'THE BIG VALLEY' DVD REVIEW

The sixties could be called the decade of the Western, with a whole slew of 14+ cowboy shows dominating the airwaves: Rawhide; Laredo; Bonanza; The Virginian and F-Troop to name just a few. The Big Valley joined this illustrious line-up on the 15th of May 1965. Starring the well known screen actress Barbara Stanwyck, the show introduced audiences to the Barley family: Victoria Barkely (Stanwyck), mother and matriarch, Jared Barkley (Richard Long), his brother Nick (Peter Breck) and sister Audra (Linda Evans), and in the first episode introduced the bastard son of Victoria's husband Tom, a rebellous Heath Barkely, featuring in his first regular starring role, a very young Lee Majors.

The show ran for some 112 episodes, over four seasons, between September 1965 and May 1969 and set Lee on the road to future stardom. As a young hunk and heart throb on the show, Lee got his first taste of fame, fortune and adoration, something he had be striving after for years. The rest, as they say, is history!

It is so good to see this forty-plus year old show finally getting a DVD release. Despite the fact it is a budget release - prices vary between $39.99 and $19.99 - with no extras, the presetnation is good includes all 30 episodes of the first season. No mention at this stage if we will get further releases, but it would be a shame if 20th Century Fox didn't follow through this great start.

The episodes are spread across 5 double-sided discs and it is good to see the pre-credit sequences have remianed intact and in the right place (a real fan niggle on some DVD releases). There are some great guests stars to look out for in the first season - Ford Rainey, R.G. Armstrong, Charles Bronson, Roy Scheider, Martin Landau, Katherine Ross and William Shatner to name a few.

Here are the disc and episode listings. Check the links for disc/title images:

Disc 1
Side A: Palms of Glory; Forty Rifles: Boots With My Father's Name and Young Marauders
Side B: The Odyssey of Jubal Tanner and Heritage

Disc 2
Side A: Winner Lose All; My Son, My Son; Earthquake! and The Murdered Party
Side B: The Way to Kill a Killer and Night of the Wolf

Disc 3
Side A: The Guilt of Matt Bentell; The Brawlers; Judgement in Heaven and The Invaders
Side B: By Fires Unseen and A Time to Kill

Disc 4
Side A: Teacher of Outlaws; Under a Dark Star; Barbary Red and The Death Merchant
Side B: The Fallen Hawks and Hazard

Disc 5:
Side A: IntoThe Widow's Web; By Force and Violence; The Rover Monarch and The Midas Man
Side B: The Tunnel of Gold and Last Train To The Fair

Video

The series was originally shot on film and I'm not expert but it looks like the film prints have been transfered straight to DVD. They certainly look good for their age, but I don't think they have had any magical DVD-makeover as is evidenced in some film marks coming through on discs - but nothing to spil your enjoyment. Colour and clarity is good and even superior to some '80's and 90's shows I have seen released onto the DVD format.

Audio

Audio is crisp and clear, and with the restrictions of when the series was made, is obviously a Mono soundtrack. There are no alternative languages, although there are subtitles in English and Spanish. You can put the discs through a sound system if you want, but don;t get any real benefit: a good TV will reproduce the sounds just as well and sometimes better - I was not too keen on some of the sterile on-set soundtrack when you amplified the audio too much.

Presentation

The set comes in a cardborad slipcase, and the discs in 3 ultra-thin cases and makes the whole set no wider than a standard VHS tape - great for storage for space-conscious collectors. The slip case cover is a compilsation of the disc covers, with the rear featuring the usual series summary, a few pictures of the cast, and disc language/video details.

The discs themselves are double-sided, as previous mentioned. This obviously helps on costs, but is one of my pet hates - it's touch enough keeping scratches off just one side of a disc, without having two to be wary of! There are some nice menus for each disc, with a nostalgic feel to them in terms of 'old photograph' apperance. Each disc features different pictures, but due to budget restrictions are lacking sound or animation. Scene/episode selection is easy and clearly visible, which makes navigation straight forward.

Summary

Finally this classic western gets a long deserved DVD release! We could bemoan the fact that they have gone for the cheap option with double-sided discs, we could gripe about the fact there are no extras - where are the trailers? where are the audio commentaries by the surviving cast members: Lee; Linda or Peter? - , we could ask where are the animated menus? You know what, the fact that is we could do all this, but the fact this is set is finally out should be pleasure enough, the rest is just icing on the cake.
We can only hope we get the other 3 seasons, but in the meantime, I urge you to go buy this, no INSIST you go buy it. Revel in a more innocent time of television, when men were men, woman got kidnapped and wore nice frocks, and justice was meeted out with a six-shooter....

UK fans will need to get this on import through someone like Play.com or Amazon.com, but believe me, you won't be disapointed!