Monday, January 25, 2010
Pioneer Woman - a toupological analysis.
Pioneer Woman is a 1973 TV movie for the ABC network that starred Joanna Pettet and William Shatner. The movie is set in 1867 and revolves around a family that decides to uproot from their life in Indiana and move out to the frontier territory of Nebraska. Bill Shatner plays John Sergeant, a man who urges his reluctant family to exploit a newly-bought plot of land hundreds of miles away.
But that land turns out to be occupied by hostile squatters who have no intention of leaving.
The family, now almost broke, decides to instead lay claim to another piece of land in Wyoming About forty minutes in, after considerable work has gone into building a new house, Bill Shatner's character dies in an accident, leaving wife Maggie (Joanna Pettet) alone to raise and support their two young children.
Some reviewers don't think much of this TV movie at all. We couldn't disagree more.
Admittedly, one doesn't expect to find a masterpiece when watching a mid 1970's Bill Shatner movie, but Pioneer Woman came as a very pleasant surprise. Most striking is the sense of atmosphere: the stunningly beautiful landscapes (of Alberta, Canada) contrasted with one small family's wooden hut absolutely in the middle of nowhere. The story is remarkably simple, uncluttered by endless exposition - like, say Sole Survivor.
The few suspicious locals the family encounters only adds to the sense of utter isolation - at the beginning, no-one really seems to want them there. A lonely tone permeates the entire movie, with Joanna Pettet's emotional, yet defiant narration providing a sense of eternal hope fighting against unimaginable sorrow.
The cinematography and shot composition is surprisingly beautiful for such a production.
Bill Shatner as the eternally optimistic, energetic and probably somewhat naïve John Sergeant, manages to give (shock!) a surprisingly understated yet enthusiastic performance, while Pettet's eternally patient and forgiving Maggie seems like the most fitting on-screen partner Bill Shatner has had since Miramanee. It's a shame he dies halfway through - but the movie remains compelling throughout.
Towards the end, the pioneer woman's wheat crop (and thus money for a trip back home to Indiana) is about to be wiped out by a prairie fire... we won't spoil the movie for you by revealing any more.
Now, to the hair...
Bill Shatner sports a very thick almost black toup (with quite a high hairline) - really a wig - along with an equally thick mustache. Both appear to have been used by the actor to help "get in to the role".
Only one real moment of toupological interest emerged when early in the movie Bill Shatner's head, toupee and all, is dunked into the water by the aforementioned squatters unwilling to budge from the Sergeant family's newly-purchased land:
We understand that Pioneer Woman may have been a pilot for a proposed TV series. Would it have worked? Probably not (a widow - deluged with advances from potential suitors - and two children in the middle of nowhere might get a bit dull after a while). But as a one-off movie (only 74 minutes long), we liked it very much and don't hesitate to recommend it. The movie is available on DVD, albeit sourced from a poor-quality print.