“THE LAST TYCOON” (1976) Review

“THE LAST TYCOON” (1976) Review

What is there to say about the 1976 movie, “THE LAST TYCOON”? Well . . . it was adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last novel, which had remained at the time of his death in 1941. It proved to be the last movie directed by Elia Kazan. And it starred Robert De Niro.

Actually, there is more to say about “THE LAST TYCOON”. It told the story of Monroe Stahr, Fitzgerald’s literary version of the legendary Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production chief, Irving Thalberg. Stahr served as production chief of a major Hollywood studio in the mid-1930s. The movie unfolds with Stahr juggling his time with emotional actors and directors, and several frustrated screenwriters. Stahr also deals with more pressing conflicts like the newly created Writers Guild of America, a union organizer from the East Coast and the growing resentment his boss and head of the studio, Pat Brady. During all this activity and growing turmoil, Stahr finds himself torn between two young women. One of those women is Brady’s only child, a recent college graduate named Cecilia who is infatuated with Stahr. The other is an Irish beauty with a troubled past named Kathleen Moore, with whom Stahr falls in love and eventually obsessed. Unfortunately for Stahr, Kathleen is engaged to another man.

The production values for “THE LAST TYCOON” struck me as first rate. Well . . . almost. I enjoyed Victor J. Kemper’s sharp and colorful photography. I also enjoyed Jack T. Collis’ art direction, which I thought effectively conveyed the locations of the Hollywood community during the 1930s. But I feel that Collis’ art direction would not have been as effective without Gene Callahan’s production designs. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must have also been impressed by both Collis and Callahan. The two men ended up receiving Oscar nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. On the other hand, I am not surprised that Anna Hill Johnstone and Anthea Sylbert’s costume designs had failed to win any nominations. Do not get me wrong. They were not terrible. But . . . I did notice that like some of the hairstyles worn by the actresses in the film, the fashion styles of the 1970s tend to creep in.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Well . . . with most of them. May I be frank? Robert De Niro seemed to be an embodiment of Monroe Stahr . . . or should I say Irving Thalberg? De Niro did an excellent job in conveying Stahr’s obsessive nature – whether it was creating movies or falling in love with Kathleen Moore. A second standout performance came from Theresa Russell, who portrayed Cecilia Brady, the daughter of the studio chief. Russell did an excellent job in portraying both Cecilia’s passion for Stahr and her no-nonsense intelligence. Robert Mitchum was superb as Pat Brady, the studio chief who took his daughter’s intelligence for granted and who resented Stahr’s genius as a movie producer.

Both Tony Curtis and Jeanne Moreau gave excellent performances as Rodriguez and Didi, two Hollywood stars, whose egos and insecurities threaten a film they are currently shooting. Jack Nicholson provided a strong, yet quiet presence as an East Coast union official visiting Hollywood to organize the industry’s employees. The movie also featured solid performances from Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, Donald Pleasance, Peter Strauss, Tige Andrews and Anjelica Huston. “THE LAST TYCOON” also featured Ingrid Boulting as Kathleen Moore, the woman who captured Monroe Stahr’s heart. How did I feel about her? Hmmmm . . . she was not a terrible actress. But I was not particularly impressed by her performance. She seemed to spend most of the movie trying to iconic or remote . . . a 1970s version of Greta Garbo. And it did not work for me.

For me, the real problem with “THE LAST TYCOON” was its narrative. Quite frankly, I thought it sucked. Mind you, I thought the film’s explorations of life at movie studio in the 1930s seemed interesting. What made this work is that most of this exploration was told from Monroe Stahr’s point-of-view. I cannot deny that the film’s peek into the old Hollywood studio system was interesting. But instead of fashioning a narrative from this topic or at least from studio politics, screenwriter Harold Pinter had decided revolve the film’s plot around the Monroe Stahr-Kathleen Moore love story. I can understand why he did this. F. Scott Fitzgerald did the same in the unfinished novel. The problem was that Stahr’s romance with Kathleen bored the hell out of me. One, the entire romance almost seemed on-sided on Stahr’s part. And two, both Robert De Niro and Ingrid Boulting lacked any chemistry whatsoever. Every time the pair shared the screen, I found myself struggling to stay awake. Perhaps Pinter could have done a better job in connecting the Stahr-Moore romance with studio politics . . . who knows? Unfortunately, I felt as if I was watching a movie with two different narratives that barely connected – and with the major (and boring) subplot overshadowing the minor one. Pity.

Would I ever watch “THE LAST TYCOON” again? I honestly cannot answer that question. It is a beautiful looking film, thanks to men like Jack T. Collis and Gene Callahan. I also cannot deny the film’s peek into the old Hollywood studio system and politics managed to somewhat fascinate me. Unfortunately, the movie was dominated by a dull love story that bored me senseless. So, would I ever watch this movie again? Right now, I would say no. I do not think so.

 

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“STAR TREK DISCOVERY” Season Two Musings

“STAR TREK DISCOVERY” SEASON TWO MUSINGS

There have been plenty of articles on the Internet that many television shows with successful first seasons usually decline in quality with its second season. This is known as the “second season curse”. I do not There have been plenty of cases when the quality of a television series has improved with each succeeding season. However, I do believe there are some shows that adhere to this theory. When it comes to Season Two of the CBS All Access series, “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, some believe it had .

Most Trek fans either believe that Season One of “DISCOVERY” was a disaster. Many were put off by Michael Burnham, who is portrayed by an African-American actress, as the series’ lead. Many had complained about the series’ serialized format. And there were numerous complaints about the season’s ambiguous portrayal of its main characters and the Federation. Despite these complaints, “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” managed to become a big hit and attract many fans. Unfortunately, the show runners had listened to these disenchanted fans who considered themselves “veteran” Trekkers and made certain changes to the series for its second season. I usually have no problems with a series making some kind of changes. It is necessary for a series to develop. However, some of the changes or additions to Season Two of “DISCOVERY” . . . bothered me.

Season Two began with the episode called (2.01) “Brother”, when Captain Christopher Pike of the U.S.S. Enterprise, took emergency command of the U.S.S. Discovery after his ship was damaged during the crew’s investigation of seven mysterious red signals. The last signal led Pike and the Discovery crew to an asteroid made of non-baryonic matter, where they discovered the U.S.S. Hiawatha, damaged during the Federation-Klingon War of last season. How did the Hiawatha crew’s rescue play a role in the season’s overall arc? Were the events of “Brother” more about rescuing Commander Reno and adding a new character to the series? If so, this was a piss-poor and vague way to do it. Reno could have easily been transferred to Discovery as its new chief engineer without this convoluted set-up to bring her aboard the ship. Also, she had played a very limited role in the second season’s narrative. By mid-season, I found myself wondering why she had not returned to Starfleet Headquarters on Earth, following her rescue. I did not learn until after the finale had aired that she had been officially assigned to Discovery. Huh? And there was the matter of a primitive Human colony on a planet called Terralysium. The Red Angel had led the Discovery to the colony and prevented its inhabitants from being destroyed by an extinction-level radiation shower. How did this play a role in Season Two’s overall arc?

Burnham and the Discovery crew eventually discovered that the signals came from a time travel sentient being called “the Red Angel”. And the Red Angel turned out to be Michael’s presumed dead mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham. Since viewers learned that Dr. Burnham’s overall goal was to make the Federation aware of dangerous artificial intelligence called “Control”, why did she go out of her way to bring attention to the Hiawatha crew and Terralysium’s inhabitants? As it turned out, Dr. Burnham was not involved in those situations. Michael was. Michael had ended up using the Red Angel suit in the season’s finale, (2.14) “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II”. And she was the one who had sent the seven signals, including the two that led Starfleet to both the Hiawath and Terralysium. Really? Was that show runners’ way of explaining why the Red Angel led the Discovery crew to situations that had no major impact upon Season Two’s narrative? Frankly, I found this rather a waste of time. Perhaps Michael wanted to save Commander Reno and allow Terralysium to survive when Discovery arrived in the future. But honestly, the show runners and their writers could have handled this with tighter writing.

Or perhaps the above scenarios were inevitable, since the show runners had planned to send the U.S.S. Discovery over nine hundred years into the future. Imagine, a serialized television show’s format or setting undergoing an extensive change in the middle of its run – during its third season. The series went from being about a Starfleet science vessel during the 2250s to one that is exploring the future. Why? Alex Kurtzman claimed that he had wanted to take the series into a new setting so that the writers would not have to work hard to connect the series’ narrative with the 1966-1969 series, “STAR TREK”. Especially since the latter series is set a decade after “DISCOVERY” and so many fans have been crying plot holes upon discovering that Michael Burnham was the adoptive daughter of Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda Grayson. Pop culture fans can be incredibly stupid sometimes. And so are the television show runners who listen to them.

Taking the U.S.S. Discovery some 900 years into the future struck me as one of the most unnecessary moves the show runners could have made. I also find the whole idea ridiculous. “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” began in 2256 – a decade earlier than “STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES” and aboard another Starfleet ship . . . with a different crew. There would have been NO NEED for the series to make a concerted effort to connect with the 1966-69 series, despite Michael Burnham being the adopted sister of Spock. At best, Spock, Sarek and Amanda can make the occasional appearance on the show. If “DISCOVERY” ever lasts as long as those shows between 1987 and 2001 – “STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION”“STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” and “STAR TREK VOYAGER” – the series’ setting would have ended in 2263 or 2264 – at least two to three years before the beginning of “THE ORIIGNAL SERIES” setting. Did any of the show runners ever considered this? By changing the premise, “DISCOVERY” will only end up being some kind of time travel version of “VOYAGER”. And that does not strike me as particularly original.

There is another problem with the new direction that the series had undertaken in the Season Two finale – namely the former Most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Qo’noS, Regina Andor, Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius of the Mirror Universe. As everyone knows, mirror Philippa eventually impersonated the deceased Captain Georgiou prime as a retired Starfleet officer and later became a Section 31 operative. Midway during the airing of Season Two, it was announced that Michelle Yeoh, who portrayed Georgiou, would headline a new Trek series in the near future about Section 31. Why is this a problem? Georgiou was one of the Starfleet personnel aboard Discovery when it followed Michael in the Red Angel suit . . . into the future. If Discovery being 900 years in the future is the series’ new premise, how will Georgiou return to the 2250s in order to continue her story with Section 31? Someone had suggested that she will command Section 31 in the 32nd century? Really? Why on earth would anyone in Earth’s future allow a woman from the 23rd century assume command of an organization like Section 31?

There were aspects of Season Two that I liked. I found Starfleet’s conflict with the A.I. entity known as Control rather interesting . . . and frightening. Many Trek fans had complained that “Control” should have been portrayed as the origin story for the Borg. What they had forgotten was that around this period in Trek history, the Borg had existed for quite some time and had wiped out the El-Aurian home world. Using “Control” as the Borg’s origin story was out of the question. I also enjoyed how the writers used the spore drive’s mycelial plane to bring Dr. Hugh Culber back from the dead and how this resurrection had affected his relationship with Lieutenant Paul Stamets. I especially enjoyed Michael’s reunion with her missing mother, Gabrielle Burnham. In fact, I could honestly say that I had truly enjoyed the episodes of mid-Season Two – from (2.05) “Saints of Imperfection” to (2.11) “Perpetual Infinity”. However, I did not like the finale, (2.13-2.14) “Such Sweet Sorrow”.

Many had complained that the two-part episode seemed over saturated with action. Or that the finale seemed more “STAR WARS” than “STAR TREK”. The action in “Such Sweet Sorrow” did not bother me. I certainly had no problems with Georgiou’s brutal fight against the Control-possessed Captain Leland. Along with Discovery’s eventual journey into the future, I had some problem’s with the episode’s writing. One of those problems involved Ash Tyler, the former Klingon whose body and consciousness had been transformed into a Starfleet officer who had died during the Federation-Klingon War. Instead of joining the rest of the Discovery crew for their journey into the future, he remained behind to convince Empress L’Rell (his or Voq’s former paramour) to help Starfleet’s conflict against Control. This would be nothing, except Ash had openly contacted L’Rell and was later by her side aboard a Klingon starship during the battle. Apparently, Alex Kurtzman and the episode’s screenwriter that Georgiou and Section 31 had went through a good deal of trouble to end Ash’s brief role as L’Rell’s aide on the Klingon home world in order to save her reign as the new Empress . . . by faking his death. Worse, Starfleet put Ash in command of Section 31, despite his limited experience with the agency and his unsuitability as a spy. Despite the fact that Georgiou had managed to destroy Control and prevent it from acquiring the massive data from the Sphere that the crew had discovered in (2.04) “An Obol for Charon”, Michael and the Discovery crew traveled into the future anyway. Following Discovery’s disappearance into the future, Captain Pike (back in command of the Enterprise) and Ash informed Starfleet that Discovery had been destroyed during the battle against Control. Why? Why did the writers feel that was necessary? I feel as if a great deal of unnecessary writing decisions had been made in this episode to justify the Discovery’s journey into the future.

For me, the biggest frustrations of Season Two proved to be the presence of Spock and Captain Christopher Pike. Especially the latter. But I will start with Spock first. Initially, I had no problem with Spock’s role in the season’s narrative. But once the crew had identified Gabrielle Burnham as the Red Angel and Admiral Katrina Cromwell had returned to Starfleet Headquarters, why did Spock remain aboard the Discovery? Why did he not return to Headquarters with the Admiral and rejoin the Enterprise crew? However, Spock’s continuing presence aboard the Discovery struck me as minor problem in compare to the presence of his commanding officer, Captain Pike.

I have been a fan of Anson Mount since he starred in the AMC series, “HELL ON WHEELS”. But I wish to God that he had never been cast as Christopher Pike in “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”. More importantly, I wish that the show runners had never utilized the character in the first place. I believe Christopher Pike was the worst aspect about Season Two of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”. His presence on the show struck me as irrelevant. Useless. Why did the show runners have him serve as Discovery’s commander throughout the entire season? Why was he even needed? Saru could have easily remained in command of Discovery after the crew was given the Red Angel mission. This was the officer who had led the ship out of the Mirror Universe. And he had also stood behind the crew’s refusal to obey Starfleet’s order to help Georgiou to decimate the Klingon home world in the Season One finale, (1.15) “Will You Take My Hand?“. With the Enterprise temporarily out of commission, Pike could have appeared in “Brother” to hand over the Red Angel mission to the Discovery crew and to inform Spock’s disappearance to both Michael and Sarek before guiding his damaged ship back to Starfleet Headquarters. Then he and the Enterprise could have returned for the final battle against Control in “Such Sweet Sorrow”.

But no. Certain fans had raised a fuss over an African-American actress serving as the lead of a Star Trek series and cried tears over “DISCOVERY” not being “traditional Trek”. And the series’ show runners had made the mistake of listening to them, despite the fact that “DISCOVERY” was a hit. And with Pike, they had provided these narrow-minded fans with an ideal leading male character to swoon over. But why did the show runners felt it was necessary to appease these fans with the addition of Pike for Season Two? Pike was not needed. Even worse, they did not have to paint Captain Pike as this ridiculously ideal Starfleet officer. Because frankly, he came off as a bore. And bland. There were moments when the series was willing to portray Pike’s idealism and inflexibility as flaws, especially in his conflict with Ash Tyler. However, by (2.09) “Project Daedalus”, it seemed quite obvious that the show runners were determined to paint Pike as “the perfect or near perfect” Starfleet officer. This became obvious in his conflict with Ash. Even when Pike was seen to be in the wrong in both (2.07) “Light and Shadows” and (2.08) “If Memory Serves”, Pike was painted in a more sympathetic light than Ash. If only the show runners had ditched this useless conflict and focused more attention on the fallout between Ash and Hugh from Season One, I would have been more impressed. In “THE ORIGINAL SERIES” episode, (1.11-1.12) “The Menagerie”, Trek fans had first learned about Pike’s future as a paraplegic, due to an accident. Somehow, the writers managed to twist Pike’s future as some kind of “heroic sacrifice” in which he had to give up the idea of accepting Klingon time crystals to defeat Control or taking them and facing a future as a paraplegic. There was no need to include what I believe proved to be a contrived and unnecessary plot twist.

I loved Season One of “DISCOVERY”. Despite some moments of clunky writing, I thought it had provided something new and exciting to the Star Trek franchise. I became an instant fan. There were aspects of Season Two that I liked – Starfleet’s conflict with Control, Dr. Hugh Culber’s resurrection and Michael Burnham’s reunion with her mother, Gabrielle Burnham. However, there were aspects of Season Two that I disliked. Too many. And that included the season finale, (2.14) “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II”, along with Discovery’s unnecessary trip into the future. Also, I saw no reason for the over utilization of characters like Spock and Captain Christopher Pike. I saw their presence during the season as a heavy-handed attempt with the “nostalgic factor” to win over certain Trek fans still mired in the past. It must have worked to a certain degree. Many have declared Season Two to be superior to Season One.

So in the end, I can only repeat that I do not agree with the assessment that Season Two of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” was superior to Season One. I believe that the Trek fandom’s desire for nostalgia – especially in the form of Christopher Pike and Spock – has made Season Two overrated in my opinion and a victim of the “second season curse”. And most importantly, I saw no need for Christopher Pike to serve as the temporary commander of the U.S.S. Discovery. I found this decision by the show runners to be completely unnecessary.

 

“All Aboard the Orient Express”

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Below is a look at two major movies and a television movie that featured journeys aboard the famed Orient Express:

 

“ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS”

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of those who demand that a novel, a movie or a television production to be historically accurate. Not if history gets in the way of the story. But there is an anal streak within me that rears its ugly head, sometimes. And that streak would usually lead me to judge just how accurate a particular production or novel is.

Recently, I watched three movies that featured a journey aboard the legendary train, the Orient Express. Perhaps I should be a little more accurate. All three movies, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963) featured a famous route that came into existence nearly a year following World War I called the Simplon Orient Express. The original route for the Orient Express stretched from Paris to Istanbul via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Then in 1919, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits introduced a more southerly route, due to the opening of the Simplon Tunnel. This route stretched between Paris and Istanbul, via Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia. Writers Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming made the Simplon Orient Express route famous thanks to their novels, “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) and “From Russia With Love” (1957). And the movie adaptations of these novels increased the route’s fame.

Both Christie and Fleming’s novels featured the Simplon Orient Express’ route from Istanbul to Yugoslavia. There are reasons why their stories do not stretch further west to as far as at least France. In “Murder on the Orient Express”, the train became stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia and detective Hercule Poirot spent the rest of the novel trying to solve the murder of an American passenger. And in “From Russia With Love”, British agent James Bond and his companion, Tatiana Romanova, made it as far as either Italy or France. The 1974 and 2010 adaptations of Christie’s novel, more or less remained faithful to the latter as far as setting is concerned. However, EON Production’s 1963 adaptation of Fleming’s novel allowed Bond and Tatiana to escape from the train before it could cross the Yugoslavia-Italy border.

While watching the three movies, I discovered that their portrayals of the Simplon Orient Express route were not completely accurate. I can imagine the thoughts running through the minds of many, declaring “Who cares?”. And I believe they would be right to feel this way. But I thought it would be fun to look into the matter. Before I do, I think I should cover a few basics about this famous train route from Istanbul to Paris-Calais.

During its heyday, the Orient Express usually departed from Istanbul around 11:00 p.m. Following the rise of the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Orient Express extended it route to stops in Greece in order to avoid the Soviet-controlled countries. The only Communist country it passed through was Yugoslavia. When the train became the slower Direct Orient Express in 1962, it usually departed Istanbul around 4:15 p.m. I do not know whether a restaurant car and/or a salon “Pullman” car was attached to the Direct Orient Express when it departed Istanbul between 1962 and 1977. One last matter. In the three adaptations of the two novels, the Orient Express usually made a significant stop at Belgrade. It took the Orient Express, during its heyday, at least 23 to 24 hours to travel from Istanbul to Belgrade.

Let us now see how accurately the two “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” movies and the 1963 “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” flick accurately portray traveling aboard the Simplon Orient Express (or Direct Orient Express) on film. I will begin with the “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel.

 

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)

Following the conclusion of a successful case for the British Army somewhere in the Middle East, Belgian-born detective is on his way home to London, via a train journey aboard the famed Orient Express. When an American businessman named Samuel Rachett is murdered during the second night aboard the train, Poirot is asked by his friend and director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Senor Bianchi, to investigate the crime.

In this adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, the Simplon Orient Express that left Istanbul did so at 9:00 at night. The movie also included a dining car attached to the train. One scene featured a chef examining food being loaded onto the train. This scene is erroneous. According to the The Man in Seat 61 website, there was no dining car attached to the train when it left Istanbul. A dining car was usually attached at Kapikule on the Turkish/Bulgarian border, before it was time to serve breakfast. The movie also featured a salon car or a “Pullman”, where Hercule Poirot interrogated most of the passengers of the Istanbul-Calais car.

 

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According to the “Seat 61” site, there was no salon “Pullman” car attached to the train east of Trieste, Italy. Christie needed the presence of the car for dramatic purposes and added one into her novel. The producers of the 1974 movie did the same. At least the producers of the 1974 used the right dark blue and cream-colored car for the Pullman. More importantly, they used the right dark blue cars for the train’s sleeping coaches, as shown in the image below:

 

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In the movie, the Simplon Orient Express reached Belgrade 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. For once, the movie was accurate. Somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, the Orient Express ended up snowbound and remained there until the end of the story.

 

 

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010)

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel first aired on Britain’s ITV network in 2010. The television movie started with Hercule Poirot berating a British Army officer caught in a devastating lie. After the officer commits suicide, Poirot ends up in Istanbul, where he and a British couple witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. Eventually, the couple and Poirot board the Orient Express, where the latter finds himself investigating the murder of an American passenger.

I do not know what time the Simplon Orient Express departed Istanbul in this adaptation. The movie never indicated a particular time. This version also featured a brief scene with a chef examining food being loaded aboard a dining car. As I previously mentioned, a dining car was not attached until Kapikule. The movie did feature Poirot and some of the Istanbul-Calais car passengers eating breakfast the following morning. In this scene, I noticed a major blooper. Car attendant Pierre Michel was shown serving a dish to Poirot in the dining car. Note the images below:

 

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Pierre Michel greets Poirot and M. Bouc before they board the train

 

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Pierre serves breakfast to Poirot

 

Why on earth would a car attendant (or train conductor, as he was called in the 1934 novel) act as a waiter in the dining car? Like the 1974 movie, the ITV adaptation also featured a salon “Pullman” attached to the train, east of Italy. In fact, they did more than use one salon “Pullman”. As I had stated earlier, the westbound Simplon Orient Express usually acquired a salon “Pullman” after its arrival in Trieste. But in this adaptation, the producers decided to use the dark blue and cream-colored “Pullman” cars for the entire train as shown in these images:

 

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This is completely in error. As I had stated earlier, the Orient Express usually featured a dark-blue and cream-colored salon “Pullman” between Italy and Paris. But it also featured the dark-blue and cream-colored seating “Pullmans” between Calais and Paris. There is no way that the Orient Express leaving Istanbul would entirely consist of the blue and cream “Pullman” cars.

However, the train did arrive at Belgarde at least 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. Like the other movie, the train ended up snowbound between Vinkovci and Brod and remained there until the last scene. However, I am confused by the presence of the police standing outside of the train in the last scene. Poirot and the other passengers should have encountered the police, following the train’s arrival in Brod, not somewhere in the middle of the Yugoslavian countryside.

 

 

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017)

In this adaptation of Christie’s 1934 novel, in which Kenneth Branagh directed and starred, Poirot solves a theft at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The detective hopes to rest in Istanbul after traveling there via the Mediterranean and Agean Seas, but a telegram summons him to London for a case and he boards the Orient Simplon Orient Express with the help of young Monsieur Bouc, a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. When an American passenger named Samuel Rachett is found stabbed to death following his second night aboard the Orient Express, Poirot is asked to solve his murder.

 

 

This movie featured the departure of the Simplon Orient Express around 7:00 p.m., instead of eleven o’clock. However, this is probably the only adaptation of Christie’s novel that featured the strongest similarity to the real Sirkeci Terminal in Istanbul, the train’s eastern terminus.

However, I also noticed that passengers boarded via the dining car, at the tail end of the train. That is correct. This adaptation also has a dining car attached to the Orient Express in Istanbul, instead of having it attached at Kapikule, the Turkish-Bulgarian border crossing. And unlike the previous adaptations, the dining car and the lounge car are dark blue like the sleeping compartments, instead of a color mixture of dark-blue and cream-colored. Which was an error.

 

 

The movie did not feature a stop in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. It did, however, featured a brief stop at Vinkovci, before it encountered a snow drift, later in the night. Since it was definitely at night when the train stopped at Vinkovci, no error had been committed. Especially since it was not quite dark when the train departed from Istanbul. And the journey between Istanbul and Belgrade lasted roughly 24 hours. At the end of the film, Poirot departed from the Orient Express at Brod. This is also appropriate, since the train had been snowbound somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod in the novel. More importantly, unlike the 2010 adaptation, Poirot gave his false resolution to Rachett’s murder to the police … in Brod and not in the spot where the train had been trapped.

 

 

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“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963)

Ian Fleming’s tale begins with the terrorist organization, SPECTRE, plotting the theft of the KGB’s a cryptographic device from the Soviets called the Lektor, in order to sell it back to them, while exacting revenge on British agent James Bond for killing their agent, Dr. No. After Bond successfully steals the Lektor from the Soviet consulate in Istanbul, he, defector Tatiana Romanova and MI-6 agent Kerim Bey board the Orient Express for a journey to France and later, Great Britain.

While I found this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel extremely enjoyable, I found myself puzzled by the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s journey aboard the Orient Express. It seemed so . . . off. In the movie; the Orient Express conveying Bond, his traveling companions and SPECTRE assassin “Red” Grant; departed Istanbul somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. The train departed Istanbul around nine o’clock at night, in Fleming’s novel. Mind you, the novel was set in the 1950s and the movie, set in the early 1960s, which meant that its departure in the movie was pretty close to the 4:15 pm departure of the Direct Orient Express train that operated between 1962 and 1977. I do not recall seeing a dining car attached to the train, during its departure in the movie, so I cannot comment on that. But after the train’s departure, the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s Orient Express journey proved to be mind boggling.

The main problem with “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” is that Bond’s journey proved to be the fastest I have ever witnessed, either on film or in a novel. It took the train at least three-to-four hours to reach Belgrade, following its departure from Istanbul. One, it usually took the Orient Express nearly 24 hours to reach Belgrade during its heyday. During the first ten-to-fifteen years of the Cold War, it took the Orient Express a little longer to reach Belgrade, due to it being re-routed through Northern Greece in an effort to avoid countries under Soviet rule. This was made clear in Fleming’s novel. But the 1963 movie followed the famous train’s original eastbound route . . . but at a faster speed. After killing Grant, Bond and Tatiana left the train before it reached the Yugoslavian-Italian border. Bond’s journey from Istanbul to that point took at least 15 hours. During the Orient Express’ heyday, it took at less than 48 hours. And during the 15 years of the Direct Orient Express, it took longer.

Unlike many recent film goers and television viewers, historical accuracy or lack of it in a movie/television production has never bothered me. I still remain a major fan of both “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974 version) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. And although I have other major problems with the 2010 “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, there are still aspects of it that I continue to enjoy. Historical inaccuracy has never impeded my enjoyment of a film, unless I found it particularly offensive. But since I can be occasionally anal and was bored, I could not resist a brief exploration of the Hollywood and British film industries’ portrayals of the Orient Express.

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

Recently, I had come across an old BBC production that I have not seen in years. The production was a television movie based upon author George Eliot’s first novel, “Adam Bede”.

This adaptation of Eliot’s 1859 novel told the story of four young people from the rural English community of Hayslope around the end of the 18th century. This “love rectangle” revolved around a local carpenter named Adam Bede; a beautiful, yet self-absorbed milkmaid named Hetty Sorrel; the local squire’s charming grandson and heir, Captain Arthur Donnithorne; and Hetty’s cousin Dinah Morris, a beautiful Methodist lay preacher who is also attracted to Adam. How did this “rectangle” come about? Although highly regarded by the Hayslope community as an intelligent and talented carpenter, Adam has a weakness . . . namely his passionate and unrequited love for the beautiful Hetty. Unfortunately for Adam, Hetty was deeply in love, lust or simply dazzled by the handsome and charming Arthur. Did Arthur love Hetty? I honestly do not know.

As I had stated earlier, “Adam Bede” was George Eliot’s first novel. Eliot’s earlier skill as a writer is very apparent in this television adaptation. Do not get me wrong. I rather enjoyed “ADAM BEDE” very much. But it did not strike me as . . . fascinating or complex as other George Eliot adaptations I have seen. If one must be honest, the whole “servant girl get seduced by rich young man” scenario is not particularly new. I suspect that it was not new when Eliot wrote this novel back in the 1850s. I believe that Eliot had used this trope again when she wrote “Silas Marner”, which was published two years after this first novel. Both stories featured “fallen women” and both portrayed the latter in a slightly unsympathetic light. Mind you, Eliot did a good job in conveying Hetty’s struggles between the discovery of her pregnancy and the verdict during her trial. But I could not help but suspect a slight taint of Victorian morality in Eliot’s portrayal of Hetty. I believe screenwriter Maggie Wadey tried her best to overcome that rigid morality, but thanks to the narrative, I do not think she had fully succeeded. Especially when one considers how “ADAM BEDE” ended.

If I have a real problem with “ADAM BEDE”, it is the ending. If the production had been a two-part movie, perhaps . . . You know what? I suspect that stretching out the running time would not have solved what I believe was the narrative’s main problem. I believe changing the ending would have helped. One problem proved to be Hetty’s fate. After being found guilty of infanticide, Hetty was sentenced to execution. Her sentence was commuted to penal transportation to Australia at the last moment, thanks to Arthur Donnithorne. Ye-ee-ea-ah . . . I found this scenario a bit improbable. It seemed as if Eliot had tacked on this last minute fate for Hetty to avoid a truly tragic ending. Another problem I had with the ending proved to be the main protagonist’s relationship with the Dinah Morris character. The movie featured a brief scene in which Adam Bede regarded Dinah as an attractive woman. Despite this, he spent most of the production harboring a passionate, almost possessive love for Hetty Sorrel. Once Hetty was sent away for transportation, Adam became romantically interested in Dinah. Rather fast. Too fast, if you want my opinion. I realize that he was urged to consider Dinah as a romantic partner by others, but . . . yeah, I thought the final romance between the pair happened too fast.

However, “ADAM BEDE” had its virtues. One, the production did an excellent job in conveying the mores and traditions of a rural town in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century. I found it amazing how the town’s middle and lower classes were judged a bit more harshly than the upper-class residents. I noticed that although Adam is not regarded as morally questionable, many others tend to judge him based upon his moral compass . . . a lot. I also noticed that many seemed to regard Arthur’s morals with a wary eye, they seem willing to give him a pass. I doubt they would have been that generous with Adam. But that is always the case, is it not . . . at least for those who are not part of an elite social group.

If middle and lower-class men had it bad, women of all classes had it worse. Dinah Morris is portrayed as a decent and pious woman. Yet, there seemed to be a slight air of disapproval directed toward Dinah, due to her role as a Methodist lay preacher. But no one is judged more harshly than Hetty Sorrel. Even by Eliot. Audiences are expected to harshly judge Hetty for her desire for a life “above her station”. But I will give credit to both Eliot and screenwriter Maggie Wadey for injecting a great deal more of ambiguity and sympathy toward Hetty . . . especially after she became pregnant.

I also have to commend the movie’s performances. There was not a bad one in the bunch. Susannah Harker made a very serene Dinah Morris, even I did not find the character particularly interesting. James Wilby had a more interesting character to portray, namely the shallow and sensual Arthur Donnithorne. However, I do not think Wadey’s screenplay really gave the actor much of a chance to explore Arthur’s ambiguity, aside from one or two scenes. “ADAM BEDE” also featured excellent performances from Jean Marsh, Paul Brooke, Robert Stephens, Freddie Jones, Michael Percival and Alan Cox.

Julia McKenzie struck me as particularly memorable as Mrs. Poyser, the aunt of both Dinah and Hetty. Although Eliot had written her as a comic figure, the actress managed to inject a good deal of pathos and emotion into the character, thanks to the screenplay. Patsy Kensit was superb as the flighty, yet hard-luck Hetty Sorrel, who proved to be the most interesting character in this tale. Kensit managed to skillfully rise the character’s one-dimensional portrayal in the movie’s first half and embrace the ambiguous quagmire that poor Hetty ended up in the second half. Superficially, Adam Bede did not seem as ambiguous as Hetty. Superficially. But underneath the stalwart and industrious carpenter existed a proud and emotional man, whose world centered around a woman who did not love him. And man did the producers select the right man to portray young Adam – namely Iain Glen. I have been aware of the actor for several decades. And I have noticed that whether he was playing a hero, a villain, anti-hero – you name it – Glen has always managed to convey the emotional depths behind his characters on a level that very few actors have managed to achieve . . . whether through his voice or expressions. Or perhaps both. And he utilized the same level of skill in his portrayal of the emotional and lovelorn Adam. No wonder I have been a fan of his for years.

Overall, I would never regard “ADAM BEDE” as one of my favorite George Eliot adaptations. The problem is that the movie reflected too much of the novel’s narrative flaws. But not all was lost with Maggie Wadey’s adaptation. I still managed to enjoy the movie, thanks to its intriguing plot and first-rate cast led by Iain Glen. In the end, I believe it had more virtues and flaws.

Ranking of “GARROW’S LAW” Series Two (2010) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the Series Two episodes of the period legal drama, “GARROW’S LAW”. Created by Tony Marchant and based upon the life of 18th century English barrister William Garrow, the series starred Andrew Buchan:

RANKING OF “GARROW’S LAW” SERIES TWO (2010) Episodes

1. (2.02) “Episode Two” – William Garrow defends an Army captain accused of sexually assaulting a young man who works at a London shoemaker’s shop. Sir Arthur Hill hires a slimy lawyer to prove that is wife Lady Sarah Hill and Garrow are guilty of infidelity. Andrew Scott and Matthew McNulty guest star.

2. (2.04) “Episode Four” – While suffering from guilt over his failure to save a twelve year-old mute boy from the gallows, Garrow enters the civil court to hear Sir Arthur’s accusation of adultery against him and Lady Sarah. Samuel West and Emma Davies guest star.

3. (2.01) “Episode One” – The directors of the Liverpool Assurance insurance Company hire Garrow to prosecute a ship’s captain for committing fraud by throwing 133 African slaves overboard during a voyage to Jamaica. A jealous Sir Arthur accuses his wife of adultery and giving birth to Garrow’s son. Jasper Britton, and Danny Sapani guest star.

4. (2.03) “Episode Three” – Garrow defends one Captain Baillie, who is charged with malicious libel after he reports the abuse of retired British sailors at the charitably-run Greenwich Hospital to the Admiralty. Ron Cook, David Robb, Simon Dutton and Brian Pettifer guest star.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1800s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the decade between 1800 and 1809:

 

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1800s

1. “Death Comes to Pemberley” (2013) – Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys starred in this adaptation of P.D. James’ 2011 mystery novel, set six years after the events of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice”, featuring the style and characters of the latter. Daniel Percival directed.

 

 

2. “Sense and Sensibility” (2008) – Andrew Davies wrote this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel about the experiences of two well-born, yet impoverished sisters following the death of their father. Directed by John Alexander, the miniseries starred Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.

 

 

3. “War and Peace” (2016) – Andrew Davies wrote this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel about a group of noble families during the Napoleonic Wars. Directed by Tom Harper, the miniseries starred Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton.

 

 

4. “War and Peace” (1972) – David Conroy created this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel about a group of noble families during the Napoleonic Wars. Directed by John Davies, the miniseries starred Anthony Hopkins, Morag Hood and Alan Dobie.

 

 

5. “Mansfield Park” (1983) – Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell starred in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young impoverished girl sent to live with her aunt and uncle at their elegant estate. The six-part miniseries was written by Kenneth Taylor and directed by David Giles.

 

 

6. “Jack of All Trades” (2000) – Bruce Campbell and Angela Dotchin starred in this syndicated comedy series about two spies – one American and one British – who operate on a French-controlled island in the East Indies.

 

 

7. “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2015) – Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan starred in this adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 novel about the return of magic to Britain through two men during the early 19th century. The series was created by Peter Harness.

 

 

8. “Mansfield Park” (2007) – Billie Piper and Blake Ritson starred in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young impoverished girl sent to live with her aunt and uncle at their elegant estate. The television movie was written by Maggie Wadey and directed by Iain B. MacDonald.