The Cartwrights quickly became a sensation in 1959 because they were in color. Older relatives joked to me that recounting Bonanza made people assume you had a color TV. But this was more than a status symbol series. The show also offered a glimpse into a strange family with three half brothers. That’s right, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) went through three wives. Why didn’t he marry a fourth since it wasn’t like he was paying out alimony? He did end up with three colorful sons in Hoss (Dan Blocker), Adam (Pernell Roberts) and Little Joe (Michael Landon) that had plenty gruff. Bonanza: The Original Second Season, Volume 1 gives 18 tough tales from the Lake Tahoe area.
“Showdown” gets the season started with a Virginia City bank robbery. One of the outlaws lays low by taking a gig on the Ponderosa. He’s good at his legit job and the family likes him except for Little Joe. It’s weird how back in the Western days, bank robbers didn’t have to worry about security footage or C.S.I. teams spreading your photo all around the state. “The Mission” is a Hoss solo episode. His pal is a nearly recovered drunk that wants to get back to his career as an army scout. He lands a gig helping guide gold shipment. Little doe he know the former scout is planning to hijack the load. “Badge Without Honor” brings on the subterfuge as a lawman comes looking for a friend of the Cartwrights. Supposedly it’s to testify against a gang in San Francisco. But Adam suspects this isn’t quite a simple law enforcement action. James Hong (Kung Fu Panda) pops up as Hop Sing’s Cousin in Frisco. “The Mill” lets Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo) get nasty as a manipulating ranch hand that wants his boss’s cash and wife.
“The Hopefuls” crosses a wagon train of Quakers bound for California. Adam, Hoss and a pal join up with them to be neighborly. Naturally Adam falls in love with the daughter of the leader. The new friend plots to rob the religious group. Which guy is going to tick off the Holy travelers most? “Denver McKee” marks the arrival of real star power to the show with Bob Barker acting. The longtime star of The Price Is Right puts down his skinny microphone. He plays a suitor for a girl that Little Joe wants. Bob has all the cool moves he used to use on excited housewives to usher the lady around the party. This was his big role until he saved Happy Gilmore by beating up Adam Sandler. There’s a lot of plot, but who cares when you can bask in the glory of a young Bob Barker?
“Day of Reckoning” slaps on the body paint to Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island). He’s an indian that helps an injured Ben. As a way to say thanks, Ben lets Ricardo and his wife settle on his spread. This ticks off Ricardo’s brother that hates the white man. “The Abduction” lets the carnival come to town and split with Little Joe’s latest girlfriend. The owner wants a million dollars for her return which in those days was a major amount of cash. That’s more than the Yankees’ payroll when adjusted for inflation. A daughter runs away from her sheriff father in “Breed of Violence.” She think life will be better with her new lover and his friends. Turns out the guy is an outlaw. It’s up the Cartwrights to rescue her. “The Last Viking” proves Hoss has relatives. His cousin (The Untouchables‘ Neville Brand) turns out to be head of a gang of outlaws that rape and pillage. While Hoss hangs out with his cousin, the gang kidnaps Little Joe.
“The Trail Gang” once more shows that the Cartwrights are horrible at background checks. This time they hire a guy to run cattle that’s got a criminal pass. He’s only getting the gig so he can kill a sheriff with personal ties. “The Savage” gets Adam messed up by Indians. His only chance at being healed is a disgraced “White Buffalo Woman.” If she can’t pull it out, they’ll be given matching graves. “Silent Thunder” forces Stella Stevens (The Silencers) to act without talking. She’s the mute daughter of a mountain man. He doesn’t like it when Little Joe teaches her sign language. Stella falls in love with Little Joe, but he’s taken back by her affection. This element doesn’t make sense since he’s always all over the ladies. Maybe he’s a player that can’t handle winning the game? Robert Altman (M*A*S*H) directs the episode which is rather ironic since his trademark is having characters talk over each other. “The Ape” allows Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) time on the range. “The Blood Line” gives another tale of man wanting revenge on the Cartwrights for a killing. Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) arrives with his guns loaded. The fourth wife (Suzanne Lloyd) sort of arrives for Ben in “The Bride.” Trouble is Ben knows nothing about the woman. Turns out she was fooled into this by a con man (Adam West of Batman). The strange element of this episode is that the bride is beautiful, charming and rather smart. Why doesn’t Ben just marry her? Not like he doesn’t have a few old wedding gowns gathering dust in the attic.
“Showdown,” “The Mission,” “ Badge Without Honor,” “The Mill,” “The Hopefuls,” “Denver McKee,” “Day of Reckoning,” “The Abduction,” “Breed of Violence,” “The Last Viking,” “The Trail Gang,” “The Savage,” “ Silent Thunder,” “The Ape,” “The Blood Line,” “The Courtship,” “The Spitfire” and “The Bride.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer quality on the episodes vary. Hard to tell if this is just a case of the 50 year old source elements being rough. This was the early days of color TV so they did push the colors to make them look better on small sets that used rabbit ears. The resolution appears to be about the same as what you see on TVLand. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The soundtrack levels are better than the visual elements. Hoss’s punches are rather loud. The episodes have subtitles.
Audio Commentaries include Ben Cooper on “Showdown,” Stella Stevens for “Silent Thunder,” David Macklin remembers “The Blood Line” and Julie Adams talks over “The Courtship.” Stella really doesn’t say too much which seems appropriate since her character can’t talk.
David Dortort Stories: Bonanza Convention Greetings (3:10) was the executive producer’s welcome to the attendees in 1999. He couldn’t make the trip because of heart issues. He and his wife had just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary. He gives a little life advice. Dortort passed away on Sept. 5, 2010. A Student of History (6:28) is a tour of his house in 1999. He talks about his statues. Remembering Pernell Roberts (2:02) gets him called a consummate actor and charming. Color TV and Second Season Successes (3:19) he addresses how they battled it out with Perry Mason. He pitched the series as being in color so RCA could sell color TVs.
Richard “Cactus” Pryor Interview Dan Blocker (1:41) has the host apologize for calling Dan’s wife “Mrs. Cartwright.”
Play Episode with Original NBC Network Logo, Bumpers and RCA Promo are an option on “The Mission” and “The Trail Gang.” All the episodes have the colorful peacock opening.
Photo Gallery includes pictures from the episodes, cast appearances on Colortown, USA Celebration, Parades, Rodeos, Cast Members at Home, Ponderosa Set and Publicity Poses.
On Air Promos (2:18) includes Lorne inviting you to meet his family.
Bonanza: The Original Second Season, Volume 1 keeps up the family crisis action on the Ponderosa. The scariest part about the ranch is how often they hired active criminals. They really need to check references although in the era before the telephone or internet, how could you know if someone was lying about their background and name? Did they even have picture ID? The vintage video of Executive Producer Dan Dortort gives a good sense of how his attitude was reflected in the show. It’s a fine set for fans of the family flavored Western.
CBS DVD presents Bonanza: The Original Second Season, Volume 1. Starring: Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Pernell Roberts and Michael Landon. Boxset Contents: 18 episodes on 5 DVDs. Released on DVD: December 7, 2010.
Tags: Adam West, Batman, Bonanza, Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts