The seventh season of NBC’s long-running western Bonanza found the series enjoying its second season in a row atop the Nielsen ratings. Despite the loss of co-star Pernell Roberts after six seasons, the show chugged away like a fine-tuned engine without him in its seventh year on the air, and its mix of dramatic stories with lighter-themed pieces proved to be irresistible for audiences. Emmy voters agreed nominating it one final time as the best dramatic series on television. (The award went to ABC’s The Fugitive.)
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 12 Hr. 40 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmaray case with leaves
Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
Release Date: 09/02/2014
Still running the massive Ponderosa ranch in Nevada is Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) with his sons Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon) offering staunch support. Watching the fifteen episodes included in this first volume of season seven, one is struck by how much the show is character driven rather than action focused. In fact, almost half of the shows in the season’s initial fifteen center on a lively assortment of strangers who cross the borders of the Ponderosa with their own problems and conflicts. Oftentimes, the Cartwrights are supporting players on their own show only interacting peripherally in the lives of these troubled strangers. Whether it be a woman reviled by her evangelical peers as a witch (who even attempted burning her at the stake) or an elderly Mexican and his nephew who hold a Spanish land grant entitling them to almost the entirety of the Ponderosa, the stories often tend to focus on the series’ guest stars rather than in its regulars. When the stars are offered spotlight episodes, they do make the most of them: Ben being asked to serve as an interim judge and immediately having to decide a bank robbery case in which the survival of Virginia City hangs in the balance, Hoss falling and falling hard for an abandoned little girl who holds the secret to a fortune, and Little Joe’s massive sense of guilt after serving on a jury that finds a man guilty of robbery and murder, a hangable offense.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Other top notch episodes of the season include an extremely tense face-off between a fanatical widow whose son is sentenced to hang and who gets her other son and his gang to kidnap prominent townsfolk to use as bargaining chips to have her son released, another episode involving a woman with clairvoyant powers exiled from her wagon train, a Wages of Fear-based drama as the Cartwrights and another father with two sons transport nitroglycerin over rocky and mountainous terrain, a reformed gunfighter now a pastor goaded into a gunfight by an avenging brother, and a lovely episode (shown at Christmas) where a young boy goes into the mountains searching for God to heal his gravely ill father (one suspects Michael Landon remembered this episode when crafting one with a similar story and spirit in his next series Little House on the Prairie). In fact, the only real loser of this batch of fifteen is the too broadly played comic episode “The Meredith Smith” where Ben as the executor of a rich estate must ascertain who among the five claimants is the rightful heir. Though the three stars Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon indulge in too much mugging and excessive posturing when faced with this farcical material, they’re generally spot-on in their performances in the other episodes with their three characters now as familiar to them as a broken-in pair of cowboy boots.
One of the genuine pleasures of watching a dramatic series from this period of television history is the wonderful line-up of top-notch guest stars these shows gathered for themselves. Among the famous faces that are a vivid part of the first half of Bonanza’s seventh season are Tommy Sands, Tom Tully, Ramon Novarro, Ed Begley, Gilbert Roland, Ina Balin, Gerald Mohr, Burt Mustin, Robert Colbert, Anne Helm, Strother Martin, Glenn Corbett, Sue Randall, Louise Sorel, Tim Considine, Royal Dano, John Hoyt, Marie Windsor, Tom Drake, Eddie Hodges, Jacqueline Scott, Clint Howard, and Leif Erickson.
Here are the fifteen episodes contained on four discs in the first volume of season seven on DVD:
1 – The Debt
2 – The Dilemma
3 – The Brass Box
4 – The Other Son
5 – The Lonely Runner
6 – Devil on Her Shoulder
7 – Found Child
8 – The Meredith Smith
9 – Mighty Is the Word
10 – The Strange One
11 – The Reluctant Rebel
12 – Five Sundowns to Sunup
13 – A Natural Wizard
14 – All Ye His Saints
15 – The Dublin Lad
The programs are shown in their original 1.33:1 television aspect ratio. The remastering has brought out all of the vivacity of this most famous of color westerns with rich, nicely saturated color, exceptional sharpness with loads of detail to be seen in close-ups, and perfectly dialed-in contrast making for a bright, punchy picture. There are occasional dust specks, and one episode “A Natural Wizard” that has a fair amount of uncorrected scratches and damage, but most of these episodes were it not for the older aspect ratio look as if they were filmed yesterday. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound (decoded by Prologic into the center channel) has been cleaned up nicely and apart from a couple of instances where low level hiss can be heard, these mixes feature sound that’s likely clearer and purer than in the original broadcasts. Dialogue is always easily understandable and mixes nicely with Emmy-winner David Rose’s tender and tantalizing music and the sound effects which are typically applied for their era.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: actor Clint Howard and his father Rance (who also appeared in the episode as one of the search party) comment on “All Ye His Saints,” each remembering a warm, friendly set and exciting times filming both on location at Lake Taho and at the Paramount lot.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Photo Galleries: twelve of the fifteen episodes offer photo galleries (usually just a couple of black and white pictures featuring the guest star though “The Other Son” has 31 stills in black and white and color) and another gallery which was used to publicize the series with its three remaining regulars.
Original Network Logo, Bumpers, and Sponsor Promo: eight of the fifteen episodes offer the option to view the show with the half and ¾ hour bumpers and a Chevrolet promo featuring one of the cast at the conclusion. All of the episodes feature the legendary NBC Peacock “In Living Color” logo.
Michael Dante Interview (11:49): in a 2011 interview the actor recalls guest starring on “The Brass Box” and reveals he was among those originally considered to play Adam since he and all the other stars were all with the William Morris Agency. He recalls working with and being friends with the stars, working with guest star Ramon Novarro, and some other memories of his subsequent career.
Dan Blocker Interview (10:56): Interviewed in 1965 by fellow Texan Richard Pryor, Blocker briefly mentions the loss of Pernell Roberts from the series and offers some views on his character and also on his emerging interest in speaking out for liberal causes.
Bonanza fans will be more than pleased with the crackerjack handling the series has received in this seventh season box set. (Volume 2 is also now available.) Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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