Peggy Carter’s Post-World War II Career

PEGGY CARTER’S POST-WORLD WAR II CAREER

Recently, I did a re-watch of Season One of “AGENT CARTER”. While watching Scientific Strategic Reserve (SSR) Agent Peggy Carter endure the patronizing slights from her boss and fellow agents, I found myself wondering how she ended up as a mere agent, reduced to acting as the office’s secretary/coffee girl after two years as a code breaker at Bletchley Park and four years in the SSR during World War II. 

I am certain that many of you would answer . . . duh, sexism! Like many women after World War II, Peggy had found her wartime activities dismissed by men, who were more concerned with regulating her and other women to traditional roles. This became doubly so for the likes of her post-war supervisors – Captain John Flynn and Chief Roger Dooley; and the latter’s Lead Investigator/Agent, Jack Thompson. It was easier for them to treat Peggy as someone who should have held a secretarial or clerical position at the SSR, instead of an agent.

This was the conclusion I had come to after viewing both the 2013 short film, “MARVEL ONE-SHOT: AGENT CARTER” and Season One of the 2015-2016 series for the first time. It took a recent viewing of Season One for me to harbor some doubts about this story arc for Peggy. Between the creation of the SSR in 1940 and its absorption into the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) as one of the latter’s subdivision near the end of the 1940s; Colonel Chester Phillips served as Director. If Colonel Phillips had served as Director of the SSR during the 2013 short film, along with Seasons One and Two of “AGENT CARTER”, how did Peggy end up being reduced as some lowly field agent whom most of her colleagues dismissed, due to her gender? How did she get into this situation?

While working as a MI-5 agent in 1940, Peggy was loaned out to the SSR. Later that year, she managed to infiltrate HYDRA’s German headquarters at Castle Kaufmann and rescue Dr. Abraham Erskine, creator of the Super Soldier Serum. She also engaged in missions in Brooklyn, New York and the Soviet Union. In June 1943, she was assigned by Phillips to train the potential candidates – one of them, a physically undeveloped Steve Rogers – for Erskine’s serum. By the end of the war, she had more or less become Phillips’ top aide. And following the death (or disappearance) of Steve Rogers, who had been transformed into Captain America by Erskine’s serum, she took command of the Howling Commandos and led the operation to mop up the last remnants of HYDRA in Europe. They managed to capture one of the last HYDRA commanders, General Werner Reinhardt, and an artifact in his possession called the obelisk. Within a year of this operation, Peggy found herself first assigned to the SSR’s Brooklyn, New York office under Captain John Flynn; and later assigned to the SSR’s Manhattan office, which was supervised by Roger Dooley.

So, how did Peggy get into this situation? How did she become the butt of contempt, bigotry and many jokes by her fellow agents? Dismissed as a woman who had no business in what they regarded as a “man’s world”? Both Flynn and Dooley must have seen her personnel file and learned about her exemplary wartime activities. Yet, both continued to dismiss her . . . until she managed to discover a deadly liquid called “the Zodiac”, while working at the SSR’s Brooklyn office. Later, she managed to decrypt an encoded message for the Manhattan office, which was received from a Soviet intelligence group called the Leviathan through its agent, Sascha Demidov’s typewriter. Roger Dooley’s regard for Peggy increased following Thompson’s glowing report of her actions during a mission in the Soviet Union. By the end of Season One’s penultimate episode, Dooley, Thompson and the rest of the agents had learned to accept Peggy for the competent intelligence agent that she was.

After a good deal of thinking, it finally occurred to me what problems I had with this scenario regarding Season One of “AGENT CARTER”. One of them happened to be Colonel Chester Phillips, Director of the SSR. The other problems proved to be the series’ creators, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; and Eric Pearson, who wrote the 2013 one-shot film. According to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Wiki website, Colonel Phillips was the sole director of the SSR throughout the 1940s. If so, why did he assign Peggy to serve under a pair of sexists like John Flynn and Roger Dooley? Peggy was one of Phillips’ best operatives during the war and his top aide. Hell, she was by his side when he and Steve Rogers led the assault on the last base of operations commanded by HYDRA leader Johann Schmidt during the last year of World War II. It made no sense to me that Phillips would assign Peggy to serve under men who obviously had no true professional regard for her. I found this especially hard to believe, considering that by the end of the decade, Phillips had no problems regarding Peggy as a co-founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. And her service under Flynn and Dooley seemed like a step down from her activities during the war.

When Eric Pearson wrote the one-shot film, did he not consider that Chester Phillips had continued to serve as the SSR’s director after the war? Did Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, when they created “AGENT CARTER”? Could any of them consider a different scenario that did not call for Peggy serve the SSR in such a lowly fashion following the war? Peggy could have ended up leading her own field unit . . . and still face the sexism of her colleagues.

But this never happened. And knowing that Chester Phillips continued to serve as Director of the SSR throughout the 1940s, I found the troubles – especially the kind of sexism that Peggy Carter had faced as an agent working in New York City during the immediate post-war years somewhat difficult to swallow. I would have found Peggy facing sexism, while serving in a slightly higher position within the SSR’s hierarchy easier to believe. Or . . . I would have found Peggy’s experiences in New York City easier to swallow if Chester Phillips had been replaced as the SSR’s Director following the end of World War II.

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Observations About “TIMELESS” (1.01) “Pilot”

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In an impulsive move, I decided to do a re-watch of the first episode of the NBC series, “TIMELESS” – (1.01) “Pilot”. And I noticed a few interesting things: 

 

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT “TIMELESS” (1.01) “Pilot”

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1. The mother of historian Lucy Preston, was a seriously ill and bedridden patient when the series began. Rogue NSA Agent Garcia Flynn’s changes to the timeline not only improved Carolyn Preston’s life, but also produced a currently active soldier for the terrorist organization called Rittenhouse. Talk about irony.

 

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2. There was an interesting scene between Mason Industries founder Connor Mason and Homeland Security Agent Denise Christopher, in which the latter chastised the former for creating a time machine behind the U.S. government’s back. Mason had called in the government after the newer time machine was stolen by Garcia Flynn. I had no idea that Agent Christopher and Mason had clashed before the Season Two episode, (2.02) “The Darlington 500″. I wonder if there will be future clashes between the two.

 

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3. Delta Force operative Wyatt Logan had been heavily drinking when he was first summoned to Mason Industries for the first time. His wife Jessica had been dead for at least four to five years at the time, which means he was still in a state of grief.

 

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4. Another example of Wyatt’s continuing grief over Jessica was his instant attraction to fictional journalist, Kate Drummond, who strongly reminded him of his late wife. In fact, this led Wyatt to attempt to save her from the Hindenburg’s original crash and save her from the revised crash, even though she was destined to die.

 

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5. This was a rather interesting scene to me. One, I noticed that Mason Industries programming engineer Rufus Carlin was kept in a separate cell from Lucy and Wyatt in order to maintain the racial status quo in 1937 New Jersey. I also found the scene both funny, thanks to Rufus’ insults to the cop; and scary at the same time. Instead of rushing toward the cell to hurt Rufus, the cop deliberately left the cell room and returned with a fellow cop with the intent to beat Rufus with batons (probably to death), especially since Wyatt was having difficulty unlocking the cells with the underwire of Lucy’s bra.

 

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6. This episode also introduced Flynn’s possession of Lucy’s diary. To this day, I have always wondered how he managed to acquire it, if the time machines cannot travel to the future. Or can they? The page featured in the image above hint the team and Flynn’s activities in the episode, (1.08) “Space Race”.

 

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7. I was surprised that Lucy and Flynn had their first meeting so soon in the series. What is interesting is that Flynn had displayed no hostility toward her. Instead, he told her about the diary and his personal knowledge of her. He also revealed his knowledge of Lucy’s aspirations to follow in Carolyn’s footsteps, warning her that would be a bad idea. This last remark struck me as a foreshadow of the Season One finale’s revelation of Carolyn as a Rittenhouse agent.

 

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8. This episode also revealed that Mason had instructed Rufus to record the team’s mission and to continue doing so in the future. This made me realize that Rittenhouse had been interested in Mason’s time machine from the beginning and foreshadowed Rittenhouse’s use of the newer time machine in Season Two.

 

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9. For a long time, I have wondered why Flynn had wanted to prevent the Hindenburg from crashing the first time on May 6, 1937. But when I noticed that he had planted a bomb on the airship before it was due to return to Germany, I eventually speculated that he had discovered someone connected to Rittenhouse was scheduled to travel on that return journey.

 

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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.

Bakewell Pudding

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Below is an article about the dessert known as Bakewell Pudding

BAKEWELL PUDDING

While reading various articles on the Internet about the cuisine of the Victorian Age, every once in a while I would come across one about a dessert known as Bakewell Pudding. The origin of this dish seemed to be a very confusing matter. Most people associate it with the nineteenth century. Yet, some believe this dish actually originated as far back as the medieval era.

Bakewell pudding was originally referred to as a “tart”. The dessert does not date back to the medieval era, but it is the descendant – more or less – of the egg enriched custards of that period. In short, the dessert consists of a flaky pastry base with a layer of sieved jam. It is topped with a filling made of egg and almond paste. Originally the almonds, which is a hallmark of the dessert, were introduced in the form of a few drips of almond essence in the overlaying sugar, egg, and butter mixture, but gradually it became the custom to use ground almonds, thereby radically altering the nature and consistency of the topping.

The pudding originated in the Derbyshire town of Bakewell, England. And yes, it is named after the town. No one is really certain about the dessert’s year of origin. It is believed that Mrs. Greaves had created it at the White Horse Inn in 1820 or 1860. Actually, it was the Inn’s cook who created it . . . thanks to Mrs. Greaves’ instructions. The latter, who was the inn’s landlady, left instructions for the cook to make a jam tart. While making the tart, the cook layered the pastry base with jam and spread the egg and almond paste mixture on top, instead of mixing it into the pastry. When cooked, the egg and almond paste set like an egg custard and the result was successful enough for it to become a popular dish at the inn.

There are a few problems with this origin tale. One, the White Horse Inn was demolished in 1803 for the development of Rutland Square and the construction of the Rutland Arms Hotel. Which means some believe that the pudding was created in the Rutland Arms Hotel kitchen and not the White Horse Inn. Also, a family called Greaves operated the hotel. But a Mrs. Greaves of the White Horse Inn did not exist. And two, English food writer Eliza Acton had written and published a recipe for the pudding in her 1845 cookbook, “Modern Cookery for Private Families”, making the 1860 origin date impossible. However, Acton was not the first to include a recipe for Bakewell Pudding in a cookbook. Historian Alan Davidson claimed that a food writer named Magaret Dobs had included the recipe for the dessert in her 1826 cookbook, “The Cook and Housewife’s Manual”. As it turned out . . . this is not true. However, a recipe for Bakewell Pudding did appear in the 1847 edition of Dobs’ book. One of the earliest published accounts of the dessert can be found in the 1836 issue of The Magazine of Domestic Economy.

As for the true origin of the Bakewell Pudding . . . who knows? However, below is the recipe for Bakewell Pudding from the All Recipies (U.K. Edition) website:

Bakewell Pudding

Ingredients

Puff Pastries sheets (store bought or homemade)
2 Whole Eggs
4 Extra Yolks
180g Butter
180g Castor Sugar
100g Ground Almonds
1tsp Almond Essence
2tbs Lemon Juice
1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
6-8 Tbs Raspberry Jam or Preserve

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas 4.
Then separate 4 yolks into a bowl and add two more whole eggs. Beat slightly.
Add the melted butter and caster sugar and mix well.
Finally, stir in the ground almonds, almond essence, lemon juice and spices.
Line a dish about 9″ X 7″ with a sheet of puff pastry.
Spread in the bottom of the pastry a layer of preserve about 1/8″ thick.
Pour the mixture over the preserve into the pastry lined dish.
Put into the preheated oven on a middle shelf for 40 – 45 minutes.
When cooked and browned on top, remove from oven, sprinkle over some extra sugar to give it a glaze and allow to cool.

The dessert can be enjoyed with custard or cream.

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Favorite Movies Set During WORLD WAR II BRITAIN

Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Britain during World War II: 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING WORLD WAR II BRITAIN

1. “Dunkirk” (2017) – Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this Oscar nominated film about the British Expeditionary Force’s evacuation from Dunkirk, France in 1940. Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance starred.

2. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) – Angela Landsbury and David Tomlinson starred in this entertaining adaptation of Mary Norton’s novels about a woman studying to become a witch, who takes in three London children evacuated to the country during World War II. Robert Stevenson directed.

3. “Hope and Glory” (1987) – John Boorman wrote and directed this fictionalized account of his childhood during the early years of World War II in England. Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred.

4. “The Imitation Game” (2014) – Oscar nominees Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley starred in this intriguing adaptation of Andrew Hodges’ 1983 book, “Alan Turing: The Enigma”. Morten Tyldum directed.

5. “Darkest Hour” – Joe Wright directed this Oscar nominated film about Winston Churchill’s early weeks as Great Britain’s Prime Minister during the spring of 1940. The movie starred Oscar winner Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott-Thomas and Lily James.

6. “Enigma” (2001) – Dougary Scott and Kate Winslet starred in this entertaining adaptation of Robert Harris’ 1995 novel about Enigma codebreakers of Bletchley Park. Michael Apted directed.

7. “The Americanization of Emily” (1964) – James Garner and Julie Andrews starred in this excellent adaptation of William Bradford Huie’s 1959 about a U.S. Navy adjutant in Britain during the period leading to the Normandy Invasion. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, the movie was directed by Arthur Hiller.

8. “Atonement” (2007) – Joe Wright directed this Oscar nominated adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel about the consequences of a crime. James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan starred.

9. “On the Double” (1961) – Danny Kaye starred in this comedy about a U.S. Army soldier assigned to impersonate a British officer targeted by Nazi spies for assassination. Co-written and directed by Melville Shavelson, the movie co-starred Dana Wynter and Wilfrid Hyde-White.

10. “Sink the Bismarck!” (1960) – Kenneth More and Dana Wynter starred in this adaptation of C.S. Forester’s 1959 book, “The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck”. Lewis Gilbert directed.