If you were watching rabbit-ears television back in 1972, the line “Good night John-Boy,” is probably indelibly imprinted somewhere in your memory. I was nine when the show debuted, so I never really understood the struggles the family were dealing with on the program. But at the end, they had weathered whatever storm had darkened their door, and were whole once again.
It was a pretty good message to receive at that age, but time marches on. By puberty, the world Walton's Mountain inhabited was facing World War II. John-Boy had left for the big time of New York City, Grandpa Walton had died, Grandma Walton had had a debilitating stroke, and matriarch Olivia Walton was suffering from TB.
There was nothing remotely heartwarming about tuning into The Waltons anymore.
So I had never watched any of the TV movies that were made after the series was canceled. I wish I had. The Waltons Movie Collection includes all six of the made-for-TV movies that were produced after the series ended in 1981. Watching this three-DVD set updates the family’s saga in a pretty satisfying way.
The six two-hour movies are an interesting mix. The first three, which were made in 1982, reflect the biggest battle the Walton family ever faced: Star egos.
“Master” thespians Richard Thomas (John-Boy) and Michael Learned (Olivia Walton) all but abandoned the show in its later years, forcing ad-hoc plotlines to be invented. On a more somber note, the death of Will Geer (Grandpa) and stroke of Ellen Corby (Grandma) were realities the ongoing stories needed to deal with as well.
The fact that the writers were able to construct memorable tales without the involvement of these lead characters is a wonder. The titles are pretty self-explanatory: “A Wedding On Walton’s Mountain,” “Mothers Day On Walton’s Mountain,” and “A Day For Thanks On Walton’s Mountain.”
Learned literally phones in her brief appearances as Olivia, from Phoenix, AZ where she is recuperating from her bout with TB. Thomas is completely absent from all three movies, and the character of John-Boy is played by Robert Wightman in “A Day For Thanks On Walton’s Mountain.”
What gets interesting is the relationships the grown Walton children find themselves in. Marriages, divorces, births, career choices and more are all addressed. In the end, as corny as it is, the family weathers the tribulations of life together.
The first three movies reflected the immediate post-series Waltons, and were set in the years 1947-49. The second set, which were televised in 1994, move the family into the 1960s. When Thomas and Learned realized Hollywood was not exactly beating down their doors to become the next Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, they wisely returned to the roles that made them famous. The final three movies benefited a great deal from their participation.
“A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion,” is set in 1963, and begins with the assassination of JFK. John-Boy is now a network anchorman, and is forced to cover the sad event. Will he make it home for Thanksgiving? Watch and see. “A Walton Wedding,” and “A Walton Easter” bring the family up to the year 1969. Thankfully, there are no hippies on Walton’s Mountain though.
All six of these movies are bound to please even the most die-hard Waltons fans. The messages are uniformly wholesome, and the story-lines flow in a logical (if predictable) way. The Baldwin Sisters are still making “The Recipe,” and Ike Godsey is still tangling with his uptight wife. John Walton Sr. (Ralph Waite) emerges as the fount of wisdom that Grandpa Walton once was.
Taken as a whole, The Waltons Movie Collection presents a comforting denouement to the chronicle of this beloved television family.