“THE THREE MUSKETEERS” (1993) Review

“THE THREE MUSKETEERS” (1993) Review

Alexandre Dumas’ classic 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers” must have been one of the most adapted stories in film and television history. I do not know exactly how many adaptations have been filmed. But I have seen at least four of them – including Disney Studios’ version, released in 1993.

Directed by Stephen Herek, “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” is not a faithful adaptation of Dumas’ novel. David Loughery’s script utilized some elements of the novel, including most of the characters and d’Artagnan’s first meeting with his three friends and fellow musketeers. But in the end, he created his own story. In “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”, a young Gascon named d’Artagnan hopes to follow in the footsteps of his late father and join the King of France’s Musketeers in 1625 France. Unfortunately for d’Artagnan, several factors stand in his way. One, he makes an enemy out of a local aristocrat named Gerard and his brothers, who believe he has defiled the honor of their sister, and is pursued by them all the way to Paris. Two, upon his arrival in Paris, he discovers that the Musketeers have been disbanded by King Louis XIII’s chief minister, the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu. And three, his encounters with Musketeers Athos, Aramis and Porthos results in him accepting a duel from each man.

Fortunately, d’Artagnan’s hostility toward the trio is short-lived and he ends up helping them battle Richelieu’s guards, who arrive to arrest Athos, Aramis and Porthos. But after they leave him, d’Artagnan is arrested by more guards and Richelieu’s lackey, Captain Rochefort. While in prison, he meets the Cardinal and overhears a conversation between the latter and spy Milady de Winter. She is ordered to deliver a signed treaty to France’s primary enemy, the Duke of Buckingham of England. Cardinal Richelieu plans to undermine the King’s authority, before assassinating him, taking the throne and Queen Anne as consort. When Athos, Aramis and Porthos rescue d’Artagnan from execution, the four men set out to expose Richelieu as a traitor of France and save King Louis XIII from death.

Fans of Dumas’ novel will probably be unhappy with this adaptation, considering that it failed to be a faithful one. I must admit that when I first saw “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”, I was surprised and a little disappointed myself. And there were a few aspects of the movie that I disliked. The addition of Gerard and his brothers into the story really annoyed me in the end. Mind you, I found the aristocrat’s determination to confront d’Artagnan at the beginning of the movie tolerable. But once d’Artagnan reached Paris, with Gerard still in hot pursuit, the subplot became an annoying running joke that refused to die. And it did not. I like Paul McGann as an actor . . . but not that much.

Even worse, McGann’s Gerard seemed to have more screen time than any of the major female characters. Although I never viewed Queen Anne as a “major character”, I felt otherwise about Milady de Winter and d’Artagnan’s lady love, Constance Bonacieux. I did not mind when Loughery’s script transformed Julie Delpy’s Constance from the Queen’s dressmaker to maid/companion. But I did mind that her role was reduced to a few cameo appearances. The same almost happened to Rebecca De Mornay’s portrayal of Milady de Winter. I personally found the reduction of the latter role rathercriminal. Milady has always been one of the best villains in literary history. And nearly every actress who has portrayed her, did justice to the role. I can say the same about De Mornay, who was excellent as Milady. Unfortunately, Loughery’s script gave her very few opportunities to strut her stuff.

Despite the change in Dumas’ story and the reduction in the females’ roles, I cannot deny that “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” proved to be a first-rate and entertaining movie. It had romance – well, a little of it. The best romance in the film proved to be the long simmering one between Athos and Milady, whose marriage had earlier ended in failure. And I found the one between d’Artagnan and Constance rather charming, if brief. The movie featured some great action, including a marvelous chase scene in which the Musketeers are being pursued by Rochefort and the Cardinal’s men; d’Artagnan’s first sword fight, in which he allied himself with the Musketeers; Milady de Winter’s capture at Calais; and especially the final fight sequence in which the Musketeers prevent Richelieu’s plans for the King’s assassination.

Tim Curry made an entertaining, yet splashy Cardinal Richelieu. He came close to being all over the map, yet he still managed to keep his performance controlled. And Michael Wincott’s sinister portrayal of Captain Rochefort was superb. Rebecca De Mornay was superb as Milady de Winter, despite the role being reduced. And her Milady has always struck me as the most complex in all of the adaptations. Julie Delpy and Gabrielle Anwar were charming as Constance and Queen Anne. I wish I could say the same about Hugh O’Connor as King Louis XIII, but I must admit that I was not that impressed. He was eighteen years old at the time and probably a little too young and stiff to be portraying the 24 year-old monarch.

But the highlight of “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” proved to be the four actors who portrayed d’Artagnan and his three friends – Athos, Aramis, and Porthos. They were perfect. Chris O’Donnell captured every aspect of d’Artagnan’s youthful personality – the earnestness, cockiness, and immaturity. Watching the movie made me realize that he has come a long way in the past nineteen years. And he had great chemistry with the three actors who portrayed the Musketeers. Kiefer Sutherland was perfect as the commanding, yet cynical and disillusioned Athos, who regretted ending his marriage to Milady. The producers of this film certainly picked the right man to portray the smooth-talking ladies’ man, Aramis. And whatever one might say about Charlie Sheen, he did a superb job in the role. Oliver Platt was a delight as the brash and extroverted Porthos. Quite frankly, he made a better figure for comic relief than McGann’s Gerard. However, the best thing about the four actors’ performances was that they all perfectly clicked as a screen team. All for one and one for all.

Yes, “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” was not perfect. What movie is? And it is certainly not the best adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel. But I cannot deny that it was entertaining. And I have no regrets in purchasing a DVD copy of this film. If one can keep an open mind over the fact that it was not a close adaptation of the 1844 novel, I think it is possible to find it very enjoyable.

Oysters Rockefeller

Here is some information about a well-known dish that originated in New Orleans, Louisiana called Oysters Rockefeller:

OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

Oysters Rockefeller is a dish that consists of oysters topped with ingredients such as parseley, other green herbs, bread crumbs and a rich butter sauce, served on the half-shell. The dish was originated in 1899 by one Jules Alciatore, the son of the founder of the famous New Orleans restaurantAntoine’s.

The dish was named after the richest man in the United States at the time, John D. Rockefeller. Alciatore developed Oysters Rockefeller in the face of a shortage of French snails, substituting the locally available oysters for snails. Antoine’s has been serving the original recipe dish since 1899. Although many New Orleans restaurants have claimed to be serving the original version of the dish, Antoine’s has refuted their claims, stating that no other restaurant has successfully duplicated the original recipe. The restaurant also claimed that Alciatore’ original recipe for the dish was passed down to his children, and has apparently never left the family’s hand.

Here is a recipe (probably not the original) for Oyster’s Rockefeller:

OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

Ingredients:

1 pound butter
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2 bunches green onions, finely chopped, about 2 cups
1 bunch parsley, fine chopped
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon Pernod, Anisette, or Herbsaint
1 1/4 cups seasoned bread crumbs
4 dozen oysters in their shells
rock salt

Preparation:

Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the celery, scallions and parsley. Saute for 5 minutes, then add the Worcestershire and Tabasco. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Add the Herbsaint or Pernod and bread crumbs; cook for 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour, until cold but not firmly set. Shuck oysters. Discard the top shells; scrub and dry the bottom shells. Drain the oysters. Arrange several oyster shells in baking pans lined with about 1 inch of rock salt. Arrange several pans in advance, if desired. Place 1 oyster in each shell. Heat oven to 375°. Remove the chilled Rockefeller topping from the refrigerator and beat it with an electric mixer to evenly distribute the butter and infuse air into the mixture; transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip. Pipe a tablespoon of the mixture onto each oyster, then bake in a 375° oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Allow about 6 oysters for each guest. If possible, bake these in batches of 6 in oven-safe pans, so each person can be served a pan of hot Oysters Rockefeller right out of the oven.

“NORTHANGER ABBEY” (2007) Review

“NORTHANGER ABBEY” (2007) Review

As far as I know, there have only been two screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s 1817 novel, “Northanger Abbey”. The first adaptation aired back in 1986. And the most recent aired on Britain’s ITV network back in 2007, as part of a series of dramas called Jane Austen Season.

“NORTHANGER ABBEY” followed the misadventures of Catherine Morland, the 17 year-old daughter of a country clergyman and Gothic novel aficianado. She is invited by her parents’ wealthy friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, to accompany them on a visit the famous spa city, Bath. There, the friendly and somewhat naive Catherine becomes acquainted with Isabella Thorpe (who becomes engaged to her brother James), and her crude brother, John. She also befriends Eleanor Tilney and falls in love with the latter’s brother, the witty and charming clergyman, Henry.

The Thorpes are displeased with Catherine’s friendship with the Tilneys, due to John’s interest in making her his future wife. Both sister and brother assume that Catherine might become the future heir of the childless Allens. But when Catherine’s relationship with the Tilneys – especially Henry – grows closer, a jealous Mr. Thorpe plays a prank by falsely informing Henry and Eleanor’s father, the tyrannical General Tilney, that Catherine is an heiress. The joke leads the Tilney patriarch to invite Catherine to spend some time at the family’s estate, Northanger Abbey. There, Catherine and Henry’s relationship become romantic. However, between her penchant for Gothic novels, her overactive imagination and Mr. Thorpe’s lie; Catherine’s stay at Northanger Abbey threatens to end in disaster.

My review of the 1986 version of Austen’s tale made it pretty clear that I harbored a low opinion of it. Fortunately, I cannot say the same about this 2007 version. Mind you, there were aspects of it that I found troubling.

As in the 1986 television movie, a castle (this time Lismore Castle in Ireland) served as Northanger Abbey. Was finding an actual estate with an abbey that difficult to find? Also, screenwriter Andrew Davies seemed determined to inject some form of overt sexuality into his recent adaptations of Austen novels. In “NORTHANGER ABBEY”, he allowed the engaged Isabella Thorpe to have sex with the lecherous Captain Frederick Tilney, instead of simply flirting with him. My biggest problem with the movie turned out to be the last fifteen minutes or so. Quite frankly, I found the finale somewhat rushed. For some reason, Davies decided to exclude General Tilney’s reconciliation with Catherine and Henry.

Frankly, I found the movie’s flaws rather minor in compare to its virtues. I thought “NORTHANGER ABBEY” was a fun and delicious soufflé that proved to be one of the most entertaining 93 minutes I have ever seen on television. It is a wonderfully funny and elegant tale about the coming-of-age of the 17 year-old Catherine Morland. Andrew Davies did a pretty good job of conveying not only the charm of Catherine, but also the personal flaws that prevented her from opening her eyes to the realities of the world. But her acquaintance with the Thorpe siblings, General Tilney’s vindictiveness and Henry Tilney’s practicality finally opened those eyes. Another aspect of “NORTHANGER ABBEY” that I truly enjoyed was the array of interesting characters that participated in Catherine’s journey to young adulthood. And it took a cast of first-rate actors to bring these characters to life.

Unlike other Austen fans, I had not been impressed by Sylvestra Le Touzel’s portrayal of Fanny Price in the 1983 miniseries,“MANSFIELD PARK”. Her performance as the giddy Mrs. Allen is another matter. Le Touzel gave a deliciously zany performance as Catherine’s flighty and social-loving benefactress. And it is amazing how the actress’ skills had improved after 24 years. Liam Cunningham made an impressive and rather foreboding General Tilney. In fact, he struck me as so intimidating that a black cloud seemed to hover about every time he appeared on the screen. William Beck, who portrayed the brutish John Thorpe, did not strike me as intimidating . . . only sinister. From a physical perspective. Yet, the moment the actor skillfully embodied the character, his Mr. Thorpe became a gauche and desperate loser who injected a “demmed” in nearly every other sentence that left his mouth. Carey Mulligan was wonderfully radiant, sexy and scheming as the manipulative Isabella Thorpe. She almost seemed like an intelligent Regency sexpot, whose lack of impulse control led to her downfall. And Catherine Walker made a charming and intelligent Eleanor Tilney.

However, it seemed quite obvious to me that “NORTHANGER ABBEY” belonged to the two leads – Felicity Jones and J.J. Feild. The role of Catherine Morland proved to be Felicity Jones’ first leading role as an actress. And she proved that she was more than up to the challenge. She did an excellent job of portraying Catherine’s development from an innocent and over-imaginative bookworm to a slightly sadder and wiser young woman. More importantly, her chemistry with J.J. Feild literally crackled with fire. Speaking of Mr. Feild, I can honestly say that his Henry Tilney is, without a doubt, my favorite on-screen Austen hero of all time. Everything about his performance struck me as absolutely delicious – his charm, his pragmatism, his wicked wit and occasional cynicism and especially his voice. Pardon me for my shallowness, but Feild has one of the most spine-tingling voices among up and coming actors, today.

I also have to commend the movie’s production values. David Wilson’s production designs did an excellent job of conveying viewers back to the second half of the Regency decade. He was ably assisted by Mark Lowry’s art direction and Grania Preston’s costume designs, which struck me as simple, yet elegant and stylish. But it was Ciarán Tanham’s photography that really impressed me. The movie’s colors were rich and vibrant, yet at the same time, rather elegant. Tanham’s photography did much to project the movie’s elegant, yet colorful style.

I would never consider “NORTHANGER ABBEY” as one of the heavy-hitting Jane Austen adaptations. But it has such an elegant, yet witty aura about it that I cannot help but enjoy it very much. I was also impressed by Andrew Davies’ development of the Catherine Morland character, which lead actress Felicity Jones did a great job of transferring to the screen. “NORTHANGER ABBEY” is, without a doubt, one of the most likeable Jane Austen adaptation I have ever seen, hands down.

“GOSFORD PARK” (2001) Review

gosford_park

 

“GOSFORD PARK” (2001) Review

In 1999, actor Bob Balaban had approached director Robert Altman with the idea of developing a film together. Altman suggested a whodunit set at an English country estate. The two approached actor/writer Julian Fellowes if he could take their concept and write a screenplay. Their collective efforts resulted in the 2001 comedy-drama, “GOSFORD PARK”.

In the movie, a group of wealthy Britons, a British actor/entertainer, an American movie producer and their servants gather at Gosford Park, the country estate of a wealthy industrialist named Sir William McCordle, for a shooting party over the weekend. Sir William is not a popular man. His wife and most of his in-laws despise him. And most of his servants (aside from one or two) dislike him. When Sir William is found murdered inside his study during the second night of the weekend, there seemed to be a list of suspects who have a very good reason to kill him:

*Lady Sylvia McCordle – Sir William’s bitchy wife, who despises him and had married Sir William for his money

*Commander Anthony Meredith – One of Sir William’s brothers-in-law, who is desperate for the industrialist’s financial backing in a venture regarding shoes for Sudanese soldiers

*Raymond, Lord Stockbridge – Sir William’s snobbish brother-in-law, whose wife might be having an affair with him

*Lady Lavinia Meredith – Sir William’s younger sister-in-law and devoted wife to Commander Meredith

*Mrs. Croft – Gosford Park’s head cook and former employee at one of Sir William’s factories, who despised him

*Mrs. Wilson – Gosford Park’s housekeeper, Mrs. Croft younger sister and another former employee of one of Sir William’s factories

*Lord Rupert Standish – a penniless aristocrat who wants to overcome Sir William’s opposition and marry his only child, Isobel McCordle

*Constance, Countess of Trentham – Sir William’s aunt-in-law, who is dependent upon a regular allowance from him

The weekend party include other guests and servants, such as:

*Mary Maceachran – Lady Trentham’s lady maid

*Elsie – Head housemaid whom Mary befriended, and who was definitely having an affair with Sir William

*Ivor Novello – Famous actor/singer and Sir William’s cousin

*Morris Weissman – Producer from Fox Studios

*Henry Denton – Weissman’s valet, who is actually a Hollywood minor actor studying for an upcoming role

*Robert Parks – Lord Stockbridge’s new valet

*Jennings – Major domo of Gosford Park, who has a secret to hide

*Honorable Freddie Nesbitt – A local impoverished aristocrat who had earlier seduced Isobel. At the shooting party, he tries to blackmail her into convincing Sir William to give him a job

*Mabel Nesbitt – The daughter of a self-made glove manufacturer whom Freddie married for her money, before spending the latter.

*Louisa, Lady Stockbridge – Sir William’s other sister-in-law, with whom he might have had an affair

*Probert – Sir William’s personal valet and one of the few who actually grieved him.

Needless to say, the list of characters is a long one. Following Sir William’s murder, the local police in the form of one Inspector Thompson and Constable Dexter arrive to solve the murder. Being incompetent and a complete snob, Inspector Thompson seemed to regard the higher class guests as worthy suspects for the murder of Sir William. Constable Dexter, on the other hand, seemed more interested in Jennings’ World War I past and the clues at hand. In fact, Dexter managed to ascertain that Sir William had been poisoned by one person, before another drove an ax into his back. But it was lady’s maid Mary Maceachran who managed to figure out the culprits in the end.

I cannot deny that after ten years or so, “GOSFORD PARK” remains a big favorite of mine. When the movie first reached the movie screens in December 2001, many admitted to enjoying the film, but predicted that it would age with time. There are perhaps some critics who believe this has actually happened. But I do not agree. Considering the increasingly bleak social landscape of today, I believe that the theme behind “GOSFORD PARK” has remained relevant as ever. Despite my love for the film, would I consider it perfect? Honestly? No. Other critics may be able to find more than two flaws in the film. On the other hand, I was able to find two that bothered me.

The pacing for most of “GOSFORD PARK” seemed to be on spot . . . at least for me. It possessed a great set-up for introducing the characters, the setting’s atmosphere and the revelation of the suspects’ motives for wanting Sir William dead. However, the murder did not occur until two-thirds into the movie. Once Inspector Thompson appeared on the scene, the movie’s pacing began to drag. And it did not pick up again until the movie’s last twenty minutes. For me, the pacing during the last third of the film struck me as merely a minor flaw. There was another that proved to be a bigger one for me – namely the Henry Denton character.

I have nothing against Ryan Phillipe’s performance as Denton. Trust me, I thought he did a superb job. But Julian Fellowes’ portrayal of the character left me shaking my head in confusion. According to the script, Denton was an American actor for Fox Studios who accompanied Morris Weissman as his Scottish valet in order to study British servants for a role in a “CHARLIE CHAN” movie. This little deception strikes me as something actors did for a role during the past thirty or forty years . . . certainly not in 1932. The deception ended when Henry admitted his true identity to the police. But the one thing that really disturbed me about the character was his attempted rape of Mary Maceachran during the first night of the weekend. Why did Fellowes include that scenario in the first place? Henry had already made a date for some nocturnal activity with Lady Sylvia McCordle, several minutes earlier. If he had already scheduled a night for sex with the mistress of the house, why have him assault Mary a few mintues later? I suspect that Fellowes wanted to establish a character that most of the characters – aristocratic and lower-class – would dislike. Both aristocrats and servants alike reacted with glee when one of the servants, portrayed by Richard Grant, dumped a cup of hot tea (or coffee) on Henry’s lap. With Henry being an American, I can only assume he made an easier target for the derision of everyone. I can only wonder why Altman and Balaban did not question this heavy-handed characterization of Henry. Regardless of Fellowes’ reason for vilifying Henry, I found the rape attempt as an example of clumsy and unnecessary writing on his part.

Thankfully, most of “GOSFORD PARK” proved to be quite a cherished gem. Not even the flaws I had pointed out in the above paragraphs can overcome my appreciation of this movie. Altman, Balaban and Fellowes took a classic literary device – “country house mystery” – and used it to explore the British class system of the early 1930s. “GOSFORD PARK” revealed the changes that affected Britain’s social landscape by 1932. Aside from Lord Stockbridge, most of the aristocratic characters seemed to be struggling to make ends meet financially in order to maintain a lifestyle they had been born into. Those from a middle-class or working-class background like Sir William McCordle, his “cousin” Ivor Novello, Morris Weissman and Mabel Nesbitt have become successful, wealthy or in the case of Mabel, the offspring of a self-made man. Their success and wealth has allowed them to socialize amongt the aristocracy and upper-class. But their origins continue to attract scorn from the likes of Lady Sylvia, her sister Lady Lavinia and their aunt, the Countess of Trentham. The servants featured in “GOSFORD PARK” seemed to be divided into three categories – those who are blindly loyal to their employers; those like Elsie, Robert Parks and Mrs. Croft, who despise their employers; and those like Mary, Jennings and Mrs. Wilson who do not love or hate their employers, but simply take pride in their professionalism.

What I found interesting about “GOSFORD PARK” is that both servants and guests possessed both positive and negative traits. The exceptions to the rule proved to be Mary, who struck me as a bit too ideal for my tastes; and of course, Henry Denton, whose portrayal I had already complained about. Most people would add that Sir William had also been portrayed as a one-dimensional villain. But the humiliations he endured under the snobbish Lady Sylvia and Elsie’s warm recollections of him saved the character from such a fate.

Another aspect about “GOSFORD PARK” that I truly enjoyed was its overall production design. Stephen Altman did a superb job of re-creating the atmosphere of a country manor home in the early 1930s. He was ably supported by Anna Pinnock’s set decorations, along with John Frankis and Sarah Hauldren’s art direction. For me, it was Jenny Bevan’s costumes and the women’s hairstyles that made me realize that the production team really knew what they were doing. I have rarely come across a movie or television production set in the 1930s that was completely accurate – especially in regard to costumes and hairstyles.

There were plenty of first-rate performances in “GOSFORD PARK”. But there were a handful that stood out for me. Both Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith earned Academy Award nominations for their portrayals of Mrs. Wilson and the Countess of Trentham, respectively. Mirren was superb as the no-nonsense housekeeper, whose stoic personality hid a passionate nature that would eventually be revealed upon a discovery she made. In my review of Season One of “DOWNTON ABBEY”, I had complained that Maggie Smith’s portrayal of the Dowager Countess of Grantham bore a strong resemblance to her Lady Trentham in “GOSFORD PARK”. I stand by that observation. But there is something about Smith’s portrayal of Lady Trentham that struck me as a lot more subtle and a little more poisonous in her class bigotry. Clive Owen gave a charismatic performance as the mysterious valet, Robert Parks, whose past attracts the attention of both Mary Maceachran and Mrs. Wilson.

Michael Gambon gave one of his more interesting performances as the mystery’s main victim, Sir William McCordle. Superficially, he was as crude and cold-blooded as many regarded the character. Yet, Gambon injected a certain charm into his performance that made it easier for me to see why Sir William had a way with the ladies. Bob Balaban provided some fine comic moments as the droll Hollywood producer that harbored a slight contempt toward his aristocratic hosts behind a polite veneer. I have already pointed out Ryan Phillipe’s portrayal of Henry Denton. I must admit that he did a first-rate job in conveying the portrait of a smooth hustler. Many have commented on Maggie Smith’s wit in the movie. However, I thought that Emily Watson’s portrayal of head housemaid Elsie was equally sharp and sardonic. Alan Bates gave one of his last best performances as the stuffy, yet likable major domo of the McCordle household, who harbored a secret about his past as a conscientious objector during World War I. At the same time, Watson was wonderfully poignant as one of the few people who not only mourned Sir William, but appreciated his friendship and words of wisdom to her. I found it surprising that the movie’s moral center proved to the be the sweet and eventually wise Mary Maceachran, Lady Trentham’s new personal maid. Kelly MacDonald was in her mid-20s when she did this movie and her character was not particularly flashy in compare to many of the other roles. Yet, not only did she held her own against the likes of Maggie Smith and Emily Watson, she did a great job in becoming the movie’s emotional anchor . . . even if her character was a bit too ideal for my tastes.

“GOSFORD PARK” earned a good deal of accolades after its release. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won a Best Original Screenplay for Julian Fellowes. It also earned five Golden Globe awards and Robert Altman won for Best Director. Would I have voted “GOSFORD PARK” as the Best Picture of 2001? Not really. I was more impressed by Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the first “LORD OF THE RINGS” movie. But thanks to a superb cast, Julian Fellowes’ screenplay and Robert Altman’s direction, it not proved to be one of the cinematic gems of 2001, but also of the entire decade.

Favorite Movies and Television Set During the EARLY AMERICA Period

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Below is a list of my favorite movie and television productions set during the Early America Period (1783-1828):

 

FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION SET DURING THE EARLY AMERICA PERIOD

1

“John Adams” (2008) – Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney deservedly won both Emmys and Golden Globes for their excellent portrayals of John and Abagail Adams in this excellent seven-part miniseries about the 2nd U.S. president.

2

“The Journey of August King” (1995) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about a North Carolina farmer on his way home from market, who helps a runaway slave evade her master.

3

“Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) – This adventure conveyed the experiences of Davy Crockett and George Russel with keelboat riverman Mike Fink and river pirates along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Picturesque and a lot of fun. Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen and Jeff York starred.

4

“Buccaneer’s Girl” (1950) – Yvonne DeCarlo starred in this entertaining costume romp about a Boston-born entertainer who falls for a pirate with a secret identity as a respectable New Orleans aristocrat. Directed by Fredrick De Cordova, the movie co-starred Philip Friend, Robert Douglas, Andrea King and Elsa Lancaster.

5

“Interview With a Vampire” (1994) – Neil Jordan directed this fascinating adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel about a pair of vampires during a period of 200 years. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas and Christian Slater co-starred.

6

“Brother Future” (1991) – Phil Lewis starred in the PBS movie about a Detroit teen who is transported back in time to 1822 South Carolina, where he finds himself about to participate in a slave revolt instigated by one Denmark Vessey.

7

“Sleepy Hollow” (1999) – Tim Burton directed Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci in this adaptation of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

8

“The Seekers” (1979) – This adaptation of John Jakes’ 1975 novel about the Kent family’s experiences from 1794 to 1814. Randolph Mantooth, Timothy Patrick Murphy and George Hamilton starred.

9

“Many Rivers to Cross” (1955) – Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker starred in this western-comedy about a footloose frontiersman in early Kentucky, who is targeted by a spirited spinster for marriage. Directed by Roy Rowland.

“THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” (1939) Review

“THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” (1939) Review

The year 1939 proved to be a momentous time for fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The year marked the debut of two movies that featured the movie introduction of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the famous literary detective and his friend, Dr. John Watson.

There had been previous movie, stage and radio adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes. But despite the recent success of Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the roles of Holmes and Watson, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce would become the first cinematic pair to truly become famous in the roles. They ended up portraying Holmes and Watson in fourteen movies for Twentieth Century Fox and Universal Pictures. And their first movie together was 1939’s“THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”.

Based upon Doyle’s 1902 novel, “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” is about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s investigation into the legend of a supernatural hound, a beast that may be stalking a young heir on the fog-shrouded moorland that makes up his estate in Devonshire. The investigating pair receive a visit from a Dr. James Mortimer, who believes that the last heir of Baskerville Hall might be in danger from a legendary hound that may have killed many in the Baskerville line, including the family’s founder – Sir Hugo Baskerville – and Dr. Mortimer’s close friend, Sir Charles Baskerville. Holmes originally dismisses the so-called “demonic hound” as a fairy tale. But when Sir Henry arrives from Canada and receives a series of threats, Holmes sends Watson to accompany the young heir and Dr. Mortimer to Baskerville Hall, claiming that he is too busy to accompany them himself. Sir Henry quickly develops a romantic interest in Beryl Stapleton, the stepsister of his neighbor, a local naturalist named John Stapleton. The new arrivals also deal with the stranger behavior of Sir Henry’s servants, Mr. John and Mrs. Barryman; and an escapee from Dartmoor Prison lurking on the moor. Right before an attempt on Sir Henry’s life, Holmes finally makes his appearance in Devonshire. And Dr. Watson learns that he had been making his own inquiries for quite some time, while in disguise.

Ernest Pascal’s screenplay included at least one or two changes from Doyle’s novel. One, Sir Henry never became romantically involved with Beryl Stapleton. The butler’s name was changed from John Barrymore to Barryman, due to the existence of famous actor John Barrymore. And unlike the novel, the murderer’s fate was left unknown, despite Holmes’ assurances that the former would not get very far, due to constables being posted on the road. Aside from the previously mentioned, “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” remained faithful to the original novel. Even more importantly, the movie proved to be a surprise hit for the Twentieth Century Fox.

After watching “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”, it was easy to see why it became a hit. Directed by Sidney Lanfield, the movie is a well-paced and solid piece of entertainment filled with action, suspense, a little romance, and rich atmosphere. As much as I love murder mysteries, they have a tendency to drag a movie’s pacing at one point or another . . . despite the movie’s quality. My only real complaint about Pascal’s plot was the vague manner in which he left the murderer’s fate open. Why did he do it? And why did Lanfield and studio boss, Darryl F. Zanuck, allow Pascal to get away with this?

The suspenseful atmosphere re-created for the movie’s Devonshire setting could have easily done this. But Lanfield and the action featured in the plot prevented this from happening. And speaking of atmosphere, I have to congratulate art directors Richard Day and Hans Peters, along with set decorator Thomas Littlet and legendary cinematographer J. Peverell Marley for doing such an excellent job in not only re-creating the mysterious atmosphere of the Devonshire moors and more importantly, late Victorian England.

Basil Rathbone had been known for the villainous roles he had portrayed in many costume dramas in the 1930s. Before “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”, he had only portrayed one or two heroic types on screen – in 1938’s “THE DAWN PATROL”and 1939’s “SON OF FRANKENSTEIN”. For an actor known for portraying villains, it is ironic that his most well-known role would prove to be the heroic Sherlock Holmes. Not only did Rathbone seemed like the physical embodiment of the fictional sleuth, but he captured the character’s sharp intelligence, wit and strong will. And his screen chemistry with Nigel Bruce was spot on. They made a perfect screen team. What I enjoyed about Bruce’s portrayal of Dr. John Watson is that he was not the blustering buffoon that his character would become in the Universal Pictures. All right, Bruce’s Dr. Watson has a bit of bluster in his characterization. But his Watson was a sharp and observant man, whose comments about some of the suspects would prove to be accurate. And like Rathbone’s Holmes, he also had a nice, subtle wit.

The rest of the cast proved to be solid. Lionel Atwill gave a first-rate performance as Dr. James Mortimer, the man who hired Holmes to investigate the strange deaths around Baskerville Hall. Beryl Mercer gave a funny performance as Dr. Mercer’s dithery wife, who was into spiritualism and seances. Morton Lowry was both charming and intelligent as Sir Henry’s neighbor, who also harbored suspicions about the strange occurrences Wendy Barrie proved to be a sweet and charming Beryl Stapleton. Although I must honest that I found her character to be slightly one-dimensional at times. I could say the same about Richard Greene’s Sir Henry Baskerville, whose good looks and charming personality made the character seemed a little too ideal for my tastes. Greene was credited as the film’s lead character. But when the movie proved to be a surprise hit, Rathbone and Bruce – quite rightly – assumed the lead credits in future Sherlock Holmes films. John Carradine gave one of the movie’s better performances as Sir Henry’s mysterious and slightly sinister butler, John Barryman. Whereas Carradine was mysterious, actress Eily Malyon seemed fearful and secretive as Barryman’s emotional wife.

Unless one is a stickler for a movie strictly adhering to its novel source, any Sherlock Holmes fan would find “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” to be a very entertaining and atmospheric adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel. And both Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce ended up proving they were the right men at that time to portray Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

“DOWNTON ABBEY” – Series Two (2011) Retrospective

 

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“DOWNTON ABBEY” – Series Two (2011) Retrospective

The debut of Julian Fellowes’ series about an aristocratic family during the last few years before the outbreak of World War I garnered a great deal acclaim and awards, earlier this year. The success of the series led the ITV and Fellowes to continue the saga of the Earl of Grantham, his family and servants in a new season.

Series Two of “DOWNTON ABBEY” covered the last two years of World War I and the first year of peace during the years 1916 to 1919. Episode One began with Matthew Crawley, the heir presumptive for the Earl of Grantham enduring the last days of the Somme Offensive in November 1916. The story immediately shifted toward the personal dramas that unfolded over eight to nine episodes.

Last season focused upon the entail issue that prevented Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham from bequeathing his title or any of his fortune to his three daughters – Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lady Sybil Crawley and forced him to accept Matthew Crawley, a third cousin raised as a middle-class cousin as his heir. Season Two focused upon the Crawleys’ attempts to adjust to the changes caused by the war, their love lives and the impact of the war upon their servants.

One of the main subplots introduced in this season’s first episode turned out to be Matthew’s engagement to Lavinia Swire, the daughter of a London solicitor. Most of the family and servants like Mr. Carson oppose Matthew’s engagement to Lavinia, due to her status as a member of the middle-class and her position as an impediment to a reconciliation between Matthew and the family’s elder daughter, Lady Mary. The youngest Crawley daughter, Lady Sybil, becomes a wartime nurse and faces a growing attraction to the family’s Irish-born chauffeur, Tom Branson. Meanwhile, middle daughter Lady Edith learns how to drive and later, becomes a nurse’s aide. Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham embarks on a campaign to ensure Matthew and Lady Mary’s engagement. Meanwhile, the scandal from her Season One encounter with Turkish diplomat, Kamal Pamuk, threatens to rear its ugly head for Lady Mary. She seeks help from Sir Richard Carlisle, a suitor, to nip the scandal in the bud. But he exacts a price from her, for his help – an official engagement to marry. Cora, Countess of Grantham and Matthew’s mother, Isobel Crawley, transform Downton Abbey into a convalescent hospital for Army officers. The two become involved in a power struggle before Lady Grantham assumes full control. Only Lord Grantham spends the rest of the war with nothing to do and sinks into a depression over his inactivity.

Most of the servants continue their household duties at Downton Abbey. Just as valet John Bates announces his intentions to divorce his wife to lady love and head housemaid Anna Smith, his wife Vera make the first of a few visits. Her threat to expose Lady Mary’s Season One tryst with the dead Turkish diplomat, Mr. Kemal Pamuk, forces Bates to give up his position as Lord Grantham’s valet and return to her. After being needled for being out of uniform, footman William Mason caves in and joins the Army. His decision eventually has an impact on Daisy, the scullery maid for whom he harbors unrequited love. Both the cook Mrs. Patmore and housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, pressures Daisy into becoming William’s fiancé before he leaves for the war front in Episode Three. And when William returns to Downton Abbey, mortally wounded, Mrs. Patmore coerces Daisy into marrying him out of pity, leaving a bad taste in the scullery maid’s mouth. After the trick she had pulled that cause Lady Grantham to miscarry in Season One, lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien becomes increasingly devoted to her mistress. Yet, she continues to go out of her way to make life miserable for Mr. Bates, by communicating with his wife. Downton Abbey’s new housemaid, Ethel Parks, becomes involved with one of the patients at the Crawleys’ convalescent hospital, which results in a baby for her. She seeks help from Mrs. Hughes to contact the officer’s parents for financial assistance. Former footman Thomas Barrow started out the season as a medic in France. But the horrors of war drives him to deliberately expose his hand to gunfire in order to permanently leave the front. He eventually becomes a medic at the local hospital near the Crawley estate and later, as an aide at the Crawleys’ convalescent hospital.

I just learned that “DOWNTON ABBEY” recently entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most critically acclaimed English-language television show” for 2011, becoming the first co-produced U.S./British show to be recognised as such by the Guinness Book of Records. One, I did not know that “DOWNTON ABBEY” was co-produced in both Great Britain and the U.S. And two, as much as I enjoy the series, I am beginning to feel that a good deal of its acclaim might be undeserved.

One might assume that I dislike “DOWNTON ABBEY”. On the contrary, I like it very much. I became a big fan of the series when its first season aired. But I also noticed certain flaws in Julian Fellowes’ depiction of Downton Abbey’s inhabitants that continued to both flourish and increase in Season Two. There were aspects of Season Two that I admired. The cast, led by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern continued to give first-rate performances. Michelle Dockery and Maggie Smith’s performances seemed to stand out with most fans and critics. I cannot say that I agree with them. I suspect that Fellowes’ detailed attention to Dockery’s character and Smith’s witty one-liners made them more popular than the other characters. The series’ early 20th century costumes remained exquisite as ever, thanks to Susannah Buxton and Rosalind Ebbutt’s designs. And aside from the few combat sequences, the series’ production values and designs continued to be top-notch.

The second season of “DOWNTON ABBEY” provided some truly memorable moments. The Spanish Flu sequence in Episode Eight impressed me, with the exception of how the epidemic claimed its only victim. People might find this surprising, but I have always enjoyed Laura Carmichael’s portrayal of middle daughter, Lady Edith. She was never a villainess to me even back in Season One. I understood her problems. However, I was happy to see that her character developed further when she finally overcame her resentment toward older sister, Lady Mary. I also enjoyed watching the experiences of former footman Thomas Barrow in the season’s first two episodes. The scenes featuring his combat experiences in France and his work with Dr. Clarkson and Lady Sybil Crawley at the village hospital really impressed me. One other character that made Season Two bearable for me, turned out to be Mrs. Hughes, the family’s housekeeper. Her down-to-earth nature, along with her efforts to help housemaid Ethel Parks and her comments about Lady Mary pretty much anchored the season for me.

Unfortunately . . . when it came to Season Two, the bad outweighed the good. One of my complaints about Season One was that the only characters that seemed to display any real complexity were members of the aristocratic Crawley family. Aside from a few scenes, most of the servants continued to be portrayed in a one-dimensional manner. In Julian Fellowes’ world (without Robert Altman and Bob Balaban looking over his shoulders), the only good working-class character was one loyal to his or her employer.

From the moment she was introduced arrogantly proclaiming her desire for a life outside of service, Ethel Parks was doomed. Unlike Gwen Dawson from Season One, she did not seek or acquire the help from a Crawley to rise in the world. She slept with an officer and paid the price with a baby and unemployment. Fellowes seemed to have ceased portraying former footman Thomas as a one-note villain and portray him in a more sympathetic light in the season’s first two episodes. By the time Thomas returned to Downton Abbey as a medic at the estate’s convalescent hospital, the former footman returned to his usual sneers and sharp comments. Only he did so, standing in the doorway or sitting at the servants’ table, sneering. And when he tried to earn enough money through the black market to start his own business at the end of the war, he discovered that he had been swindled. Thomas was forced to seek work at Downton Abbey again. I cannot help but wonder if he would have been more successful if he had sought the “noble” help of Lord Grantham or some other member of the Crawley family.

The subplot involving Daisy, William and Mrs. Patmore disgusted me. Period. I found it bad enough that Mrs. Patmore bullied and cajoled Daisy into a deception by becoming William’s fiancée and later, his wife. In the “Christmas Special”, Fellowes decided to condone Mrs. Patmore’s bullying by allowing Daisy to form some kind of relationship with William’s dad. It was sickening to watch and I cannot believe that Fellowes would actually finish a subplot on this note, because many of the fans wanted Daisy to be in love with William. Mr. Carson remained ridiculously loyal to the Crawleys and more importantly, to Lady Mary. In fact, his loyalty led him to consistently make insulting and snobbish remarks about Matthew’s middle-class fiancée, Lavinia. Anyone could have perceived this as part of Fellowes’ efforts to portray Mr. Carson in an ambiguous light. Unfortunately, Fellowes’ one-dimensional portrayal of Lavinia as a dull “goody-goody” have led many fans to embrace Mr. Carson’s disapproval of her. On the other hand, Fellowes did an excellent job in assassinating the family’s radical chauffeur, Tom Branson. His friendship with Lady Sybil had created a shipper’s following by the end of Season One. But once Fellowes ridiculed Branson’s radicial beliefs in two scenes – his plan to embarrass a visiting British Army general, which backfired; and his casual dismissal of the Romanovs – he became one of the most disliked characters of Season Two. And many fans expressed disapproval when Lady Sybil began to hint some kind of attraction toward him, claiming that their relationship lacked any chemistry. The hypocrisy toward Branson, generated by Fellowes’ conservatism, was astounding to witness. Even Sarah O’Brien did not fare well. Although she became more loyal toward the Countess of Grantham following the latter’s miscarriage in Season One, O’Brien continued her hostility toward John Bates even when Thomas lost interest in the valet. And the reason behind O’Brien’s hostility remained consistently vague, until she dropped it altogether in the wake of Bates’ arrest.

Speaking of Bates, his romance with Anna Smith turned out to be one of the biggest jokes of the season. I never thought it would come to this. Honestly. Aside from the appearance of the one-note villainous Vera Bates, nothing happened. I am trying to remember what was so interesting about their relationship. Instead, I find myself recalling how much I found Bates’ martyr complex so tedious. Why on earth would he give up a job that he liked to prevent the likes of Lady Mary from facing a scandal about her one night tryst with the late Kemal Pamuk? I mean . . . really! If Vera Bates knew about the scandal, half of Britain’s upper-class families and their servants must have heard the rumor. Meanwhile, Anna kept making a chump of herself, while buying Bates’ promises of how he was going to get rid of Vera. I wish Fellowes never brought her on the scene in the first place. I enjoyed Maria Doyle Kennedy’s performance in “THE TUDORS”, but ended up with one of the dullest and badly written villains in television history.

For once, the Crawley family did not fare any better. Lady Mary remained the only upper-class character with any real complexity and a strong subplot. I suspect that the character became a personal favorite of Fellowes, and actress Michelle Dockery benefited a great deal from his writing. However, not even she or Dan Stevens could overcome the maudlin romance that their characters had been saddled with in Season Two. The Matthew/Mary romance had started as an interesting one in Season One, and transformed into a cliché-riddled love story fit for a bad romance novel. The two worse moments in their relationship turned out to be that Godawful moment when Matthew (who had been reported missing) suddenly appeared at Downton Abbey during a concert, joining Mary in “If You Were the Only Girl” and when Mary experienced a “feeling” the moment Matthew suffered a major wound in Episode Five. I had to struggle to keep from throwing up during both scenes. And although Lady Edith managed to overcome her resentment of Lady Mary, the two subplots that Fellowes saddled on her character went no where. The “Patrick Crawley” subplot, in which a Canadian officer claimed to be one of her father’s former heirs . . . simply went no where. Her “affair” with a local farmer, which consisted of a kiss, ended just as soon as the farmer’s wife had her dismissed. I have already revealed what happened with Lady Sybil’s relationship with Tom Branson.

Cora, Countess of Grantham was involved in two major subplots. One involved her power struggle with Isobel Crawley (Matthew’s mother) over who would manage the convalescent hospital and Downton Abbey. Poor Isobel was portrayed as a tyrannical do-gooder from the middle-class. And many fans cheered when Cora managed oust her from Downton Abbey. I did not. All Cora had to do was remind Isobel that she was mistress of Downton Abbey, while the latter continue to run the hospital. Instead, she resorted to a passive-aggressive means to get rid of Isobel and I ended up feeling disgusted. I was also disgusted by the machinations that Cora and the Dowager Countess used to detract Isobel from keeping the convalescent hospital opened after the war ended. I found it ridiculous. They seemed incapable of simply telling Isobel that Downton Abbey would return to being a private home. Yet, once again, fans cheered over the aristocratic women’s triumph. Sickening. Robert, the Earl of Grantham came close to being written as a complex character. He spent most of the season feeling useless, because he was unable to obtain a command and go to the front. Eventually, Robert’s feelings of uselessness and abandonment led him to become romantically involved with a housemaid named Jane Moorsum. This subplot would have worked, if it had been introduced . . . before Episode Five. Aside from plotting Lady Mary and Matthew’s reconciliation, Violet, the Dowager Countess spent most of the season spouting one-liners. I hate to say this, but I eventually found this tiresome. Poor Maggie Smith had been reduced to being the show’s comic relief.

Thanks to Vera Bates, Lady Mary had to seek the help of her suitor, press baron Sir Richard Carlisle, to help her get rid of the blackmailing woman. In return, Lady Mary promised to become officially engaged to Sir Richard. Poor Iain Glen. Vera Bates was not the only badly written villain to appear in Season Two. Sir Richard was another. Despite his title, Sir Richard was a self-made man, who certainly did not originate from the upper-classes. Both Lady Mary and Lord Grantham did not hesitate to let him know. More importantly, Fellowes did not hesitate to portray him as some mustache-twirling villain without any complexities, whatsoever. Which is not surprising, considering he was not an aristocrat. Poor Iain Glen. His previous roles were a hell of a lot more ambiguous and interesting than Sir Richard “Snidely Whiplash” Carlisle.

I might as well face it. Season Two of “DOWNTON ABBEY” disappointed me. Sure, there were a few aspects about it that I found admirable. But Fellowes’ writing simply undermined the show’s quality. I had hoped that his portrayal of the Crawleys’ servants would improve from Season One. It did not. Worse, the season was marred by incomplete subplots that went no where and badly written romances that left me shaking my head in disgust. I hope . . . I pray that Season Three will prove to be a lot better.