“THE DECEIVERS” (1988) Review


“THE DECEIVERS” (1988) Review

I have heard of British writer John Masters ever since I saw “BHOWANI JUNCTION”, the 1956 adaptation of one his novels, on television years ago. Mind you, I did not love the film. But it did ignite an interest in a few of Masters’ stories – including his 1952 novel, “The Deceivers”

Not long after I saw “BHOWANI JUNCTION” on television, film producers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory made their own adaptation of Masters’ 1952 novel. Released in 1988 and directed by Nicholas Meyer, “THE DECEIVERS” told the story of Englishman William Savage, an officer with the British East Indian Company in 1825, who stumbles across the murderous activities of an organized gang of assassins and robbers calledThuggees, who worship the goddess Kali. Frustrated by his commanding officer/father-in-law’s refusal to investigate further, Captain Savage “recruits” a captured Thug named Hussein to help him infiltrate one of the gangs in order to expose the organization. Despite the risk of exposure and vengeance, Captain Savage finds himself undergoing a psychological transformation when he not only becomes close to his new companions, but also begins to succumb to the cult’s bloodlust and murderous behavior.

If one is expecting “THE DECEIVERS” to be one of those costume dramas or adventures on the epic scale, one is bound to be face with disappointment. In fact, I suspect that most critics back in 1988 were very disappointed with the movie’s small scale. Despite some large-scale action, a little horror and historical drama; “THE DECEIVERS” struck me as small-scale period drama and character study of an early 19th century man whose worldview would change in ways he had not imagined. At the beginning of the film, William Savage is not a highly regarded officer with the East Indian Company. Although he speaks several Indian dialects fluently, is dedicated to his duties as magistrate of his district and is friendly with the local aristocrat; his new father-in-law, Colonel Wilson, does not seem particularly impressed by him, especially since he refuses to succumb to the Company’s corruption by taxing the local inhabitants of nearly every rupee they possess. In the company of his father-in-law and other officers within the East Indian Company – including his friend George Anglesmith – Captain Savage seemed like the odd man out or the black sheep. But in the company of those Indian citizens inside his district and the sepoys (Indian soliders) under his command, he is very much the Imperial Englishman. This attitude is especially apparent following his discovery of the Thugs’ activities and their victims. He even go so far as to regard himself redeeming a Thug he and his men had earlier captured – a man named Hussein.

But when his father-in-law, Colonel Wilson, refuses to initiate any further investigations into the Thuggees; Captain Savage decides to take matters into his own hands and infiltrate one of their bands. He disguises himself as a native of Northern India and asks Hussein to help him infiltrate the latter’s own band of robbers. Although Savage eventually succeeds in his mission, his journey with the Thug band nearly tears apart his self-esteem as an Englishman and a civilized man. One of the movie’s more interesting scenes featured Savage, Hussein and the other Thugs engaged in a religious ceremony in which they pay homage to the goddess Kali. During this ceremony, Savage notices that the group’s priest uses an instrument similar to the thurible used during his wedding ceremony. He also discovers that underneath his so-called “civilized” English demeanor, he was capable of a great deal of blood lust and violence . . . including deliberate and cold-blooded murder. As I had earlier stated, the film ended on a triumphant note for Savage’s professional career. The East Indian Company appoints Savage as their main commissioner on the suppression of the Thuggee cult throughout the subcontinent. But despite this career high note, Savage’s psyche and self-esteem as an Englishman in India has been greatly shaken by his experiences with the Thug band.

For me, Savage’s emotional journey into darkness is probably the highlight of “THE DECEIVERS”. And this is due not only to the willingness of Michael Hirst’s screenplay and Pierce Brosnan’s superb performance to explore the darker aspects of Savage’s psyche. It is a pity that the movie ended up as a critical and box office failure. Personally, I feel that “THE DECEIVERS” was a lot better than most it is generally regarded. In many ways, it went against the grain of the typical British Empire action film. Perhaps it is not really an action film . . . and many critics and moviegoers could not accept this. Like I said, it is a pity that many were not willing to accept this aspect of “THE DECEIVERS”. Not only did I find it to be the movie’s most interesting aspect, but I also found it unusual for a movie set in pre-20th century British India.

Mind you, “THE DECEIVERS” is not perfect. I found the movie’s finale, which featured a pitched battle between Company soldiers led by Colonel Wilson and many Thugs to be a rushed affair. Before Nicholas Meyer could further delve into it, he switches his focus solely upon the wounded Savage’s attempt to evade a vengeful Feringea, leader of the Thuggee band with whom he had been following. I was also somewhat disappointed by the story’s handling of the George Anglesmith character. David Robb did an excellent job in his portrayal of the morally corrupt Anglesmith, who is also jealous of Savage’s recent marriage to Sarah Wilson. But the script did very little justice to his character, aside from a surprising revelation regarding his knowledge of the Thugs. There has also been a good deal of criticism directed toward the film’s handling of a Sati (Suttee) situation regarding the wife of a local weaver, who had disappeared, whose identity Savage had used to infiltrate Hussein’s Thug band. Savage’s use of Gopal the Weaver’s identity ended up having far reaching circumstances for the latter’s wife . . . circumstances that repelled a good deal of critics and moviegoers.

I have already commented on the excellent performances of both Pierce Brosnan and David Robb. I might as well touch upon the film’s other performances. Saeed Jaffrey was superb as the redeemed Hussein, who becomes disturbed by Savage’s increasing embrace of his darker psyche. Shashi Kapoor gave a warm, yet complex performance as Chandra Singh, the aristocrat who befriends Savage. Helena Michell gave solid support as Savage’s loyal and passionate new wife. Her father, Keith Michell, gave an intense performance as Colonel Wilson . . . even if there were times I found it a bit hammy. Another intense performance came Tariq Yunus, who portrayed the leader of Savage’s Thug band, Feringea. Fortunately, he managed to restrain the ham.

Visually, “THE DECEIVERS” is a gorgeous movie to behold. Most of the movie was filmed around Jaipur, India. Walter Lassally’s photography did a beautiful job in capturing the natural beauty of Jaipur’s local terrain. What made this particular appealing to me was the fact that a good deal of the movie was set in parts of India not occupied or inhabited by the British. I cannot say that “THE DECEIVERS” revealed the “true” India of the mid-1820s. But I found it interesting to view an India not populated by British cantonments or inhabitants. But the movie’s visual of the Indian countryside was not the only thing I found appealing. I also enjoyed the costumes designed by Academy Award winner Jenny Beavan and John Bright. The pair did an excellent job in recapturing the period fashions for both the British and Indian characters of the period.

I suppose there is nothing I can say to convince anyone that “THE DECEIVERS” is an interesting movie. It went against the grain of what many considered an enjoyable movie about 19th century British India. The movie seemed too focused on Savage’s internal psyche and less on any real action. But I enjoyed it, despite its dark topic (or because of it) and the lack of epic scope, I managed to enjoy “THE DECEIVERS”, thanks to Nicholas Meyer’s direction and a first-rate cast led by Pierce Brosnan.

“The Staff of Fire” [PG] – 6/6


Part VI

“He’s innocent,” Cecile said to Olivia. 

Olivia stood before the large oval mirror, inside the bedroom she shared with Cole. She adjusted the blue ceremonial robe she had just donned. “Who’s innocent?”

Cecile replied, “Dennis. He didn’t hire those warlocks.”

“And how do you know that?”

The Vodoun priestess gave the witch a knowing look. Realization struck Olivia with the force of a whirlwind. “Oh. Oh, I see. You read his thoughts.”

Cecile shrugged her shoulders. “He asked me to. When he found out about Fiona, he wanted to make sure that he was cleared.”

Olivia shook her in disbelief. “This has sure been one strange day.”

“Well, it’s going to get stranger,” Cecile added. “Like this ceremony, for instance. What exactly do you have to do?”

“I guess we’ll find out, pretty soon.”

Someone knocked on the door. A second later, Cole opened it, his figured framed by the doorway. “Olivia, everyone is waiting for you, downstairs.”

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Yeah. Okay, I’m ready.” She and Cecile left the bedroom and followed Cole downstairs. The found Fiona, Dennis, other members of the family and guests gathered in the castle’s large foyer. Colin held an object in his hand. Wrapped in blue cloth.

Margaret Ferguson then led the entire group past a solid oak door and through a narrow passageway that ended at a clearing located several meters away from the castle’s south wall. Five torches formed a ring around the clearing. “This is where many of the witches in the family used to hold gatherings in the past,” the elderly witch explained. “And this is where all the past bearers of the Aingeal Staff have been initiated. At least since Fergus McNeill finished building this castle in 1287.” She paused. “Well, are we all ready?”

Everyone nodded. Then Cousin Margaret ordered the family’s other elders to stand in front of a torch. Among them included Olivia’s father, Cousin Colin, Simon McNeill, Deborah McNeill Ness and Colin’s only sister – Emma. Soon, each elder stood in front of a torch, with the exception of Margaret. The latter then glanced at the three contenders. “Now, who will be first?”

Olivia looked at her rivals. Granted, she felt nervous about taking part in the ceremony, but her cousins’ reluctance took her by surprise. Especially Fiona. Dennis finally volunteered. “I’ll go first,” he said, stepping into the center of the ring.

Colin unwrapped the object in his hand and gave it to Dennis. The Staff of Aingeal. Olivia blinked, as her eyes examined the staff. She had to admit that it looked beautiful in a simple and elegant style. Made from pale oak, the staff possessed Celtic symbols carved on it. The gold knob, shaped as a dragon, held a crystal – a red carnelian stone that symbolized ambition, drive, positive courage and protection from negative emotions. The stone also seemed to serve as the dragon’s eye.

“Wow!” Cole murmured in Olivia’s ear. “It’s beautiful!”

Olivia nodded. “It is, indeed.”

The ceremony continued. Five of the McNeills who surrounded Dennis, stretched their arms out, while Margaret raised hers before chanting:

“This is a time that is not a time.
In a place that is not a place.
On a day that is not a day.
We gather tonight to stand;
At the threshold between the worlds;
Before the Veil of the Mysteries.

Then Simon McNeill continued, “Great Mother, Great Father, bless this creature of Air to your service.”

“Great Mother, Great Father, bless this creature of Water to your service,” chanted Cousin Deborah.

Colin became the next to speak. “Great Mother, Great Father, bless this creature of Spirit to your service.”

“Great Mother, Great Father,” Olivia’s father continued, “bless this creature of Earth to your service.”

Finally, the last McNeill elder, Cousin Emma, said, “Great Mother, Great Father, bless this creature of Fire to your service.”

Margaret concluded, “By the blessings of the God and the Goddess, we summon the powers of the Elements to call forth the spirit of the Ancient One. We call upon Aoidh to bring forth the power of the Dragon’s Eye and choose the new bearer of the Aingeal Staff.”

Seconds later, gasps filled the clearing, as the Celtic symbols on the staff illuminated. The light slowly crept upward, until it reached the red carnelian stone that served as the dragon’s eye. Dennis managed to hold onto the staff for a few seconds, but eventually he screamed in pain and dropped it. The staff returned to its natural appearance.

Fear gripped Olivia’s mind. What had she gotten herself into? Did they really expect her to simply stand there and allow that staff to burn in her hand? “Oh Goddess,” she murmured under her breath.

As she took a few steps back, a strong hand gripped Olivia’s forearm. “Where are you going?” Cole whispered in a harsh voice.

“I’m getting the hell out of here,” Olivia hissed back. She tried not to watch, as her mother and Cousin Leslie nurse Dennis’ singed hand. “I’m not about to become the next burn victim.”

“So, you had traveled thousands of miles to chicken out, at the end?” the half-daemon taunted.

Olivia struggled to wrestle her arm from his grip. “Dammit Cole! Let go of me! We’re attracting attention!” She became aware of several pairs of eyes, staring at them.

Gran appeared behind the couple. “What’s going on between you two?” she asked in a low voice.

“Nothing,” Olivia replied.

Cole added at the same time, “Olivia’s thinking of chickening out.”

Disbelief shone in the elderly witch’s eyes, as she stared at her granddaughter. “Don’t tell me that you’re afraid of a little heat, Livy! Not after having a fire power for five months.”

“I’m not scared of the heat!” Olivia protested.

With a knowing smile, Cole said, “It’s something else.” Olivia glared at him. He had obviously remembered their conversation from a few days ago. Cole was right. Olivia did not really fear receiving a singed hand. What she really feared was becoming the staff’s new bearer. Like she had once told Cole, all she really wanted was to be a witch and nothing else. But what if becoming the new Bearer of the Aingeal Staff entailed more? Did it mean that others would expect her to fulfill some kind of ‘destiny’ that involved battling a supreme evil being? Like the Charmed Ones? The idea horrified her.

At that moment, Cousin Margaret announced, “Next candidate.”

Cole and Gran stared at Olivia. Feeling slightly uneasy, she did not know if she should step forward. Or if she wanted to. Before she could, Fiona volunteered. “Well, looks like Fiona is first,” Olivia said. Cole’s eyes expressed mild contempt.

The McNeill elders repeated the staff ritual for Fiona. When it illuminated for a second time, everyone held his or her breaths. Fiona seemed to be having no trouble in maintaining her grip. “Looks like we have a new bearer,” Gweneth murmured. Conflicting emotions whirled within Olivia. She could not decide whether to be relieved that she would not be the new bearer . . . or disappointed that Fiona would. Realizing how she felt about her cousin, Olivia decided upon the latter.

A smug smile appeared on Fiona’s lips. However, the smile did not last very long. A sizzling sound emitted from her hand. Fiona finally howled in pain, as she dropped the staff. “Bloody hell!” she cried, looking very disappointed.

Cole turned to Olivia. “You’re next.”

Olivia felt her stomach dropped several feet, as she slowly walked toward the center of the circle. Her father picked up the staff and handed it to her. “Here you go, Livy.” She responded with a weak nod.

While her mother and Leslie to administer to Fiona’s burned hand, Olivia waited for Cousin Margaret to begin the ritual. She became aware of the eyes staring at her. Eyes that belonged to Dennis, Fiona, the other cousins, her family, Cole, the Halliwells and especially Leo.

Margaret finally commenced on the ceremony for the third and final time. The other elders, including Jack, spoke their lines, while Olivia held her breath. Once they finished, Margaret concluded, “By the blessings of the God and the Goddess, we summon the powers of the Elements to call forth the spirit of the Ancient One. We call upon Niaghall to bring forth the power of the Dragon’s Eye and choose the new bearer of the Aingeal Staff.”

As before, the Celtic symbols on the staff illuminated, followed by the red carnelian stone. Olivia felt her heart thump loudly, as she expected the heat to follow. Instead, a surge of power seemed to grip her. The entire staff now glowed brightly. Feeling the full force of the staff’s power, Olivia recalled the instructions given to her by Cousin Margaret. She raised her free hand and declared, “With this staff, I call forth the element of Air.” A shot of flames left her hand and lit up the torch behind Cousin Simon. “With this staff, I call forth the element of Water.” The torch behind Cousin Deborah soon flickered with flames. After lighting the torches behind Colin and her father, Olivia raised the staff:

“Oh God and Goddess! Summon the power of the Dragon’s Eye!
I command the elements of Air, Water, Spirit and Earth;
To bring forth the Power of Fire! The Power of Aingeal!

Flames flickering from the staff’s knob shot forth and lit up Cousin Emma’s torch. Then to everyone’s surprise, including Olivia, the staff’s flames connected with those from the torches . . . creating a ring of fire. In the middle of that ring stood the new bearer of the Aingeal Staff, wondering what in the hell she had gotten herself into.


The woman watched Russell Pierce stumbled out of the woods and into the clearing that surrounded the Lindisfarne Crags. As he slowly made his way toward her, she noticed the large burn mark on his left leg. He finally stood before her, breathing heavily.

“What happened?” she demanded. “It’s been over six hours, since you called.”

Between gasps, Pierce replied, “We . . . uh, we ran into a spot of trouble.”

“Really?” The woman’s eyes returned to Pierce’s wound. “Did this spot of trouble come into the form of one Gweneth Morgan McNeill?”

“That bitch had burned me!”

The woman allowed herself a smile. “I’m not sure if I should allow you to call her a bitch. Although I have done so on one or two occasions in the past year-and-a-half.” After a pause, she asked, “But she was only one witch. You mean to say that she stopped you from snatching her daughter?”

“There were three others!” Russell protested. “Some long-haired bastard with the face of a horse.”

The woman’s mouth twitched. “That would be Jamie.”

“Then there was a black woman. Short. Real good-looking bird with intense eyes.”

“Cecile. She’s a Vodoun priestess. You’re lucky that she didn’t get to you.”

Pierce finished, “And there was this red-haired bird. I think she was one of the Charmed Ones.”

“A red-haired Halliwell?” The woman’s voice expressed surprise. “Are you telling me that a Halliwell took part in the rescue? Interesting. Which one? Phoebe? She’s always changing her hair color.”

The warlock shook his head. “Her name wasn’t Phoebe. According to Keira and Dave, her name was Paige. Yeah, that’s it. Paige. And her hair was red. A dye job, I reckon.”

The woman frowned. “That’s impossible! There’s no Charmed One named Paige.” After a brief pause, the woman continued, “Then I gather that Co. . . Belthazor didn’t give you any trouble. The potion worked?”

A grimace tightened Pierce’s lips. “Not quite. Mind you, it did keep him out of the way, but it sure as bloody well didn’t knock him out. Just made him groggy.”

“That’s funny,” the woman said with a frown. “That potion has worked on other upper-level daemons. Including those from the Thorn Brotherhood. Unless . . . this Belthazor might be more powerful? Is that it?” A red light illuminated the dark sky. The pair stared at it. “Looks like we have a new bearer of the Aingeal Staff.” An arch smile formed on the woman’s lips. “Any guesses on who that might be?”

“We can still get the staff,” Russell Pierce added. His voice rang with desperation. “I’m a shapeshifter, and I can . . .”

The woman interrupted. “You can what? Sneak into her room and grab the staff?”


Stabbing the warlock with a shrewd look, the woman said, “You’ve forgotten one thing, Mr. Pierce. Thanks to you and your associates, everyone at the castle is on guard. And I’m sure they’ll have some kind of protection spell surrounding the staff. Or have put it up, somewhere safe. By the time you finish searching for it, you’ll be caught. And I can’t have that. Besides, they’re now looking for a shape shifting warlock with a bum leg.”

“But . . .”

A lifted hand silenced the warlock. “Don’t worry, Mr. Pierce,” the woman added in soft tones. “I’ll find another way to get my hands on that staff. I’m a patient woman.”

“And what about me?” Pierce demanded. “I went through a lot of trouble for you, this week. I have a bum leg and me mates are behind bars. What do I get for compensation?”

The woman sighed. “You do have a point.” Before the warlock could react, she stretched out her hand and enveloped him in a ball of fire. He screamed in agony, as the flames consumed him. Once they died down, all that remained of him was a pile of dust.

The woman reached inside her purse and removed an amulet. She chanted a few words in Gaelic, and a blue, shimmering light appeared between the rocks, revealing a portal. After returning the amulet back inside her purse, she heaved a sigh. Then Olivia McNeill stepped into the portal to return to her own dimension.





I realize that many film critics and fans would agree with my suspicion that the 1930s saw a great deal of action films released to theaters. In fact, I believe there were as high number of actions films released back then as they are now. Among the type of action films that flourished during that era were swashbucklers. 

One of the most famous Hollywood swashbucklers released during the 1930s was “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA”, producer David O. Selznick’s 1937 adaptation of Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel. This tale of middle European political intrigue and identity theft has been either remade or spoofed countless of times over the years. One of the most famous spoofs included George MacDonald Fraser’s 1970 Flashman novel called “Royal Flash”. But if one asked many moviegoers which adaptation comes to mind, I believe many would point out Selznick’s 1937 movie.

Directed by John Cromwell, the movie began with Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll’s arrival in the kingdom of Ruritania in time for the coronation of its new king, Rudolf V. The English visitor’s looks attract a great deal of attention from some of the country’s populace and eventually from the new king and the latter’s two aides. The reason behind this attention is due to the fact that not only are the Briton and the Ruritanian monarch are distant cousins, they can also pass for identical twins. King Rudolf invites Rassendyll to the royal hunting lodge for dinner with him and his aides – Colonel Sapt and Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim. They celebrate their acquaintance by drinking late into the night. Rudolf is particularly delighted with the bottle of wine sent to him by his half-brother, Duke Michael, and drinks it all himself. The next morning brings disastrous discoveries – the wine was drugged and King Rudolf cannot be awakened in time to attend his coronation. Fearing that Duke Michael will try to usurp the throne, Colonel Zapt convinces a reluctant Rassendyll to impersonate Rudolf for the ceremony.

While watching “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA”, it became easy for me to see why it has become regarded as one of the best swashbucklers of the 1930s. Selznick, its array of credited and uncredited screenwriters, and director John Cromwell did an excellent job of transferring Anthony Hope’s tale to the screen. This certainly seemed to be the case from a technical point-of-view. Selznick managed to gather a talented cast that more than did justice to Hope’s literary characters. The movie also benefited from Alfred Newman’s stirring score, which received a well deserved Academy Award nomination. Lyle R. Wheeler received the first of his 24 Academy Award nominations for the movie’s art designs, which exquisitely re-created Central Europe of the late 19th century. His works was enhanced by Jack Cosgrove’s special effects and the photography of both James Wong Howe and an uncredited Bert Glennon. And I was very impressed by Ernest Dryden’s re-creation of 1890s European fashion in his costume designs.

The performances featured in “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA” struck me as outstanding. Not only was Mary Astor charming as Duke Michael’s mistress, Antoinette de Mauban, she also did an excellent job in conveying Mademoiselle de Mauban’s love for Michael and her desperation to do anything to keep him safe for herself. C. Aubrey Smith gave one of his better performances as the weary and level-headed royal aide, Colonel Sapt, whose love for his country and the throne outweighed his common sense and disappointment in his new king. David Niven gave the film its funniest performance as junior royal aide, Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim. Not only did I find his comedy style memorable, but also subtle. Raymond Massey’s performance as King Rudolf’s illegitimate half-brother, Duke Michael, struck me as very interesting. On one hand, Massey smoldered with his usual air of menace. Yet, he also did an excellent job of conveying Michael’s resentment of his illegitimate status and disgust over his half-brother’s dissolute personality.

However, I feel that the best performances came from Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. I read that the latter originally wanted the dual roles of Rassendyll and King Rudolf . . . and was disappointed when Colman won the roles. But he received advice from C. Aubrey Smith to accept the Rupert of Hentzau role, considered the best by many. Smith proved to be right. Fairbanks gave the best performance in the movie as the charming and witty villain, who served as Duke Michael’s main henchman, while attempting to seduce the latter’s mistress. Madeleine Carroll could have easily portrayed Princess Flavia as a dull, yet virtuous beauty. Instead, the actress superbly portrayed the princess as an emotionally starved woman, who harbored resentment toward her royal cousin Rudolf for years of his contemptuous treatment toward her; and who blossomed from Rassendyll’s love. Although I believe that Fairbanks Jr. gave the movie’s best performance, I cannot deny that Ronald Colman served as the movie’s backbone in his excellent portrayals of both Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll and Ruritania King Rudolf V. Without resorting to any theatrical tricks or makeup, Colman effortlessly portrayed two distant cousins with different personalities. “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA” marked the third movie I have seen starring Colman. I believe I am finally beginning to realize what a superb actor he truly was.

Before my raptures over “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA” get the best of me, I feel I have to point out a few aspects of the movie that I found troubling. Selznick International released three movies in 1937. Two of them had been filmed in Technicolor and one, in black-and-white. I do not understand why Selznick had decided that “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA” would be the only one filmed in black-and-white. This movie practically begged for Technicolor. Surely he could have allowed either “A STAR IS BORN” or “NOTHING SACRED” in black-and-white. For a movie that is supposed to be a swashbuckler, it seemed to lack a balanced mixture of dramatic narrative and action. During my viewing of the movie, I noticed that aside from Colonel Sapt forcing the royal lodge’s cook, Frau Holf, into drinking the rest of the drugged wine; there was no real action until past the movie’s mid-point. And speaking of the action, I found it . . . somewhat tolerable. The minor sequence featuring Rupert’s first attempt at killing Rassendyll, the latter’s efforts to save King Rudolf from assassination at Duke Michael’s castle near Zenda, and the charge led by Sapt at the castle struck me as solid. But I found the sword duel between Rassendyll and Rupert rather disappointing. Both Colman and Fairbanks spent more time talking than fighting. I found myself wondering if the constant conversation was a means used by Cromwell to hide the poor choreography featured in the sword fight.

I do not think I would ever view “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA” as one of my favorite swashbucklers of all time. But despite some of the disappointing action sequences, I still believe that its drama and suspense, along with a superb cast led by Ronald Colman, made it a first-rate movie and one of the best produced by David O. Selznick.

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “LAST RESORT” (2012-2013) Episodes


Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from the ABC series, “LAST RESORT”, which starred Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman:


TOP FIVE FAVORITE “LAST RESORT” (2012-2013) Episodes

1 - 1.05 Skeleton Crew

1. (1.05) “Skeleton Crew” – In this tense episode, the U.S. Secretary of Defense arrives on the island of Sainte Marine to negotiate with Captain Marcus Chaplin and Lieutenant Sam Kendal, the U.S.S. Colorado’s commander and Executive Officer. Meanwhile, part of the sonar array protecting the island fails, allowing vessels to approach undetected; and Lieutenant Grace Shepard is forced to pilot the submarine to repair the array with the help of U.S. Navy SEAL James King and NATO Communications Facility leader Sophie Girard’s help.


2 - 1.01 Captain

2. (1.01) “Captain” – This episode starts the series off with a bang when Captain Marcus defies protocol and demands confirmation of an order to fire four nuclear missiles at Pakistan. When the U.S. Navy retaliate with violence, Marcus is forced to seek sanctuary for the submarine’s crew by taking control of the island of Sainte Marina, location of a NATO Communications facility.


3 - 1.10 Blue Water

3. (1.10) “Blue Water” – Kendal and King leave Sainte Marina to search for and rescue Kendal’s wife, Christine, after she had been kidnapped following the events regarding an incident dealing with the failed attempt of Pakistani commandos to take control of a freighter sending the crew’s family members to the island. Meanwhile, a Chinese envoy named Zheng Min arrives on Sainte Marine to offer aid and supplies to the Colorado’s crew and the island’s inhabitants.


4 - 1.03 Eight Bells

4. (1.03) “Eight Bells” – In another of one of the series’ tense episodes, Sainte Marine’s local criminal despot Julian Serat has kidnapped three members of Chaplin’s crew and offers their release in exchange for their services – namely the retrieval of a special cargo from a ship outside the island’s perimeter.


5 - 1.06 Another Fine Navy Day

5. (1.06) “Another Fine Navy Day” – Serat works with unknown attackers to dose the island’s water supply with a hallucinogen called BZ, which shortly renders most of the island’s population and the sub’s crew unconscious. Kendal and King learn that the attackers are after the Navy SEAL team that arrived with the Colorado’s crew.

“END OF WATCH” (2012) Review



“END OF WATCH” (2012) Review

If there is one present day screenwriter who has written so much about the working-class neighborhoods of Los Angeles, it is writer-director David Ayer. In the past, he has written crime dramas such as “TRAINING DAY”“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS”“DARK BLUE” and “STREET KINGS”. Just last year, he added another entry in his crime filmography with last year’s “END OF WATCH”

Shot in documentary style (at least some of it), “END OF WATCH” followed the daily grind of Brian Taylor and Mike Zavalas, two young Los Angeles Police Department beat officers who are both partners and close friends, who patrol the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Taylor, a former U.S. Marine, is video recording his police activities for a film class, much to the annoyance of his fellow cops. The partners deal with a fire, occupants of a crack house, a public disturbance call that leads to a fight between a Bloods gang member named Tre and Zavalas, and a noisy party filled with Latino gang members that include a leader named Big Evil. But when Taylor has a hunch about Big Evil and convinces Zavalas that they should stake out the house of the home of the gang leader’s mother. When they do, the partners pull over a truck that leaves the house, arrest the driver and discover ornately-decorated firearms and a large amount of money inside the truck. Further investigations of the house leads to the discovery of more arms, human trafficking victims, and a warning from an ICE agent that the partners have stumbled into an operation with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. The agent warns Taylor and Zavalas that they are over their heads, but the two officers end up ignoring him. The young officers’ private lives are also explored. Zavalas’ wife is pregnant with their second child and Taylor meets and ends up marrying a young woman named Janet.

“END OF WATCH” is not a bad movie. It provided an interesting look at the daily lives of police patrolmen in the working class neighborhoods of Los Angeles. In a way, it almost reminds me of the 1988 movie, “COLORS”. In many ways. The movie also benefited from some superb performances by leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. The two actors managed to create a sizzling screen chemistry that made the close relationship between the two characters believable. They especially shined in the movie’s last reel, which featured Zavalas’ account of an embarrassing and funny encounter with his in-laws. And I also found Ayer’s direction very energetic. To my surprise, I was not even bothered by the the movie’s handheld camera format. And Ayer’s handling of the shootout between the two cops and Big Evil’s gang members, who are working on behalf of the Mexican cartel, was outstanding. In fact, I consider this last scene to be the movie’s pièce de résistance.

Despite the virtues I have listed . . . I did not like “END OF WATCH”. I do not dislike the movie. But I did not like it very much. Part of my disappointment with the film has to do with David Ayer’s screenplay. I could not tell whether he had intended for “END OF WATCH” to simply be a documentary style look into the lives of two police patrolmen . . . or a story about two police officers’ troubles with a Mexican crime cartel. It seemed as if he was trying to mix two different crime genres and failed to balance it out. It did not help that the subplot regarding Taylor’s film project had no real impact on the movie’s main narrative and it was simply discarded two-thirds into the movie. Ayer’s script allowed an ICE agent to warn Taylor and Zavalas that they had stumbled into a Mexican cartel operation following their arrest of the truck driver. But when an ICE surveillance camera recorded a cartel member putting a hit on the two young officers using Big Evil’s gang, the ICE agent failed to make a reappearance to warn the pair. Instead, Ayer’s script allows Tre to issue the warning. And I found myself asking . . . why. Why did Ayer allow Tre to issue a warning about the hit and not the ICE agent?

Aside from Brian Taylor and Mike Zavalas, the movie’s other characters strike me as one-dimensional . . . especially the character of Tre and the members of Big Evil’s gang. In fact, some of their dialogue felt as if it was over two decades old and had been lifted straight from “COLORS”. Ayers tried to broaden the other characters. He managed to somewhat succeed with the Gabby Zavalas character, portrayed by Natalie Martinez. But everyone else seemed to fall flat. David Harbour was simply wasted as disenchanted police officer Van Hauser, who continuously warned the two younger officers that the L.A.P.D. will stab them in the back one back. Unfortunately, Ayer never explained Van Hauser’s mindset. Watching“END OF WATCH”, I found it hard to believe that Anna Kendrick was once nominated for an Academy Award. She was surely wasted in this film as Taylor’s girlfriend and eventual wife. And her character struck me as even more one-dimensional as the gang members.

I wish I could say that I liked “END OF WATCH”. The trailer had impressed me. I was also impressed by the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Michael Peña, who projected a dynamic screen chemistry. And I found the shootout between the two cops and Big Evil’s gang dynamic. But somewhere along the way, the one-dimensional supporting characters and questionable subplots simply left me cold.

“The Staff of Fire” [PG] – 5/6



Part V

If only he would stop talking. The litany repeated in Cecile’s mind, over and over again. While sampling some of the food from the buffet table, Cecile found herself cornered by a McNeill witch who had discovered she was a Vodoun priestess. Soon, she ended up listening to his tales of travel in the Caribbean and West Africa – along with his enthusiastic encounters with houngans, mambos, sorcerers and other magical practitioners. Cecile would have shared his enthusiasm, if he were not so determined to dominate the conversation. And if only he lacked the tendency to drone on and on. 

“. . . most amazing sight I had ever beheld,” Ronald McNeill continued. “Mami Labida explained to me that . . .”

A prickly sensation touched the base of Cecile’s neck, followed by a vision that seemed to overwhelm her. It consisted of Olivia fighting two men near the lake’s shore, followed her falling unconscious from a dart. The next vision revealed a car with five people approaching a crossroad. The car passed a road sign that read KILBOURN 41 KL. She recognized two of the people in her vision from the group of servants hired by Colin McNeill for the week. The vision ended with a burly, blond-haired man slitting Olivia’s throat near a pile of rocks and boulders. Once the vision ended, she gasped aloud, interrupting her companion.

“I say,” Ronald McNeill said, casting Cecile an anxious look, “do you feel well?”

Cecile shook her head. “I’m . . . um, I’m okay. I just need a little rest. Excuse me.” She gave the witch a perfunctory smile and quickly walked away. As she rushed toward the castle, Cecile encountered Paige, sitting on the terrace. “Paige,” she declared in an anxious voice. “Paige, I . . .”

A frown appeared on the Charmed One’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“Livy. I had a vision . . . she’s been kidnapped.” Cecile continued, “A group of men and one woman. I recognized the woman and one of the men. They took her near the lake. We have to go after her.”

Paige sprung out of her chair. “Should we get help?”

A third voice asked, “Help for what?”

The two friends spun around. Behind them stood Gweneth McNeill and the laird’s son, Jamie. “Mrs. McNeill!” Paige cried out.

The red-haired woman frowned. “Cecile said something about someone being taken. Do you mean kidnapped?”

Silence fell between the two women. Paige finally spoke. “Cecile just had a premonition of Olivia being kidnapped near the lake. By four men.”

“And one woman,” Cecile added. “I think she’s one of those temporary servants that Jamie’s folks had hired.”

Mrs. McNeill’s green eyes grew wide with shock. “Oh my God! Livy! How is she doi . . .? Have they hurt her?”

Cecile shook her head. “From what I saw, they’ve drugged her. I also saw them in a car, passing a sign that read Kilbourn, forty-one kilometers.”

“I know where that is,” Jamie said with a nod. “Kilbourn is a small market town, not far from here. There’s a clump of rocks, known as the Lindisfarne Crags, outside of the town. It was known as a gathering place for witches. Including some from our family. I also know where that sign is located. Near a crossroad, about 20 kilometers from here. It’s too bad we won’t reach that crossroad before they will.”

Paige added, “Actually, we can.” The others stared at her. “Hello? Half-whitelighter! I can orb us to this crossroad.”

Mrs. McNeill nodded. “Right. All we need are a few weapons . . . just in case. And have Paige orb us there. Let’s go.”

“What about extra help?” Paige asked.

“We don’t have time to gather others.” The older woman started toward the castle.

Once inside, Jamie led the three women to a room filled with an array of weapons – hunting rifles, shotguns, swords, sabers, axes and crossbows of different varieties. Both Cecile and Paige chose crossbows. Mrs. McNeill picked up a taser, generating curious stares from the younger women. “Trust me, it will come in handy. You’ll see.”

Jamie removed a revolver from a desk. It was a Glock. “Where did you get that?” Paige asked, pointing at the weapon.

“It belongs to me,” he replied. “Police officer. Remember?”

“Oh. Okay.” Paige glanced at the others. “Everyone ready?”

Cecile took a deep breath and nodded. She locked hands with the three witches and the Charmed One orbed them out of the castle.


The black Morris-Oxford continued along the narrow road, as it conveyed its passengers toward Kilbourn. “How long before we’re there?” Len asked, as he drove the car.

“In another twenty minutes,” replied Russell, who sat next to him in the passenger seat. “We should be meeting our client near the Lindisfarne Crags.” He glanced at the trio sitting in the back seat. “And how is our supercargo?”

Dave, who sat between Keira and Liam, answered, “So far, she hasn’t fallen out of the boot.”

A smile touched Russell’s lips. “Good. Now, once we reach our client, I will take her back to Dunleith. She can give me a lift. The rest of you can take the witch to a nearby cottage, just west of the crags, and kill her. Make sure the body won’t be found before . . .”


The cry from Len took Russell by surprise. “What the hell is the mat . . .?” The last word died on his lips, as he spotted a figure in the middle of the road. A figure who bore a strong resemblance to their hostage. Only this red-haired woman held what looked like a taser. “Shit! Run her down, Len!”

“What?” The fair-haired man stared at Russell.

“Run the bloody bitch down! Now!”

Russell’s command seemed to have finally reached Len’s brain. The latter immediately pressed down on the pedal, accelerating the car toward the woman in the road. Before the car could reach her, a bolt of lightning burst from her raised hand. Everyone, Russell included, cried out in shock. The car careened toward the side of the road and into a ditch. And Russell cried, “Bloody hell!”


Gweneth marched toward the car, raising her hand in a threatening manner. “Where’s my daughter?” she angrily demanded. Her three companions emerged from the underbrush, brandishing their own weapons.

A woman from the backseat climbed out of the car and waved her hand. Gweneth gasped aloud as all of their weapons – including her taser – flew out of their hands. The warlock was a telekinetic. At that moment, the kidnappers attacked.

Three of the men immediately went after Cecile, Jamie and Paige. Gweneth barely noticed, thanks to the female warlock, who sent the older woman flying away from the car. Sprawled upon the ground and stunned, Gweneth could only watch her companions fight off the warlocks’ attack. She saw Cecile engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a slim, dark-haired man with blue eyes. Jamie seemed busy with another warlock – who, like the female, was also dressed in a waiter’s uniform. And Paige seemed to be doing her level best to avoid the attack of a burly, fair-haired man.

As Gweneth struggled to her feet, she saw Cecile knock the dark-haired assailant to the ground with a well-aimed kick. The female warlock raised her hand for another attack, and the witch immediately attacked with a bolt of lightning. The warlock easily deflected the bolt toward Gweneth, using telekinesis. Fortunately, the older woman possessed even swifter reflexes. She held up her hand and cried, “Gwyro!” The electrical bolt immediately shot back toward the warlock’s right shoulder, knocking the young woman to the ground. Unconscious.

“Keira!” A man, older than his companions, sprang from the car and stared at his female companion in horror. Then he glared at Gweneth with murderous gray-blue eyes. “You bitch!” Before the witch knew what was happening, the man had transformed into a Doberman Pincher. He let out a deep growl and leaped toward Gweneth. She quickly released another bolt of electricity, striking the warlock/dog in the hind leg. The warlock whined in pain and fell to the ground. Then to Gweneth’s surprise, he transformed into a bird and flew away.

Turning her attention to the others, Gweneth noticed that the warlock fighting Jamie, had pulled a gun on the witch. The latter released a gust of cold wind, immobilizing the warlock into icy statue. The blond-haired man grabbed Paige from behind and cried, “Turn him back! Do it now, or I’ll break this witch’s neck!”

Before Gweneth or the others could do anything, Paige orbed out of the warlock’s grip and reappeared behind him. Then she kicked an ankle and finally, his legs out from under him. He fell to the ground, crying in pain.

Gweneth marched up to the remaining conscious warlock, as he continued to howl. “Where’s my daughter?” she demanded. “Where’s Olivia?”

“Oh God! Bloody hell! The bitch sprained me ankle!” the blond man cried.

An energy ball formed in Gwen’s hand. She took a step closer to the fallen man. “Unless you tell me where my daughter is, you’ll experience pain that will be a hell of a lot worse. Now, where . . . is . . . she?”

Fear flickered in the warlock’s blue eyes. “In the boot! She’s in the boot!”

Paige frowned. “Huh?”

“The trunk of the car,” Gweneth explained. “Cecile, Jamie . . .”

The other two needed no further explanations. They opened the car’s trunk and Cecile cried out, “She’s here! Olivia’s here! Unconscious, but otherwise okay!”

Gweneth allowed the energy ball to dissipate, before she rushed toward the car to check on her daughter. Olivia’s body laid inside the trunk, in a fetal position. Despite the small mark on the side of her neck and pale demeanor, she was breathing. Gweneth sighed with relief, as she helped Jamie and Cecile lift the unconscious woman out of the trunk. They gently placed her body on the side of the road.

Meanwhile, Paige whipped out her cell phone and called Colin. “Mr. McNeill is calling the police right now,” she said, after hanging up. Then she glanced at the four warlocks sprawled about the road. The ice surrounding the one Jamie had frozen, began to melt. “I hope that ice is gone before the police gets here.”

“No problem.” Jamie held up one finger. It glowed red. After touching the frozen warlock with his finger, the ice surrounding the latter, melted away. Jamie immediately snatched the gun from the warlock. “Not only am I a cyrokinetic,” he said, “but also a thermokinetic. I can affect the temperature of another object or my surroundings.”

Paige stared at him with admiring eyes. “Cool.”

Twenty minutes later, the police finally arrived at the crossroad to arrest the prisoners for kidnapping and assault. One constable noticed the burn mark on the female’s right shoulder and Mrs. McNeill immediately explained that she had used a taser. Paige wondered if arresting the warlocks would say anything, especially since one of them happened to be a telekinetic.

“Don’t worry,” Jamie said, after she had expressed her doubts. “One of the constables is a fellow witch. He’ll make sure that the warlocks’ powers are bound. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do, but at least she won’t be able to escape custody.”


Paige and her three companions eventually returned to the castle, with an unconscious Olivia in Jamie’s arms. After he had delivered his unconscious cousin in her bedroom, Jamie followed Paige downstairs. Both were surprised to discover the arrival of Piper, Leo, Barbara and Bruce. While Jamie enjoyed a brief reunion with Bruce and Barbara, Piper revealed that Phoebe had decided to remain in San Francisco and baby-sit Wyatt.

“Leo and I were surprised to find you gone when we got here,” Piper said, as her eyes roamed over the castle’s elegant drawing room. Both she and Leo seemed in awe of their grandeur surroundings. “Where were you?”

With a shrug, Paige replied, “Rescuing Olivia.” Her response drew surprised looks from the newcomers. “A bunch of warlocks tried to kidnap her. Have you guys been outside, yet? There’s a picnic going on.”

Leo shook his head. “No . . . uh, we had decided to wait for you.” He paused, as disbelief shone in his blue eyes. “Olivia was kidnapped? Where was Cole?”

Jamie replied, “Poor bastard is upstairs and barely conscious. One of the kidnappers had drugged him, before snatching Olivia. Mother and Cousin Elise made some healing tea for him and Olivia.”

Paige added, “Yeah, both of them are out of it, at the moment. Why don’t you guys go outside? Enjoy the picnic?”

While Piper and Barbara accepted the suggestion, both Leo and Bruce insisted upon learning from the others on what happened to Olivia. The three witches and the whitelighter found other members of the McNeill family discussing the situation.

“And the last warlock,” Colin McNeill was saying, “had escaped?”

Gweneth sighed. “What can I say, Colin? He transformed into a bird and flew away. I did manage to injure his leg.”

Looking anxious, Gweneth’s husband added, “Why did they attack Olivia in the first place? Why didn’t they just wait to see if she would get the staff, if they wanted it that badly?”

Jamie replied, “From what one of the warlocks had said before the police arrived, they were hired by some woman to kidnap Olivia. Apparently, she wanted the staff for herself. Unfortunately, the only one who has met their client is this Russell Pierce chap. The shapeshifter.”

“So, you have no idea of who wanted Olivia out of the way?” Leo asked. All eyes turned upon him. Jack introduced the whitelighter to the rest of the family gathered inside the room.

“Really Bruce,” Mrs. Ferguson commented, “I had no idea that you, Olivia and Harry still maintained a whitelighter.”

Bruce quickly replied, “Actually, Leo is more like a family friend to us.” His reply caused Leo’s face to turn red. “As for this mysterious client, I guess she’ll remain a mystery. Unless that fifth warlock can be found.”

“She?” Paige said.

Realization lit up Jamie’s eyes. “She! Of course, she!”

Jack frowned. “What are you getting at?”

Jamie exclaimed, “Fiona! Who else, besides Dennis, has a reason to prevent Olivia from acquiring the staff?”

“But we don’t know if Olivia will become the staff’s next bearer,” Margaret Ferguson protested.

“True, but Olivia’s pyrokinesis had manifested before the others,” Jamie continued. “If she, Fiona or Dennis dies, the chances for the surviving two of becoming the new bearer increases. And if dear Cousin Fiona is this mysterious client, she must believe that Olivia has the best chance of becoming the new bearer. Let’s face it, Olivia has always been a more talented witch than either Fiona or Dennis.”

Paige finally understood what Jamie was talking about. “Now I get it!” Her outcry attracted everyone else’s attention. “It’s like with me and my sisters. If Prue had lived, I would have never become part of the Power of Three. Even if my own powers had been restored. Only the three oldest living sisters were destined to be the Charmed Ones.”

“And when Prue died,” Leo added, “Paige became one. It’s the same with Olivia, right? With her dead, this Fiona person obviously thought she would have a better chance of getting the staff. Only . . . why wait until the day of the ceremony to snatch Olivia?”

Colin grimly answered, “We will soon find out.”


Harry stood inside a small room with his grandmother and Cecile, adjacent to the library. The three telepaths held their breaths and listened, while his parents and Colin questioned an angry Fiona.

“How dare you?” the Scotswoman exclaimed angrily. “How dare you suggest that I would stoop to kidnapping and murder to acquire the Aingeal staff?”

Colin’s voice replied, “Those warlocks had claimed that a woman had hired them to kidnap Olivia. We cannot think of any other female with a reason to get Olivia out of the way.”

“I’m sure there are plenty of other women who would!” Fiona retorted. “And for reasons, other than that staff!”

Harry exchanged glances with his two companions, while Jack said, “Do you expect us to believe that you had nothing to do with Olivia being kidnapped? Are you saying that Dennis is responsible?”

“And why not?” Fiona shot back. “He probably wants the staff, badly! For all we know, I was to be his next victim.”

Gweneth’s voice rang with steel, as she reminded Fiona that the warlocks in custody had all confirmed that their client was a woman. “And I certainly do not recall Dennis being a shapeshifter.”

“I’ve had enough!” Colin demanded to know where Fiona was going. She snapped, “Back to the fete! I would have left, after being insulted like this. But I have a ceremony to participate in, tonight!” The sound of a door slamming shut, immediately followed.

Seconds later, Harry, Gran and Cecile filed into the library. Colin turned to them. “Well?” he demanded.

The three telepaths exchanged glances, before Gran finally spoke. “I believe she’s telling the truth. She had nothing to do with Olivia’s kidnapping.”

Cecile added, “I agree. Fiona’s innocent.” She paused. “Unfortunately.”

“Harry?” Jack asked his son.

As much as he hated to say it . . . “She’s innocent,” Harry said with a sigh.

“Well that’s bloody marvelous!” Gweneth exclaimed. “Our only decent suspect is innocent. And the only person who can identify this mysterious culprit is now a bird, heading for God knows where!”

Harry added, “Maybe Fiona had a point about Dennis being the one. I mean he is a witch. It wouldn’t be impossible for him to use some kind of shapeshifting spell.”

The others stared at him and Harry found himself wishing he had kept his mouth shut. But the idea of Dennis transforming into a woman did not seem that impossible. Did it?





I suspect that many fans of the DC Comics character “Batman” and the “Zorro” character would be nonplussed at the idea that a novel written by a Hungary-born aristocrat had served as an inspiration for their creations. Yet, many believe that Baroness Emmuska Orczy de Orczi’s 1905 novel, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” provided Western literature with its first “hero with a secret identity”, Sir Percy Blakeney aka the Scarlet Pimpernel. 

There have been at least nineteen stage, movie or television adaptations of Orczy’s novel. Some consider the 1934 movie adaptation with Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon and Raymond Massey as the most definitive adaptation. However, there are others who are more inclined to bestow that honor on the 1982 television adaptation with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen. I have seen both versions and if I must be honest, I am inclined to agree with those who prefer the 1982 television movie.

“THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” – namely its 1982 re-incarnation – is based upon the 1905 novel and its 1913 sequel,“Eldorado”. Set during the early period of the French Revolution, a masked man and his band of followers rescues French aristocrats from becoming victims of the Reign of Terror under France’s new leader, Maximilien de Robespierre. The man behind the Scarlet Pimpernel’s mask – or disguises – is a foppish English baronet named Sir Percy Blakeney. For reasons never explained in the movie, Sir Percy has managed to gather a group of upper-class friends to assist him in smuggling French aristocrats out of France and sending them to the safety of England. During a visit to France, Sir Percy meets a young French government aide and the latter’s actress sister, Armand and Marguerite St. Just. He eventually befriends the brother and courts the sister.

Sir Percy also becomes aware of Armand’s superior and Marguerite’s friend, Robespierre’s agent Paul Chauvelin. Angered over Marguerite’s marriage to Sir Percy, Chauvelin has the Marquis de St. Cyr – an old enemy of Armand’s – executed in her name. After being sent to England to learn the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin discovers that Armand has become part of the vigilante’s band. He blackmails Marguerite – now Lady Blakeney – into learning the identity the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Meanwhile, the Blakeney marriage has chilled, due to the news of the Marquis de St. Cyr’s execution and Marguerite’s alleged connection. But a chance for a marital reconciliation materializes for Marguerite, when she discovers the Scarlet Pimpernel’s true identity.

Thirty years have passed since CBS first aired “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL”. In many ways, it has not lost its bite. Thanks to Tony Curtis’ production designs, late 18th century England and France (England and Wales in reality) glowed with elegance and style. Not even the questionable transfer of the film to DVD could completely erode the movie’s beauty. The movie’s visual style was aided by Carolyn Scott’s set decorations, Dennis C. Lewiston’s sharp and colorful photography, and especially Phyllis Dalton’s gorgeous costume designs, as shown in the following photographs:

SP-1982-the-scarlet-pimpernel-1009098_500_402 scarlet-pimpernel3

I feel that screenwriter William Bast made the very wise choice of adapting Baroness Orczy’s two novels about the Scarlet Pimpernel. In doing so, he managed to create a very clear and concise tale filled with plenty of drama and action. He also did an excellent job in mapping out the development of the story’s main characters – especially Sir Percy Blakeney, Marguerite St. Just, Paul Chauvelin and Armand St. Just. I was especially impressed by his handling of Sir Percy and Marguerite’s relationship – before and after marriage. Sir Percy’s easy willingness to believe the worst about his bride provided a few chinks into Sir Percy’s character, which could have easily morphed into a too perfect personality. More importantly, Bast’s script gave Paul Chauvelin’s character more depth by revealing the latter’s feelings for Marguerite and jealousy over her marriage to Sir Percy. Bast’s re-creation of the early years of the French Revolution and Reign of Terror struck me as well done. However, I wish he had not faithfully adapted Orczy’s decision to allow the Scarlet Pimpernel and his men to rescue the Daupin of France (heir apparent to the French throne), Louis-Charles (who became Louis XVII, upon his father’s death). In reality, Louis-Charles died in prison from tuberculosis and ill treatment at the age of ten. Surely, Bast could have created someone else important for the Scarlet Pimpernel to rescue.

“THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” received a few Emmy nominations. But they were for technical awards – Costume Designs for Phyllis Dalton, Art Direction for Tony Curtis and even one for Outstanding Drama Special for producers David Conroy and Mark Shelmerdine. And yet . . . there were no nominations for Clive Donner and his lively direction, and no nominations for the cast. I am especially astounded by the lack of nominations for Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen. In fact, I find this criminal. All three gave superb performances as Sir Percy Blakeney; Marguerite, Lady Blakeney; and Paul Chauvelin respectively. Andrews was all over the map in his portrayal of the fop by day/hero by night Sir Percy. And yet, it was a very controlled and disciplined performance. Jane Seymour did a beautiful job of re-creating the intelligent, yet emotional Marguerite. At times, she seemed to be the heart and soul of the story. This was the first production in which I became aware of Ian McKellen as an actor and after his performance as Paul Chauvelin, I never forgot him. Not only was his portrayal of Chauvelin’s villainy subtle, but also filled with deep pathos over his feelings for Marguerite Blakeney. He also had the luck to utter one of my favorite lines in the movie in the face of his character’s defeat:

“Oh, the English, and their STU-U-U-UPID sense of fair play!”

The movie also featured some first-rate performances by the supporting cast. Malcolm Jamieson did an excellent job in portraying Marguerite’s older brother, Armand. I was also impressed by Ann Firbank, who was first-rate as the embittered Countess de Tournay; James Villiers as the opportunistic Baron de Batz; Tracey Childs as the lovesick Suzanne de Tournay; and Christopher Villiers as Sir Percy’s most stalwart assistant, Lord Anthony Dewhurst. Julian Fellowes made a very colorful and entertaining Prince of Wales. And Richard Morant proved to be even more subtle and sinister than McKellen’s Chauvelin as Maximilien de Robespierre.

After my latest viewing of “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL”, I found myself surprisingly less supportive of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s efforts than I used to be. Perhaps I have not only become more older, but even less enthusiastic about the aristocratic elite. It was then I realized that despite the presence of Marguerite and Armand St. Just, “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” is based on two novels written by an aristocrat, with views that were probably as liberal as Barry Goldwater. Oh well. I still managed to garner a good deal of entertainment from a movie that has held up remarkable well after thirty years, thanks to some lively direction by Clive Donner, a first-rate script by William Bast and superb performances by the likes of Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen.

Boston Creme Pie


Below is a brief look at and recipe for the famous New England dessert called the “Boston Creme Pie”



Judging by the name of this famous dessert, one would assume that the Boston Creme Pie was created in Boston, Massachusetts. And one would be right. However, there is a slight confusion over the dessert’s origins. According to John F. Mariani’s 1999 book, “Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink”, the Boston Creme Pie originated during the Early American period and was known as either the “Pudding-Cake Pie”; or when made with a raspberry jelly filling, “Mrs. Washington’s Pie”.

But the current dessert that features the chocolate topping is known as the Boston Creme Pie. And according to many cookbooks, Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian created the dessert at Boston’s famous Parker House Hotel in 1855 or 1856. Like the Pudding-Cake Pie and Mrs. Washington’s Pie, the Boston Creme Pie is actually a pudding and cake combination that comprises at least two or three layers of sponge cake filled with vanilla flavored custard or crème pâtissière. In the case of the Boston Creme Pie, the cake is topped with a chocolate glaze called Ganache. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts declared the Boston Creme Pie as its official dessert in 1996.

The following is a recipe for the dish from thehungrymouse.com website:

Boston Creme Pie


1/2 cup butter (that’s 1 stick), softened on the counter for 20 minutes or so
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt

Cream Filling
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
6 Tbls. flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Frosting
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbls. butter


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 8-inch round cake pans with oil, then line with circles of parchment paper. Set them aside. Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of your mixer. Beat them together until well combined. Add in the egg yolks. Beat again until well combined and kind of fluffy. Scrape down the sides of your bowl with a spatula. Add the milk. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Stir them together with a whisk to combine well. Toss the dry mixture into the butter/sugar in the mixing bowl. Mix on medim-high for maybe 20 or 30 seconds to combine, just until the batter comes together.

The batter will be relatively thick and stiff. Give the batter a stir or two with a spatula to be sure that it’s mixed well and no dry ingredients remain in the very bottom of the bowl. Divide the batter evenly between your two prepared cake pans. Smooth it down with a spatula so it fills the whole pan and is relatively even. Bake cake the 2 cakes for 20-23 minutes at 375 degrees.

They are done when they are golden brown on top and feel firm (not jiggly) in the middle when pressed with a finger. When inserted in the center, a toothpick should come out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes. Then, gently run a knife around the whole edge to loosen it, and remove each cake from the pan. (Because you lined each pan with parchment paper, this should be easy). Set the cakes on a rack to cool completely. If your cakes wound up a little crusty on the edges, like this, don’t worry. You’re going to trim those crisp edges right off when you assemble your Boston Cream Pie.

Fill a medium-sized pot with a few inches of water. Set it on the stove over high heat to bring it up to a boil. Then put the sugar and egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl. Whisk together until well combined. Add the flour. Whisk to combine. Pour in the milk. And the vanilla. Whisk to combine. When your pot of water is boiling, drop the heat to low. Set the bowl on top of the pot of water. Whisk it constantly for 5-7 minutes until it starts thicken. Keep whisking until the custard gets very thick. It’s done when it coats the back of a spoon. Give it a taste. It should have a nice custard-y taste, without any hint of raw flour. When it is done, take it off the heat. Cool it on the counter to room temperature, then pop it in the fridge to chill it completely.

Chocolate Frosting
Fill a medium-sized pot with a few inches of water. Set it on the stove over high heat to bring it up to a boil. If you are making the frosting right after the custard, just use the same pot of simmering water. Chop up the chocolate. Put it into a large heatproof bowl. Pour in the cream. When your pot of water is boiling, drop the heat to low. Set the bowl on top of the pot of water. Toss in the butter. The chocolate should start to melt almost immediately. Whisk to combine. Keep whisking until all the chocolate is melted and you have a uniform mixture. Set the chocolate frosting aside to cool. As it cools, it will thicken up. If you put it in the fridge, keep a close eye on it. It can go from nice and thick to solid fudge in no time flat.

Assemble the Dessert

Do not do this until all of your components are completely cool. If you try to put it together when any piece is warm, you will wind up with a slippery, drippy mess.

Start by trimming your cakes. Carefully set them one on top of the other. With a serrated bread knife, cut the edges off. Go slowly and press down on the top of the cake with one hand to keep it from ripping. Should you have an accident with one of the cakes, like this, do not fret. Just use that cake as the bottom layer. The custard filling will help glue the whole thing together once it gets cold in the fridge.

Set one cake on your serving platter, bottom side facing up. Do this so that your custard goes on a flat—not slightly domed—surface. Grab the custard filling from the fridge. It should be nice and thick. Spoon it out onto the cake. Reserve a few spoonfuls of custard for later, to help stick the almonds to the side of the cake. Spread the custard to the edges with a rubber spatula. Put the second cake right on top. Grab your chocolate frosting. Spoon it out onto the top of the cake. Spread it around until the top of the cake is covered. Pop two toothpicks into the cake to hold the layers together for now, until it’s completely chilled. With your finger, brush the leftover custard onto the edges of the cake, so it’s covered in a thin layer.


According to this recipe, the Boston Cream Pie is best served on the day that it is put together. The dessert has three parts – the cake, the custard filling and the chocolate frosting. Following the preparation of all three parts, they need to be completely cooled before the dessert is assembled.


“Disturbing Deaths”



Ever since I watched (3.01) “The Heart of the Truest Believer”, the Season Three premiere for ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME”, I have been experiencing troubling thoughts about the series’ writing. And those troubling thoughts centered around the deaths of two recurring characters. 

Anyone who had watched both the Season Three premiere and the Season Two finale, (2.22) “And Straight On ‘Til Morning” would know to what I am referring. The latter episode saw two recurring characters, Greg Mendell and Tamara, attempt to destroy Storybrooke in an effort to rid the world of any magic. Before Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen and Emma Swan could foil their plans, they kidnapped the pair’s son, Henry Mills, and took him to Neverland using a magic bean. Apparently, the leader of their anti-magic organization called “the Home Office”, had ordered them to take Henry to Neverland, claiming that his presence was more important than destroying magic.

Upon their arrival in Neverland, Greg and Tamara discovered that “the Home Office” had never existed. They had been tricked by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys to bring Henry to Neverland, because Peter wanted the boy he believed possessed the heart of the truest believer. Realizing that the Lost Boys wanted Henry, Tamara ordered him to run. Meanwhile, an entity called “The Shadow” ripped Greg’s shadow from his body. One of the Lost Boys shot Tamara with an arrow, badly wounding her. While all of this occurred, the Charmings, Regina, Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold and Captain Killian Hook arrived in Neverland via the latter’s ship, the Jolly Roger. Rumpelstiltskin left his companions behind and appeared on the island. He eventually found the wounded Tamara, ripped her heart and crushed it, killing her in the process. All of this happened before the end of the episode’s first half.

My reaction to Tamara and Greg’s fates really took me by surprise. I realized that the pair were merely recurring characters. But I never thought that the series’ creators, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, would get rid of them so soon. I, along with other regular viewers of “ONCE UPON A TIME”, knew that Sonequa Martin-Green, the actress who had portrayed Tamara, was scheduled to resume her role on AMC’s “THE WALKING DEAD”, which had been upgraded from recurring to regular, during this new television season. But I had no idea that Horowitz would get rid of her character so soon. Too soon, in my opinion. If Horowitz and Kitsis realized they would not be able to employ Martin-Green for more than one episode, they could have recast the Tamara character with a new actress. Would it have really killed them?

Why do I have such a problem with Tamara and Greg’s fates? It happened . . . too soon. And too fast. The writers of “And Straight On ‘Til Morning” gave Greg and Tamara’s kidnapping of Henry and journey to Neverland such a big buildup. To have them killed off – or in Greg’s case – shadow ripped from his body in such a quick fashion left a bitter taste in my mouth. Unlike many fans, I never disliked the pair. But I have to admit that Horowitz and Kitsis really mishandled their characters. Their handling of Tamara proved to be even worse than their handling of Greg. Do the two creators plan to reveal how Peter Pan and the Lost Boys created an anti-magic organization in the first place? I hope so. After all, Greg was first contacted by “the Home Office” thirty years ago, after losing his father to Regina and Graham in Storybrooke. And what about Tamara? What led her to embrace this anti-magic agenda? When was she first contacted by “the Home Office”? Since Rumpelstiltskin had murdered her halfway through the episode, I now realize that viewers will never know the truth.

If I have to be honest, Tamara’s death bothered me a lot more than Greg’s. Greg merely had his shadow ripped from his body. Audiences do not really know whether he is still alive or not. Horowitz and Kitsis made it very clear that Tamara was killed. Now, this might have to do with the fact that Martin-Green was scheduled to appear on “THE WALKING DEAD”set. But as I had stated earlier, they could have simply hired another actress to replace her. And there are other aspects of Tamara’s death that bother me. She was killed off before any attempt could be made to reveal her background. Audiences know how she became acquainted with both August W. Booth aka Pinocchio and Neal Cassidy aka Baelfire. Otherwise, we know nothing about her past. The writers did not even bothered to give her a surname. And judging from the comments I have read on the series’ messageboards and forums, along with television critics from the WALL STREET JOURNAL blog, the HUFFINGTON POST blog and DEN OF GEEK; no one really cared that Tamara’s background and her surname were never revealed. Instead, they crowed with glee that the pair was quickly killed off. They especially crowed over the manner of Tamara’s death – either deliberately dismissing her remorse with sarcasm or ignoring it altogether. Their attitudes did not merely bothered me, it angered me beyond belief.

I am coming to believe that Tamara’s death merely confirmed what many critics have been complaining about “ONCE UPON A TIME” – their shabby handling of characters portrayed by non-white characters. Tamara was a prime example. Between her and Greg, the latter was given a background story, a surname and a questionable “death”. Nor did the fans and critics regard him with the same vitriolic hatred leveled at Tamara. Horowitz and Kitsis could have developed Tamara’s character in Season Three by recasting a new actress for the role. They did not bother.

But Tamara was not the only example of the series’ poor handling of non-white characters. I still cannot help but shake my head in disbelief over that fight scene between Snow White and Mulan in Season Two’s (2.08) “Into the Deep” in which the less experienced princess quickly defeated the more experienced and non-white warrior. Mulan, who was portrayed as a young woman from a well-to-do Chinese family in the 1998 animated film, was portrayed as illiterate in another Season Two episode, (2.11) “The Outsider”. Her illiteracy prevented her from being able to read Chinese characters. Yet, the very white Belle, was able to reach Chinese characters after reading a book. I just . . . I just could not believe this. Poor Lancelot, who was portrayed by African-American actor Sinqua Walls, was killed off in the Season Two episode, (2.03) “Lady of the Lake”, his only appearance on the show. In fact, his character was already dead and being impersonated by Cora Mills aka Queen of Hearts. And Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, who was portrayed by an African-American actress, was killed by Rumpelstiltskin during the first three-to-five minutes of the Season One episode, (1.04) “The Price of Gold”. Only Sidney Glass aka the Genie-in-the-Lamp and Regina, who are portrayed by Giancarlo Espocito and Lana Parrilla respectively, avoided such poor handling. Well . . . somewhat. Espocito could not reprise his role in Season Two, due to his obligations as a regular cast member of NBC’s “REVOLUTION”. However, he could have been replaced by another actor. It would take another essay to write about the handling of the Regina Mills character, especially in the last five to six episodes of Season Two. But I found it annoying that she was the only major character described as “the Villain” by ABC’s promotion for Season Three, when there was a bigger villain worthy of the title – Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin.

I am amazed. I had started this article with the intent to complain about the series’ handling of both Greg and Tamara in“The Heart of the Truest Believer”. I am still upset over their fates and the piss poor reactions by the fans and critics. But I now realize that what pissed me even more was that the show’s handling of Tamara merely confirmed my worst instincts about “ONCE UPON A TIME” and the creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis – their inability to write or maintain decent characterizations for those roles portrayed by minority actors and actresses. But I should not be surprised. Despite the Hollywood community’s pretense at being liberals, in the end it is just as narrow-minded and conservative as the worst bigot or pop culture geek.

“GODS AND GENERALS” (2003) Review



“GODS AND GENERALS” (2003) Review

In 1993, producer Ted Turner and director Ronald Maxwell released “GETTYSBURG”, a film adaptation of Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel, “The Killer Angels”. Shaara’s son, Jeffrey, wrote a prequel to his novel called “Gods and Generals” in 1996. Both Turner and Maxwell teamed up again 2002-2003 to make a film adaptation of the latter novel.

Set between April 1861 and May 1863, “GODS AND GENERALS” related the American Civil War events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg. Although the movie began with Virginia-born Robert E. Lee’s resignation from the U.S. Army, following his home state’s secession from the Union; the meat of the film focused on on the personal and professional life of Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson during those two years. It also touched on how Bowdoin College professor Joshua L. Chamberlain became second-in-command of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, his military training and his experiences during the Battle of Fredricksburg. But trust me . . . most of the movie is about Jackson. It covered his departure from the Virginia Military Institute; his experiences with the famous “Stonewall Brigade”; his experiences at the Battle of Bull Run; his relationships with both his wife Mary Anna, his servant Jim Lewis and a five year-old girl from an old Virginia family; and his experiences at the Battle Chancelorville.

“GODS AND GENERALS” had its virtues. One of them turned out to be Michael Z. Hanan’s production designs. Hanan and his team did a superb job in re-creating Virginia of the early 1860s. I was especially impressed by their recreation of mid-19th century Fredricksburg during that famous battle in December 1862. I wonder who had the bright idea of using Harper’s Ferry, West Virgina for that particular setting. Hanan’s work was ably supported by Kees Van Oostrum’s photography and Gregory Bolton’s art direction. Oostrum’s photography and Corky Ehlers’ editing was also put to good use during the Fredricksburg battle sequence. And I really enjoyed the costumes designed by Richard La Motte, Maurice Whitlock and Gamila Smith. All three did their homework in re-creating the fashions and uniforms of the period. Unlike“GETTYSBURG”“GODS AND GENERALS” featured major female characters. I suspect this gave the trio the opportunity to indulge their romantic streak with crinolines and hoop skirts galore.

There were some admirable performances in “GODS AND GENERALS”. Frankie Faison gave a warm performance as Thomas Jackson’s free cook, Jim Lewis. I was also impressed by Brian Mallon’s subtle portrayal of the concerned Major General Winfield Hancock, a role he had first portrayed in the 1993 film. It is a pity that Bruce Boxleitner did not receive more screen time for his role as Lieutenant General James Longstreet. He had taken over the role from Tom Berenger and gave a pretty solid performance. But alas, he did not receive enough time to do anything with the role. Alex Hyde-White gave an interesting portrayal of Major General Ambrose Burnside, whose decisions led the Union Army to disaster at Fredricksburg. Matt Letscher, whom I last remembered from 1998’s “THE MASK OF ZORRO” was very memorable as the 20th Maine’s founder and first regimental commander, Colonel Adelbert Ames. I could also say the same for Mira Sorvino’s portrayal of Frances “Fanny” Chamberlain, Colonel Chamberlain’s passionate and pessimistic wife. In fact, I believe she had the good luck to portray the most interesting female character in the movie.

So . . . what about the other performances? What about the stars Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels and Robert Duvall? I am not claiming that they gave bad performances. Honestly, they did the best they could. Unfortunately, all three and most of the other cast members had the bad luck to be saddled with very uninteresting characters, stuck with either bad dialogue or self-righteous speeches. In other words, I found them BORING!!! I am sorry, but I truly did.

First of all, Lang’s Thomas Jackson dominated the film just a little too much. Why bother calling this movie “GODS AND GENERALS”? Why not call it “THE LIFE AND TIMES OF STONEWALL JACKSON”? Even worse, Jackson is portrayed in such an unrelenting positive light that by the time the movie came around to his fate after the Battle of Chancelorville, I practically sighed with relief. Jeff Daniels’ Joshua Chamberlain did nothing to rouse my interest in his story. In fact, he disappeared for a long period of time before he made his reappearance during the Battle of Fredricksburg sequence. And his appearance in that particular sequence was completely marred by him and other members of the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment quoting William Shakespeare’s “JULIUS CAESAR”, while marching toward Marye’s Heights. Oh God, I hate that scene so much! As for Robert Duvall’s Robert Lee . . . what a waste of his time. Ronald Maxwell’s script did not allow the actor any opportunity to explore Lee’s character during those two years leading to Gettysburg. I realize this is not Duvall’s fault, but I found myself longing for Martin Sheen’s portrayal of the Confederate general in “GETTYSBURG”.

There is so much about this movie that I dislike. One, Maxwell’s portrayal of the movie’s two main African-American characters – Jim Lewis and a Fredricksburg slave named Martha, as portrayed by actress/historian Donzaleigh Abernathy – struck me as completely lightweight. Now, I realized that there were black slaves and paid employees who managed to maintain a friendly or close relationship with their owner or employer. But in “GODS AND GENERALS”, Lewis seemed quite friendly with his employer Jackson and Martha seemed obviously close to the family that owned her, the Beales. I could have tolerated if Lewis or Martha had been friendly toward those for whom they worked. But both of them? I get the feeling that Maxwell was determined to avoid any of the racial and class tensions between the slave/owner relationship . . . or in Lewis’ case, the employee/employer relationship. How cowardly.

In fact, this lack of tension seemed to permeate all of the relationships featured in “GODS AND GENERALS”. Aside from one Union commander who berated his men for looting in Fredricksburg, I can barely recall any scenes featuring some form of anger or tension between the major characters. Everyone either seemed to be on his or her best behavior. And could someone please explain why every other sentence that came out of the mouths of most characters seemed to be a damn speech? I realize that Maxwell was trying to re-create the semi-formality of 19th century American dialogue. Well . . . he failed. Miserably. The overindulgence of speeches reminded me of the dialogue from the second NORTH AND SOUTHminiseries, 1986’s “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. But the biggest problem of “GODS AND GENERALS” is that it lacked a central theme. The majority of the movie seemed to be about the Civil War history of Thomas Jackson. But the title and Shaara’s novel told a different story. However, I do not believe a detailed adaptation of the novel would have done the trick. Like the movie, it lacked a central theme or topic.

Perhaps I am being too arrogant in believing I know what would have made the story worked. After all, it is not my story. Jeff Shaara was entitled to write it the way he wanted. And Ronald Maxwell was entitled to adapt Shaara’s story the way he wanted. But I do know that if I had written “GODS AND GENERALS”, it would have been about the Battle of Fredricksburg. It turned out to be the only part of the movie that I found interesting.