andrew Garvey, son of Jonathan (Merlin Olsen, who would act in Landon's next TV series for NBC, Father Murphy).
The Birth of a Classic Series
It all began in 1972, in the home of executive producer Ed Friendly. His teenage daughter was home sick and he dropped in to visit her. He noticed her reading one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House novels—novels Friendly's wife had been trying to convince him to option for more than 15 years. While flying to New York the day after, Friendly took along one of the books as reading material. By touchdown, he was convinced to turn Wilder's novels into a television series.
After the script for the pilot was finished, Friendly offered his friend Michael Landon a chance to direct it. Landon loved the script, but in addition to directing, he also wanted to play Charles Ingalls. Owing NBC a new weekly series but with the two sides disagreeing on what show to make, Landon asked if he could submit Little House on the Prairie to fulfill that commitment. Friendly gave his blessing to Landon's pitch. NBC loved the script and greenlit the project. In March 1974, the pilot episode of Little House on the Prairie aired and became a smash hit. Thus, the weekly series was born and lasted for nine seasons, plus a handful of made-for-TV movies.
What made Little House on the Prairie so appealing to viewers? First, the show is based on real events and history always holds a fascination with people. Second, the landscape of television was considerably different in 1974. Audiences were more receptive and patient to follow scripted television—reality TV had yet to rear its ugly head. Third, Little House was a family show, wholesome and sweet. Families then were more inclined to tune in together. (It doesn't happen as often anymore, unfortunately.)
Michael Landon knew how to put together a quality television program. As the program's star, producer, and sometime writer/director, he was miraculously able to balance all four duties and do flawless work in all areas. The key to his success was simplicity. Not obsessed with artistic touches and flourishes, Landon's simple, low-key approach to the program is one reason why it works. That doesn't mean the show skimps on gorgeous visuals; each episode is crammed with breathtaking scenery, all filmed on authentic, unspoiled locations.
The acting is the other major peg in the show's success. All the performances are exactly what they should be and nothing more; if the program were made today, it would be loaded with overpriced, undertalented stars. By using a cast combining unknowns and moderately familiar actors, Little House achieves a perfect balance. Landon's work as Charles Ingalls seems phoned-in, but a closer look will reveal that it is a subtle performance of great stature and power. Karen Grassle's Caroline is rare for her time: the matriarch who is actually an intelligent, kind woman instead of the ditzy June Cleaver model Hollywood loved to barf up on screen before. Melissa Gilbert's work as Laura is quite good for a child actor, natural and heartfelt. But Melissa Sue Anderson, who plays Mary Ingalls, gives the standout performance. Mary is given lots to do in the fourth season and Anderson has some difficult scenes to play, often brimming with emotion. She pulls these off flawlessly. I have always wondered what happened to her since I have always felt that she was a promising young actress. (And another one of my secret crushes…but that's another review.)
Season Four of Little House was even better than all previous seasons. Strong stories and scripts complemented the superb acting and direction beautifully. All 22 episodes from the 1977-78 season have been compiled onto six discs. On a scale of zero to five stars:
• "Castoffs" (Air date: September 12, 1977)
• "Times of Change" (Air date: September 19, 1977)
• "My Ellen" (Air date: September 26, 1977)
• "The Handyman" (Air date: October 3, 1977)
• "The Wolves" (Air date: October 17, 1977)
• "The Creeper of Walnut Grove" (Air date: October 24,
• "To Run and Hide" (Air date: October 31, 1977)
• "The Aftermath" (Air date: November 7, 1977)
• "The High Cost of Being Right" (Air date: November
• "The Fighter" (Air date: November 21, 1977)
• "Meet Me at the Fair" (Air date: November 28,
• "Here Comes the Brides" (Air date: December 5,
• "Freedom Flight" (Air date: December 12, 1977)
• "The Rivals" (Air date: January 9, 1978))
• "Whisper Country" (Air date: January 16, 1978))
• "I Remember, I Remember" (Air date: January 23,
• "Be My Friend" (Air date: January 30, 1978))
• "The Inheritance" (Air date: February 6, 1978))
• "The Stranger" (Air date: February 20, 1978))
• "A Most Precious Gift" (Air date: February 27,
• "I'll Be Waving As You Drive Away, Part One" (Air
date: March 6, 1978))
• "I'll Be Waving As You Drive Away, Part Two" (Air
date: March 13, 1978))
Judge's Note: Both parts of "I'll Be Waving As You Drive Away" have been edited into one double-length episode; hence the digipak saying the set includes 21 episodes. In actuality, there are 21 and the review reflects the original airings. The two-part episode is also available as a single-disc release.
Goldhil presents the episodes in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The full frame transfers vary in quality. Some look pristine, even better than the original airings. Most look good, but with a noticeable difference in quality. A few (three episodes) look mediocre, with lots of scratches and specks. Colors range from beautiful to subdued, depending on the episode you are watching. There are also some glitches—jumpiness, ghosting, and sudden blackness (only a second or so long) in some of the prints. Goldhil is not to blame for this. They have done the best they possibly could under the circumstances (some of the prints used are not the original masters, but copies). In fact, the episodes do look better than the reruns that air on the Hallmark Channel (especially "Whisper Country," which looks horrible on TV but terrific here.)
Audio is also a mixed bag. Some sound absolutely terrific, as clear and crisp as they did in their heyday. Others suffer the ravages of time, with muffled music and crackling sounds on the soundtrack. Still, you can easily understand the dialogue at all times. I have heard much, much worse.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My main gripe against the Little House on the Prairie box sets is the lack of extras. A scant few "behind-the-scenes" production notes on the third disc are hardly enough for a beloved classic series such as this. I'm sure if Michael Landon were still alive, he would have been more than happy to contribute some quality material to the set. Let's hope that for the next set (Season Five), Goldhil gathers some of the original cast and crew to record some interviews (or commentary tracks) while they are still with us.
The retail price of $49.99 for this set is quite reasonable. Despite the flaws in the audio and video, I can easily recommend this set as a purchase for fans—it's better than taping the episodes off the Hallmark Channel. Little House on the Prairie: The Complete Fourth Season makes a welcome addition to any DVD library.
Both Goldhil Home Video and the series are found not guilty, although light probation is urged due to the lack of extras.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Goldhil Home Media
• Behind-the-Scenes Notes
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