Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 107 — ‘The Big Ball’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Big Ball, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Miss Ellie Ewing, Patrick Duffy

Mama’s family

No matter how often I see it, the next-to-last scene in “The Big Ball” always gives me goose bumps. Punk Anderson stands before a packed ballroom of tuxedo-clad oilmen and their gussied up wives and announces the establishment of the Jock Ewing memorial scholarship. “I don’t know what old Jock would have said about this, but … maybe Miss Ellie could speak for him,” Punk says. The camera cuts to the Ewing matriarch, who is weeping at a table with her family. Silence. Slowly, Bobby rises and begins clapping, followed — one by one — by J.R., Pam and Sue Ellen. Finally, the entire room erupts as Ellie’s sons escort her to the stage.

The speech that follows proves worthy of the dramatic setup. “Jock Ewing was a great man, measured in the only true value of a man. Not in money or power, but in friends,” Ellie says. This is my favorite line in Leonard Katzman’s script. I don’t remember watching “The Big Ball” on the night it debuted in 1982, but I remember reading that statement a few years later in Laura von Wormer’s “Dallas” book. I’ve never forgotten it. I also love how Barbara Bel Geddes delivers the line and the rest of the speech. This is one of those moments when Bel Geddes makes me forget I’m watching an actress playing a TV character. In that moment, she is a Texas widow eulogizing her husband in front of their family and friends. It’s a beautiful, moving performance.

“The Big Ball” is the first “Dallas” episode set at the Oil Baron’s Ball, which became one of the show’s best-loved traditions. In later years, the ball is the setting for big, dramatic showdowns and even a food fight or two, but the affair depicted here is rather subdued. Not that I’m complaining. The real appeal of the Oil Baron’s Ball episodes has always come from seeing the entire “Dallas” universe in one room. From this perspective, “The Big Ball” doesn’t disappoint. In addition to Ellie and her sons and their significant others, this ball brings together Cliff, Rebecca, Clayton, Jordan, Marilee, Holly and an interesting newcomer: Frank Crutcher, played by the old western actor Dale Robertson, who had recently concluded a brief-but-memorable run on rival soap “Dynasty.”

The ballroom sequences contrast nicely with the scenes set in Emporia, Kansas, where Ray and Donna attend the funeral of Amos Krebbs. I don’t know where these scenes were shot — my guess is they were filmed somewhere in North Texas — but it looks and feels like a sleepy town in the Midwest. When Ray and Donna arrive at Aunt Lil’s house, notice the neighbors sitting on the front porch across the street. The guest stars lend an air of authenticity too: Kate Reid is utterly believable in her second appearance as humble, homespun Lil, while Timothy Patrick Murphy is terrific in his “Dallas” debut as cocky, restless Mickey.

I also can’t help but feel touched by Steve Kanaly’s heartfelt performance in the scene where Amos is buried. Ray, who doesn’t want his Kansas relatives to know that he was really Jock Ewing’s son, kneels at his mother Margaret’s tombstone. “Probably better that it happened this way, Mama,” Ray says. “Nobody knows the truth. Chances are old Amos is probably headed in the opposite direction than you anyhow.” Besides serving as this episode’s other great speech, Ray’s monologue puts a nice punctuation mark on the saga of Jock, Amos and Margaret, which was revealed in the fourth-season classic “The Fourth Son.” The funeral might be for Amos, but Margaret is the one we end up mourning in this scene.

“The Big Ball” also features Jared Martin’s first appearance on “Dallas” since Dusty bid Sue Ellen farewell in the fifth-season episode “Starting Over.” I’ve always loved Martin’s chemistry with Linda Gray, but frankly their characters annoy me a little here. Dusty rides out to a Southern Cross pasture to find Sue Ellen, they have a heart-to-heart talk and then they return together to the house where — surprise! — he introduces her to his new wife. It makes for a dramatic moment, but couldn’t Dusty have found a kinder way to let Sue Ellen know he has married another woman? The disappointment ends up sending Sue Ellen back to Southfork, and not a moment too soon. After all, she does have a child to raise, doesn’t she?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Big Ball, Dallas, Kate Reid, Lil Trotter, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

No place like home

‘THE BIG BALL’

Season 6, Episode 4

Airdate: October 22, 1982

Audience: 20.7 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Sue Ellen leaves the Southern Cross after Dusty visits with his new wife. Ray and Donna go to Kansas for Amos’s funeral, where they meet Mickey Trotter, Ray’s angry young cousin. At the Oil Baron’s Ball, Miss Ellie meets Frank Crutcher and Pam discovers her mother is dating Clayton. After the ball, Ellie decides to have Jock declared legally dead.

Cast: Melody Anderson (Linda Farlow), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“The Big Ball” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. cstephandoerr says:

    Great episode, which contains several key moments of the series. To me, “The Big Ball” always seems like the funeral that Jock never had, and Miss Ellie’s eulogy is as good as they come (I am almost astonished that it didn’t make the memorable monologues Dal-List)…
    With the benefit of hindsight, we are also able to see that this episode is where the transformation of Jock Ewing into St. Jock begins – interestingly only one moment after J.R. pointed out what an unscrupulous businessman his father could be.

    • Great points, especially about the deification of Jock. And you’re not the first person to point out that I should’ve included Ellie’s speech among my list of great monologues. Can I get a do-over?

      • cstephandoerr says:

        Absolutely. As far as I can tell, Dallas Decoder is a work in progress, and and amazing one at that… (And to be honest, I wouldn’t quite know which monologue to erase from your list.)

      • I think with my list of monologues, I was trying to steer clear of characters delivering speeches at microphones. I don’t remember why I decided to make that part of that criteria, but it’s also the reason I excluded Pam’s amazing speech at the Oil Baron’s Ball during the “dream season.” Perhaps I should do a second list of speeches and give Miss Ellie and Pam their due!

  2. Barbara fan says:

    It was a great episode from start to finish, and Miss Ellie’s speech still gets to me 31 years later. This is such a great season of Dallas – great cast, script, acting and supporting cast. I can watch it again and again and I do!
    It should have made your Dallas’s 10 Most Memorable Monologues IMHO (remove Brenda ugh/ Annie get your gun! lol)
    so glad you are back reviewing the Dallas that made Dallas great and MY Dallas! look fwds to next one! BF xxx

    • BF, I think I’m going to re-do that list — just for you! Thanks for your continued support of Dallas Decoder. I’m having a lot of fun re-visiting Season 6. I’ve got some good stuff coming up soon. Stay tuned!

      CB

  3. I was just wondering: Was it just a coincidence that Dusty’s new wife’s name was Linda?…
    😉

  4. Garnet McGee says:

    I was sad to see Dusty and Sue Ellen end for good. He always treated her with respect and kindness. I preferred her with Dusty over JR. But I guess I am in the minority. Hopefully our new version of Sue Ellen, Pamela Rebecca, will get her own version of Dusty someday. Sue Ellen is choosing JR and life at Southfork because she is on the rebound and is resigning herself to a fate that she never seems to be able to get away from. Jock was far from the finest man who ever lived but people are frequently lionized after death so this revisionist history is appropriate. I love that the show focused on Miss Ellie’s struggles as a newly single woman. BBG brings a certain shyness to the role. I can hardly wait to see her courtship with the courtly Clayton. The toast to Jock’s portrait was repeated in the toast to JR’s portrait all those years later.

    • I’m glad to see I’m not the only one after all who loved Sue Ellen and Dusty as a couple! You are right about him treating her with respect and kindness – something JR was never willing to give her, except during the moments when she proved him she could do well without him.

    • Yes! Good catch on the toasts.

      • So who is your first favorite Sue Ellen suitor, Chris?

      • My favorite Sue Ellen suitor is J.R., although I recognize their relationship isn’t the healthiest. But boy, is it entertaining! Dusty ranks second (although he could be an enabler). I’d probably put Nick Pearce or Don Lockwood in the third and fourth spots, although Clayton might unseat either one of them.

  5. I see. Yes, JR can get really charming and convincing when he’s “hunting”. Once he’s got hold of his prey, he loses interest…
    Good to see I’m not the only one who likes Don Lockwood. Most Dallas fans appear to find him boring, but I don’t. He’s just a totally different type from JR, and he gave Sue Ellen what she needed at that time. But I guess I’ll better wait until we get to those episodes here before starting a discussion… 😉

  6. Deciding to declare Jock Ewing dead was a wise move on Miss Ellie’s part. Littled does she know that she’s playing here right into ol’ J.R.’s hands!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “The Big Ball,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, after Punk announces the Jock Ewing Scholarship at the Oil […]

  2. […] at Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) while attending the Oil Baron’s Ball in this 1982 publicity shot from “The Big Ball,” a sixth-season “Dallas” […]

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