Double Exposure: ‘The High Chaparral’ (1967-1971)

Nova Clark

“Double Exposure” is a column dedicated to bringing attention to classic film and television of note.

When I first saw “The High Chaparral,” it struck me as a less sugar-coated version of ”Bonanza,” the popular Western that ran from 1959 to 1973 on NBC.

It turns out they had something in common: creator David Dortort, who wanted to bring something new to the world of television Westerns.

While others featured exaggerated stereotypes that often put non-Europeans in a negative light, Dortort wanted to showcase a different picture of the American West.

The result was a brand new show featuring a white ranch owner, John Cannon (Leif Erickson), and his Mexican wife, Victoria (Linda Cristal) in an interracial marriage that was groundbreaking against competing television programs of its day.

An upbeat, brassy theme song rings in each episode, during which viewers get to follow the daily lives of Cannon and his family.

Also residing at the ranch is John’s son from a previous marriage, soft-spoken Blue (Mark Slade); Victoria’s witty brother Manolito Montoya (Henry Darrow); and John’s simple-minded yet tough brother, Buck Cannon (Cameron Mitchell).

Set to a backdrop of the hot Arizona desert, the adventures and mishaps that the ensemble encounters often include themes of property conflicts, theft and hostages.

While some episodes feature horseback chase sequences and barroom brawls, others are more introspective — such as one episode where Blue discovers a passion for drawing sketches amid the ridicule of others.

Family dynamics play a large role: Oftentimes viewers will see Buck and John butt heads about responsibilities, causing arguments that are commonly diffused by Victoria acting as the peacemaker.

Although occasionally ridiculous, each story is entertaining and — upon frequent viewing — allows viewers to become easily invested with each character.

Sentimental at its heart, “The High Chaparral” is a no-frills take on the West filled with laughs and adventure.

“The High Chaparral” airs weekdays at 10 a.m. on the Heroes and Icons channel (Seattle over-the-air channels 44.3 or 12.1).