Favorite Pre-Gilded Age American History Books

Below is a list of my favorite books that covered the history of the United States from the late British Colonial period to the end of the U.S. Civil War:

FAVORITE PRE-GILDED AGE AMERICAN HISTORY BOOKS

1. “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” (2014) by Edward E. Baptist – This book centers on how slavery and the cotton industry helped develop the rise of U.S. capitalism.

2. “1861: The Civil War Awakening” (2011) by Adam Goodheart – This book depicts the last months of the United States’ Antebellum period and the first months of the U.S. Civil War.

3. “1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See” (2008) by Bruce Chadwick – The book focuses on the historical events in the United States during the year, 1858.

4. “Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings: An American Controversy” (1997) by Annette Gordon-Reed – This book won the Pulitzer Prize for its in-depth exploration of President Thomas Jefferson and one of slaves, Sally Hemings.

5. “The Town That Started the Civil War” (1990) by Nat Brandt – This book is an in-depth study of Oberlin, Ohio during the 19th century and its role in one of the most famous slave rescues in U.S. history.

6. “Slavery and the Making of America” (2004) by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton – This book is a detailed account of the history of slavery in the U.S. from the Colonial period to the end of the Civil War.

7. “The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience” (1981) by J.S. Holliday – This book is an in-depth study of the California Gold Rush between 1848 and 1855.

8. “The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War” (2018) by Andrew Delbanco – This book focuses on slavery and especially the abolition movement from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War.

9. “John Adams” (2001) by David McCullough – This book is a biography of President John Adams and won a Pulitzer Prize.

10. “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad” (2015) by Eric Foner – This book is a detailed account on the history of the Underground Railroad and the abolition movement in New York City.

11. “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” (2005) by Doris Kearns Goodwin – This biography is about the life of President Abraham Lincoln and the more prominent members of his Cabinet before and during the Civil War. It won both the Lincoln Prize and the inaugural Book Prize for American History of the New-York Historical Society.

12. “A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North” (1976) by John Hope Franklin – This book is an account of the experiences of Southern travelers in the Northern states during the years before the Civil War.

“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

Ever since its release in movie theaters back in December 2019, many moviegoers have been in rapture over “LITTLE WOMEN”, filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel. The movie did acquire several acclaims, including Oscar nominations for two of the film’s actresses, Best Adapted Screenplay and an actual Oscar for costume design. I never got the chance to see it in theaters. I finally managed to see it on the HULU streaming service.

Anyone familiar with Alcott’s novel knows that it conveyed the tale of four sisters from a Massachusetts family and their development from adolescence and childhood to adulthood during the 1860s. The first half of Alcott’s tale covered the March sisters’ experiences during the U.S. Civil War. In fact, Alcott had based the March family on herself and her three sisters. Unlike previous adaptations, Gerwig incorporated a nonlinear timeline for this version of “LITTLE WOMEN”.

There were aspects of “LITTLE WOMEN” I truly admired. I did enjoy most of the performances. Or some of them. I thought Saoirse Ronan gave an excellent performance as the movie’s leading character Josephine “Jo” March. I thought she did a pretty good job of recapturing Jo’s extroverted personality and artistic ambitions. I do wish that Gerwig had allowed Jo to convey some of the less pleasant sides to her personality. Do I believe she deserved her Oscar nomination? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Although I thought she gave an excellent performance, I do not know if I would have considered her for an acting nomination.

But I was more than impressed by Eliza Scanlen, who portrayed third sister Elizabeth “Beth” March. Although her story more or less played out in a series of vignettes that switched back and forth between the period in which she first caught the scarlet fever and her death a few years later; Scanlen did a superb job in recapturing the pathos and barely submerged emotions of Beth’s fate. It seemed a pity that she had failed to acquire any acting nominations. One last performance that really impressed me came from Meryl Streep. I have always regarded the temperamental Aunt March as a difficult role for any actress. And although I do not regard Streep’s interpretation of the aging matriarch as the best I have seen, I must admit that for me, she gave one of the best performances in the film. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Tracy Letts, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Bob Odenkirk and Florence Pugh, who also received an Oscar nomination for her performance as the youngest March sister, Amy. About the latter . . . I really admired her portrayal of the older Amy March. But I found her performance as the younger Amy rather exaggerated. And a part of me cannot help but wonder why she had received an Oscar nomination in the first place.

Jacqueline Durran won the film’s only Academy Award – namely for Best Costume Design. Did she deserve it? I honestly do not believe she did. I did enjoy some of her designs, especially for the older Amy March, as shown below:

I found the costumes worn by Pugh, Streep and many extras in the Paris sequences very attractive and an elegant expression of fashion from the late 1860s. Otherwise, I found Durran’s costumes for this film rather questionable. I realize both she and Gerwig were attempting to portray the March family as some kind of 19th century version of “hippies”. But even non-traditional types like the Marches would not wear their clothing in such a slap-dash manner with petticoat hems hanging below the skirts, along with bloomers showing, cuts and styles in clothing that almost seemed anachronistic, and wearing no corsets. The latter would be the equivalent of not wearing bras underneath one’s clothing in the 20th and 21st centuries. Someone had pointed out that many of today’s costume designers try to put a “modern twist” to their work in period dramas in order to appeal to modern moviegoers and television viewers. I really wish they would not. The attempt tends to come off as lazy costuming in my eyes. And this tactic usually draws a good deal of criticism from fans of period dramas. So . . . how on earth did Durran win an Oscar for her work in the first place?

I understand that “LITTLE WOMEN” was filmed in various locations around Massachusetts, including Boston and Cambridge. A part of me felt a sense of satisfaction by this news, considering the story’s setting of Concord, Massachusetts. I was surprised to learn that even the Paris sequences were filmed in Ipswich, Massachusetts. However, I must admit that I was not particularly blown away by Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography. Then again, I can say that for just about every adaptation of Alcott’s novel I have ever seen.

There were scenes from “LITTLE WOMEN” that I found memorable. Those include Jo March’s initial meeting with her publisher Mr. Dashwood; Amy March’s conflict with Theodore “Laurie” Laurence over his behavior in Paris; Jo’s rejection of Laurie’s marriage proposal, and especially the montage featuring Beth March’s bout with scarlet fever and its consequences. However . . . I had some problems with Gerwig’s screenplay.

As I have stated earlier, “LITTLE WOMEN” is not the first movie I have seen that utilized the non-linear plot technique. I have seen at least two adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. Two more famous examples of this plot device were the 1995 film, “12 MONKEYS” and two of Christopher Nolan’s movies – 2000’s “MEMENTO” and 2017’s “DUNKIRK”. How can I put this? I feel that Greta Gerwig’s use of non-linear writing had failed the film’s narrative. It simply did not work for me. Except for the brilliant montage featuring Beth’s fate, it seemed as if Gerwig’s writing had scattered all over the place without any real semblance of following Alcott’s plot. If I had not been already familiar with Alcott’s story, I would have found “LITTLE WOMEN” totally confusing.

I also feel that because of Gerwig’s use of the non-linear technique, she managed to inflict a little damage on Alcott’s plot. Despite the excellent scene featuring Laurie’s marriage proposal, I felt that Gerwig had robbed the development of his relationship with Jo. I also believe that Gerwig had diminished Jo’s relationship with Professor Bhaer. In the film, Bhaer had expressed harsh criticism of Jo’s earlier writing . . . without explaining his opinion. But he never added that Jo had the potential to write better stories than her usual melodrama crap. Why did Gerwig deleted this aspect of Professor Bhaer’s criticism? In order to make him look bad? To set up the idea of Jo ending the story as a single woman, because that was Alcott’s original intent? Did Gerwig consider the original version of this scene a detriment to feminist empowerment? I am also confused as to why Gerwig allowed the March family to push her into considering Professor Bhaer as a potential mate for Jo? This never happened in the novel. Jo had come to her decision to marry the professor on her own perogative. She did not have to be pushed into this decision. Come to think of it, exactly how did Jo’s fate end in the movie? I am confused. Did she marry Bhaer after rushing to the train station in order to stop him from leaving for California? Or did she remain single? Whatever.

And why on earth did she position Amy and Laurie’s first meeting after the former’s hand had been caned by her school teacher? Gerwig had transformed an incident that had taught Amy a lesson about self-respect and generated the Marches’ righteous anger against a schoolteacher’s abuse to one of comic relief and a cute rom.com meet for Amy and Laurie. What the hell? Someone had once complained that Gerwig may have assumed that everyone was familiar with Alcott’s story when she wrote this screenplay. And I agree with that person. Earlier I had questioned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ decision to award the Best Costume Design statuette to Jacqueline Durran and nominate Florence Pugh for Best Supporting Actress. But I also have to question the organization’s decision to nominate Gerwig’s writing for Best Adapted Screenplay. I honestly believe she did not deserve it.

There were aspects of “LITTLE WOMEN” that I found admirable. I was certainly impressed by some of the film’s dramatic moments. And there were a handful of performances from the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen and Meryl Streep that truly impressed me. But I cannot deny that the other members of the cast gave either first-rate or solid performances. In the end, I did not like the movie.

I believe “LITTLE WOMEN” should have never been nominated for Best Picture. Greta Gerwig’s use of the nonlinear technique did not serve Louisa May Alcott’s plot very well. If I had not been familiar with the novel’s plot, I would have found this movie confusing. Aside from Ronan’s Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, I feel that the other nominations and Best Costume Design win were undeserved. And a part of me feels a sense of relief that Gerwig had never received a nomination for Best Director.

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: Fans Dislike of Betty Draper

I first wrote the following article when the “MAD MEN” Season Three episode, (3.04) “The Arrangement”, first aired back in September 2009:

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: FANS DISLIKE OF BETTY DRAPER

I am angry. After watching the latest “MAD MEN” episode – (3.04) “The Arrangement” – and reading numerous comments about it, I have become angry over fans’ reaction to the character of Betty Draper.

Ironically, I am not angry at Matt Weiner. But I am angry at many fans for their continuing misreading of Betty Draper’s character. I just read this article on the episode and now find myself wondering if the fans of this show have ever understood the character. As of this moment, I am beginning to doubt it very much. Much of the fans’ vitriol toward Betty seemed to stem from her “treatment” of her two children, Sally and Bobby.

Ever since the airing of the Season Two episode, (2.02) “Flight 1”“MAD MEN” fans have been accusing Betty Draper (portrayed by January Jones) of being a poor mother. In this particular episode, they nitpicked over her complaint about Bobby’s lies about a drawing he had submitted in school. He had traced the drawing from another illustration and declared it as his own original work.

Matters became worse in (2.04) “Three Sundays” when Betty had demanded that Don punish Bobby for a series of infractions. After this episode had aired, many fans accused her of being a cold and abusive parent, especially since she had expressed anger at Don for refusing to discipline his son. To this day, I am shocked, not by Betty’s insistence upon disciplining her son, but by the fans’ reactions. Surely they realized that the episode was set in 1962? Before this decade and in the following two, parents had disciplined their children with spankings. Yet, fans had acted as if this was something rare and accused Betty of being an abusive mother.

In a later episode, (2.12) “The Mountain King”, Betty caught her daughter Sally smoking. She punished the girl by locking her in a closet for a few hours. Again, fans accused Betty of being abusive. They completely ignored the fact that Sally, a young girl under the age of 10, was smoking and focused upon Betty’s punishment. I find myself wondering how my parents would have reacted if they had caught me smoking. I suspect that they would have shown less restraint than Betty. Hell, I suspect I would also show less restraint. Betty eventually let Sally out of the closet and explained – somewhat – the situation between Don and herself (they were separated at the time). But the damage had been done. Betty was now a bad mother.

Finally, Season Three had premiered last month. And if the fans’ reaction to Betty had been hostile during certain episodes of Season Two, it became downright vitriolic during this season. In the season premiere, (3.01) “Out of Town”, fans complained about Betty’s curt dismissal of Bobby, as she and Don were prepared to discipline Sally for breaking into her father’s suitcase. They also complained of Betty’s desire to give birth to a second daughter, citing this as an example of her immaturity. They also accused her of being immature when she insisted that her ailing father, Gene Hofstadt, remain with the Drapers after his live-in girlfriend abandoned him. They claimed that Betty wanted to prevent her brother William from selling their father’s home and profiting from it. Again, they complained about Betty being curt to Sally, when she ordered the young girl to zip up the dress she wore at Roger Sterling’s garden party in (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”. But the fans’ hostility toward Betty hit an all time high for the first time, since “Three Sundays”, in this latest episode.

According to many hostile fans, Betty is guilty of the following in “The Arrangement”:

*Her refusal to discuss with Gene his plans to distribute his late wife’s furs to herself and her sister-in-law, which many saw as a sign of her immaturity.

*A few fans had accused her of closing the door on Sally, after the police officer had arrived with news of Gene’s death. Of course, this was untrue.

*Her dismissal of Sally from the kitchen, after the latter ranted at the adult Drapers and Betty’s brother William, over their “failure” to grieve over Gene’s death.

*Her failure to comfort Sally over Gene’s death.

Betty’s refusal to discuss Gene’s plans to distribute his late wife’s furs upon his death drew a great deal of critical fire. Personally, I do not understand why. Her refusal to discuss such matters seemed reasonable to me. Why would any grown child want to discuss a parent’s impending death, like it was part of a business discussion? That strikes me as morbid and too emotional for anyone to bear. Especially if that particular person was in the last trimester of her pregnancy. In one of his more lucid moments, Gene could have written down his wishes regarding inheritance and other arrangements in a signed letter. Instead, he decided to openly discuss the matter with Betty, who obviously found the subject disturbing. And I have a question. Why on earth did he wait so long to distribute his late wife’s furs? She had been dead for over three years.

Many fans pointed out that Gene’s disappointment in Betty was a clear indication of her shallow and immature nature. His main complaints seemed to center around her failure to become a professional, like her mother used to be (Ruth Hofstadt had been an engineer back in the 1920s); and her marriage to Don. Now, this man knew what kind of parent his wife used to be. There has never been any previous hint in past episodes that Gene and Ruth Hofstadt had encouraged Betty to acquire a profession. When she became a professional model, Mrs. Hofstadt called her a whore. And judging from Gene’s story about his wife’s efforts to reduce Betty’s weight, I suspect that he left his daughter solely in Ruth’s hands. As for Betty’s marriage to Don, had Gene become aware that his son-in-law had stolen someone else’s identity? Or was he simply disappointed that Betty had married a man from a working-class background who did not have any family? If Gene knew that Don was a phony, why has he never exposed the latter? And if Gene’s problem with Don had more to do with the younger man’s social background, then it would only lead me to believe that he may have been just as shallow as his daughter and just every other major character in the series – including the leading man.

Some fans have accused Betty of shutting the front door in young Sally’s face after learning about Gene’s death. Well, I have an easy response. The cop who had delivered the news about Gene was the one who had closed the door in Sally’s face, preventing her from following him and Betty into the house. And since I do not recall him locking the door, Sally could have easily went ahead and followed them inside.

We finally come to the one scene that caused a great deal of hostility from the fans – namely Betty’s dismissal of Sally, following the latter’s outbreak over her grandfather’s death. Many fans expressed outrage over Betty’s action, claiming it as another example of her cold attitude toward her children. The interesting thing about their reaction is that they were only willing to view the scene from Sally’s point-of-view. No one was willing to view it from Betty’s point-of-view, or anyone else. Very few seemed unwilling to consider that both Betty and her brother, William, were devastated from their father’s death. As far as I know, one person was able to understand both Betty and Sally’s point-of-views, due to her own personal experiences. William tried to hide his own grief through a mild joke and both Betty and Don had laughed. Sally, who had overheard the joke, had jumped to conclusions that none of them cared about Gene’s death. And because of this belief, she ranted against her parents and uncle. Upset and shaken by her daughter’s outburst, Betty ordered Sally to her room . . . before she began to cry. And instead of viewing the scene as another example of family conflict during a special occasion – a death in the family, in this case – many viewers saw this as another example of Betty Draper’s despicable nature. I even came across an article that failed to mention Betty’s grief over her father’s death.

What I cannot understand is why very few viewers failed to comment on Don’s actions. What exactly did he do? He laughed at William’s joke. He looked understandably stunned by Sally’s outburst. He mildly chastised Betty for eating one of the peaches found in Gene’s car, and she ignored him. Speaking of the peaches, many fans saw Betty’s consumption of one of them either as a sign of her immaturity . . . or some kind of malice toward Sally. Following William and Judy’s departure, Don comforted a grieving Betty inside their bedroom. And when she finally went to sleep, he peeked in on Sally. That is it. He hardly did anything to comfort Sally. And yet . . . I have not come across any criticism against his actions in this episode.

I wish I could explain why Betty has received the majority of criticism from the fans. She has become the Bobbie Barrett of Season Three – the female everyone loves to hate. Fans have yet to find this season’s Duck Phillips. But I suspect that it will not take them very long. Are fans so desperate to find a character to vilify every season that they are unwilling to examine the complexities of all characters? Why are they willing to excuse the flaws and mistakes of female characters like Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway Harris and dump all of their ire on the likes of Betty Draper? Is it because Peggy has managed to adhere to their ideals of the new feminist of the 1960s and 70? Or that they admire Joan’s sophistication, style and wit? Whatever.

Look . . . I realize that Betty Draper is not perfect. She is not the world’s greatest mother and at times, she can be rather immature and shallow. But you know what? None of the other characters are perfect. Don strikes me as an even worse parent than Betty. He seems obsessed with maintaining appearance. And he is a fraud. Despite her ambition and talent, Peggy strikes me as an immature woman who assumes facades and personas with more speed than her mentor. I still cannot fathom her reaction to that opening sequence of “BYE-BYE BIRDIE” in the episode, (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. Despite the strides he had gained during late Season Two, Pete Campbell failed to overcome his desire for approval . . . and he still acts like a prat when things do not go his way. Paul Kinsey is another poseur who is ashamed of his past as a middle-class or working-class New Jersey man; and of the fact that he had attended Princeton via a scholarship. As for Joan . . . I really do not know what to think of her. Why on earth would an intelligent and experienced woman of the world marry a man who had raped her? Why? I have asked this question on several blogs, message boards and forums. And instead of giving me an answer, fans either make excuses for Joan’s choice or gloss over it by expressing their anticipation for the day when she finally leaves her husband.

I realize that I cannot force or coerce fans to even like Betty. But I am finding it difficult to accept or embrace their view. I am beginning to suspect that fans have allowed their emotions and prejudices to get in the way of any possibility of a rational discussion on the series and its characters. And considering that the comments regarding Betty’s role in “The Arrangement” has managed to anger me, I realize I no longer can conduct a rational discussion, myself.

P.S. – The “MAD MEN” fandom’s hypocritical attitude toward Betty in compare to other characters failed to abate for a good number – probably not until the end.

“THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” (1977) Review

“THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” (1977) Review

I have seen my share of movie and television productions that are based on novels and plays by Alexandre Dumas père and his son Alexandre Dumas fils And for some reason, I never get tired of watching them – over and over again. And one of them is the 1977 television movie, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”.

Directed by Mike Newell and adapted by William Bast, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is loosely based on Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. The novel was the third and last of the author’s “The d’Artagnan Romances” literary trilogy, following “The Three Musketeers” and “Twenty Years After”. The movie begins with Philippe Bourbon being snatched by a group of mysterious men from his small French estate and imprisoned at the Bastille. It turns out that the men behind this kidnapping is King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the head of the Musketeers, D’Artagnan.

Aware that Philippe is the twin brother of the king (and the rightful monarch of France), the pair plan to conduct a bloodless coup to eventually switch Philippe with the corrupt and malicious Louis. However, their plans are stymied when the Chevalier Duval, an aide of the also corrupt Superintendent of Finances Nicolas Fouquet, stumbles across Philippe. Fouquet, via instructions from Louis, orders Duval to take Philippe from the Bastille and install him in another prison on the coast. Fortunately for Colbert and D’Artagnan, they learn of Philippe’s fate from Louis’ reluctant and disenchanted mistress Louise de La Vallière and plot to rescue the royal twin and continue with their plot to replace him with Louis.

When I saw “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” for the first time, I thought it was perfect. Flawless. And it became one of my favorite Alexandre Dumas adaptations and television movies for years. After my recent viewing of the television movie, I now realize that it is not perfect. I feel that screenwriter William Bast had changed one aspect of Dumas’ novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”, that had an impact on the 1977 movie’s narrative. The novel had portrayed Louis as the older twin and rightful king of France. For some reason, Bast had made Philippe the oldest twin. Why? I have no idea. To justify Philippe’s theft of the French throne? Unfortunately, this narrative change left me wondering why Philippe, as the “older twin” was not allowed to be his father’s heir and later, successor. In one scene, Colbert explained that former French minister and lover of the twins’ mother Queen Anne, Cardinal Mazarin, had Philippe taken away following the latter’s birth, in order to manipulate then King Louis XIII. This explanation struck me as lame and confusing. And Bast should have never changed this aspect of Dumas’ plot.

Many moviegoers have become increasingly critical of any production that have not closely adhere to its literary source over the years. I have no idea how many of them felt about this 1977 television movie. But I have a pretty good idea how I feel about it. Although I found the major change mentioned in the above paragraph troubling, I had no problems with many of other Bast’s changes. I have read Dumas’ novel. It was interesting . . . to say the least. I have no problems reading or watching a story with a downbeat ending if it suits the narrative or if I am in the mood to embrace it. I have never been in the mood to embrace Dumas’ 1847-50 novel. Which would probably explain why I enjoyed the changes in this adaptation a lot. But wait . . . extreme changes had been made in other adaptations of “The Vicomte de Bragelonne”. What was it about this particular adaptation that I enjoyed? I found it better written than the other adaptations.

For me, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” was a tight and well-written story that did not drag or rush the movie’s narrative. Which is more than I can say for Dumas’ story. Most Dumas’ adaptations tend to be part-dramas/part-swashbucklers. “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” – at least this version – seemed to be eighty-five percent drama and fifteen percent action. In fact, the only real action sequence in this production turned out to be D’Artagnan’s rescue of Philippe from the coastal prison. And if I must be honest, I thought Mike Newell’s direction, Freddie Young’s cinematography and Bill Blunden’s editing made that sequence a tense, yet exciting affair.

However, the meat of “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” centered around its dramatic scenes. Thanks to Newell’s direction, Bast’s screenplay and a talented cast, the television movie featured some very memorable scenes. Among my favorites are Philippe’s discovery that he is the King of France’s twin brother, Louis’ malicious reaction to his failure to impress Louise de La Vallière, a tense conversation between Philippe and Queen Marie-Therese, and the last verbal duel between Colbert and Fouquet. If I had to select my absolute favorite scene, it had to be the one that featured Louis’ “Sun King” ballet, Louise’s failure to be impressed and Louis’ malicious act of using the Queen as a scapegoat for his embarrassment.

As I had earlier stated, the dramatic scenes in “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” would have never been fully satisfying to me without its top notch cast. Yes, there were solid performances from the likes of Denis Lawson, Hugh Fraser and Brenda Bruce. But I found myself impressed by other members of the cast. They include Vivien Merchant, who did an excellent job in conveying Queen Marie-Therese’s mixed emotions toward her emotionally abusive spouse – whether it was desire, resentment or a combination of both. Ian Holm was excellent as Minister Fouchet’s aide, the Chevalier Duval, who seemed to be brimming with cunning intelligence and stealth. I would never associate Louis Jordan portraying a swashbuckling figure. But I must admit that he made an excellent man-of-action in his portrayal of the experienced, competent and quick-thinking D’Artagnan.

Jenny Agutter gave a sublime and passionate performance as Louise de La Vallière, Louis’ reluctant mistress who ended up falling in love with the latter’s twin. Ralph Richardson’s portrayal of France’s finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert struck me as one of the more entertaining performances in the production. I found Richardson’s Colbert cunning, intelligent, patient and more importantly – at least to me – witty. I have seen Patrick McGoohan in several heroic and villainous roles. But I must admit that his Nicolas Fouquet struck me as one of the most subtlety portrayed villains I have ever seen on screen. McGoohan’s Fouquet could put Sheev Palpatine from the STAR WARS saga when it comes to subtle villainy. And I like subtle villains. I find them more dangerous.

If I had to give an award for the best performance in “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”, I would give it to its leading man, Richard Chamberlain. Mind you, Chamberlain had to portray two characters – the decent, yet slightly hot-headed Philippe Bourbon; and the vain and egotistic King Louis XIV. Mind you, I thought Chamberlain did an excellent job of conveying Philippe’s sense of confusion, anger and passion. But the actor’s portrayal of Louis literally knocked my socks off. Chamberlain’s performance was not over-the-top. He did a subtle job of conveying Louis’ villainy. And yet, he managed to inject a great deal of – how can I put it – a joie de vivre quality in his performance that I found truly entertaining. There was no doubt that Chamberlain’s Louis was a villain. But his Louis proved to be one of the most entertaining villains I have seen on screen.

I realize that I have yet to discuss the television movie’s production values. We are talking about the 1970s. Although I can recall a good number of television miniseries with first-rate production values, I cannot say the same about several period television productions from both sides of the Atlantic. And “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is a television movie with a 100 minutes running time. However, I thought its production values were first-rate. Despite being a made-for-TV movie, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” was shot on several locations in both France and Great Britain. Thankfully, Freddie Young’s photography did an excellent job in enhancing those locations. John Stoll took advantage of those locations and skillfully re-created France and Louis XIV’s court of the late 1660s or early 1670s. I am not an expert of 17th century fashion – in France or anywhere else. I have no idea whether Olga Lehmann’s costume designs or Betty Glasow’s hairstyle are historically accurate. But I cannot deny that I found the hairstyles satisfying and Lehman’s costumes beautiful, as shown below:

In the end, I am happy to state that “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” remains one of my all time favorite adaptations of an Alexandre Dumas père novel. Despite my quibble of one of William Bast’s changes in Dumas’ story, I feel more than satisfied with his other changes and thought he had presented a first-rate story. And my satisfaction also extends to Mike Newell’s top-notch direction and the excellent performances from a cast led by the always superb Richard Chamberlain.