“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Consequences”

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Consequences”

Has anyone noticed something odd about the main characters in the 2007 movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”? Most or all of them either ended up with a less than happy ending or with their fates up in the air. 

If one must be brutally honest, the franchise’s main characters had committed some kind of questionable act or one dangerous to others. Jack Sparrow was a pirate, who had no qualms about using others for his own personal gain. And that included bartering the former blacksmith apprentice Will Turner to Davy Jones in 2006’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST”in order to avoid paying his debt to Jones . . . and lying to Will’s fiancee, Elizabeth Swann, about it. Captain Hector Barbossa, as well all know, was a murderous pirate who led a mutiny against Jack, threatened the lives of many and also double-crossed sorceress Tia Dalma by tossing her into the Black Pearl’s brig in “AT WORLD’S END”. And then there is the straight arrow Will, who turned out to be not so straight in terms of morality. He had left Jack to the mercies of Barbossa and the latter’s crew in 2003’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” and double-crossed the Pearl’s crew to pirate Captain Sao Feng and the East India Trading Company in order to get his hands on the ship in the 2007 movie. Will’s beloved and future Pirate King – Elizabeth committed one of the worst acts by leaving Jack shackled to the Black Pearl in order for the latter to be killed by Davy Jones’ pet, the Kracken, near the end of “DEAD MAN’S CHEST”. And in that same movie, former Royal Navy commodore James Norrington betrayed his new crew members from the Black Pearl, by stealing Davy Jones’ heart and handing it over to the villainous Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company in order to regain his military position in society.

Not exactly a sweet bunch, are they? Many societies, religious and what-have-you, seemed to believe in the old adage of what goes around, comes around. Or paying the consequences of one’s actions. My favorite happens to be – “Payback’s a bitch”. And judging from the fates of the major characters in the franchise, all of them – in one form or the other – seemed to have paid the consequences of their actions.

For Norrington, payback came in the form of death at the hands of Will’s poor deluded pirate father “Bootstrap” Bill Turner, when he helped Elizabeth and Sao Feng’s crew escape from the Flying Dutchman’s brig. After marrying Will during a battle against Jones and his crew, Elizabeth found herself nearly a widow and facing twenty years of marriage . . . without her husband. And where was Will? During that battle, Jones stabbed him with the sword he had made for Norrington. And when Jack helped him stab Jones’ heart before he could die, Will became the new captain of the Flying Dutchman, ferrying souls lost at sea to “the other side” . . . and apart from Elizabeth for every ten years. Barbossa seemed to have had it made in the end. He managed to get back the Black Pearl from Jack. Unfortunately, he found himself facing a possible mutiny due to Jack’s theft of Sao Feng’s chart that could lead them all to a new treasure. Later, he lost both the Black Pearl and his leg to the even more notorious pirate, Blackbeard in the 2011 film, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”, and went through a great deal of trouble to get revenge and a new ship. And yet . . . fate caught up with Barbossa again when he and Jack faced Captain Armando Salazar. And what about dear old Jack? Well . . . he found himself left behind at Tortuga, after Barbossa took the Black Pearl from him again. It took him quite a while to get the Black Pearl back, but not without being hunted by British justice and shanghaied by Blackbeard, who needed Jack to find the Fountain of Youth. It took Jack even longer to return the Black Pearl to its original size.

Mind you some of the characters like Norrington and Will suffered a more severe consequence than the other characters. But not one of them had the glowingly “happily ever after” that was seen in the conclusion of “AT WORLD’S END”. Will and Elizabeth’s “happily ever after” in the 2007 movie’s post-credits was only temporary. The couple had to wait at least two decades before they were finally reunited permanently in near the end of “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES”. A part of me found myself wondering they had encountered any problems in their reunion. After all, Will and Elizabeth had to adjust being together as husband and wife. And Will had to learn to be a father . . . something of which Elizabeth had at least twenty years of experience.

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“POLDARK” Series Two (1977) Episodes Six to Nine

“POLDARK” SERIES TWO (1977) EPISODES SIX TO NINE

I had earlier pointed out, twenty years after the fourth “POLDARK” novel was published, author Winston Graham continued with eight more novels for the series. In 1977, producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn adapted the fifth novel, “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795” with Episodes One to Five. The two producers continued with Episodes Six to Nine, which featured the adaptation of the sixth “POLDARK” novel, “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797”

Episodes Six to Nine picked up the saga by conveying the consequences of what had occurred in the previous five episodes. The adaptation of “The Black Moon” ended with protagonist Ross Poldark, his brother-in-law Drake Carne and several other men rescuing Ross’ friend Dr. Dwight Enys and other British military types from a prisoner-of-war camp in France. Drake’s love of his life and Elizabeth Warleggan’s cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth, married a young widowed vicar named the Reverend Osborne Whitworth. Also, Ross’ nemesis, George Warleggan, learned from the former’s great-aunt, Agatha Poldark that the father of his infant son Valentine might be Ross and not him.

Due to his rescue of Dwight Enys and a few other military prisoners in France, Ross has become something of a hero in the eyes of many locals. Due to his popularity and his position as a member of the upper-class, Ross is being considered as a political candidate for Parliament by a very prominent landowner named Sir Francis Basset. However, the Warleggans and other business/political colleagues are at odds with Sir Francis’ rival, a political patron and aristocrat named Viscount Falmouth, who seemed to have taken their past support for granted. When Ross refuses to consider running for Member of Parliament (MP), Sir Francis turns to the Warleggans and supports George’s run for the office.

Most fans of the “POLDARK” series have expressed little or no interest in the story arc revolving around the political happenings of late 18th century southeastern Cornwall. In a way, I could understand how they felt. Despite Ross’ occasional rants against the members of his class and concern for the working-class, the saga has never struck me as overwhelmingly political. Graham’s saga seemed to delve more into the saga’s setting from a sociological viewpoint. And to be frank, the saga’s melodramatic narrative has always been the most interesting thing about it. I will say about the 1977 series’ adaptation of “The Four Swans”, it tried to make the story’s political narrative as interesting as possible.

This adaptation featured two scenes that I personally found interesting. One scene featured Nicholas Warleggan informing Viscount Falmouth that he and certain fellow businessmen resented waiting hours for an audience with the peer and the latter’s lack of concern for their interests. I enjoyed how actor Alan Tilvern conveyed Warleggan’s resentment and anger in this scene. The other scene – from Episode Nine – featured the actual election that pitted a victorious Ross against George. The ironic thing is that this particular scene featured the two men and their running mates waiting in a room for the election’s results. And yet . . . the entire scene brimmed with excitement, tension and anticipation, thanks to Robin Ellis and Ralph Bates’ performances. Before the election, Ross found himself designated by Sir Francis as head of the local militia to face the threat of a possible French invasion. The only “threat” Ross and his men ended up facing was local mob violence instigated by starving locals who broke into a miller’s warehouse for much needed grain. This incident led to a disagreement between Ross, who was reluctant to punish those desperate for food and a determined Sir Francis, who wanted the ringleaders arrested. Both Robin Ellis and Mike Hall infused a great deal of energy into this scene. Also, I could not help but wonder if the sight of the hanged body of one of the ringleaders was a foreshadow of the consequences Ross might pay with his newly formed alliance with his two political sponsors – former adversaries Sir Francis and Viscount Falmouth.

Another story arc that materialized in these four episodes proved to be the potential romance between Demelza’s other brother – Sam Carne – and one Emma Tregirls, the daughter of Trolly Tregirls, an old friend of Ross’ father. I had no problems with the performances of David Delve and Trudie Styler. Ironically, both managed to produce a pretty solid screen team. But I could not get emotionally invested in a romance between the pious Sam and the free-spirited Emma, who gave the impression of being free-spirited and sexually independent. I could easily see that they were not that temperamentally not suited for one another. Emma also seemed interested in Drake, who obviously did not return her feelings. Drake remained constantly devoted to Morwenna Whitworth. On the other hand, Emma also seemed to harbor a penchant for the company of Sid Rowse, George Warleggan’s right-hand thug. More importantly, I found myself questioning her taste in clothes:

Could someone explain why the show runners of this series allowed Emma to walk around half-dressed in this ridiculous costume? It is a miracle that she was never arrested for indecent exposure.

However, Episodes Six to Nine are supposed to be the adaptation of “The Four Swans”. The title served as a metaphor for the four major female characters in this particular story:

*Caroline Penvenen Enys
*Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth
*Demelza Carne Poldark
*Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan

I have a confession to make. The story arc involving Caroline Enys and her husband, Dr. Dwight Enys, proved to be something of a disappointment. The arc began with a large, society wedding in which nearly all of the major characters attended. As much as I enjoyed this scene, which I tend to do for those that feature social gatherings, I came away with the feeling that the Penvenen-Enys wedding was more about the guests than the newly wedded couple. Once the series moved past their wedding, it barely explored the first two years of their marriage. While Episodes Six to Nine explored the lives of the other major characters, Dwight and Caroline seemed to be utilized as minor supporting characters who either appeared at social gatherings or used as ready made therapists for Ross and Demelza. At this point of the story, Caroline had replaced Verity Poldark Blamey as Demelza’s best friend. The only time the narrative touched upon Dwight and Caroline’s personal lives was when the topic of her ability to carry a child came up. In the end, I felt that Judy Geeson and Michael Cadman were truly wasted in these four episodes.

Otherwise, their presence in Episodes Six to Nine proved to be inconsequential. And I believe I know why. Coburn and Barry, along with the four episodes’ screenwriter, deleted the narrative regarding the Caroline and Dwight’s troubles during the early years of their marriage. In “The Four Swans”, this story arc involved Caroline insisting that Dwight give up being a local doctor and behaving like a prosperous landowner. As Caroline’s husband, Dwight assumed full control of the estate she had inherited from her uncle. This story arc revealed that despite her marriage to Dwight, Caroline’s class bigotry and her low regard for his profession had not abated. It had a negative effect on Morwenna Whitworth, who had depended upon him to keep her over-amorous husband from her bed. More importantly, the story arc exposed Ross’ slight infatuation for Caroline and his own class bigotry. For it was Ross who finally convinced Dwight to give up his medical practice and adhere to Caroline’s wishes. Being a member of the elite himself, Ross genuinely believed Dwight’s marriage to Caroline finally gave the latter the opportunity to move up the social ladder and solidify his standing among the upper-class. And while it did, the marriage eventually deprived the neighborhood of a very competent doctor – at least in this story. I personally found the deletion of this aspect in Caroline and Dwight’s narrative very disappointing . . . and cowardly.

Episodes Six to Nine’s handling of Morwenna Whitworth’s story arc proved to be a different kettle of fish. May I be frank? I believe it was one of the two best narratives within the four episodes. There were certain aspects of the portrayal of the Morwenna-Osborne marriage that I found questionable. One, the showrunners of this series seemed a bit reluctant to convey that Morwenna had endured marital rape at the hands of her husband on a regular basis. It also failed to convey that Osborne had raped Morwenna on their honeymoon night during the series’ adaptation of “The Black Moon”. There was a scene of husband and wife having sex on the night following the Penvenen-Enys’ nuptials. It revealed Morwenna quietly submitting to Osborne. And when he turned on his side to sleep, she tried to initiate a conversation with him. Huh? If being married to him was that horrible, why would the series convey this? In fact, there was no sign of marital rape until Episode Seven or Episode Eight, when Osborne assaulted his wife, while she was recovering from childbirth. Why did Corburn and Barry waited so long to portray Osborne as a rapist? And why . . . by this point in the series, merely portray Osborne as a one-time rapist?

Despite this, Morwenna’s pregnancy advanced the story in a way that I found explosive. Enter Morwenna’s younger sister, Rowella Chynoweth. Morwenna came up with the idea to recruit Rowella to help her raise Osborne’s two daughters, while she dealt with her pregnancy. What followed . . . turned out to be rather mind blowing. In a nutshell, Osborne became attracted to his young sister-in-law, especially after Dr. Behenna instructed him to refrain from sexual relations with Morwenna, following the rape. Surprisingly, Rowella became attracted to Osborne and began an affair with him. By Episode Eight (or was it Episode Nine), Rowella revealed to Osborne that she pregnant. He tried to pretend that he was not responsible, but Rowella proved to be a tough, ruthless and persistent adversary. One, she provided Osborne with her plan to marry a local librarian named Arthur Solway, so that he could provide a name for her unborn child. Two, she managed to convince Osborne – via blackmail – to provice her and Arthur with a dowry of five hundred pounds. And three, not long after her wedding to Arthur, Rowella revealed that she had “miscarried” the baby. In other words, she was never pregnant . . . and she had scammed him. I found this scenario rather delicious to watch. And when Osborne attempted to enforce his “marital rights”, Morwenna revealed her knowledge of the affair and threatened to kill their new born son if he touched her again. Osborne took her threat seriously. Like I said . . . despite a few quibbles, I was very impressed by the handling of this narrative. And if I must be honest, the first-rate performances of Jane Wymarck, Christopher Biggins and Julie Dawn Cole contributed to the story arc’s dynamics.

I have mixed feelings about how Coburn and Barry handled Elizabeth Warleggan’s narrative in its adaptation of “The Four Swans”. Let me explain. Following Agatha Poldark’s revelation to George Warleggan that he might not be the biological father of his young son Valentine, the wealthy banker went out of his way to find anyone who could verify his suspicions that his wife had an affair with his nemesis, Ross Poldark. Although George failed to verify his suspicions, he began emotionally distancing himself from both Elizabeth and young Valentine and concentrated on beginning his political career. Elizabeth was initially surprised by George’s chilly attitude. Eventually, she began to suspect that the mystery of Valentine’s paternity was responsible. This led to an effort on her part to save her marriage. However, George’s jealousy toward Ross led him to mistreat the latter’s younger brother-in-law, Drake Carne by ordering his henchman, Sid Rouse, to beat the young blacksmith and torch his place of business. Ironically, it was George’s mistreatment of Drake and not his distant behavior that led to a serious quarrel between the couple.

Elizabeth’s struggles with George led to what I believe were two magnificent scenes between the two characters. The first featured Elizabeth’s attempt to coerce George into revealing the cause behind his chilly behavior. This scene featured a first-rate performance by Ralph Bates, as he conveyed George’s struggle to keep his emotions in check and an excellent performance by Jill Townsend, as she conveyed Elizabeth’s bewilderment and desperation to discover George’s motive behind his reserve. But it was the second scene in Episode Nine that truly impress me. But following Drake’s visit to Penrice, the confrontation between husband and wife proved to be an acting showcase for both Townsend and Bates, leading me to regard them as the most valuable players of this adaptation of “The Four Swans”. It also revealed that Elizabeth could be an intimidating powerhouse, when she chooses to be.

Between these two scenes, Elizabeth had an encounter with Ross at the Sawle churchyard. It was their first scene alone since he had raped her in Episode Fifteen in the 1975 series. Despite the excellent performances from Townsend and Robin Ellis, it left me feeling disappointed. Quite frankly, the screenwriter (whose name evades me) failed to faithfully adapt the scene from the novel, when doing so would have been more interesting . . . and honest. Instead of berating Ross for the rape (which she did in the novel), Elizabeth tried to avoid Ross, due to her fear that George would learn the truth about Valentine’s paternity. This made no sense to me, considering that the series had actually depicted the rape back in 1975. In fact, the 1977 series began with Elizabeth harboring anger at Ross. And yet . . . suddenly, the producers had decided to avoid the topic of the rape by pretending that it never happened? What the hell? They even had the screenwriter changed the scene’s ending by allowing Elizabeth to kiss Ross after he offered her a rather ridiculous solution to abate George’s suspicions. Guess what? In the novel, Ross took Elizabeth by surprise by ending the conversation with a few kisses on her face. Jesus Christ! Once again, Coburn and Barry inflicted another attempt to whitewash Ross’ character for the sake of his reputation.

Ross and Elizabeth’s meeting at the Sawle churchyard also played a role in Demelza Poldark’s story arc. A major role. So did Ross’ rescue of Dwight Enys in “The Black Moon”. One of the prisoners-of-war who returned to France with Ross and Dwight was a young Royal Navy officer named Lieutenant Hugh Armitage, who also happened to be a kinsman of the aristocratic Viscount Falmouth. Television audiences finally got to meet young Hugh in Episode Six, during one of Sir Francis Bassett’s dinner parties, attended by Ross and Demelza. Both the latter and Hugh were immediately attracted to one another and engaged in a friendship with strong romantic overtones. Ross became aware of the attraction between the pair and occasionally made caustic remarks about their friendship. Otherwise, he did nothing. But Demelza eventually learned about Ross’ meeting with Elizabeth at Sawle Church from Jud Paynter in Episode Seven. When Hugh urged her to join him on a walk to a local beach to view sea lions in Episode Eight, the pair’s friendship immediately transformed into a romance that was consummated on that beach, leading Demelza to commit adultery.

Overall, I thought this story arc was well handled by the series’ producers, director Roger Jenkins and screenwriter John Wiles. The story proved to be melodramatic, but in a positive way. More importantly, it was not unnecessarily sensationalized, despite the topic of adultery. And I also found this story arc was well paced – from the moment when Demelza and Hugh first met; to his death from a brain tumor. The story arc also benefited from the performances of three people – Robin Ellis, who conveyed Ross’ jealousy with great subtlety; Angharad Rees, who portrayed Demelza as a woman experiencing a genuine romance for the first time in her life; and Brian Stirner, who gave a complex performance as a charming, young Royal Navy officer who had no qualms about romancing another man’s wife. And yet . . . there was something about this story arc that seemed odd to me.

Most “POLDARK” fans claimed that it was against Demelza’s character to be an adulteress. I found that claim hard to swallow. Unlike many fans, I have never regarded Demelza as some ideal woman who belonged on a pedestal. Like the other characters in the saga, she was a complex individual with both virtues and flaws. Am I giving her an excuse for her adultery? No. But there was a certain aspect to this story arc that struck me. One has to account for the fact that Hugh was the first man who had seriously courted Demelza. Ross had jumped up and married her for a reason other than love after a brief, sexual encounter. Worse, he was in love with another woman at the time. Demelza also had to deal with lustful types like Sir Hugh Bodrugan and Captain McNeil, who viewed her as easy sexual prey, due to her lower-class origins. My problem with this version of the Demelza-Hugh romance is that it failed to match how it was portrayed in “The Four Swans”. Hugh was the first (and only) man of her age to romance Demelza, giving their relationship an aura of youthful aura. I found it difficult to view their relationship in a similar manner in this adaptation. The problem is that Rees looked her age at that time – 33 years old. And Brian Stirner looked younger, which I suspect he was. Because of this, their relationship seemed to have more of a borderline May-December vibe to me, instead of a romance between two young people in their twenties.

Aside from two occasions of whitewashing in order to salvage the Ross Poldark character and a few other quibbles, I must admit that I enjoyed Episodes Six to Nine. Producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn, along with director Roger Jenkins and screenwriter John Wiles did a more than satisfactory job in adapting Winston Graham’s 1976 novel, “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797”. Their work was well supported by an excellent cast led by Robin Ellis in the lead role. This particular adaptation reminded me “The Four Swans” became one of my favorite novels in Graham’s literary series in the first place.

“SHANE” (1953) Review

“SHANE” (1953) Review

The history behind the production for the 1953 classic Western, “SHANE” is a curious one. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Westerns ever made in Hollywood. And director George Stevens’ first choices for the film’s two male leads never panned out. Yet, despite the expenses and Stevens’ initial bad luck with his casting choices, “SHANE” became one of the most famous Westerns ever made in Hollywood. 

“SHANE” was based upon Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel of the same title. Many film historians and critics believe the narrative’s basic elements were based upon a historical event, the 1892 Johnson County War. Although this was never acknowledged by Stevens, Schaefer or the film’s screenwriter, A.B. Guthrie Jr. And yet . . . the film’s setting turned out to be the same one for the famous cattlemen-homesteaders conflict, Wyoming. The plot for “SHANE” proved to be simple. An experienced gunfighter named Shane, weary of his violent past, arrives at a county in Wyoming Territory and befriends a homesteader/rancher named Joe Starrett and the latter’s family. Despite Starrett’s revelation of a conflict between homesteaders like himself and a ruthless and powerful rancher named Rufus Ryker, Shane accepts a job as Starrett’s ranch hand. Before long, Shane not only finds himself emotionally drawn to the Starretts, but also pulled into the range war that is raging.

Anyone with any knowledge about old Hollywood or American Western films will automatically tell you that “SHANE” is highly regarded and much-beloved movie. The American Film Institute (AFI) has list it as one of the top three (3) Hollywood Westerns ever made and it is ranked 45 on the list of top 100 films. The movie earned six Academy Award nominations and won an award for Best Cinematography (in color). Many people believe Alan Ladd should have received an Academy Award for his performance as the mysterious “former” gunslinger Shane and consider the role as his best performance. How do I feel?

I cannot deny that “SHANE” is a first-rate movie. Who am I kidding? It is an excellent look at violence on the American frontier. And thanks to George Stevens’ direction, it is also brutal. Unlike many previous movie directors, Stevens did not stylized the violent deaths depicted in the film. A major example of this peek into life on the frontier is a scene that featured the brutal death of Frank “Stonewall” Torrey, a small rancher portrayed by Elisha Cook Jr., who was killed by Jack Wilson, a villainous gunslinger portrayed by Jack Palance:

 

Contrary to what one might originally believe, I do not believe “SHANE” preached against violence. Yes, the screenplay written by Guthrie questioned the constant use of violence to solve problems. But the movie made it clear that sometimes, one has no choice but to fight. Does this rule apply to the situation in “SHANE”? Hmmmm . . . good question.

Another aspect of “SHANE” that I found fascinating was Shane’s attempts to put his violent past behind him in his interactions with the Starrett family. Whether Shane was working or riding beside Joe, befriending Joey and struggling to suppress his obvious sexual desire for Marian; it seemed pretty obvious that he had developed close feelings for the entire family. And it would also explained why he would hang around, despite the danger of being dragged into a range war.

I cannot deny that “SHANE” featured some first-rate performances. I also cannot deny that Alan Ladd was in top form as the soft-spoken gunslinger who tried to hang up his gun belt, while staying with Starretts. I have always believed that Ladd was an underrated actor. Many critics have regarded his role as Shane as a singular example of how excellent he was as an actor. Do not get me wrong. I also admire his performance as Shane. It was a prime example of his skills as a movie actor. But I have seen other Ladd performances that I found equally impressive. Van Heflin’s portrayal of the determined small rancher, Joe Starrett, struck me as equally impressive. I could never really regard his character as complex, but Heflin made it easy for me to see why Shane had no problems befriending Joe . . . or why other ranchers regarded him as their unofficial leader. Jean Arthur had been lured out of an early retirement by Stevens for the role of Marian Starrett. I thought she did a superb job of conveying her character’s complicated feelings for Shane. Thanks to Arthur’s performance, Marian seemed to be torn between her love for Joe, her attraction to Shane and her revulsion toward his violent past.

Brandon deWilde had received an Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as the Starretts’ young son, Joe Jr. (Joey). Do not get me wrong. I thought deWilde gave a very good performance as the impressionable, yet energetic young Joey. But an Oscar nod? Honestly, I have seen better performances from a good number of child actors – then and now. Another Best Supporting Actor nomination was given to Jack Palance for his role as the villainous gunslinger, Jack Wilson. When I re-watched this movie for the last time, there seemed to be two faces to Palance’s performance. Most of his appearances featured the actor projecting the stone-faced villainy of his character. But there were moments when Palance managed to convey the more human side of Wilson – whether it was his boredom toward his employer’s other minions or weariness at the idea of facing another person to kill. It is strange that I had never noticed this before.

I also have to give kudos to Elisha Cook Jr. as the doomed Frank Toomey, who spent most of the movie aggressively expressing his anger at Ryker’s attempts to drive him and other small ranchers out of the valley. And yet . . . Cook’s best scene featured Toomey’s last moments, when he began to silently express regret at his quick temper and his realization that he was about to meet his death.“SHANE” also featured some first-rate performances from Emilie Meyer as the ruthless and greedy Rufus Ryker; Ben Johnson as one of Ryker’s ranch hands, whose early encounter with Shane made him see the light; and the likes of Ellen Corby, Edgar Buchanan, Douglas Spencer and Edith Evanson.

Despite my admiration for “SHANE”, George Stevens’ direction and A.B. Guthrie Jr.’s screenplay . . . the movie is not a particularly favorite of mine. I like the film, but I do not love it. There are certain aspects of “SHANE” that prevents me from fully embracing it. One is Loyal Griggs’ cinematography. I realize that he had won an Academy Award for his work. And I must say that he did an excellent job in capturing the beauty of the movie’s Wyoming and California locations. But I found his use of natural lighting for the interior shots very frustrating, especially since I could barely see a damn thing in some shots. Another aspect of “SHANE” that annoyed me was its message regarding violence. I have no problem with any story declaring the use of violence in certain situations. My problem is that I did not find the local ranchers’ situation with Ryker dire enough that they had to insist upon fighting it out. Granted, if they had agreed to sell their land to Ryker and leave, it would have meant his victory. I do not know. Perhaps I did not care. Or perhaps this feeling came from my contempt toward the Frank Toomey character, who had stupidly decided to give in to his anger and aggression by facing Ryker and Wilson.

Another aspect of “SHANE” that annoyed me was the Joey Starrett character. I have seen my share of on-screen precocious children in movies and television. But there was something about Joey Starrett that truly got under my skin. I do not blame Brandon deWilde. He was only following Stevens’ direction. But before the movie’s last reel, I found myself wishing that someone would push dear Joey into the mud . . . face first. If there was one aspect of “SHANE” that truly annoyed me, it was bringing the U.S. Civil War into the narrative. I can only recall three characters who were established as Civil War veterans – Shane, Frank Toomey and Jack Wilson. Of the three, guess which one fought with the Union? That is correct. The evil and slimy Wilson. And to make matters worse, Guthrie’s screenplay had Shane utter these words to Wilson before shooting him – “I’ve heard that you’re a low-down Yankee liar.” In other words, “SHANE” became another example of Hollywood’s subtle, yet never-ending reverence for the Confederate cause. And considering that only three characters in this film were established as war veterans, why on earth did Schaefer, Guthrie or Stevens had to drag the damn war into this story in the first place? It was so unnecessary.

Regardless of my frustrations, I must admit that “SHANE” is a first-rate Western. Director George Stevens, screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr. and the excellent cast led by Alan Ladd did an exceptional job in creating a Western that many would remember for decades. If only I had enjoyed it more than I actually did.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1840s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1840s: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1840s

1 - The Heiress

1. “The Heiress” (1949) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ 1880 novel, “Washington Square”. The movie starred Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

2 - All This and Heaven Too

2. “All This and Heaven Too” (1940) – Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed this excellent adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. The movie starred Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

3 - Half-Slave Half-Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

3. “Half-Slave, Half-Free: The Solomon Northup Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this emotional television adaptation of Solomon Northups’ 1853 memoirs, “12 Years a Slave”. Directed by Gordon Parks, the movie co-starred Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Lee Bryant, Art Evans and Mason Adams.

5 - The Mark of Zorro

4. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) – Rouben Mamoulian directed this superb adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story called “The Curse of Capistrano”. The movie starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone.

4 - The Liberators

5. “The Liberators” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott starred in this Disney adventure film about Underground Railroad conductor John Fairfield and his fugitive slave friend, Bill; who escort Kentucky slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom. Kenneth Johnson starred.

6 - The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

6. “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” (1967) – Roddy McDowall and Suzanne Pleshette starred in this Disney adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1963 children’s novel called “By the Great Horn Spoon!”. James Neilson directed.

7 - Camille

7. “Camille” (1936) – George Cukor directed this lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’ 1848 novel and 1852 play called “La Dame aux Camélias”. The movie starred Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

8 - Cousin Bette

8. “Cousin Bette” (1998) – Jessica Lange starred in this loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1846 novel. Although unpopular with critics and moviegoers, it is a favorite of mine. Directed by Des McAnuff, the movie co-starred Hugh Laurie, Elisabeth Shue and Kelly MacDonald.

9 - Jane Eyre

9. “Jane Eyre” (2011) – Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender starred in the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. The movie was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

10 - 12 Years a Slave

10. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – British director Steve McQueen helmed this Oscar winning second adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs about the latter’s experiences as a slave in the Deep South. The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Two (1995-1996)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Two of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor; the series starred Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway: 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK VOYAGER” SEASON TWO (1995-1996)

1. (2.11) “Manuevers” – After a team of the Kazon-Nistrim warriors steal some Federation technology during a raid against U.S.S. Voyager, Commander Chakotay goes after them on his own and is captured. Martha Hackett and Anthony De Longis guest-starred.

2. (2.21) “Deadlock” – While attempting to evade the organ-stealing Vidiians, a duplicate Voyager is created after it passes through a spatial scission; leaving one of the duplicate ships under attack and the other impervious to attack. Nancy Hower and Simon Billig guest-starred.

3. (2.20) “Investigations” – Lieutenant Tom Paris leaves Voyager and joins a Talaxian space convoy. But when he is kidnapped by former crew mate Seska and the Kazon-Nistrim, Neelix tries to flush out the traitor on board who has been colluding with them. Raphael Sbarge, Martha Hackett and Simon Billig guest-starred.

4. (2.05) “Non-Sequitur” – While on an Away mission, Ensign Harry Kim mysteriously wakes up and finds himself back in 24th century San Francisco, with no record of him ever joining Voyager’s crew. Louis Giambalvo, Jennifer Gatti and Mark Kiely guest-starred.

5. (2.19) “Lifesigns” – Voyager picks up a dying Vidiian woman and the Doctor saves her life by placing her consciousness in a holographic body. As the pair attempts to find a cure for the Phage killing her and her species, he falls in love. Susan Diol, Raphael Sbarge and Martha Hackett guest-starred.

Honorable Mention: (2.08) “Persistence of Vision” – When Voyager enters a new region of space, the crew begins to experience hallucinations from their past and of their desires. Carolyn Seymour, Warren Munson and Marva Hicks guest-starred.

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (1939) Review

Olivier-and-Oberon-in-Wuthering-Heights

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (1939) Review

Considering the popularity of the Brontë sisters, it is not surprising that there have been considerable movie, stage and television adaptations of their novels. I discovered there have been at least fifteen (15) adaptations of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Wuthering Heights”

I might as well be frank . . . I am not a major fan of the novel. I never have been. I do not dislike it, but I have always preferred the famous novels of the author’s two sisters – namely “Jane Eyre” (1847) by Charlotte Brontë and Anne Brontë’s 1848 novel, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. For some reason, “Wuthering Heights” depresses the hell out of me. I have nothing against works of fiction laced with tragedy. But the heavy barrage of emotional and physical abuse, revenge, and over-the-top passion has always seemed a bit too much for me. Due to my less-than-enthusiastic regard for Ms. Brontë’s novel, I have always been reluctant to watch any of the television or movie adaptations, with the exception of one – the 1939 movie produced by Samuel Goldwyn.

Directed by William Wyler, and starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier; “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” told the story of the passionate and doomed love story between one Catherine Earnshaw, the daughter of a Yorkshire landowner and an orphaned Gypsy boy named Heathcliff. The story opens with Mr. Earnshaw introducing Heathcliff to his family – Cathy and her brother, Hindley – at Wuthering Heights. While Cathy immediately befriends Heathcliff, Hindley becomes jealous of his father and sister’s high regard of the newcomer. Heathcliff’s pleasant life with the Earnshaw family ends when Mr. Earnshaw dies and a resentful Hindley forces him to become one of the family’s servants.

Despite Heathcliff’s new status within the Earnshaw family, his close relationship with Cathy remains close. Some eight to ten years later, the now adult pair have fallen in love and are meeting secretly on Penniston’s Crag. One night, Cathy and Heathcliff are out when they discover the Earnshaws’ neighbors, the Lintons, giving a party at the Grange. After climbing the garden wall, Cathy is attacked by a dog. The Lintons take Cathy in to care for her and Heathcliff is ordered to leave the Grange. Cathy becomes close with Edgar Linton and entranced by his wealth and glamour, while Edgar falls in love with her. When Edgar decides to propose marriage to Cathy, his action leads to a major fallout between Cathy and Heathcliff, the latter’s departure for United States, his return, jealousy, obsession and in the end, tragedy.

As far as I know, the 1939 film eliminated the second half of Brontë’s novel that centered on the generation featuring Heathcliff and Cathy’s children. This elimination has led many fans of the novel to dismiss this version as a poor adaptation. Well, to each his own. I have never read Brontë’s novel. And this is probably why I have such difficulty in dismissing “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” as unworthy of the novel. The only way I can judge the movie is on its own merits. And quite frankly, I believe it is one of the better costume dramas to be released during Hollywood’s Studio Era.

Producer Samuel Goldwyn assigned his top director, William Wyler, to helm the movie. And Wyler did a superb job. Thanks to his direction, “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” turned out to be an atmospheric and well paced movie filled with superb performances by the cast. Wyler utilized the talents of cinematographer Gregg Toland, along with art designers James Basevi and Alexander Toluboff to re-create the novel’s setting – the brooding Yorkshire moors with exquisite details.

The movie’s most controversial aspect turned out to be Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht’s screenplay. Many present-day critics believe that the two screenwriters took the bite out of Brontë’s novel by romanticizing Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship. Literary critic John Sutherland accused Wyler, Hecht and MacArthur of portraying Cathy as a more passive character, willing to accept Heathcliff’s abuse. Personally, I cannot help but wonder how he came to this conclusion. My recent viewing of “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” recalls a capricious and manipulative Cathy unable to hold back her scorn of Heathcliff in the face of the Lintons’ wealth and glamour; and a Cathy more than determined to prevent Heathcliff and Isabella Linton’s marriage. Not once do I recall a passive Cathy willing to accept abuse from Heathcliff.

Other critics of the movie have also accused Wyler and the two screenwriters of robbing Heathcliff the opportunity to seek revenge against Cathy and the Linton family by deleting the second half of the novel. These same critics seemed to have forgotten that a good deal of the movie’s second half focused not only on Heathcliff’s return to England, but also his efforts to get revenge on both the Earnshaw and Linton families. He did this by acquiring Wuthering Heights from an increasingly dissolute Hindley Earnshaw and more importantly, seeking Isabella Linton’s hand for marriage. The latter finally reached its mark as far as Cathy was concerned. The emotional damage from Heathcliff’s marriage to Isabella led to Cathy’s death and tragedy. The biggest criticism that emerged from “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” was Samuel Goldwyn’s decision to set the story in the mid-Victorian era, instead of the novel’s late 18th and early 19th centuries setting. It is believed that Goldwyn made this decision either because he preferred this period in costumes or he was simply trying to save a buck by using old Civil War era costumes. Personally, I could not care less. The novel’s setting was merely accelerated by five to six decades. And since “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” did not utilize any overt historical facts in its plot, I see no reason to get upset over the matter.

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” went into production as a vehicle for actress Merle Oberon, who was a contract player at Goldwyn Studios. When Laurence Olivier, her co-star from 1938’s “THE DIVORCE OF LADY X”, was cast as Heathcliff, he campaigned for lover Vivian Leigh to replace Oberon as Catherine Earnshaw. Olivier’s efforts failed and Oberon kept her job. Many critics believe that Leigh would have done a better job. I refuse to accept or reject that belief. However, I was very impressed by Oberon’s performance. She did an excellent job in capturing Cathy’s capricious and shallow nature. Although Oberon had a few moments of hammy acting, she was not as guilty of this as two of her co-stars. I find it rather disappointing that she failed to earn an Academy Award nomination. Her scene with Geraldine Fitzgerald (in which Cathy tries to dampen Isabella’s interest in Heathcliff) and the famous soliloquy that ended with Cathy’s “I am Heathcliff” declaration should have earned her a nomination.

Laurence Olivier made his Hollywood debut in the role of the Gypsy orphan-turned-future owner of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff. Olivier harbored a low opinion of Hollywood and screen acting in general. But Wyler’s exhausting style of directing and tutelage enabled Olivier to drop his penchant for stage theatrics and perform for the camera. Mind you, I do not believe Wyler was not completely successful with Olivier. The actor still managed to display hints of hammy acting in his performance. And he did not seem that successful in his portrayal of a Heathcliff in his late teens or early twenties, in compare to Oberon, who seemed successful in portraying Cathy in that same age group. Regardless, Olivier gave a first-rate performance, and managed to earn the first of his ten Academy Award nominations.

Another performer who earned an Academy Award nomination was Geraldine Fitzgerald, for her performance as Isabella Linton. I cannot deny that she deserved the nomination. Fitzgerald gave a memorable performance as the passionate, naive and outgoing Isabella, who found herself trapped in an emotionally abusive marriage to a man that harbored no love for her. However, I believe that like Olivier, she was guilty of a few moments of histronic acting. I could never accuse David Niven of such a thing. The actor gave a solid performance as the quietly loving, yet privileged Edgar Linton. Flora Robson was superb as the story’s narrator and Cathy Earnshaw’s maid, Ellen Dean. And both Niven and Robson proved to be the production’s backbone by being the only cast members that managed to refrain from any histronic acting altogether. I can also say the same about Hugh Williams’ portrayal of the embittered and dissolute Hindley Earnshaw. Donald Crisp, Leo G. Carroll, Cecil Kellaway and Miles Mander also gave fine support.

I realize that “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” will never be a favorite of the fans of Brontë’s novel. But as a movie fan, I cannot look down at this production. Thanks to William Wyler’s direction, Gregg Toland’s photography, solid adaptation by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and superb acting from a cast led by Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier; it is quite easy to see why it is considered as one of the best examples of Old Hollywood during one of its best years – 1939. I guess I will always be a fan.