Monday, October 8, 2012

O (no) Pioneers!: "Pioneer Woman" (1973)

Yet another failed pilot for a 1970's network television show finds its way onto a public domain DVD. Despite an interesting cast and location filming, there is little here.

In 1867 Indiana, Maggie (Joanna Pettet) lives a nice life. She has a clerk husband, John (William Shatner), and two kids (Russell Baer and Helen Hunt) with another on the way. John runs home to announce he has bought eighty acres to farm and they are all moving to Nebraska! (yay?)

Maggie protests (and hasn't broken the news about the lil' Star Fleet commander in the oven), but the family boards a train, then a wagon, before finally getting to the land they bought- and the first of many a hardship falls on our title character. Stop reading now if you'd rather watch Pettet suffer through every prairie complication imaginable with surprise.

Some land grabbers have taken John's land. After Shatner gets his toupee and porn star moustache forcibly dunked in a watering hole, Maggie miscarries and the defeated family rides on to Wyoming. They find a homestead that borders gruff rancher Douglas' (a wasted David Janssen) land, and the family plants wheat. John leaves for Cheyenne, something awful happens, and Maggie must fend for herself in the wilderness, waiting for her crop to come in so she can get back to the Hoosier state.

The series would have provided weekly problems for our heroine to deal with. The film touches on a possible romance between Maggie and Douglas as the small community would have started to civilize. As a stand-alone film, "Pioneer Woman" is very mediocre. Pettet goes through every clicheed disaster (except for constantly mentioned Indian attacks, which was probably being saved for a future episode) to the point where her stoicism turns comical. You'll want to boldly go punch Shatner in the face the minute he delivers his first line, his John is annoying, shallow, and possibly requires special needs.

The film is narrated from Maggie's diary entries, as Pettet pines and writes. Maggie does toughen, but that's no surprise. Unfortunately, Russell Baer looks more girlish than Helen Hunt, whose whiny character could use a good spanking.

An aspect that works is the location shooting, with Alberta boldly standing in for Wyoming and Nebraska. Other than that, "Pioneer Woman" is about as flat as the fields the family farms, making "Little House on the Prairie" looks like "The Wild Bunch." (* *) out of five stars.