BONANZA: THE OFFICIAL SEVENTH SEASON
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Lorne Greene as BEN CARTWRIGHT
Michael Landon as LITTLE JOE CARTWRIGHT
Dan Blocker as HOSS CARTWRIGHT
Created by: David Dortort, Fred Hamilton
BY KEVIN CARR
One of the most classic and iconic series to ever air on television is the legendary western “Bonanza.” For the past several years, CBS Video has been releasing the seasons of this television series in remastered set, and now they’re up to number seven.
The story follows the Cartwrights in the old West. Ben (Lorne Greene) is the patriarch of the clan, and his sons Little Joe (Michael Landon) and Hoss (Dan Blocker) help him run his ranch known as the Ponderosa. The seventh season sees the boys and their father dealing with the fact that the other brother Adam has left the Ponderosa for adventures on the high seas. The three men still have plenty of adventures and challenges to deal with while keeping the homestead running smoothly.
“Bonanza” started before the more cynical films of the 60s and 70s helped redefine westerns to a grittier age. Even though Season 7 aired in 1966, it was still cut from the cloth of the iconic westerns, the classic feel where the cowboys were always the good guys, and the villains always wore black. That gives “Bonanza: The Official Seventh Season” a somewhat overly refined look, but it holds up well for the nostalgia of its age.
Even in its seventh season, “Bonanza” had some fine writing to it, managing to give plenty of conflict with existing characters you never expect to be permanently hurt. The long season also offered a chance for plenty of comedic moments, usually for the episodes that focused on Hoss and his somewhat simple desires in life.
Being a series from the 60s that was born in the 50s, there’s some awkwardly racist moments throughout the season (though it will still be remembered as a socially progressive show at the time). The exaggerated caricature of Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung), their cook on the Ponderosa, is uncomfortable to watch at times. Still, you can see a sense that the show was trying to move ahead with its depiction of minorities, particularly with the treatment of the American Indians as sometimes savages but also sometimes equals.
Like much of the television of the 60s, even if you haven’t seen the earlier episodes of “Bonanza,” you can catch up with the storyline pretty quickly and hop in almost at any point. It’s a fun nostalgic watch for anyone who has enjoyed television from yesteryear.
Aside from the desire to collect the episodes of your favorite shows, DVD releases of classic series like this are important because it gives the chance for the episodes to be seen in a more pristine format than on broadcast reruns. The “Bonanza” episodes are remastered with both picture and sound, cleaning up the look from the recycled videotape you’ve likely seen on television over the years.
The color pops in these episodes, and the crisp image looks as fine as a feature film. Seeing these episodes on a big screen for home viewing shows what care was put into the production design and the look of the series. As an added incentive, all the episodes also feature the original music from the series, which is sadly not always the case when it comes to releasing old television series on DVD. Music rights have become so tricky with these releases (which also includes some feature film releases as well) that it’s not possible to secure the rights for the then-non-existent home viewing mode. It’s nice to see that CBS made a point to preserve not just the look and image of the show, but to also preserve the sound.
While I haven’t had a chance to look through the first six seasons of “Bonanza” releases, I can tell by experience that usually by the time you reach the seventh season of a series, all the potential bonus features have been mined considerably. I’m certain the earlier releases were loaded down with features, but I have to say that those present on these two volumes of Season 7 are mighty impressive for such a late release. (And this bodes well for upcoming “Bonanza” seasons, considering they’re only about half-way through their releases.)
First, as packaging goes, the two volumes come in a Value Pack, which is simply the two releases shrink-wrapped together with a paper sleeve. That works, considering these 1960s television series had the equivalent of a season and a half per year in today’s 24-season run numbers. All 33 episodes of Season 7 are represented here.
Most episodes comes with the original NBC and Chevrolet promos that aired with the shows in their initial run (though these segments have not been remastered, so there’s a definite quality difference in the image and sound). There are several featurettes across the discs, including a vintage interview with Dan Blocker from 1965, a featurette about guest star Michael Dante, the “Impact ‘66” featurette from Chevrolet with Lorne Greene and a PSA with Dan Blocker.
Additional features include a new audio commentary with Clint Howard and Rance Howard for “All Ye His Saints” (on Volume I) and Andrew J. Klyde on “Ride Like the Wind: Part II” (on Volume 2). There are also episodic behind-the-scenes and on-location photos on each volume.
Particularly impressive on the second volume is the feature-length version of the two-parter “Ride Like the Wind,” which was released theatrically outside of the U.S. This two-part episode tells the story of the Cartwrights’ involvement in the Pony Express, and while the added theatrical elements are not remastered and thus look mighty worn compared to the episode proper, it’s still neat to have a rare look at the impact of this legendary show outside of the United States television broadcast.