Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion



Premiered November 21,1993.

"For me, coming home was remembering what was real and meaningful, even when outside events turned everything upside down, the way they did in November of 1963"
-John-Boy Walton

John-Boy delivers a commentary on the evening news.
It's late November, 1963.  The Waltons are getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, expecting the arrival of all their children and their families.   But this Thanksgiving will be special, since John () and Olivia () have announced that it will be the last held at the old family homestead.  They are planning to move out, sell it and break ground on a new house in the Spring.  Everyone has promised to come home, except for youngest daughter Elizabeth (), who is travelling the globe as a botanist.  Elizabeth's nomadic lifestyle means that she has no permanent address and is hard to contact.

John-Boy introduces Janet to his parents.
Oldest son John-Boy () has become a successful author and television journalist.  He lives in New York and is dating Janet Gilchrist (), an editor at Harper's Magazine.  He wants to marry Janet, but she's worried that the Waltons won't like her.  John-Boy says not to worry because "Virginians fall in love with everybody they meet".

Elizabeth arrives home right after John-Boy.  She runs into her old boyfriend Drew Cutler ().  His wife has recently left him and it's obvious that he's still interested in Elizabeth.

Elizabeth arrives home after & embraces her mother.
The other (now adult) Walton children are living closer to home in Virginia.  Mary Ellen () is a doctor, Jim-Bob () is a pilot, Ben () is working with John at their lumber business and Jason () is a country musician and songwriter.  They all are going through various work and family struggles.


Mary Ellen is having trouble as a single mother.  Her husband Jonesy is serving in Vietnam, his absence has taken a toll their kids.

Ben is frustrated working at the family lumber business.  He feels that John is holding back the business and undercuts his father.  This causes a falling out between the two, and Ben quits.  At the same time, Ben and his wife Cindy () are still grieving over the death of their daughter Ginny.  Cindy would like to adopt, Ben doesn't want to discuss the topic.

John & Ben argue about how to run the family lumber business.
Jason's marriage is also going through a rough patch.  He's been spending lots of time touring, trying to break into the music business.  His wife Toni () feels that their marriage is in trouble.

Middle sister Erin () is divorced and working as a substitute teacher.  Assistant Principal Jeff Dulaney () is impressed with her work and offers her a full-time teaching position. But Erin isn't sure the job would allow her time to raise her three kids.  Jeff is in a troubled marriage (his wife cheated on him & left) and there's a mutual attraction between he and Erin.    

But their personal dramas pale in comparison to what happens a few days before Thanksgiving.  President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.  The entire family is shocked and crushed.  John-Boy is called to report on the aftermath in DC.  Janet and the family are worried he won't make it back in time for Thanksgiving.
Elizabeth and Verdie () grieve & comfort each other when they learn of JFK's assassination.
J.A. Morris says:

I mentioned in a previous post that my younger self was a fan of The Waltons...up to a point.  I quit watching around the time that Richard Thomas departed and Will Geer died.  I never saw A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion until now, it has several problems.

Olivia & Elizabeth talk over coffee.
First off, the continuity is screwed up.  For example, based on comments made during the series, John-Boy would have been 47 years old in 1963.  He's obviously not.  Grampa died in 1941,John says he's been dead 15 years.  The "1963" fashions are inconsistent at best.  Some characters look like they could have stepped off the set of Mad Men, others have very 90s hair and clothes.

Olivia adjusts a photo of Grandpa Walton.  He's gone, but his presence (and Will Geer's) is still felt in this reunion movie.
The silly thing about this "sliding" continuity is that it's done strictly to tie the story to the Kennedy assassination (FWIW, this movie aired the day before the 30th anniversary of the assassination).  I guess the writers/producers thought that they needed to have John-Boy report on the tragedy.  It was an unnecessary choice, because The Waltons series didn't need to bring in major world events to tell good stories.  While some episodes focused on issues and historical topics (Segregation, the Great Depression, World War II, Pearl Harbor), the show was at it's best when it told smaller, personal stories.  There's enough inter-personal conflict to carry this story without bringing in JFK's assassination.  The storyline involving the selling of the Walton family house could have provided enough drama all by itself (SPOILER ALERT:They don't sell the house), and that wouldn't have required any historical gymnastics.  

A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion is available on dvd.
One other problem was the acting.  Several members of the cast hadn't worked in film or tv since the previous Waltons reunion movie 11 years earlier (imdb doesn't lie!).  I won't name names, but you can tell that some of their acting chops are a bit rusty, especially when paired up with cast members who never stopped acting.
Grandma Esther smiles at Thanksgiving dinner.
But it's not all bad.  I think hardcore fans of the series will appreciate this movie (at least one viewing).  It was interesting to see the older versions of the ensemble interact, and this was Richard Thomas' first appearance as John-Boy in 15 years (he quit and John-Boy was recast in season 9).  Some of the cast has passed away since it was made (most notably, Ellen Corby), so it's nice to have some more footage of them all together.  In addition to the Waltons themselves, we get subplots and cameos that feature the Godseys, the Baldwin sisters, Verdie Grant and Yancy Tucker.

The family joins hands for a Thanksgiving prayer.
 A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion reminds of Gene Siskel's test for some movies he didn't like:Is this better than a documentary of the cast having lunch?  I think a reunion of the cast & creative team would've been more entertaining than what we got here.  If you need a Waltons Thanksgiving fix, re-watch  The Thanksgiving Story instead.

J.A. Morris' rating:







2 pumpkin pies.

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