“Here Come The Brides”: Lost Potential (for fans only!)

Here Come the Brides, which aired on ABC 1968-1970, was a broadlypainted tale of frontier Seattle. Based on the true story of Asa Mercer, who brought Civil War widows to Seattle to supply settlers and loggers with potential brides, HCTB based itself on the lusty Old West style of such wide screen extravaganzas as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  Unfortunately, after a simply astonishing pilot episode, the show gradually lost most of its punch.

As with so many television creations, the show eventually developed flaws that ultimately turned its original verve and vitality – and its thematic core –  on their head, such as:

1) great setup in the pilot. Cinematic production values, rollicking musical score (Hugo Montenegro’s vast, exciting theme for “Captain Clancy’s ship/tall tree country”, his lovely romantic themes for Jeremy and Candy, the folksy “Holly Houston theme,” etc.), using a real ship docked at a real wharf on the “New Bedford” set, many long shots, many “wide screen-type” tracking shots, larger than life, wide-open settings, filming in mountainous locations;  Jason Bolt being introduced doing real logging topping off a tree, etc. All wonderful things. But–

2) All these wonderful things started to disappear by halfway into the first season:

Scenes became more claustrophobic, with less filming done in authentic mountain/woods locations. Instead, the town became more dominant and “logging scenes” more and more restricted to the reservoir “lake” familiar from the Andy Griffith Show’s “Opey and Andy Go Fishing” opening credits, the “Mirimanee” Star Trek episode, The Waltons “Mountain”  – and many other California-shot shows that attempted to suggest a woodsey setting while filming in arid and sparsely-wooded LA environs.

3) the show, because it was shot in southern California, never conveyed a true sense of the Western rain valley terrain of the western Pacific Northwest. There were usually mud puddles on the Seattle set, but only one episode dealt with the boons and deficits of torrential rain. However, as mentioned, the first episodes did make an effort to shoot in real woods in real mountains (Sierra Nevadas?).  (These locations are where The Waltons would sometimes shoot when real mountain and forest scenes were required.)  But later HCTB episodes abandoned this authentic mountain setting for boring, scrubby flatland, obviously studio back lot, shotting.  My personal gripe is that I’ve lived in the western Pacific Northwest all my life and I finally got a show that took place in my neighborhood, only to find that it wasn’t filmed on location and that very little effort was made to present an authentic re-creation of the Pacific Northwest.

4) as mentioned, the show shrunk from a sprawling outdoor theme to a narrower town-based drama. Then the town-based drama became even more claustrophobic, with many scenes taking place indoors. The grand scope of the first episodes – the “cinematic” shots, filming in the real mountains, long tracking shots of “loggers marching over the countryside with important issues to settle” – was entirely forgotten.

5) while preserving the historically accurate idea of Seattle as a port, using Clancy’s ship to good advantage, still it is a shame the producers could not have retained the  (altered-for-Seattle)  “New Bedford” set of the pilot, which convincingly conveyed the illusion of a real ship in real water tied to a real dock. In all other episodes, Clancy’s “ship” is clearly a prop dragged alongside a fake dock.

6) the show gradually lost contact with any recognizable verisimility, e.g. the second season’s shameful Sasquatch episode, where Jason Bolt makes friends with a beleaguerd and misunderstood Bigfoot. Abandoned was the central theme of the Bolt Brothers trying to hold on to their land, being replaced by stereotypical melodrama usually involving the arbitrary and painful addition of two “cute” kids to the regular cast.

7) the second season probably had no more than five truly watchable episodes that were even minimally congruent with the major themes established in the better First Season episodes:

A) the second season premier is marginally watchable because, after the summer hiatus, it does take care to familiarize old and new viewers with the setting and it shows some interesting new changes in Seattle (Lottie’s Place is now clearly a two-storey structure, there are more pedestrians in the square, etc.). But I would much rather have seen how those changes came about, instead of being shocked by a suddenly more urban Seattle. Unfortunately, the second season premier also introduced a sad, watered-down paternal/avuncular Jason Bolt, as well as those dreadful children.

B) the “The Soldier [Steve Ihnat)] and His Bear” show was watchable;

C) the “Irish conspirators” episode was good in presenting the idea of Puget Sound and Clancy’s ship as factors in a Pacific Northwest-based rebellion against the British. The doomed relationship between David Soul and Brenda Scott was well done;

D)  the long-overdue fist-fight between Jason and Aaron Stemple… Although – to be finicky – there’s a massive technical glitch when filming at the dock: Clancy is in town, so his ship should be tied at the dock. However, the camera operator goofs when tracking the fight and reveals that not only is Clancy’s ship not at the dock, but neither is any water! Wires, camera and sound equipment, and a technician’s arm can be seen where there is only supposed to be water and ship – thereby fully and irretrievably destroying that illusion;

E) the series finale returned to good production values including a brief ship’s-eye view of the Seattle shoreline (“Land’s End”), taking care to supply fog, and pre-recorded seagull cries, at the dock; the Bolt Brothers’ relationship under strain but eventually triumphant; Clancy’s tearfully expressed love for the brothers; a feeling of closure for the series.

8) the unexplained loss of foundational characters: the Big Swede, Miss Essie, Corky, Billy Sawdust and other characters who were strongly established in the pilot and the initial episodes, who just drifted away or were seen rarely. Mitzie Hogue, who played schoolteacher Miss Essie through a good part of the first season, simply vanished without explanation… only to reappear as a completely different character in a single episode in the second season.

9) not the show’s fault, but the musician’s strike in the second season killed off its unique musical scoring, forcing instead the utilization of neutral, and all too often, grotesquely inappropriate stock music.

… So – just sharing some thoughts on the show’s imperfections. Be that as it may, I never missed an episode.

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13 thoughts on ““Here Come The Brides”: Lost Potential (for fans only!)

  1. Caroline Miniscule

    Regarding your comment about the Soldier and His Bear episode with Steve Ihnat…. are you speaking from memory of 30 years ago, or do you by chance have this episode on VHS or DVD and would be willing to share with a major Ihnat fan… ie, myself?

  2. rennyo01 Post author

    Hi – sorry, I’m only speaking from memory. Somebody may own a VHS copied from TV, but I know that the second season which includes the Bear episode – unlike the first – was not and most likely will not be put on DVD. Good luck in your search, and thanks for visiting the blog.

  3. Nora Lute

    I agree with your assesment of the show. I wonder if a remake could do a better job of following through with the potential of the original theme of the show. I’d like to see it done well.

  4. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for dropping in. Yes, I think that with the modern ability to travel to on-site locales, an on-location series could be done (obviously not in Seattle, but in the Western Pacific Northwest) – or a spectacularly photographed “frontier movie” could be produced. I’d love to see it.

  5. Clifford Anderson

    Decades channel had a weekend of HCTB’s couple weeks ago. Could not watch all episodes, so I am renting from our Library. Watched season 2 first, season 1 wasn’t available and currently watching disc 3, 10-14 episodes. I agree with you that season 2 was mostly dull and only 5 or 6 episodes were entertaining, fell asleep watching a few. I also enjoyed the show when it orginally aired in 68-69.

  6. rennyo01 Post author

    Clifford, thanks for dropping by, and thanks for your comments. I’m glad you can at least view some episodes via the library.

    I was, at first at least, thrilled with the HCTB premise – finally! – of a frontier show based in the Pacific Northwest – as a Portland, Oregon dweller, I appreciated the geographical proximity of the Bolt Brothers’ weekly adventures.

    Pioneer Seattle – a little settlement on Puget Sound, serviced by Captain Clancey’s beat-up old ship. Larger-than-life, cinematic production values, including Hugo Montenegro’s great musical scoring. At least, until it sank into the typical morass of “family TV”.

    Thanks again for visiting.

  7. Clifford Anderson

    Your welcome, I once lived in South Bend WA, by Mt Zei for a few months when a friend and I took a trip to visit his brother in 1975. His brother was a logger for Weihauser.

  8. rennyo01 Post author

    Love it! Yeah, Weyerhauser was always a BIG name in the Pacific Northwest, and logging a venerable but dangerous profession.

  9. Clifford Anderson

    It was North Bend WA, by Mt.Si, we got a job roofing the Mt. Si motel during our stay. I guess Twin Peaks was filmed in that area, and a seen was actually filmed at that motel. A burned room or something years later.

  10. rennyo01 Post author

    How cool to be where TP was filmed! I was sort of a fan in its network run many years ago.

  11. Clifford Anderson

    I guess the room walls are still there. Read a review on the motel, said it was. Hey, it would of been neat if HCTB had been a set in Seattle and was a tourist attraction. We have things like that all over WI .

  12. rennyo01 Post author

    Yes. There has been a rumor that, had HCTB gone on to a third season, they were actually going to do some filming in the PNW, including the Seattle area. That would have been a happy change from the show’s arid southern California locations, and, as you say, it might have had tourist potential.

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