Money Crop

A Harvest of Fudge; or

Corn Will Be the Biggest Thing to Hit Walnut Grove Since Typhus!

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: Money Crop

Airdate: February 19, 1975

Written by Ward Hawkins

Story by John Meston

Directed by Leo Penn

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Everybody in town turns into an asshole when a nice guy crashes into a ditch trying to help them farm corn, the Most Amazing Crop in the Universe.

RECAP: Nothing noteworthy to point out before we start this time, except the main guest star’s name is “Alan Fudge.” 

Heh. Fudge.

Well, actually, that’s not true. I do find it noteworthy that although Julie Cobb, who plays Fudge’s wife, has a part at least as significant as his, she doesn’t get guest-star status in the opening credits. 

I think it’s a fair assumption she didn’t get the same paycheck, either. 

More than, Art Lund, the actor who plays a farmer named Tom Jorgenson in the story, does get an opening credit. (I’ve seen this one four times and I’m still not even sure which of the old-man farmers Jorgenson is.) 

I know it’s no comfort, but I’m genuinely sorry about these things, women of the world.  

Oh well. We open with an enormous sustained blast from the trombones, even before we can see anything. Sounds a bit like the opening of this: 

Everybody’s fave Herb Alpert song, probably (also sorry about the picture, women of the world)

This leads into a relaxed jazzy arrangement of “Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum” (better known as “the Little House on the Prairie end credits music”).

And the picture comes up on a wagon rumbling down the drive toward the Little House. Its four passengers are Mrs. Foster, Johnny and June Carter Cash Fusspot, and a man who might be the guy we saw Mrs. F with last week, or who might be Carl the flunky. Can’t tell at this distance.

Mrs. Foster seems in a great mood, waving ecstatically towards the camera. I’d suggest she got laid last night . . . but of course she did!

The Ingallses are having a big picnic or party in the yard, with tables and everything. Some boys are throwin’ and kickin’ the ol’ pigskin, but we can’t see who they are yet.

The foursome disembarks, and Mrs. Foster and June Fusspot buzz straight to the food table. J.C. Fusspot and the other guy (who we can see now is Mrs. Foster’s paramour from “Child of Pain” and not Carl the flunky) join the men, who are standing around joshin’ and the like. 

Someone addresses someone as “Isaac,” but you actually can’t see who’s speaking to whom. Blink and you’ll miss them, but at that exact moment, we see Cloud City Princess Leia is playing with Carrie.

While greetings are being made, the Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum arrangement morphs wonderfully into the style of Aaron Copland’s Rodeo. (Thanks for everything, David Rose.)

Aaron Copland, King of the West

In addition to who gets what billing, picnic attendance is lopsided by gender. Besides Caroline, the Ingalls girls, Cloud City Princess Leia, and Mrs. Fusspot, the only female there is a youngish woman who appears to be pregnant. 

(I only say “appears to be pregnant” because she actually turns out to be pregnant in the story. I would not describe someone that way if I didn’t know, of course.)

On the other hand, there are quite a few men there, most of them old and/or large. Besides Charles, J.C. Fusspot and Mrs. Foster’s paramour from “Child of Pain,” we recognize Mr. Hanson and Mr. Kennedy, but none of the others.

The pregnant woman says she’ll fetch some firewood from the pile, but a man rushes over to do it for her. He appears to be the only man in attendance, except for Charles, who’s under the age of 40. 

“It’s man’s work,” says the guy happily. “It’s what a husband’s for.” 

OLIVE: Oh, go watch A Quiet Place 2.

His wife protests, but in what’s already a regular trope of this show, both sexism and protest are laughed off BECAUSE THESE TWO JUST LOVE EACH OTHER SO DARN MUCH.

The woman tries again to take the wood, but Laura starts screaming, “Don’t take too much, don’t take too much, no no no, we’ll take the rest, we’ll take the rest!”

Which is funny.

Anyways, the actors playing this couple each did a zillion bit parts on TV shows over the decades. Nothing on Alan Fudge’s resume stands out as personally memorable to me (except “Money Crop,” of course). 

Julie Cobb, on the other hand, guested on lots of sitcoms I watched as a child in the eighties. Notably, she was the mom on the first season of Charles in Charge (which I actually considered as a possible name for this blog when I started it). 

Julie Cobb (center)

Charles in Charge was a Scott Baio vehicle about a young man who was a live-in babysitter to three kids. (In real life he was allegedly molesting, having sex with, harassing, bullying, and torturing them, but that’s another story.) 

[gag, barf]

The show failed on CBS, so they fired Cobb and the rest of the supporting cast, then tried to get the audience to believe the new family who took the house would just accept Scott Baio as their live-in babysitter. 

I loved this show when I was a kid, though.

Anyways, neither Alan Fudge nor Julie Cobb were ever on Love Boat, but some brilliant internet nutcase (who is obviously a kindred spirit of mine) decided they ought to have been.

Thanks, @loveboatinsanity, we’d love to have you over for dinner and TV-watching sometime 

Meanwhile, Caroline and Mrs. Foster are tasting something in a saucepan that might be Ma’s Famous Mush. “That’s done,” says Caroline authoritatively. 

Ma’s Famous Mush?

Everybody seems in a great mood. Laughing, Charles calls the men over to sit at one of the tables. Apparently this is not just any picnic, but a meeting of the local agricultural guild. (Which explains the unusual guest list.)

On the table lies a rather sinister-looking sack.

Charles introduces Alan Fudge as “Joe Coulter,” who’s “the reason we’re here.” Mr. Hanson immediately starts overboiling with excitement about how wonderful Fudge is, but Charles uses his MC skillz to keep him from giving too much away.

Ho Ho Hanson

One interesting thing to note is that while we just saw Johnny Cash Fusspot and Mrs. Foster’s paramour from “Child of Pain” arrive in the wagon, and be warmly welcomed by the men, they’ve now both disappeared! 

WILL: Now where the hell did they go?

DAGNY: Maybe there was an animal emergency, and they’re in the barn dealing with it?

WILL: But then Charles would be gone too. Maybe one’s in the privy, and the other’s waiting to use it?

DAGNY: No, because then Charles wouldn’t start things yet. It’s such a small meeting, if two people were in the outhouse, he’d wait.

WILL: Maybe they just dropped their ladies off for the party?

DAGNY: But then they wouldn’t get down from the wagon and say hi to everyone. Besides, this is a men’s meeting. There’s really no reason for women to be there at all, much less without partners.

WILL: Maybe it’s like Brokeback Mountain, and they’re rendezvous-ing behind the barn? 

DAGNY: Or in the soddy? 

WILL: That’s probably too much shipping, even for us

DAGNY: Yeah, plus the Johnny Cash guy’s wife is right around the corner. 

WILL: Maybe she’s back there with ’em. Heh heh heh.

DAGNY: No. Remember, there are kids everywhere. Those boys might kick the pigskin in and see them. I’ve got it. They’re ASL interpreters for the meeting. They’re standing at one end of the table interpreting, but the director didn’t put them in the shot because it would distract the audience.

WILL: That’s brilliant, I’m sure that’s it. 

Anyways, Charles, in addition to being Walnut Grove’s unofficial mayor, volunteer social worker, and just everybody’s favorite guy generally, is also apparently president of the farmers’ guild. He says:

All right, the reason we’re here is we’re farmers. Let’s be honest with each other, we’re in trouble. We’re losing money with every crop. The reason we’re losing money is because wheat’s our money crop, and there’s no market for wheat. 

This is more or less an accurate description of what happened to Minnesota wheat farmers in the late Nineteenth Century. There was a plague of grasshoppers in 1876 that killed everyone’s crops (not a hailstorm, as suggested by “100 Mile Walk” – the incident is dealt with extensively in On the Banks of Plum Creek).

Also immortalized in editorial cartoons of the time (art by William Smith)

Anyways, once the farmers recovered, they then overproduced wheat, to the point where the market couldn’t keep up.

Some fans quibble that since Charles has been in Walnut Grove for just a year at most here, he couldn’t attest to the history of farming in the community. But I think it’s fine: If he’s speaking on the guild’s behalf, not only would he know its local history, he’d be quite correct in referring to it and its members as “we.” (Plus, as a highly effective communicator, Charles recognizes the power of the first person in selling stuff.) 

And not to beat a dead horse (sorry Bunny), but it’s highly unlikely he’s only been in Walnut Grove a year at this point.

Charles says Fudge is an agronomist, a term he defines for them. He (pretty successfully) walks the fine line of educating his audience without making them feel ignorant. 

(Little does he know that 150 years later, people would so resent being made to feel ignorant, they’d drink horse dewormer rather than listen to scientific experts.)

Anyways, Charles hands things over to Fudge, who pulls away the sinister sack to reveal not a dead body, but rather a pile of dried ears of corn.

The farmers immediately start marveling at the corn, but I can’t see what’s so special about it.

“Where in creation’d you ever find corn like this?” screams Mr. Kennedy in disbelief. 

“He raised it at the Petersons’ place!” says Charles. 

“I’ll be doggone!” says one big gray-haired farmer. “It don’t look real!” says an even bigger one (though it totally does).

“What you call Injun corn’s all I ever seen!” says a big moon-faced guy. “It’s only about half that size!” (Flint corn, aka “Indian corn,” is mostly used to make hominy, which is delicious, but probably wasn’t made much in Nineteenth-Century Minnesota.)

Hominy is a traditional ingredient in pozole (a holiday favorite)

Ever the poo-poo pants, Kennedy screams, “Eh, you can’t grow corn like this around here in any amount, with our soil and growin’ season!”

Fudge says you can, and that it will solve all their problems. “Jehoshaphat, I don’t know!” screams Kennedy.

“If it didn’t work out, I’d be eating my horses!” jokes the smaller of the big gray-haired farmers. Everyone laughs. (The eating of horsemeat has never been especially popular in the United States.)

Mr. Kennedy asks if Charles wants to make the switch. “Yes, I do,” says Charles. 

Fudge says his father-in-law is a Minneapolis corn chandler who will sell them the seedcorn.

BIGGER BIG GRAY-HAIRED FARMER: How much a bushel?

DAGNY: A peck.

His father-in-law will sell at cost, says Fudge. All he wants in return is first dibs on buying the corn harvest. 

Fudge loves corn so much, he married a woman played by Julie Cobb!

For his part, all Fudge wants is friendship. He already has the trip planned out: He says they should plow their fields whilst he travels to Minneapolis. He’ll be back in time for them to plant.

Charles calls for a vote, and everyone goes along with the idea.

You can spend the whole day reading about the history of corn production in Minnesota. I didn’t, but there are a number of things about this scene that strike me as doubtful:

  1. I couldn’t find anything suggesting corn was super-difficult to grow in Minnesota in the Nineteenth Century. 
  2. Towards 1900, hybridization and industrialization brought about improvements in farming it, but they had nothing to do with ear size. 
  3. Since the farmers are getting ready to plant, it must be early spring, and they’re meeting Fudge for the first time. So when exactly did he raise this corn at the Petersons’ place?
  4. Does nobody remember it was the Petersons who sold everyone poison corn just three weeks ago?
  5. Is this really how the guild makes decisions? Throw some dried corn from God knows where on the table, then vote thirty seconds later?

Charles nods to Caroline that it’s time for the men to be served. Caroline calls (Britishly) for the pigskin-kickin’ boys to help, and wow, Sean Penn (the real Sean Penn) is back! 

Sean Penn (at left, with the Midsommar Kid)

The other boys are the Midsommar Kid and some long-haired urchin we’ve never seen before. It actually makes pretty good sense, since Sean Penn, Cloud City Princess Leia and the Midsommar Kid are affiliated with the Nelson clan. (Sean P. is a cousin, Midsommar Kid is a foundling taken in by Mr. Nelson The Gray-Haired Dude, and Cloud City Princess Leia is the Dude’s daughter. The Dude himself isn’t at this picnic, though . . . perhaps one of these farmers is his brother?)

Well, that’s it for the Guild Picnic and Annual Meeting. Now we find Laura and Mary in bed, and those of you who are wondering why I’ve made such a big deal about fat-shaming on this show are in for a treat. Once again, I’ll let the dialogue speak for itself:

LAURA: Mrs. Coulter’s nice, isn’t she?

MARY: Yeah. 

LAURA: She’s pretty too.

MARY: She sure is.

LAURA: It’d be awful if she wasn’t really going to have a baby.

MARY: What are you talkin’ about?

LAURA: Well, if she just had a giant stomach for ever and ever.

MARY: That’s silly. She’ll have the baby and her stomach will go away.

LAURA: Mrs. Leadbettor has a big stomach, and it doesn’t go away.

MARY: Mrs. Leadbettor isn’t going to have a baby. She just eats too much. 

Fat Joke #6.

They continue for some time in this vein.

DAGNY: I wonder if Michael Landon himself wrote all the fat jokes. I can see it somehow.

WILL: Is it just me, or is Melissa Gilbert’s acting different in these “go to sleep” scenes? 

OLIVE: It totally is! It’s like she’s halfway to babytalk.

Then we cut to Fudge and Cobb’s abode. Fudge is preparing for his journey. He says it’ll take four days to get to Minneapolis (150 miles away) by saddle horse, at which point he’ll hire a wagon and team and spend seven days coming back. (I won’t bore you with my calculations, but I think that’s actually a pretty good estimation.)

Fudge ties a money belt around his scrawny waist. 

OLIVE: Yikes, that’s more skin than I was expecting.

No fat-shaming for Fudge

Fudge asks the Cobb if she’ll be okay while he’s gone, but it actually sounds like he’s more worried about what the farmers will think if he’s late coming back. Then he says he hopes bringing his father-in-law a bunch of new trading partners will improve him in the man’s estimation. 

“Never mind what Papa says,” the Cobb replies, tears in her eyes. “You’re all the man I’ll ever want.” 

DAGNY [as FUDGE]: “Wanna see if we can make the baby come early?”

OLIVE: Ew.

WILL: I’ll write that down, but I probably won’t include it.

The Cobb loves her nerdy Fudge

Fudge and the Cobb kiss goodbye, and off he goes.

Then we see the bigger big gray-haired farmer plowing his field. So this must be Jorgenson. 

Art Lund was apparently once a famous singer and Broadway star. I wasn’t familiar with him, but he put out some good records in the age of swing. Here he is doing “Blue Skies” with Benny Goodman in 1946:

Fudge passes by on his saddle horse, and they wave at each other happily as David Rose does Copland again. (“This one has a very traditional ‘western’ score, doesn’t it?” said Dags.)

One night at the Little House, Charles tells Caroline he’s excited about trying the new corn crop. He predicts it’ll be the biggest thing to hit Walnut Grove since typhus. (I’m paraphrasing.)

At first I thought this was the same day, but Charles says Fudge has been gone a week.

Appropriately, we cut away to Minneapolis, then and now Minnesota’s largest city. (It was a railroad hub and, by 1880, the country’s biggest flour producer.) 

Minneapolis in 1857 (art by Ferdinand Reichardt)
Minneapolis today

(Actually, thanks to the pandemic, controversy, and politics, parts of Minneapolis are like a ghost town today, and a dangerous one at that. It’s quite sad for people like me who love the city.)

On Little House, anyways, we don’t get to see much of the town, though, just a freight office where Fudge is securing his cargo in a wagon. He also loads up a little rocking horse, a present for the baby.

WILL: Is that a rocking horse, or a hobby horse?

OLIVE: What’s a hobby horse?

DAGNY: Doesn’t a hobby horse have springs?

Looks like it’s a rocking horse.

Rocking horse, circa 1875

A hobby horse (also known as a “cock horse,” yeek) is a toy with a horse’s head on a stick. 

Hobby horse (“cock horse”)

The kind with springs is a “spring rocking horse,” though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

Spring rocking horses (but described as “hobby horses” in the text)

Fudge jokes to the freight guy that if the baby is born a girl, he’ll buy a sidesaddle. I never realized people used specialty saddles when riding sideways. With that, Art Lund’s singing career, and the cock horse, I may have learned more from this episode than from any other so far.

Back in Hero Township, good grief, that maniac Kennedy is fooling around with a shotgun by the road. And oh my God, here comes Charles!

Fortunately, he’s caught Kennedy in a rare good mood, and the latter shoulders the weapon. Kennedy then lets loose with a gushing confessional about how much anxiety he has around the wheat-to-corn strategy. 

“I cain’t sleep nights!” he screams. Charles’s voice cracks as he replies “Neither can I,” suggesting this unpredictable and unhappy man does make him nervous, despite his pretended cool. 

Kennedy goes on to say he cries all night imagining what it’ll be like to be a corn farmer.

He really belongs in therapy.

But then he screams, “Good talkin’ to you, Charles! We’ll see ya!” So see, talking through his maladjusted psyche actually did him some good.

Now things get good. We cut back to a tight close-up on the rocking horse, tied to the back of the Fudgewagon. David Rose lulls us with a playful waltz, then cuts the orchestra off completely as Fudge begins to descend a hill.

Fudge is whistling an authentically old-timey-sounding folk tune, but I’m sorry to say I couldn’t place it.

Halfway down the hill, the horses panic and start to run.

ROMAN: Isn’t this just what happened to Jason Bateman’s family? Do horses going downhill really do this?

Apparently it is a common issue, according to Jessica Dabkowski at Horse Illustrated, perhaps because it’s harder for them to see their feet.

The horses run faster as David jumps back in with tense music.

DAGNY: Who directed this one?

WILL: Leo Penn. That’s why Sean Penn is in it.

DAGNY: You can tell it’s not the usual people. The camera angles are weird. We’re looking right up his shoe.

“We’re looking right up his shoe.”

Fudge tries to control the team, but he’s a sissy college boy and probably doesn’t know what he’s doing. Parts of the wagon start to separate as David whips the musicians into a frenzy. 

Eventually the harness breaks and the horses run off in a different direction, leaving the wagon to continue plummeting down the hill.

Fudge frantically starts trying to untie something – your guess is as good as mine what it is. (A parachute?)

But it’s too late; and he screams as the wagon goes off the road and down a bluff.

Actually, to be perfectly accurate he doesn’t really scream, just yells “Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

Then we get an astonishing crash, eclipsed only by Miss Beadle being flung from her buggy as the best stunt of the season. I want to break it down a bit, Zapruder-style; I won’t monkey with the sequence of the images at all:

We see quite clearly Fudge loses his hat as the wagon goes over the bluff.
Leo Penn cleverly keeps our attention on the rocking horse as the wagon smashes through the brush.
Now Fudge’s hat is magically back! And he still seems to be sitting upright somehow.
Not for long, though.
The wagon begins to roll over down the hill on its starboard side.
Fudge comes down hard . . .
. . . taking the full impact of the crash on his head, neck, and right shoulder.
The wagon continues to roll, presumably snapping Fudge’s spine at several points, and possibly beheading him.
Despite this, he continues to yell “Aaaaaah!”
The rocking horse is hanging tight, but Fudge appears to have been thrown from the vehicle.
The wagon rolls again . . .
. . . and, in a brilliant touch, seedcorn sprays everywhere as it smashes into a fallen tree.
It ain’t rollin’ no more.
The rocking horse is intact, but what about Fudge?

OLIVE: Do you think he really could have survived that?

ROMAN: No. The dummy broke in half!

We go to commercial with tremendously intense music clearly inspired by Bernard Herrmann’s Citizen Kane score. (Why David picked that to imitate, I’ve no idea.) 

When we return, Charles is in the barn scraping some metal thing against another, but I don’t know why he’s doing that, either.

He looks out at the road, frowning with worry. Mary and Laura leave for school, but it doesn’t really look like morning.

Then Kennedy and Jorgenson come riding up.

Jorgenson, of course, is riding Bunny.

After many sleepless nights, Kennedy is no longer in a good mood, and doesn’t even greet Charles, just starts screaming. What he wants to know is, where’s the Fudge?

Charles says it’s ridiculous to worry, since he’s only two days late. 

Kennedy screams some more. 

DAGNY: Why is Kennedy a southerner?

I actually think he sounds like George W. Bush. Texas?

WILL: Well, farmers moved around a lot, trying to scratch out a living. Remember, the Ingallses went from Wisconsin down to Kansas and then to Minnesota. Sodbustin’, sharecroppin’. Though I’m not exactly sure what sharecroppin’ is.

“We’re all in the same fix,” says Charles, “but three days late on a three-week trip is nothing to worry about.” He just said he was two days late, plus Fudge himself told us the trip should only take two weeks, tops.

Jorgenson says he fears Fudge met with robbers on the road. Kennedy screams he probably took their money and headed straight to Chicago.

Charles points out the pregnant Cobb was left behind as collateral. Temporarily defeated, Kennedy screams that he’ll hold Charles responsible if Fudge doesn’t return.

Back at the overturned wagon, carrion crows are gathering. 

Not good

We see that Fudge, improbably, is in fact still alive, still has a head, and is not paralyzed. He groans as he tries to move some sort of stick.

DAGNY: My God, is he impaled on that?

“My God, is he impaled on that?”

But no, he’s just trying in vain to lever the wagon off his leg. (Even though it appeared during the crash he was thrown from the vehicle well before it came to a stop, we now find him pinned beneath it.)

David keeps things scary on the soundtrack with some minimalistic electric guitar tones. (“Sounds like John Carpenter music again,” said Dags.)

Fudge looks over at the rocking horse and says, “Can’t do it, Pony.” The crows descend, but apparently they’re not after flesh, but rather the sacks of seedcorn. Fudge scares one away with a rock, and says, “Got him, Pony. Got him a good one.” Kind of soon for him to have gone insane.

Mad Fudge!

We’ll see Fudge continue to talk to “Pony” over several scenes, an idea obviously ripped off by Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks for Cast Away.

Back at the Little House, Caroline is teaching the Cobb to make a proper cup of tea, though she can’t actually remember how herself.

She notices the Cobb is upset, so she sits down and tells her since Fudge is “only a day and a half overdue,” she shouldn’t worry. 

?
??
???

The Cobb says she’s less worried about Fudge’s personal wellbeing, and more about his reputation with the farmers’ guild after he pitched his big idea. 

COBB: Getting people hereabouts to change from wheat to corn . . . making them understand how much better off they’ll be with corn! . . . His mission in life is what he called it!

CAROLINE: Not many men would do so much for others. Trudy Coulter, you can be very proud of your husband.

DAGNY: My God, was this one paid for by the U.S. corn producers’ lobby or something?

“Was this one paid for by the U.S. corn producers’ lobby or something?”
Hmm, there’s something familiar about this logo. . . .

WILSON!!!

That night, in bed, Caroline notices Charles is missing. She gets up and finds him looking out the window, worrying what happened to Fudge. She says staying up all night won’t make Fudge arrive any faster; he agrees, saying, “A watched pot doesn’t boil.” (A Ben Franklin quote.)

She smiles and laughs in a way that suggests it might be worth both their whiles if he came back to bed.

Who needs popcorn?

The next day, presumably, we find Charles at the mill, surrounded by angry farmers. We catch them mid-argument, with Charles saying, “It’s no use trying to talk to you.”

Kennedy starts screaming, and you can tell Charles has had it with these people because he screams back. “The man’s three days overdue at sundown!” he says. “Three days, you’re ready to tar and feather him!” (And we know from last week that this is in fact Mr. Kennedy’s preferred form of punishment.)

Previously on Little House

Charles calls them a bunch of “wet-nosed children” – spicy stuff for him.

Then we’re back at the Little House in the moonlight again. Charles gently wakes Caroline. “You’re dressed,” she says. 

“Yeah. Pinky‘s afraid of the dark.”

Charles says even though it’s still night, he’s going to go investigate what happened to Fudge.

ROMAN: Wouldn’t they assume he had an accident? Accidents happen every week on this show.

DAGNY: Yeah, it’s sad Charles is the only one who actually thinks about this situation, while everybody else is like, “That fuckin’ thief!”

WILL: I find it quite believable. It would happen today. That’s Minnesota Nice for you.

Later that morning, Charles is following the trail of Fudge. It’s interesting he’s taken the wagon (Chonkies and all) for this task, as if he knows he’ll ultimately be transporting the grain. But I suppose he doesn’t have a saddle horse, and the livery was probably closed at 4:30 in the morning.

Charles finds himself at a fork in the road. He chooses one path, which David indicates is the wrong one with dark blaring jazz reminiscent of the Perry Mason theme.

To be fair, though, although this is where the accident happened, we never saw which path the wagon rocketed down. Fade to commercial.

Back at the crash site, Fudge uses a stick to reach his canteen. He kind of looks like Tom Waits here.

In a hoarse, growling voice, Fudge mumbles to Pony that the water tastes good. He kind of sounds like Tom Waits too.

The crows are all over Fudge’s corn now, and he hasn’t much strength left to scare them away.

Meanwhile, in Walnut Grove, all the stupid old men are sitting on the Mercantile steps. “I don’t know about the rest of you,” says the bigger big gray-haired farmer, “but I don’t know what to think.” He’s not really the best-drawn character.

Tom Jorgenson, Man of Decision

We see Not-Neil Diamond and Tom Carter have now joined this mob. 

The episode runs into a little trouble at this point, because it seems Leo Penn has allowed his actors to improvise. It’s hard to capture in words, of course, but there’s something about the rhythm of the dialogue (and the conviction of the performers) that suggests they’re just winging it here.

Both big gray-haired farmers say their wives are giving them “holy heck” for going along with this stupid corn scheme in the first place.  

Mr. Kennedy addresses the big moon-faced guy as “Leadbettor,” so I guess he’s the one with the giant-stomached wife.

(Oddly, Lew Brown, the actor playing Leadbettor, and Frank Parker, who played Amy Hearn’s son in “If I Should Wake Before I Die,” both played the same character on Days of Our Lives at different times.)

The men fall silent as they see the Cobb approaching the Mercantile, flanked by Mary and Laura.

The womenfolk (for lack of a better word) enter the store, where Mrs. Oleson is shrieking at Nels to drive the horrible men away. She says she can’t take their constant swearing, a charge she’ll repeat several times. Given their onscreen “swearing” consists of terms like “holy heck,” “doggone,” and “Jehoshaphat!”, it doesn’t quite work.

Rated 7+ for foul language

When she sees the Cobb come in, Mrs. O rushes to fawn over her. It’s nice that for once they don’t have her leading the lynch mob.

Katherine MacG also seems to be ad-libbing here, but of course the results in her case are pretty entertaining. (She does say “they’ve been driving me crazy,” which I thought maybe was an anachronism, but in fact the expression, or “drive me mad” anyway, goes back to the Eighteenth Century.

Nels then makes an odd speech where he mansplains the situation to his customers:

Mrs. Coulter, girls, we have to make allowances. Now, these are not evil men out there! They’re our friends, our neighbors!

Mrs. O basically tells him to shut up. And I don’t know why he’d lecture the Cobb and the kids, since it was only Harriet who was complaining in the first place.

Outside, things have gotten worse. The two big gray-haired farmers are snarling at each other now, with the smaller one saying the Cobb is as much to blame as Fudge is. “They’re in cahoots!” Moonface chimes in. Then everybody’s ad-libbing, and not necessarily in character. (For example, Kennedy screams, “You gotta trust Ingalls! You gotta trust him!”)

Back inside, Nels starts loading the girls up with flour sacks, but Harriet says don’t be stupid, just deliver them later. It’s “just part of our service,” she says to the Cobb.

“Her majesty has spoken!” Nels says, but he’s smiling at Harriet with affection. Then Harriet says, “Go on, scoot,” and chases the customers out of the store.

They’re kind of cute in this one.

Outside, the farmers are still faking their dialogue and forgetting whose side they’re on. Now Moonface is telling the smaller big gray-haired guy they shouldn’t blame Mrs. Fudge. The smaller big gray-haired guy disagrees, and when the Cobb herself appears on the steps, he turns to her and says, “Yeah, and I mean you, lady! You got a nerve, you have!” (This, also, seems to have been a contemporary expression at the time.) 

(I was shocked to learn the actor playing Little Big Gray, John Alderson, was on Doctor Who! He played Wyatt Earp in “The Gunfighters,” an infamous musical episode from 1966, set in the Old West!)

John Alderson (far left), as Little Big Gray
John Alderson (right) as Wyatt Earp (with the First Doctor)

“Your man’s got us hung out on a line, Mrs. Coulter,” says Big Big Gray, also changing sides. Not one to miss an opportunity to scream, Kennedy has a go at her too. Little Big Gray says snidely that she’ll probably sneak out of town to join her thieving husband.

Masculinity doesn’t get much more toxic than this. You know, these farmers remind me in some ways of the stupid people I got in a fight with whilst in line for waffles at the Minnesota State Fair in 2019, but that’s another story.

The Cobb eventually breaks down, screaming “No, no, no!” and taking off running through the pagan stone circle.

Breaching the circle!

She’s going pretty fast, and not just for a pregnant woman; even Laura struggles to catch up to her.

Mary, on the other hand, stays behind and rounds ferociously on the huge men:

Look what you did! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, talking to her that way! And she’s going to have a baby! You’re awful!

Ferocious Mary

The whole exchange reminds me of this!

Now home gone, Gelfling gone. Nothing but Aughra!

Both Big Big Gray and Little Big Gray start to protest. But Mary interrupts them, screaming:

God’ll punish you! You’ll see! You deserve it! All of you! He’ll punish you. . . . I KNOW HE WILL!

Then she smashes a bag of flour to the ground and storms off.

WILL: Wow, this is a great Mary scene.

OLIVE: Yeah, little does she know God’s gonna punish her instead, over and over again.

Down the road, the Cobb is still running. She careens wildly and falls into a ditch.

DAGNY: Oh my God, she’s in trouble.

ROMAN: It’s because she ran through the pagan stone circle. Very bad luck.

Mary sends Laura to fetch Doc Baker.

Meanwhile, we see Charles has stopped in a town to talk to some big blowhard lawman. The guy is bragging about how nothing goes on in “New Elham” without his knowledge.

(Presumably they’re in New Ulm, the town with all the murders I was talking about last week, which is a third of the way from Walnut Grove to Minneapolis.)

New Ulm, Minnesota (circa 1880)

“I didn’t mean to doubt you, constable,” Charles says politely, obviously realizing the guy is a nut.

“You can take it to the bank,” the constable says proudly. (I’m never going to finish this recap if everyone keeps using these damn idioms. This one is an anachronism, not popularized until the 1950s.) 

The constable then reveals he saw Fudge pass through town two days before, and he didn’t appear to be having any problems. “Everything fine as frog hair!” he says. (Good grief. 1865!) 

The constable surmises Fudge might have been overtaken by robbers on the road to Walnut Grove, but it seems less likely to me they’d be interested in a huge load of corn than just money. But I don’t know.

Back at the site of the wreck, the crows are feasting.

Then we get a scene where Charles talks to another eccentric character along the road. I know they’re just trying to stretch things out to an hour, but they are kind of fun bits.

This one’s an old lady who screams at him from the woods. She says:

The woodpile’s gone, the fire’s goin’ out. . . . I got more to do than just sit in a rockin’ chair and look out the window to see who’s passin’, in case somebody comes by to ask!

WILL: Minnesota Nice again.

DAGNY: She’s my favorite character in this episode. You don’t get a lot of crabby old ladies on this show.

WILL: No, unlike real life, which is full of them.

The actress here is apparently Marlon Brando’s older sister Jocelyn.

Jocelyn and Marlon Brando

Charles apologizes for bothering her, but she interrupts him, crabbily saying she did actually see the Fudgemobile drive by earlier.

Heh. I like crabby old ladies too.

Back in Walnut Grove, we see Doc is attending the Cobb along with Caroline & Co. The Cobb worries she’s going to lose the baby. Caroline says, “Now, Dr. Baker wouldn’t fib to you, you’re going to be fine!” (Actually, all four people Doc has predicted would be “fine” on this show so far have died.) 

Previously on Little House (R.I.P. Freddie)

As if to seal the Cobb’s doom, Doc himself says she’ll be fine, then on the way out, takes Caroline aside and says if Fudge doesn’t return, he’s afraid she’ll commit suicide. 

WILL: Good Lord, this is some episode.

DAGNY: And that’s some close-up of Doc.

Then he tells the girls to help take care of the Cobb, and Carrie slurps, “We will.” It’s the first line she’s had in some time.

Back at the wagon, Fudge (looking and sounding more like Tom Waits all the time) is still yelling at the crows. (Even yelling at crows seems Waits-ian.)

Out of rocks, he throws his now-empty canteen. But the crows don’t give a shit.

Up on the road, Charles and the Chonkies pass by without realizing.

After another break, we see the morons’ guild has again gathered at the Mercantile. Little Big Gray, who’s usurped Kennedy’s position as town villain, is now suggesting Charles was in on the scheme to steal their money too. Even Kennedy won’t stand for this.

Little Big Gray starts shouting, but then Mrs. Oleson appears on the steps, waving a broom and shrieking. Little Big stands up to her, but she shouts him down admirably. (Standing behind her, Nels squeaks a little bit too.)

DAGNY: Why does Nels go out clinging to her apron-strings?

WILL: He’s a wuss.

DAGNY: I know, but why go out at all?

WILL: He’d have to live with the wrath of Harriet if he didn’t. That’d be worse.

Back on the road, Charles has stopped at yet another wacky character’s house to investigate. (If he’d shown this kind of initiative when the plague hit, they’d have found the source in an hour.)

This time, it’s a shabby country guy who says his name is “Ed Stacy.” (We’ll see the actor, Ted Gehring, again in a different part next season.) 

The guy tells Charles he hasn’t seen a wagon full of seedcorn. Charles starts to leave, but the guy, after wrestling with his conscience, says he found two horses running loose nearby that might be related to the case. (We get a peek at these horses inside his barn, and of course one of them is Bunny.)

Charles realizes he missed Fudge along the road, and rushes off. Gehring plays a funny mixture of remorse and irritation at losing the free horses, but we’ve gotta wrap this one up so I won’t describe it in detail.

Things move more quickly now. Charles and the heroic Chonkies find the overturned wagon, with Fudge squished beneath it. 

Back in Walnut Grove, the stupid farmers have taken their bitching to the mill. Little Big Gray is ranting about Fudge and Cobb again, but Mr. Hanson makes a disgusted speech about what pathetic cowards they all are to pick on a pregnant woman who might be a widow for all they know. 

Suddenly a kid with the reddest hair we’ve seen on this show yet rides up. He very quickly recaps that Charles found the injured Fudge and has brought him back to town, corn and all.

WILL: That kid’s pretty good.

ROMAN: Yeah. Better than Carrie, anyway.

Mr. Hanson sneers at the farmers and says, “What are you waiting for? Your precious seedcorn is here.” The guild sheepishly moves off.

WILL: He should yell “Cowards!” one more time.

DAGNY: Yeah, and then pants them.

WILL: I don’t know about that.

Some time later, it seems, Fudge and Cobb are packing up their carpetbags. Fudge is leaning on a crutch but otherwise seems no worse for wear, and the Cobb is still pregnant. 

There’s a knock at the door. It’s Charles, who says he’s sorry they’ve decided to move away. Fudge says their “so-called friends” left them no choice, and throws in a crack about how Minnesota sucks.

Charles says he doesn’t blame them, noting that with Fudge’s injuries, he wouldn’t be able to plant his field this year anyway.

Charles then asks them to step outside . . . where they see all the farmers have come over to plow and plant Fudge’s field for him, before planting their own. Cobb and Fudge melt into smiles, and all is forgiven.

WILL: I’m not sure I would have stayed.

OLIVE: No. Charles should have let them leave, then kept the crop for himself.

Longest recap ever, sorry about that. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!

STYLE WATCH: Caroline wears a fetching new picnic apron/bonnet combo. 

Fetching Caroline – literally!

Charles appears to go commando again.

THE VERDICT: Despite being filler to get us to the end of the season (with some scenes that seem made up as they went along), “Money Crop” has several strengths. The depiction of fairweather friends/Minnesota Nice still resonates today. Plus that’s one heck of a wagon crash, and Melissa Sue Anderson absolutely rocks Mary’s speech.

UP NEXT: Survival

Published by willkaiser

I live in the Upper Midwest. My name's not really Will Kaiser, but he and I have essentially the same personality.

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