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DVD Review: The Waltons: Movie Collection

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Written by Hombre Divertido

On January 26th Warner Home Video released The Waltons: Movie Collection. The collection consists of six made-for-TV movies that span the life of this classic family television from 1947 to 1969. Though these movies are generally considered “reunion” films, the differences between the first three and final three are significant.

The set opens with A Wedding on Walton’s Mountain which aired on February 22nd, 1982, just a little over seven months after the final episode of the series, and unfortunately picks up where the series left off in 1947. Sans Michael Learned (Olivia) and Richard Thomas (John-Boy), the story revolves around the impending nuptials of Erin (Mary Beth McDonough) to Paul Northridge (Morgan Stevens channeling a young Michael Biehn) and how the return of Erin’s former love interest Ashley Longworth Jr. (Louis Welch takes over for Jonathan Frakes and over plays the confidence and smugness of the character) stirs things up. Unfortunately the Erin love triangle is not enough to carry the film, and thus there are numerous sub-plots, all of which are poorly written.

The Waltons was cancelled after nine seasons due to the lack of quality that it had established early in its run. The cast of children had grown, but their acting abilities were still raw, and they were simply not up to the task of carrying the series that now rested on their shoulders in the absence of the talented Thomas and Learned who had been a source of stability in the series. Ralph Waite (John) is a fine actor, but he had been relegated to the role of family advisor by the time the series ended. The writers had simply run out of ideas and the stories had become trite. To produce a movie so soon after the cancellation served no purpose other than to confirm the decision to end the series run.

Despite the poor quality of A Wedding, fans looking for a true reunion tuned in, and CBS followed it with Mother's Day on Walton's Mountain three months later, and a Thanksgiving outing on November 22nd titled A Day of Thanks on Walton’s Mountain. Like A Wedding the two films were still set in 1947, and continued with the same cast though Michael Learned makes an all-too-brief appearance in the Mother's Day-themed film considering the title. John-Boy does appear in Day of Thanks but Robert Wightman, who was never able to capture the subtle intelligence, creativity, and vulnerability that Richard Thomas brought to the role, portrays him.

Both the Mother's Day- and Thanksgiving-themed films are over-written, over-acted, and tend to focus on one-dimensional characters such as Erin’s and Mary Ellen’s (Judy Norton) significant others Paul Northridge and Joensey portrayed awkwardly by Richard Gilliland who seems a bit confused by the character's motivation, but it may have been the writing and direction more than the limited ability of the actor that made the character so difficult to appreciate. The Mother's Day episode specifically focuses on the exploits of the now trampy Aimee Godsey (DeAnna Robbins takes over for Rachel Longaker) and Ike and Corabeth’s (Joe Conley and Ronnie Claire Edwards) befuddlement with how to handle her. Ultimately the storyline only reconfirms the fact that the Ike character was far more enjoyable when he was single then after he married the cartoon that is Corabeth.

Eleven years after Day of Thanks aired, CBS gave fans what they had been waiting for when A Walton's Thanksgiving Reunion aired on November 21st, 1993. The entire original cast is reunited in this film with the exception of the beloved Will Geer (Grandpa) who had passed away. Richard Thomas was back as John-Boy and even Rachel Longaker returned as Aimee Godsey. Though it had only been eleven years since the last movie, we find our favorite family in the early sixties dealing with the assassination of JFK. John-Boy comes home from New York with his girlfriend (Kate McNeil), John and Olivia are planning for a new house, and as it had been throughout the series and in each of the movies, there were problems at the mill.

Though it was pleasant to see the cast together again in Thanksgiving Reunion, writers Rod Peterson and Claire Whitaker, who had written several episodes of the series, seem to care very little about what had been established in previous films. There is no mention of Olivia’s illness or return home. Mary-Ellen has additional children even though doing so was established as life threatening to both her and the infants in a previous film. Her son John-Curtis is absent from the film without explanation, as is Ben and Cindy’s son Charlie. Other absences are explained such as Mary-Ellen’s husband Joensey is apparently in Africa working with animals, and Erin is divorced due to infidelity on the part of Paul. Though there are inconsistencies in the storytelling, and the plotlines tend to be superficial, “A Walton's Thanksgiving Reunion” does manage to allow the audience to see what had become of the characters they loved.

That would have been a fine place to end the story of the Waltons, but CBS followed it with “A Walton Wedding” on February 12th 1995. The original cast is once again reunited and the story generally picks up where Thanksgiving Reunion left off. John-Boy is back in New York, but he is frustrated with the wedding plans being made by Janet’s aunt Flo played by Holland Taylor in a somewhat comedically subdued performance compared to characters she would become known for. John-Boy heads home to complete a story he is writing on his Grandmother. Ellen Corby gives an amazing performance as Grandma and shows tremendous range considering her limitations due to a stroke. Once again it is the writing (Peterson and Whitaker) that lets the cast down. The story regarding a skeleton in Grandma's closet proves amazingly anti-climactic, and a plotline regarding Olivia going back to school goes nowhere.

A Walton Easter came along March 31, 1997, and once again the writing (Julie Sayers) seems hypocritical, as the story has nothing to do with Easter. The holiday is an afterthought as a scene with the cast attending church services at the end of the film seems almost throw in. The story takes place in 1969 as John-Boy covers the moon landing at the news station he works for, and the family gathers for the fortieth anniversary of John and Olivia. Apparently Sayers had failed to do her homework since John and Olivia had celebrated their 25th anniversary in episode 19 of season six of the series, which was set in 1940. Though the storyline revolving around the relationship between Elizabeth (Kami Cotler) and Drew (Tony Becker), which had been running throughout the films, comes to a pleasant conclusion, other sub-plots in Easter such as a new business venture for John, Ben, and Drew; and the Baldwin sisters (Helen Kleeb and Mary Jackson) leaving the recipe to John go nowhere.

Ultimately these films add little to the Waltons legacy. The best analogy can be found in A Walton Easter: the character of Aurora Jameson (Sydney Walsh), a reporter from the big city who comes to Walton Mountain with John-Boy and his expecting wife to do an article on John-Boy and his soon-to-be-released book. The character has great potential as not only a classic fish out of water, but also a potential love interest for Jim-Bob. Ultimately nothing is done with the character and the audience is left to wonder; what was the point?

The three disc release contains no bonus material which only adds to the disappointment.

Recommendation: Watching any of the final three movies will give you an idea of how the characters you came to love have grown up and developed. That is all to be gained here. Though any time you get the opportunity to hear the narration of Earl Hamner, it will remind you of this classic series filled with great family values illustrated through excellent storytelling; it is only the narration that will serve as a reminder of quality storytelling here. This is only for the true fans who need to complete their collections.

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