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.

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“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.

Ten Favorite SHERLOCK HOLMES Movies

Below is a list of my favorite movies featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes: 

TEN FAVORITE SHERLOCK HOLMES MOVIES

1. “Without a Clue” (1988) – I still love this spoof of the Sherlock Holmes stories in which the real detective is Dr. John Watson, who has hired an unemployed alcoholic actor named Reginal Kincaid to satisfy the public’s demand for a real Sherlock Holmes. In this film, the pair investigate the disappearance of Bank of England banknote plates and a printing supervisor. Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley are magic under Thom Eberhardt’s direction.

 

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2. “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows” (2011) – Guy Richie made this second film about the Sherlock Holmes character and the latter’s conflict with his worst nemesis, Professor James Moriraty and his attempt to stop a major assassination. I loved it even more than Ritchie’s 2009 film. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starred as Holmes and Watson.

 

3. “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) – Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of Doyle’s character about Holmes’ conflict against a nefarious aristocratic with plans to assume political control of the British Empire has become a major favorite of mine. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, along with Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong star.

 

4. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1939) – I am a big fan of this adaptation of William Gillette’s play about Sherlock Holmes’ investigation of a series of death threats against a well-to-do London family. This is the second film to feature Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Dr. Watson. Directed by Alfred L. Werker, the movie co-starred Ida Lupino and George Zucco.

 

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5. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” (1976) – I have always enjoyed Herbert Ross’ adaptation of Nicholas Meyer’s 1974 novel about Holmes and Watson recruiting Dr. Sigmund Freud to guide the detective in overcoming his cocaine habit and investigate a nefarious kidnapping plot. Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall, Alan Arkin, Vanessa Redgrave and Laurence Olivier starred.

 

6. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939) – This is my favorite adaptation of Doyle’s novel about Holmes’ investigation of an English family’s connection to a “demon” hound and a Candandian heir to the family’s fortunes. This is the first film to feature Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Dr. Watson. Sidney Lanfield directed.

 

7. “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985) – Steven Spielberg produced and Barry Levinson directed this fanciful imagining of Holmes and Watson’s first meeting as adolescents at a prestigious boys school, as they investigate a series of suspicious suicide deaths. Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Anthony Higgins and Sophie Ward starred.

 

8. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1988) – This is my favorite adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels featuring Jeremy Brett as the detective. Edward Hardwicke co-starred as Dr. Watson. The movie was directed by Brian Mills.

 

9. “Murder By Decree” (1979) – Directed by Bob Clark, Holmes and Watson investigate the Jack the Ripper murders. Excellent, although a bit bloody for my tastes. Christopher Plummer and James Mason co-starred as Holmes and Watson.

 

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10. “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” (1970) – Billy Wilder directed this tale about a bored Sherlock Holmes, who eagerly decides to investigate the attempt on the life of a woman with a missing identity. Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely starred in this entertaining, yet flawed movie.

Favorite Movies and Television Set During the EARLY AMERICA Period

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Below is a list of my favorite movie and television productions set during the Early America Period (1783-1828):

 

FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION SET DURING THE EARLY AMERICA PERIOD

1

“John Adams” (2008) – Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney deservedly won both Emmys and Golden Globes for their excellent portrayals of John and Abagail Adams in this excellent seven-part miniseries about the 2nd U.S. president.

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“The Journey of August King” (1995) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about a North Carolina farmer on his way home from market, who helps a runaway slave evade her master.

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“Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) – This adventure conveyed the experiences of Davy Crockett and George Russel with keelboat riverman Mike Fink and river pirates along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Picturesque and a lot of fun. Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen and Jeff York starred.

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“Buccaneer’s Girl” (1950) – Yvonne DeCarlo starred in this entertaining costume romp about a Boston-born entertainer who falls for a pirate with a secret identity as a respectable New Orleans aristocrat. Directed by Fredrick De Cordova, the movie co-starred Philip Friend, Robert Douglas, Andrea King and Elsa Lancaster.

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“Interview With a Vampire” (1994) – Neil Jordan directed this fascinating adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel about a pair of vampires during a period of 200 years. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas and Christian Slater co-starred.

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“Brother Future” (1991) – Phil Lewis starred in the PBS movie about a Detroit teen who is transported back in time to 1822 South Carolina, where he finds himself about to participate in a slave revolt instigated by one Denmark Vessey.

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“Sleepy Hollow” (1999) – Tim Burton directed Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci in this adaptation of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

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“The Seekers” (1979) – This adaptation of John Jakes’ 1975 novel about the Kent family’s experiences from 1794 to 1814. Randolph Mantooth, Timothy Patrick Murphy and George Hamilton starred.

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“Many Rivers to Cross” (1955) – Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker starred in this western-comedy about a footloose frontiersman in early Kentucky, who is targeted by a spirited spinster for marriage. Directed by Roy Rowland.

“THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” (1939) Review

“THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” (1939) Review

The year 1939 proved to be a momentous time for fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The year marked the debut of two movies that featured the movie introduction of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the famous literary detective and his friend, Dr. John Watson.

There had been previous movie, stage and radio adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes. But despite the recent success of Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the roles of Holmes and Watson, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce would become the first cinematic pair to truly become famous in the roles. They ended up portraying Holmes and Watson in fourteen movies for Twentieth Century Fox and Universal Pictures. And their first movie together was 1939’s“THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”.

Based upon Doyle’s 1902 novel, “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” is about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s investigation into the legend of a supernatural hound, a beast that may be stalking a young heir on the fog-shrouded moorland that makes up his estate in Devonshire. The investigating pair receive a visit from a Dr. James Mortimer, who believes that the last heir of Baskerville Hall might be in danger from a legendary hound that may have killed many in the Baskerville line, including the family’s founder – Sir Hugo Baskerville – and Dr. Mortimer’s close friend, Sir Charles Baskerville. Holmes originally dismisses the so-called “demonic hound” as a fairy tale. But when Sir Henry arrives from Canada and receives a series of threats, Holmes sends Watson to accompany the young heir and Dr. Mortimer to Baskerville Hall, claiming that he is too busy to accompany them himself. Sir Henry quickly develops a romantic interest in Beryl Stapleton, the stepsister of his neighbor, a local naturalist named John Stapleton. The new arrivals also deal with the stranger behavior of Sir Henry’s servants, Mr. John and Mrs. Barryman; and an escapee from Dartmoor Prison lurking on the moor. Right before an attempt on Sir Henry’s life, Holmes finally makes his appearance in Devonshire. And Dr. Watson learns that he had been making his own inquiries for quite some time, while in disguise.

Ernest Pascal’s screenplay included at least one or two changes from Doyle’s novel. One, Sir Henry never became romantically involved with Beryl Stapleton. The butler’s name was changed from John Barrymore to Barryman, due to the existence of famous actor John Barrymore. And unlike the novel, the murderer’s fate was left unknown, despite Holmes’ assurances that the former would not get very far, due to constables being posted on the road. Aside from the previously mentioned, “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” remained faithful to the original novel. Even more importantly, the movie proved to be a surprise hit for the Twentieth Century Fox.

After watching “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”, it was easy to see why it became a hit. Directed by Sidney Lanfield, the movie is a well-paced and solid piece of entertainment filled with action, suspense, a little romance, and rich atmosphere. As much as I love murder mysteries, they have a tendency to drag a movie’s pacing at one point or another . . . despite the movie’s quality. My only real complaint about Pascal’s plot was the vague manner in which he left the murderer’s fate open. Why did he do it? And why did Lanfield and studio boss, Darryl F. Zanuck, allow Pascal to get away with this?

The suspenseful atmosphere re-created for the movie’s Devonshire setting could have easily done this. But Lanfield and the action featured in the plot prevented this from happening. And speaking of atmosphere, I have to congratulate art directors Richard Day and Hans Peters, along with set decorator Thomas Littlet and legendary cinematographer J. Peverell Marley for doing such an excellent job in not only re-creating the mysterious atmosphere of the Devonshire moors and more importantly, late Victorian England.

Basil Rathbone had been known for the villainous roles he had portrayed in many costume dramas in the 1930s. Before “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”, he had only portrayed one or two heroic types on screen – in 1938’s “THE DAWN PATROL”and 1939’s “SON OF FRANKENSTEIN”. For an actor known for portraying villains, it is ironic that his most well-known role would prove to be the heroic Sherlock Holmes. Not only did Rathbone seemed like the physical embodiment of the fictional sleuth, but he captured the character’s sharp intelligence, wit and strong will. And his screen chemistry with Nigel Bruce was spot on. They made a perfect screen team. What I enjoyed about Bruce’s portrayal of Dr. John Watson is that he was not the blustering buffoon that his character would become in the Universal Pictures. All right, Bruce’s Dr. Watson has a bit of bluster in his characterization. But his Watson was a sharp and observant man, whose comments about some of the suspects would prove to be accurate. And like Rathbone’s Holmes, he also had a nice, subtle wit.

The rest of the cast proved to be solid. Lionel Atwill gave a first-rate performance as Dr. James Mortimer, the man who hired Holmes to investigate the strange deaths around Baskerville Hall. Beryl Mercer gave a funny performance as Dr. Mercer’s dithery wife, who was into spiritualism and seances. Morton Lowry was both charming and intelligent as Sir Henry’s neighbor, who also harbored suspicions about the strange occurrences Wendy Barrie proved to be a sweet and charming Beryl Stapleton. Although I must honest that I found her character to be slightly one-dimensional at times. I could say the same about Richard Greene’s Sir Henry Baskerville, whose good looks and charming personality made the character seemed a little too ideal for my tastes. Greene was credited as the film’s lead character. But when the movie proved to be a surprise hit, Rathbone and Bruce – quite rightly – assumed the lead credits in future Sherlock Holmes films. John Carradine gave one of the movie’s better performances as Sir Henry’s mysterious and slightly sinister butler, John Barryman. Whereas Carradine was mysterious, actress Eily Malyon seemed fearful and secretive as Barryman’s emotional wife.

Unless one is a stickler for a movie strictly adhering to its novel source, any Sherlock Holmes fan would find “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” to be a very entertaining and atmospheric adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel. And both Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce ended up proving they were the right men at that time to portray Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

“STAGECOACH” (1939) Review

Below is my review of the 1939 classic, “STAGECOACH”, which was directed by John Ford: 

“STAGECOACH” (1939) Review

The year 1939 is regarded by many film critics and moviegoers as the best year for Hollywood films. According to them, Hollywood was at the height of its Golden Age, and this particular year saw the release of an unusually large number of exceptional movies, many of which have been honored as memorable classics when multitudes of other films of the era have been largely forgotten. I do not harbor the same view as these critics and moviegoers. I can only view at least a handful of 1939 movies as truly worthwhile movies. However, one of those movies happened to be John Ford’s 1939 classic, ”STAGECOACH”

Written by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, ”STAGECOACH” was an adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story, ”The Stage to Lordsburg”. It told the story of a group of strangers in 1880, traveling by stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory from Tonto in the Arizona Territory to Lordsburg in New Mexico Territory. Among the group of people traveling together are:

*Dallas (Claire Trevor) – a prostitute who is being driven out of Tonto by the members of the “Law and Order League”

*”Doc” Boone (Thomas Mitchell) – an alcoholic doctor who is also being driven out of Tonto

*Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) – a pregnant, Virginia-born gentlewoman who is traveling to Dry Fork to reconcile with her Army officer husband

*Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek) – a mild mannered whiskey drummer from Kansas City

*Hatfield (John Carradine) – a former Virginia Confederate-turned-gambler, who joins the stagecoach’s other passengers in order to provide protection for Mrs. Mallory

*Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill) – a pompous banker who decides to leave Tonto after embezzling some of the bank’s funds

*Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) – a lawman who decides to serve as the stagecoach’s shotgun guard after learning the escape of Ringo Kid from the territorial prison.

*Buck (Andy Devine) – the slightly nervous stage driver

As the stagecoach starts to pull out, U.S. cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard (Tim Holt) informs the passengers that Geronimo and his Apaches are on the warpath. His small troop will provide an escort until they get to Dry Fork. Along the way, they come across the Ringo Kid, whose horse had become lame and left him afoot. Ringo had escaped from prison after learning that his family’s killers – Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) and his brothers – are in Lordsburg. Even though they are friends, Curly has no choice but to take Ringo into custody.

Although ”STAGECOACH” was an adaptation of Haycox’s short story, John Ford had claimed that the inspiration in expanding the movie beyond the barebones plot given in “The Stage to Lordsburg” was his familiarity with Guy de Maupassant’s 1880 short story set during the Franco-Prussian War called “Boule de Suif”. Many film critics never took Ford’s claim seriously. Instead, many of them believed that ”STAGECOACH” bore a stronger resemblance to Bret Harte’s 1892 short story, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”.

The director had gone through a great deal of trouble to film ”STAGECOACH”. After purchasing the rights to Haycox’s story, Ford tried to shop the project around to several Hollywood studios, but all of them turned him down because Ford insisted on using John Wayne in a key role in the film. Wayne had appeared in only one big-budget western, Raoul Walsh’s 1930 film ”THE BIG TRAIL”, which was a huge box office flop. Wayne had estimated that he appeared in about eighty “Poverty Row” westerns between 1930 and 1939. When Ford approached independent producer Walter Wanger about the project, Wanger had the same reservations about producing an “A” western and even more about one starring John Wayne. Worse, Ford had not directed a western since the silent days, the most notably 1924’s ”THE IRON HORSE”. Wanger said he would not risk his money unless Ford replaced John Wayne with Gary Cooper. Ford refused to budge about replacing Wayne. Eventually, he and Wanger compromised. Wanger put up $250,000, a little more than half of what Ford had been asking for, and Ford would give top billing to Claire Trevor, a far better-known name than John Wayne in 1939. Ford and Wanger’s gamble paid off. ”STAGECOACH” made a healthy return at the box office. Wayne’s star began to rise in Hollywood following the movie’s success. And the movie earned six Academy Award nominations, with Thomas Mitchell winning the Best Supporting Actor award.

”STAGECOACH” is not perfect. The movie has a few problems and most of them centered on the character of Lucy Mallory. One, her character is supposed to be in the last trimester of her pregnancy. Not only did Louise Platt’s Mrs. Mallory did not look pregnant, her character’s introduction featured her jumping out of the stagecoach following its arrival in Tonto. Without any help. Rather odd for a woman who is supposed to be in the late stages of her pregnancy. Both Mrs. Mallory and the whiskey drummer, Samuel Peacock, are the only two passengers who were on route at the beginning of the film. Instead of traveling westward, this particular stagecoach is traveling eastward – from Tonto in Arizona Territory to Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Yet, according to Lucy Mallory, she had traveled from Virginia to meet her Army officer husband:

”I’ve travelled all the way here from Virginia and I’m determined to get to my husband. I won’t be separated any longer.”

How could Lucy Mallory travel all the way from Virginia to the Arizona and New Mexico Territories on an eastbound stagecoach?

The movie has other problems. Some of the movie’s shots featured the stagecoach traveling in the far distance . . . and one can see tracks clearly made from motorized vehicles like cars and trucks, instead of a 19th century vehicle. In the movie’s opening sequence, two scouts alerted the commander of an Army post about Geronimo’s activities in the territory. One of those scouts was a Native American:

”WHITE SCOUT: These hills are full of Apaches! They’ve burned every ranch in sight. (His finger sweeps the map; his head nods to the impassive Indian.) He had a brush with them last night. Says they’re being stirred up by Geronimo.

(The word has a striking effect on Sickels and Blanchard. Even the telegraph operator takes a step forward.)

CAPT. SICKELS: Geronimo? (He turns to the Indian, regarding him narrowly.) How do we know… (Cut to medium close-up of the Indian standing still.) …he’s not lying?

WHITE SCOUT: (off) He’s a Cheyenne. They hate Apaches worse than we do.

What we have here is a simple case of historical inaccuracy. The Apache had resided in the Southwest (present day New Mexico and Arizona) the Cheyenne resided in the Great Plains (from present Oklahoma to Montana) by the 19th century. How on earth did the Cheyenne and the Apache ever find the opportunity to develop a dislike toward one another? One last problem I had with the movie turned out to be the Ringo Kid’s showdown with the Plummer brothers in Lordsburg. I realize that it was bound to happen, due to the fact that Ringo’s conflict with the Plummers kept popping up in the movie’s dialogue. But did Ringo and the Plummers’ showdown have to take so damn long? I nearly fell asleep during the buildup leading to the gunfight. In fact, I did fall asleep and had to rewind the movie in order to watch the actual gunfight.

Now that I got my complaints out of the way, I might as well focus upon why I love ”STAGECOACH”. As I have stated in my review of the 1956 version of ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”, I love travel movies. And ”STAGECOACH” is probably one of the best cinematic road trips I have ever seen on the silver and television screens. The interesting thing about this movie that the distance traveled in this movie is not as extensive as movies like ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” or ”SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”. But I love it. Ford took his cast and production crew for the first time to Monument Valley, in the American southwest on the Arizona-Utah border, which became the setting for the road between Tonto in Arizona Territory and Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Cinematographer Bert Glennon, who has worked with Ford on several other films, earned an Academy Award nomination for photography. And man did he deserve his nomination. The two following photographs are excellent examples of Glennon’s work:

 

Many film critics have complimented on the film’s use of integrating traditional 19th music and songs into the score. Yes, I have noticed the numerous old tunes used in the film. But if I must be honest, I was also impressed by Gerard Carbonara’s score. I was especially impressed by Carbonara’s work in the sequence that featured the stagecoach’s encounter with the Apaches not far from Lordsburg. The composer’s use of drums to emphasize the stagecoach’s motion and the hoof beats of the horses conveying the coach and those being ridden by the attacking Apache warriors were truly inspired.

Screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht wrote a near faithful adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s short story. Well . . . almost. They made a few changes. Like the Ringo Kid, the hero in ”Stage to Lordsburg” is involved in a feud with men he eventually dueled against by the end of the story. Unlike the Ringo Kid, the hero in the short story was not a fugitive outlaw who had been framed for murder. Nor did the short story feature a local banker who had embezzled funds from a mining company’s payroll. Personally, I rather like their extension of Haycox’s story. Not only did Nichols and Hecht – along with Ford – include a criminal element to the story, they took clichéd Western characters and gave them depth and complexity. In fact, I could easily surmise that the characters themselves served as the story’s center and driving force.

Speaking of the characters, I have to commend Ford and casting director for gathering a collection of first-rate performers for this film. One, he was wise enough to hold his ground about casting John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. Now, I would not consider Ringo to be Wayne’s best role. His Ringo was a charming and easy-going young man with a streak of naivety, whose only dark side seemed to be a desire to exact vengeance and what he believe was justice for his family’s deaths. However, the role did not exactly allow the actor to display his later talent for ambiguous characters like Thomas Dunson, Tom Doniphon and Ethan Edwards. But one must remember that Ringo was his second important role (his first was in the 1930 box office failure, ”THE BIG TRAIL” and ”STAGECOACH” marked the first time that Ford directed the actor. One could easily say that Wayne finally learned to act in this movie. That was certainly apparent in the scene that featured Dallas’ presentation of Lucy Mallory’s new infant daughter. The silent exchanges between Wayne and actress Claire Trevor spoke volumes of how their two characters loved each other, without being overbearingly obvious about it.

As I had stated earlier, Claire Trevor found herself cast as the good-hearted prostitute Dallas, due to producer Walter Wanger insisting that a name slightly bigger than Wayne’s receive top credit. And I believe she deserve it, for her Dallas turned out to be the heart and soul of that stagecoach making its perilous journey. What I liked about Trevor’s performance is that she took a stock character like ”the whore-with-a-heart of gold” and gave it depth, without any of the character type’s clichés. Instead of portraying Dallas as an easy-going type with a seductive manner, she portrayed the prostitute as a reserved and desperate woman, who is not only resentful of being stuck in her profession, but of society’s unwillingness to view her as the decent human being she truly is. It is a pity that she did not receive an acting nomination for her performance, because I believe that she deserved one. But the one cast member who did receive an Academy Award nomination was Thomas Mitchell, who portrayed the affable, yet sardonic drunken doctor, Doc Boone. His character served as a well of wisdom and support for the resentful Dallas, a reminder to Hatfield of the latter’s disreputable past whenever the gambler became snobbish toward Dallas and the Ringo Kid. And yet, his penchant for alcohol came off as rather sad; considering how supportive he was toward Dallas and Ringo and the fact that when sober, he could be a first-rate doctor. Not only did Mitchell earn his Oscar nomination, he eventually won the statuette for Best Supporting Actor during a night in which ”GONE WITH THE WIND” dominated the awards show.

”STAGECOACH” also included a talented supporting cast. Louise Pratt wonderfully portrayed the haughty, yet very human Lucy Mallory who became increasingly desperate to be reunited with her husband. George Bancroft gave a solid performance as Curly Wilcox, the lawman who was determined to arrest Ringo for more humanitarian reasons – he wanted to save the younger man from being slaughtered by the Plummer brothers. Donald Meek’s portrayal of the mild-mannered Samuel Peacock seemed like one of a numerous mild characters he had portrayed over the years. Yet, thanks to two scenes in the movie, Meek managed to take Peacock’s character beyond his other characterizations. Berton Churchill made a career out of portraying stuffy or bureaucratic characters in Hollywood. His portrayal of the embezzling banker Henry Gatewood was no exception, but Ford gave him the opportunity in a private scene that revealed the banker’s silent reason to take a chance and steal that bankroll. Andy Devine was wonderfully funny as the movie’s comic relief – stage driver Buck. There is a story that Ford tried to bully Devine on the set in the same way he was bullying Wayne. But Devine reminded Ford of the latter’s box office flop ”MARY OF SCOTLAND” . . . and the director left him alone. John Carradine, in my opinion, gave the strangest performance in the film. And I meant that in a good way. He portrayed the ex-Confederate Army officer-turned-gambler, Hatfield. What is interesting about Hatfield that in offering his protection to fellow Virginian LucyMallory, he seemed determined to maintain the social hierarchy inside the stagecoach . . . while completely forgetting the disreputable reputation he had gained as a violent gambler in the West. In fact, he was so determined to protect Mrs. Mallory that he was willing to kill her in order to spare her from ”a fate worse than death” at the hands of the Apaches. But in an ironic twist, the Apaches turned out to be Mrs. Mallory’s saviors when they mortally wounded Hatfield before he could shoot the Army officer’s wife.

Some movie fans have complained that Ford had failed to explore racial bigotry in ”STAGECOACH”, as he had in some of his other films. What they failed to realize that Geronimo and the other Apaches were merely a plot device for the story, like the U.S. Army, the “Law and Order League” in Tonto and the Plummer brothers. The real story took place within the characters that journeyed from Tonto to Lordsburg, via a class struggle in which most of the characters managed to overcome upon their arrival in Lordsburg. If you really look at ”STAGECOACH” from a certain point of view, it is merely a drama or character study with a Western setting and two action sequences near the end of the film. And with Nichols and Hecht’s script, John Ford managed to make it one of his best films ever with some exceptional direction and storytelling.

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (1956) Review

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (1956) Review

Based upon Jules Verne’s 1873 classic novel, “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” is the story of a 19th century English gentleman named Phileas Fogg and his newly employed French valet, Passepartout, attempt to circumnavigate the world in eighty (80) days on a £20,000 wager set by his friends at the Reform Club. Produced by Michael Todd, the Academy Award winning film starred David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton. 

Could someone please explain how ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” managed to win the 1956 Best Picture Academy Award? How on earth did this happen? Do not get me wrong. Ever since I first saw ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”on television years ago, I have been a fan of the movie. The idea of someone taking a long journey around the world – especially in an age before air travel – greatly appealed to me. It still does. I like the idea of travel, whether I am doing it myself or watching it on the big screen or on television. And even after all of these years, I still enjoy watching this movie. And yet . . . I simply cannot fathom the idea of it being considered the Best Picture of 1956. Even more surprising is the fact that John Farrow, S. J. Perelman, and James Poe all won Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Perhaps the reason behind the movie’s accolades centered around Hollywood’s amazement that first time movie producer, Mike Todd, had succeeded in not only completing the film, but also creating an entertaining one. Two men directed this film – Michael Anderson, an Englishman who had only directed seven movies before ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”; and John Farrow, a well-known Australian director who had co-written the film’s script. Farrow, by the way, did not receive any credit for his work as a director of this film. Which makes me wonder how many scenes he actually directed. Considering the movie’s running time of 183 minutes (3 hours and 3 minutes), I find it surprising that it took only seventy-five (75) days to shoot it. Along with the four leading actors, the movie featured over forty (40) stars, 140 locations, 100 sets and over 36,000 costumes. No wonder Hollywood seemed amazed that Todd managed to finish the film.

Set around 1872, ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” told the story an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (David Niven) who claims he can circumnavigate the world in eighty days. He makes a £20,000 wager with several skeptical fellow members of his London gentlemen’s club (Trevor Howard, Robert Morley and Finlay Currie included), the Reform Club, that he can arrive back within 80 days before exactly 8:45 pm. Together with his resourceful valet, Passepartout (Mario Moreno “Cantinflas”), Fogg sets out on his journey from Paris via a hot air balloon. Meanwhile, suspicion grows that Fogg has stolen his £20,000 from the Bank of England. Police Inspector Fix (Robert Newton) is sent out by Ralph the bank president (Robert Morley) to trail and arrest Fogg. Hopscotching around the globe, Fogg pauses in Spain, where Passepartout engages in a comic bullfight; and in India, Fogg and Passepartout rescue young widow Princess Aouda (Shirley MacLaine) from being forced into a funeral pyre so that she may join her late husband. The threesome visit Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, and the Wild West. Only hours short of winning his wager, Fogg is arrested upon returning to London by the diligent, yet misguided Inspector Fix.

The main differences between Jules Verne’s novel and the movie centered around Fogg and Passepartout’s efforts to leave Europe. Quite frankly, the novel never featured Fogg’s journey through Europe. In the novel, there were no stops in either France or Spain. Fogg had considered using a hot air balloon in Chapter 32, but quickly dismissed it. Also, Fogg never punched Detective Fix after being released from jail near the film’s finale. He simply insulted the detective’s skills as a whist player.

I might as well stop beating around the bush. What is my opinion of the movie? Like I had stated earlier, I still find it entertaining after all these years. I love travel movies. And I found the movie’s caricatures of the different nationalities that Fogg, Passepartout, Aouda and Fix encounters on the journey rather amusing – including encounters with a boorish American politician portrayed by John Caradine, Charles Boyer’s Parisian travel agent/balloonist and Reginald Denny’s parody of an Anglo-Indian official. The movie’s funniest moment featured Fogg and Aouda’s encounter with a Chinese gentlemen portrayed by Korean actor Philip Ahn, who proved that his English was a lot better than Fogg’s Chinese-English pidgin. The locations in this movie are absolutely gorgeous, especially Fogg and Passepartout’s trip over France, and the rail journeys through India and the United States. And Lionel Lindon’s Oscar winning photography is accompanied by the memorable score written by another one of the film’s Oscar winners – Victor Young. In fact, the most memorable thing about ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” is Young’s score. Even after 52 years, it is the first thing many fans mention about the film.

I was surprised to learn that Cantinflas had won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy for his portrayal of Passepartout. Frankly, I found this as astonishing as the movie’s Best Picture Oscar. Mind you, his performance was a little more animated than David Niven’s portrayal of the stiff-upper lip Phineas Fogg. And his dance with a young dancer at a Spanish cantina was entertaining. But a Golden Globe award? I cannot think of one actor or actress in that movie who deserved any acting award. As for Niven, I think he may have gone a little too far in his portrayal of the reserved Fogg. There were times when he came off as a bit inhuman. I have to wonder about Todd’s decision to cast a young American actress from Virginia to portray the Indian Princess Aouda. Shirley MacLaine, ladies and gentlemen? She is the last person I would have chosen for that particular role. I must give her credit for not succumbing to some clichéd portrayal that would have left moviegoers wincing and instead, gave a restrained yet charming performance. Robert Newton’s portrayal of the persistent detective, Mr. Fix, was just as restrained. Which turned out to be a miracle, considering his reputation as a cinematic ham. Sadly, Newton passed away from a heart attack before the movie’s release.

One might ask why I had expressed astonishment at the thought of ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” winning the Best Picture Oscar for 1956. Quite frankly, I do not believe that the movie deserved such a major award. Sure, the movie is entertaining. And that is about the best thing I can say about the film. Granted, Victor Young’s score and Lionel Lindon’s photography deserved its Oscars. But I feel that the movie did not deserve to be acknowledged as 1956’s Best Picture. Not over other films like ”THE KING AND I””FRIENDLY PERSUASION””GIANT””THE SEARCHERS” or even ”THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”. Nor do I feel that the three men who won Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay deserve their statuettes. Heck, the movie featured a major blooper carried over from the novel – namely Fix’s revelation to Passepartout in Hong Kong about the British authorities’ suspicions that Fogg may be responsible for robbing the Bank of England before his departure. Passepartout told Aouda about Fix’s suspicions . . . but neither of them ever told Fogg. Not even when they were about to reach the shores of Britain. Why?

Another scene that continues to baffle me centered around Passepartout’s bullfight in Spain. Impressed by the manservant’s cape work during a dance in a cantina, a Spanish-Arab sea captain named Achmed Abdullah (Gilbert Roland) promised to give Fogg and Passepartout passage to Marseilles if the manservant would take part in a bullfight. What started as a comic moment for Cantinflas turned into a bullfight that promised to never end. The damn thing lasted five minutes too long and I felt more than happy when Fogg and Passepartout finally arrived in Suez.

I have read Jules Verne’s novel. At best, it was entertaining fluff. I could say the same for the 1956 movie. Like the novel, lacks any real substance. For me, both versions struck me as nothing more than a detailed travelogue disguised as a series of vaguely written adventures. Unfortunately, the movie’s entertaining fluff lasted slightly over three (3) hours. Three hours? I like the movie a lot, but an obviously dated three hour movie based upon a piece of fluff like Verne’s novel just does not seem worthy of a Best Picture Oscar. Despite the movie’s undeserved Oscar, I still find it entertaining after all these years.