Starring Richard Thomas and Patricia Neal, this made-for-TV-movie was written by Earl Hamner and led to the popular series, “The Waltons.” The stories were based on Hamner’s childhood.
(Note: This movie features a somewhat different cast than did the series. While the Walton children are the same, many of the other adult roles in this film, except Grandma Walton played by the late Ellen Corby, were recast for the series.)
A homespun tale, the movie focuses on rural life during the Great Depression and the anxiety a family feels one Christmas when their beloved Father is overdue after being forced to travel to the city to find work and earn money for his family’s survival.
Each of the characters reacts to his departure in different ways. Ultimately, the oldest son, John-Boy, portrayed by Richard Thomas, takes important steps to manhood and toward his ultimate career as a writer.
This film has a harsher, more real feel than did the series, and tackles such difficult subjects as racial bigotry and the economic underclass.
The great Patricia Neal is spectacular in her portrayal of the mother. Tougher than the portrayal that came later by the gifted Michael Learned, Neal’s Olivia Walton is a genuine force of nature who rarely displays her softer side. Life is very difficult, but love is always present in the Walton home.
If you’ve never seen this movie, you owe it to yourself to view a more unvarnished, less “suburban” rendition of life in this beloved family. A scene in which little Elizabeth, who desperately wants a doll for Christmas, receives one — with a cracked and broken face — from a “charity” Missionary only after having to “perform” scriptures, is so raw that it hurts. “It’s dead,” the little girl sobs into her brother’s comforting arms.
This film is anything but dead. There is real life in every panel that reaffirms true family relationships and the Christmas spirit without being heavy-handed. Look also for a gifted supporting performance by the talented William Windom, who plays a Depression-era Robin Hood.
If ever a TV-movie deserved to be released on DVD, this is it.
Was this review helpful to you?
I saw this movie when it was first on in 1971 and have watched it at Christmas most every year since. Years ago it was usually on TV around Christmas and I taped it in the early 80′s and have been watching this tape in recent years. This year I purchased the DVD (for only about $11! – I think blank VHS tapes were that much in the early 80′s). The quality is outstanding, even when viewed on my 19-inch computer monitor from a couple of feet away. You can clearly see every detail (1933 on the car license plate, prices on the wall in Ike’s store, even snow flakes melting on someone’s face). Picture quality on most DVDs made from TV shows or TV movies is nowhere near this good. Believe me, this DVD is a real bargain.
“The Homecoming — A Christmas Story” (full on-screen title) was made in 1971, and was the start of CBS’ very successful series, “The Waltons”. And what a great way to start! Patricia Neal gives a powerful performance as Olivia Walton, the head of the very large Walton clan.
This entire cast, in fact, seems ideally suited for his/her role in this program. The true feeling and spirit of the holiday shines through in every single scene of The Homecoming Christmas special, with the producers re-creating a quite realistic feeling that it is indeed Christmas 1933, during the height of The Great Depression. The writing, acting, and the atmosphere are all first-rate.
This is one of those programs that deserves to be watched every Christmas Eve, just like clockwork. Who could forget the great scene at the end of the movie, when John (Daddy Walton, played by Andrew Duggan) relays his encounter with Santa Claus. Watching him tell the kids of how Santa’s sleigh “…went flying across the sky and landed right on top of this house!!”, to me, is one of the best scenes in TV history. Watching that scene, you’d swear those kids were not actors at all — but just wide-eyed excited kids hanging on Dad’s every word. Thank you, Earl Hamner, Jr., for a timeless holiday special!