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Warner Home Video presents
The Waltons: The Complete First Season (1972)

"And remembering those long gone days, I'm grateful they were mine."
- narrator (Earl Hamner Jr.)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: May 09, 2004

Stars: Richard Thomas, Michael Learned, Ralph Waite, Jon Walmsley, Judy Norton-Taylor, Mary Beth McDonough, Eric Scott, David W. Harper, Kami Cotler, Ellen Corby, Will Geer
Other Stars: Earl Hamner Jr., Joe Conley, John Crawford, Helen Kleeb, Mary Jackson, Lynn Hamilton, John Ritter, Sissy Spacek, Billy Barty, Cindy Eilbacher, Gregory Sierra, Sian Barbara Allen, Ned Beatty
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 20h:47m:09s
Release Date: May 11, 2004
UPC: 085393226220
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

As I think back to my childhood in the 1970s, although far removed from both time and place, part of me grew up with a television family living in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia during the Depression, in the shadow of the mountain that bears their name. The Waltons holds a very special place in my heart, harkening back to a simpler time, without the materialism and pace of the modern world, and where the things that really matter in life—the love and support of family and friends—are found in abundance.

The Waltons is based on creator Earl Hamner Jr.'s experiences growing up in a large family during the Depression. The first filmed incarnation of his story came about in 1963 with Spencer's Mountain, adapted from his book of the same name. But it would be the made-for-TV special, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which would introduce the Walton family and its cast of young stars, and its positive reception prompted the CBS television series, which has become one of the most popular and acclaimed family dramas ever, winning five Emmys in its inaugural year. Although the series lasted nine years, it is the early seasons I cherish most, and Warner presents the twenty-four episodes of the first season in this collection.

Narrated by its author, The Waltons is told from the perspective of seventeen-year-old John Boy Walton (Richard Thomas), an aspiring writer and the oldest of seven children. As he pens his daily journal the experiences of his family are recounted, and his reflections of what it means to be a part of this extended family are voiced, sharing their joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures. Like most boys his age, John Boy yearns to discover the world that lies beyond his familiar surroundings, but his dreams are tempered by a strong sense of family obligation, and wanting to be the son his daddy can be proud of.

From the very first episode, everything clicks. The casting is brilliant, which heightens the authenticity of the series—it is hard not to believe that this is a family. The characters all have dimension, with their own ambitions, fears, and prejudices, and even early on, the actors fully inhabit their roles. Will Geer and Ellen Corby play the roles of Grandpa and Grandma with zeal, often becoming the comic relief with their perfect chemistry. Zeb Walton, a playful old soul, has a remarkable zest for life, and a quiet wisdom and shrewdness gained from a lifetime of experience. His wife, Esther, is more reserved and cautious, but despite her constant nattering, the bond between the eldest Waltons is unshakable.

John (Ralph Waite) and Olivia (Michael Learned) Walton provide the steadfast parenting for their offspring, whose diversity in ages add to the color of their family. The older children, John Boy and Mary Ellen (Judy Norton-Taylor), face the disorientation and distractions of adolescence through relationships, the call of their own destinies, and the ties of home and family pulling in different directions. The youngest, Elizabeth (the ever-so-cute Kami Cotler) and Jim Bob (David W. Harper), each offer the wide-eyed innocence of their youth, adding humor the way only kids can.

This season doesn't really focus greatly on the middle children, but each one does get their time in the spotlight: Jason (Jon Walmsley), for his musical abilities; Ben (Eric Scott), who tries to impress the family with his scholastic abilities; and Erin (Mary Beth McDonough), who is always quick to chide her older siblings, and, in the final episode, shelters herself when her mother is stricken with a serious ailment. The family is augmented by an assortment of ancillary characters who round out the Walton universe, such as store owner Ike Godsey, and the notorious Baldwin sisters who innocently distill Jefferson County's finest bootleg whiskey from an old family recipe.

Like the family they are based on, the stories are simple, centering on the events and people that come into their collective lives, what they learned, and how they are affected by them. When not dealing with situations within the family itself, it is the allure of the outside world on the children that is most prevalent. In this first season there are a number of strangers who find their way to Walton's Mountain, challenging the family in a myriad of ways: a deaf girl is abandoned on their doorstep (The Foundling), a Jewish family fleeing the persecution of their homeland (The Ceremony), a family of vagabonds (The Gypsies). The childrens' coming of age is presented throughout, as John Boy learns the lessons of first love (The Love Story), or tries to live up to his father's expectations (The Hunt), and Mary Ellen begins her transition from tomboy to young woman. The conflict between the eldest daughter's needs and and those of her family is a recurrent theme, when John Boy finds inspiration from a fellow writer in The Literary Man or when Mary Ellen's wanderlust is kindled by a passing troubadour (The Minstrel). There is drama aplenty, with the Waltons having to face the possibility losing their land (The Deed), Grandpa resigning to his death bed (The Star), or Olivia facing a crippling disease (An Easter Story, the season finale, here presented as one double-length episode). While things do get solemn at times, there is always the medicine of laughter, and the comfort of a loving family to help ease the pain.

There are many TV shows from the past for which I hold fond memories, but all too often their luster is diminished when viewed as an adult. The Waltons, however, has not only maintained its status as a show I thoroughly enjoy, but it has improved with age, revealing now the more mature elements lost on my young mind, and reaffirming the positive qualities that make it so very special.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is very good considering the age of the source materials. Colors are saturated, and black levels are solid. Contrast is good for the most part, but can be a little harsh in the odd shot, and occasionally things are a bit on the dark side. There are a moderate amount of age-related defects, primarily scratches and blotches. Grain is well preserved and natural looking, but there is some cross-coloration on fine detail, some interlacing in places, and dot crawl in some of the title sequences.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is well presented, with a full sounding tonal spectrum, and serves the program. Dialogue is clear and easy to comprehend, and there are no technical deficiencies to speak of.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
Packaging: Digipak
5 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Episode guide
Extras Review: There's not much in the way of extras. Each disc has a "Play All" feature, and while not accessable from the menu, there are chapter breaks within each episode. The fold out packaging contains an episode guide with original airdates, directorial credits, and spoiler laden summaries.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Although I may have lost interest in its later years, I consider the earlier seasons of The Waltons some of the finest family drama ever produced for television. While lacking in extras, the consistently high caliber of writing and acting, and the heartwarming content alone is enough to make this first season an essential addition to my TV library. Highly recommended.


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