Least Favorite Movie Period Dramas

Below is a list of ten of my least favorite movie period dramas:

 

LEAST FAVORITE MOVIE PERIOD DRAMAS

1. “Legends of the Fall” (1992) – Edward Zwick directed this dull and overrated adaptaion of Jim Harrison’s 1979 novella about the lives of a Montana ranching family during the early 20th century. Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins starred.

2. “Barbary Coast” (1935) – Howard Hawks directed this turgid tale about an Eastern woman who arrives in San Francisco during the Gold Rush and comes between a corrupt gambler/saloon keeper and a miner. Miriam Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson and Joel McCrea starred.

3. “Mayerling” (1968) – Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve starred in this lavish, yet dull account of the tragic romance between Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his mistress, Baroness Maria Vetsera. Terence Young directed.

4. “Idlewild” (2006) – André 3000 and Big Boi starred in this confusing and badly written musical set during Depression Era Georgia. Bryan Barber directed.

5. “Becky Sharp” (1935) – Miriam Hopkins earned a surprising Best Actress nomination (surprising to me) in this unsatisfying adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1847-48 novel, “Vanity Fair”. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, the movie is known as being the first full-length production in Technicolor.

6. “Gods and Generals” (2003) – Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels and Robert Duvall starred in this adaptation of Jeff Shaara’s 1996 Civil War novel and prequel to the much superior 1993 movie, “Gettysburg”. Ronald Maxwell directed.

7. “The Hindenburg” (1975) – Robert Wise directed this rather dull account of the Hindenburg air disaster. The movie starred George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft.

8. “Anna Karenna” (2012) – Joe Wright directed this stagey adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel. Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson starred.

9. “Glorious 39” (2009) – Stephen Poliakoff directed this slow and pretentious thriller about a young woman who discovers that her family are pro-appreasers who wish for Britain to seek peace with Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. Romola Garai starred.

10. “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) – Tim Burton directed this dull and overrated adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and 1871 novel, “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There”. Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp starred.

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Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1870s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1870s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1870s

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1. “The Age of Innocence” (1993) – Martin Scorcese directed this exquisite adaptation of Edith Wharton’s award winning 1920 novel about a love triangle within New York’s high society during the Gilded Age. Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfieffer and Oscar nominee Winona Ryder starred.

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2. “The Big Country” (1958) – William Wyler directed this colorful adaptation of Donald Hamilton’s 1958 novel, “Ambush at Blanco Canyon”. The movie starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Charlton Heston.

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3. “True Grit” (2010) – Ethan and Joel Coen wrote and directed this excellent adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel about a fourteen year-old girl’s desire for retribution against her father’s killer. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hattie Steinfeld starred.

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4. “Far From the Madding Crowd” (2015) – Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen starred in this well done adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel about a young Victorian woman who attracts three different suitors. Thomas Vinterberg directed.

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5. “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956) – Mike Todd produced this Oscar winning adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel about a Victorian gentleman who makes a bet that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Directed by Michael Anderson and John Farrow, the movie starred David Niven, Cantiflas, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton.

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6. “Stardust” (2007) – Matthew Vaughn co-wrote and directed this adaptation of Neil Gaman’s 1996 fantasy novel. The movie starred Charlie Cox, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfieffer.

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7. “Fort Apache” (1948) – John Ford directed this loose adaptation of James Warner Bellah’s 1947 Western short story called“Massacre”. The movie starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda, John Agar and Shirley Temple.

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8. “Zulu Dawn” (1979) – Burt Lancaster, Simon Ward and Peter O’Toole starred in this depiction of the historical Battle of Isandlwana between British and Zulu forces in 1879 South Africa. Douglas Hickox directed.

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9. “Young Guns” (1988) – Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips starred in this cinematic account of Billy the Kid’s experiences during the Lincoln County War. The movie was directed by Christopher Cain.

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10. “Cowboys & Aliens” (2011) – Jon Favreau directed this adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s 2006 graphic novel about an alien invasion in 1870s New Mexico Territory. The movie starred Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.

“THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” (1956) Review

 

“THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” (1956) Review

It has been a long time since I saw Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 movie, “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”. A long time. When I was young, my family and I used to watch the film on television, every Easter Sunday. By the time I reached my early to mid-twenties, I stopped watching the movie.

I spent the next decade or two deliberately ignoring “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”. One, I had pretty much burned out on the 1956 film by then. Two, I had very little interest in Biblical films. I still do to a certain extent. And three, my opinion of DeMille’s movie had pretty much sunk over the years. By the time, I reached my thirties, I came to the conclusion that it was an overrated film. So . . . what led me to change my mind for a recent viewing of “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”? To be honest, the recent release Ridley Scott’s Biblical film, “EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS”. Both the 1956 and 2014 movies pretty much told the same story – the exodus of Hebrews from Egypt, under the leadership of Moses. I eventually plan to watch “EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS”. But out of curiosity, I decided to watch “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” first.

Anyone who has seen or heard about “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” knows the story. Pharaoh Rameses I of Egypt orders the death of all firstborn Hebrew males upon hearing a prophecy in which a “Deliverer” will lead Egypt’s Hebrew slaves to freedom. A Hebrew woman named Yochabel saves her infant son by setting him adrift in a basket on the Nile River. The Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah, who recently lost her husband, finds the child and adopts him as her own, despite the protests of her servant Memnet. Prince Moses grows up to be a part of Egypt’s royal family. He becomes a successful general who wins a war against Ethopia and forms an alliance with the country. Moses falls in love with loves Nefretiri, who is the throne princess and must be betrothed to the next Pharaoh. He also becomes in charge of constructing a new city in honor of Pharoah Sethi’s jubilee. But when his rival for the throne and Nefretiri’s hand, Prince Rameses accuses him of being the Hebrew slaves’ “Deliverer” after he institute reforms in regard to the slaves’ treatment. Moses responses by showing the completed city and claiming that he wanted the slaves more productive in order to finish the project. Despite being on top of the world following his construction of the new city, Moses’ privileged world is threatened when Nefretiri learns from a royal slave named Memnet that Moses is the son of a Hebrew slave.

I now realized why I had stopped watching “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” for so many years. I had simply burned out on the film. My refusal to watch the movie for so many years had nothing to do with its quality. I am not saying that “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” is one of the best films ever made. Not by a long shot. “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”, quite deservedly, is known for its over-the-top melodrama, bombastic style and preachiness. But the one thing the movie is known for it is the turgid dialogue that seemed to permeate the film. I cannot help but wonder if the screenwriters had disliked actress Anne Baxter or her character, Nefretiri. After hearing her spout lines like – “You will be king of Egypt and I will be your footstool!” – throughout the entire film, I am beginning to suspect that I may be right. Even the other performers – including Charlton Heston, Yul Brenner, Yvonne DeCarlo, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Debra Paget, John Derek, Judith Anderson, John Carradine, Martha Scott, Nina Foch and Sir Cedric Hardwicke – spoke their lines with a ponderous style that left me wondering if this movie had been shot at a slower speed. And to think, movie fans had to endure this ponderous style and turgid dialogue for slightly over three-and-a-half hours. Whew!

However, my re-watch of “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” made me appreciate it a lot more. I appreciated the epic feel of DeMille’s movie, as he guided audiences into Moses’ life – from Moses’ birth to his glory years as an Egyptian prince, to his years as an outcast and shepherd and finally to his years as a prophet and conflicts with Rameses – all in great detail and glorious Technicolor. DeMille even took the time to delve into the romance of supporting characters like Joshua and Lilia. There are some epic films that can bore me senseless with a ponderous style and equally ponderous pacing. Yes, the dialogue for “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” can be quite ponderous. But I cannot say the same for DeMille’s pacing. I found his direction well-paced, despite the movie’s 220 minutes running time. One of the aspects of “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” that I found truly impressive was Loyal Griggs’ cinematography for the film. Shot in glorious Technicolor, Griggs’ Oscar nominated photography left me breathless, especially while viewing scenes such as those shown below:

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I was also impressed by other technical aspects of the film. That last scene, which featured the parting of the Red Seas, led to an Academy Award for John P. Fulton, who had created the movie’s special effects. That scene hold up pretty damn well after 59 years. “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” earned Oscar nominations for Edith Head’s colorful costume designs, Anne Bauchens’ film editing, Sam Comer and Ray Noyer’s set decorations; and for art directors Hal Pereira, Walter H. Tyler, and Albert Nozaki.

What can I say about the movie’s performances? Despite the ponderous dialogue, the performances seemed to hold up . . . okay. Charlton Heston earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Moses. Granted, Heston projected a strong presence in his performance. But honestly . . . I would not regard Moses as one of his greatest performances. I merely found it solid. I was a little more impressed by Yul Brenner’s portrayal of Ramses. He won the Best Actor National Board Review Award for his performance. Then again, Ramses proved to be a more complex and ambiguous character than Moses. As much as I liked Brenner’s performance, it did not exactly blow my mind. Anne Baxter, who was already an Oscar winner by the time she did “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”, was saddled with some of the movie’s worst dialogue. And there was nothing she could do to overcome the bad dialogue . . . well, except in two particular scenes. One of those scenes featured Nefretiri’s discovery of Moses’ origin as a Hebrew slave. And the other featured her character’s angry goading of Ramses to take action against the Hebrews, following their son’s death.

I read that Paramount had submitted Yvonne De Carlo, John Derek, and Debra Paget as possible nominees for a supporting Academy Award. All gave pretty good performances; especially Yvonne De Carlo, who portrayed Moses’ wife Sephora, and Debra Paget, who portrayed Lilia, the slave woman who seemed doomed to attract the attention from the wrong kind of men. There were other solid performances from the likes of Judith Anderson, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nina Foch, John Carradine, Martha Scott, Henry Wilcoxon and Woody Strode. But two particular performances really caught my attention. Ironically, they were portrayed by Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson, who portrayed characters that proved to be the bane of Lilia’s life. Both gave interesting performances as two very oily men who use Lilia as their personal bed warmer – Price as the well-born Egyptian architect Baka and Robinson as the ambitious Hebrew overseer Dathan, who later proves to be a thorn in Moses’ side.

“THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” proved to be the last film directed by Cecil B. DeMille to be seen in movie theaters. The last in a career that by 1956, had spanned forty-two years. The director passed away over two years following the movie’s release. Frankly, “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” struck me as a nice high note for DeMille to end his career. Yes, one has to endure the extremely long running time, occasional bouts of over-the-top drama and ponderous dialogue. But the movie’s visual style, first-rate story, excellent direction in the hands of a legend like DeMille and solid performances from a cast led by Charlton Heston; makes this Hollywood classic worth watching over and over again.

“BECKY SHARP” (1935)

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“BECKY SHARP” (1935) Review

Being something of a film history buff, I have been aware of the 1935 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-48 novel, “Vanity Fair” for a number of years. But I have never been inclined to watch the film, until recently.

I cannot say what led to my recent interest in “BECKY SHARP”. But it was a book on David O. Selznick that made me first aware of the 1935 film. John Hay “Jock” Whitney and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney had founded Pioneer Pictures in 1933 as a means to produce color movies. “Jock” Whitney was close friends with Selznick. He even co-financed Selznick’s production company, Selznick International, in 1935. Between the creations of Pioneer Pictures and Selznick International, the former released the first feature-length film to use the three-strip Technicolor process. “BECKY SHARP” is the sixth of eleven film and/or television adaptations of the Thackeray’s novel. It is the first in color.

“BECKY SHARP” took its title from the novel’s main character, a poor, but educated young English lady who struggles rise in the ranks of Britain’s social classes during the early years of the 19th century. Becky Sharp is the orphaned daughter of an English painter and French dancer, who graduates from Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies with a friend named Amelia Sedley. Since Amelia is the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Becky manipulates her way into her friend’s household, where she meets Amelia’s portly and jovial brother, Joseph “Jos” Sedley. Before Becky can sink her hooks into Jos, the Sedley patriarch put an end to the budding “romance” by sending Jos away to India. Meanwhile, Becky finds employment as a governess at the estate of Sir Pitt Crawley. She eventually wins the heart and hand of Crawley’s playboy son Rawdon, an officer in the British army. When news of Napoleon Bonaparte‘s escape from Elba reach Britain, Becky is reunited with Amelia, who has now married her childhood sweetheart George Osborne. The two women’s husbands and William Dobbin are deployed to Belgium to face Napoleon’s Army. But the last stages of the Napoleonic Wars proved to be the first of many crisis thrown Becky’s way.

Judging from the movie’s title, it is clear to me that screenwriter Francis Edward Faragoh had deleted a great deal of Thackeray’s novel in order to write a screenplay with a running time of eighty-four minutes. I found it odd that a film adaptation of such a famous epic novel would have such a short running time. Other epics and movie adaptations of literary works had running times that sometimes went past two hours – including “A TALE OF TWO CITIES”, “MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY”, “THE CRUSADES”, and “CAPTAIN BLOOD”. I can only assume that a minor and newly formed production company like Pioneer Pictures could not afford to produce the first Technicolor feature film with a running time close to or over two hours. If that was the case . . . if the Whitneys were that determined to produce the first full-featured movie in color . . . they could have chosen something that was not an adaptation of a famous epic novel. I find it ironic that Mina Nair’s 2004 adaptation of Thackeray’s novel had received a great deal of criticism for not being truly faithful to its source. I have encountered less criticism of “BECKY SHARP” than I did for the 2004 film. Yet, the latter is more faithful than the former. One of my problems with “BECKY SHARP” is that I thought the producers, director Rouben Mamoulian and screenwriter Francis Edward Faragoh did a piss poor job of adapting Thackery’s novel to the screen. I just learned that the 1935 movie is actually an adaptation of Langdon Elwyn Mitchell’s 1899 play, which was an adaptation of the 1847-48 novel. I hate to say this, but the movie’s running time of eighty-four (84) minutes did not serve the story.

There is so much in “BECKY SHARP” that was left out. Most of the narrative that focused upon Amelia was deleted, especially her fractious relationship with her father-in-law, Mr. Osborne. In fact, George’s father never made an appearance in this film. I suspect the same could be said about Mitchell’s play. The only time the movie focused upon Amelia’s character arc was when Becky was personally involved . . . namely George’s infatuation with Becky before the Waterloo battle and Becky forcing Amelia to face the truth about George in the movie’s last fifteen to twenty minutes. It is not surprising that the movie’s title was based upon the main character’s name. Not only was much of Amelia’s personal story deleted, the movie also rushed through Becky’s stay with the Sedley and Crawley families. It seemed as if Mamoulian and Faragoh could not wait to focus on the impact of Waterloo and the marriage between Becky and Rawdon. Between the handling of Amelia’s character arc and the rushed narrative in the movie’s first half, it is no wonder that I found “BECKY SHARP” particularly unsatisfying.

I found other aspects of “BECKY SHARP” unsatisfying. The sound and visual quality of the movie’s DVD version low in quality. The photography and color struck me as faded. And the sound is scratchy. For once, I am not blaming the movie’s filmmakers. Whoever had possession of “BECKY SHARP” after Pioneer Pictures had failed to maintain its original quality. But I can blame the filmmakers on other aspects of the movie. In it, the Jos Sedley character returned to Europe with a little Indian boy in tow as his personal servant. Only the “Indian servant” was portrayed by a young African-American actor named Jimmy Robinson. To this day, I am still trying to figure out how the producers and director Rouben Mamoulian saw nothing wrong in an African-American kid portraying an Indian kid. Hollywood’s casting for non-white characters seemed really skewed in this film. And then . . . there was the acting.

I am surprised that “BECKY SHARP” led to a Best Actress Oscar nomination for actress Miriam Hopkins. Granted, she handled the character’s questionable morality, desperation and charm very well. Yet, Hopkins engaged in so much hammy acting that I found myself wondering why of all her performances, she ended up earning a nomination for this particular one. I wish I could say that the rest of the cast gave better performances . . . but I cannot. Other cast members gave equally hammy performances. Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray, Alison Skipworth, G.P. Huntley and many others were equally hammy. I could not accuse Colin Tapley of hamminess on the same scale. But I found his portrayal of William Dobbin rather dramatic. And I am not being complimentary. The only cast members who actually impressed me were Frances Dee and Cedrick Hardwicke. Dee gave a surprisingly subtle and convincing performance as the sweet and passive Amelia Sedley. Thanks to Dee’s performances, audiences saw both the positive and negative aspects of Amelia’s passiveness. Hardwicke was equally subtle as Becky’s aristocratic “benefactor”, the Marquis of Steyne. Even though Steyne is an unlikable character, Hardwicke was no mustache-twirling villain.

The only reason I would recommend “BECKY SHARP” to anyone is for historical purposes. Because this is the first feature-length motion picture in color, I would recommend this movie to any film buff. Otherwise, I would stay clear of “BECKY SHARP” and consider other adaptations of William Makepeace Thackery’s novel.