Episode First Shown:
While away from the ranch Hoss meets a young black boy who wishes that his father was white. The boy’s family live in near poverty after a drought hit their farm and the father and elder son can’t find work due to their race.
I've at last had
time to watch this marvellous, marvellous episode again. It is one of my very
favourite Bonanza episodes because it is a brilliant performance by Dan,
bringing out all of Hoss's perception, sensitivity and practical approach to a
problem in which he inadvertently becomes enmeshed. Ossie Davis as Sam Davis
the father and George Spell as one of his children John give absolutely superb performances.
(My two favourite child actors in Bonanza are George Spell as John and Teddy
Quinn as Tommy in the episode of that name.)
Michael's script is unflinching in the mental and physical cruelty inflicted on a Black family - Sam's wife's death because a White doctor not treat her, being called names, having their eggs broken, a child being beaten up and the family fearing to go into the nearest White town. Dan's range of emotions as he portrays Hoss coming to terms with such things is truly moving. There are some very "Michael techniques" with imagery e.g. the significance of candles to make a wish, the zooming in on small John to focus attention on the character, the important handshake between a Black man and a White man at the end.
The portrayal of the Black family both in terms of the actors' performances and Michael's direction is excellent. The balance between ensuring that the dignity, intelligence and courage of the family are shown without being patronising but at the same time showing the poverty and discrimination they endure is a difficult one yet it is achieved so very well.
If you haven't yet seen this episode you are in for a real treat! It was Michael's favourite episode and it ranks very highly on my list too. There is a lovely story told by Ossie Davis in the Michael bio "Love &
Laughter". Michael wrote Ossie Davis a note of thanks for an outstanding performance and the actor kept that note in appreciation all these years and read from it on the bio.
These are just a few of my favourite scenes:
On his vacation Hoss encounters the small John who has lit three candles to make his wish (of the title) come true. When Hoss discovers that the wish is that John's father was White (so that he could get work) he is shocked and this sets the scene for the whole episode. George Spell is adorable as John because he is such a real little boy, endearing but no angel, brave, mischievous and enquiring.
There is an endearing scene at the beginning where John is dying to get a ride on Chub. When Hoss asks him where he lives, John replies "outaways" with an enchanting smile. Dan gives him one of Hoss's kindest and affectionate smiles and says that it just so happens he is "riding to outaways".
The scene where two White bigots break the eggs that the
few people will help the victims.
There are some really excellent dynamics between Hoss and Sam, with Hoss wanting to help and trying his utmost not to be patronising and Sam sometimes being angry towards Hoss because he feels as though he is
beholden to a White man. Very realistic reactions.
One of the most powerful scenes in the whole episode is where the two bigots beat up 7 year old John and Hoss can hardly believe two grown men would do that.
There is a very good fight scene in the town between Sam and the two bigots. Hoss's only intervention is to keep one bigot at bay with a gun while Sam takes care of the first bigot and then the second next. Thus Hoss ensures a fair one to one fight. There is also a subtle touch here - while the bigots fight dirtily with a broken bottle and fists hammering, Sam wins by using more wrestling techniques. I wondered if this was to show who had the greater dignity?
The episode has a very believable ending, not necessarily an immediately happy one. Sam decides to move his family on for the safety of his children and because he wants to "belong somewhere" not to be "tolerated". The mutual respect and engagement between Hoss and Sam is brought out by a warm handshake and good wishes as they part.
In the very last scene (very much a "Michael technique") the candle in the deserted farm window blows out to signify the end of a chapter in the Davis family's life and that John no longer needs to wish his father was White.
This is a fantastic episode and one that I highly recommend to anyone that hasn't seen it. You can sense that there was great team work between Ossie Davis, Dan and Michael as you watch it.
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