But after assorted complications are swept out of the way, it’s the purty-est country church wedding you ever did see, complete with a Keystone Kop-inspired payoff when one of the Walton sister-bridesmaids unexpectedly goes into labor from a church pew and gives birth to a howling baby just as John-Boy (Richard Thomas) slips a ring on the finger of his bride (the preppy looking Kate McNeil). Amazingly, the scene works.
That’s not all. The wedding reception includes an unexpected, lyrical scene, like something out of another movie, in which the wedding party, singing “Daisy, Daisy” and strolling hand in hand through the forest under the moonlight, accompanies the newlyweds to their getaway honeymoon rowboat. Lensed by Bill Butler, it’s certainly the finest moment, cinematic and otherwise, in the whole Walton canon.
TV has had memorable weddings, but this one — gambling with outrageous sentiment — succeeds because director Robert Ellis Miller applies the required light and contemporary touch without toying with a format chiseled in granite. After all, this is a family drama (which originally aired on CBS from 1972 to ‘ 81) that keeps reminding us that, if the Blue Ridge Waltons are still around, the world must still be safe and not yet quite gone to hell.
The script by Claire Whitaker and Rod Peterson deftly juggles two subplots: Dad John (Ralph Waite) jeopardizes the family name and his political career on the town council over a land deal, and Mother Olivia (Michael Learned) returns to college, inspired by a reading of “The Feminine Mystique.” In a glaring caricature, much too pat to be believed, Olivia’s oafish professor (Roy Brocksmith, who looks like a caricature out of Dickens) is way over the top as a classroom figure from the middle ages.
We meet John-Boy as a writer banging away on his manual typewriter in New York, where he has fetched an upper-class fashion editor (McNeil) as the unlikely next Walton. The bride’s busybody aunt (a humorous turn by Holland Taylor) insists on taking over the wedding. When the bride’s distinguished diplomat father arrives on Walton’s Mountain for the ceremony, he lands in jail in one of the script’s harmless exaggerations. The sheriff doesn’t understand diplomatic immunity nor can he pronounce it.
All the gang’s back, 11 original Waltons, including Grandma (Ellen Corby, who never gets up and doesn’t speak). Since the story seems to be set in the ’60s (as was “Thanksgiving”), all the Waltons have aged almost 20 years from the original series, and that’s part of the fun. Check out those sisters and brothers! The only actor who doesn’t look older is Learned’s luminous Olivia, whose luster here is ageless.