FALCON CREST: Season 1 (Lorimar, 1981-82) Warner Home Video

The world of a primetime soap opera is perforated by cliché and hyperbole. That said, few of any vintage can compete with Earl Hammer's Falcon Crest (1981-1990); a richly distilled vintage, featuring hallmark characters, and, ongoing familial strife, centered on the gripping struggle to possess some of the most fertile land in California's Tuscany Valley wine country. Throughout its 9 season run on CBS, the series stirred with a creative sparkle that saw Falcon Crest's matriarch and grand dame, Angela Channing (Jane Wyman) conduct the business of running an empire on her own ruthless terms - much to the chagrin of newly arrived man of integrity and rival owner, Chase Gioberti (Robert Foxworth), also, Angela's long lost prodigal son, newspaper magnet, Richard (David Selby), and her grandson, playboy and polo player, Lance Cumson (Lorenzo Lamas in tight pants). Interesting to consider Foxworth and Wyman here – mostly, as the former’s career until Falcon Crest had been spent largely playing the baddie, while Wyman’s tenure – as a bonafide and Oscar-winning star from Hollywood’s golden age, was in service to promote her fresh-faced virtue and wholesome warmth. Role reversal, indeed! Other reoccurring notables in the cast included William R. Moses, as Chase’s hunky son, Cole, Abby Dalton as Angela's troubled daughter/Lance's mother, Julia, Susan Sullivan as Chase's ever-devoted and pure-of-heart wife, Maggie, Ana Alicia as the devious and backstabbing heiress, Melissa Agretti, and, the delightful, Margaret Ladd as Angela's youngest, Emma, initially reported to be mentally challenged but, as time wore on, revealing herself to be the only one, generally speaking, to operate in the full faculty of human understanding and compassion.
Created by Earl Hamner, Jr. as a ‘family drama’ originally entitled The Vintage Years, Hamner deliberately sought out Wyman as his star, riffing off her ensconced ‘nice-lady’ image to add dimension and sympathy to the character of Angela Channing, an otherwise scheming and generally ‘cold-blooded’ business woman. The pilot was shot with Wyman donning a grey-haired wig. However, after screening it, Wyman petitioned Hamner for changes – particularly, to allow Angela to emerge as less of an old and embittered crone and follow in the footsteps of Dallas’ J.R. Ewing. Indeed, when Falcon Crest premiered, many critics were quick to judge it as Dallas with grapes.’ To some extent, the parallel has merit, although as time and the series evolved, Falcon Crest continued to distinguish itself as a stand-alone entity with characters and situations all its own. CBS hoped for Hamner to clone the success of Dallas (1978-91), then, the network's runaway hit. Slotting the soap in the 10 pm time slot, right after Dallas proved another shrewd business decision as each piggy-backed off the other, with Falcon Crest almost immediately attaining a spot in the top-20 in the Nielsen ratings. Produced by Lorimar for television, Falcon Crest settled into its niche as a primetime soap more glamorous than Dallas, but not nearly as outrageous as Dynasty (1981-89). Audiences were captivated by Falcon Crest’s cosmopolitan settings, toggling between the rustic beauty of Napa Valley and wry sophistication of San Francisco, the rivalry between Angela, Chase, and Richard, basically fueling every confrontation to surface throughout its 9-year run. In the early years, an ego-driven Lance and reluctant Cole were pitted against one another in this battle royale for control of Falcon Crest’s fertile lands; also, in their rising affections for Melissa who, after seducing Cole, preferred the more studly and daring Lance, but gave him formidable grief in exchange for the pleasure of her company.
As with its competitors, Falcon Crest reveled in its season finale cliffhangers: Season 1’s bringing the mystery of who killed Melissa’s father, Carlo Agretti full circle, but with a catch to keep the audience on tender hooks until the start of Season 2: the last scene at the end of Season 1, depicting shots ringing out and a cutaway to a draped coffin being lowered into the ground. Rather uncharacteristic for a primetime soap, Season 3’s cliffhanger involved a plane crash in which three out of four of the show’s major players met their untimely end. In Season 4, a bomb explosion left Richard and Maggie in peril, while a devastating earthquake threatened the rest of the inhabitants at the end of Season 5. For Season 6, Chase, Melissa, Richard, and newcomer, Dan Fixx (Brett Cullen), were faced with drowning on a sinking ship, while in Season 7, Melissa, through machinations best left to be discovered, took control of the winery, much to Angela’s chagrin. In hindsight, the series topped out in Season 7, having embroiled Richard in a consortium of international espionage, only to wake up after being drugged by its femme fatale (Ursula Anders) and discover her lying dead next to him in bed. From 1982 to 1985, Falcon Crest never fell out of the Top 10 in the ratings thanks to its small army of skilled writers, and, like its contemporaries, continued to cull together an ever-evolving roster of talent from Hollywood’s golden age as its reoccurring guest stars, including Lana Turner, Gina Lollobrigida, Cesar Romero, Robert Stack, Cliff Robertson, Celeste Holm, and Kim Novak.
As he had done for television's Dynasty (and would later do for Dynasty II: The Colbys), maestro, Bill Conti set the musical tone for Falcon Crest with a bombastic and stirring orchestral accompaniment – a brassy flourish and fanfare of strings and drum roll to idyllically frame its drama with great pomp and circumstance. Still, what is best remembered about the series today is its intrigues, its diabolical twists, but most of all, its continuity. While Dallas was hinged on building a groundswell of anticipation for each season's 'cliff hanger', and Dynasty continued to introduce, then jettison major characters indiscriminately, leading to its sloppy decline in bad writing, Falcon Crest derived its strength and audience popularity from an ever-tumultuous and intricately unraveling central narrative - producing episodes that tended to become their own cliffhangers in miniature while building into the highlighted and much anticipated season finale. Season 1 of Falcon Crest begins with a murder; Chase's drunken father (and Angela's brother) Jason, bent on thwarting a romantic rendezvous between his niece, Emma and an oversexed farm hand. After accidentally pushing Jason to his death, a shell-shocked Emma fetches Angela who, in order to protect Emma from incrimination, commands her manservant, Chao Li Chi (same name as the actor who played him) to dump Jason's body into a steep ravine.
The news of Jason's death is relayed to Chase by telephone. Although a successful pilot living in New York with his family, Chase is stirred to rethink his career after Jason's funeral. At the reading of Jason's will, Angela and Chase both discover Chase has been bequeathed 50-acres of Falcon Crest's prime acreage - thereby setting up a bitter rivalry between Angela and Chase – who refuses to sell back the land to her. Instead, Chase moves into the valley with wife, Maggie and their two adult children, Cole and Victoria (Jamie Rose), the latter having broken from a bittersweet relationship with a much older man back home. Angela first tries to buy the land back from Chase at the market value, but to no avail. Next, she attempts to ruin Chase's opportunities to advance the quality of his stake in the vineyard by threatening every bank in the Bay area to refuse him the much-needed loan to make his improvements. Meanwhile, Angela's playboy grandson, Lance Cumson (Lorenzo Lamas) has become increasingly difficult to manage. He even blows up one of Chase's wells to further hasten his defeat.
To tame her young charge, Angela brokers a loveless marriage between Lance and Melissa Agretti (Ana Alicia), the daughter of a profitable rival vineyard landowner. It is Angela's hope the marriage will translate into an alliance between Falcon Crest and the Agretti Wineries to effectively squeeze Chase and his family out of their fair share once and for all. Instead, it only serves as another source of friction between Angela and Lance - the latter increasingly distancing himself from Angela's control, and, his new bride, indulging in casual sexual liaisons to fill his spare time. Unfortunately for Angela – her own time is running out in Jason's murder cover-up. Emma is increasingly prone to nervous outbursts to spill the secret to Chase. As though to prove itself the valiant successor to Dallas, its preceding soap opera on CBS, Falcon Crest: Season 1 very much becomes embroiled in all sorts of backroom backstabbing and sexual byplay. However, rather than merely aping Dallas, Season 1 of Falcon Crest is a superlative maelstrom of good writing, deviously delicious from its debut episode to its first of many climactic season cliffhangers.
Most regrettably, the same cannot be said for Warner Home Video's travesty of video mastering herein. Falcon Crest Season 1 is so hopelessly marred by extremely color fading, chroma-bleeding, and other digitally imposed anomalies, the image throughout is a disaster, virtually unwatchable, and riddled in edge effects, video noise and other age-relate artifacts. Like Dallas, Falcon Crest was shot on 35mm film stock. The video masters used here appear to have been derived from some intermediary ‘tape’ version – inheriting all of the flaws and shortcomings of that format. It’s odd, and very disappointing, because the image, especially in long shots, literally breaks apart. There is so much noise and chroma bleeding here, the visual presentation fares no better than a bootlegged VHS copy, with wan contrast and flesh tones that are piggy pink or ruddy orange. Truly, this is one of the worst mastering efforts of a beloved television series yet to debut on any format - and so undeserving of a show as vibrantly written and luminously acted as Falcon Crest. Warner Home Video ought to be sincerely ashamed of their 'efforts' put forth herein. The audio is 1.0 Dolby Digital mono but suffers from an uncharacteristically muffled quality. Warner Home Video delivers one final blow to fans of this show - virtually NO extras. Clearly, the studio does not consider it a successor to Dallas – which has been afforded a lot of extras. Not recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)