“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode One “Only the Rocks Live Forever” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode One “Only the Rocks Live Forever” Commentary

Over thirty-two years ago, NBC Television aired a sprawling miniseries called ”CENTENNIAL”. Produced by John Wilder, The miniseries was an adaptation of James Michner’s 1973 novel of the same title. Because the miniseries stretched to twelve episodes, NBC aired the first seven episodes aired during the late fall of 1978. After a one-month hiatus, the remaining five episodes aired during the early winter of 1979.

Michner’s tale followed the history of the fictional town of Centennial, Colorado and its surrounding region from the late 18th century to the 1970s. By focusing upon the history of the town, ”CENTENNIAL” managed to cover nearly every possible topic in the Western genre. Some of those topics include Native American societies and their encounters with the white trappers and traders, American emigration along the Western trails, the Indian Wars, a gold rush, a cattle drive, the cattle-sheep range wars and environmental issues. The first episode ”Only the Rocks Live Forever” centered on an Arapaho warrior named Lame Beaver, his daughter Clay Basket, a French-Canadian fur trader named Pasquinel, and his partner, a young Scottish-born trader named Alexander McKeag.

”Only the Rocks Live Forever” began with the death of Lame Beaver’s father in the mid-1750s, at the hands of the Pawnee. The episode also covered moments of the warrior’s life that include his theft of much needed horses from the Commanche for the survival of his village, his first meeting with Pasquinel and later, McKeag; and his village’s wars with their nemesis, a Pawnee chief named Rude Water and his fellow warriors. The episode focused even longer on the fur trader, Pasquinel. Viewers followed the trader on his adventures with various Native Americans such as the Arapaho and the Pawnee; and his two encounters with a keelboat crewed by murderous French Canadian rivermen. After being wounded in the back by a Pawnee arrow and barely escaping death at the hands of the French Canadian rivermen, Pasquinel made his way to St. Louis, then part of the Spanish Empire. An American doctor named Richard Butler introduced him to a German-born silversmith named Herman Bockweiss and the latter’s daughter, Lise. Pasquinel formed a partnership with Bockweiss, who provided him with trinkets to trade with the Native Americans and fell in love with Lise.

Upon his return to the West, the Pawnee introduced Pasquinel to the Scottish-born Alexander McKeag, who became his partner. After experiencing a series of adventures, the two arrived at Lame Beaver’s village. There, Pasquinel strengthened his ties with Lame Beaver, while McKeag fell in love with the warrior’s daughter, Clay Basket. The pair eventually returned to St. Louis with a profitable supply of furs. There, Pasquinel married Lise. During the two partners’ visit to St. Louis, Lame Beaver and his fellow Arapaho became engaged in another conflict with the Pawnee in an effort to rescue a child that had been snatched by the other tribe. The conflict resulted in the rescue of the child, Rude Water’s death at the hands of Lame Beaver, and the latter’s death at the hands of Pawnee warriors. When Pasquinel and McKeag returned to the Pawnee village, they discovered that Rude Water had been shot by a bullet molded from gold by Lame Beaver. They also learned about Lame Beaver’s death. And upon their return to the Arapaho village, they learned from Clay Basket that her late father had ordered her to become Pasquinel’s wife. Because of the French Canadian’s desire to learn about the location of Lame Beaver’s gold, he agreed to make Clay Basket his second wife, despite McKeag’s protests.

Directed by Virgil W. Vogel and written by producer John Wilder, ”Only the Rocks Live Forever” was a surprisingly well paced episode, considering its running time of two-and-a-half hours. Viewers received a detailed look into the society of the Arapaho nation (despite the fact that many of the extras portraying the Arapaho were of Latino descent). And through the adventures of Pasquinel and McKeag, viewers also received a detailed and nearly accurate look into the perils of the life of a fur trader in the trans-Mississippi West. Wilder managed to make one historical goof. When asked in late 18th century St. Louis, circa on how far he had traveled upriver, Pasquinel said, “Cache La Poudre”. However, that particular river was not known by this name until after the 1820s, when a severe storm forced French trappers to “cache their gun powder” by the river bank. And although the episode never stated outright, it did hint that St. Louis and the rest of the Mississippi Valley was part of the Spanish Empire during that period, through the characters of Senor Alvarez and his wife, portrayed by Henry Darrow and Annette Charles.

This episode also benefitted from the strong cast that appeared in the episode. I was especially impressed by Michael Ansara’s charismatic performance as the Arapaho warrior, Lame Beaver. Well known character actor Robert Tessier (of Algonquian descent) gave an equally impressive performance as Lame Beaver’s main nemesis, the Pawnee chief Rude Water. Not only was I impressed by Raymond Burr’s performance as St. Louis silversmith, Herman Bockweiss, I was also impressed by his use of a German accent. Whether or not it was accurate, I must admit that his take on the accent never struck me as a cliché. Sally Kellerman’s own handling of a German accent was also well done. And I thought she gave a poignant performance as the slightly insecure Lise, who found herself falling in love with Pasquinel. Barbara Carrera gave a solid performance as Clay Basket, but I did not find her that particularly dazzling in this episode. Hands down, ”Only the Rocks Live Forever” belonged to Robert Conrad and Richard Chamberlain. Both actors did an excellent job in adapting foreign accents. And both gave exceptional performances in their portrayal of two very different and complex personalities. Superficially, Conrad’s portrayal of Pasquinel seemed superficial and very forthright. However, I was impressed how he conveyed Pasquinel’s more complex traits and emotions through the use of his eyes and facial expression. And once again, Chamberlain proved to be the ultimate chameleon in his transformation into the shy and emotional Scotsman, forced to learn about the West and who seemed bewildered by his morally questionable partner.

”Only the Rocks Live Forever” is not my favorite episode in ”CENTENNIAL”. I can think of at least three or four that I would personally rank above it. But I must admit that thanks to Vogel’s direction and Wilder’s script, this episode proved to be a perfect start for what I consider to be one of the best minseries that ever aired on television.

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“THE COMPANY” (2007) Review

“THE COMPANY” (2007) Review

Within the past decade, there have been a few television and movie productions about the history of espionage during the pre-World War II era and the Cold War. One of those productions turned out to be the 2007, three-part miniseries about the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) called “THE COMPANY”.

Based upon Robert Littell’s 2002 novel, “THE COMPANY” focused upon the history of not only the C.I.A., but also the Soviet Union’s K.G.B. during the Cold War, between the mid-1950s and the fall of the Soviet Union during the beginning of the 1990s. The novel focused upon the lives of three men, who had been close friends at Yale University, who graduated in 1950. Jack McAuliffe was a Rowing athlete and naive true believer, who had been recruited by his crew coach. The same coach also recruited one of Jack’s closest friend, Leo Krinsky, the son of an Eastern European immigrant who works at the agency’s counterintelligence division. Jack and Leo have another close friend at Yale – the son of a Soviet diplomat named Yevgeny Tsipin. While attending his mother’s funeral in Moscow, Yevgeny is recruited as a Soviet spy by KBG spymaster, Starik Zhilov.

While Yevgeny serves as an undercover K.G.B. agent in Washington D.C., Jack becomes a field agent in East Berlin and Leo works for the Agency’s counterintelligence unit in Washington. Of the three friends, two of them suffer setbacks in their love lives. During his basic training for the K.G.B., Yevgeny falls for a young woman named Azalia Ivanova. But Starik forces him to choose between the K.G.B. and Azalia; and Yevgeny leaves for his assignment in the United States. While on assignment in East Berlin, Jack falls for his source, a beautiful East German ballerina named Lili, who provides information from a figure known as The Professor, an important scientist in the East German hierarchy. Unfortunately, Lili is betrayed to the Stasi, which eventually leads her to commit suicide before she can be officially arrested. Only Leo is lucky enough to sustain a long relationship and marriage to the woman he loves – Adelle Swett, who comes from a wealthy Washington family and whose father is a personal friend of President Eisenhower.

However, the story’s main narrative centered around the efforts of the C.I.A. to find a mole who has caused a great deal of damage to its many agendas. The failure of Jack McAuliffe and his mentor, Harvey Torriti (aka “The Sorcerer) to help a defector escape from East Germany led to Torriti’s discovery of a mole with access to the Agency – namely MI-6 operative, Adrian “Kim” Philby, who happens to be a close friend of the Agency’s counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton. As revealed in a scene between Philby and Yevgeny, the K.G.B. has another mole within the ranks of the C.I.A. – someone who goes by the code name, “Sascha”. It was “Sascha’ who had exposed Lili and the Professor to the East Germans. It was “Sascha” who had exposed Jack as an American agent to the Hungarian Secret Police, on the eve of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. And it was “Sascha” who had revealed the Agency’s plans for an invasion of Cuba – an act that nearly endangered Jack’s life. Between the exposure of “Kim” Philby as a Soviet mole and the series of political and intelligence disasters not only led to Angleton’s paranoid determination to find “Sascha”, but also his big mole hunt in the mid 1970s.

Actor Chris O’Donnell had stated in a featurette that “THE COMPANY” could be divided into three genres. Episode One could be described as an espionage thriller, Episode Two as an big-scare adventure story (in which two of them are featured – the Hungarian Revolution and the Bay of Pigs), and Episode Three as a psychological thriller that involved a mole hunt. This is probably why I found “THE COMPANY” so thrilling to watch. It was able to explore the many sub-genres of the spy story and stick to the one main narrative, at the same time. All the facets of the miniseries – spy thriller, adventure story and psychological thriller – centered around the impact of “Sascha’s” betrayals and the lives of the three protagonists.

The ironic thing is that one of the characters – Yevgeny Tsipin – is obviously a K.G.B. agent that served as a deep undercover agent in Washington D.C. for three decades. Yet, his character is portrayed as a protagonist, instead of a supporting or major villain. Although the Agency is portrayed as the good guy out to destroy the “evil” K.G.B., “THE COMPANY” did not hesitate to portray some of its darker aspects – whether it was Angleton and other officials’ cool betrayal of the anti-Communist Hungarians, during their revolution against the Soviets; or their misguided determination to continue with their plans for a Cuban invasion. One of the series’ more darker segments appeared in Angleton’s mole hunt in Episode Three. The Agency official began to suspect Leo Krinsky of being “Sascha”, the Soviet mole. What Krinsky endured during his interrogation had me squirming in my seat with sheer discomfort. Ken Nolan did an excellent job, as far as I am concerned, with adapting Litell’s novel.

Ridley Scott became one of the miniseries’ producers (along with John Calley) and had planned to direct. But he realized that he may not have been up to directing a production that was over four hours long. So, he and Calley hired Danish filmmaker Mikael Salomon to direct at least one episode. Salomon, who had directed two episodes of 2001’s “BAND OF BROTHERS”, directed all of the episodes of this miniseries. And he did an exceptional job. I was especially impressed by his direction of segments that included Jack McAuliffe’s adventures in East Berlin, the Hungarian Revolution, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the travails that Leo endured, while being suspected for being a mole. He also did exceptional work with the large cast that proved to be very talented.

I noticed that many critics seemed to be very impressed by the older cast members – especially Alfred Molina’s splashy portrayal of Jack’s mentor, the gregarious Harvey Torriti; and Michael Keaton’s mannered performance as the paranoid James Jesus Angleton. And both actors were great. I also have to commend Ulrich Thomsen’s subtle portrayal of the secretive and manipulative spymaster Starik Zhilov, and Tom Hollander for giving a charming performance as MI-6 operative-turned-K.G.B. mole, Adrian Philby. And there were other performances that impressed me. Both Ted Atherton as C.I.A. official Frank Wisner and Natascha McElhone as a British woman caught up in the Hungarian uprising gave passionate performances. And I was also impressed by Alexandra Maria Lara and Erika Marozsán as the women in Jack and Yevgeny’s lives. But for me, the actors portraying the three Yale buddies, whose lives were swept into the world of espionage, seemed to be the emotional center of this tale.

Alessandro Nivola’ portrayal of Leo Kritsky barely seemed to catch my interest – at least in the first two episodes. He seemed to be around, mainly as support for the emotionally besieged Jack. But the actor really came into his own in Episode Three, as the miniseries focused on the trauma Leo suffered as a victim of Angleton’s mole hunt. Rory Cochrane gave one of his most subtle and complex performances as K.G.B. operative, Yevgeny Tsipin. He really made the audience care for his well being, despite his activities against the U.S. government, during his years in Washington D.C. But it was Chris O’Donnell who really carried the miniseries in his portrayal of Cold War true believer, Jack McCauliffe. Thanks to his superb performance, he did an excellent job of developing Jack’s character from a naive, yet patriotic C.I.A. recruit and newbie, to the middle-aged man, whose experiences had not only worn him out, but led him to finally question the necessity of the Cold War.

All I can say is that “THE COMPANY” was a well-made adaptation of Robert Littell’s novel about the C.I.A.’s history during the Cold War. And it was all due to Mikael Salomon’s excellent and well-paced direction, Ken Nolan’s script and a superb cast led by Chris O’Donnell.

Ranking of John Jakes’ “KENT FAMILY CHRONICLES” Series

Below is my ranking of the eight novels written during the 1970s by John Jakes, as part of his “Kent Family Chronicles”series:

RANKING OF JOHN JAKES’ “KENT FAMILY CHRONICLES” SERIES

1. “The Bastard” (1974) – Set between 1770 and 1775; this novel introduces Philip Kent, the founder of the Kent family and bastard son of a French actress and an English peer. He settles in Boston after his father’s family denies him his rightful inheritance and becomes involved with the Sons of Liberty and the independence movement from England.

2. “The Titans” (1976) – The novel follows the experiences of preacher-turned-journalist Jeptha Kent, family friend Michael Boyle and Jeptha’s estranged oldest son, a Confederate cavalry officer named Gideon Kent; during the first year of the Civil War.

3. “The Americans” (1979) – The last novel in the series, set during the 1880s, focuses on Gideon’s only son, Will, who plans to become a doctor; his actress daughter Eleanor, who experiences tragedy during the Johnstown Flood; and his cousin/stepson Carter, who becomes involved in politics.

4. “The Furies” (1976) – Philip Kent’s granddaughter, Amanda, experiences the Siege at the Alamo, the California Gold Rush and the abolitionist movement in New York City between 1836 and 1852. Her cousin Jeptha Kent becomes estranged from his Virginia wife and sons, after he embraces the abolitionist cause.

5. “The Seekers” (1975) – Considered the darkest chapter in the saga, the first half of the novel focuses on Philip’s son, Abraham, and his experiences in the Ohio Valley as a soldier and later, as a settler in the 1790s. The second half focuses on Abraham’s son, Jared, and his experiences during the War of 1812; and a fateful journey to the West in which he and his cousin Amanda are brutally separated.

6. “The Warriors” (1977) – Jeptha’s youngest son, Jeremiah Kent, endures the consequences of William Sherman’s infamous march through Georgia as a Confederate soldier. The end of the Civil War finds family friend Michael Boyle as a worker on the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad in the Nebraska Territory; and Gideon Kent, whose work at a New Jersey rail yard and support of a union leads to a confrontation with his wealthy cousin Louis Kent, Amanda’s son.

7. “The Lawless” (1978) – After inheriting Jeptha Kent’s fortune in 1871; Gideon becomes an avid newspaper owner, romances his cousin Louis’ former wife Julia, and continues his involvement of the union cause. Meanwhile, his brother Matt experiences the start of the Franco-Prussian War in Paris; and his younger brother Jeremiah becomes a gunfighter and later, hired gun for an enemy of Gideon’s.

8. “The Rebels” (1975) – This second novel follows Philip Kent’s experiences during the American Revolution. It also focuses on the son of a Virginia planter’s son named Judson Fletcher, who will become the father of Philip’s future daughter-in-law.

TIME MACHINE: The Battle of Antietam

Currier-Ives-N-D_XX_The-Battle-Of-Antietam-1862_XX_Chromolithograph-Art-Brown-Collection

TIME MACHINE: THE BATTLE OF ANTIETAM

Two days ago, September 17, marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War conflict, The Battle of Antietam. Also known as The Battle of Sharpsburg in the Southern states, the battle was the first major conflict of the war that took place on Union soil, near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

The road to the Battle of Antietam began in the aftermath of a Confederate victory at Second Battle of Bull Run two months earlier. Embolden by success, General Robert E. Lee and the Jefferson Davis Administration in Richmond decided to take the war to Union soil by invading Maryland. Lee’s invasion of Maryland was intended to run simultaneously with an invasion of Kentucky by the armies of Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith. It was also necessary for logistical reasons, as northern Virginia’s farms had been stripped bare of food. Lee, Davis and the Confederate politicians also believed that a successful invasion into the North would destroy Northern morale and lead the Abraham Lincoln Administration to sue for peace. In the wake of the Baltimore Riot of April 19, 1861″ and the fact that President Lincoln had to pass through the city in disguise en route to his inauguration, Confederate leaders assumed that Maryland would welcome the Confederate forces warmly. However, Lee and Davis failed to discover that by the fall of 1862, pro-Union sentiment was winning out, especially in the western parts of the state.

Not long after Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia marched into Maryland, General George McClellan and the Army of the Potomoc followed in pursuit. Two Union soldiers of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry – Corporal Barton W. Mitchell and First Sergeant John M. Bloss – discovered a mislaid copy of Lee’s detailed battle plans wrapped around three cigars. Special Order 191 made it clear that Lee had divided his army and dispersed portions to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland. This would have made each portion of the Army of Northern Virginia subject to isolation and defeat. But General McClellan did not move fast enough. He waited about 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this new intelligence and squandered his chance for a complete defeat of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.

The Battle of Antietam actually consisted of three battles. The first stage began at dawn on September 17. Union General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps stormed Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Second Corps around the Dunker Church, the West Woods, and David Miller’s cornfield. Union troops made repeated attacks, but furious Confederate counterattacks kept the Union in check.

The fighting moved south to the middle of the battlefield by mid-to-late morning. Union troops under General Edwin Sumner inflicted devastating casualties on the Confederates along a sunken road that became known as “Bloody Lane” between 9:30 am and 1:00 pm, before the Confederates retreated. Meanwhile, McClellan refused to apply reserves to exploit the opening in the Confederate center, because he believed Lee’s forces to be much larger than it actually was. In the late afternoon, Union General Ambrose Burnside and his IX Corps attacked General James Longstreet’s First Corps across a stone bridge that came to bear Burnside’s name. Union troops crossed the creek, but a Confederate counterattack brought any further advance to a halt.

The battle finally ended by early evening. The two armies remained in place throughout the following day, on September 18, in order to care for their wounded during a truce. Later that night, Lee and his army began their retreat to Virginia. Casualties for the Union Army numbered at 12,401, with 2,108 dead; and Confederate casualties numbered at 10,318, with 1,546 dead. These numbers represented 25% loss for the Union Army and 31% for the Confederates. More Americans died in battle on September 17, 1862; than on any other day in this nation’s military history.

Although the Union Army drove General Lee’s forces back to Virginia, the battle proved to be a lost opportunity for them. McClellan had an overwhelming numerical advantage, but he did not know it. Another attack on September 18 could have scattered the Confederates and cut off Lee’s line of retreat. But McClellan and the Union forces did not follow, much to President Lincoln’s disappointment. Nearly a week later, on September 22, President Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary draft of his Emancipation Proclamation. This document took effect on January 1, 1863 and expanded the Union goal from a war for reunification into a crusade to end slavery.

Below are some recommended books about the Battle of Antietam:

*“The Long Road To Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution” by Richard Slotkin

*“Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam” by James McPherson

*“The Antietam Campaign” by Gary W. Gallagher

“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” (2010) Review

Halloween_Party

 

“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” (2010) Review

Many years have passed since I last read Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel, “Hallowe’en Party”. Although it is not considered one of Christie’s better novels, the story possessed a style that struck me as rich and atmospheric. I never forgot it. So, when I learned about ITV’s 2010 adaptation of the novel, I could not wait to see it. 

Directed by Charles Palmer and adapted by actor Mark Gatiss (who appeared in 2008’s “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH”), “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” begins with mystery author Adrianne Oliver visiting a friend named Judith Butler in the small village of Woodleigh Common. Because Mrs. Butler has a young daughter named Melinda, the two women accompany her to a children’s Halloween party being held at the home of a widow named Rowena Drake. A young girl named Joyce Reynolds announce that she had once witnessed a murder. Everyone assumes she is lying. A few hours later, Joyce is found drowned in a tub filled with water and bobbing apples. Determined to learn the identity of Joyce’s murder, Mrs. Oliver summons another friend, Belgian-born detective to Woodleigh Commons to solve the murder. During his investigation of Joyce’s murder, Poirot uncovers a series of murders, mysterious deaths and disappearances that the thirteen year-old girl may have witnessed.

I might as well be perfectly frank. I do not consider “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” to be one of the better written Christie adaptations I have seen. Ironically, the fault does not lay with screenwriter Mark Gatiss. I believe he did the best he could with the material given to him. But I believe that Christie’s 1969 novel was not one of her better works. I will be even franker. “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” nearly worked as a mystery. But looking back on it, I realized that it was one of those mysteries that I found easy to solve. Poirot’s investigation into past murders, suspicious deaths and disappearances at Woodleigh Common made the story somewhat easy to solve. Even worse, the murderer was nearly revealed some ten minutes before Poirot revealed his solution to the case. Like 2008’s “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH” and 2010’s“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” also touched on the subject of religion. Thankfully, Gatiss managed to keep the subject of religion on a subtle level – including the topic of paganism.

“Hallowe’en Party” was published in 1969 and heavily reflected the late 1960s. I cannot deny that this television adaptation looked very handsome, thanks to Jeff Tessler’s production designs, Cinders Forshaw’s photography and Sheena Napier’s costume designs. All three did an exceptional job of transporting viewers to a small English village in the late 1930s and capturing the mysterious atmosphere of Halloween. I only have two complaints about this. Despite the first-rate 1930s setting, I wish that the movie had been given the novel’s original late 1960s setting. I believe this story was more suited for this particular setting. Also, I wish that both Palmer and Gatiss had not included sounds of children chanting “Snap, Snap, Snap”, whenever a lone character seemed to be in a threatening situation. These chants brought back annoying memories of a handful of old “POIROT” movies from the 1990s that featured titles from nursery rhymes.

The saving grace of “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” proved to be the cast. David Suchet was in top form as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I found his portrayal subtle, humorous and intelligent. Frankly, I consider his performance to be one of his better efforts in the past three or four years. Many “POIROT” fans have bemoaned the lack of Hugh Fraser as Arthur Hastings during the past decade. As much as I had enjoyed Fraser’s portrayal, I did not miss him that much, thanks to Zoë Wanamaker’s portrayal of Adrianne Oliver, a mystery author who became one of Poirot’s closest friends. I have already seen Wanamaker’s previous takes on the Adrianne Oliver character in other “POIROT” episodes. She was marvelous in those episodes and I can say the same about her performance in this one. Also, she and Suchet made a surprisingly effective and humorous screen team.

The supporting cast featured interesting performances from acting veterans. There was Timothy West, whose portrayal of Woodleigh Commons’ vicar, struck me as wonderfully subtle and complex. Eric Sykes, whom I remembered from the“DARING YOUNG MEN” movies of the 1960s, was in fine form as the elderly solicitor Mr. Fullerton. Fenella Woolgar made a poignant Elizabeth Whittaker, a local schoolteacher who continued to mourn the death of a potential lover. Sophie Thompson gave an interesting, yet slightly melodramatic performance as the religious mother of the dead Joyce, Mrs. Reynolds. I must say that I was surprised that Julian Rhind-Tutt managed to keep it together and prevent his portrayal of landscape gardener, Michael Garfield, from becoming hammy. Mind you, Rhind-Tutt has been more than capable of giving a subtle performance in other productions. But Michael Garfield is somewhat of a showy character. The movie also benefitted from solid performances from the likes of Amelia Bullmore, Phyllida Law, Mary Higgins, Ian Hallard and Georgia King. However, I believe that Deborah Findlay gave the best performance in the movie, aside from Suchet and Wanamaker. She was subtle, yet superb as the ladylike, yet pushy widow Rowena Drake, whose home served as the setting for the opening murder.

I would not consider “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” to be one of the better Christie stories. As I had stated earlier, I believe its main flaws originated from the author’s 1969 novel. However, both director Charles Palmer and screenwriter Mark Gatiss did the best they could. Their efforts were not able to overcome Christie’s narrative flaws. But I believe they still managed to provide television audiences with an entertaining and atmospheric story, with the help of a first-rate cast led by David Suchet.

“HOW THE WEST WAS WON” (1962) Review

 

“HOW THE WEST WAS WON” (1962) Review

This 1962 movie was among the last of the old-fashioned “epic” films that was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Filmed using the Cinerama widescreen process, it featured an all-star cast directed by at least three directors. 

After making the decision to use the Cinerama wide-screen process, MGM decided to produce a cinematic adaptation ofLIFE magazine’s 1959 series of articles about the history of the American West. Screenwriters James R. Webb and John Gay (uncredited) achieved this by focusing the film on two to three generations of family that migrated westward from western New York, to Southern Ohio, to California and finally to the deserts of Arizona. The story stretched out in a period of fifty (50) years from the late 1830s to the late 1880s. According to Wikipedia, the movie was set between 1839 and 1889. Yet, Webb and Gay’s script never indicated this. The movie consisted of five segments that were directed by three directors, Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall.

“The Rivers”, which was directed by Henry Hathaway, focused on the Prescott family’s journey from western New York to Southern Ohio, in an attempt to reach the Illinois country via the Erie Canal and the Ohio River. During their journey, they meet a mountain man named Linus Rawlins, who falls in love with eldest daughter, Eve; encounter murderous river pirates; and are caught in some dangerous rapids during their trip down the Ohio River. The last part of their journey ends in Southern Ohio, when the patriarch and matriarch of the Prescotts are drowned and Eve decides to remain there. She eventually marries Linus and her younger sister, Lilith decides to head to St. Louis.

In “The Plains”, Lilith Prescott is a dance hall entertainer in St. Louis, when she receives news of an inheritance – a California gold mine – from a former patron. In order to join a California-bound wagon train, Lilith becomes the traveling companion of a middle-aged woman named Agatha Clegg. She also becomes the romantic object of two men – the hard-nosed wagonmaster Roger Morgan (who has a ranch in California) and a professional gambler named Cleve Van Valen. Lilith eventually forms an attachment to Cleve. But when her inheritance turns out to be a bust upon their arrival in California, Cleve abandons her. He eventually reconciles with her on a Sacramento River steamboat and the two marry. Hathaway also directed.

John Ford directed “The Civil War”, a short segment about the experiences of Zeb Rawlins’ (Eve and Linus’ elder son) at the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. Although Zeb survives, his father was killed during the battle, and his mother died before his return to the family’s Ohio farm. Zeb decides to remain in the Army after the war.

“The Railroad” was about Zeb’s experiences as an Army officer during the construction of the railroad during the late 1860s. He tries and fails to keep the peace between the construction crew led by a man named Mike King and the local Arapaho tribe. The Arapho incites a buffalo stampede through the railroad camp after King breaks another promise. And Zeb resigns from the Army. George Marshall directed.

Hathaway directed the final segment, “The Outlaws”, which featured Zeb’s last days as a law officer, as he tries to prevent a group of outlaws led by a man named Charlie Gant from stealing a shipment of gold. After he is successful, Zeb and his family join his widowed aunt Lilith on a trip to her new Arizona ranch.

“HOW THE WEST WAS WON” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It won three won – Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Sound. It is also considered a favorite of director Ron Howard. I might as well be honest. I have always liked “HOW THE WEST WAS WON”. If I had not, I would have never purchased the DVD set. But I cannot see how it was ever nominated for Best Picture, let alone won the Best Screenplay Oscar. It was NOT that great. To me, “HOW THE WEST WAS WON” was a mediocre epic that featured a small handful of excellent performances, great photography and a superb score.

The fifty year period that spanned “HOW THE WEST WAS WON” struck me as more suitable for a television miniseries, instead of a movie – even if it had a running time of 162 minutes. There was too much going on in this film and its time span of fifty years was simply too long. The 2005 miniseries, “INTO THE WEST” had a similar premise, but it had the good luck to be aired in a six-part miniseries that ran for 552 minutes. And because of the lack of balance between the story’s premise/time span and its running time, the story about the Prescott-Rawlins family seemed half-empty . . . and rushed.

The best of the five segments are the first two directed by Henry Hathaway – “The River” and “The Plains”, which featured the Prescotts treks from New York, to Ohio. Although not perfect, thanks to some plot inconsistency and historical inaccuracy. What makes these two segments superior to the other three is that are longer and if I must be frank, more substantial. I could not decide between the two segments on which was my favorite. I enjoyed viewing the family’s journey down the Ohio River and the exciting battle with the river pirates. On the other hand, both Debbie Reynolds and Gregory Peck’s performances made “The Plains” very enjoyable for me.

But the worst of the three segments is the third one directed by John Ford – namely “The Civil War”. I hate to say this, but John Wayne did not make an effective William T. Sherman. The recently deceased Henry Morgan did a slightly better job as Ulysses S. Grant – frankly, by saying as little as possible. As for the segment, the screenwriters and Ford did not even bother to feature any plausible battle scenes of Shiloh. Instead, the audience was subjected to a quick montage of Civil War scenes from other MGM movies – probably 1957’s “RAINTREE COUNTRY”. The only good thing about this segment was the beginning scene, when Zeb said good-bye to his mother and younger brother . . . and the last scene, when he said good-bye and handed over his share of the family farm to his brother.

I enjoyed the work of the cinematography team led by the legendary William H. Daniels very much. I noticed that a great deal of the movie was shot on location in many of the national parks in the United States. However, the Cinerama process took away some of the grandeur with the curved lens, which made it impossible for Daniels and the others to film any effective close ups. And has anyone ever notice that whenever two of the actors seemed to facing each other, their lines of sight seemed to be slightly off? It must have been hell for the actors to face off each other in a scene, while being unnaturally positioned for the camera.

There were certain aspects of “HOW THE WEST WAS WON” that made it enjoyable for me. Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, George Peppard, Gregory Peck, Thelma Ritter, Henry Fonda, Lee J.Cobb and Eli Wallach gave the best performances, as far as I am concerned. Spencer Tracy did a top-notch job as the film’s narrator. But I especially have to commend Reynolds, Baker and Peppard for damn near carrying this film. Without them, this movie would have folded like a sheet of paper. There were some performances that did not ring true to me. According to one scene that featured Linus Rawlings’ grave, Eve’s husband and Zeb’s father was born in 1810. I hate to say this, but James Stewart was too old – at the age of 53 or 54 – to be portraying a 29 year-old man. He gave an entertaining performance, but he was too damn old. Karl Malden, who portrayed Eve and Lilith’s father, struck me as a bit too hammy for my tastes. So were Robert Preston, who portrayed the gauche wagonmaster Roger Morgan; and Richard Widmark, who portrayed the railroad boss Mike King. Everyone else was . . . okay.

What was the best thing about “HOW THE WEST WAS WON”? The music. Period. It . . . was . . . superb. Every time I hear the first notes of Alfred Newman’s score at the beginning of the movie, I feel goosebumps. I love it that much. As much as I enjoyed John Addison’s score for “TOM JONES”, I find it mind boggling that it beat out Newman’s score for“HOW THE WEST WAS WON”. I just cannot conceive this. Newman also provided 19th century music from the era for the movie and it was used beautifully . . . especially in “The Plains” segment. With Reynolds portraying a dance hall performer, she provided moviegoers with entertaining renditions of songs like “What Was Your Name in the East?”“Raise a Ruckus” and the movie’s theme song, “Home in the Meadows”.

What else can I say about “HOW THE WEST WAS WON”? It is an entertaining movie. I cannot deny this. It featured first rate performances by the leads Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker and George Peppard. It featured beautiful photography shot by a team of cinematographers led by William Daniels. And it featured some gorgeous music, which included a superb score written by Alfred Newman. But it is a flawed movie tainted by historical inaccuracy and a story that would have been served best in a television miniseries. I am still astounded that it managed to earn a Best Picture Academy Award.

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Top Five Favorite Season Two (2011) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Two (2011) of HBO’s “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”

 

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON TWO (2011) EPISODES

1. (2.11) “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” – Following his wife Angela’s death, Jimmy Darmody recalls his school days at Princeton and a fateful visit from his mother, Gillian. Nucky stumbles across a discovery that ends Agent Van Alden’s career as a Federal lawman. And a confrontation between Jimmy and Gillian over Angela ends with the death of the Commodore.

2. (2.12) “To the Lost” – In this season finale, the Federal charges against Nucky are dropped after he weds Margaret. Van Alden flees Atlantic City for Cicero, Illinois. And Jimmy seeks to regain Nucky’s forgiveness, after his betrayal against the political boss falls apart.

3. (2.10) “Georgia Peaches” – While Jimmy deals with the workers’ strike and Nucky’s new supply of Irish whiskey, Philadelphia mobster Manny Horvitz seeks revenge for Jimmy’s failed attempt on his life.

4. (2.07) “Peg of Old” – Margaret visits her brother’s home in Brooklyn and makes a choice that endangers her relationship with Nucky. The latter’s life is in danger, when Jimmy sanctions a hit on his former mentor.

5. (2.04) “What Does the Bees Do?” – In this episode, Nucky fortifies his alliances with Arnold Rothstein and new bodyguard, Owen Sleater. The Commodore suffers a massive stroke and Chalky White faces problems with the black community and at home.