Since I spend way too much time watching Classic TV in re-runs out in my "man-cave" anyway, I decided to begin a new blog series of reviews of certain episodes of various series that I find interesting-- for one reason or another.
I decided to begin with an episode of TV's 2nd longest running series western BONANZA, since I have been meaning to re-evaluate this show for quite some time, anyway. A few years back, in one of my very earliest blogs ["Some Thoughts About Westerns"-- see it HERE if you like], I said some pretty harsh things about both BONANZA and GUNSMOKE-- basically the two most cherished TV westerns of all time-- and a few people called me on it.
Now, I still have little patience for GUNSMOKE-- [I'm sorry, but that show just doesn't do it for me... between the irritatingly flawless character of Matt Dillon and the strange refusal to develop any of the main characters over literally decades of time... well it just bores me! Please let's just agree to disagree on that'un]-- I have been watching BONANZA on TVLAND and feeling a little-- I repeat a little-- more partial to it.
First of all... the show does present Capitalism in a pretty cosistently sympathetic light-- always a big selling point with me-- and... it also strives quite often to have serious and well-developed moral undertones. Now mind you, this last "quality" is always a two-edged sword, as moralistic intentions can always morph into mere "preachiness" and "pedanticism" in the wrong hands-- and frankly, BONANZA-- I am afraid-- really suffers from this particular syndrome quite often.
Still, I am just as often impressed by those old writers' frequent attempts to address moral issues and their definite-- if infrequent-- artistic success in so doing.
Also, I should note that-- in the early seasons at least-- these same writers really tried for some actual historical veracity, and some of the best episodes I have seen involved actual historical characters [Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Nobel Prize winning astronomer Albert Abraham Michelson all make appearances] who had a real-life connection with Virginia City, Nevada in real-life frontier days.
Now... the episode I would like to discuss-- "The Way Of Aaron," first aired on March 10, 1963-- is a notable example of this attempt at realism and historical veracity.
Aaron Kauffman, a Jewish peddler, makes a sales call at the Ponderosa Ranch. He is already a familiar friend to the Cartwrights, but on this visit he is accompanied by his lovely daughter-- newly arrived from back east-- Rebecca [played well by future Andy Griffith Show regular, "Helen Crump" herself, Aneta Coursault-- who, by the way, looks great with long hair!]
Adam Cartwright [Pernell Roberts] and Rebecca are immediately attracted to one another, and Adam contrives a way to meet with Rebecca again on her peddler father's return visit a week later. After this second visit, Adam talks with his father Ben [Lorne Green] about arranging a party at the Ponderosa to help Rebecca and her somewhat reclusive father [played expertly by character actor Ludwig Donath] to meet other folks in the area. Ben agrees to this, and so Adam rides off to carry the invitation to Rebecca in person.
When he reaches them, Adam discovers that Aaron and his daughter have stopped on the trail to camp for the night, as it is sundown on Friday and old Aaron is extremely strict in his observance of the Hebrew Sabbath.
Adam is even more impressed when he learns of Aaron's great faithfulness in the practice of his Orthodox Jewish faith.
Unfortunately, two nasty outlaws-- the nastier of whom is well-played by a very young Harry Dean Stanton-- have been stalking the kindly peddler.
Without giving away any spoilers, let's just say-- in closing-- that Aaron and his daughter are in grave danger... unless Adam can help them.
All in all, I couldn't help but like this episode.
For one thing, it is the one and only western I have yet seen that actually gives some time to a pretty prevalent real-life frontier character type: the Jewish Peddler. Old western shows often have peddler characters, but the Jewish aspect is usually non-existent [See my review of Harry Golden's book on the subject HERE, if interested.]
Not only that, but the details regarding an old-time peddler's life are very interestingly and factually presented. I know that Golden's book had not yet been published yet in December of 1962 when this episode was filmed [1963 was the first year it was published] but there is a great scene in the episode where old Aaron basically gives a poor frontier wife material for a dress under the pretense of having her make a "prototype" dress out of it to encourage future customers for himself-- a common act of the peddler's unique capitalistic charity that Goldman described almost identically in his great book! Perhaps the episode writer had access to the same research later used by Golden.
Also, the scene of father and daughter celebrating "Shabbos" on a western roadside was displayed very respectfully-- and in alarming detail-- including the recitation of several full-length prayers in Hebrew! This, I thought, made for pretty unique television.
In short... while the episode's climax was one of those tidy and convenient "wrap-ups" so common on these old television series-- and... while the overall tone was kind of melodramatic and preachy to say the least-- I was still pretty darned impressed with this one and I would have to give the episode a composite 4 stars out of a possible 5.
The high rating is due mainly to 2 things: the noble attempt to realistically portray a little known aspect of frontier history; and the overall message of tolerance to one's fellow man.
And by the way...
"The Way Of Aaron"
March 10, 1963
Written by: Raphael D. Blau Directed by: Murray Golden
Guest Stars: Aaron Kaufman...Ludwig Donath,...Rebecca Kaufman...Aneta Corsaut,...Stiles...Harry Dean Stanton,...Hank...Jason Wingreen,...Mrs Cardiff...Sarah Selby.
Filmed on location at: Iverson Ranch in Southern California.
Filming dates: December 4-11, 1962