Canadian author Janette Oke published the first volume of her eight-book series, "Love Comes Softly," in 1979. Since then, Oke, who graduated from Bible college and who was pastor at several different churches in Canada and the U.S., has become a much-loved writer of historical romances and juvenile fiction, with some 75 books to her credit.
"Love's Unending Legacy" (1984) is the fifth book in this series, following "Love's Enduring Promise" (1979), "Love's Long Journey" (1982), Love's Abiding Joy (1983), and coming right before "Love's Unfolding Dream" (1987), "Love Takes Wing" (1988), and "Love Finds a Home" (1989). The "Love Comes Softly" series focuses on a single family in the 1800s as they try to find happiness on the prairie. As the titles imply, the focus is on romance, and the point of view is adult, rather than children, with adult issues. But "softly" also tells the story, as this is a gentle series, as one might expect would come from a woman who was also a pastor.
There are two legacies here: Oke's, and also Michael Landon, who brought the "Little House on the Prairie" books to life on American television. Now his son, Michael Landon, Jr., is doing the same with Oke's series. Other than the point-of-view differences, there's a lot of similarities here. It's set in the same time, has the same pacing and wholesomeness, and even feels as if some of the shots and framing are carried over from the "Little House" books. Except that the younger Landon produced these for Hallmark, and screenwriter Pamela Wallace pares down the book to offer a pretty simplified (and simplistic?) story.
"Love's Unending Legacy" begins with Missie LaHaye (played by the likable Erin Cottrell) leaving the town where her sheriff husband was gunned down and returning with her young son, Maddie (Brett Coker) to the town her father lives in with his second wife (Dale Midkiff and Samantha Smith).
The "I'll never love again" stuff is laid on so thick in the beginning that of course you know she's going to find love again. And as if we couldn't guess with whom, we have this embarrassingly long lingering look when she first lays eyes on the Sheriff Zach Tyler (Victor Browne) in her new town. As sweet as this series and this movie is, it might as well be a documentary on the telegraph, because we get the Morse code of what's going to happen next tediously tapped into our brains at every moment. There are no surprises here. What you get in this TV version of "Love's Unending Legacy" is a straightforward story based on tropes we've seen before, like an orphaned brother and sister who are separated, with one going to a cruel family.
Hank and Mrs. Pettis (Dave Florek, Stephanie Nash) are such clichés that they go all the way back to Charles Dickens, and they're played like the rest of the characters in this film: with one-dimensionality. They're as plainly all-bad as the sheriff is all-good and Missie is all-sweetness, her dad's wife all-knowing, the orphan that Missie takes in all-rebel-with-a-just-cause, and her brother (Braeden Lemasters) is all passive-victim. Nobody but nobody has any complexity. The reverend (Hank Stratton) knows he's sending an orphan to a cruel master, but does so anyway because the boy agrees to do that rather than be sent to the orphanage. But meanwhile, Missie sits there in the church, reacting to what she sees, and not offering to do anything. You just want to shake these people a few times to get them to wake up. But that's something screenwriter Wallace should have done, or director Mark Griffiths ("Beethoven's 5th").
As one-dimensional as the characters are, the acting is at least competent. You find yourself liking (or hating, BOO, BOO) them, but a bigger problem is that there are absolutely no surprises in this film. It's like watching a movie for the second time, it's so predictable. Other times, it's clear that this film has more in common with melodrama than drama, as when suddenly (out of nowhere) Missie loses the locket her mother gave her. She's just teaching, not mountain climbing! It seemed just an excuse to throw some fake panic into the mix. There are some unanswered questions, too, that will remain unanswered unless you read the books, because each volume leaps forward in time.
The best musical scores aren't even noticeable, so when this one stands out it's yet another reminder that Hallmark is trying to make us all teary-eyed. There's way too much weepy and sentimental music behind way too many weepy and sentimental moments for my taste.
This one is in 1.78:1 widescreen. The picture quality is sharp but not so sharp that it's incompatible with the softness of theme. Colors are decent, and edge detail is good for a DVD. There's still graininess, to be sure, but not so much that it intrudes on the movie experience.
Nothing special here--just a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, with subtitles in English and Spanish. There's not much in the way of sound effects, so that's not much of a problem. It's just dialogue and that sentimental background music.
There are no extras. What might there be? A video of Janette Oke trying to talk about the film without losing her temper?
It's not an awful movie. It's just that "Love's Unending Legacy" is so formulaic that however well-acted, however sweet it might be, it's like one of those pony rides at carnivals. Just once, you want the shaggy little thing to break free and take you in a different direction.