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Case Number 04873

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The Waltons: The Complete First Season

Warner Bros. // 1972 // 1230 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // July 28th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Bill Treadway takes us back to a simpler time. A time of homespun values, first love, and DVD sets that lacked extras.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of The Waltons: The Complete Second Season (published October 12th, 2005) and The Waltons: The Complete Fourth Season (published January 23rd, 2007) are also available.

The Charge

From Spencer's Mountain to The Homecoming to Walton's Mountain.

Opening Statement

An unexpected smash for its reluctant parent network, CBS, The Waltons stands the test of time and remains of the best family-oriented programs ever made for prime time television. It overcame middling reviews and predictions of failure to enjoy a decade-long run.

If only Warner Bros. had given The Waltons the treatment it deserved on DVD.

Facts of the Case

Within the Blue Ridge of Virginia stands Walton's Mountain. Located there is a small, modest house and barn. Within this house are the Waltons, a close-knit family consisting of patriarch John Walton (Ralph Waite, Sunshine State), his wife, Olivia (MissMichael Learned, as specified in the credits), their parents, and seven children. They make ends meet through a modest sawmill and lumber business.

Of the children, the eldest is John-Boy (Richard Thomas, Wonder Boys, Battle Beyond the Stars). Dreaming of becoming a writer, he jots down his thoughts in a series of journals while helping his father with the sawmill.

The Evidence

In 1971, CBS aired The Homecoming, a television movie that introduced the world to the Walton family. That was a fine film—a review will be forthcoming of that Paramount disc—and it drew high ratings for CBS. With that success in mind, CBS gave the go-ahead for a weekly television series spinoff. That was a surprise in and of itself, since at the time CBS was purging itself of all rural-themed programming. Petticoat Junction and Green Acres had been cancelled despite being ratings powerhouses.

Some changes were made in the cast for the series. While the entire child cast and Ellen Corby (Grandma) were retained, all other roles were recast, for reasons still unknown. Ralph Waite, a fairly well-known character actor, was cast as John Walton, and Michael Learned (called "Miss" in the credits for fear that she would be mistaken for one of the male cast members) replaced Patricia Neal as Olivia Walton. The show was programmed into a highly competitive time slot, opposite NBC's smash The Flip Wilson Show and ABC's The Mod Squad. The predictions indicated that The Waltons would have a very short life indeed. Through a miracle, The Waltons managed to snag solid ratings. The Mod Squad would be axed the following season, prompting Flip Wilson to pull the plug on his own program before NBC could do so.

It is futile to compare The Waltons to Little House on the Prairie, even though it is a similarly themed program. Both are based on true events. I prefer Little House on the Prairie, always have and always will. That is not to take anything away from The Waltons, which is a nice family program that would be welcome on television now in the ever-expanding sea of reality programming. The stories sometimes meander to the point of tedium (whereas Little House always kept the momentum with which it began), and the program is a bit too conscious of the scenery. There are times when it feels as if the show says "Look at the scenery!" rather than letting it become a character in itself as Little House did.

What makes The Waltons work is the acting. Every role is properly cast. The character of Waite's father is a calming force in a tide of depression, and the character of Learned's mother is properly stern and loving. Most impressive is Richard Thomas in what must have been a difficult role. It is one thing to play a sensitive, naïve kid. To do it without cliché is impressive. Thomas manages to make the role work in spite of itself.

All 24 episodes from the first season appear here, spread out over five double-sided discs. On a scale of zero to five stars:

• "The Foundling"
The Walton clan takes in a deaf-mute girl after she is abandoned on their doorstep.
Rating: ****

• "The Carnival"
A group of stranded circus performers shows Olivia that appearances are not always what they seem.
Rating: ***1/2

• "The Calf"
The youngest Walton children grow attached to a bull calf that John is determined to sell.
Rating: ****1/2

• "The Hunt"
John brings John-Boy along on the annual turkey hunt on Walton's Mountain.
Rating: ****1/2

• "The Typewriter"
John-Boy borrows a typewriter from the Baldwin sisters in order to submit a story to Colliers magazine.
Rating: ****1/2

• "The Star"
Grandpa Walton believes that he is about to die after a falling star arrives on Earth.
Rating: ****

• "The Sinner"
The Reverend Fordwick (John Ritter) arrives to become the town's new preacher but ends up alienating those he has come to enlighten.
Rating: *****

• "The Boy from the C.C.C."
Gino, a runaway from the California Conservation Corps, hides out on Walton's Mountain after he injures his ankle.
Rating: ****

• "The Ceremony"
Jewish refugees arrive on Walton's Mountain. The son is determined to celebrate his bar mitzvah at any cost.
Rating: ****1/2

• "The Legend"
John's war buddy Tip Harrison visits, hiding deep hurts behind his cheery demeanor.
Rating: *****

• "The Literary Man"
Good Samaritan A.J. Covington stays with the Waltons after he helps John-Boy fix the truck.
Rating: ****

• "The Dust Bowl Cousins"
Black sheep Ham Denby and his family move in with their relatives, the Waltons.
Rating: ***1/2

• "The Reunion"
The Baldwin sisters' family reunion goes bust.
Rating: ***

• "The Minstrel"
Mary Ellen falls for a charming young singer traveling through Walton's Mountain.
Rating: ****

• "The Actress"
A famous film actress passes through town, weaving tall tales.
Rating: ****

• "The Fire"
The schoolhouse is burned to the ground after drunken Lutie Biscomb disagrees with the teaching of evolution.
Rating: ****1/2

• "The Love Story"
John-Boy falls head over heels for runaway Jenny Pendleton.
Rating: *****

• "The Courtship"
Olivia's cousin Cody stays with the Waltons after the Depression forces his bank to close down.
Rating: *****

• "The Gypsies"
The Waltons struggle to assist a gypsy family whose caravan broke down during a raging storm.
Rating: *****

• "The Deed"
John-Boy leaves home to raise money to register the Walton land in order to save it from lumberjacks.
Rating: ****1/2

• "The Scholar"
John-Boy teaches illiterate Verdie Green how to read and write.
Rating: *****

• "The Bicycle"
Curtis Norton (Ned Beatty) uses John-Boy to help him convince a woman to marry him.
Rating: ***1/2

• "The Townie"
John-Boy's girlfriend Sarah (Sissy Spacek) falls for the rich boy in town.
Rating: ****1/2

• "An Easter Story"
Olivia contracts polio but vows to walk by Easter morning.
Rating: *****

The Rebuttal Witnesses

One of the biggest bones I had to pick with Warner's recent release of Kung Fu on DVD was the odd decision to make the program a "widescreen" release. The top and bottom of the image were cropped off with black bars to create a faux 1.85:1 widescreen image. The Waltons has been spared this fate, but that is the only good news I can give about the transfer. The video quality is excessively poor. Based on the available evidence, it is obvious that no cleanup has been performed on any of the episodes. The opening credits are excruciating to watch, with the overload of grain, scratches, specks, and assorted blemishes. The actual episodes are slightly better. The grain is not as plentiful but is still present, particularly in dark scenes. The transfers all show the signs of poor aging—odd white scratches the size of dragonflies, reel marks that shouldn't be seen at any point, and smudges of dirt. If this was the best source material Warner Bros. could find, it provides an eye-opening example of how important proper film storage and preservation is.

Audio doesn't fare much better. The usual Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks Warner is famous for are offered here. The overall sound is tinny and muted. Dialogue is easily heard, but it lacks the vibrancy the best mono tracks can offer. The show doesn't sound much better here than it does on TV. Having seen The Waltons in syndication, I can tell you from experience that I often have to turn the volume up to a very high setting. I had to do the same for these DVDs. Again, though, this may have been the best Warner Bros. could find.

For some reason known only to whoever put together this set, only French subtitles are offered. Unless you know how to operate the closed captioning option on your television set, forget about English or Spanish subtitles. This deprives those hearing-impaired viewers who do not understand French of an option that should be mandatory on all discs. For shame, Warner!

No extras are offered here. Not a single thing can be found on five discs. Since Warner has offered behind-the-scenes and retrospective documentaries on other box sets, I am surprised not to see at least one for The Waltons. As for commentary tracks, would it have been difficult to find at least one cast or creative member to discuss their thoughts for a single episode?

Closing Statement

If you wish to make the complete first season of The Waltons a part of your DVD library, it's going to cost you: The set is offered at a fairly high price tag of $49.95. I do recommend seeing The Waltons at least once. It's a nice, clean-cut, and well-acted series of a kind that they don't make anymore. However, the poor quality of the transfers makes it difficult to recommend a purchase. If you have access to cable television, you'd be better off taping the shows off TV Land or the Hallmark Channel. The quality is about the same.

The Verdict

I find Warner Bros. guilty of not paying proper respect to one of the defining television programs of the '70s. Such an expensive package should have offered some extra content. Even if the studio had only poor source material, I have seen public domain studios do wonders with a little extra cleanup effort. I would like to think a major studio would too.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 50
Audio: 60
Extras: 0
Acting: 97
Story: 96
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• French
Running Time: 1230 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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