It arrived amidst some of the most turbulent times in American history. A war in Southeast Asia was dividing the generations, and the call for civil rights had reached a fever pitch. Everywhere, the entertainment media responded with programming that pushed the boundaries – either of reality (the classic hick sitcoms of CBS) or taste (the much maligned Laugh-In). Yet perhaps the most subversive show on the airwaves was the one that, on the surface, seemed the most conservative. It dealt with a Seattle lumber town at the turn of the century. It featured honest, hardworking men looking for decent, wholesome women. Their intention was not dirty or depraved – it was marriage that was on everyone's mind. It was a non-musical mash-up of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and the once favored TV western. And yet inside Here Comes the Brides is some of the most challenging and rebellious ideas in the area of '60s drama.
The Bolt Brothers run a successful logging business in the still untamed territory of turn of the century Seattle. This part of the Pacific Northwest is practically uncharted, and only the most adventurous of souls seek their fortunes there. Big brother Jason, and his siblings Joshua and Jeremy try to keep a handle on things, but their hard working, hard drinking lumberjacks keep them on their toes. And now they have a new demand – women! That's right, Seattle has a significant lack of gals, and the men are getting antsy. They threaten to strike unless the Bolts bring on the babes. Hard pressed for a solution, Jason turns to local madam and saloon owner Lottie. He thinks bringing in a cadre of call girls will solve the problem. But these big burly brutes don't want dates – they want BRIDES. So Jason makes a bet with evil sawmill owner Aaron Stempel. He will travel to New England and round up 100 "marriageable" women and convince them to come to Seattle. If he does so, his loan from Stempel will be void. But if Jason can't deliver the potential paramours, or fails to make matches, he will lose his deed to the mountain – and all the lumber it contains.
Thus we have the set up for the first season of Here Comes the Brides. Unique in its approach to love and logistics, this hour long drama drew on the talents of several small screen stars – Robert Brown (Jason Bolt), David Soul (Joshua), teen idol Bobby Sherman (Jeremy), Joan Blondell (Lottie) and the vile and villainous Mark Leonard (Stempel). Together with a few recognizable faces (Bo Svenson, Henry Beckman, Buck Kartalian) and a series of intersecting storylines, Brides was a show that aimed high, and more often than not hit its lofty marks. As part of the Season 1 DVD set, we get the following 29 episodes, each one loaded with empathy and adventure. Here is a brief single sentence overview of the plotlines:
"The Pilot" – Logger Jason Bolt must bring 100 marriageable women to Seattle, or face losing his business to the local sawmill baron Aaron Stempel.
"A Crying Need" – When the women finally arrive in Seattle, they realize they'll need one thing before setting up families – a doctor.
"And Jason Makes Five" – When a stranger rides into town, kids in tow, she has her eyes set on main Bolt brother Jason.
"The Man of the Family" – the secret son of one of the Brides causes chaos when he arrives in town, throwing a potential match in turmoil.
"A Hard Card to Play" – salty old sea captain Clancy loses his boat to a professional gambler in a card game. Jason must save the day.
"Letter of the Law" – the new sheriff of Seattle proves to be a bit much for the more or less easygoing members of the community.
"Lovers and Wanderers" – a heartbroken Big Swede decides to quit, just as the Bolts are facing a demanding lumber deadline.
"A Jew Named Sullivan" – prejudice rears its problematic head when the town learns that Joshua's new gal is Jewish.
"The Stand Off" – when the sinister Stempel buys the land the Bolts use to transport their timber, tempers flair and a final contest for control ensues.
"A Man and his Magic" – offering to stop the rain that has hampered business, a flim flam man/magician amazes Seattle with his abilities.
"A Christmas Place" – it's their first Christmas away from home, and the Brides are taking it rather hard, that it, until an unexpected miracle happens.
"After a Dream Comes Mourning" – in a flashback, the men face a crisis when they realize there's no housing for the newly arrived Brides.
"The Log Jam" – Jeremy and his true Bride to be Candy finally make it official – they get engaged. Not everyone is happy about the decision, though.
"The Fire Maker" – a series of mystery fires seem inexplicably linked to a suddenly hot romance between a logger and a Bride.
"Wives for Wakado" – the Native Americans know a good thing when they see it, offering to trade for several of the Brides – and they won't take no for an answer.
"A Kiss for Just So" – Jason is truly smitten by an Amish woman with pacifistic ways that chaff against his tough and rugged demeanor.
"Democracy Inaction" – it's turn of the century bureaucracy in action as a proposed highway through Seattle brings a government official – and a protest from the town's newest suffragettes.
"One Good Lie Deserves Another" – An ex-lover of Lottie who himself is a very clever con man, cheats the entire town.
"One to a Customer" – a polygamist Mormon arrives in Seattle, hoping to locate a few willing wives.
"A Dream That Glitters" – Candy is ecstatic; her grandfather is coming to visit, and he's got gold on his mind.
"The Crimpers" – Joshua and Jeremy are abducted, and it's up to Jason to save the day.
"Mr. and Mrs. J. Bolt" – one of the Brides lies to her stogy old Uncle, claiming to be married to Joshua in order to stay in town.
"A Man's Errands" – hoping to step out of his brothers' shadows, Jeremy wants to take on an important lumber job in San Francisco…by himself.
"Loggerheads" – a plan to provide profit sharing for their employees sets the Bolts against each other, with some unscrupulous attorneys looking on with glee.
"Marriage, Chinese Style" – when he helps a young Asian woman, Jeremy suddenly find himself betrothed to the Eastern 'bride".
"The Deadly Trade" – the death of a young logger has everyone in the community considering safety…and their significant others.
No other hour long drama had as much heart, humor and chutzpah as Here Come the Brides. Here was a series as epic in its emotional resonance, as cheery and breezy as a Pacific Northwest spring. Seemingly a throwback to the wholesome days of televisual dramas where men were men and women acquiesced, it was a show filled with values and clean-cut conservatism. Or was it? Undoubtedly, Here Come the Brides wanted to offer up the traditional elements of love, romance, devotion and honestly. But it also wanted to sneak in some subversive sentiments as well. This was the 1960s after all, a time of ever changing social stigmas. While on the outside, Brides looked like a homage to the whole "barefoot and pregnant" school of thought, it was really an attack on the stifling status quo of the era in which it was made. Not only did it champion women's rights years before the feminist foothold went mainstream, but it showcased the paternalistic male as a haughty, conceited softie at heart. No wonder it failed to find an audience. Here Come the Brides did for gender issues what shows like All in the Family did for race. It masked its mannerisms in homespun homilies and thoughts of early America's brightest future. Instead of arguing for a return to those good old golden days, Brides held up a mirror to the current chaos and indicated that it was truly time for a change.
Part of its effectiveness, both as an entertainment and as counter culture programming, was its pitch perfect casting. Utilizing a company of fresh young faces peppered with reliable stars from the medium's past, Brides tried to balance the excitement of youth with the wisdom of the aged. As the Bolt brothers, Robert Brown, David Soul, and soon to be pop idol Bobby Sherman sold the premise as hard working lumbermen making a stand in primitive, uncharted territories. Shot among the majestic California forests, the look of Here Comes the Brides really recreates the look of turn of the century Seattle. In Brown, we have the smart combination of huckster and humanist, a man who will go to the ends of the Earth to help his fellow man – and flim flam him a little if he resists the help. Soul was given the more or less thankless role of cad and card, the lothario who doesn't quite "get' the gals from New England. Though his Joshua would soon grow and mature, it must have been hard to watch Brown and Sherman steal all the scenes. Indeed, the real revelation here is the artist formerly known as the king of Tiger Beat. The shining Shindig dude, his hair a helmet of mod pop primness, Sherman plays the sensitive stutter Jeremy, the voice of reason and empathy among the men. Painfully conscientious of his vocal stammer, he easily represents the flower power generation with his arguments for understanding, tolerance and acceptance. While Sherman's singing was equally iconic, his role here in Brides suggests an additional reason for his rapid rise to teen stardom.
Among the older element, Joan Blondell is like a once dishy den mother. Suffering from Miss Kitty syndrome in that her actual occupation was only ever hinted at (she was a madam, let's face facts), she still manages to offer up worldly advice and the occasional shot of rotgut. Additionally, the hilarious Henry Beckman plays the salty sea dog Capt. Clancy with a brogue so broad he sounds like he swallowed the entire Emerald Isles – and part of Scotland – along the way. About the only actor who doesn't do much more than brood and bray is Mark Leonard. Spock's father may have made a name for himself in episodic television, but his efforts here are too subtle to indicate a viable villainy. Besides, Brides hardly ever lets him win. Any victory is short-lived and he almost always finds himself on the short end of the situation stick. The Brides themselves are also fairly flat. As their unofficial leader (and romantic interest for Sherman's Jeremy) Bridget Hanley is good, if sometimes grating. Her job is to be the catalyst for most of the plotlines, and this often reduces her to a whiny, petulant problem. Recognizable faces like Elaine Joyce, among others are also given very little to do except deliver the occasional macho man comeuppance. The backdrop is always believable, even when the obvious blue screen work tries to sell us on ship voyages and other location logistics. Indeed Here Comes the Brides succeeds because it delivers its delights with sharp characterization, excellent acting, and a real emotional core. Many of the program's best moments require a fistful of handkerchiefs to get through to the end.
Part of the reason for this is that Here Comes the Brides didn't shortchange its sentiments. It relished them, realizing that you can make memorable entertainment out of the poignant as well as the pragmatic. A good example is episode two, "A Crying Need". The female doctor that Jason locates has had a very hard time being accepted, and when she arrives in the female friendly Bride compound, she hopes for a reprieve. Instead, the gals are equally suspicious of a lady MD, and the confrontation between the two camps is incredibly touching. One of Bride's strong points is its no nonsense writing. Feelings aren't hidden behind arcane conversation or overly ironic quips. Instead, every character lays it on the line, from their own unfortunate prejudices ("A Jew Named Sullivan") to a mere case of homesickness ("A Christmas Place"). But perhaps the best thing about Here Come the Brides is that it is so wholly realized, it pays so much attention to its details and its dynamic that you can easily find yourself lost in its dense, complex storylines. Sure there are a couple of less than triumphant attempts at relevancy (both "Wives for Wakado" and "Marriage, Chinese Style" are a little to pre-PC for modern tastes), but overall, Brides breaks down as many barriers as its 19th Century stories trade in. It's not just about a group of gals looking for husbands. It's about new beginnings and the disposal of old habits. It's about respect, rights and resolve. For a series set in the late 1800s, that's some powerful stuff. For 1968, it was a rebellious and reflective reminder.
One of the great things about the trend in releasing old television shows onto DVD is that, for those of us who only saw a show in its original broadcast, carefully tuned rabbit ears configuration, the new masters represent a real first time rediscovery of a series. This is exactly what occurs with Here Comes the Brides. This critic only saw the show in early 70s syndication. He never experienced an image this bright or beautiful before. The 1.33:1 full screen transfers are terrific, full of color and loaded with detail. In fact, if it weren't for the obvious nods to '60s TV tenets (announced commercial fade-outs, a certain swinging fashion sense) you'd never guess this show was almost 40 years old. Here Comes the Brides looks great, and we have the digital domain to thank for it.
As usual, there's not much to say here. The famous Hugo Montenegro contributed some of the music for the show, and the Dolby Digital two channel Mono captures it in crystal clear ambience. The dialogue is always discernible and the mix never masks the important emotional undercurrents. All in all, this is a completely professional sound package.
Now comes the bad part about the trend in releasing old television to DVD – no one wants to take the time to properly flesh out the bonus features. Here Comes the Brides offers sneak previews for other Sony Pictures product – that's it. No cast or crew information, no attempt at contextualizing the series. While this critic fully believes that this is the wrong tactic to take with unknown quantities like Brides, – how may members of the modern viewing audience even knew this show existed? – it is also somewhat understandable. A good set of extras costs money, and when you're not sure how fans will react to a semi-successful series from the past, perhaps caution is the best marketing mindset. Still, it would have been nice to have a few added elements to complement and expand on the Brides era. It would make for interesting small screen history.
If you've been looking for a one hour drama that has as much tenderness as tenacity, as much warmth as wilderness, Here Come the Brides is the show for you. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, this is an old fashioned family showcase that will challenge your spirit and awaken your soul. It is rare when something created for a certain era can transcend its time to speak to an entirely different generation. The interesting thing is that Brides doubles down on this idea, using its pre-1900s epoch to explain and expose some of the '60s most ardent ideals. That it even manages to touch on subjects still relevant in 2006 is another testament to its timelessness. Here's hoping Sony completes the set and offers up the rest of Brides before long. Within its selections of shows is a series that will sweep you away with its epic intentions and touch you with its interpersonal objectives. Far from saccharine or silly, this is some of the best television from the medium's muddled past. One breath of Brides' clean mountain air and you'll be hooked.
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