Favorite Movies Set in OLD HOLLYWOOD

Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Hollywood’s past, before 1960: 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN OLD HOLLYWOOD

1. “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) – Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds starred in this musical classic about Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies. Kelly co-directed with Stanley Donen.

2. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988) – Robert Zemeckis directed this adaptation of Gary Wolfe’s 1981 novel, “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?”, in which a 1940s private detective who must exonerate a cartoon star “Toon” for the murder of a wealthy businessman. Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer and Christopher Lloyd starred.

3. “Moviola: The Scarlett O’Hara War” (1980) – Tony Curtis starred as producer David O. Selznick in the second episode of the miniseries, “Moviola”. The television movie featured Selznick’s search for the right actress to portray the leading character in his movie adaptation of “Gone With the Wind”.

4. “The Aviator” (2004) – Martin Scorsese produced and directed this biopic about mogul Howard Hughes’ experiences as a filmmaker and aviator between 1927 and 1947. Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio starred.

5. “Hitchcock” (2012) – Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren starred in this comedy-drama about the tumultuous marriage between director-producer Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Alma Reville during the former’s making of his 1960 hit, “Psycho”. Sacha Gervasi directed.

6. “Trumbo” (2015) – Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston starred in this biopic about screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and his troubles after being jailed and blacklisted for being a member of the Communist Party. Directed by Jay Roach, Diane Lane and Helen Mirren co-starred.

7. “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952) – Vincente Minelli directed this melodrama about the impact of a Hollywood producer on the lives of three people he had worked with and betrayed. Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Barry Sullivan and Dick Powell starred.

8. “Hollywoodland” (2006) – Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck starred in this intriguing tale about a private detective’s investigation into the life and death of actor George Reeves. Allen Coulter directed.

9. “Hail, Caesar!” (2016) – Ethan and Joel Coen produced and directed this fictional account in the life of studio executive/fixer, Eddie Mannix. The movie starred Josh Brolin.

10. “The Artist” (2011) – Michel Hazanavicius wrote and directed this Academy Award winning movie about a silent screen star and the disruption of his life and career by the emergence of talking pictures. Oscar winner Jean Dujardin and Oscar nominee Bérénice Bejo starred.

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“THE FAVOURITE” (2018) Review

 

“THE FAVOURITE” (2018) Review

From the moment I first saw the trailer for Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2018 Oscar nominated comedy-drama, “THE FAVOURITE”, I wanted to see it. Badly. Being something of a penny pincher, I had figured I would not get a chance to see the film until its release on DVD, cable television or streaming television. But my sister, who also wanted to see the film, finally convinced me to spend a few extra dollars to see the film while it was still in limited release. 

What was the reason behind my fervent desire to see “THE FAVOURITE”? One, it was a period film . . . and I am a sucker for the genre. Two, the movie was set during the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain, a period I have not personally seen on screen since my viewing of the 1969 miniseries, “THE FIRST CHURCHILLS”. And three, judging from the trailer, the movie struck me as funny, witty and very original. I love originality.

“THE FAVOURITE” is basically Lanthimos’ take on the political rivalry between two of Queen Anne’s courtiers and cousins – Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and Abigail Masham, Baroness Masham – for her favor. The movie begins with then Abigail Hill’s arrival at Kensington Palace to serve as a scullery maid (?). Abigail, whose father had lost his fortune during a game of whist, owes her job to her cousin, Sarah Churchill. The latter is the Queen’s premiere courtier and has an emotional hold over the monarch, due to their sexual affair. However, Sarah’s powerful standing in Court begins to decline when Abigail manages to win the Queen’s favor after using her to help relieve the latter’s pain from the gout. Abigail and the Queen eventually begins an affair and former’s standing in Court not only increases, but also threatens Sarah’s.

Lanthimos’ movie had a lot going for it. Thanks to his screenplay, “THE FAVOURITE” featured political intrigue . . . well, somewhat; and three lead characters and a supporting character that proved to be fascinating. Queen Anne’s twelve-year reign proved to be volatile than I had ever surmised. To be honest, I have not given a thought about Anne’s reign since watching “THE FIRST CHURCHILLS” a long time ago. The movie did occasionally focused on the conflicts between the Tory and Whig parties. Abigail Masham, like Queen Anne and Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, favored the Tory party and Sarah Churchill favored the Whigs. The latter party supported Britain’s participation in the War of the Spanish Succession aka Queen Anne’s War, and the Churchills had benefited from John Churchill’s command of British troops during it. Due to Sarah’s emotional control over the Queen, the Whigs under Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin maintained control over Parliament. However, that changed after Abigail’s arrival at Kensington Palace due to Lord Oxford’s insistence that she spy on the Queen’s relationship with Sarah and later, her growing favor with the monarch.

The movie touched upon all . . . or, most of the political aspects surrounding Queen Anne’s Court. However Yorgos Lanthimos, along with screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, had decided to focus upon the emotional and sexual triangle that had formed between Anne, Sarah and Abigail. Watching this triangle unfurl was like being sucked into some emotional vortex – fascinating and at the same time, dangerous and volatile. Davis, McNamara and especially Lanthimos provided moviegoers with a period biopic that certainly skewered from the usual output from both the Hollywood industry and the film industry overseas. Both the best and the worst aspects of all three women and some of the supporting characters seemed to be on display. Some critics have claimed that “THE FAVOURITE” is basically a satire on period dramas. I agree, but it also struck me as a cautionary tale about the acquirement, use and abuse of power. This cautionary tale especially seemed to encompass the Abigail Masham and Lord Oxford characters, as they use Queen Anne to overcome Sarah Churchill’s control of the Court and the Whigs in Parliament. But this theme of abuse of power also touched upon Sarah Churchill and her attempts to maintain her control and the Queen herself, who becomes increasingly determined that she would be the one in control and no one else.

The production’s visuals and designs proved to be first-rate. Robbie Ryan had received both an Academy Award nomination and a BAFTA nomination for the film’s excellent photography. I thought his photography captured the beauty and color of the movie’s English locations. Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton won a well-deserved BAFTA award and earned an Oscar nomination for the movie’s production designs. Both Crombie Felton did a superb job in re-creating the look of Queen Anne’s Court of the early 18th century. And what can I say about Sandy Powell’s costume designs, which earned an Academy Award nomination and won a BAFTA? I thought she did an excellent job in re-creating . . . well, almost re-creating the fashions of early 18th century England as shown below:

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Powell’s designs are not completely historically accurate. Although she accurately shaped the costumes, Powell made them from Nigerian fabrics found in London. And the costumes’ color schemes seemed to feature white, blue, gray and black. Very original, very beautiful, but not particularly accurate.

I certainly had no complaints about the cast. Most of the supporting cast for “THE FAVOURITE” – Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Edward Aczel, and Mark Gatiss – all gave solid performances. However, I must admit that there were times when Gatiss, who portrayed the Duke of Marlborough, barely seemed visible and obviously wasted in this film. However, there was one supporting performance that really impressed and entertained me. It came from Nicolas Hoult, who portrayed English statesman and occasional sadist, Robert Harley, the Earl of Oxford. Was the real Lord Oxford a sadist? I have no idea. But he did try to gain Abigail’s assistance to gain favor with Queen Anne with no scruples. Hoult managed to capture his character’s slightly sadistic, yet ambitious nature with such subtlety and skill that I found myself enjoying his performance more than any other in the film.

If I must be frank, the true backbone or backbones of “THE FAVOURITE” proved to be the three leading ladies – Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. As much as I enjoyed Hoult’s performance, I realize that this movie would have been nothing without them. Many may wax lyrical over Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s Oscar nominated screenplay, Sandy Powell’s costumes or Yorgos Lanthimos’ direction. But the performances of the three actresses made this movie and all three gave superb performances. Olivia Colman won just about every (or nearly every) acting award under the sun for her portrayal of Queen Anne of Great Britain. What I admire about her performance is that she gave emotional depth to a character that was in danger by the screenplay into devolving into a caricature of an idiot savant. I could probably say the same about Rachel Weisz’s portrayal of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. There were times when the Sarah Churchill character seemed in danger of drifting into some stereotype of the “butch” lesbian trope. If it were not for Weisz’s excellent acting, for which she received an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actress, I would have lost all interest in the character. Emma Stone was lucky that her character Sarah Hill Masham, Baroness Masham never drifted toward the edge of caricature. In a way, she had it easier than Colman and Weisz. But I admire her performance for two reasons. One, she had to master some kind of upper-class English accent without overdoing it. And two, the actress did an excellent job of revealing Abigail’s cold ambitions behind the warm and feminine facade, layer by layer.

And yet . . . despite my admiration for the cast’s performances, the film’s visual style and certain aspect of its narrative; I did not like “THE FAVOURITE”. I did not hate it like some who did. But I did not like it. The movie seemed like a cinematic version of a drama queen. The cinematic epitome of pure titillation. When it comes to historical accuracy in films and television, I seemed to have mixed views. I can tolerate it, if it works for me. I tolerated Sandy Powell’s historically incorrect costumes. I tolerated the fact that the Earl of Oxford character, as portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, was a good 15 years younger than the real Lord Oxford during the film’s setting. And I tolerated the historically inaccurate characterizations of the film’s three leading characters . . . only to a point in which I admired their performances. But the movie had crossed too many lines for my tastes.

Queen Anne kept rabbits as pets to symbolize the 17 children she had lost? Rabbits as pets? During the early 18th century? They were either regarded as food or pests over three centuries ago. What was the point of those rabbits in the first place? What did her lost children have to do with the movie’s narrative, other than reveal Abigail as some uncaring monster? Was that it? What happened to Anne’s consort, Prince George of Denmark? Her husband who was still alive when Abigail Masham née Hill first joined the Queen’s Court? Why was he kept out of the movie, but not Sarah or Abigail’s husbands? His death had proven to be one of the main reasons why the Queen and Sarah first became estranged in the first place. Anne had loved him very much and Sarah’s dismissive attitude toward Prince George’s death sparked the beginning of the two women’s estrangement. Why did the film failed to mention that Abigail was also related to Lord Oxford, as well as Sarah Churchill? And why on earth was her first position at the Queen’s Court as a scullery maid? A scullery maid? Seriously? Someone with her blood connections? Both Sarah and Lord Oxford would have found it socially embarrassing to have a cousin working as a scullery maid within the Queen’s household.

And of course, there were scenarios and scenes that left me scratching my head. One of the scenes I refer to is that ridiculous scenario in which Abigail had poisoned Sarah and had the latter dumped at some whorehouse outside of London. One, it was stupid plan that could have easily backfired. And two, what was the movie trying to say? That Abigail was familiar with places before her arrival at Court? And could someone please explain the reasoning behind the scene that featured a nude, giggling fat man being pelted by blood oranges by Lord Oxford and his cronies. What was the point of that scene? What exactly was Yorgos Lanthimos trying to say? Also, what was the point behind Samuel Masham’s line dance performance (courtesy of actor Joe Alwyn) in the film? What was that about? Or was it another scene for shock value? Honestly, scenes like Sarah in a whorehouse, the pelted naked man and Masham’s dance routine are just examples of the absolute, over-the-top nonsense that I had found in this film.

But what really pissed me off about “THE FAVOURITE” were the changes that Lanthimos, Davis and McNamara made in regard to the history between Queen Anne, the Duchess of Marlborough and the Baroness Masham. What was the point in these changes? It seemed as if the director and the screenwriters had striped away a great deal of the historical conflict between the three women in order to convey a tale of a sexual triangle filled with ambition and passion. And nothing else. This struck me as unnecessary and frankly, a little insulting as a woman. It almost seemed as if the movie found it difficult to take the political beliefs and/or abilities of three women seriously, especially Queen Anne. The estrangement between the Queen and Sarah, along with Abigail’s ascendancy was pretty interesting in real life. Aside from showing Sarah’s political influence within the Court, the movie never really explored the political differences between the Queen and Sarah . . . or the fact that Abigail genuinely shared the former’s Tory politics. Or that Queen Anne had not only grown weary of Sarah’s bullying nature, but also resentful of the latter’s Whig politics. Instead, moviegoers were presented with a tale mainly about sexual power, with very little politics involved.

In fact, there is no real proof that Queen Anne was ever in any sexual relationship with either Sarah or Anne. I dislike the fact that Davis and McNamara’s screenplay solely blamed Abigail for the Queen and Sarah’s estrangement. In reality, Sarah was the main instigator of her own political downfall. In fact, she was also the main reason behind her own downfall within King George II’s Court, some twenty years later. I realize that Davis, McNamara and Lanthimos wanted a “Eve Harrington” figure and they saw Abigail Masham as the perfect figure for this. But if they had wanted a LGTBQ remake of “ALL ABOUT EVE” that badly, why not create original characters for this movie? Why use historical figures who were never proven to be gay in the first place? One more thing, it took me a while, but I finally realized that “THE FAVOURITE” reminded me of another movie. I am speaking of the 1989 comedy about a divorce called “THE WAR OF ROSES”. Like “THE FAVOURITE”, the 1989 movie started out as a movie filled with sharp humor and devolved into something ugly and lurid. And in the case of “THE FAVOURITE” . . . laced with exploitation.

I hate to say this, but “THE FAVOURITE” proved to be a major disappointment for me. Perhaps this would teach me not to judge a film, based upon a trailer. When I first saw it, I had assumed that the film would be a satirical comedy with strong political overtones. Instead, I found myself watching a film in which the comedy became repetitive and not as funny as I had originally assumed . . . and a movie with the historical background changed drastically for the sake of shock value and sheer exploitation. Director Yorgos Lanthimos, along with screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, pretty much ruined this film for me. And not even the excellent performances of Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz or Emma Stone could save it, as far as I am concerned.

 

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” (2018) Review

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“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” (2018) Review

Following the success of the 2016 movie, “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, Warner Brothers Studios and author J.K. Rowling continued the adventures of former Hogwarts student, Newt Scamander with the 2018 sequel called “FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”. Starring Eddie Redmayne, the movie was directed by David Yates. 

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” began in 1927, less than a year after the events of the 2016 movie. In the film’s opening, the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is transferring the powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald from their maximum security prison in New York City to London. The latter is be tried for his crimes in Europe. But with the aide of Grindelwald’s follower, MACUSA agent Abernathy, the wizard manages to escapes during the transfer. Three months after Grindelwald’s escape, magizoologist Newt Scamander appeals to the Ministry of Magic in London to restore his revoked international travel rights following his previous adventures in New York City. While at the Ministry, Newt learns that his former Hogwarts classmate, Leta Lestrange, is engaged to his brother Theseus, an auror in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The Ministry offers to restore Newt’s travel rights if he assists Theseus in locating Credence Barebone, the American obscurial believed to have been killed in Paris. He has been detected in Paris.

Grindelwald is also searching for Credence. He believes that only the latter is powerful enough to kill his “equal”, Hogwarts Professor Albus Dumbledore. Newt declines the Ministry’s offer, but is is secretly summoned by Dumbledore, who also tries to persuade Newt to locate Credence. Dumbledore under constant Ministry surveillance for refusing to confront Grindelwald, who was a former close friend from the past. Upon his return home, he discovers that his American friends, the non-magical Jacob Kowalski and witch Queenie Goldstein had left New York. Jacob has retained memories of his past adventures with Newt and the Goldstein sisters, despite MACUSA’s citywide Obliviation order. Queenie and Jacob had followed Queenie’s sister Tina to Europe, where the latter is searching for Credence. Newt also discovers that Queenie has enchanted Jacob into eloping to Europe with her to circumvent MACUSA’s marriage ban between wizards and Muggles. After Newt lifts the charm, Jacob and Queenie quarrel about the marriage law, and the upset witch leaves to find Tina. Newt ignores the Ministry’s travel ban and with Jacob, head for Paris in search for the Goldstein sisters and Credence.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” proved to be an unpopular entry in the HARRY POTTER movie franchise. Even a year before the film’s release, many had criticized the film’s producers, including J.K. Rowling, for allowing actor Johnny Depp to take over the role of Gellert Grindelwald in the wake of his controversial divorce. Ironically, once “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” hit the movie theaters, both the critics and many moviegoers expressed other reasons for their displeasure. Either these criticisms were merely used as shields to hide their displeasure at Depp’s presence in the movie, or they genuinely did not like it. Although “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”actually managed to make a profit, it did not make as much as its 2016 predecessor. Nor did it make as much as Warner Brothers Studios had anticipated. So . . . how did I feel about the movie?

I will admit that I have some problems with “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”. I never admitted this in my review of “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, but I had noticed Rowling’s habit of creating two or more disjointed story lines and allowing them to connect near the end of the film. As much as I admired her use of this narrative structure, I must admit that there were times when I found it frustrating. To be honest, I found it more frustrating in “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, especially Newt Scamander’s search for his missing animals. But in “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”, there were times when I found myself wondering why Rowling had focused so heavily on Leta Lestrange’s character arc/backstory and Queenie Goldstein’s problems with her non-magical love, Jacob Kowalski. I also had a problem with Colleen Atwood’s costumes. On one level, I found her costumes very attractive, as shown in the images below:

And yet . . . aside from the costumes and hairstyle worn by actress Katherine Waterston, I found the other costumes and hairstyles reminiscent of the early 1930s, instead of 1927, the film’s actual setting. Speaking of the timeline, could someone explain why Minerva McGonagall was a teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, when either the Harry Potter novels or the franchise’s official website made it clear that she was born in 1935, eight years after this movie’s setting. And since Dumbledore was the Transfiguration professor at Hogwarts in 1927, what was the young Professor McGonagall teaching?

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” had its flaws, like any other movie. But I enjoyed it very much. Actually . . . I enjoyed it slightly more than I did the 2016 movie. The reason why I enjoyed it more than the first film is probably the reason why many others liked it less. J.K. Rowling had written an emotionally complicated tale that reminded me that humans beings are a lot more ambiguous than many are STILL unwilling to admit. They might pay lip service to the ambiguity of humans, but I have encountered too much hostility directed at movies willing to explore the complex nature of humans and society in general . . . especially in pop culture films. Some might claim that such ambiguity has no place in pop culture films and franchises. My response to that claim is . . . why not? I see no reason why humanity’s ambiguity should only be tolerated in films being considered for the film industry’s award season.

I noticed in “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” that the majority of Gellert Grindelwald’s followers were not “dark wizards” or superficially evil. I must admit that the Vinda Rosier, Grindelwald’s loyal right-hand follower, seemed to be the film’s closest example of the future Deatheaters that followed Lord Voldemort aka Tom Riddle Jr. Most of Grindelwald’s other followers seemed to be typical human being who has allowed his or her emotions to indulge in the usual prejudices or make bad choices. One example is the MACUSA agent Abernathy, who had earlier supported President Seraphina Picquery in the 2016 film. But the prime example in “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” proved to be Queenie Goldstein, the New York-born Legilimens (telepath), who out of her desperation to be with the non-magical Jacob Kowalski, turned to Grindelwald to help her achieve her desire. Many fans had condemned the movie for this portrayal of Queenie. And I do not understand why.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” had already hinted Queenie’s desperation to be with Jacob, when she conveyed reluctance to follow MACUSA President Seraphina Picquery’s orders to ensure the erasure of his recent memories. She broke the rules even further by paying a visit to Jacob’s new bakery in one of the film’s final scenes.More importantly, Queenie had discovered that Jacob had retained some memories of his adventures with her, Tina and Newt. This is why I am not surprised that Queenie had resorted to desperate measures in “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” to make Jacob her husband. Love might lead a person to do wonderful things. But it can also lead someone to make questionable or terrible decisions. J.K. Rowling understood this. I never understood why so many people were incapable of doing so.

The ironic thing about “FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” is that the movie not only featured former protagonists like Queenie Goldstein and Agent Abernathy, who had decided to follow Grindelwald, it also featured . . . Leta Lestrange. Any fan of Potterverse will remember another character with the Lestrange name – Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Although Bellatrix had married into the Lestrange family, fans learned that her husband was another one of Voldemort’s highly murderous and faithful followers. I do recall that the 2016 film may have hinted that Leta was briefly as someone from Newt’s past who may or may not have deliberately led him into trouble and expelled from Hogwarts. Thanks to “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”, audiences learned that Leta was NOT someone who lived up to her pure-blood family’s name and who proved to be a different kettle of fish. She was not perfect. Her one crime . . . which led to years of guilt . . . stemmed from resentment toward her father’s sexist desire for a male heir. As a young girl aboard a sinking ocean liner headed for the United States, she made an ugly decision that affected both her family and Credence Barebone.

The characterizations of both Queenie Goldstein and Leta Lestrange, along with Gellert Grindelwald’s followers made J.K. Rowling’s intent to continue her ambiguous portrayal of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But instead of viewing this ambiguity from a growing child, audiences get to witness this ambiguity through the eyes of an adult. Instead of realizing that individuals we might perceive as “bad” can also possess decency within, Rowling seemed to be hinting that those whom we might originally perceive as “good or decent” can allow their emotions to make terrible choices or embrace evil. Granted, fans learned in the previous series that Albus Dumbledore had once skated on the edge of giving into some parts of his baser nature. But through characters like Queenie Goldstein and Agent Abernathy, agents get to see how originally perceived “decent” characters can allow their emotions and desires to embrace evil . . . not for any moral good, but due to their own selfishness or prejudices. It is a pity that so many are unwilling to explore this journey with Rowling.

Although I had criticized the film’s costumes for resembling the fashions of the early 1930s, instead of the late 1920s, I must admit that I found Colleen Atwood’s designs very attractive and very original. I rarely comment on a film’s editing, but I found Film Editor Mark Day’s work in the movie first-rate. I was especially impressed by his work in two particular sequences – Grindelwald’s escape in the film’s first action sequence and another one featuring a wizarding freak show in Paris. I was also impressed by Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography . . . to a certain extent. Rousselot’s photography struck me as beautiful and memorable – especially in the Parisian scenes and one particular flashback scene in the Atlantic Ocean. But I really disliked the monochromatic tones (blue, yellow or green) that seemed to dominate the movie’s photography . . . as much as I disliked the brown tones that dominated “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”. Also, production designer Stuart Craig, set designer Anna Pinnock, the art direction team led by Martin Foley and the special effects team all did an exceptional job to re-create the wizarding worlds of New York, London, Scotland and Paris.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” featured some first-rate performances. Lead actor Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim and Ezra Miller all gave excellent performances. But there were performances that I found more than first-rate. Jude Law was superb as the enigmatic and younger Professor Albus Dumbore, who seemed warm and manipulative as ever. William Nadylam gave a very complex and passionate performance as Yusuf Kama: A French-Senegalese wizard who has spent many years obsessively searching for Credence, whom he believed was responsible for the death of a family member. Callum Turner’s portrayal of Theseus Scamander, Newt’s brother, first seemed pretty solid. But his performance became more complex and interesting, thanks to Turner’s skillful acting. Alison Sudol gave an outstanding performance as the increasingly desperate Queenie Goldstein, who allowed her love for Jacob and emotions to lead to a morally questionable decision. Zoë Kravitz was equally outstanding as Newt’s former love, Leta Lestrange, who became emotionally troubled and confused over a morally questionable decision from the past. But the best performance, in my opinion, came from Johnny Depp, who portrayed the film’s main villain, Gellert Grindelwald. Depp’s Grindelwald seemed like a completely different kettle of fish from the more obvious villains of the Harry Potter novel. More subtle, subversive and manipulative. Insidious. The franchise’s Palpatine perhaps? Honestly, Depp’s Grindelwald made Tom Riddle Jr. aka Lord Voldemort seem like a rank amateur as far as villains go.

This 2018 sequel to “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” proved to be a disappointment at the box office. Between the controversy over Depp’s casting and the hostile reaction to the Queenie Goldstein character, I guess I should not be surprised. But I am disappointed that the majority of moviegoers had failed to appreciate Rowling’s story, because I thought it was first-rate, thanks to her screenplay, David Yates’ direction and the excellent cast led by Eddie Redmayne. To be honest, I personally feel that it was slightly better than its 2016 predecessor. Perhaps one day, more filmgoers will be able to appreciate it.

 

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga” – Jar-Jar Binks

Here is the seventh article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga: 

 

 

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga”

Jar-Jar Binks

I have encountered many articles on the Internet about why many fans consider the “STAR WARS” Prequel movies a failure. A number of these articles tend to be dominated by opinions on what was wrong with the Gungan character known as Jar-Jar Binks and why he is so hated.

First of all, what was really wrong with Jar-Jar Binks? Well . . . I have several opinions. And they are not pretty. One, Jar-Jar clumsy and naive. Jar-Jar’s clumsiness had irked Boss Nass and the other Gungans for years. And when the young Gungan wrecked the Boss’ personal heyblibber submarine, the latter had him banished from Otoh Gunga, the city underneath Naboo’s waters. In “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”, Jar-Jar’s meeting with Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and Jedi padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, the adventures he shared with them and his participation in the Battle of Naboo, allowed Jar-Jar to resume his position within Gungan society.

Many fans still solely blame Jar-Jar for Chancellor Sheev Palpatine’s growing political power, when he, as the Junior Representative for Naboo in the Galactic Senate, had proposed that the Sith Lord receive emergency executive powers during the political crisis leading up to the Clone Wars in “STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. But other Star Wars characters had committed their own share of mistakes – including those Original Trilogy characters worshiped by the franchise’s fans. Naboo’s Queen Padmé Amidala (later Senator) had declared a no-confidence vote against Chancellor Finis Valorum in “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”, unintentionally paving the way for Palpatine’s election as the Galactic Republic’s chancellor. The Original Trilogy leads had committed their own mistakes – especially in “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. Padmé was never crucified by the fans for her mistake in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. As far as many are concerned, her only mistake was marrying then Jedi padawan Anakin Skywalker (the future Darth Vader) in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. Many fans have been willing to criticize Padmé, Anakin and many other Prequel Trilogy characters. But I do not ever recall any of them being crucified for their flaws and mistakes like Jar-Jar. I could almost say the same about the Original Trilogy leads. However, very few STAR WARS have been willing to even acknowledge their mistakes.

So, why had so many fans had dumped so much hatred upon Jar-Jar’s head? Why do they still crucify him in such an excessive manner? Many claimed that due to Jar-Jar’s naivety and clumsiness and especially his dialect that seemed to resemble a Caribbean patois, Jar-Jar was a racist fictional trope. The ironic thing is that actor Ahmed Best, who is African-American, was responsible for the creation of the Gungan dialect, not George Lucas. Best, who had initially been hired to provide Jar-Jar’s motion capture performance, was the one who had created Jar-Jar’s speech pattern. He was also the one who had convinced Lucas to allow him to also provide the character’s voice. Because of this, I have a great difficulty in agreeing with those criticisms that Jar-Jar was a racist trope. Unless this accusation stemmed from the fact that an African-American actor had provided the character’s voice. For me, that says a lot about many moviegoers and film critics and not the character or Lucas.

Had Jar-Jar’s lack of social graces created so much hatred from certain fans?After all, he was clumsy and naive. Considering that the franchise’s biggest fans tend to be “geeks”, did many of these fans (who tend to be the loudest on the Internet) view Jar-Jar of their own personal flaws? Or lack of social graces? Was that another reason why they hated him so much? He reminded them too much of themselves? I can understand why many of these fans would rather associate themselves with characters that are regarded as “cool” or “ideal”, instead of a character who may have possibly been a reflection of themselves.

There is also the consideration that Jar-Jar was a part of the Prequel Trilogy. And in the eyes of the Darth Media and rabid fanboys, anything or any character that originated with the Prequel Trilogy was bad. It is still bad, as far as they are concerned. Why? Even more so than the Original Trilogy or the Sequel Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy seemed to come closer to being a TRUE reflection of mankind and its societies’ ambiguous nature. For me, watching a Prequel Trilogy movie seemed to be the equivalent of a human being looking into a mirror and seeing his or her true self. And for some reason, this seemed to bother many fans. Most of their complaints about the Prequel Trilogy seemed to stem from this ambiguity. The only STAR WARS movies that seemed to have come close to the Prequel movies’s ambiguity are “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY”. These films did not allow moviegoers allowed their characters to make some ambiguous decisions without being painted as “heroic” or “cool”. Nor did these movies have their characters triumph in the end.

In a way, both Jar-Jar Binks and the STAR WARS Prequel Trilogy seemed like a true reflection of humanity. Jar-Jar’s clumsiness and naivety could easily be a reflection of the same level of social graces as many of the franchise’s fans. And the Prequel Trilogy definitely struck me as a reflection of our societies throughout history. As I finish this article, I find myself wondering if this is more of a exploration of the STAR WARS fandom’s ambiguity than of Jar-Jar’s character. Because I find these fans’ hatred of Jar-Jar rather disturbing . . . and odd.

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“DRAGONWYCK” (1946) Review




“DRAGONWYCK” (1946) Review

Being an aficionado of old Hollywood period dramas, I noticed that it was rare to find movies set in the antebellum North. Very rare. I have tried to think of how many of these films I have come across. And to be honest, I can only think of four or five so far, in compare to the numerous films set in the antebellum South. One of those Northern antebellum tales proved to be the 1946 movie, “DRAGONWYCK”

Based upon Anya Seton’s 1944 novel, adapted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and directed by him; “DRAGONWYCK” began in 1844 Greenwich, Connecticut; when Miranda Wells, the daughter of a religious farm couple, receives a letter from distant cousin Nicholas Van Ryn. Nicholas, the autocratic and charming owner (Patroon) of a Hudson River Valley estate called Dragonwyck, asks if one of Ephraim and Abigail’s daughters could act as governess for his eight year-old daughter, Katrine. Miranda, who daydreams about a more romantic and luxurious lifestyle, manages to convince her doubting parents to let her go.

Upon her arrival at Dragonwyck, Miranda meets the young Katrine and Nicholas’ wife, a gluttonous, yet slightly high-strong woman named Johanna. She also meets the handsome local doctor, Dr. Jeff Turner, at the “kermess” – a ceremony where landowner Nicholas receives the rents of his tenants. Not only does Miranda become aware of the strange atmosphere at Dragonwyck and the tense relationship between Nicholas and his tenants; she also finds herself falling in love with her cousin and employer . . . and he with her. This budding relationship between the pair proves to be quite disastrous for all concerned.

After my second viewing of “DRAGONWYCK”, I realized that I could never regard it as a personal favorite. The writing for some of the film’s supporting characters struck me as theatrical and one-dimensional. Unfortunately, I have to include the Ephraim Wells character, who came off as a clichéd version of the 19th century religious American male and Peggy, the young maid loyal to Miranda. During the film’s third act, the narrative revealed that Nicholas Van Ryn’s lack of religious belief. Was this supposed to cap his position as an immoral and villainous man? Because honestly . . . I realized that I could not care less about his lack of belief. And I found it ridiculous that his status as a non-believer was supposed to be a sign of his villainy. I understand. Perhaps the majority of moviegoers felt differently in 1946. Needless to say, this aspect of Nicholas’ character did not age well over the past 72 to 73 years. I was not that impressed by the film’s finale in which Nicholas had a showdown with his discontented tenants. Although it featured an excellent performance by Vincent Price, I found the actual sequence a bit anti-climatic. I noticed that the film’s ending was different from the one written by Anya Seton. However, I found Seton’s ending in the novel more dramatic, but somewhat ludicrous. I could see why Mankiewicz had changed the ending.

Although I could never regard “DRAGONWYCK” as a personal favorite of mine, I must admit that I found it to be a rather first-rate film. The movie – the story itself – struck me as a prime example of American Gothic literature. In fact, I would go as far to claim that the narrative almost reminds me of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”, but with a darker twist. Unlike Brontë’s tale, “DRAGONWYCK” included the specter of murder and class conflict. The latter included the historical conflict known as the Anti-Rent War, in which tenants in upstate New York revolted and declared their independence from the manor system operated by patroons, by resisting tax collectors and successfully demanding land reform between 1839 and 1845.

One would think that the Miranda Wells character would be the narrative’s center or force. A part of me feels sad that I cannot make that claim. For the most interesting aspect of “DRAGONWYCK” proved to be the Nicholas Van Ryn character. Was he supposed to be a mere villain? If a person viewed him from how he had ended his marriage to the voracious Johanna, he or she could regard him as such. On the other hand, I found it difficult to regard his refusal to embrace his wife’s new-founded religious fervor as monstrous. Which meant that in the end, Nicholas became something of a repellent, yet fascinating character to me. A true force of nature. I wish I could have said the same about Miranda. I found her charming and extroverted, but after her marriage to Nicholas turned sour, she became something of an annoyance. Being the offspring of religious parents, I was not surprised that she eventually turned to religion. But I found it annoying that religious fervor was the only literary device used to develop her character and nothing else. Nicholas, on the other hand, proved to be a lot more complex.

A part of me wishes that “DRAGONWYCK” had been filmed in Technicolor. It would have been interesting to view Twentieth Century-Fox’s version of antebellum New York State in color. Especially the Hudson River Valley. I am not begrudging Arthur C. Miller’s cinematography. His work for the film’s interior shots, especially those for the Dragonwyck manor had provided a great deal of atmosphere, adding to the film’s Gothic narrative. But I was not that impressed by the exterior shots. I must admit that I have no memories of the film’s score by Alfred Newman. I thought Lyle R. Wheeler and J. Russell Spencer’s art direction, along with Thomas Little’s set decorations were excellent . . . especially for the Dragonwyck manor and New York City hotel’s interiors. However, I truly enjoyed René Hubert’s beautiful costume designs for the movie. Were they accurate examples of mid-1840s fashion? I have my doubts. But as the images below reveal, they were gorgeous:

 

I might as well focus on the movie’s actual performances. Were there any bad performances? No. “DRAGONWYCK” can honestly boast some solid or excellent performances. The supporting cast featured some solid performances from the likes of Harry Morgan as one of Nicholas’ angry tenants, Connie Marshall as Nicholas’ daughter Katrine, and Trudy Marshall as neighbor Elizabeth Van Borden. Future Oscar winner Jessica Tandy’s portrayal of Miranda’s Irish-born maid Peggy O’Malley struck me as a bit theatrical. I could also say the same about another future Oscar winner Walter Huston, who portrayed Miranda’s religious father Ephraim Wells. Anne Revere’s portrayal of Miranda’s mother Abigail Wells seemed a lot more subtle . . . and skillful. Spring Byington portrayed the Van Ryns’ manipulative and slightly creepy maid Magda. A part of me wondered if it was Mankiewicz or Seton’s intention to create a more benign version of the Mrs. Danvers character from “REBECCA”. Vivienne Osborne, on the other hand, gave a very skillful performance as Nicholas’ first wife, the gluttonous and insecure Johanna Van Ryn. I did not know whether to share Nicholas’ disgust for her or feel any sympathy toward her for being married to a creep.

I was prepared to dismiss Glenn Langan’s performance as the handsome local physician, Dr. Jeff Turner, who befriends Miranda. I had assumed that he would be another one of those bland leading men that the Hollywood system tried to transform into a movie star. After my recent viewing of “DRAGONWYCK”, I realized that Langan gave an interesting performance by skillfully conveying Jeff’s barely concealed anger toward Nicholas’ arrogance. However, my vote for the best performance would go to Vincent Price’s portrayal of Nicholas Van Ryn. I thought he gave a brilliant and dynamic performance as the arrogant, yet charismatic Nicholas, whose villainy proved to be rather enigmatic. Gene Tierney did an excellent job in carrying the film as the lead Miranda Wells. I was very impressed by her portrayal of the more ebullient and naive Miranda during the first two-thirds of the film. But once Miranda’s marriage to Nicholas began to fail, Tierney’s portrayal of the character fell flat. I do not blame her. I blame the manner in which the character had become one-dimensional, thanks to Anya Seton’s novel and Joseph Mankiewicz’s screenplay.

Overall, I rather enjoyed “DRAGONWYCK”. It was not perfect. No film is. But I was a little put off by some theatrical acting in the film, the decline of the Miranda Wells character and the writing overall during the movie’s final fifteen to twenty minutes. But I must admit I enjoyed most of the film’s narrative. Many would dismiss it as costume melodrama. Personally, I see no reason to dismiss melodrama. It can be appreciated, if written well like other forms of fiction. Thanks to Joseph Mankiewicz’s screenplay and direction, along with a competent cast led by Gene Tierney and Vincent Price; “DRAGONWYCK” proved to be more entertaining than I had previously surmised.

“PROMETHEUS” (2012) Review

 

“PROMETHEUS” (2012) Review

When I first saw the trailer for director Ridley Scott’s 2012 science-fiction thriller, “PROMETHEUS”, I had no desire to see it. For me, it looked like another “alien in the spaceship” thriller that I have ignored for years. But after some persistent urging from a relative of mine, I finally saw it in the theaters. 

According to Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan and cultural hero who is believed to be responsible for the creation of man from clay. He also is also responsible for the theft of fire for human use, which enabled the latter to enjoy progress and civilization. Zeus punished Prometheus for the theft by sentencing the Tital to eternal torment. Zeus bounded Prometheus to rock, transformed to an eagle each day to feed on Prometheus’ liver. The latter would grow back and the eagle would feed on it again . . . day after day after day. What does this have to do with the movie, “PROMETHEUS”? Honestly, I do not know. I am not of the intellectual variety. Then again, I hear that Prometheus’ story is supposed to be a metaphor for human striving and quest for scientific knowledge, at the risk of unintended consequences. Hmmm. Now I understand why the filmmakers used this name.

Set in the late 21st century, “PROMETHEUS” is about the crew of the starship Prometheus that follows a star map discovered among the remnants of several ancient Earth cultures. Led to a distant world and an advanced civilization, the crew seeks the origins of humanity, but instead discovers a threat that could cause the extinction of the human race. Although some members of the cast claim otherwise, it has been confirmed that “PROMETHEUS” was developed as far back as the early 2000s as a fifth entry in the ALIEN franchise, with both Scott and director James Cameron developing ideas for a film that would serve as a prequel to Scott’s 1979 science fiction horror film, “ALIEN”. The project remained dormant until 2009, when Scott again became interested. A script by Jon Spaihts served as a prequel to the events of the ALIEN movies. However, Scott chose a different direction for the movie, in order to avoid repeating the storylines of the past films. He recruited “LOST” producer/writer Damon Lindelof to co-write a new script with Spaihts. They created a story in which Scott claimed is not directly connected to the ALIEN franchise.

The movie began with a humanoid alien drinks a dark bubbling liquid, and then starts to disintegrate. As its bodily remains cascade into a waterfall, the alien’s DNA triggers a biogenetic reaction. The story jumps to the year 2089, when archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a star map among several unconnected ancient cultures. The pair believes the maps are invitations from humanity’s creators or “Engineers”. Peter Weyland, the aging CEO of Weyland Corporation, funds the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map. The ship’s crew travels in stasis while the android David monitors their voyage, until they arrive at Moon LV-223. Mission director Meredith Vickers orders them to avoid making contact with any of the “Engineers” without her permission. The Prometheus lands near a large artificial structure, which a team explores. The expedition team manages to find an alien corpse and believe it to be an “Engineer”. Their expedition takes an ugly turn they discover that the “Engineers” and other life forms on the moon prove to be a lot more dangerous than they had imagined.

After my family and I watched the last reel of “PROMETHEUS”, the relative who had convinced me to see the movie leaned over and offered her apologies. She even offered to reimburse me for my movie ticket. Why? Because I discovered that my original reluctance to see the movie had been justified. I disliked “PROMETHEUS”. Wholeheartedly. It turned out to be the kind of the movie that I usually dislike. Not only did it turned out to be the typical science-fiction horror film that usually turned me off, I found the movie’s intellectual aspects of the plot pretentious and incomplete. Were there any aspects of “PROMETHEUS” that I liked? Well . . . the entire cast gave solid performances, aside from some questionable accents from at least two of the cast members. I cannot deny that Dariusz Wolski’s photography was breathtaking. Or that Pietro Scalia’s editing was first rate. And Ridley Scott did a great job in maintaining a steady pace for the movie, despite its 124 minutes running time. Other than that . . . there was nothing else about this film that impressed me.

I have few questions. Why did Elizabeth Shaw assume that the aliens who had created the star maps, were creators of mankind? How did she come to this conclusion? Because she had “faith”? Who was she supposed to be? A second-rate John Locke? Or a metaphor of the Titan Prometheus? And how did she come to the conclusion near the end of the movie that the “Engineers” were out to destroy mankind, after . . . uh, creating them? And what is it about this crew that they make such stupid mistakes that end up endangering them? A good example would be the geologist Fifield and the biologist Milburn, who lacked the good sense to run for their lives after spotting the snake-like alien. And could someone please explain how Shaw managed to walk and run around both Prometheus and the moon so soon after giving herself a brutal abortion to rid herself of her alien spawn? I have one last question. Why on earth would Elizabeth (the crew’s lone survivor) even bother traveling to the aliens’ homeworld at the end of the movie, now that she believes they are out to destroy humankind? Was it so important to her to learn about the aliens’ motives that she was willing to risk her life in such a stupid manner?

Moviegoers raved over Michael Fassbender’s performance as the android David. I was too busy feeling confused about the character to consider any accolades for the actor. Exactly how are we supposed to regard David? As another Data from “STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION”? Or as one of the replicants from another Scott film, 1982’s “BLADE RUNNER”? At first, David seemed to be in thrall over human culture, Elizabeth Shaw and the moon in general. Yet, a reason that is never fully explained, he decided to spike Charlie Holloway’s (Elizabeth’s love interest and fellow archeologist) drink with a dark liquid he had found from one of the moon’s stone cylinders. Why did he do that? Again, the movie failed to explain. Some critics were also in thrall over Idris Elba’s performance as Prometheus’ chief pilot, Janek. I was too busy wincing at his attempt to re-create some kind of African-American accent. He had managed to do this successfully in the 2010 movie, “THE LOSERS”. What in the hell happened? As for Rafe Spall’s Southern accent . . . frankly my dear, it sucked.

I wish I could say that I liked “PROMETHEUS”. But if I did, I would be lying. I did not like it one bit. The movie tried to be some kind of profound tale that would leave many moviegoers asking questions. And in a way it did. But my questions about the movie only reinforced my disenchantment with it. What is really sad about “PROMETHEUS” is that it is the first Ridley Scott movie that has disappointed me since the 2001 movie, “BLACK HAWK DOWN”. Pity.

“RAINTREE COUNTY” (1957) Review

“RAINTREE COUNTY” (1957) Review

As much as some people would hate to admit it, “GONE WITH THE WIND”, the 1939 adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, had really cast a long shadow upon the Hollywood industry. Before its release, movies about the Antebellum and Civil War period were rarely released. And by the mid-1930s, Civil War movies especially were considered box office poison. Following the success of “GONE WITH THE WIND”, many Hollywood studios seemed determined to copy the success of the 1939 movie. 

Although “GONE WITH THE WIND” was definitely a Selznick International product, it had been released in theaters by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios, thanks to a deal that allowed the latter to help producer David Selznick finance the movie. Although MGM had released a few movies set during the mid-19th century – including “LITTLE WOMEN” and “SOUTHERN YANKEE” – it did not really try to copy Selznick’s success with “GONE WITH THE WIND”, until the release of its own Antebellum/Civil War opus, “RAINTREE COUNTY”.

Based upon Ross Lockridge Junior’s 1948 novel, “RAINTREE COUNTY” told the story of a small-town Midwestern teacher and poet named John Shawnessy, who lived in 19th century Indiana. Although most of Lockridge’s novel is set in the decade before the Civil War and the next two-to-three decades after the war, the movie adaptation took a different direction. The movie began with John’s graduation from his hometown’s local academy. Many people in Freehaven, Indiana – including John’s father, his teacher/mentor Professor Jerusalem Webster Stiles, and his sweetheart Nell Gaither – expect great things from him, due to his academic excellence. But when John meet a visiting Southern belle named Susanna Drake and has a brief tryst with her during a Fourth of July picnic, his life unexpectedly changes. Susanna returns to Freehaven a month or two later with the news that she is pregnant with his child. Being an honorable young man, John disappoints both Nell and his father by marrying Susanna. Their honeymoon in Louisiana starts off well, but John becomes aware of Susanna’s mental instability and her suspicions that she might be the daughter of a free black woman who had been Susanna’s nanny for the Drake family. However, the Civil War breaks out. Susanna’s emotional state becomes worse and she eventually leaves Indiana for Georgia, the home of her mother’s family. John joins the Union Army in an effort to find her.

After viewing “RAINTREE COUNTY”, a part of me wondered why it was regarded as a Civil War movie. The majority of the film’s action occurred between 1859-1861, the two years before the war’s outbreak. A great deal of the film’s Civil War “action” focused on the birth of John and Susanna’s son – the day the war started, one night in which Susanna informed John about her family’s history, and his rescue of young Johnny at a cabin outside of Atlanta. Otherwise, not much happened in this film during the war. Hell, John eventually found Susanna at a Georgian asylum . . . right after the war. Why this movie is solely regarded as a Civil War movie, I have no idea.

I realize that “RAINTREE COUNTY” is supposed to be about the life of John Shawnessey, but he came off as a rather dull protagonist. Some critics have blamed leading actor Montgomery Clift’s performance, but I cannot. I simply find John to be a rather dull and ridiculously bland character. Aside from losing control of his libido when he first met and later married Susanna, and being slightly naive when the movie first started; John Shawnessey never really made a mistake or possessed a personal flaw. How can one enjoy a movie, when the protagonist is so incredibly dull? Even if the movie had followed Lockbridge’s novel by exploring John’s post-war involvement in politics and the late 19th century Labor movement, I would still find him rather dull and slightly pretentious. Characters like the volatile Susanna, the mercenary and bullying Garwood P. Jones, the witty Professor Stiles, the gregarious local Orville ‘Flash’ Perkins and even Nell Gaither, who proved to harbor flashes of wit, malice and jealousy behind that All-American girl personality were more interesting than John. How can I get emotionally invested in a movie that centered around such a dull man?

I find his goal in this movie – the search for the “raintree” – to be equally dull. Thanks to Lockridge’s novel and Millard Kaufman’s screenplay, the “raintree” symbolizes the Tree of Knowledge, whose golden boughs shed fertilizing blossoms on the land. In other words, John’s goal is to search for self-knowledge, maturity, wisdom . . . whatever. Two main problems prevented this theme from materializing in the story. One, Kaufman barely scratched the surface on this theme, aside from one scene in which Professor Stiles discussed the “raintree” to his students and how its location in Indiana is also a metaphor for American myth, another scene in which John foolish searches for this tree in the local swamp, a third scene in which John and Susanna discusses this myth and in one last scene featuring John, Susanna, their son James, and Nell in the swamp at the end of the movie. Am I to believe that the movie’s main theme was only featured in four scenes of an 182 minutes flick? And the idea of John spending most of the film finding self-knowledge, wisdom, etc. strikes me as superfluous, considering that he comes off as too much of a near ideal character in the first place.

To make matters worse, the movie had failed to adapt Lockridge’s entire novel. Instead, it focused on at least half or two-thirds of the novel – during John Shawnessey’s years during the antebellum period and the Civil War. Let me re-phase that. “RAINTREE COUNTY” has a running time of 160 minutes. At least spent 90 minutes of the film was set during the antebellum period. The next 40 minutes was set during the war and the right after it. at least half or two-thirds of the film during the antebellum period. The rest focused on the Civil War, which struck me as something of a rush job on director Edward Dmytryk’s part, even if I did enjoyed it. In fact, I wish that the film’s Civil War chapter had lasted longer.

Since the John Shawnessey character and his story arc proved to be so boring (well, at least to me), I did not find it surprising that Dmytryk and screenwriter Millard Kaufman ended up focusing most of the film’s attention on the Susanna Drake Shawnessey character. After all, she emerged as the story’s most interesting character. Her childhood neuroses not only made her complex, but also reflected the country’s emotional hangups (then and now) with race. And there seemed to be a touch of Southern Gothic about her personal backstory. But in the end, both Kaufman and Dmytryk fell short in portraying her story arc with any real depth. It is obvious that the conflict between Susanna’s love for her nanny Henrietta and her racism, along with the survivor’s guilt she felt in the aftermath of family’s deaths had led to so much emotional trauma for her. But Kaufman’s screenplay failed to explore Susanna’s racism, let alone resolve it one way or the other.

In fact, the topic of race is never discussed or explored in “RAINTREE COUNTY”. I found this odd, considering how Susanna’s emotional trauma played such a big role in the film’s narrative. The movie featured two African-American actresses – Isabel Cooley and Ruth Attaway – who portrayed the maids that Susanna brought with her from Louisiana. Their presence in the Shawnessey household created a major quarrel between the pair in which John had demanded that Susanna free them or he would leave. And yet . . . Kaufman’s screenplay never gave the two maids a voice. John Shawnessey never really explained or discussed his reasons for being an abolitionist. Although the movie did point out both Southern and Northern racism, no one really discussed slavery with any real depth. Racism only played a role in Susanna’s emotional hangups about her family and nothing else.

In one of the movie’s final scenes; John’s father, Professor Stiles, and Nell were among those who tried to encourage John, a former abolitionist, to run for Congress. To protect the South from the post-war Republicans like Garwood Jones . . . who was definitely a Copperhead Democrat during the war. Watching this scene, I found myself scratching my brow. To protect . . . which South? All of the South? Or the white South? One would think that a former abolitionist and pro-Lincoln supporter like John would be a Republican. I can understand him not being interested in “punishing the South”, or white Southerners. But what about the former slaves of the South? Kaufman’s screenplay did not seem the least interested in pointing out how the freedmen would need protection. And John Shawnessey seemed like the type of character – judging from his pre-war and wartime views on abolition – who would be interested in the fate of those former slaves. Unfortunately . . . the topic never came up.

I have two last complaints about “RAINTREE COUNTY” – its score and title song. I was surprised to learn that Johnny Green had earned an Academy Award nomination for the score he had written for the movie. How in the hell did that happen? I found it so boring. And bland. It was a miracle that the music did not put me to sleep while watching the film. Producer David Lewis had hired Nat King Cole to perform the movie’s theme song, also written by Green. Look, I am a big fan of Cole’s work. But not even he could inject any real fire into this song. Like the score, it was dull as hell. And the song’s style struck me as a bit too modern (for the mid 1950s) for a period movie like “RAINTREE COUNTY”.

Was there anything about “RAINTREE COUNTY” that I enjoyed? Well . . . I enjoyed the art direction and set decorations featured in it. Both teams received deserved Academy Award nominations for their work. Academy Award winner Walter Plunkett (who had won for “GONE WITH THE WIND”) had received an Oscar nomination for his work in this film:

However, I have noticed that like his costumes for female characters in “GONE WITH THE WIND”, Plunkett’s costumes for “RAINTREE COUNTY” have touches of modern fashion in them . . . especially some of the hats worn by Elizabeth Taylor and Eva Marie Saint.

The movie also featured scenes and sequences that I enjoyed. I thought the Fourth-of-July foot race between John Shawnessey and “Flash” Perkins rather permeated with the atmosphere of a mid-19th century Midwestern town. I also enjoyed the humor featured in this sequence. I was also impressed by the New Orleans ball that John and Susanna had visited during their honeymoon, along with John’s visit to a New Orleans “quadroon ball” (I think it was) in order to privately speak with Susanna’s cousin Bobby Drake. Thanks to Dmytryk’s skillful direction and the production designs, I was impressed with the sequence that began with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s election as president on Freehaven’s streets and ended with the party as the Shawnessey home held in honor of Susanna’s emancipation of her two slaves. Another sequence that impressed me featured Susanna’s revelations about the true circumstances of her parents’ deaths to John. I found it very dramatic in the right way and it featured a fine performance from Elizabeth Taylor.

But the one sequence I actually managed to truly enjoyed featured John Shawnessey’s experiences as a Union soldier with the Army of the Cumberland. The sequence began with John’s humorous and enjoyable reunion with both “Flash” Perkins and Professor Stiles (who had become a war correspondent). The film continued with a fascinating montage featuring John and Flash engaged in battles at Chickamauga, Resaca and Atlanta, punctuated by Professor Stiles’ grim and sardonic commentaries on the warfare. The action and suspense, along with my interest, went up several notch when John and Flash had become two of Sherman’s “Bummers” (foragers) during the general’s march through Georgia. The entire sequence featured the pair’s arrival at Susanna’s Georgia home, the discovery of young Jim Shawnessey and their encounter with a Georgia militia unit led by a wily Confederate officer. This sequence featuring John’s Army experiences proved to be the movie’s high point . . . at least for me.

“RAINTREE COUNTY” featured some decent performances from the supporting cast. Walter Abel and Agnes Moorehead portrayed John’s parents, T.D. and Ellen Shawnessey. I found Moorehead’s performance satisfactory, but I thought Abel’s portrayal of the idealistic Shawnessey Senior rather annoying and a bit over-the-top. I have to say the same about John Eldredge and Jarma Lewis, who portrayed two members of Susanna’s Louisiana family. DeForest Kelley (who was eight or nine years away from “STAR TREK”) seemed both sardonic and witty as the Confederate officer captured by John and Flash. Rosalind Hayes gave a poignant performance as the housekeeper formerly owned by Susanna’s Georgia family, who rather “delicately” explained Susanna’s emotional turmoil to John.

The supporting performances in “RAINTREE COUNTY” that really impressed me came from Lee Marvin, who was a delight as the extroverted and good-natured Orville “Flash” Perkins. A part of me wishes that his role had been bigger, because Marvin’s performance struck me as one of the film’s highlights to me. I heard that Rod Taylor had went out of his way to be cast as the local scoundrel (read: bully) Garwood Jones. Taylor gave a first-rate performance, but his role struck me as a bit wasted throughout most of the film. I was impressed by Tom Drake’s restrained, yet sardonic portrayal of Susanna’s Cousin Bobby, especially in the scene in which he revealed that Susanna had been somewhat older at the time of her parents’ deaths. Nigel Patrick gave a very memorable performance as John’s mentor, Jerusalem Webster Stiles. Mind you, there were times when I found Patrick’s performance a bit theatrical or overbearing. But I also found his performance very entertaining and humorous – especially his monologue for the Army of the Cumberland montage in the film’s second half.

Eva Marie Saint had the thankless task of portraying the one character that most moviegoers seemed inclined to dismiss or ignore – local belle and John Shawnessey’s first love, Nell Gaither – the type most people would dismiss as some bland All-American girl. And yet, the actress managed to add a good deal of fire, passion and intensity in her performance, transforming Nell into a surprisingly complex character with some semblance of tartness. Elizabeth Taylor was luckier in that she was cast as the movie’s most interesting character – Susanna Drake Shawnessey. Taylor, herself, had once pointed out that she seemed to be chewing the scenery in this film. Granted, I would agree in a few scenes in which I found her Susanna a bit too histronic for my tastes. And Taylor’s Southern accent in this film struck me as somewhat exaggerated. I found this surprising, considering that I found her Upper South accent in 1956’s “GIANT” more impressive. But in the end, I could see how Taylor had earned her Oscar nomination for portraying Susanna. She took on a very difficult and complex character, who was suffering from a mental decline. And I was especially impressed by her performance in that one scene in which Susanna finally revealed the details behind her parents and Henrietta’s deaths. No wonder Taylor ended up receiving an Oscar nod.

Poor Montgomery Clift. He has received a great deal of flack for his portrayal of the film’s main protagonist, John Shawnessey. Personally, I agree that his performance seemed to be lacking his usual intensity or fire. There were moments when he seemed to be phoning it in. Many critics and moviegoers blamed his alcoholism and the car accident he had endured during the movie’s production. Who knows? Perhaps they are right. But . . . even if Clift had not been an alcoholic or had been in that accident, he would have been fighting a losing battle. John Shawnessey never struck me as an interesting character in the first place. Perhaps Clift realized it and regretted his decision to accept the role. However, the actor actually managed to shine a few times. He was rather funny in one humorous scene featuring Saint’s Nell Gaither and Taylor’s Garwood Jones. He was also funny in the moments leading up to John’s foot race against Flash Perkins. Clift certainly seemed to be on his game in the scene featuring John’s angry confrontation with Susanna over her slaves. Also, he managed to create some good chemistry with Marvin and Patrick during the Civil War sequence.

Yes, “RAINTREE COUNTY” had some good moments. This was especially apparent in the film’s Civil War sequences. I found the movie’s production values up to par and I was especially impressed by Walter Plunkett’s costume designs. Most of the cast managed to deliver excellent performances. But in the end, I feel that the movie was undermined by lead actor Montgomery Clift’s listless performance and uneven direction by Edward Dmytryk. However, the real culprit for “RAINTREE COUNTY” proved to be the turgid and unstable screenplay written by Millard Kaufman. Producer David Lewis should have taken one look at that script and realize that artistically, it would be the death of the film.