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.

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“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

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“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.

“THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” (2003) Review

“THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” (2003) Review

Comic novel writer Alan Moore must have a legion of fans to rival or maybe even surpass Marvel Comics icon, Stan Lee. I have noticed that whenever one of his comic creations is adapted as a motion picture, many of these fans seemed to crawl out of the woodworks to express their judgment on the finished film. This certainly proved to be the case for 2003’s “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN”

Based upon Moore’s comic series, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” followed the adventures of famous 19th century literary characters that became part of a league to stop a madman named the Fantom from starting and profiting from a major world war, during the summer of 1899. Among the members of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are:

*Allan Quartermain, British big game hunter and explorer
*Captain Nemo, the Indian pirate/captain of the Nautilus and inventor
*The Invisible Man aka Rodney Skinner, invisible thief
*Mina Harker, British chemist/widow of Jonathan Harker and vampire
*Dorian Gray, British gentleman and immortal
*Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde, British scientist/evil alter ego
*Tom Sawyer, American Secret Service agent

The story begins in the spring of 1899 with an attack upon the Bank of England by men dressed in German Army uniforms, using explosives and automated weapons. A month later, men dressed in British Army uniforms, attack a Zeppelin factory, using the same or similar weapons. Both the British and German Empires seemed to be on the verge of war. A British government emissary arrives in British East Africa to recruit the famous big game hunter and explorer Allan Quartermain to investigate. Quatermain expresses disinterest in the mission, until some armed men attack a gentleman’s club in order to assassinate him. Upon his arrival in London, Quartermain learns from his new boss, a mysterious government official named “M”, the latter’s plans to form a new version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in order to thwart the war mongering plans of the Fantom. According to “M”, the Fantom plans to start a war and profit from it by blowing up Venice, Italy during its Festival.

While recruiting the immortal Dorian Gray at his home, the League is attacked by the Fantom and his men. During the attack, the League acquires a new member, an American Secret Service agent named Tom Sawyer. As the League sets out to recruit Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in Paris and later for Venice aboard the Nautilus, Nemo’s submarine; they remain unaware that the Fantom’s plans to start a world war involves more than just blowing up a major city. His plans also involve acquiring and selling the League’s collective skills as weapons of war.

I have never read Alan Moore’s comic series. Nor do I have plans to read it. In fact, I have not laid eyes upon a comic book or novel since the age of nine. For me, comparing Moore’s story to the movie adaptation seemed irrelevant. But I can give an opinion of the movie. What did I think of it? Well, I had enjoyed it when I first saw it, eight years ago. And I still continue to enjoy it, whenever I view my DVD copy.

Mind you, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” was not perfect. One, I never understood the reasoning behind the Fantom’s attack upon the League members at Dorian Gray’s home . . . especially since he proved to be so interested in acquiring or stealing their skills/talents. My second problem concerned a certain invention created by Captain Nemo – namely an automobile. I realize that the movie was set in an alternate 1899. I also understand that Nemo’s character was supposed to be the creator of various inventions a’la Jules Verne. What I did not understand was how Tom Sawyer knew how to drive Nemo’s car throughout the streets of Venice at top speed, without any previous experience behind the wheel. Three, I found Quartermain’s description of American shooting (“buckaroo” that shoots too fast without any real accuracy) not only ludicrous, but false. Who on earth came up with this opinion in the first place? My father, who had been an expert shot in the military, immediately dismissed Quartermain’s description of American gunmanship, claiming that he had been taught to utilize patience for long distance shooting. My final beef has to do with Dan Laustsen’s photography for the movie’s exterior shots. Quite frankly, I found it unnecessarily dark. The only exterior scenes or shots that featured any bright light were the sequences set in British East Africa and aboard Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, while above surface. All other exterior shots were either at night, in the rain or overcast. I have the deepest suspicion that all of this was done to save money on the exterior scenes.

However, despite my complaints or those by the fans were disappointed with the movie’s adaptation, I enjoyed “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” very much. Hell, I saw it twice when it first reached the movie theaters, eight years ago. And the moment it was released on DVD, I immediately bought it. It may not have been the perfect adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic series, but I thought that it had a pretty damn good story, thanks to screenwriter James Dale Robinson.

One, I like stories about friends or colleagues that form a team to achieve a goal that involves a great deal of action. For me, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” is like a 19th century forerunner of The Justice League of America or The Avengers. And I have to give credit to Moore for coming up with the idea of using 19th century literary characters as members of the team and the story’s main villain. I found it very innovative. Many fans and critics had complained that with Sean Connery in the role of Allan Quartermain, the latter seemed to dominate the film. I agree that Connery’s Quartermain turned out to be the movie’s main character. But I do not agree that he dominated the movie. The other supporting characters were given a good number of chances to strut their stuff . . . so to speak. If anything, the movie seemed to have a strong, ensemble feel to it. This was especially apparent by the time the Nautilus reached Venice.

Speaking of Venice, the movie seemed to reach a turning point by the time the League reached it. During Nautilus’ voyage between Paris and Venice, the story showcased the numerous conflicts and jealousies that the team seemed to engage, as they became more acquainted with one another. But when forced to work together to foil the Fantom’s plans to destroy Venice, all conflicts were thrown aside and the League worked together as a very effective team. Venice also represented a major plot twist in the story. It is in Venice, when the League discovered a traitor within its midst . . . and the fact that they had been betrayed on a major scale by the Fantom. Personally, I found it to be one of the most satisfying aspects of the movie.

I read an article that Stephen Norrington had a great deal of trouble with Sean Connery and vowed to give up directing. Needless to say that despite the conflict between director and star, the latter gave one of his more poignant performances as the aging hunter who has become disenchanted with the British Empire, after his service to it has caused him so much loss. I was also impressed by Naseeruddin Shah’s portrayal of the intrepid Captain Nemo. He seemed to be the only member of the cast who seemed as commanding as Connery. I also enjoyed Peta Wilson’s performance as the sexy and intelligent vampire, Nina Harker. One of my favorite scenes featured her character’s surprising revelation that she was a vampire. Most people seemed to dismiss Shane West’s portrayal of Tom Sawyer, but I rather enjoyed it. He managed to create a strong chemistry with Connery, and I also found his quiet wit rather endearing. Tony Curran was a blast as Rodney Skinner, gentleman thief and the Invisible Man. He gave a hilarious performance and projected a lot of style for a character that was barely seen. Stuart Townsend seemed to be the epitome of degenerate style and sexuality as the immortal, Dorian Gray. He also had the good luck to spout some of the best lines in the movie. Richard Roxburgh gave an effectively quiet and intense performance as the man who created the League, the mysterious “M”. But as far as I am concerned Jason Flemyng had the best role in the movie as the morally conflicted Dr. Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, the ferocious, misshapen giant, Mr. Edward Hyde. I really enjoyed how he managed to slip back and forth between the two personalities. More importantly, Flemyng did an excellent job in incorporating Hyde’s darkness into Jekyll and the latter’s decency into Hyde with great ease. Well done.

Despite my complaints about Laustsen’s photography of the movie’s exterior shots, I must admit that he did a pretty good job in shooting the film. And Paul Rubell did a first-rate job with his editing – especially in the sequence that featured the League’s attack upon the Fantom’s lair at the Asiatic Artic. I also thought that Jason Barnett and his team did an excellent job in handling the makeup – especially for the Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde characters. One last aspect of the movie that truly impressed me was Carol Spier’s production designs that nicely captured an alternate or Jules Verne-style take on the late Victorian Age. This was especially apparent in the interior designs for Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus.

I could recommend that others keep an open mind in watching ”THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN”. Although it does not bear a close resemblance to Alan Moore’s comic series and I am not particularly fond of its dark exterior shots, I must admit that I was impressed by James Dale Robinson’s screenplay, the ensemble cast and some of the production designs. Considering what he had to work with – especially an allegedly difficult leading man – I think that director Stephen Norrington did a solid job in bringing it all together for what I believe to be a very entertaining movie.