Like It’s a Wonderful Life, The Homecoming is a Christmas tradition in my house. Since The Homecoming acted as a TV movie pilot for the classic show The Waltons, it shares much of the appeal of that series: old-fashioned values, cute and relatable kids, and an overall sense of nostalgia. Indeed, the whole film (and most of the series) possesses a unique wistfulness, like a fond childhood memory of days that are no more. Of course, that’s exactly what it is, an embellished chronicle of the younger years of Earl Hamner, Jr., the real John-Boy Walton (and Clayboy Spencer in the Fonda flick Spencer’s Mountain).
I and the majority of people nowadays are too young to remember these Depression days of “Roosevelt will save us” optimism, of reliance on neighborly goodwill but not charity (except when necessary and convenient), of trudging through the snow to retrieve a runaway cow, of trying to explain a stock market crash to children when one doesn’t understand it fully oneself, of throwing caution to the wind for the sake of some brief, carefree smiles. Still, the way in which they’re presented make them seem closer and more engaging than reading a history book. The Waltons feel like real people; Olivia, played by Roald Dahl’s wife Patricia Neal, realistically waits and watches for her far-flung husband; little Elizabeth sincerely explains how she plans to not grow up; older Mary Ellen considers herself smarter than the rest as she enters the growing pains of her “terrible teens”; John-Boy spends hours searching for his father on a wild goose chase that, for some, is surprisingly easy to relate to. John-Boy’s dream of being a writer is a particularly sympathetic touchstone for me, as I and countless others aspire to the same thing.
For those familiar with The Waltons, there are plenty of familiar faces. Richard Thomas originated the role of John-Boy and continued to play him for most of the television series and several TV movies. All the other children are the same as well (Judy Norton as sassy Mary Ellen, Jon Walmsley as musical Jason, Mary McDonough as the snitch Erin, Eric Scott as mischievous Ben, David Harper as shaggy-headed Jim-Bob, and Kami Cotler as adorable, freckle-faced Elizabeth), as is Ellen Corby as Grandma Esther Walton. All the other roles are different, from Andrew Duggan as John Walton to Edgar Bergen as Grandpa Ebenezer (not Zebulon?) Walton. Various other changed roles include storeowner Ike Godsey, the batty bootlegging Baldwin sisters, and the less familiar characters Hawthorne Dooley and Charlie Snead. Overall, though I enjoy the colorful cast of the film, I much prefer the actors in The Waltons (Miss Michael Learned, Ralph Waite, Joe Conley, etc.). In my opinion, the recasting only made the show better.
I haven’t always been, but I’m a Virginia lover of late, and part of my family’s attraction to Virginia was based in the lovely Appalachian scenery of The Waltons. (The show was filmed in California, but it looks like Appalachia. Likewise, The Homecoming was filmed in Wyoming’s Teton National Park, even though it’s also set in Virginia.) So the location of the film and show has special meaning to me too, since few movies mention familiar names like Charlottesville and my former city of residence Waynesboro.
The Homecoming (and The Waltons) is family entertainment at its purest, focusing on a tight-knit family overcoming problems of the day through love and togetherness. All the later Waltons TV movies are good and inspiring in their own ways, but The Homecoming effortlessly creates a bygone era and fills it with one of the most lovable and relatable cast of characters to grace the screen. Some might find it boring, but in this age of edgy and boundary-pushing television, it’s nice to retreat into the simpler world of the Walton family and remember that TV need not be shocking or provocative to be entertaining; it just has to be good.
Best line: (pompous, toy-bearing missionary) “This year, I said to the ladies of our society, ‘Why look to some foreign country for heathens, when the Blue Ridge Mountains are filled with them?’”Artistry: 8 Characters/Actors: 9 Entertainment: 8 Visual Effects: N/A Originality: 8 Watchability: 9 Other (pure, rustic nostalgia): +5 TOTAL: 47 out of 60
Next: #153 – A League of Their Own
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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