Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Tonight's Movies: Young Pioneers (1976) and Young Pioneers' Christmas (1976) - Kino Lorber DVD Reviews

Two favorite TV-movies of the '70s, YOUNG PIONEERS (1976) and YOUNG PIONEERS' CHRISTMAS (1976), were recently released on DVD by Kino Lorber.

I first saw these films when I was in my early teens; YOUNG PIONEERS debuted in March 1976, with YOUNG PIONEERS' CHRISTMAS following that December. I fell in love with the movies but in those days had to wait and hope for reruns in order to see them again.

Eighteen years ago, according to Amazon, I was able to acquire the films on VHS tapes. I assumed that might be the only format in which I would ever own the movies, so I greeted the news of their DVD release with joy and amazement.

YOUNG PIONEERS was based on Rose Wilder Lane's classic 1933 novel LET THE HURRICANE ROAR. Like her mother Laura Ingalls Wilder's LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, published in 1932, LET THE HURRICANE ROAR focused on the real family of Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Some of the incidents (grasshoppers!) in LET THE HURRICANE ROAR/YOUNG PIONEERS story will thus also be familiar to readers of the LITTLE HOUSE books.

With the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE TV series in its second season on NBC at the time YOUNG PIONEERS first aired, it obviously wouldn't do to have a different Charles and Caroline Ingalls on another network (ABC), so LET THE HURRICANE ROAR was renamed YOUNG PIONEERS and Charles and Caroline Ingalls became David and Molly Beaton. In the ensuing years Lane's book has been republished multiple times using the title YOUNG PIONEERS and the renamed characters.

YOUNG PIONEERS begins on the 16th birthday of Molly (Linda Purl), which is also her wedding day to 18-year-old David Beaton (Roger Kern). The young couple immediately leave their families for Dakota Territory, where they file a homestead claim.

David and Molly's courage and tenacity is challenged as they deal with myriad difficulties: Overpriced goods and dwindling funds, the death of a horse, living in a sod house, blizzards, giving birth in the middle of nowhere, and worst of all, crop-destroying grasshoppers.

In the later film, YOUNG PIONEERS' CHRISTMAS, they deal with the biggest crisis of all, coping with the recent passing of their baby boy. They must relearn how to communicate with one another in the wake of their grief and find meaning in life once more.

For me the standout in these films has always been the sensitive performance of 20-year-old actress Purl as shy but determined Molly. Some of the nuances of her line readings have stayed with me all these years; I really love her in these films, which began a lifelong interest in her career, though these movies will always be my favorites of her work.

As Molly says near the beginning of YOUNG PIONEERS, she can't quite believe that David has chosen her as his wife, but she's thrilled and wants to be the best wife possible. This includes stubbornly risking it all, refusing to leave either him or the claim in the winter, even when it would really be the smart thing to do.

The rest of the cast members are all good, especially Kern as exuberant David, but in the end the films' success comes down to the strength of the stories and Purl's acting.

A pre-AIRPLANE! (1980) Robert Hays plays the Beatons' friend Dan, with Robert Donner as neighbor Mr. Peters. Mr. Peters' daughter Nettie is played by Shelly Juttner in the first film and Kay Kimler in the second.

Both films were directed by Michael O'Herlihy and filmed by Robert L. Morrison, with location shooting in Arizona. They run 97 and 100 minutes, respectively.

In 1978 YOUNG PIONEERS became a very short-lived series, with three episodes airing on ABC in April 1978. I would certainly love to get my hands on those as well!

A footnote: A handful of years later I had the chance to see Purl and Kern starring with Nicholas Pryor in an excellent Equity waiver stage production of Ibsen's A DOLL HOUSE in the Los Angeles area. Today Purl is busy as a cabaret singer. She sometimes performs with Desi Arnaz Jr., to whom she was briefly married in the early '80s.

The DVD print quality is fairly grainy at times, with a minor blip or two where commercial breaks fell, but I can't say any of that worried me very much; I'm simply grateful to have them on DVD! The lone extras are trailers for another pair of films available from Kino Lorber.

Please note that these are "DVD only" releases by Kino Lorber; I suspect the prints wouldn't have stood up to high-definition Blu-ray releases, and realistically these films, though wonderful, may not have the retail audience to justify the additional work needed for a Blu-ray.

My gratitude to Kino Lorber for making these films available once more!

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing review copies of these DVDs.


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