“JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (1989) Review

“JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (1989) Review

One of the most popular romance novelists to emerge during the 1970s and 1980s was Judith Krantz, whose series of novels seemed to be part romance/part family saga. At least six (or seven) of her novels were adapted as television miniseries. One of them was the 1988 novel, “Till We Meet Again”, which became the 1989 CBS miniseries, “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN”

Set between 1913 and 1952, the early 1950s, “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (aka “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”) focused on the lives of Eve, the daughter of a French provincial middle-class doctor and her two daughters, Delphine and Marie-Frederique ‘Freddy’ de Lancel. The story began in 1913 when Eve met a traveling music hall performer named Alain Marais. When she learned that her parents planned to agree to an arranged marriage for her, Eve joined Alain on a train to Paris and the pair became lovers and roommates. Within a year, Alain became seriously ill and Eve was forced to find work to maintain their finances. With the help of a neighbor and new friend, Vivianne de Biron, Eve became a music hall performer herself and Paris’ newest sensation. Out of jealousy, anger and embarrassment, Alain ended their romance.

During World War I, Eve met Paul de Lancel, the heir to an upper-class family that produces champagne who had been recently widowed by a suicidal wife. Following Eve’s marriage to Paul, the couple conceived Delphine and Freddy and Paul became a diplomat. The latter also became estranged from his son Bruno, who was eventually raised by his maternal aristocratic grandparents, who blamed Paul for their daughter’s suicide. By 1930, Eve and Paul found themselves in Los Angeles, where he served as that city’s French consul. And over the next two decades, the de Lancel family dealt with new careers, love, the rise of fascism, the movie industries, World War II, post-war economics, romantic betrayals and Bruno’s villainous and malicious antics.

“JUDITH KRANZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” is not what I would call a television masterpiece. Or even among the best television productions I have ever seen. Considering its source, a period piece romance novel – something most literary critics would dismiss as melodramatic trash – it is not surprising that I would regard the 1989 this way. Then again, the 1972 Academy Award Best Picture winner, “THE GODFATHER”, was based on what many (including myself) believe was pulp fiction trash. However, “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” did not have Francis Ford Coppola to transform trash into Hollywood gold. I am not dismissing the 1989 miniseries as trash. But I would never regard it as a fine work of art.

And I did have a few problems with the production. I found the pacing, thanks to director Charles Jarrott, along with screenwriters Andrew Peter Marin and (yes) Judith Krantz; rather uneven. I think the use of montages could have helped because there were times when the miniseries rushed through some of its sequences . . . to the point that I found myself wondering what had earlier occurred in the story. This seemed to be the case with Eve’s backstory. Her rise from the daughter of a provincial doctor to Parisian music hall sensation to a diplomat’s wife struck as a bit too fast. It seemed as if Jarrott, Marin and Krantz were in a hurry to commence on Freddy and Delphine’s story arcs. Another problem I had was the heavy emphasis on Freddy’s post war story arc. Both Delphine and Eve were nearly pushed to the background, following the end of World War II. It is fortunate that the miniseries’ focus on the post-war years played out in its last 20 to 30 minutes.

I also had a problem with how Marin and Krantz ended Delphine’s relationship with her older half-brother Bruno. In the novel, Delphine ended her friendship with Bruno after his attempt to pimp her out to some German Army official during the Nazi’s occupation of France. This also happened in the miniseries, but Marin and Krantz took it too far by taking a page from Krantz’s 1980 novel, “Princess Daisy” . . . by having Bruno rape Delphine after her refusal to sleep with the German officer. I found this unnecessary, considering that the two screenwriters never really followed up on the consequences of the rape. If this was an attempt to portray Bruno a monster, it was unnecessary. His collaboration of the Nazis, his attempt to pimp out Delphine, his sale of the de Lancels’ precious stock of champagne and his participation in the murders of three locals who knew about the sale struck me as enough to regard him as a monster.

My remaining problems with “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” proved to minor. Many of Krantz’s novels tend to begin as period dramas and end in the present time. I cannot say the same about her 1988 novel. The entire story is set entirely in the past – a forty-year period between pre-World War I and the early 1950s. Yet, I managed to spot several anachronisms in the production. Minor ones, perhaps, but anachronisms nevertheless. One of the most obvious anachronisms proved to be the hairstyles for many of the female characters – especially the de Lancel sisters, Delphine and Freddy. This anachronism was especially apparent in the hairstyles they wore in the 1930s sequences – long and straight. Most young girls and women wore soft shoulder bobs that were slightly above the shoulders during that decade. Speaking of anachronism, the actor who portrayed Armand Sadowski, a Polish-born director in the French film industry, wore a mullet. A 1980s-style mullet during those same 1930s sequences. Sigh! The make-up worn by many of the female characters struck me as oddly modern. Another anachronistic popped up in the production’s music. I am not claiming that late 1980s songs were featured in the miniseries. The songs selected were appropriate to the period. However, I noticed that those songs were performed and arranged in a more modern style. It was like watching television characters performing old songs at a retro music show. It simply felt . . . no, it sound wrong to me.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”. In fact, I believe that its virtues were strong enough to overshadow its flaws. One, Judith Krantz had created a first-rate family saga . . . one that both she and screenwriter Andrew Peter Marin did justice to in this adaptation. Two, this is the only Krantz family saga that I can remember that is set completely in the past. Most of her family sagas start in the past and spend at least two-thirds of the narrative in the present. Not “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”. More importantly, this family saga is more or less told through the eyes of three women. I have noticed how rare it is for family sagas in which the narratives are dominated by women, unless it only featured one woman as the main protagonist. And neither Eve, Delphine or Freddy are portrayed as instantaneous ideal women. Yes, they are beautiful and talented in different ways. But all three women were forced to grow or develop in the story.

Being the oldest and the mother of the other two, Eve was forced to grow up during the first third of the saga. However, she spent a great deal of emotional angst over her daughters’ lives and the fear that her past as a music hall entertainer may have had a negative impact on her husband’s diplomatic career. Eve and Freddy had to deal with a disappointing love (or two) before finding the right man in their lives. Delphine managed to find the right man at a young age after becoming an actress with the film industry in France. But World War II, and the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic policies managed to endanger and interrupt her romance. Freddy’s love life involved a bittersweet romance with an older man – the very man who taught her to become a pilot; a quick romance and failed marriage to a British aristocrat; and the latter’s closest friend, an American pilot who had harbored years of unrequited love for Freddy until she finally managed to to notice him.

Despite the saga being dominated by Eve, Delphine and Freddy; the two male members of the de Lancel family also had strong roles in this saga. I thought both Krantz and Marin did an excellent job in their portrayal of the complex relationship between Paul de Lancel and his only son and oldest child, Bruno de Lancel, who also happened to be Delphine and Freddy’s half-brother. I also found it interesting how Bruno’s unforgiving maternal grand-parents’ over-privileged upbringing of him and their snobbish regard for Eve had tainted and in the end, torn apart the relationship between father and son. Mind you, Bruno’s own ugly personality did not help. But he was, after all, a creation of the Marquis and Marquise de Saint-Fraycourt. Ironically, Paul also had his troubles with both Delphine and Freddy – especially during their late adolescence. Between Delphine’s forays into Hollywood’s nighttime society behind her parents’ backs and Freddy’s decision to skip college and become a stunt pilot, Paul’s relationships with his daughters endured troubled waters. And I thought the screenwriters did an excellent job in conveying the diplomat’s complex relationships with both of them.

And despite my low opinion of the hairstyles featured in “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”, I cannot deny that the production values featured in the miniseries struck me as quite impressive. Roger Hall did an excellent job in his production designs that more or less re-created various locations on two continents between the years of 1913 and 1952. His work was ably supported by Rhiley Fuller and Mike Long’s art direction, Donald Elmblad and Peter Walpole’s set decorations, and Alan Hume’s cinematography, which did such an exceptional job of capturing the beauty and color of its various locations. However, I must admit that I really enjoyed Jerry R. Allen and Robin Fraser-Paye’s costume designs. I thought they did an excellent job of recapturing the fashions of the early-to-mid 20th century.

If I must be honest, I cannot think of any performance that blew my mind. I am not claiming that the acting featured in “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” were terrible, let alone mediocre. Frankly, I believe that all of the major actors and actresses did a great job. Courtney Cox gave a very energetic performance as the ambitious and aggressive Freddy de Lancel. Bruce Boxleitner also gave an energetic performance as Jock Hampton, the best friend of Freddy’s husband . . . but with a touch of pathos, as he conveyed his character’s decade long unrequited love for the red-headed Mademoiselle de Lancel. Mia Sara gave a spot-on portrayal of Delphine de Lancel from an ambitious, yet insecure adolescent to a sophisticated and more mature woman. And again, I can the same about Lucy Gutteridge’s portrayal of Eve de Lancel, who developed the character from an impulsive adolescent to a mature woman who proved to be her family’s backbone. Hugh Grant was sufficiently sophisticated and hissable as the villainous Bruno de Lancel without turning his performance into a cliche. Charles Shaughnessy skillfully managed to convey to portray the worthy man behind director Armand Sadowski’s womanizing charm. John Vickery gave a interested and complex portrayal of Freddy’s British aristocrat husband, Anthony “Tony” Longbridge. And Maxwell Caufield was excellent as the charming, yet ego-driven singer Alain Marais. I believe one of the best performances came from Michael York, who was excellent as the emotionally besieged Paul de Lancel, struggling to deal with a stalled diplomatic career, two strong-willed daughters and a treacherous son. I believe the other best performance came from Barry Bostwick, who was excellent as Freddy’s first love Terrence ‘Mac’ McGuire. I thought he did a great job of portraying a man torn between his love for Freddy and his guilt over being in love with someone who was young enough to be his daughter.

Look, I realize that “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” is basically a glorified period piece melodrama disguised as a family saga. I realize that. And I realize that it is not perfect. Nor would I regard it as an example of the best American television can offer. But at its heart, I thought it was basically a well written family saga that centered around three remarkable women. Thanks to Judith Krantz and Andrew Peter Marin’s screenplay; Charles Jarrott’s direction and a first-rate cast, the 1989 miniseries proved to be first-rate piece of television drama.

 

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TIME MACHINE: Battle of the Somme

 

TIME MACHINE: BATTLE OF THE SOMME

July 1, 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, which proved to be a major offensive during World War I. The battle or offensive was fought between the Allies (British Empire and French armies) and the armies of the German Empire between July 1 and November 18, 1916.

The military plans for the Battle of the Somme began at Chantilly, Oise; in December 1915. The Allies – namely the British, the French, Russians and Italians – discussed and agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers – Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria – in 1916. Among those plans included an offensive that required the French army to undertake the major part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). But when the German Army initiated the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on February 21, 1916; French commanders diverted many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the Allies changed their plans, allowing the British armies to become the main forces for the Somme offensive.

On July 1, the first day of the Somme offensive, the German Army suffered a serious defeat, when it was forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army; from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre, south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road. The first day on the Somme offensive also proved to be the worst day in history for the British Army, which suffered at least 57,470 casualties – mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt. Only a few British troops, which compromised a mixture of the pre-war regular army, the Territorial Force and the Kitchener Army, managed to reach the German front line.

The Battle of the Somme was fought over a period of four months and in three phrases. This battle was fought on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. It proved to be the largest battle of World War I on the Western Front. More than one million men were wounded, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (1969) Review

“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (1969) Review

Back in 1965, filmmaker Ken Annakin and 20th Century Fox studio chief released a all-star comedy about an international air race between London and Paris in 1910. “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” not only proved to be a major hit, it also received numerous movie award nominations in both the United States and Great Britain. Four years later, Ken Annakin created a sequel to the 1965 movie called “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (aka “MONTE CARLO OR BUST”).

“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” told the story about a group of international racing car drivers who participate in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1929. Superficially, one would not view this movie as a sequel to“FLYING MACHINES”, since it is about a road race, not an air race. But the movie was made by the same producer/writer/director as the first film, Ken Annakin. It possessed its own jaunty theme song – “Monte Carlo or Bust”, which was performed by Jimmy Durante. The movie also featured three actors from the 1965 movie – Terry-Thomas, Eric Sykes and Gert Fröbe. More importantly, Thomas’ character, Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage, proved to be the son of Thomas’ character from “FLYING MACHINES”, namely Sir Percival Cuthbert Ware-Armitage. In fact, Sir Cuthbert’s reason for participating in the Monte Carlo Rally stemmed from a mistake committed by his late father. So, yes . . .“JAUNTY JALOPIES” is a sequel to the 1965 film.

The Monte Carlo Rally began as an endurance test for many drivers and the vehicles they drove. The competitors would set off from different locations in Europe and meet in Monaco. The day after the competitors reach Monte Carlo, they would end up racing each other via a road that threads through the Maritime Alps and back to Monte Carlo and the finish line. Although “JAUNTY JALOPIES” indicated that the race began at five different European locations, the movie featured competitors starting at three:

*From John O’Groats, Scotland – Wealthy American automobile magnate Chester Scofield won half of the Ware-Armitages’ automobile factory in a poker game with Sir Percival Armitage-Ware. Following the latter’s death, his son Sir Cuthbert challenges Chester to enter the Monte Carlo Rally. Whoever crosses the finish line first – officially – wins as sole owner of the company. Sir Cuthbert blackmails his company foreman Perkins into serving as his co-driver. And Chester, who began the race alone, acquires a co-driver in the form of an English aristocratic beauty named Betty (surname unknown).

*From Stockholm, Sweden – Eccentric British Army officer Major Digby Dawlish and his aide Lieutenant Kit Barrington enter the Rally to advertise Dawlish’s odd inventions for his car. Both end up clashing with a German convict/race driver Willi Schickel (who is impersonating a murdered driver named Horst Mueller and his co-driver Otto Schwartz, who have entered the Rally to smuggle stolen gems for an exiled Russian aristocrat named Count Levinovitch.

*From Ragusa, Italy – Two Roman police officers named Angelo Pincelli and Marcello Agosti enter the Rally to earn a big enough reward for Angelo to avoid marrying the promised daughter of a supervisor. They end up mainly competing against a French doctor named Marie-Claude and her two co-drivers, medical students Pascale and Dominique; who enter the Rally in the name of Women’s Rights.

While reading a few articles about “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES”, I noticed that many bloggers and critics tend to compare this film with the 1965 movie . . . and to the former’s detriment. Many regard“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THE FLYING MACHINES” as superior to “JAUNTY JALOPIES”, regardless of whether they liked the latter or not. I recall one major criticism that film critic Leonard Maltin made about “JAUNTY JALOPIES”. He claimed that the 1969 movie failed to completely re-capture the atmosphere of the late 1920s in the way “FLYING MACHINES” managed to re-capture the late Edwardian era. And I am afraid he is right. Despite the mid-1960s beehive hairdos worn by the actresses, watching “FLYING MACHINES” made me feel as if I had stepped back into those last years before the outbreak of World War I. On the other hand, “JAUNTY JALOPIES” did not exactly re-capture the atmosphere of the late 1920s. Mind you, Production Designer Ted Haworth and Costume Designer John Furniss gave it their all. Their work certainly contributed to the movie’s late 1920s setting. But in spite of their work, the movie still failed to fully re-capture the era of its setting. One person I cannot help but blame is composer Ron Goodwin. Although Goodwin had wrote an entertaining score that emphasized the movie’s comedy and sense of travel, it failed to invoke a sense of the Roaring Twenties – at least in Europe. And unlike “FLYING MACHINES”, which featured several scenes in which the competitors and other characters managed to socialize; “JAUNTY JALOPIES” only featured one scene that featured all of the competitors together. I am referring to the scene in which the competitors meet at an inn in Chambéry, France for an overnight stay, before they set on the road to Monaco. “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” also had one or two scenes that seemed to have been cut rather quick by the film’s editor, Peter Taylor. I got the feeling both Ken Annakin and Taylor were trying to rush the movie’s narrative along – especially before the last sequence of the race. And although I liked the movie’s pre-credit sequence that introduced the Digby Dawlish and Kit Carrington characters in British Indians, I found the sequence’s portrayal of Indians a little tacky and racist . . . even if it was spoofing British Imperialism and characters like Dawlish and Carrington.

But despite the movie’s naysayers and some of its flaws, I liked “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES”. Actually, it is one of my favorite movies released in the 1960s. And I also like it more than “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES”, of which I am a big fan. One, it has the advantage of being a movie about a road trip. In the case of “JAUNTY JALOPIES”, it starts out as three road trips that merge into one. The humor featured in this film is very similar to the humor featured in “FLYING MACHINES”. Another reason why it enabled me endure it a lot more is that the major characters struck me as more rounded and complex than most of those featured in the 1965 film. A good comparison would be the characters portrayed by Gert Frobe in both films. His Colonel Manfred Von Holstein character from “FLYING MACHINES” has always struck me as the cliché of a typical high-ranking German Army officer and a very narrow one. On the other hand, Frobe portrayed a former German race driver-turned-criminal in “JAUNTY JALOPIES” named Willi Schickel, who seemed a lot more complex (and clever) than the one-dimensional character he had portrayed in “FLYING MACHINES”. Even Eric Sykes’ role as Terry-Thomas’ subordinate and plant manager in this film struck me as an improvement over the sniveling chauffeur he portrayed in the 1965 film. “JAUNTY JALOPIES” also benefited from better on-screen romances. Hell, the romances featured in this film – either between Chester and Betty, or Marcello and Marie-Claude – were MAJOR improvements over the romances from the first movie.

In my opinion, the biggest virtue that “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” possessed over“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” proved to be its narrative. If I must be frank, the second film possessed tighter writing. To this day, I remain frustrated that the air race featured in the 1965 film only lasted during its last 45 minutes – one third of the film. Due to Ken Annakin and Jack Davies’ screenplay and the movie’s setting, the Monte Carlo Rally was featured in MOST of the film’s narrative – aside from the first 15 to 20 minutes that introduced the major characters and the sequence in Chambéry. Not only did I find this to be a big improvement over the 1965 film’s narrative, I am grateful that most of “JAUNTY JALOPIES” is set during the actual race. And I am surprised that not one other blogger or film critic has ever noticed this.

I tried to recall if I found any particular performance off putting. And if I must be honest, I did not. “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” featured some funny and excellent performances. Tony Curtis was very charming, yet zany as American driver Chester Scofield. I liked how he balanced Chester’s aggressive ambition with a shy sweetness toward his leading lady. Speaking of her, I really enjoyed Susan Hampshire’s portrayal of the complex and aristocratic Betty. In fact, due to her charming and manipulative nature, I found her to be the most interesting female character in both movies. One would expect Terry-Thomas’ portrayal of Sir Cuthbert Armitage-Ware to be an exact replica of the character’s father, the mustache-twirling Sir Percival. Yet, I found his Sir Cuthbert to be more subtle and manipulative than his father . . . and better company, despite his villainy. Eric Sykes, who also appeared in the 1965 film, got a chance to portray a more rounded character as Perkins, Sir Cuthbert’s semi-brave factory manager, who ends up being blackmailed by his employer to serve as a co-driver.

What I found interesting about “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” were the screen pairings that seem to dominate the film. And they all clicked so well. Gert Frobe’s portrayal of the extroverted Willi Schickel contrasted very well with Peter Schmidt, who gave a nice performance as the former’s reserved and slightly nervous co-driver and fellow convict, Otto Schwartz. Among the movie’s cast were Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, who portrayed the two British officers, Major Dawlish and Lieutenant Kit Barrington. Cook and Moore were already a screen team when they made this movie. And both proved in this movie that their chemistry was as strong and funny as ever. Mireille Darc, Marie Dubois and Nicoletta Machiavelli made a charming and intelligent trio as the three French drivers who entered the Rally on behalf of women’s rights. But I was very surprised by the chemistry between Walter Chiari and Lando Buzzanca, who portrayed the two Italian policemen, Angelo Pincilli and Marcelo Agosti. Not only did they proved to be a very effective screen team, I found them just as funny as Cook and Moore. I should not have been surprised, considering that they had worked together before. Bourvil portrayed the pompous, yet sarcastic Rally official, Monsieur Dupont. And I found him especially funny in a scene with Mireille Darc, as her character convinces him to allow women to participate in the Rally and in that bizarre, yet hilarious scene at the Rally’s finish line.

As I had stated earlier, there are many who regard “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” as not only inferior to 1965’s “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES”, but something of a loss in the end. However, I am not one of them. It has its flaws. But there are too many aspects of the 1969 film that struck me as an improvement over the 1965 film. More importantly, I found “JAUNTY JALOPIES” so entertaining that it has become one of my favorite comedies . . . and movies that was released during the 1960s. I have to thank writer-director Ken Annakin, along with the all-star cast led by Tony Curtis, Susan Hampshire and Terry-Thomas for making this movie so entertaining for me.

Top Favorite WORLD WAR I Movie and Television Productions

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July 28, 2014  marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Below is a list of my favorite movie and television productions about the war:

 

TOP FAVORITE WORLD WAR I MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS

1 - Paths of Glory

1. “Paths of Glory” (1957) – Stanley Kubrick directed Kirk Douglas in this highly acclaimed anti-war film about French soldiers who refuse to continue a suicidal attack. Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou and George Macready co-starred.

2 - Lawrence of Arabia

2. “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) – David Lean directed this Oscar winning film about the war experiences of British Army officer T.E. Lawrence. The movie made stars of Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.

3 - All Quiet on the Western Front

3. “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) – Lew Ayres starred in this Oscar winning adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel about the experiences of a German Army soldier during World War I. Lewis Milestone directed.

4 - The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

4. “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” (1992-1993) – George Lucas created this television series about Indiana Jones’ childhood and experiences as a World War I soldier. Sean Patrick Flannery and Corey Carrier, George Hall
and Ronny Coutteure starred.

5 - Gallipoli

5. “Gallipoli” (1981) – Peter Weir directed this acclaimed historical drama about two Australian soldiers and their participation in the Gallipoli Campaign. The movie starred Mark Lee and Mel Gibson.

6 - The Dawn Patrol 1938

6. “The Dawn Patrol” (1938) – Errol Flynn and David Niven starred in this well made, yet depressing remake of the 1930 adaptation of John Monk Saunders’ short story, “The Flight Commander”. Directed by Edmund Goulding, the movie co-starred Basil Rathbone.

7 - La Grande Illusion

7. “La Grande Illusion” (1937) – Jean Renoir co-wrote and directed this highly acclaimed war drama about French prisoners-of-war who plot to escape from an impregnable German prisoner-of-war camp. Jean Gabin starred.

8 - Shout at the Devil

8. “Shout at the Devil” (1976) – Lee Marvin and Roger Moore starred as two adventurers in this loose adaptation of Wilbur Smith’s novel, who poach ivory in German controlled East Africa on the eve of World War I. Directed by Peter Hunt, the movie co-starred Barbara Parkins.

9 - Biggles - Adventures in Time

9. “Biggles: Adventures in Time” (1986) – Neil Dickson and Alex Hyde-White starred in this adventure fantasy about an American catering salesman who inadvertently travels through time to help a British Army aviator during World War I. John Hough directed.

10 - A Very Long Engagement

10. “A Very Long Engagement” (2004) – Jean-Pierre Jeunet wrote and directed this very long romantic war drama about a young French woman’s search for her missing fiancé who might have been killed in the Battle of the Somme, during World War I. Audrey Tautou starred.

Top Ten Favorite HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

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Below is a list of my favorite history documentaries:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

1 - Ken Burns The Civil War

1. “The Civil War” (1990) – Ken Burns produced this award-winning documentary about the U.S. Civil War. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary was shown in eleven episodes.

 

2 - Supersizers Go-Eat

2. “The Supersizers Go/Eat” (2008-2009) – Food critic Giles Coren and comedian-broadcaster Sue Perkins co-hosted two entertaining series about the culinary history of Britain (with side trips to late 18th century France and Imperial Rome).

 

3 - MGM - When the Lion Roared

3. “MGM: When the Lion Roared” (1992) – Patrick Stewart narrated and hosted this three-part look into the history of one of the most famous Hollywood studios – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

 

4 - Africans in America

4. “Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery” (1998) – Angela Bassett narrated this four-part documentary on the history of slavery in the United States, from the Colonial era to Reconstruction.

 

5 - Queen Victoria Empire

5. “Queen Victoria’s Empire” (2001) – This PBS documentary is a two-part look at the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria. Donald Sutherland narrated.

 

6 - Motown 40 - The Music Is Forever

6. “Motown 40: The Music Is Forever” (1998) – Diana Ross hosted and narrated this look into the history of Motown, from its inception in 1958 to the 1990s.

 

7 - Ken Burns The War

7. “The War” (2007) – Ken Burns created another critically acclaimed documentary for PBS. Narrated by Keith David, this seven-part documentary focused upon the United States’ participation in World War II.

 

8 - Manor House

8. “The Edwardian Manor House” (2002) – This five-episode documentary is also a reality television series in which a British family assume the identity of Edwardian aristocrats and live in an opulent Scottish manor with fifteen (15) people from all walks of life participating as their servants.

 

9 - Elegance and Decadence - The Age of Regency

9. “Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency” (2011) – Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley presented and hosted this three-part documentary about Britain’s Regency era between 1810 and 1820.

 

10 - Ken Burns The West

10. “The West” (1996) – Directed by Steven Ives and produced by Ken Burns, this eight-part documentary chronicled the history of the trans-Appalachian West in the United States. Peter Coyote narrated.

 

HM - Fahrenheit 9-11

Honorable Mention: “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004) – Michael Moore co-produced and directed this Oscar winning documentary that took a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media.

“SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS” (2011) Review

“SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS” (2011) Review

Following the success of his 2009 movie, “SHERLOCK HOLMES”, Guy Ritchie returned to helm a sequel about 19th century detective Sherlock Holmes’ battle with his famous arch nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law reprise their roles of Holmes and Dr. John Watson. 

Loosely adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1893 short story called, “The Final Problem”“SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS” picks up sometime after the end of the 2009 movie. Thanks to Irene Adler’s disclosure of the mastercriminal, Sherlock Holmes has been investigating Moriarty’s activities. The latter brings him to the attention of Irene, who is still working as an agent for the professor. He follows Irene to an auction, where she delivers a package to a Dr. Hoffmanstahl as payment for a letter he was to deliver to Moriarty. The package holds not only money, but a bomb that would have killed Hoffmanstahl, if Holmes had not intervened. Unfortunately, Hoffmanstahl is assassinated upon leaving the auction house. And when Irene meets with Professor Moriarty to explain the events, he poisons her, deeming her compromised by her love for Holmes.

Holmes reveals to his friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, that Moriarty might be connected to a series of murders, terrorist attacks and business acquisitions. During Watson’s bachelor party, Holmes meets with the Gypsy fortune-teller Simza, the intended recipient of the letter he had taken from Adler. It was sent by Simza’s brother Rene, who has been working for Moriarty. Holmes defeats an assassin who had been sent to kill her. Later, Holmes meets with Moriarty after Watson’s wedding to Mary Morstan. Moriarty informs Holmes that he murdered Adler and will kill Watson and Mary if Holmes’ interference continues. After Holmes help Watson and Mary fight off attack by Moriarty’s men aboard a train during their honeymoon, the two men travel to Paris to find Simza. Their journey to Paris, Germany and Switzerland lead them to uncover a plot by Moriarty to instigate a world war and profit from it. This plot will be set off by an assassination at a peace conference in Switzerland.

Although the movie was a hit at the box office, it received mixed reviews from the critics. A good number of them and moviegoers claimed that although it was entertaining, it was not as good as the first movie. In my review of“SHERLOCK HOLMES”, I made it clear that I enjoyed it very much. And I still do. But after watching “SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS”, I realized that the villain’s plot featured in the first movie struck me as a little . . . illogical. Using the illusion of sorcery to assume control of the British Empire? James Moriarty’s plot to assume control of the arms market in Europe and instigate a world war for profit strikes me as a lot more logical. And James Moriarty made a scarier villain than Lord Blackwood.

Another advantage that this sequel has over the first film, was the change of location in the second half – from Paris to Germany and later, Switzerland. I loved it. The color, squalor and grandeur that production designer Sarah Greenwood, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and the visual effects team created for Victorian London in “SHERLOCK HOLMES”, were not only re-created for the same setting in this new movie, but for also late 19th century Paris, Germany and Switzerland. My only quibble about the movie’s German setting is that Kieran and Michele Mulroney’s script failed to inform moviegoers the name of the German town where Holmes, Watson and Simza found themselves.

One outstanding sequence featured a gunfight between Holmes, Watson and Mary and Moriarty’s men, disguised as British Army troops. Not only did I find it very exciting, I especially enjoyed that last shot of a half-destroyed train racing forward, with Holmes and Watson staring ahead. But the real outstanding sequence featured the heroes’ flightfrom Moriarty’s German arsenal through heavy woods. Yes, Rousselot used slow motion photography during this sequence. A good number of people did complain about it. But you know what? Not only did it fail to bother me, I actually enjoyed it. And watching this sequence made me realize that I would love to see a war movie directed by Ritchie.

As in the first movie, the cast was outstanding. Rachel McAdams returned to give a beguiling, yet brief performance as the doomed Irene Adler. As much as I love this movie, I am PISSED OFF that Ritchie had her character killed. Paul Anderson was very effective as Moriarty’s henchman, villainous marksman Colonel Sebastian Moran. By the way, this same character was used by late author George MacDonald Fraser in two of his books, the 1971 novel “Flash For Freedom!” and the 1999 novella “Flashman and the Tiger”. Geraldine James made an amusingly brief appearance as Holmes’ beleaguered landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Stephen Fry gave a hilarious performance as Holmes’ equally brilliant and arrogant older brother, Mycroft. His scenes with Kelly Reilly especially had me in stitches. I was happy to see that Reilly had more to do in this movie, first as one of Moriarty’s intended victims, and later as an assistant to Mycroft, as they help Holmes and Watson stop the master criminal. I am a little mystified that Eddie Marsan maanged to receive such a high billing as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade in the end credits by only speaking one line.

Noomie Rapace was passionate in her portrayal of the Gypsy Simza, who is determined to prevent her brother from makingt the mistake of getting caught up in Moriarty’s plot. Jared Harris made a subtle and scary villain in his portrayal of Professor James Moriarty. At first, he did not seem that threatening – almost mild mannered. I supposed this was due to Ritchie and the Mulroneys’ decision to give the character a position in society as a reputable scholar within Europe’s diplomatic community. Bit by bit, Harris peeled back Moriarty’s greed and penchant for sadism.

I am trying to find the words about Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s portrayals of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. I really am. But what can I say? I know . . . they were perfect. They really were. I am not claiming that they were the best to ever portray the two characters. Frankly, I cannot name any one screen team as the best to portray Holmes and Watson. Some might claim Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Others might claim Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, or the recent television pairing of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I refuse to claim that Downey Jr. and Law were better than the other three teams. But I do not believe any of them were better than Downey Jr. and Law. What was their best scene together? Hmmm . . . I find I cannot name one particular scene. Every time they were together, they were magic.

Do I have any complaints about the movie? Well, I did not care for Irene Adler’s death, considering the character was a favorite of mine. I found the fight scene between Holmes and Irene’s bodyguards a bit confusing and contrived. I wish that Ritchie and the Mulrooney had clarified the name of the German town where Moriarty’s arsenal was located. And I finally wish that after the mental strategies of their upcoming fight on one of the balconies at Reichenbach Castle, Holmes and Moriarty’s actual fight had lasted a lot longer before the detective pulled his surprise move.

I believe I have said all I could about “SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS”. Even though I had a few complaints, I ended up enjoying the movie anyway. Hell, I loved it. The movie became my favorite 2011 movie. Although I had slight doubts, once again, Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law managed to create magic for another Sherlock Holmes adventure.

“MURDER ON THE LINKS” (1996) Review

murderonthelinks

 

“MURDER ON THE LINKS” (1996) Review

I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1923 novel called “Murder on the Links”. But I have seen the 1996 television adaptation that starred David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. On several occasions. 

While on holiday in Deauville, France with his close friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, Hercule Poirot is approached by a wealthy businessman for help. Paul Renauld, whose assets include several South American business interests and the hotel where Poirot and Hastings are staying, claimed that someone – probably from South America – has made threats against his life. He asks Poirot to visit his home for consultation on the following morning. When Poirot meets the appointment, he discovers that Renauld has been kidnapped and Madame Renauld, left tied and gagged in their bedroom. The kidnapping case transforms into murder, when Hastings and his fellow golfers stumble across Renauld’s body on a golf course. Poirot also makes the acquaintance of Monsieur Girand of the Surete, an arrogant police official that views himself as the better detective. This clash of egos leads to a bet between the pair over who would solve the Renauld case first.

The case involves a bevy of suspects that include:

*Madame Eloise Renauld, the victim’s wife
*Jack Renauld, the victim’s stepson, who disliked him
*Marthe Daubreuil, Jack’s fiancée, who was frustrated by the victim’s opposition to the engagement
*Madame Bernadette Daubreuil, Marthe’s mother and the former lover/possible partner-in-crime of the victim
*Bella Duveen, Jack’s former lover, who may have mistaken the victim for him
*Mr. Stonor, the victim’s private secretary, who is in love with Madame Renauld

I would never consider “MURDER ON THE LINKS” as one of the best Christie adaptations I have seen. The movie’s prologue – set ten years earlier – almost made it easy to figure out the murderer’s identity. Second, the plot seemed hampered by one too many red herrings that involved mistaken identities and mistaken assumptions. And these red herrings nearly made the plot rather convoluted. I suspect that screenwriter Anthony Horowitz feared that the movie’s prologue nearly gave away the murderer’s identity and inserted these red herrings to confuse the viewers. Then again . . . I never read the 1923 novel and it is possible that Horowitz was simply following Christie’s original plot. Yet, the red herrings were nothing in compare to the line of reasoning that led Poirot to solve the case. The clues that he followed struck me as vague and slightly contrived.

But despite these flaws, I still manage to enjoy “MURDER ON THE LINKS” whenever I watch it, thanks to Andrew Grieves’ direction. One, I actually enjoyed the movie’s atmosphere and setting in Deauville. It gave the movie a touch of elegance without the series’ hallmark Art Deco style that had become a bit heavy-handed after this movie first aired. Production designer Rob Harris and cinematographer Chris O’Dell managed to capture the elegant mood of mid-1930s France without being too obvious about it. Andrea Galer’s costumes also struck me as near perfect. I especially enjoyed those costumes worn by the female cast members. The production’s pièce de résistance for me was the bicycle race featured two-thirds into the story. It struck me as a perfect blending of Grieves’ direction, editing, photography, production design, costumes and performances – especially by the extras.

Aside from one or two complaints, I thought the cast’s performances were first-rate. David Suchet gave his usual competent performance as the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. But I was especially impressed by Hugh Fraser’s portrayal of Arthur Hastings, Poirot’s close friend. “MURDER ON THE LINKS” provided a strong opportunity for him to shine as a man who falls in love with one of the suspects. Damien Thomas was excellent as the desperate and very complex Paul Renauld. In fact, his character seemed to be the lynch pin of the entire movie – even after his character was killed off twenty minutes into the film. Diane Fletcher seemed remarkably subtle and charming as Renauld’s beloved wife, Eloise. Portraying someone as ambiguous as Jack Renauld must have been a bit tricky, but Ben Pullen did a good job in capturing the character’s amiable, but callow and self-involved personality. Sophie Linfield was solid as Jack’s current love and fiancée, Marthe Daubreuil. However, she did not exactly rock my boat. Neither did Terence Beesley and Bernard Latham, who portrayed Renauld’s private secretary Stonor and Lucien Bex of the police, respectively. I also have to comment on Jacinta Mulcahy’s portrayal of Hasting’s love interest – the beautiful songstress, Bella Duveen. Mulcahy portrayed Bella as an effective minor femme fatale as Jack Renauld’s rejected lover. And she and Fraser made a surprisingly effective romantic pair.

The two performances that left me scratching my head came from Katherine Fahey and Bill Moody. I wish I could say that Fahey’s portrayal of Bernadette Daubreuil – Renauld’s former lover and Marthe’s mother – made an effective femme fatale. But I cannot. I cannot accuse her of hammy acting, but I thought she tried a bit too hard to project the image of a mysterious femme fatale who was blackmailing her former lover and possible partner-in-crime. But the one performance that really disappointed me came from Bill Moody’s portrayal of Monsieur Giraud of the Paris Sûreté and Poirot’s professional rival. I understood that he was supposed to be a boorish and arrogant man. However, I still had a problem with Moody’s performance. His portrayal of a French police detective seemed to border on parody. It was like watching a caricature of the John Bull persona tried to pass off as a Frenchman. It simply rang false to me.

“MURDER ON THE LINKS” was not perfect. Although I found the murder mystery intriguing, Poirot’s solution to the crime and the clues that led him to that solution struck me as slightly vague and improbable. I also had a problem with the performances of two cast members. But Arthur Hasting’s romance with one of the suspects, the elegant setting of Deauville and the performances of David Suchet, Hugh Fraser and Damien Thomas made “MURDER ON THE LINKS”worth watching.