10 little things you never noticed in the series finale of Bonanza

A former boxer, a French folk song and unwanted thunderstorms made for one gripping thriller.

The Bonanza finale does not offer closure. There is no gathering of the Cartwright clan around the fireplace in the Ponderosa. Little Joe does not ride off happily-ever-after into the sunset to start a new life. Heck, "The Hunter," which finished the long-running Western on January 16, 1973, mostly focuses on just two actors, one of them a guest star. 

This was still the era of television that did not typically provide a narrative conclusion to series. Shows just ended. 

This is not to say "The Hunter" is unsatisfying. In fact, it's a gripping thriller that shares a lot of DNA with gritty Seventies chase films such as Steven Spielberg's Duel or Savages, the 1974 movie that turned Andy Griffith into a killer. It is essentially a horror story set in the Wild West.

In "The Hunter," Tom Skerritt, making his second appearance on Bonanza, played Bill Tanner, a mentally deranged convict on the loose with his sights set on Little Joe, for no reason other than his own sadistic sport. Even those unfamiliar with Bonanza can watch the episode as a stand-alone thriller. That is weird to say about a series finale, perhaps, but shows that Bonanza was still firing on all cylinders at the end.

Let's take a deeper look.

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1. Candy was cut out of the final script.


Despite appearing in the opening credits, neither David Canary (Candy) nor Time Matheson (Griff) was seen in "The Hunter." They may have been late additions to the Bonanza cast, but it was nevertheless surprising to fans to not have all hands on deck for the finale. There is just one brief scene at the Ponderosa, as Little Joe heads off on his journey while Ben (Lorne Greene) and Jamie (Mitch Vogel) work on the account books of the ranch. Well, that was not initially the case. In the original script, later on in act three or so, there was an additional scene at the Ponderosa in which Jamie, Candy and Ben chat over a meal of roast beef. Jamie laments to Ben that he'd rather be out with Little Joe than stuck doing schoolwork. Candy tells him to not eat all the roast beef. Hop Sing and Griff come up in the conversation. Michael Landon, who directed the finale, never shot the scene. He felt it would slow down the action.

2. This actor did the uncredited voice-over work.


Tom Skerritt's twisted, sadistic character, Bill Tanner, hears voices. In his inner moments, the sonorous voice of a military judge rings in his head. "Corporal Tanner," the judge intones in the climax as Tanner goes mad. "Do you have anything further to say before we pronounce sentence? …You thought it was correct to kill women and children?" Though he is not credited, Don Collier provided this ominous dialogue. Collier was a Western star himself, having headlined the 1960–62 series Outlaws as Marshal Will Foreman. He also physically appeared, credited, in five other episodes of Bonanza.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. This is Michael Landon's stunt double.


Early in the tale, Tanner escapes the Wheaton Asylum and comes upon a man — billed only as "Man" in the credits — sitting in his camp. We see only his back, as Tanner steals his rifle and saddlebag. Hal Burton played the silent "Man." But that was not his only work in the episode, not by a longshot. Burton was the principal stunt double for Michael Landon on Bonanza, which means he had to take some of the big tumbles in the desert seen later on. Burton is also the performer in the overhead shot in the jail at the end, firing a rifle into the walls, standing in for Skerritt in the dangerous act.

4. This man was a former professional boxer turned prospector.


A grizzled old man named Harve wakes Little Joe in the final scene. The actors name, actually, is Grizzly Green, born Griswold Kellogg Green. According to his obituary, he worked on Wall Street until the crash of 1929. He then became a boxer, until asthma ended his career in 1940. (He tallied a record of 3–12 from 1937 to '40.) Later, he moved to Arizona to become a prospector and small mine operator. No wonder he seems so authentic.

5. Gunsmoke essentially remade the same story a year later in its final season.


The season 20 opener of Gunsmoke, 1974's "Matt Dillon Must Die," has a eerily similar plot, where Marshal Dillon (Arness) is hunted in the wilderness by a sadistic killer. Of course, they both owe a huge debt to The Most Dangerous Game, the 1932 film based on a 1924 short story.

6. It was Landon's shortest script.


"The Hunter" is a lean, mean, thrilling tale with little dialogue. It was the 20th and final script Landon wrote for Bonanza. The star worked off a 39-page script, his shortest ever. The rough industry rule is that one page of script equals about one minute of screen time, on average, which shows you how pared down this was. 

7. It was one of 14 episodes directed by Michael Landon.


Landon not only wrote the script to "The Hunter" and portrayed the prey, but he directed the episode — quite wonderfully. The actor-director uses point-of-view shots, artistic overheads, close-ups and lighting in a dazzling way. It was the 14th episode of Bonanza helmed by Landon, and perhaps his best.

8. "Frère Jacques" is used as a musical motif throughout.


Tom Skerritt's maniac Bill Tanner continually whistles "Frère Jacques", the 18th-century French nursery rhyme. Pairing a children's song with a homicidal killer is chilling. The musical score picks up on the theme, turning the kiddie song into a haunting orchestral motif. The composer Gustav Mahler did the same thing in his Symphony No. 1 in 1888 — about two decades after the fictional Bill Tanner's demise.

9. It was filmed in Arizona.


The Ponderosa, of course, is set in Virginia City, Nevada, but the Bonanza production took place much further south. Landon filmed the finale in Sabino Canyon, outside of Tucson, Arizona. The episode also made use of the iconic "Old Tucson" Western set, which was used in everything from Gunsmoke to Little House on the Prairie.

10. It rained a lot during the production.


When you think of the desert of Southern Arizona, thunderstorms do not immediately come to mind. However, heavy rains plagued the production of "The Hunter" and forced some more scenes to be cut, as Landon reworked the script to accommodate the wet conditions. Ironically, the rain dried up near the end of the filming, when it was still needed, so a sprinkler system had to be set up, according to Ponderosa Scenery.

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TarotLandOnForest 39 months ago
It is that THE HUNTER was not the last episode of Bonanza. The last one was THE MARRIAGE OF THEODORA DUFFY and the directors thought that an episode where practically only Tim Matheson worked and was not completely related to a Cartwright would not be ethical. Let's not forget that they decide to download the series almost without notice and they had some recorded episodes, that's why THE HUNTER was as the last when it was the penultimate
Cherredarls 45 months ago
I never knew Michael had asked Pernell to appear in “Forever” and that he had agreed. But TPTB wouldn’t let him. This may be a silly question but who or what was TPTB? What a letdown; so many of us would have loved to see Adam come back. At least that one episode with the passing of Dan Blocker. That would have meant a lot to Pernell, Michael, and Lorne.
TessyPooh 48 months ago
I loved the Hunter because I'm really into thrillers and suspense, so this episode of my favorite old western show was perfect for me!❤
cperrynaples 50 months ago
Watching this episode today, I couldn't help but chuckle when Skeritt repeats the phrase "my duty" over and over! I was very young when this episode was first broadcast, and if you were a kid in that era and heard the word "duty" again and again...well, you figure it out...LOL!! Also, when I saw the scene with Ben checking Jamie's work, I have to think maybe Michael Landon just invented Seinfeld ["a show about nothing"]...LOL again!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 50 months ago
One more thing: When Skerett takes that rod from his bed and uses it to saw the bars, I couldn't help but think it gave the prison second thoughts about using those types of bed! Remember in The End when Burt Reynolds tried to kill himself by crushing his head in his hospital bed? Right away, new safer beds...LOL!!!
StephenLaSerra 50 months ago
What does "TPTB." mean?

Ilovelalaw StephenLaSerra 50 months ago
The powers that be (I didn't know what the heck it was either and I had to Google it).
MikefromJersey 50 months ago
Hi Guys,
This article on Bonanza's last episode was well done, thanks guys. I see several people here have brought up the sorely missed 77 Sunset Strip and it's sister series Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six.
Keep it up guys, these stylish shows if PROMOTED by MeTV could be winners for the network.
The best source for info on 77 Sunset Strip is on the most excellent MagnumMania.
Type in "MagnumMania-77 Sunset Strip" on your search engine and the thread will appear.
By the way, I have never seen a more squared away fan site than this one for Magnum, you
MeTV guys should copy parts of their setup for yourselves. Just a thought.
Anyway the above thread explains why the 6th season of 77 Sunset Strip had nothing to
do with the previous 5 seasons, it was shot at the legendary noir location The Bradbury building
instead of on the Strip.
Just the page on the slang used on the show is worth the trip, like it's the acme, Dad.
Like, don't be a cube.
rotifer 50 months ago
Sharon, The Hunger was episode #430, if that was what you were looking for..
donnall01 50 months ago
Wish MeTV would show Hawaiian Eye with Robert Conrad loved that shsow
MaryMitch 50 months ago
This was the last episode aired, but it wasn't the last one filmed. That was "The Marriage Of Theodora Duffy", which was a good episode (IMO) featuring Griff. "The Hunter" featured a Cartwright so they swapped the air dates.
sharonwatt1129 50 months ago
Can you include the episode numbers when you post the schedules, PLEASE?????
DavidBartholomew 50 months ago
Is the 2 hour movie (Season Premiere of last season) on MeTV? I don't think it has ever been included in the rerun packages
Mike DavidBartholomew 50 months ago
MeTV showed "Forever" in two parts a couple of weeks back - Monday and Tuesday, if I recall correctly.
Most series that did double length episodes would split them into hours, to conform with syndicator's packages.
Utzaake 50 months ago
8. Intimidating characters whistling nursery rhymes is common in television and movies. In HBO's The Wire, Omar Little's enemies always scurry for cover whenever they hear him whistle "The Farmer in the Dell" ("Omar comin'!").
MaxineFlam 50 months ago
I remember reading when Dan Blocker passed away Loren Greene and Michael Landon both thought the show would be cancelled. Hoss was an important character. This was the 70s and people didn't leave TV series like they do today. MASH was an exception and when the writers killed off Henry Blake they received a ton of mail against so they never killed another character off again.
Cowgirl MaxineFlam 50 months ago
There was a chance the series might have survived another season if they had let Pernell Roberts return. Michael Landon asked him to return for "Forever" & he agreed but TPTB said no.
TheDavBow3 50 months ago
Very interesting about Bonanza. Never the same after Pernell Roberts left. When I see Bonanza coming on TV without Adam, I don't watch it.
MaryMitch TheDavBow3 50 months ago
I'm a big Adam fan myself, but you're missing some good episodes.
Dale TheDavBow3 50 months ago
Replacing a really good show for the fandom of one character is unrealistic. He left the show, the show didn't leave him.
TheDavBow3 Dale 50 months ago
Yes sir, I agree. Of course. I did not suggest that the show should've been replaced. That'd be silly. I was just simply expressing my humble opinion that I thought Bonanza was better when Pernell Roberts was on as Adam. Still an ok show without him 😊
TheDavBow3 MaryMitch 50 months ago
You're right. I've watched many episodes over the years without Adam. You've inspired me to watch more of the later shows again. I'll probably like them more than I used to. Thank you 😊
Mike 50 months ago
This show comes from the time when all series episodes were "standalones" - each episode self-contained, which could be run in any order.

If MeTV ever gets wise and reruns 77 SUNSET STRIP in prime time, you can see this in that show's sixth and last season.
Details to follow (should they become necessary).
TheDavBow3 Mike 50 months ago
I really like the last season of 77 SS. Stu by himself. Going up in that elevator in the opening credits (I think). Cool
cperrynaples TheDavBow3 50 months ago
Have not seen those last episodes but I was aware they ran on MeTV at 4 AM! Yes, I know that the final season began with a 5-part story with many guest stars including a young Shatner! This was unusual in 1963, but today many drama series, particullarly on cable or streaming, will do extended stories! Nancy Drew for example told just one story all season as opposed to the '70's where it was a new mystery every week!
TheDavBow3 cperrynaples 50 months ago
Oh yeah. I forgot about the guest stars and the 5-part series. The guest stars would be shown introducing themselves. Pretty neat!
cperrynaples TheDavBow3 50 months ago
I did see the intro on YouTube! A lot of them are memorable, but nearly all of them are dead! i don't think there's room on MeTv for 77SS, but how about H&I which now has Batman & Wonder Woman?
Mac2Nite TheDavBow3 41 months ago
Agreed, but they should have simply spun it off into a NEW series for Efrem Zimbalist Jr... without California and the Sunset Strip... what was the point of season 7? IMHO that's why it failed... people tuned in for 77 Sunset Strip and it was nowhere in sight... except in the title of the show.
TheDavBow3 Mac2Nite 41 months ago
Very good analysis. I agree. A spin off would have made more sense and would've opened up a lot more options for the show.
GeorgeHunt 50 months ago
i believe tom skerrit also played a man that was going to hang doc all the way up to the last 3 min
Cowgirl 50 months ago
The reason there was no closure is that they didn't know the series had been cancelled until 2 days before they finished filming the final episode. With the death of Dan Blocker & TPTB refusing to let Pernell Roberts return, along with networks wanting to move away from westerns to cop shows, Bonanza didn't stand a chance. Gunsmoke was cancelled the same way a year later.
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Cowgirl TheDavBow3 50 months ago
Yes there was. Michael Landon asked him to return for "Forever" & he agreed but TPTB said no.
TheDavBow3 Cowgirl 50 months ago
Wow! That would have been cool. What year was "Forever"? Was it just for one episode?
Wiseguy Cowgirl 50 months ago
Gunsmoke lasted two years after Bonanza was cancelled.
Cowgirl TheDavBow3 48 months ago
Forever was a 2 part episode that aired in 1972. It was the first episode in season 14.
cperrynaples 50 months ago
Time Matheson? REALLY! You had the screen grab right there and you still misspelled it! Who are you, Donald Trump...LOL!!
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Dale cperrynaples 50 months ago
What does that have to do with our President?
Dale brooks30 50 months ago
And some people are too political to know where it's not appropriate. TDS?
Wiseguy BigE 50 months ago
You are = you're. Your is a possessive.
BigE Wiseguy 50 months ago
Thank you for the correction. I'll proof read better next tme.
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