This past year I started watching The Big Valley western TV show and have been enjoying it very much. I have only seen about a dozen of the episodes as of yet, but judging from what I have seen this show has so many elements about it that I love.
- Family. The family! In Big Valley the family acts like a family. In most other westerns that have a family present (the majority of them center on a lone hero) and even in non-western so called “family” TV shows the “family” is not really a family, it is just a bunch of folks living together in the same house. They are not a family in the real sense of the word. Everybody goes about their own way sometimes being nice to each other and other times not, but rarely is there any real comradeship, working side by side in the same cause, or genuine care for each other. The Barkley family have all of that and another thing that most of the others miss: respect, a deep respect for each other. They care about each other, stand up for each other, cultivate relationships with each other, challenge each other, and help each other out as they right wrongs, work, take dominion, pursue justice, and face trying situations that call for metal clarity and moral courage.
- Anti-Marxist. During the later years of old westerns Marxism crept in in many ways and areas. The way that I’m talking about right here is in the issue of wealth. Marxism is anti “personal riches”, it wants everyone to live the same, to redistribute wealth, and it hates those who are richer. By the time this series was made in the 1960’s it was an established stereotype in westerns that the poor man was honest, hardworking, diligent, ready to fight for justice and stand up against tyranny while the rich man was without scruples (unless he be scrupulously dishonest :)), the bad guy whose evil and schemes could not be numbered. That was intentionally planned and incorporated into films by Marxists. Anyway, in this show the Barkley family, the HEROES, are really wealthy. Extremely wealthy. Their father came west in the early days and worked and sweated and built a home to provide for his family. They in turn reaped the harvest he had sowed and are still working hard like honest men, building, growing, and producing and being good stewards of the legacy he left them as well as enjoying the fruit of their labor. Now I don’t have any idea if the three men who made this show intentionally chose an anti-Marxist setting and theme for their story, although I do know that they fought side by side as buddies against it physically during WWII, but I do know that they struck a blow against the poisonous thinking that had seeped into the film industry by their choices for this show. There are individual episodes that deal with other Marxist ideas and themes very well too, but they are too long to go into here.
- The stories are well-crafted and exciting. Plenty of action.
- Beautiful theme music! It is also worked into the score throughout the rest of the episode frequently as well!
- The Family Table. Almost every episode has a family table scene, the family is always gathering together for meals, and not only just being present and eating around the same piece of wood, but actually engaging in conversation and discussing things far beyond the weather.
- Interesting moral questions and decisions are worked through regularly.
- Talented acting by everyone, but especially by Barbara Stanwyck and Peter Breck who are exceptionally believable and perfect at portraying their characters.
- Conversations. This point was slightly touched upon in the family table point, but their conversations and talking are not limited to meal time alone. That is where the most of the family conversations take place but the members of the family have many other good talks one-on-one throughout the shows. The communication is one thing that builds and fosters the relationships that are so obvious throughout. Their conversations are not about trivial things either but about meaningful principles as applied to life, to family, and to whatever difficult moral situation one of them is facing.
There are many other things that I liked about the show, some only portrayed in specific episodes, but the ones above are recurring and help establish the overall feel of the show.
There are some things I don’t care for about the series as well, it quite flawed in many respects.
Having watched a good many episodes now, the show does not rank as high in my estimation as it originally did. The shows tend to be equally divided into three categories:
#1. Tales of Good vs. Evil. Tales of heroism, courage, and hard moral tests where good ultimately triumphs, and difficult challenges lead to great conversations. These are the episodes I love.
#2. Misguided Tales of “Good vs. Evil” in which evil is often portrayed as good, and good as evil. The “great” family talks are filled with terrible advice and principles that are made to appear wise and good in the context of the story. Bad solutions, moral confusion, and miserable failings prevail in the dialogue and story. But they are shown to be good, righteous, or at least OK in the given circumstances.
#3. The Soap Opera Serial Romances. Aside from the lack of wisdom, morality, and general absence of any real love, these shows are typified by sappiness. Once in a while one will actually be quite good, though in that case, the potential spouse is always disposed of in one of the traditional ways (as is humorously written about by author Elisabeth Foley in the article Fifteen Ways To Lose Your Love Interest, Or, The TV Western Writer’s Guide To Disposing of Female Guest Stars) However, 90% of these episodes are quite lousy and made to fill the dangerous desires of women for mental romances. The episodes with Heath or Audra as the romantic lead especially excel in worthless sappiness.
So, in conclusion, approximately 1 out of every 3 episodes is really good. 🙂
Big Valley is based on the Barkley family whose members are as follows:
Nick Barkley; loud, quick to explode into a fight–physical or verbal, quick with a gun, ready to fight for the right at the drop of a hat (or even before the hat drops:)), very likable, confidant, and very sure of himself.
Audra Barkley; there are two sides to her: the sweet sister, encourager, ready to listen, quick to ask advice, friendly, and wholesome in spirit are on the good side. Her other side is feisty, flirtatious, and spoiled. Both sides are seen frequently, which one appears in the show depends on the writer of the episode. Sometimes I love her and other times I can’t stand her.
There you have it. The main cast of The Big Valley and a few of the things that I appreciate about the show. I’ll be reviewing a few individual episodes here on the blog so keep a lookout for them!