Bonanza Does Dallas
Long time ranch hand Bronc Evans (Ben Johnson) having been left in charge of the Ponderosa after the death of Ben Cartwight finds himself having to deal with Augustus Brandenburg (Dean Stockwell) a wealthy businessman who plans to own the Cartwight's land by fair means or foul. Believing that Ben would never sell Bronc along with other ranch hands Buckshot (Jack Elam) and Jacob (Richard Roundtree) stand firm even when Augustus has his men ambush them. But the next generation of Cartwights need some convincing as whilst Little Joe's daughter Sara (Emily Warfield) believes they should never sell their home her Boston lawyer brother Benjamin (Michael Landon Jr.) believes times have moved on and they should sell. Adam Cartwight's son A.C. (Alistair MacDougall) having arrived from Australia also thinks they should sell as does Josh (Brian Leckner), the illegitimate son of Hoss who comes looking for his father only to learn that he died before he could marry Josh's mum. But as the Cartwight kids spend time at the Ponderosa they begin to realise how important the place is and join forces when Augustus starts to play dirty leading to a courtroom battle. But it seems that Augustus has a deeper connection to the Ponderosa than any of them realise and it is a connection which puts Sara's life in danger
So for those who watched the 1988 TV movie "Bonanza: The Next Generation" you need to get hold of one of those memory wiper gizmos as "Bonanza: The Return" ignores it ever existed. As such there is no mention of Aaron Cartwright, we get the whole Josh Cartwright being angry at Hoss storyline all over again and this time Michael Landon Jr. is Benjamin again but starts of as a city slicker rather than the college boy who we met just 5 years earlier. I can't decide whether the ignoring of "Bonanza: The Next Generation" is a good or bad thing as whilst it had issues it had some good points and in truth was as good or bad, depending on your opinion, as "Bonanza: The Return" ends up.
So now to try and give you some connections and "Bonanza: The Return" we are treated to some old sepia footage of the original "Bonanza" TV series including clips from an episode which Ben Johnson appeared in as a ranch hand, Johnson actually appeared in 3 episodes of the original series as 3 different characters. It is a nice touch although a tenuous way to link the character of Bronc Evans back to the original series. It's not just Johnson who appeared in the original "Bonanza" as Jack Elam who here plays ranch hand Buckshot also appeared in 3 episodes of the old series with Dean Stockwell also having appeared in one of the original episodes. But it is as close as it comes to generating any real link to the old show and as such I have to say that "Bonanza: The Return" does not have the magic of the old series.
So as to the story well in a way "Bonanza: The Return" reminds me of "Dallas" as we have land disputes, someone wanting to mine the Ponderosa, old romances, treachery, betrayal, an illegitimate child, old family journals and heck there is even Linda Gray in a supporting role. For those who watch "Bonanza: The Return" because they loved the old show will probably be sorely disappointed by all the shenanigans but for those who discover this having grown up watching "Dallas" might find the far fetched storyline entertaining. Some might be even more disappointed by the fact that whilst it features Michael Landon Jr. it also features Dirk Blocker, the son of Dan Blocker who played Hoss in the original series, but here Dirk plays a journalist rather than the son of Hoss.
That brings me to the performances and the likes of Ben Johnson, Jack Elam and Richard Roundtree all deliver decent performances, the sort which would feel right at home in the old "Bonanza" with Emily Warfield not doing a bad job as Sara as well. Unfortunately Dean Stockwell just isn't scheming enough to be a convincing bad guy and Michael Landon Jr. is not cold enough during the early scenes when he is meant to be indifferent to the Ponderosa. But the one performance which really stands out is Brian Leckner s not only did he look like he could have been Hoss's son but also managed to deliver some of Hoss's easy going nature which was a real treat.
The thing is that "Bonanza: The Return" is only 93 minutes long and has a lot going on almost making it feel like someone wrote 5 episodes for a new TV series and combined all those episodes into one movie. It makes it convoluted and on top of what I have mentioned we have sons angry at their fathers, a man with a secret past and even a courtroom scene which sadly fails to come to life to make it memorable
What this all boils down to is that "Bonanza: The Return" like with "Bonanza: The Next Generation" does not compare favourably with the original TV series and lacks so much of what made the show so popular. But in its own right and for a new generation who might have grown up watching "Dallas" it sort of works.