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The Big Valley

originally on TV 1965- 69, DVD 2006 (20th Century Fox), $40, 5 discs, 1,530 minutes.

You get the 30- episode first season of a 1960s Western that never delivered the greatness of Gunsmoke, but was better than Bonanza. On the surface at least, The Big Valley had much in common with the latter. Bonanza featured an all-adult family (the Cartwrights) with too much money and land (the Ponderosa ranch seemed to be at least the size of Rhode Island) on their hands. The Big Valley also featured an all-adult brood (the Barkleys) with too much money and land (there were other ranchers in that valley but certainly none nearly as big) at their disposal. The big difference was that the four Cartwrights were all male (Pa had three sons from three different wives, but that’s another story), while the Barkleys were headed by matriarch Victoria (Miss Barbara Stanwyck to you, fellow), who had a lovely daughter Audra (Linda Evans), as well as three sons…well three legitimate sons anyway— lawyer Jarrod (Richard Long), hothead Nick (Peter Breck) and forgettable Eugene (Charles Briles), who would disappear into the sunset by season two. Let us not forget the illegitimate son, Heath (Lee “About to Become the Six-Million Dollar Man” Majors), who had all kinds of trouble that first season trying to win acceptance from his half brothers, especially Nick (who could be a real bastard at times). Although they shared the same late daddy, Heath could not claim super spunky Victoria as his mother. Right then you just knew this family was a bit grittier than the Cartwrights.

As for the lovely daughter Audra, she had her hands full with men, who were all attracted to her (I assure you, none of them can be blamed for that) but were bound to die, reveal their bad natures or become mad by episode’s end. Heck, I almost became mad myself longing for Audra to appear more often on screen. Yes, I do realize that super spunky Victoria was a strong female character (a rarity for TV at the time) and an excellent role model for widowed females with a lot of land and money at their disposal. Still, to be with Audra anywhere in that big valley, I would have tied Mom up in the closet and fought my way past anyone of those darn brothers…but preferably Eugene.


Originally published in the December 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here