Ten Best The Big Valley TV Episodes

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The Big Valley's best television episodes include Court Martial, The Haunted Gun, The Iron Box, The Death Merchant, A Noose Is Waiting, Night in a Small Town, In Silent Battle, Four Days to Furnace Hill, Night of the Wolf and Last Stage to Salt Flats.

ABC-TV's The Big Valley enjoyed a four-year run on the small screen from 1965-69. Created by A.I. Bezzerides and Louis F. Edelman, The Big Valley featured the adventures of the fictional Barkley clan of Stockton, California, whose sprawling 30,000-acre ranch populated the rich San Joaquin Valley during the post-Civil War West of the 1870s.

Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990) starred as the clan's matriarch Victoria Barkley, with Richard Long (1927-1974) as eldest son and practicing attorney Jarrod Barkley, Peter Breck (1929-) as hot-headed middle son Nick Barkley, Lee Majors (1939-) as half-son Heath Barkley and Linda Evans (1942-) as beautiful daughter Audra Barkley. Also appearing in eight early episodes was Charles Briles (1945-) as youngest son Eugene Barkley.

The Big Valley, whose reruns can currently be viewed on FamilyNet and other TV outlets, produced 112 hour-long episodes. Here are the ten best The Big Valley television episodes...

"Court Martial" - March 6, 1967

In this complex segment, ex-Union General Alderson (Henry Jones) is tried by five former Confederate soldiers (L.Q. Jones, Alan Bergmann, David Renard, Paul Comi, Clay Tanner) for alleged crimes committed against the town of Mayville during the Civil War. Alderson is an old friend of the Barkleys, with Nick serving as one of his junior officers during the war. Jarrod brings Alderson to the ranch for a visit while Nick and Heath are away on a cattle drive. The ex-Confederates lay in waiting, taking the Barkleys hostage and placing the general on trial. Nick and Heath come home unexpectedly, and are taken prisoner as well. The "Confederate soldiers" turn out to be government agents who, with the full cooperation of Jarrod, run an elaborate sting operation on the general, getting him to admit his guilt in the infamous Mayville Massacre. Take notes while watching this one, as the story twists and turns to its fateful conclusion.

Teleplay: Steven W. Carabatsos

Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Richard Long as attorney Jarrod Barkley - ABC-TV

"The Haunted Gun" -  February 6, 1967

Senator Jud Robson (Andrew Duggan), an ex-lawman and old family friend of the Barkleys, is on a visit to Stockton. The senator has become mentally unbalanced, imagining former enemies and fearing assassination at every turn. While in town, Heath watches while Robson nearly guns down a blind man (Jim Hayward), whom the senator had mistaken for someone else. The senator's longtime aide Salazar (Robert Ellenstein) is acutely aware of his boss' mental decline but tries to hide it from others. In the end, however, it is Salazar who must deal the final blow to his friend. It's a great performance by Andrew Duggan, with Robert Ellenstein equally good as the senator's trusted confidante.  

Teleplay: Mel Goldberg

Director: Bernard McEveety

"The Iron Box" - November 28, 1966

After buying a prize bull from a stranger named MacGowan (Michael Fox), Nick and Heath are arrested for stealing by Sheriff Barnes (Frank Marth) and his deputies. But instead of sitting in jail, the Barkley brothers are sent to the corrupt county's chain gang, which is run by the sadistic Captain Jonathan Rizely (David Sheiner), an embittered ex-mariner. Punishment at the camp is brutal, with the commandant placing Heath in an iron box after he sought medical treatment from the farm's alcoholic doctor. Jarrod eventually tracks down his missing brothers, promising to return to the camp with a circuit judge (Walter Woolf King) in tow. Meanwhile, learning that he had imprisoned two members of the powerful California Barkleys, Captain Rizely arranges for their departure so they can be killed while trying to escape. Watch an emotional Nick beg for brother Heath's life, only to be laughed at by the inhuman commandant.

Teleplay: Steven W. Carabatsos

Director: Bernard McEveety

"The Death Merchant" - February 23, 1966

Handy Random (James Whitmore), the avenger of Tom Barkley's killer, comes to Stockton for a visit. Although welcomed by the family, Heath is alone in his hatred for the man, whom he recognizes from the Lincoln County Wars. Random's specialty is starting range wars and feuds, and then offering his services to the highest bidder. Random is loaded for bear, further stirring things up in a simmering land dispute between the Barkleys and the Craddocks. Things come to a head when Ezra Craddock (Royal Dano) vows revenge for the murder of one of his sons. Old Man Craddock holds the Barkleys responsible for the killing, but in reality it was the evil Handy Random, who left his familiar calling card of old nails and other junk which he uses as ammunition for his shotgun.

Teleplay: Jay Simms

Director: Bernard McEveety

"A Noose Is Waiting" - November 13, 1967

Dr. James Beldon (Bradford Dillman) is the new doctor in town who takes a shine to young Audra. Dr. Beldon, however, harbors dark secrets from his childhood, and is out to murder Victoria, whom he wants to claim as his third hanging victim. Dillman is downright evil as the handsome, psychotic physician, charming the good folks in public while undergoing his psychotic visions in private. Dr. Beldon was one of a handful of less-than-stellar suitors who pursued Miss Audra during the show's four-year run.

Teleplay: Arthur Browne Jr.

Director: Joseph A. Mazzuca

"Night in a Small Town" - October 9, 1967

While traveling Heath and Victoria have a brief stopover in a small California town. Heath is immediately confronted by Marshal Tom Willis (James Whitmore), with a showdown in the immediate offing. Willis seemingly beats Heath to the draw, but it was all in fun as the two are old friends. Heath later learns that Willis has changed, now running the once boisterous town as if it were his private fiefdom. The puritanical Willis is especially hard on a young saloon girl named Sally (Susan Strasberg), whom Heath and Victoria try to help. Willis later provokes Heath into a real gunfight, with Heath candidly telling the lawman that he let him win in their previous mock encounters. A doubting Willis is made a true believer, when the faster Heath drops him dead in the street. It is yet another fine performance by James Whitmore, this time playing a tyrannical marshal who just can't help flashing that maniacal grin of his. 

Teleplay: Don Ingalls

Director: Virgil W. Vogel

"In Silent Battle" - September 23, 1968

Handsome Civil War hero Major Jonathan Eliot (Adam West) catches the eye of Audra Barkley. But the major has problems with women, killing them when they don't fit his perverted vision of "purity." Don Knight plays Eliot's longtime aide Sergeant Sean McQuade, who knows of the major's past murders. Adam West, who starred as TV's Batman (1966-68), turns in a grand performance as the psychotic Major Eliot, yet another beau from hell for the unlucky at love Miss Audra.

Teleplay: Lee Irwin

Director: Charles S. Dubin

"Four Days to Furnace Hill" - December 4, 1967

Gabe Skeels (Bruce Dern) and his men (Rafael Campos, I. Stanford Jolley) are transporting convicts in their prison wagon. When Skeels kills one of his female charges (Juli Reding), a stranded Victoria is made to take her place so they can collect their fee on delivery to the territorial prison at Furnace Hill. A grungy, bearded Bruce Dern, wearing a Confederate greatcoat and sporting a battered hat, is at his evil best in this one, with Fritz Weaver ably playing prisoner Burke Jordan. After learning that Victoria is a long way from home, Skeels tells his two men, who are trying to fix Victoria's buggy, "We don't need to lose our $100 after all. Put her in the wagon." And so begins the long, tortuous journey to Furnace Hill.

Teleplay: Ken Pettus

Director: Virgil W. Vogel

"Night of the Wolf" - December 1, 1965

Out on the trail Nick is attacked and bitten by a rabid wolf. Although Heath is able to immediately cauterize the wound, a visit to Dr. C. Boorland (Chubby Johnson) can't confirm that transmission of the rabies virus didn't take place. The doctor advises Nick that rabies has a 60-day incubation period, whereby the symptoms will include headaches and fits of rage. Nick extracts a promise from Heath that he won't tell the family of what he believes to be his impending death. Nick makes a nostalgic trip back to Willow Springs, where he wants to make the final weeks of his life count for something. There he meets young widow Julia Jenkins (Nancy Olson) and her son Tommy (Ronny Howard).

Teleplay: Margaret Armen

Director: Joseph J. Lewis 

Peter Breck, left, and Lee Majors - ABC-TV

"Last Stage to Salt Flats" - December 5, 1966

While traveling Heath and Victoria's stagecoach is robbed, with their attackers leaving them on an obsolete trail to die. The two Barkleys, along with fellow passengers Emilie (Norma Crane), gun salesman Anson Cross (Lamont Johnson) and stagecoach driver Charlie (Kevin Hagen), try to survive after the robbers destroy their precious water supply. It turns out that Anson Cross knows something about these parts, having led a wagon train some years earlier which resulted in disaster after he had failed to find a mountain spring. Now the survivors set out on foot, tracking their assailants and hoping Cross can find water this time around.

Teleplay: Arthur Browne Jr.

Director: Bernard McEveety

Ten More Memorable The Big Valley TV Episodes

  • "Target" (10/31/66)
  • "The River Monarch" (4/6/66)
  • "Down Shadow Street" (1/23/67)
  • "Ladykiller" (10/16/67)
  • "Palms of Glory" (9/15/65)
  • "Barbary Red" (2/16/66)
  • "Explosion!" Parts I and II (11/20/67 & 11/27/67)
  • "Shadow of a Giant" (1/29/68)
  • "Lightfoot" (2/17/69)
  • "Deathtown" (10/28/68)

The Big Valley Season One on DVD - 20th Century Fox

Top Image

  • Cast of The Big Valley, l-r: Peter Breck, Richard Long, Barbara Stanwyck, Linda Evans, Lee Majors - ABC-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Danny Hauger
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