The Waltons-Complete First Season (1972)
|Category||Drama||Main Menu Audio|
|Year Of Production||1972|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Multi Disc Set (5)
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4,5||Directed By||
Warner Home Video
Mary Beth McDonough
David W. Harper
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The top-rating family drama series for American network CBS throughout most of the 1970s, The Waltons is the story of a close-knit rural family in Virginia during the Great Depression, as seen through the eyes of the eldest son John-Boy who aspires to be a professional writer.
Based on the real-life family of series creator and producer Earl Hamner Jr (the model for John-Boy), The Waltons had a number of antecedents in print, cinema and finally television before reaching our screens as a TV series in 1972 (1973 in Australia). It started out in 1961 as a novel by Hamner called Spencer’s Mountain, which was made into a film of the same name starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara. At this point the family was named Spencer rather than Walton. In 1970 Hamner wrote a prequel called The Homecoming, which was made into a Christmas telemovie for CBS in 1971 by fledgling company Lorimar Productions. As the film rights to Hamner’s characters were owned by Warner Bros (who produced Spencer’s Mountain), Lorimar had to rename all the main characters as the Walton family for the telemovie. The critical response to the telemovie led to the commissioning of The Waltons as a series.
The Waltons has over the years developed a somewhat unfair reputation as a soppy, overly sentimental series. While its latter seasons certainly have an overabundance of some of these elements (the program ran for nine seasons altogether), the earlier ones – particularly the first five, with all the original cast intact – are remarkably strong and hold up very well today as top-quality family entertainment. The program has a strong sense of its own integrity and did not shy away from addressing contentious topics (for the time) such as racism, religious intolerance and hypocrisy, and child abuse. This is particularly laudable given that the bulk of its American audience were from a strongly conservative demographic base.
As this is the first season, the characters and storylines are still feeling their way somewhat. Several of the major characters have rather forced Virginian accents (which disappear entirely as the series progresses), and there is an over-reliance on exotic folk passing through town – gypsies, carnival people, Jews (yes, people of religious extraction other than Baptist were exotic for the townspeople too!) – and interacting with the Walton family, rather than a focus on the family themselves as would be the case in later seasons. But the strong groundwork is laid for the quality storytelling that would be at the heart of the program. My favourite story of this season is The Love Story, written by series creator Earl Hamner, which features John-Boy’s first romance. Another great favourite is the two-episode The Easter Story (shown on Australian TV for many years in telemovie format and called The Waltons’ Crisis) which is a strong inspirational piece.
In addition to the strong scripts, The Waltons is blessed with an excellent cast, led by Richard Thomas who plays John-Boy. Even today it’s remarkable that the lead of an American primetime drama series can be a sensitive youth with a mole on his cheek who wants to be a writer, not traditionally considered at all a glamorous profession. Thomas (who today is a highly respected stage actor) is ably backed up by Ralph Waite as his father John Sr., (Ms) Michael Learned as his mother Olivia, and silver screen veterans Ellen Corby as Grandma and Will Geer as Grandpa. These two wonderful actors provide the backbone of the program and are never less than 100% convincing. As for the Walton children, they are suitably cute and sweet.
One very appealing attribute of the program is its ability to evoke the Depression era, seen through somewhat rose-coloured glasses. The recreation of the era is generally very well done and the direction and camerawork of most of the episodes is very classy and occasionally quite creative, a nice change from standard American network fare. There is a clear sense that Lorimar was determined to do a quality job from the beginning with this series.
The presentation of this first season on DVD is quite well done, though the episodes are the standard prints released for TV broadcast and have not been restored for this release. But what’s really disappointing is the complete absence of extras – not even an audio commentary! With the exceptions of Ellen Corby and Will Geer, the original cast as well as creator Earl Hamner are all alive and well, and should have been given the opportunity to contribute to the DVD (and NO, they weren’t asked to do so). Hopefully this may be rectified for future season releases, although season 2 is now available in Region 1 and is similarly bereft of bonuses.
It’s also worth noting that the telemovie of The Homecoming, which serves as the unofficial pilot to the series (although some characters are played by different actors than in the series), has been released separately in Region 1, but is not available here either on its own or as part of this first season set.
Presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (and obviously not 16x9 enhanced), the prints used for this transfer are identical to those used for the program's most recent Australian broadcast on Foxtel's Arena and Fox8 channels. As these film prints do not appear to have been subjected to any restoration, quality varies considerably from episode to episode.
The most obvious issue with the episodes is the presence of film artefacts - usually dirt and splotches, but occasionally hairs - which appear every now and then. However these are not particularly distracting and perfectly acceptable in a TV program of this vintage. Given that we are unlikely to see restored versions, this is likely to be as good as the episodes are ever going to look.
As the program is well-lit and well photographed, sharpness and shadow detail is quite good and certainly comparable to an unrestored feature film of similar vintage. There are varying degrees of grain depending on which episode you're watching, but to my mind this gives the program a nice filmic quality and helps in the evocation of the 1930s setting.
Colours are typical of film prints of the time and are quite crisp and accurate. There are no film to video artefacts nor MPEG artefacts throughout.
The DVD release uses the original mono sound, representative of TV programming of the era. There are no problems with audibility of dialogue. However, there are occasional issues with ADR syncing, typical of Lorimar programs of the era.
The memorable theme music, as well as much of the scoring for these first season episodes, is by highly respected film and TV composer Jerry Goldsmith and it's a real pleasure to hear his work within the confines of a more intimate orchestral ensemble. Several episodes this season are also scored by Arthur Morton, Goldsmith's longtime orchestrator, and Alexander Courage, who would by season 3 become the sole composer for the series and create a very distinctive musical palette based around traditional American folktunes - but there is no real indication of this in these early episodes.
|Surround Channel Use|
Hardly an extra, this is simply a static main menu with the theme music playing.
The Region 1 version is identical to ours.
The Waltons is without doubt the finest family drama ever made for American television and as such it's great to have it on DVD. It's just a shame that no one at Warners judged it worthy of including any extras. At the very least, an audio commentary would have been most worthwhile.
|DVD||Denon DVD-2200 (NTSC/PAL Progessive), using Component output|
|Display||Panasonic TX-76PW60. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to Amplifier.|
|Speakers||Fronts: B&W DM309; Rears: B&W DM303; Centre: B&W LCR3; Subwoofer: B&W ASW300.|