Tarte Tatin aux Pommes

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Below is a small article about the French dessert known as Tarte Tatin aux Pommes:

TARTE TATIN AUX POMMES

I love Apple Pie. I love it more than any other dessert on Earth . . . well, aside from donuts. I thought there was only one kind of apple pie. Which goes to show how limiting my thinking could be. And I eventually discovered when I learned about the French dessert, Tarte Tatin aux Pommes.

The Tarte Tatin aux Pommes is a pastry that consists of fruit, usually apples, is caramelized in butter and sugar before it is baked as a tart. The apples originally used for the dessert came from two regional varieties – Reine des Reinettes (Queen of the Pippins), and Calville. Over the years, other apple varieties have been used, including Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and Gala. When choosing apples for a Tarte Tatin aux Pommes, it is important to pick a type that will hold their shape while cooking, and not melt into apple sauce. In North America, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, or Jonathan have proven to be popular choices. The Tarte Tatin can also be made with pears, quinces, peaches, pineapple, and tomatoes. Other fruit and vegetables like an onion can also be used. The Tarte Tatin aux Pommes should be made with puff or shortcrust pastry.

The creation of the Tarte Tatin aux Pommes proved to be an accident. The dessert was created at a hotel called Hôtel Tatin, located in the commune of Lamotte-Beuvron, 200 miles south of Paris, France. The Hotel Tatin was owned by two sisters named Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin during the 1880s. The most common tale about the dessert’s origin is that Stéphanie, who did most of the hotel’s cooking, had started to make a traditional apple pie. But feeling overworked, she left the apples cooking in butter and sugar too long. Realizing that the apples and butter might be in danger of burning, Stéphanie tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert. There is another origin tale for the dessert. In it, Stéphanie had baked a caramelized apple tart upside-down by mistake. She went ahead and served the hotel’s guests the unusual dish. Whatever the veracity of either story, the concept of the upside down tart was new in the 1880s. For instance, patissier Antonin Carême had mentioned glazed gâteaux renversés adorned with apples from Rouen or other fruit in his 1841 book, “Pâtissier Royal Parisien”.

The tarte eventually became a signature dish of the Hôtel Tatin. Many historians and gourmets have argued whether it is a genuine creation of the Tatin sisters or the branding of an improved version of the “Tarte Solognote”, a traditional dish named after the Sologne region which surrounds Lamotte-Beuvron. Research suggests that, while the Tarte Tatin aux Pommes became a specialty of the Hôtel Tatin, the sisters did not set out to create a “signature dish”. They had never written a cookbook or published their recipe. The sisters never even called it Tarte Tatin aux Pommes. That recognition was bestowed upon them after their deaths by Curnonsky, famous French author and epicure, as well as the Parisian restaurant Maxim’s.

Below is a classic recipe for Tarte Tatin aux Pommes from the Epicurious website:

Tarte Tatin aux Pommes

Ingredients

*Frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17 1/4-ounce package)
*1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
*1/2 cup sugar
*7 to 9 Gala apples (3 to 4 pounds), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored

Special Equipment

*A well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll pastry sheet into a 101/2-inch square on a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin. Brush off excess flour and cut out a 10-inch round with a sharp knife, using a plate as a guide. Transfer round to a baking sheet and chill.

Spread butter thickly on bottom and side of skillet and pour sugar evenly over bottom. Arrange as many apples as will fit vertically on sugar, packing them tightly in concentric circles. Apples will stick up above rim of skillet.

Cook apples over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until juices are deep golden and bubbling, 18 to 25 minutes. (Don’t worry if juices color unevenly.)

Put skillet in middle of oven over a piece of foil to catch any drips. Bake 20 minutes (apples will settle slightly), then remove from oven and lay pastry round over apples.
Bake tart until pastry is browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer skillet to a rack and cool at least 10 minutes.

Just before serving, invert a platter with lip over skillet and, using potholders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto platter. Replace any apples that stick to skillet. (Don’t worry if there are black spots; they won’t affect the flavor of the tart.) Brush any excess caramel from skillet over apples. Serve immediately.

Cooks’ note:

*Tart can cool in skillet up to 30 minutes. It can also stand, uncovered, up to 5 hours, then be heated over moderately low heat 1 to 2 minutes to loosen caramel. Shake skillet gently to loosen tart before inverting.

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“FLAME OVER INDIA” (1959) Review

“FLAME OVER INDIA” (1959) Review

I have seen my share of movie and television productions set during the heyday of the British Empire over the years. They have featured narratives that range from being rabidly pro-Imperial to being highly critical of British Imperial policies and society. Recently, I re-discovered an old movie that seemed to straddle between the two styles of this genre, the 1959 adventure film, “FLAME OVER INDIA aka NORTH WEST FRONTIER”.

Directed by J. Lee Thompson, “FLAME OVER INDIA” began in the North West Frontier of 1905 British India, when a Hindu Maharajah asks British Army Captain William Scott to take his young son and heir, Prince Kishan, to the safety of the British Governor’s residence in Haserabad, due to a Muslim uprising in his province. Accompanying them is the prince’s nanny/governess, an American widow named Mrs. Catherine Wyatt. They leave shortly before the rebels storm the palace and kill the Maharajah. Upon their arrival in Haserabad, Captain Scott and Mrs. Wyatt learn that Muslim rebels threaten to overrun the Residency, due to knowledge of the young prince’s arrival. The Residency’s Governor, Sir John Wyndham, informs Captain Scott that he must take Prince Kishan to the safety of Kalapur. Scott discovers an old train, the Empress of India, and decides to use it to get Kishan and Mrs. Wyatt to safety. Because of the danger of developing siege in Haserabad, other passengers join Scott, Mrs. Wyatt and Kishan on the journey:

*Gupta – the Empress of India’s driver
*Lady Wyndham – Sir John’s wife
*Peter van Leyden – a Dutch biracial anti-Imperialist journalist
*Mr. Bridie – one of Sir John’s government aides
*Mr. Peters – an arms dealer who does business with all sides
*Two Indian sergeants acting as Captain Scott’s aides

There are some aspects of “FLAME OVER INDIA” that did not particularly impress me. Actually, I can only think of two. In one scene, the Empress of India’s passengers had come across a train that had departed Haserabad earlier in the film. Apparently, the rebels had massacred all of the train’s passengers, leaving behind one infant still alive. Now, I realize that this scene is supposed to be some kind of allegory of the religious strife that marred Britain’s partition from India in 1947 and its role in that strife. The problem is that this scene would have been more suited for a story set during that period, instead of a movie set in 1905. I also had a problem with the film’s final action sequence. It is not terrible, but it struck me as a bit anti-climatic. Especially since it ended with the Empress of India’s passengers evading capture by the train’s entrance into a two-mile long hillside tunnel that led to the safety of Kalapur.

Overall, I thought “FLAME OVER INDIA” was a first-rate movie that seamlessly combined the elements of two genres – action and drama. At first glance, it seemed Captain Scott using a train to convey young Kishan to the safety of Kalapur offered no real challenges – especially against pursuers on horseback. Scott and Gupta had initially planned to sneak the passengers out of Haserabad by freewheeling the Empress of India down a gradient and out of the rail yard, but the train’s whistle unexpectedly blows, alerting the rebels to their departure. The screenwriters ensure that the Empress and its passengers encounter other obstacles to make it difficult to evade their pursuers – including torn up tracks, the train’s nearly empty water tank, the train full of massacred passengers, a bomb-damaged viaduct/bridge and a spy in their midst. If I had a choice for my favorite action sequence, it would be the one in which the Empress of India passengers attempt to fix the sabotaged tracks in the middle of a gun battle. It is a pity that this incident occurred midway in the film.

More importantly, “FLAME OVER INDIA” is an excellent drama in which the political situation – the rebellion within Kishan’s province – served as a reflection of the divisions in British India around the turn of the 20th century and the Britons’ role in its origin. In fact, this topic manifested in a tense scene featuring an argument between Captain Scott and Peter van Leyden following the passengers’ discovery of the train massacre. Earlier, I had commented that “FLAME OVER INDIA” seemed to straddle between those rabidly pro-Imperial movies to those highly critical of British Empire. The quarrel between Captain Scott and van Leyden over the train massacre and British Imperial policy seemed to personify this “no Man’s Land” between the genre’s two styles. But the movie also featured other characters who seemed to represent not only these two positions on Imperial policies, but also that middle ground. Even Captain Scott’s characters seemed to be on the verge of that middle ground by the film’s end.

I have seen “FLAME OVER INDIA” on many occasions, but it finally occurred to me that it reminded me of another film. I noticed that one of the screenwriters was Frank Nugent, who had written the screenplays for several of John Ford’s movies between 1948 and 1963. Although Nugent never worked on one of Ford’s best films, “STAGECOACH”, I realized that “FLAME OVER INDIA” bore a strong resemblance to the Oscar winning 1939 film. Like “STAGECOACH”, this film is about a group of people who undertake a long-distance journey through dangerous territory. And like the 1939 movie, it is also a strong character study of people from different backgrounds, personalities and philosophies. Whereas “STAGECOACH” seemed more like an exploration of class (and regional) differences between late 19th century Americans, “FLAME OVER INDIA” is more of an exploration of the impact of the British Empire upon the movie’s main characters – the Europeans, one American, one Eurasian and two Asians. The ironic aspect of the film’s theme is that even young Kishan, who served mainly as the movie’s catalyst, had the last word about the British presence in India, near the end.

“FLAME OVER INDIA” struck me as a colorful looking film, thanks to its technical crew. The movie was shot at Pinewood Studios, and also on location in India and Spain. And I must say that cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth did a beautiful job with his photography for both locations. And I must admit that I really admired how he balanced his close-up, far-shots and zooming . . . especially during the film’s opening sequence that depicted the Muslim rebels overrunning the palace of Kishan’s father. I was also impressed by Frederick Wilson’s editing of J. Lee Thompson’s direction of the action sequences – especially the opening sequence and that featuring the repair of the damaged tracks. Between Thompson and Wilson, they managed to fill the movie with a great deal of action, suspense and drama. I also enjoyed Yvonne Caffin’s Edwardian costumes for the film. But like her work for the 1958 movie, “A NIGHT TO REMEMBER”, they did not strike me as particularly mind-blowing, but they certainly did not look cheap or straight out of a costume warehouse.

The 1959 movie did not exactly have a large cast . . . unless one would consider the number of extras. But I have to say that I did not have anything negative to say about the performances in “FLAME OVER INDIA”. The movie featured solid performances from the likes of Ian Hunter, Jack Gwillim, and Basil Hoskins. Both S.M. Asgaralli and Sam Chowdhary, who portrayed the two sepoys under Scott’s command, had spoken at least two or three lines between them and still managed to effectively convey the idea of competent soldiers. And Govind Raja Ross gave a very charming performance as the young Prince Kishan. He was not the best child actor I have ever seen, but I found him charming.

However, the film’s best performances came the major supporting cast members and the two leads. I cannot say that Ursula Jeans gave a complex performance. After all, I could never regard her character, Lady Windham, as flexible. But Jeans did an excellent job in conveying the conservative, yet ladylike “memsahib” of the British Empire. Eugene Deckers gave a very entertaining performance as the witty and cynical arms dealer, Mr. Peters. In fact, I would say that Deckers gave the most entertaining performance in the film. Wilfrid Hyde-White gave a charming, yet poignant performance as the mild-mannered, yet very open-minded government aide, Mr. Bridie. Hyde-White did such a good job in conveying his character’s likability that even a hostile character like Peter van Leyden recognized him for the tolerant person he was. While checking I.S. Johar’s filmography on the IMDB site, I noticed that he made very few English-speaking films, one of them being the 1978 Agatha Christie movie, “DEATH ON THE NILE”. Personally, I believe his role as the effervescent, yet skilled train engineer/driver, Gupta, to be a breath of fresh air, in compare to his role in the 1978 murder mystery. Johar not only gave a first-rate performance, he managed to create a crackling screen chemistry with leading man Kenneth More.

If I had my choice for the best performance in “FLAME OVER INDIA”, I would choose Herbert Lom’s portrayal of the biracial journalist, Peter van Leyden. Lom did an excellent job in conveying his character’s intelligence, penchant for confrontations and complex anger toward the British presence in India and European colonialism in general. Lom’s Peter van Leyden may have been an unpleasant character, but what he had to say about colonialism and the British attitude toward the subcontinent’s natives resonated with a great deal of truth. The producers of “FLAME OVER INDIA” had originally considered Olivia de Havilland for the role of Prince Kishan’s widowed governess, Mrs. Catherine Wyatt. However, the former was unavailable and they turned to American actress Lauren Bacall to portray the role. One would not expect an American character in a film set in British India. And yet . . . Bacall gave such a first-rate performance as the forthright, yet slightly cynical Mrs. Wyatt that I never gave it another thought. More importantly, she also managed to create a strong, yet natural screen chemistry with More, which took me by surprise. Speaking of Kenneth More, he gave a strong and intelligent performance as the movie’s leading character, Captain William Scott. In a way, More’s portrayal of Scott struck me as rather odd. Superficially, his Scott seemed like the typical British Army officer who believed in the righteousness of the British Empire and regarded its Indian subjects as children. And yet, Scott seemed to be a bit more complicated. He preached like a typically bigoted colonial and behaved like a more tolerant man who had a tight friendship with the likes of Gupta and treated the two sepoys (soldiers) under him as competent fighting men, instead of children who needed to be constantly supervised. Like I had said, More’s Scott proved to be something different from the usual military character in a British Imperial film. Then again, the movie had been made over a decade after India’s independence.

I may have a few quibbles about “FLAME OVER INDIA”, but overall I really enjoyed the film. It might be one of the few British Empire movies that I truly enjoyed before the more ambiguous Imperial films of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The film’s screenwriters also created a first-rate adventure film that also proved to be a complex drama and character study. “FLAME OVER INDIA” also benefited from first-rate cinematography from the legendary Geoffrey Unsworth, excellent acting from a cast led by Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall, and superb direction from J. Lee Thompson. I believe there is nothing further for me to say.

“MAD MEN” Observations: (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”

After a recent re-watch of the Season Three “MAD MEN” episode called (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”, I came up with the following observations:

 

 

“MAD MEN” OBSERVATIONS: (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”

*I think that from the moment tobacco heir Lee Garner Jr. tried and failed to seduce Sterling Cooper’s art director, Sal Romano; the latter was simply screwed. Even if media buyer Harry Crane had immediately informed co-owner Roger Sterling or creative director Don Draper about Garner’s demand; or if Sal had acted professionally and told not only Don, but Roger on what happened, he was screwed. The client came first. Especially clients like Lee Garner and Conrad Hilton, who were too powerful to ignore. As I recall that back in Season One, even Don had to apologize to one of the agency’s clients, Rachel Menken, for his outburst. Despite the fact that she had yet to become an official client.

 

 

*Following the original airing of the episode, I had read a few posts on Betty Draper’s aborted affair with political advisor Henry Francis. I find it interesting that so many viewers and critics were disappointed that she did not go ahead with the affair. In fact, they had harshly criticized Betty for not going through with the affair . . . which I found rather odd. Even more interesting was that some of the fans had demanded to know what she really wanted. Henry had also seemed to wonder. Judging from her disappointment with her marriage to Don at the time and the realization that Henry may have simply wanted an affair, I eventually suspected that Betty had wanted a meaningful relationship with someone. That had explained the letters she exchanged with Henry, her anger at Don for keeping her in the dark about his contract problems, and her tears following the dinner with Jimmy and Bobbie Barrett in (2.03) “The Benefactor”. And when she had visited Henry’s office, Betty had wrongly suspected that she would never receive one from Henry, anymore than she had received one from Don.

 

 

*Despite Betty’s remark about civil rights, Carla was one lucky woman . . . at the time. After eavesdropping on Betty’s telephone call with Henry, she could have easily found herself in the same situation as Sal ended up by the episode’s end. All Betty had to do was fire her and lie to Don about her reasons behind the discharge. Unless she had feared Carla would retaliate by telling Don about Betty’s meeting with Henry. That is the only reason I could find why Carla remained employed by the episode’s end.

*I still find it interesting that many had lobbied criticisms at Betty for her remark about the Civil Rights Movement. I found it interesting and a little hypocritical. One, of course Betty would make such a remark. She was a white female from a privileged background. And she was also a conservative, although a moderate one. She had called Carla “girl” when referring to the latter during a phone call with Henry. What had many fans expect? Yet, many of these same fans had made excuse after excuse for Joan’s unnecessary and racist remarks to Sheila White back in Season Two. And had conveniently forgotten that Don had been in the habit of calling Carla or other black female servants, “girl”, as well.

 

 

*How many times had Don assumed an aggressive stand when a client failed to be impressed by his work? Why did he do this? Was this Don’s way of intimidating a client into accepting his work? I can still recall him pulling this stunt with Rachel Menken, which angered her in the process. He had also pulled this stunt with the client from Belle Jolie account and succeeded. Then he tried it with Conrad Hilton and failed. Ironically, many of the series’ fans had reacted angrily over this incident at Hilton. I found myself feeling slightly sympathetic toward him. After all, he is the client. If he did not like Don’s presentation, he did not like it. Don’s slight temper tantrum seemed a bit uncalled for.

*Is it just me or did Peggy look slightly smug after Connie Hilton made it clear that he disapproved of Don’s presentation? Mind you, I had not been impressed by it, either. The presentation had struck me as a bit too simple and infantile. And it failed to invoke the glamour of travel, while maintaining the message of American values. At least to me.

*Pete hacking up a storm after taking a puff on a Lucky Strikes cigarette still strikes me as hysterical after ten years. So does the scene in which a frustrated Betty threw the money box at Henry.

 

 

*Don’s affair with Suzanne Farrell. Even after ten years, I still fail to see the chemistry between actors Jon Hamm and Abigail Spencer. In fact, Sally Draper’s teacher, Miss Farrell, seemed like a second-rate version of Rachel Mencken, but with a less stable personality. I realize that Don had wanted a meaningful relationship in his life . . . but with Suzanne Farrell? I think he could have done better than her. Especially better than someone who had recently been his daughter’s teacher. Now that I think about it, she could have done better than Don. What made their affair even more troubling was that Don was using Suzanne as some kind of drug. He had suffered rejection from Conrad Hilton, a man he was beginning to view as a parent figure, and he turned to Suzanne for comfort. Unfortunately, I suspect that Suzanne may have viewed him as something more and in the end, their relationship had ended on a surprisingly quick and unsatisfactory note . . . at least for her.

*Was Roger still a force at Sterling Cooper during the time of this episode? Judging from the scenes in this episode, I rather doubt it.

“VANITY FAIR” (1987) Review

“VANITY FAIR” (1987) Review

I found myself wondering how many adaptations of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-1848 novel there have been. As it turned out, this is one piece of literature that has been adapted countless number of times – in film, radio and television. I have seen at least five adaptations myself. And one of them turned out to be the sixteen-part television miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1987.

Since Thackeray’s novel is a very familiar tale, I will give a brief recount. Adapted by Alexander Baron and directed by Michael Owen Morris, “VANITY FAIR” told the story of one Rebecca “Becky” Sharp, an impoverished daughter of an English art teacher and French dancer in late Georgian Britain. Determined to climb her way out of poverty and into society, Becky manages to befriend Amelia Sedley, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant. When both finally graduate from Miss Pinkerton’s School for Girls, Becky is invited to spend some time with Amelia’s family, before she has to assume duties as a governess to the daughters of a minor baronet and landowner named Sir Pitt Crawley. During her time with the Sedleys, she almost manages to snare Amelia’s older brother, Jos, a “nabob” from India, as a husband. But the interference of George Osborne, the son of another merchant who happens to Amelia’s heart desire, leaves Becky single and employment as a governess. However, upon her arrival at Queen’s Crawley, the Crawleys’ estate, Becky’s charm and wiles inflict a shake-up with the family that would influence lives for years to come.

While viewing “VANITY FAIR”, it occurred to me that it is really a product of its time. Although not completely faithful to Thackeray’s novel, it struck me as being more so than any adaptation I have seen. Most literary adaptations on television tend to be rather faithful – at least between the 1970s and the 1990s. Especially during the decade of the 1980s. Another sign of this miniseries being a product of its age is the quality of its photography. It is rather faded – typical of many such productions during the 1970s and 1980s. But for me, complete faithfulness to a literary source is not a true sign of the quality of a television adaptation. Nor the quality of the film it was shot on. So, how do I feel about “VANITY FAIR”?

Remember the miniseries’ faded look I had commented upon? I really wish it had been shot on better film stock. Stuart Murdoch and Mickey Edwards’ visual effects struck me as too eye-catching to be wasted on film stock that quickly faded with time. Another problem I had proved to be the episode that centered around the Battle of Waterloo. I realize that it would make sense for the most of episode’s narrative to be told from Becky Sharp Crawley’s point of view. Yet, considering that it was able to feature the discovery of one dead character on the battlefield, I wish the episode had been willing to embellish the sequence a bit more. The sequence featured a great deal on Becky and Amelia saying good-bye to their respective spouses, along with Becky bargaining with Jos Sedley over her husband’s horses. Overall, the entire sequence . . . nearly the entire episode seemed to lack a sense of urgency over the entire Waterloo campaign and how it affected the main characters. I have one last complaint about “VANITY FAIR” . . . namely the Maquis of Steyne. To be honest, my complaint against him is rather minor. I have a complaint against his physical appearance. Thanks to Lesley Weaver’s makeup, I could barely make out actor John Shrapnel’s features. He seemed to be a whole mass of hair and whiskers plastered on a slightly reddish countenance.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed how the production went into full detail of Thackeray’s novel. Was it completely faithful? I rather doubt it. I noticed how Alexander Baron’s screenplay did not adhere to Thackeray’s rather nasty portrayal of non-white characters such as Miss Schwartz. Thankfully. On the other hand, Baron, along with director Michael Owen Morris did an excellent job in their portrayals of the novel’s main characters – especially Rebecca Sharp, Rawdon Crawley, Amelia Sedley, Jos Sedley, George Osborne, Mr. Osborne and William Dobbin. I will be honest. My favorite segments of the production . . . are basically my favorite segments of the novel. I enjoyed the production’s re-creation of Becky’s story that began with her departure from Miss Pinkerton’s School for Girls to hers and Amelia’s adventures during the Waterloo campaign.

Despite the miniseries’ limited photography, I must admit there are other aspects of “VANITY FAIR” that impressed me. I enjoyed Gavin Davies and Sally Engelbach’s production designs. Both did an admirable of re-creating the production’s setting of early 19th century Britain, Belgium, France and Germany. They were ably assisted by set decorations created by the art department, led by David Ackrill and Tony Fisher. But I really must commend Joyce Hawkins’ costume designs. I found them colorful and tailor-made. I also thought Ms. Hawkins did an excellent job in her re-creation of the early 19th century fashions.

There is one segment in Thackeray’s story I found difficult to enjoy – namely Becky’s rise in British society, her relationship with the Maquis of Steyne, the exposure of her as a cold parent and ending with the destruction of her marriage to Rawdon. It is not the fault of Baron, Morris or Thackeray. It is simply my least favorite part of the story. During this segment, Becky transformed from a morally questionable anti-heroine to an outright villainess. Perhaps this is why I found it difficult to revel in Becky’s eventual fall. One, I found this portrayal of Becky a bit too one-dimensional for my tastes. Two, there seemed to be this underlying theme in Becky’s downfall that she deserved it for being too ambitious, not knowing her place and not being the ideal woman. I realize that I should sweep these feelings away in the wake of her last crime. But for some reason, I cannot. A part of me wonders, to this day, if Thackeray had went too far in this transformation of Becky’s character.

I did not have a problem with the performances featured in “VANITY FAIR”. If I must be honest, I found them to be very competent. Morris handled his cast very well. The miniseries featured solid performances from Fiona Walker, Shaughan Seymour, Gillian Raine, Tony Doyle, Malcolm Terris, Vicky Licorish, Eileen Colgan, Irene MacDougall, Alan Surtees, and David Horovitch. I also enjoyed the performances from the likes of Freddie Jones, who made a very lively Sir Pitt Crawley; John Shrapnel, who gave an intimidating portrayal of the Maquis of Steyne, underneath the makeup and wig; Siân Phillips, who struck me as a very entertaining Matilda Crawley; David Swift, whose portrayal of Mr. Sedley seemed to reek with pathos; and Philippa Urquhart, who was excellent as the malleable Mrs. Briggs.

But there were those performances that truly impressed me. Robert Lang gave an excellent performance as the ruthless and ambitious Mr. Osborne, who seemed to be handicapped by his own stubborness. Benedict Taylor did a superb job in portraying the varied nature of George Osborne – his charm, his shallowness and selfish streak. James Saxon was equally impressive as the insecure, yet vain Joseph “Jos” Sedley. Simon Dormandy gave a very complex and skillful performance as the priggish William Dobbin, a character I have always harbored mixed feelings about. I personally think that Jack Klaff made the best on-screen Rawdon Crawley I have seen on-screen, so far. Although his character has always been described as an affable, yet empty-headed man who eventually realized he had married a woman beyond his depth. Klaff did an excellent job of conveying those traits more than actor I have seen in the role.

Rebecca Saire seemed perfectly cast as the demure, yet shallow Amelia Sedley, who spent years infatuated with a man she never really knew or understood. It is not often I find an actress who does an excellent of portraying a girl in a woman’s body, who at the end, is forced to grow up due to an unpleasant realization. If Saire seemed perfectly cast as the childish Amelia, Eve Matheson struck me as even more perfect as the charming and manipulative Rebecca Sharp. Unlike other actresses who have portrayed Becky, I would never describe Matheson as a beauty, despite being physically attractive. What I found impressive about Matheson’s performance is the manner in which she conveyed Becky’s ability to charm and seduce others, utilizing her eyes, mannerisms, the ability to cry on cue and her voice. Matheson managed to portray Becky as the most desirable woman around.

I have never seen another on screen Becky Sharp who managed to ooze charm and seduction the way Matheson did. And yet, she also managed to convey Becky’s unpleasant side without being theatrical about it. Someone had once described Matheson’s Beck as “spunky”. Oh please. Spunky? The 1987 Rebecca Sharp was a lot more than that, thanks to Matheson’s performance. Dammit, the woman should have received some kind of award for her performance. She was that good.

I have a few quibbles about “VANITY FAIR”. Basically, I wish the miniseries had been shot on better film stock. And I wish that the Waterloo sequence had been a bit more . . . embellished. Otherwise, I feel that this 1987 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel is the best I have seen so far. I am flabbergasted at how close I came to ignoring this production altogether.

Favorite Episodes of “INDIAN SUMMERS” (2015-2016)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from the British television series, “INDIAN SUMMERS”. Created by Paul Rutman, the series starred Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Nikesh Patel, Jemima West and Julie Waters: 

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “INDIAN SUMMERS” (2015-2016)

1. (1.10) “Episode Ten” – In this Season One finale, the fate of convicted Indian businessman Ramu Sood is left in the hands of Civil Service official in Simla, Ralph Whelan, after it is discovered that the latter’s servant had killed the woman named Jaya, who was Ralph’s former lover.

1 - 2.09 Winner Takes All

2. (2.09) “Winner Takes All” – In the Season Two penultimate episode, Civil Service employee Aafrin Dalal sets up his plans to elope with Alice Whelan Havistock, his employer and Ralph’s sister, and rescue her from her abusive husband, Charlie Havistock. Meanwhile, Ralph fails to become India’s next viceroy.

3. (1.01) “Episode One” – The series premiere opened with the arrival of many British citizens, their servants and officials of the Indian Civil Service to Simla. The train to Simla is delayed when a boy is found collapsed on the railway tracks, while a mysterious assassin makes his way to the city.

4. (1.08) “Episode Eight” – Simla’s British community turn out in force for Ramu’s murder trial. The latter’s British employee, Ian McCleod, is wracked with guilt about his part in Ramu’s arrest and an employee of the local orphanage, Leena Prasad, is torn apart in the witness box.

2 - 2.04 The Empty Chair

5. (2.04) “The Empty Chair” – While Aafrin and Alice conduct their affair, the former’s sister, Sooni Dalal forces him to reveal his involvement in the Independence Party and the murder of a fellow activist named Kaira. Meanwhile, Ralph’s wife, Madeleine Whelan organizes a fashion show for the Royal Simla Club. And Lord Hawthorne becomes the target of a violent act and suspicion falls upon a local woman named Leena Prasad, whom he had hired as his children’s nanny and toward whom he has lustful designs.

Ranking of “THE COLLECTION” (2016) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the episodes from the 2016 limited series, “THE COLLECTION”. Created by Oliver Goldstick, the series starred Richard Coyle and Tom Riley: 

RANKING OF “THE COLLECTION” (2016) EPISODES

1. (1.04) “The Launch” – Under pressure to create the Spring show, the Sabine family’s fashion house, The Maison, is a hive of activity. But designer Claude Sabine is not creating and a seamstress-turned-model named Nina is focused on finding her illegitimate child. American journalist Stanley Rossi returns to question Paul Sabine’s former boss and mentor, forcing Paul to punish those he loves.

2. (1.06) “The Weekend” – The inner circle of The Maison spend a weekend at investor Jules Trouvier’s chateau. There, the Sabine family is rocked by untimely revelations, surprising alliances, relationships and a betrayal that may be damaged beyond repair.

3. (1.02) “The Dress” – The new business marriage with Trouvier is only hours into its honeymoon, when he and Paul clash over how to run the house. With millions at stake, when Nina is thrust into the unlikely role of a couture model events take a darker turn during a photo shoot.

4. (1.07) “The Betrayal” – Everyone at The Maison is somber following a staffer’s road accident, and Helen’s attempts to help using her family connections, only raises troubling wartime questions for Paul. Charlotte meanwhile begins her counter attack on the business and threatens to expose Claude as the true genius behind the Paul Sabine label.

5. (1.01) “The Deal” – Rising fashion designer Paul Sabine is offered the keys to a kingdom when he resurrects his family’s fashion house. But he needs the help of his volatile brother, Claude, the true genius behind the label.

6. (1.08) “The Offer” – In the final episode, Paul fights to maintain The Maison, while his mother Yvette Sabine tries to broker relations between her sons. Nina and American photographer Billy Novak must decide where their future lies.

7. (1.05) “The Afterglow” – Paul’s glory is short-lived and instead of basking in the afterglow of a jubilant show, he is questioned about a dead body found buried on his family’s farm. Meanwhile, Claude declares he is no longer happy to stay in the shadows.

8. (1.03) “The Scent” – Tormented by personal demons, Claude goes to dry out in the country. Meanwhile, secrets from the past war begin to spill out when a dead body is found on the Sabine family’s farm and Paul becomes aware of an investigation into his former boss’ past.

“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (1975) Review

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“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (1975) Review

There have been numerous adaptations of Alexandre Dumas père’s 1844 novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo”. I have seen at least three adaptations – two theatrical releases and a television movie. I had just recently viewed the latter, which aired on British television back in 1975, on DVD. 

“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” begins in 1815 with the return of merchant sailor Edmond Dantès to his home port of Marseilles in order to marry his Catalan fiancée, Mercédès Herrera. Before dying during this last voyager, Edmond’s captain Leclère charges Dantès to deliver a letter from Elba to an unknown man in Paris. On the eve of Dantès’ wedding to Mercédès, Dantès’ colleague Danglars, who is jealous of Edmond’s promotion to captain, advises Edmond’s friend Fernand Mondego to send an anonymous note accusing Dantès of being a supporter of the recently exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. Fernand is open to the suggestion due to his own jealousy of Edmond’s engagement to Mercédès, whom he also loves. Edmond is arrested and interrogated by the local chief deputy prosecutor Gérard de Villefort. De Villefort is willing to release Edmond when he realizes that the latter is innocent of being a Bonapartist. But when he discovers that Edmond was charged in delivering a letter to his own father, another Bonapartist, de Villefort has Edmond sent to the Château d’If prison without a trial.

During his fourteen year imprisonment, Edmond meets a fellow prisoner named Abbé Faria, who gives the former a former education. When Faria finds himself on the verge of death, he informs Edmond about a treasure located on the Italian island of Monte Cristo. When Faria dies, Edmond takes his place in the burial sack and makes his escape from the Château d’If. After acquiring the Monte Cristo treasure, Edmond sets about seeking revenge against the three men responsible for his imprisonment.

Many literary and movie fans have complimented this adaptation as being “faithful” to Dumas’ tale in compare to many others. I am a little more familiar with the 1845 novel than I was several years ago, when I had reviewed both the 1934 and 2002 adaptations. Which means I am quite aware that this adaptation is no more faithful than the others. But this did not bother me . . . somewhat. I have one or two issues that I will discuss a bit later. But overall, I found this adaptation, which was produced by a British television production company called ITC Entertainment, both satisfying and entertaining. I realize that my last description of the movie seems slightly tepid. Trust me, I do not regard this adaptation as tepid. It truly is quite good. I thought director David Greene and screenwriter Sidney Carroll provided television audiences with a lively and intelligent adaptation of Dumas’ tale.

Both Greene and Carroll did an excellent job of maintaining a steady pace for the film’s narrative. Starting with Edmond’s return to Marseilles before Napoleon’s Hundred Days return to power, to his fourteen year incarceration inside the Château d’If, and his discovery of the Monte Cristo treasure; I can honestly say that this television movie did not rush through the narrative. Well, most of it. This steady pacing seemed especially apparent in Dantes’ elaborate plots to exact revenge against Mondego, Danglars and de Villefort. However . . . there were aspects of Dumas’ narrative that could have stretched out a bit and I will focus on that later. Greene and Carroll also did a solid job in conveying how those fourteen years in prison, along with his desire for revenge had an impact upon his personality. This topic was not explored as much as I wish it had been, but it was featured in the film’s plot.

I do have a few complaints. Like the 1934 movie, this television movie featured the character of Haydée, the daughter of a pasha who had been betrayed and murdered by Ferdinand Mondego and one of Edmond’s major allies. In the novel, Haydée became Edmond’s lover by the story’s end. In this television movie, she is basically an ally who was limited to two scenes. I suspect that the character’s North African background made the producers unwilling to to be faithful to Dumas’ novel and give Isabelle De Valvert, who had portrayed Haydée, more screen time, aside from two scenes. Pity. Speaking of Edmond’s love life, I noticed that once he became the Count of Monte Cristo, Richard Chamberlain and Kate Nelligan, who portrayed Mercédès Mondego, barely shared any screen time together. In fact, it seemed as if Edmond barely thought about Mercédès. So when the film ended with him rushing toward Mercédès to declare his never ending love for her, it seemed so false . . . and rushed. I do not recall seeing any build up to this scene.

One must remember that “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” is not only a drama, but also a swashbuckler. And that means action sequences. There were not that many in the movie, but there were a few memorable moments. The final action sequence featured a duel between Edmond and his former friend, Mondego. It never happened in the novel, but I found it interesting to watch a duel between two former onscreen swashbucklers – Richard Chamberlain and Tony Curtis. It was . . . decent. But if I must be honest, I was more impressed by the duel between Carlo Puri and Alessio Orano, who portrayed Andrea Benedetto (a person set up by Edmond to be a part of de Villefort’s past) and Alessio Orano, who portrayed a former cowardly neighbor of Edmond named Caderousse. Neither duel was particularly long, but I found the Benedetto-Caderousse duel to be more physical and exciting.

I have mixed views of the movie’s production values. On one hand, I found myself very impressed by Walter Patriarca’s production designs and Andrew Patriarca’s art direction. I thought both did an excellent job of utilizing the film’s Italian locations to re-create early 19th century France and Italy. I was also impressed by Aldo Tonti’s solid photography for the film. I found it clear and somewhat colorful. My feelings regarding the film’s costumes are not as positive. I noticed that there is no costume designer named for the film. Instead, Luciana Marinucci was hired as the costume/wardrobe “supervisor”. This makes me wonder if a good deal of the film’s costumes came from warehouses in Italy. A good deal of the fabrics used for movie’s costumes struck me as questionable. Cheap. And quite frankly, I found this somewhat disappointing for a first-rate movie like this. I also found the hairstyle worn by actress Taryn Power, as shown in the image below:

It bore no resemblance to the hairstyles worn by women during the early 1830s.

I certainly had no complaints about the film’s cast. All either gave solid or excellent performances. The movie boasted solid performances from the likes of Anthony Dawson, Angelo Infanti, Harold Bromley, George Willing, Alessio Orano, Taryn Power, Dominic Guard, Dominic Barto and Isabelle De Valvert. Although I have a high regard for Kate Nelligan as an actress, I must admit that I was not that overly impressed by her performance as Mercédès Mondego. I thought it was solid, but not particularly mind blowing. It seemed as if she really had not much material to work with, aside from those scenes that featured Edmond’s arrest and her final scene.

But thankfully, “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” does boast some excellent and memorable performances. One came from Carlo Puri, who gave a very charismatic performance as Andrea Benedetto, a former galleys convict used by Edmond in his scheme against Gérard de Villefort. Speaking of the latter, Louis Jordan was superb as the ambitious prosecutor who was responsible for Edmond’s incarceration in the first place. I was especially impressed by his performance in the scene that featured the revelation about the illegitimate son he had tried to kill years earlier. Another superb performance came from Donald Pleasence as Danglars. I thought he did an excellent job in transforming his character from a resentful and jealous seaman into the greedy banker. Trevor Howard earned a well deserved Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Edmond’s mentor, the imprisoned former soldier-turned-priest. I found his last scene especially poignant to watch. This was probably the first production in which I saw Tony Curtis portray a villain.   And I thought he gave an excellent performance as the broodingly jealous Ferdinand Mondego, who seemed to have no qualms about destroying others for the sake of his feelings and his ambitions. “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” proved to be Richard Chamberlain’s second (or third) production that was an adaptation of an Alexandre Dumas père novel. Like Howard, he had earned a well deserved Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the revenge driven Edmond Dantès. Chamberlain did a superb job in conveying the growing development of Edmond’s character from the clean-cut, yet ambitious young seaman, to the long-suffering prisoner wallowing in despair and finally, the cool and manipulative man, whose desire for vengeance had blinded him from the suffering of other innocents.

In the end, I have some problems with certain aspects of “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”, including the portrayal of some characters , a few changes in the narrative’s ending and some of the costumes. Despite them, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the television movie and thought it did a fine job adapting Alexandre Dumas père novel. And this is due to Sidney Carroll’s well-written screenplay, David Greene’s solid direction and an excellent cast led by the always superb Richard Chamberlain.