The 1960s as 1850s as Romantic & Socially Relevant: ‘Here Come the Brides’

At long last, fans of ABC’s Here Come the Brides can complete their DVD collection. Considering that a typical television season back in 1969-70 was 26 episodes, each about 51 minutes, Here Come the Brides fans have plenty to watch, but television history buffs also should find this series a bit out of the ordinary and thoroughly entertaining.

I happily admit to being one of the series’ fans, favoring the youngest of three Bolt brothers, Jeremy (played by teen heartthrob Bobby Sherman). Before David Soul became Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson on another ABC series, Starsky & Hutch, he had his first encounters with exuberant fans while playing middle Bolt brother Joshua in this saga set in Seattle’s early days. The oldest of the brothers (Robert Brown) isn’t hard on the eyes, either. The series may have simply been the sexist of its time, with attractive men seeking equally attractive brides.

Here Come the Brides is loosely based on the 1954 film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In the television series, 100 young women sail halfway around the world to become brides when they arrive in the Northwest Territory. On that premise, Here Come the Brides Brides easily could have become a wink-wink, nudge-nudge battle of the sexes, but it’s far more than that.

Here Come the Brides has heart. Its adventures often involve romance, frequently about the courtship and impending nuptials of Jeremy Bolt and spokesperson for the women, Candy Pruitt (Bridget Hanley). The series emphasizes that love is not just for the young, however, as shown by way of the sly friendship between saloon keeper Lottie (Joan Blondell) and salty sea captain Clancey (Henry Beckman), that implies far more than is ever shown on screen.

Because the premise was laid out in the first season, the second emphasizes character development, and every main character has at least one episode built around him or her. The season opener, “A Far Cry from Yesterday”, sets the tone for future episodes. Just when Candy and Jeremy are ready for marriage, two new arrivals in Seattle change their plans. Candy’s younger siblings, Molly and Christopher, plan only a short visit, but the news of their mother’s death means the children stay in Seattle. In effect, Candy becomes a single mom, and the dynamic between Candy and other characters drastically changes.

Here Come the Brides underscores the way friends help each other through difficult times. When Captain Clancey’s refined brother, Father Ned, visits the town, the captain’s friends must help him convince his brother that he is a successful businessman. Again, the unexpected happens—the “wealthy” Clancey is kidnapped and held for ransom. Even the Bolts’ antagonist, Aaron Stempel (Mark Lenard, perhaps best known for his role as the father of Star Trek’s Spock), is featured in an episode. He promises to give his younger sister her share of their inheritance if she can find a suitable marriage partner; to his horror, she chooses Jason Bolt. Although the series continues to show Seattle’s development as a civilized frontier town, character development is a plus in season two.

Decisions about what kind of citizens Seattle should nurture (e.g., religious? tolerant? well educated?) lead to some of the best episodes. “Hosanna’s Way” deals with a wounded Native American boy, mistrust between him and the Caucasian settlers, and the evils of bigotry. The obvious episode title “Obie Brown and the Black Princess” tackles not only racial inequality (no black brides were brought to Seattle) but slavery. (Brown is a freed slave, but the woman with whom he falls in love in San Francisco is an African princess.) Here Come the Brides is, after all, set in pre-Civil War America, for all that its sensibilities often reflect ’60s social issues. Although the series is too gentle to be revolutionary in the way it handles feminism or racism, for example, it manages to introduce themes of equality and harmony into many episodes.

Of course, not all stories include such important themes. Some episodes revolve around Big Foot (as appropriate for the Northwest woods’ setting) and singer Jenny Lind (as appropriate for the series’ time period). The 52nd, and last, episode is a typical tale—one in which the Bolt brothers are separated by jealousy and misunderstanding over a woman, only to be reunited so that the family unit is stronger than ever. It’s an anticlimactic finalé, and indicates that the producers—and fans—expected more to come. Still, the 26 episodes in the second season DVD set are entertaining and at times, surprisingly provocative.

If the episodes themselves don’t hook you—and their fun-loving style and good performances probably will—then television buffs should be reminded that Here Come the Brides includes among its guest stars some familiar names from ’70s-’80s hits, including Emmy winner Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant) and Golden Globe winner Vic Tayback (Alice, Flo). Those unfamiliar with movie star Joan Blondell’s earlier film work get a chance to see her Emmy-nominated performance in Brides. If you’re unfamiliar with these names, you have yet another reason to watch this DVD set.

Another note for movie and television fans is that Brides was filmed at the Columbia Ranch, today known as the Warner Bros. Ranch. Although fires in the early ’70s destroyed many sets used in Columbia’s and Screen Gems’ television series and early films, Here Come the Brides memorializes the ranch as it was in the late ’60s.

As is true of many DVD collections of ’60s television series episodes, this box set contains few special features. Jonathan Etter, author of 2009’s Gangway, Lord! The Here Come the Brides Book, introduces several episodes with trivia about writers or actors. The information may be interesting, but Etter’s monotone sometimes makes the introductions painful to hear. However, the episodes are the whole point of this DVD set. Here Come the Brides is a lot of fun and well worth a very long stroll down memory lane.

RATING 8 / 10
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