“SHANE” (1953) Review

“SHANE” (1953) Review

The history behind the production for the 1953 classic Western, “SHANE” is a curious one. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Westerns ever made in Hollywood. And director George Stevens’ first choices for the film’s two male leads never panned out. Yet, despite the expenses and Stevens’ initial bad luck with his casting choices, “SHANE” became one of the most famous Westerns ever made in Hollywood. 

“SHANE” was based upon Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel of the same title. Many film historians and critics believe the narrative’s basic elements were based upon a historical event, the 1892 Johnson County War. Although this was never acknowledged by Stevens, Schaefer or the film’s screenwriter, A.B. Guthrie Jr. And yet . . . the film’s setting turned out to be the same one for the famous cattlemen-homesteaders conflict, Wyoming. The plot for “SHANE” proved to be simple. An experienced gunfighter named Shane, weary of his violent past, arrives at a county in Wyoming Territory and befriends a homesteader/rancher named Joe Starrett and the latter’s family. Despite Starrett’s revelation of a conflict between homesteaders like himself and a ruthless and powerful rancher named Rufus Ryker, Shane accepts a job as Starrett’s ranch hand. Before long, Shane not only finds himself emotionally drawn to the Starretts, but also pulled into the range war that is raging.

Anyone with any knowledge about old Hollywood or American Western films will automatically tell you that “SHANE” is highly regarded and much-beloved movie. The American Film Institute (AFI) has list it as one of the top three (3) Hollywood Westerns ever made and it is ranked 45 on the list of top 100 films. The movie earned six Academy Award nominations and won an award for Best Cinematography (in color). Many people believe Alan Ladd should have received an Academy Award for his performance as the mysterious “former” gunslinger Shane and consider the role as his best performance. How do I feel?

I cannot deny that “SHANE” is a first-rate movie. Who am I kidding? It is an excellent look at violence on the American frontier. And thanks to George Stevens’ direction, it is also brutal. Unlike many previous movie directors, Stevens did not stylized the violent deaths depicted in the film. A major example of this peek into life on the frontier is a scene that featured the brutal death of Frank “Stonewall” Torrey, a small rancher portrayed by Elisha Cook Jr., who was killed by Jack Wilson, a villainous gunslinger portrayed by Jack Palance:

 

Contrary to what one might originally believe, I do not believe “SHANE” preached against violence. Yes, the screenplay written by Guthrie questioned the constant use of violence to solve problems. But the movie made it clear that sometimes, one has no choice but to fight. Does this rule apply to the situation in “SHANE”? Hmmmm . . . good question.

Another aspect of “SHANE” that I found fascinating was Shane’s attempts to put his violent past behind him in his interactions with the Starrett family. Whether Shane was working or riding beside Joe, befriending Joey and struggling to suppress his obvious sexual desire for Marian; it seemed pretty obvious that he had developed close feelings for the entire family. And it would also explained why he would hang around, despite the danger of being dragged into a range war.

I cannot deny that “SHANE” featured some first-rate performances. I also cannot deny that Alan Ladd was in top form as the soft-spoken gunslinger who tried to hang up his gun belt, while staying with Starretts. I have always believed that Ladd was an underrated actor. Many critics have regarded his role as Shane as a singular example of how excellent he was as an actor. Do not get me wrong. I also admire his performance as Shane. It was a prime example of his skills as a movie actor. But I have seen other Ladd performances that I found equally impressive. Van Heflin’s portrayal of the determined small rancher, Joe Starrett, struck me as equally impressive. I could never really regard his character as complex, but Heflin made it easy for me to see why Shane had no problems befriending Joe . . . or why other ranchers regarded him as their unofficial leader. Jean Arthur had been lured out of an early retirement by Stevens for the role of Marian Starrett. I thought she did a superb job of conveying her character’s complicated feelings for Shane. Thanks to Arthur’s performance, Marian seemed to be torn between her love for Joe, her attraction to Shane and her revulsion toward his violent past.

Brandon deWilde had received an Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as the Starretts’ young son, Joe Jr. (Joey). Do not get me wrong. I thought deWilde gave a very good performance as the impressionable, yet energetic young Joey. But an Oscar nod? Honestly, I have seen better performances from a good number of child actors – then and now. Another Best Supporting Actor nomination was given to Jack Palance for his role as the villainous gunslinger, Jack Wilson. When I re-watched this movie for the last time, there seemed to be two faces to Palance’s performance. Most of his appearances featured the actor projecting the stone-faced villainy of his character. But there were moments when Palance managed to convey the more human side of Wilson – whether it was his boredom toward his employer’s other minions or weariness at the idea of facing another person to kill. It is strange that I had never noticed this before.

I also have to give kudos to Elisha Cook Jr. as the doomed Frank Toomey, who spent most of the movie aggressively expressing his anger at Ryker’s attempts to drive him and other small ranchers out of the valley. And yet . . . Cook’s best scene featured Toomey’s last moments, when he began to silently express regret at his quick temper and his realization that he was about to meet his death.“SHANE” also featured some first-rate performances from Emilie Meyer as the ruthless and greedy Rufus Ryker; Ben Johnson as one of Ryker’s ranch hands, whose early encounter with Shane made him see the light; and the likes of Ellen Corby, Edgar Buchanan, Douglas Spencer and Edith Evanson.

Despite my admiration for “SHANE”, George Stevens’ direction and A.B. Guthrie Jr.’s screenplay . . . the movie is not a particularly favorite of mine. I like the film, but I do not love it. There are certain aspects of “SHANE” that prevents me from fully embracing it. One is Loyal Griggs’ cinematography. I realize that he had won an Academy Award for his work. And I must say that he did an excellent job in capturing the beauty of the movie’s Wyoming and California locations. But I found his use of natural lighting for the interior shots very frustrating, especially since I could barely see a damn thing in some shots. Another aspect of “SHANE” that annoyed me was its message regarding violence. I have no problem with any story declaring the use of violence in certain situations. My problem is that I did not find the local ranchers’ situation with Ryker dire enough that they had to insist upon fighting it out. Granted, if they had agreed to sell their land to Ryker and leave, it would have meant his victory. I do not know. Perhaps I did not care. Or perhaps this feeling came from my contempt toward the Frank Toomey character, who had stupidly decided to give in to his anger and aggression by facing Ryker and Wilson.

Another aspect of “SHANE” that annoyed me was the Joey Starrett character. I have seen my share of on-screen precocious children in movies and television. But there was something about Joey Starrett that truly got under my skin. I do not blame Brandon deWilde. He was only following Stevens’ direction. But before the movie’s last reel, I found myself wishing that someone would push dear Joey into the mud . . . face first. If there was one aspect of “SHANE” that truly annoyed me, it was bringing the U.S. Civil War into the narrative. I can only recall three characters who were established as Civil War veterans – Shane, Frank Toomey and Jack Wilson. Of the three, guess which one fought with the Union? That is correct. The evil and slimy Wilson. And to make matters worse, Guthrie’s screenplay had Shane utter these words to Wilson before shooting him – “I’ve heard that you’re a low-down Yankee liar.” In other words, “SHANE” became another example of Hollywood’s subtle, yet never-ending reverence for the Confederate cause. And considering that only three characters in this film were established as war veterans, why on earth did Schaefer, Guthrie or Stevens had to drag the damn war into this story in the first place? It was so unnecessary.

Regardless of my frustrations, I must admit that “SHANE” is a first-rate Western. Director George Stevens, screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr. and the excellent cast led by Alan Ladd did an exceptional job in creating a Western that many would remember for decades. If only I had enjoyed it more than I actually did.

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Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1840s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1840s: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1840s

1 - The Heiress

1. “The Heiress” (1949) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ 1880 novel, “Washington Square”. The movie starred Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

2 - All This and Heaven Too

2. “All This and Heaven Too” (1940) – Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed this excellent adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. The movie starred Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

3 - Half-Slave Half-Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

3. “Half-Slave, Half-Free: The Solomon Northup Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this emotional television adaptation of Solomon Northups’ 1853 memoirs, “12 Years a Slave”. Directed by Gordon Parks, the movie co-starred Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Lee Bryant, Art Evans and Mason Adams.

5 - The Mark of Zorro

4. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) – Rouben Mamoulian directed this superb adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story called “The Curse of Capistrano”. The movie starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone.

4 - The Liberators

5. “The Liberators” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott starred in this Disney adventure film about Underground Railroad conductor John Fairfield and his fugitive slave friend, Bill; who escort Kentucky slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom. Kenneth Johnson starred.

6 - The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

6. “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” (1967) – Roddy McDowall and Suzanne Pleshette starred in this Disney adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1963 children’s novel called “By the Great Horn Spoon!”. James Neilson directed.

7 - Camille

7. “Camille” (1936) – George Cukor directed this lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’ 1848 novel and 1852 play called “La Dame aux Camélias”. The movie starred Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

8 - Cousin Bette

8. “Cousin Bette” (1998) – Jessica Lange starred in this loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1846 novel. Although unpopular with critics and moviegoers, it is a favorite of mine. Directed by Des McAnuff, the movie co-starred Hugh Laurie, Elisabeth Shue and Kelly MacDonald.

9 - Jane Eyre

9. “Jane Eyre” (2011) – Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender starred in the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. The movie was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

10 - 12 Years a Slave

10. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – British director Steve McQueen helmed this Oscar winning second adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs about the latter’s experiences as a slave in the Deep South. The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Two (1995-1996)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Two of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor; the series starred Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway: 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK VOYAGER” SEASON TWO (1995-1996)

1. (2.11) “Manuevers” – After a team of the Kazon-Nistrim warriors steal some Federation technology during a raid against U.S.S. Voyager, Commander Chakotay goes after them on his own and is captured. Martha Hackett and Anthony De Longis guest-starred.

2. (2.21) “Deadlock” – While attempting to evade the organ-stealing Vidiians, a duplicate Voyager is created after it passes through a spatial scission; leaving one of the duplicate ships under attack and the other impervious to attack. Nancy Hower and Simon Billig guest-starred.

3. (2.20) “Investigations” – Lieutenant Tom Paris leaves Voyager and joins a Talaxian space convoy. But when he is kidnapped by former crew mate Seska and the Kazon-Nistrim, Neelix tries to flush out the traitor on board who has been colluding with them. Raphael Sbarge, Martha Hackett and Simon Billig guest-starred.

4. (2.05) “Non-Sequitur” – While on an Away mission, Ensign Harry Kim mysteriously wakes up and finds himself back in 24th century San Francisco, with no record of him ever joining Voyager’s crew. Louis Giambalvo, Jennifer Gatti and Mark Kiely guest-starred.

5. (2.19) “Lifesigns” – Voyager picks up a dying Vidiian woman and the Doctor saves her life by placing her consciousness in a holographic body. As the pair attempts to find a cure for the Phage killing her and her species, he falls in love. Susan Diol, Raphael Sbarge and Martha Hackett guest-starred.

Honorable Mention: (2.08) “Persistence of Vision” – When Voyager enters a new region of space, the crew begins to experience hallucinations from their past and of their desires. Carolyn Seymour, Warren Munson and Marva Hicks guest-starred.

Favorite Movies Set During WORLD WAR II BRITAIN

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

FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING WORLD WAR II BRITAIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME MACHINE: Assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)

TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF SENATOR ROBERT F. KENNEDY (1925-1968)

Last June marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, in Los Angeles, California. Kennedy was fatally shot by a gun man, while walking through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel with his wife Ethel Kennedy, former FBI agent William Barry, Olympian athlete Rafer Johnson and former football player Rosey Grier

Kennedy was the seventh child of former U.S. Ambassador to Britain and businessman Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Following the election of his older brother John F. Kennedy as the 35th U.S. President in 1960, Kennedy served as Attorney General for his brother’s administration. In November 1968, Jack Kennedy was assassinated by a sniper in Dallas, Texas. Nine months following his brother’s death, Robert Kennedy ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate, representing the State of New York and beat his opponent, Kenneth Keating. Kennedy spent his years in the Senate, Kennedy advocated gun control and the Johnson Administration’s Great Society program for the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. He served on the Senate Labor Committee and supported the campaigns for better working conditions for laborers. And by 1968, Kennedy had shifted his opinion on American involvement in Vietnam by advocating the eventual withdrawal of American and North Vietnamese soldiers from South Vietnam.

While meeting with labor activist Cesar Chavez in Delano, California in February 1968, Kennedy decided to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President. However, Johnson changed his mind about running for re-election following the Tet Offensive in Vietnam that occurred between late January and late March 1968. Kennedy officially announced his candidacy on March 16, 1968. His main opponents for the Democratic nomination were Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and later, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Kennedy ran on a platform of racial and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power, and social change. His policy objectives did not sit well with the business community, where he was viewed as something of a liability. Many businessmen also opposed Kennedy’s support of tax increases to social programs.

Kennedy learned of the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee; while visiting Indianapolis, Indiana. Riots broke out in many cities following King’s death, with the exception of Indianapolis. There, Kennedy gave his famous “On the Mindless Menace of Violence” speech on April 5, 1968. Later, he attended King’s funeral with his younger brother Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and his sister-in-law, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. He won the Indiana Democratic primary on May 7, 1968; and the Nebraska primary on May 14. But he lost the Oregon primary to Senator McCarthy on May 28. The Kennedy campaign hoped that the senator would beat McCarthy for the California primary, knocking the latter out of the race; and eventually face Vice-President Humphrey in Chicago, Illinois.

The 1968 California presidential primary elections were held on Tuesday, June 4, 1968. Kennedy claimed victory over McCarthy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, four hours after the California polls closed. He spoke on the telephone with one of his major supporters, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Then around 12:10 a.m., Kennedy addressed his campaign supporters in the hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom. He ended his speech with the following words:

“My thanks to all of you; and now it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there!”

Since presidential candidates were not entitled to Secret Service protection back in 1968, Kennedy’s only official security was William Barry, a former F.B.I. agent. Both Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier served as unofficial bodyguards. He had planned to meet another gathering of supporters in another part of the Ambassador Hotel by making his way through the Embassy Room ballroom. However, reporters wanted a second press conference and Kennedy’s campaign aide, Fred Dutton, suggested to Barry that the senator should forgo the second gathering and instead head for the press area, via the hotel’s kitchen and pantry area behind the ballroom. After his speech, Kennedy started to leave the ballroom, when Barry stopped him and suggested the alternate route through the kitchen corridor. Both Barry and Dutton tried to clear a path for Kennedy, but he was hemmed in by a crowd and followed maître d’hôtel Karl Uecker through a back exit. While Kennedy allowed Uecker to lead him through the hotel’s kitchen area, he shook hands with people he encountered. As they started down a narrow passageway, Kennedy turned and shook hands with busboy Juan Romero. At that moment, Sirhan Sirhan stepped down from a low tray-stacker beside the ice machine, rushed past Uecker, and fired a .22 caliber Iver Johnson Cadet revolver at Kennedy at least three times or more, before the latter fell to the floor.

Romero cradled the wounded Kennedy’s head, while sitting on the floor. Sirhan was subdued by Barry, Johnson, Grier, and writer George Plimpton, while he continued to shoot in random directions. Five other people were wounded:

*William Weisel of ABC News
*Paul Schrade of the United Auto Workers union,
*Democratic Party activist Elizabeth Evans
*Ira Goldstein of the Continental News Service
*Irwin Stroll, Kennedy campaign volunteer

Ethel Kennedy, who was three months pregnant, stood outside the crush of people at the scene seeking help. Someone led her to her husband and she knelt beside him. Thirty minutes later, Kennedy was transferred to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan. Surgery began at 3:12 a.m. and lasted three hours and forty minutes. Spokesman Frank Mankiewicz announced at 5:30 p.m. that Kennedy’s doctors were concerned over his failure to show any improvement. Kennedy had been shot three times. Despite extensive neurosurgery to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his brain, he was pronounced dead at 1:44 a.m. on June 6, 1968; nearly 26 hours after being shot.

Historians believed that Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab with Jordanian citizenship, had shot Kennedy in retaliation for the latter’s support of Israel during the Six Day War. However, others have criticized this oversimplification of Sirhan’s motives, pointing out that these historians have failed to take account of his psychological problems. Sirhan’s lawyers attempted to use a defense of diminished responsibility during the trial, while he tried to confess to the crime and change his plea to guilty on several occasions. With Lynn Compton serving as prosecutor, Sirhan was eventually convicted of the murder of Robert F. Kennedy on April 17, 1969. He was sentenced to death six days later. However, the sentence was commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 1972; after the California Supreme Court invalidated all pending death sentences that were imposed prior to 1972. This was due to the California v. Anderson ruling. Since that time, Sirhan has been denied parole 15 times and is currently incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in southern San Diego County.

Robert Kennedy’s funeral was held on June 8, 1968 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. His brother, Ted Kennedy, gave the eulogy. Following the mass, Kennedy’s body was transported by a slow-moving train to Washington, D.C., where he was buried near his older brother John, in Arlington National Cemetery.

After the assassination, Congress altered the Secret Service’s mandate to include protection for presidential candidates. Ethel gave birth to Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy in December 1968. Although he had a slight lead over Kennedy at the time of the latter’s death, Vice-President Humphreys became the leading Democratic nominee for the 1968 Presidential election and won the nomination during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, later that summer. He eventually lost the election to the Republican candidate, former Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, in November 1968.

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” Season One (1993)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”. Created by Rick Berman and Michael Piller; the series starred Avery Brooks as Commander Benjamin Siesko: 

 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” SEASON ONE (1993)

1. (1.19) “Duet” – Deep Space Nine’s executive officer and former Bajoran freedom fighter, Major Kira Nerys, suspects a visiting Cardassian to be the notorious war criminal Gul Darhe’el, butcher of Gallitep Labor camp.

2. (1.01-1.02) “Emissary” – Starfleet officer, Commander Benjamin Sisko arrives at the newly freed Deep Space Nine station to command a joint Federation/Bajoran force. His life is changed when a wormhole is discovered near the station and he is declared the Emissary to the Prophets by a Bajoran priest.

3. (1.20) “In the Hands of the Prophets” – In this charged season finale, friction escalates on the station when the Federation and Bajoran inhabitants clash over Federation schoolteacher Keiko O’Brien’s lessons that the aliens in the newly discovered wormhole are aliens – a topic that the Bajorans find blasphemous.

4. (1.08) “Dax” – The station’s science officer Lieutenant Jadzia Dax finds herself accused of a murder committed by her symbiont in another lifetime.

5. (1.05) “Babel” – A mysterious virus plagues Deep Space Nine, causing speech distortions and death.

“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Review

 

“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Review

Eleven years ago, I first learned about how a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson led the effort to drive the Soviet Army from Afghanistan after nearly ten years. I learned about Operation Cyclone from the 2007 biopic, “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the C.I.A. program to arm and finance the mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, prior to and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of its client, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in neighboring Pakistan, instead of the less militant Afghan resistance groups that had also been fighting the pro-Marxist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan regime since before the Soviet invasion. Operation Cyclone proved to be one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations undertaken during the agency’s history.

Directed by Mike Nichols and based upon George Crile III’s 2003 book, “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History”“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” began in 1980, when Congressman Charles “Charlie” Wilson (D-Texas) became aware of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan during to trip to Las Vegas. But it took an old friend of his, Texas socialite Joanne Herring, to encourage him to finally get involved with driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan. First, Wilson pays a visit to Afghanistan, where he visits a refugee camp and the country’s leader, President Zia-ul-Haq. Upon his return to the U.S., Wilson recruits the help of veteran C.I.A. agent Gust Avrakotos to help him kick start an operation that would provide aid – food, medical and especially military – to the Afghans. And finding military aid would mean enlisting support from both Israel and Egypt. At the same time, Wilson is forced to face a Federal investigation into allegations of his cocaine use, as part of a larger investigation into Congressional misconduct.

I must admit that I did not have a very high opinion of “TIMELESS” when I first saw it over ten years ago. I honestly did not know what to expect. I certainly did not expect a comedy-drama with a lot of wit and snappy one-liners. Or perhaps I was expecting something a little more . . . intense? Who knows. But looking back on the film, I finally realized that my opinion of it has increased over the years.

I enjoyed how the movie went to a great deal of effort to provide details of Wilson’s efforts to aid the Afghans, especially the Mujahidee (Afghanistan’s freedom fighters). Whether those details were historically accurate or not – I have not the foggiest idea. But I found Wilson’s efforts to find ways to provide aid and help the Afghans throw out the occupying Soviets without the rest of the world finding out about U.S. involvement very interesting . . . and rather amusing. This sequence of events included a rather humorous first meeting between Wilson and his C.I.A. liaison, Gust Avrakotos. Another aspect of the film that I found humorous were Wilson’s efforts to curb his friend Ms. Herring’s patriotic and religious fervor over the program – including one scene in which she bluntly assured her guests at a fund raiser that President Zia-ul-Haq was not responsible for the death of his predecessor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. For me, one of the film’s most interesting and hilarious scenes featured Wilson’s meeting with both Israeli and Egyptian representatives in order to acquire arms for the Mujahidee – a meeting that included an Arabic dance (belly dance) from the daughter of an American businessman.

Judging from the movie’s Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations, one could see that “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” was not exactly a front-runner for Academy Award nominations during the 2007-2008 movie awards season Philip Seymour-Hoffman earned the majority of the film’s major nominations. Julia Roberts did earn a Golden Globe Awards, but nothing else. Did it deserve more acclamation? I do not know. Mike Nichols did a competent and entertaining job in allowing moviegoers peeks into C.I.A. policies, Washington and international politics. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as C.I.A. operative Gust Avrakotos) all gave excellent performances. Well . . . Hanks and Hoffman struck me as entertaining and excellent. But I really enjoyed Roberts’ performance as the colorful Houston socialite. It seemed a shame that she was only nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The movie also featured solid performances from Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, Om Puri, Christopher Denham, John Slattery, Ken Stott, Shaun Tolb, Peter Gerety and Emily Blunt.

But if I must be honest, the movie did not give me a charge. I enjoyed it very mcuh. I mean, I really found it entertaining. But I did not love “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”. I remember while leaving the theater following my first viewing of the film, I had this feeling that something was missing. I do not know. It could have been the unsatisfying ending, which I found to be rushed. It could have been James Newton Howard’s score that seemed too treacly for a borderline black comedy about a U.S. congressman, the C.I.A. and the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. Or perhaps I found the movie’s ending even more treacly than its score. Either Nichols or the movie’s producers – Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman – lacked the balls to portray the consequences of Operation Cyclone.

I cannot say that “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” was a great film. I do not know if I would regard it as one of Mike Nichols’ best efforts. But I found it very entertaining, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, Nichols’ direction and a first-rate cast led by Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And if one is intrigued by a peek into American politics during the 1980s, I would highly recommend it.