“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode Six “1860-1861” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE SIX “1860-1861” Commentary

We finally come to the last episode of the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I”. And it is a doozy. This is the episode in which the Hazard and Main families unknowingly say good-bye to the past and present before their lives are turned upside-down by the American Civil War.

Episode Six opens on Presidential Election Day (November 6, 1860), two days after Lieutenant Billy Hazard’s arrival in Charleston, South Carolina; at the end of Episode Five. An excited Brett Main, who had been staying at her sister’s home since her quarrel with their brother Orry at the family’s plantation, Mont Royal anticipates meeting Billy. Brett’s elation over her reunion with her fiancé during a luncheon is dimmed by his anger over Orry’s reluctance to approve their marriage, and a violent encounter with a group of pro-secession thugs hired by Ashton to kill Billy. Following Abraham Lincoln’s election as the new president, the state of South Carolina begin its preparations to secede from the United States. Before secession can be achieved, George Hazard visits Orry at Mont Royal to mend their estrangement and convince the other man to approve Billy and Brett’s upcoming marriage. The two men go to Charleston to inform the engaged couple. Unfortunately, Billy receives orders to report to Fort Moultrie, which turns out to be a protracted stay following South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Following Texas’ secession a month later, Charles Main resigns from the U.S. Army and heads back home to South Carolina.

Less than two months later, Billy receives orders from his commander, Major Robert Anderson to report to the War Department in Washington D.C. and deliver dispatches. He uses the opportunity to marry Brett at Mont Royal. The wedding finally allows Ashton to plot her revenge against Billy, using Forbes LaMotte’s help. Fortunately for Billy, Madeline LaMotte overhears Forbes, his Uncle Justin and friend Preston Smith going over Ashton’s plot. With great difficulty and pain from Justin, Madeline escapes from Resolute and heads for Mont Royal to warn the Mains. Billy and Brett are ambushed by Forbes and Preston on their way to the rail stop. Just as Billy and Forbes engage in a duel that would have left the former with a useless pistol, Charles arrives in time to assist his friend. The conflict ends with Forbes’ death at Billy’s hand, Justin bereft of his nephew and wife, and Ashton banished from Mont Royal by Orry. In April 1861, Orry mortgages Mont Royal to return money that George had invested in their sawmill. During his journey north, Major Anderson had been forced to surrender his command at Fort Sumter. With small difficulty, Orry arrives at Lehigh Station, where he meets George and Constance’s new daughter. Also, a vengeful Virgilia incites a mob to attack the Hazard home and lynch Orry. Fortunately, George manages to intimidate his neighbors into calling off the attack. Virgilia leaves Belvedere for the last time with some loot in hand. And George and Orry bid each good-bye before the latter departs Lehigh Station for his journey back to South Carolina.

I must say that “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” certainly ended with a bang. And a very satisfied one. There were some problems. I found Terri Garber’s performance in a scene that featured Ashton’s rant against Brett and Billy rather hammy. She gave a great performance throughout most of the miniseries. But this one scene was probably her weakest moment. I was very curious over Elkhannah Bent’s appearance in Washington D.C. on the day of President Lincoln’s inauguration. He was still wearing a U.S. Army uniform, despite the fact that his home state of Georgia had already seceded two months earlier. In fact, I found it surprising that Charles Main did not resign from the Army, until two months after South Carolina’s secession. The miniseries continued its irritating habit of expressing an erroneous length of time for the period Madeline La Motte was being drugged by her husband. But the episode’s real problem proved to be the character of Forbes LaMotte, nephew of Justin LaMotte.

I had no problems with actor William Ostrander’s portrayal of Forbes. He gave a subtle and skillful performance. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Forbes, Justin and Preston discussed Ashton’s plan to have Billy murdered. David Carradine was fine, despite a few hammy moments. On the other hand, David Weaver’s portrayal of Preston Smith struck me as rather stagey . . . over-the-top. Only Ostrander managed to project any villainy with real subtlety. While watching Episode Six, I found myself wondering why Forbes had even bothered to help Ashton kill Billy. Why? I understood why in Jakes’ novel. The literary Forbes was in love with Brett. He did not take her rejection of him no better than Ashton took Billy’s rejection. I never got the impression that Forbes was in love with either Brett or Ashton in the miniseries. Forbes seemed to regard Brett’s rejection as a minor annoyance. And his feelings toward Ashton seemed to be based on pure lust and amusement. So why did he agree to murder Billy on Ashton’s behalf? The screenwriters’ portrayal of Forbes is probably one of the miniseries’ major failures.

However, I still regard Episode Six as one of the miniseries’ better chapters. Once again, Richard T. Heffron proved his talent for directing crowd scenes. I was especially how he handled the growing frenzy and chaos of “secession fever” that permeated Charleston in two scenes – namely Billy and Brett’s encounter with street thugs and the night Charleston announced South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Ironically, the latter sequence began in Ashton’s dining room, where Brett, Orry and George heard the bells of St. Michael’s Church announced the secession. This latter sequence not only benefited from Heffron’s depiction of the celebration in the streets, but also the Mains and George’s somber reaction to the news. Other first-rate crowd scenes were in the sequence featuring Orry’s northbound journey to Lehigh Station. They include the announcement of Major Anderson’s surrender of Fort Sumter on a train headed for Philadelphia, Orry’s encounter with fervent Unionists in that city, and his and George’s encounter with a lynch mob instigated by Virgilia. The miniseries also featured one exceptional action sequence – namely Ashton and Forbes’ attempt to murder Billy. From the moment Ashton learned of Billy and Brett’s departure from Mont Royal to Forbes’ death at the hands of Billy, this sequence crackled with energy, excellent pacing and suspension; thanks to Heffron’s direction and a well-written score by Bill Conti. The episode also benefited from Stevan Larner’s sweeping photography, especially in the secession sequences and the one featuring the murder attempt on Billy. In fact Larner earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination for his work in this episode. Vicki Sánchez offered some lovely costume designs for this episode. I was veryenamored of two particular designs worn by Terri Garber and Wendy Kilbourne:

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But this day dress worn by Genie Francis really appealed to me:

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Like the miniseries’ other episodes, the dramatic scenes for Episode Six proved to be its pride and joy. Both James Read and Patrick Swayze provided some of their best moments in two scenes – one that featured George Hazard’s visit to South Carolina in the episode’s first half, and the other that featured Orry Main’s perilous journey to Pennsylvania. John Stockwell had his best moment as Billy Hazard in a scene that featured Billy’s anger over Orry’s refusal to approve Brett’s marriage to him. He had ample support from Genie Francis. I also enjoyed Jonathan Frakes and Wendy Fulton’s performances in a scene in which Stanley and Isabel Hazard discussed their plans to take over Hazard Iron during George’s absence during the war. It is a pity that Fulton did not reprise her role as Isobel. Both Mary Crosby and Deborah Rush gave solid performances, but Fulton seemed to personify the literary character. Hal Holbrook made his first appearance as President Abraham Lincoln in a fine and subtle performance – a skill that he will maintain in“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. However, the best dramatic scene featured Constance Hazard’s attempt to convince her sister-in-law Virgilia to stay with the family in Lehigh Station, following the debacle with the lynch mob. Both Wendy Kilbourne and Kirstie Alley performed the hell out of that scene.

Despite certain flaws I had detected in Episode Six, I must admit that I really enjoyed it. The episode not only featured some exciting historical moments and a first-rate action sequences, but also some excellent dramatic scenes that brought out the best in producer David L. Wolper, director Richard T. Heffron and the cast. Episode Six proved to be the first example of how all three miniseries seemed to end on a positive note, production wise. “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” might be flawed, it is still a joy to watch and one of my favorite miniseries of all time.

“THE MOVING FINGER” (1985) Review

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“THE MOVING FINGER” (1985) Review

I might as well put my cards on the table. I am not a fan of Agatha Christie’s 1942 novel, “The Moving Finger”. I do not regard it as one of the author’s more remarkable works. In fact, I have difficulty in viewing it as mediocre. When I first learned about the 1985 adaptation of the film, I did not bother to get my hands on a video or DVD copy.

In the end, I found myself viewing the 1985 television movie, due to it being part of a box set of Jane Marple movies. Before I express my opinion of it, I might as well reveal its plot. “THE MOVING FINGER” is basically a murder mystery set in a small English town. A brother and sister from London named Gerry and Joanna Burton purchase a house in the small, quiet town of Lymstock; in order for Jerry to fully recover from injuries received in a plane crash. After settling in and meeting their neighbors, the two siblings become the latest victims of a series of anonymous poison pen letters. Unbeknownst to the Bartons and other citizens of Lymstock, the vicar’s wife, Mrs. Maude Calthrop, summons her old friend, Miss Jane Marple, to help the police find the letters’ writer. However, not long after Miss Marple’s arrival at Lymstock, the poison pen letters take a murderous twist. Mrs. Angela Symmington, the wife of local solicitor Edward Symmington, is found dead after receiving a letter. The coroner rules her death as suicidal. Only Miss Marple believes Mrs. Symmington had been murdered. And it took a second death – the obvious murder of the Symmingtons’ maid – for the officials to realize she had been right about the first murder.

One of the aspects about Christie’s 1942 novel that I found so unremarkable was the actual murder that took place. It had been very easy for me to figure out the murderer’s identity, while reading the novel. In fact, I managed to do so before I was halfway finished with the novel. I wish I could say that Julia Jones’ adaptation made it a little more difficult for anyone to guess the murderer’s identity before the movie’s final denouement. But I cannot. Jones and director Roy Boulter made it easy for anyone to identify the killer, thanks to some very awkward camera directions. To make matters worse, both Jones and Boulter made the mistake of closely adapting Christie’s novel. Which meant both followed the novel’s narrative in which one of the characters openly approached the killer before Jane Marple could expose the latter’s identity to the police. Actually, Miss Marple used one of the characters to entrap the killer. And I hate it when this form of narrative is used in a murder mystery in which the audience is supposed to be unaware of the killer’s identity.

Another complaint I have regarding “THE MOVING FINGER” has to do with the romance between the dashing former pilot Gerry Burton and the victim’s oldest child, twenty year-old Megan Hunter. Actually, I have mixed feeling about the portrayal of this particular romance. On one hand, I liked the fact that Megan occasionally challenged Jerry’s patronizing attitude toward her. And the two actors portraying Jerry and Megan actually clicked on screen. On the other hand, I DID find his attitude patronizing. The Jerry-Megan romance almost seemed like a second-rate version of the Henry Higgins-Eliza Doolittle pairing in “PYGMALION”/“MY FAIR LADY” tale. Matters were made worse when Jerry dragged Megan to London for a day of shopping, dining and dancing. I realize that Christie and later, Jones were trying to make this sequence romantic. I found it tedious, patronizing and an unoriginal take on both “MY FAIR LADY” and “Cinderella”.

Thankfully, there was another major romance featured in “THE MOVING FINGER” that struck me as a lot more mature and satisfying. I am referring to the romance between Jerry’s sister, Joanna Burton and the local doctor, Welsh-born Dr. Owen Griffith. Unlike the Jerry-Megan romance, I did not have to deal with some immature take on “PYGMALION”. The worst Joanna and Owen had to deal with was the latter’s sister Eryl, who not only seemed slightly disapproving of Joanna, but who was also infatuated with widow of the murdered woman, Edward Symmington. In fact, the romances featured in this story seemed to offer an hint on what made “THE MOVING FINGER” enjoyable for me – the portrayal of village life in Lymstock. The movie also featured interesting characters that included the solicitor Edward Symmington and his high-maintenance wife Angela, their attractive nanny Elsie Holland, local gossip and art collector Mr. Pye, and the Reverend Guy Calthrop and his wife Maud – both friends of Miss Marple. Forget the murder mystery and enjoy the story’s strong characterizations and romances. It made “THE MOVING FINGER” a lot more bearable for me.

Paul Allen’s production designs struck me as solid. I thought he and his team did a pretty good job in re-creating an English village in the early-to-mid 1950s. I found Ian Hilton’s photography very attractive and colorful . . . even after 29 years. Christian Dyall created some very attractive costumes for the cast – especially for Sabina Franklyn, who portrayed the sophisticated Joanna Barton. If I have one complaint, it is the hairstyle worn by
Deborah Appleby, who portrayed Megan Hunter. Quite frankly, I found her mid-1980s hairstyle in the middle of a production set in the 1950s rather startling. And I am not being complimentary.

“THE MOVING FINGER” featured some excellent performances from the cast. Joan Hickson gave her usual above-average performance as the modest elderly sleuth, Jane Marple. However, due to the amount of romance and village intrigue, her appearance seemed a bit toned down. Michael Culver gave an excellent performance as the grieving widower, Edward Symmington. I found his performance very realistic and complex. Sandra Payne was another who gave a first-rate performance as the equally complex Eryl Griffith. Sabina Franklyn gave a very attractive performance as the sophisticated Joanna Barton. Not only did she click well with Martin Fisk, who portrayed the mature and subtle Dr. Griffith, but also with Andrew Bicknell, who gave a very charismatic portrayal of the attractive Jerry Burton. Bicknell also created a very nice screen chemistry with Deborah Appleby, who portrayed the gawkish Megan Hunter. I wish I could be just as complimentary about Appleby’s performance. There were times when her performance seemed solid. Unfortunately, there were times when she came off as wooden. And Richard Pearson was a delight as the gossiping Mr. Pye.

I could have easily dismissed “THE MOVING FINGER” as a loss. Thanks to Christie’s original novel, it does not possess a scintillating murder mystery. In fact, I was able to solve the mystery halfway into the story, when I first read the book. In the end, the story’s excellent portrayal of village life in the early 1950s and a pair of entertaining romances made “THE MOVING FINGER”enjoyable to watch in the end. The movie also benefited from some excellent performances from a cast led by Joan Hickson.

“BECKY SHARP” (1935)

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“BECKY SHARP” (1935) Review

Being something of a film history buff, I have been aware of the 1935 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-48 novel, “Vanity Fair” for a number of years. But I have never been inclined to watch the film, until recently.

I cannot say what led to my recent interest in “BECKY SHARP”. But it was a book on David O. Selznick that made me first aware of the 1935 film. John Hay “Jock” Whitney and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney had founded Pioneer Pictures in 1933 as a means to produce color movies. “Jock” Whitney was close friends with Selznick. He even co-financed Selznick’s production company, Selznick International, in 1935. Between the creations of Pioneer Pictures and Selznick International, the former released the first feature-length film to use the three-strip Technicolor process. “BECKY SHARP” is the sixth of eleven film and/or television adaptations of the Thackeray’s novel. It is the first in color.

“BECKY SHARP” took its title from the novel’s main character, a poor, but educated young English lady who struggles rise in the ranks of Britain’s social classes during the early years of the 19th century. Becky Sharp is the orphaned daughter of an English painter and French dancer, who graduates from Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies with a friend named Amelia Sedley. Since Amelia is the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Becky manipulates her way into her friend’s household, where she meets Amelia’s portly and jovial brother, Joseph “Jos” Sedley. Before Becky can sink her hooks into Jos, the Sedley patriarch put an end to the budding “romance” by sending Jos away to India. Meanwhile, Becky finds employment as a governess at the estate of Sir Pitt Crawley. She eventually wins the heart and hand of Crawley’s playboy son Rawdon, an officer in the British army. When news of Napoleon Bonaparte‘s escape from Elba reach Britain, Becky is reunited with Amelia, who has now married her childhood sweetheart George Osborne. The two women’s husbands and William Dobbin are deployed to Belgium to face Napoleon’s Army. But the last stages of the Napoleonic Wars proved to be the first of many crisis thrown Becky’s way.

Judging from the movie’s title, it is clear to me that screenwriter Francis Edward Faragoh had deleted a great deal of Thackeray’s novel in order to write a screenplay with a running time of eighty-four minutes. I found it odd that a film adaptation of such a famous epic novel would have such a short running time. Other epics and movie adaptations of literary works had running times that sometimes went past two hours – including “A TALE OF TWO CITIES”, “MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY”,“THE CRUSADES”, and “CAPTAIN BLOOD”. I can only assume that a minor and newly formed production company like Pioneer Pictures could not afford to produce the first Technicolor feature film with a running time close to or over two hours. If that was the case . . . if the Whitneys were that determined to produce the first full-featured movie in color . . . they could have chosen something that was not an adaptation of a famous epic novel. I find it ironic that Mina Nair’s 2004 adaptation of Thackeray’s novel had received a great deal of criticism for not being truly faithful to its source. I have encountered less criticism of “BECKY SHARP” than I did for the 2004 film. Yet, the latter is more faithful than the former. One of my problems with “BECKY SHARP” is that I thought the producers, director Rouben Mamoulian and screenwriter Francis Edward Faragoh did a piss poor job of adapting Thackery’s novel to the screen. I just learned that the 1935 movie is actually an adaptation of Langdon Elwyn Mitchell’s 1899 play, which was an adaptation of the 1847-48 novel. I hate to say this, but the movie’s running time of eighty-four (84) minutes did not serve the story.

There is so much in “BECKY SHARP” that was left out. Most of the narrative that focused upon Amelia was deleted, especially her fractious relationship with her father-in-law, Mr. Osborne. In fact, George’s father never made an appearance in this film. I suspect the same could be said about Mitchell’s play. The only time the movie focused upon Amelia’s character arc was when Becky was personally involved . . . namely George’s infatuation with Becky before the Waterloo battle and Becky forcing Amelia to face the truth about George in the movie’s last fifteen to twenty minutes. It is not surprising that the movie’s title was based upon the main character’s name. Not only was much of Amelia’s personal story deleted, the movie also rushed through Becky’s stay with the Sedley and Crawley families. It seemed as if Mamoulian and Faragoh could not wait to focus on the impact of Waterloo and the marriage between Becky and Rawdon. Between the handling of Amelia’s character arc and the rushed narrative in the movie’s first half, it is no wonder that I found “BECKY SHARP” particularly unsatisfying.

I found other aspects of “BECKY SHARP” unsatisfying. The sound and visual quality of the movie’s DVD version low in quality. The photography and color struck me as faded. And the sound is scratchy. For once, I am not blaming the movie’s filmmakers. Whoever had possession of “BECKY SHARP” after Pioneer Pictures had failed to maintain its original quality. But I can blame the filmmakers on other aspects of the movie. In it, the Jos Sedley character returned to Europe with a little Indian boy in tow as his personal servant. Only the “Indian servant” was portrayed by a young African-American actor named Jimmy Robinson. To this day, I am still trying to figure out how the producers and director Rouben Mamoulian saw nothing wrong in an African-American kid portraying an Indian kid. Hollywood’s casting for non-white characters seemed really skewed in this film. And then . . . there was the acting.

I am surprised that “BECKY SHARP” led to a Best Actress Oscar nomination for actress Miriam Hopkins. Granted, she handled the character’s questionable morality, desperation and charm very well. Yet, Hopkins engaged in so much hammy acting that I found myself wondering why of all her performances, she ended up earning a nomination for this particular one. I wish I could say that the rest of the cast gave better performances . . . but I cannot. Other cast members gave equally hammy performances. Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray, Alison Skipworth, G.P. Huntley and many others were equally hammy. I could not accuse Colin Tapley of hamminess on the same scale. But I found his portrayal of William Dobbin rather dramatic. And I am not being complimentary. The only cast members who actually impressed me were Frances Dee and Cedrick Hardwicke. Dee gave a surprisingly subtle and convincing performance as the sweet and passive Amelia Sedley. Thanks to Dee’s performances, audiences saw both the positive and negative aspects of Amelia’s passiveness. Hardwicke was equally subtle as Becky’s aristocratic “benefactor”, the Marquis of Steyne. Even though Steyne is an unlikable character, Hardwicke was no mustache-twirling villain.

The only reason I would recommend “BECKY SHARP” to anyone is for historical purposes. Because this is the first feature-length motion picture in color, I would recommend this movie to any film buff. Otherwise, I would stay clear of “BECKY SHARP”and consider other adaptations of William Makepeace Thackery’s novel.

“A Convenient Proposal” [PG-13] 2/5

A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL”

PART 2 – Revelations

Evelyn leaned against the door, closed her eyes and sighed. Her body trembled from the furious outburst she had unleashed upon Rafe. Thoughts of the Army pilot produced another swell of anger. How could he possibly think she would accept such a proposal? Or think she would marry him out of convenience?

Well, you were prepared to do the same with Danny, weren’t you? Evelyn immediately balked at her inner voice. She tried to convince herself that Danny was another matter. Or that Danny would have never proposed to her out of mere convenience. You would have accepted his proposal for that very same reason. Who are you to castigate Rafe? Evelyn ruthlessly squelched her last thoughts and started for her bedroom. She was in no mood to feel guilty over her temper outburst at Rafe. Not when she had other guilty feelings to deal with.

A voice from the kitchen cried out, “Evelyn? Is that you?” Martha. She and the other nurses must have returned from the base at Pearl. “Hey, Evelyn!”

Evelyn turned toward the kitchen, where she found her three roommates and a fourth nurse, sitting around the table eating sandwiches. “Hi,” she greeted the quartet. “I thought you guys would still be at the hospital. Especially with so many wounded still coming in from Midway.”

Over two weeks had passed since the June 4th battle between the U.S. and Japanese naval forces near Midway Island. While the country celebrated its first major victory against Japan, many American military hospitals, including the one at Pearl, had to deal with the sudden influx of wounded sailors and pilots.

The blond and sharp-tongued Barbara stifled a yawn, as she reached for a pot of coffee. “You’ve been gone too long. Our shift had ended over a half-hour ago, thank goodness. It seemed as if we’ve been living at that damn hospital for nearly two weeks, now.”

“How is Rafe?” Sandra asked. The pretty, red-haired nurse removed her glasses. “Did his plane arrive on time?”

The mention of Rafe’s name brought upon an unexpected wave of anger and sadness within Evelyn. She immediately squashed it and eased her bulky form into an empty chair. “Yeah, Rafe arrived. And right on time.” Her reply drew stares from the other nurses. Evelyn realized that she must have sounded curt.

The oldest of the Navy nurses who shared Evelyn’s bungalow reached over the latter’s shoulder for a sandwich. Like Barbara, Martha was a working-class young woman from the East Coast who had developed a sharp tongue after years of dealing with life’s disappointments. However, unlike Barbara, she had dark hair, a pleasant face and weighed several extra pounds.

“Hey kiddo,” Martha began. “Is there something wrong? For a moment there, I thought you were gonna bite off Sandra’s head.” She gave Evelyn a shrewd look. “Something happened between you and Rafe?”

Evelyn blinked. Good old Martha. Never one to pull a punch. “No,” replied curtly. “Everything’s fine.” Evelyn bit her tongue the moment she spoke. Again, she had responded a lot more sharply than she had intended. For once she wished she would think before opening her mouth.

“Everything’s fine, huh?” One of Martha’s dark brows cocked upward. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were pissed at him.” Her use of profanity drew gasps from Sandra and fourth nurse, whose name escaped had escaped Evelyn’s memory. “For crying out loud, you two! Grow up!”

Barbara added, “She’s right. It’s 1942 and there’s a war going on. Besides, you’ve heard worse in the hospital. Geez!”

Grateful for the distraction, Evelyn smiled and reached for the coffee pot. The fourth nurse, whose name Evelyn now remembered as Clarice, reached it first and filled an empty cup with coffee. She handed the cup to Evelyn, who thanked her.

“Pardon me,” Sandra retorted in her usual supercilious manner, “but not all of us are that worldly. My mother had raised me to be a lady. So, if you don’t mind . . .”

The exhaustion on Barbara’s face immediately vanished. She now looked as if she was ready to establish her own battleground. “A lady?” She snorted with derision. “Get her! I suppose you’re trying to say that the rest of us ‘worldly minions’ aren’t ladies?”

Sandra’s eyes blazed with anger. “You’re twisting my words! All I’m trying to say is . . .”

“Hey!” Martha’s outburst interrupted the verbal battle. “You two can go at each other’s throats another time. Right now, I’m more interested in Evelyn!” She faced the pregnant woman. “Well? Did Rafe say something to upset you?”

With four pairs of eyes riveted upon her, Evelyn realized she could no longer dodge the issue. Damn! If only Barbara and Sandra’s fight had lasted a little longer. Might as well tell the truth. Or the girls will hound her until she does.

Evelyn cleared her throat. “If you must know,” she began in a shaky voice, “Rafe had asked me to marry him.”

* * * *

The moment Evelyn slammed the door in his face, Rafe found himself frozen on the spot. Her actions had taken him by surprise. He had been certain that she would accept his marriage proposal.

Once the shock wore off, he felt an urge to bang on the door. Demand why she had rejected him. Yet, a mixture of uncertainty and fear prevented him. Nor did Rafe want to attract any unwanted attention, in case Evelyn’s other roommates happened to be inside the house. He leaned his forehead against the door, hoping that somehow, she would read his thoughts. When that hope vanished, Rafe heaved a deep sigh and returned to the Buick.

He drove all the way back to Hickam Field and the new barracks that now housed the Army’s pilots. When Rafe had first arrived in Hawaii over six months ago, he found himself homeless. He had arrived on a Friday night and most of the base’s personnel, including the Quartermaster, had disappeared for the weekend and Rafe ended up at a local motel. Upon his return from the Tokyo raid, he had better luck and was housed with the rest of the pilots in new quarters.

After a twenty minute drive, Hickam Field loomed ahead. Upon arriving at his new quarters, Rafe found a noted taped to the door:

“Rafe,

Welcome back. Meet us at the Hula-La.

Red”

The Hula-La. The bar brought back memories of that last evening of peace, when Rafe had drank himself silly before getting into a fight with Danny. He even recalled seeing his own photograph on the wall behind the bar. Scrawled above were the words –KILLED IN ACTION. Rafe could only assume that his photo had been replaced with those of Danny, Anthony and other pilots who had recently died. He did not look forward to seeing Danny’s picture on that wall. Then again, he was not in the mood to spend a lonely evening by himself.

With a sigh, he entered his quarters, took a shower, changed into civies and after climbing back into the Buick, drove toward the pilots’ favorite bar. Rafe parked the convertible in front of a gazebo, topped by a thatched roof. Oriental and Polynesian knickknacks decorated the bar’s interior and large statue of a Hawaiian girl in a hula skirt rose above the structure. He could hear strains of the Andrews Sisters singing “Rum and Coca-Cola”, as he entered the bar.

“Rafe!” “Hey! Look who’s here!” “How was the mainland, Rafe?” The young captain smiled, as his fellow pilots cried out to greet him. His eyes fell upon the photographs pinned to the wall behind the Hawaiian bartender. Sure enough, there photos of those who had either been killed during the Pearl Harbor attack last December, or during the Doolittle Raid. Rafe recognized several among them – Billy, Joe, Anthony and Danny. His smile disappeared.

Everyone’s favorite red-haired pilot strode forward and slapped Rafe’s shoulder. “Welcome back, Rafe. Glad to see you.” There seemed to be no hint of Red Winkle’s usual stutter.

“Thanks Red, “Rafe murmured. The pair joined the others at the bar. “Hey, everyone. What’s buzzing?”

Gooz Wood replied in his usual laconic manner, “Nothin much. We just came back from another patrol. I guess you heard about Midway.”

“Who hasn’t these days? That’s all everyone was talking about, while I was back home.” Rafe grew silent. Again, his eyes shifted toward the photographs.

One pilot said, “Man, I would have loved to have been in that action. Midway!” His eyes gleamed with exultation. “Get another shot at the Japs after that Tokyo raid.” Rafe and several other pilots stared at him. He was one of the new replacement pilots assigned to fill Rafe’s squadron after the Doolittle raid.

“Midway was a Navy operation,” said a familiar gruff voice. The pilots stepped aside to reveal the tall, slightly bedraggled figure in overalls. It was Earl, the squadron’s chief mechanic, standing in the doorway. “After what you fellas did to Tokyo, naturally the Navy boys wanted their time in the sun.”

Rafe allowed himself a slight smile. Army versus Navy. Not even wartime could stop that age-old rivalry. “I doubt that publicity had anything to with that, Sergeant,” he said. “The Navy were simply the right people to stop the Japs at Midway. An Army operation probably would have been ineffective.”

“If you say so, Captain.” The mechanic joined the pilots at the bar. “I hope you don’t mind me joining you, sir.”

“Be my guest, Earl. Drinks are on me.” Whoops filled the air, as Rafe dug several bills out of his pocket. The others soon issued their orders to the bartender, who began serving drinks. Rafe ordered a straight bourbon.

Once the bartendder had served all of the drinks, Rafe, Red, Gooz, Earl and a fourth pilot named Steve McCormick, retired to an empty table behind a beaded curtain. Like the other three pilots, Steve was a survivor from the Tokyo raid. Rafe took a sip of his bourbon and said, “By the way, fellas, thanks for not picking me up, this afternoon. Where were you?”

Anxiety flitted across Gooz’s face. “Wasn’t Evelyn there to pick you up?”

“Unfortunately, she was.”

Red replied, “We ra. . . ran into . . . ran into E-E-Evelyn at the movies. When we told her a-a-abo. . . about you, she asked to p-p-pick you up in . . . instead.” His stuttering seemed to have returned with a vengeance.

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. He had not meant to make Red that nervous.

“Evelyn?” Earl’s brows quirked upward. “Isn’t that Lieu . . . uh, Captain Walker’s girl? The Navy nurse?” The sergeant’s question drew a heavy silence from his four companions. He frowned. “Did I just say something wro . . .?”

Rafe interrupted. “No, didn’t,” he said curtly. “She was Danny’s girl.”

Another stretch of silence followed. Rafe barely paid attention to the tension from the other four men. Or the music blasting from the jukebox. “You okay, Captain?” Earl asked uneasily. “You seem a bit sore just now.”

“No,” Rafe said, shaking his head. “Everything’s fine.” His mouth formed a grim line. “Just swell.”

Earl gave Rafe a leery glance. “Uh huh. I, uh, I wondered what happened to her. Pretty lady. She must have taken Danny’s death pretty hard.”

Someone coughed. Red. Rafe poured himself another shot of bourbon. “Yeah,” he finally answered. “She did.” More silence followed. Rafe found himself wishing he had remained at the barracks. Hell, he regretted a lot of things. Including his marriage proposal to Evelyn.

“If everything is swell,” Red asked, “why are you looking so sore?”

Without even thinking, Rafe replied, “Because I had proposed marriage to Evelyn and she said no.” His mouth clamped shut the moment he spoke his last word. Dammit! When will he ever learn not to drink and talk at the same time?

END OF PART 2″

Top Five Favorite “DALLAS” Season One (2012) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite Season One (2012) episodes from the TNT revival of the television series“DALLAS”. Developed by Cynthia Cindre, the series starred Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzolo:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “DALLAS” SEASON ONE (2012) EPISODES

1 - 1.04 The Last Hurrah

1. (1.04) “The Last Hurrah” – While Bobby and Ann Ewing plan one last barbecue at Southfork Ranch, John Ross Ewing blackmails his cousin-in-law, Rebecca Sutter Ewing into completing a difficult task.

2 - 1.07 Collateral Damage

2. (1.07) “Collateral Damage” – Bobby is arrested for assaulting Ann’s ex-husband, Harris Ryland. His son, Christopher Ewing demands a paternity test when ex-lover Elena Ramos tells him that his wife Rebecca is pregnant. After his business colleague Veronica Martinez becomes an increasing threat, John Ross sells her out to Venezuelan businessman Vicente Cano, resulting in her death.

3 - 1.09 Family Business

3. (1.09) “Family Business” – J.R. Ewing returns to Southfork after John Ross is released from the hospital. Bobby is incapacitated by a cerebral aneurysm. Sue Ellen’s campaign for Governor of Texas is placed in serious jeopardy by Ryland. Also, Rebecca and her business partner/fake brother Tommy Sutter have a confrontation.

4 - 1.01 Changing of the Guard

4. (1.01) “Changing of the Guard” – The series premiere re-introduced the Ewing some twenty years after the (1978-1991) CBS series, as the family gathers for the wedding of Christopher and Rebecca, while Christopher and John Ross begin working on different energy projects.

5 - 1.10 Revelations

5. (1.10) “Revelations” – The season finale finds the Ewing men plotting against Cano, who is trying to take over Christopher’s energy company. Also, both Christopher and Elena confront Rebecca and John Ross respectively about the latter’s lies.

“OPERATION PETTICOAT” (1959) Review

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“OPERATION PETTICOAT” (1959) Review

Many would find this hard to believe, but I first came aware of the 1959 comedy, “OPERATION PETTICOAT”, when its television spinoff aired during the late 1970s. Mind you, the television series was no where as good as the 1959 movie, it was enough to attract my attention.

Over a decade had past before I first saw the movie. And I became an even bigger fan of the film than the TV series. Directed by Blake Edwards, “OPERATION PETTICOAT” is basically a flashback tale in which U.S. Navy Admiral Matthew Sherman visits the U.S.S. Sea Tiger, an old and obsolete submarine scheduled to be sent to the scrapyard. Because Sherman was the Sea Tiger’s first commanding officer, he begins reading his old log book, which recounted the submarine’s time during its first difficult month following the Japanese Navy’s attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

On December 10, 1941, the Sea Tiger is sunk by a Japanese air raid, while it is docked at the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines. Sherman, then a Lieutenant-Commander, and his crew begin repairs, hoping to sail the Sea Tiger to Darwin, Australia. The submarine squadron’s commodore believes there is no chance of saving the Sea Tiger and begins to transfer some of Sherman’s crew to other boats. Sherman convinces the commodore otherwise and the latter begins to replace Sherman’s crew, beginning with an admiral aide with no submarine experience named Lieutenant (junior grade) Nick Holden. Unfortunately for Sherman, Holden had become a naval officer to escape poverty and find a wealthy spouse. Fortunately for the submarine commander, Holden proves to be a very effective supply officer, due to his skills as a scavenger and con artist. Thanks to Holden, the Sea Tiger acquires enough parts for repair and their departure from the Philippines. Once restored to seaworthy condition – barely – with only two of her four diesels operational, the Sea Tiger reaches Marinduque, where Sherman reluctantly agrees to evacuate five stranded Army nurses. Between dealing with Holden’s reluctance to reveal officer material, a partially operating submarine and five nurses with no where to go and causing mayhem on board, Sherman’s first month at war proves to be very difficult.

When I first saw “OPERATION PETTICOAT”, I wondered if I would like it as much as I did the television series. Needless to say . . . I did. I enjoyed this movie very much. It had a lot going for it. One, it had Blake Edwards as director. Before he directed “OPERATION PETTICOAT”, Edwards had worked as an actor, screenwriter and the occasional producer/director or writer of a series of television shows. The 1959 World War II comedy proved to be his first feature movie as a director . . . and he scored big. The movie featured every aspect of first-rate Blake Edwards comedy – the director’s unique humor; a cast of some very interesting and offbeat characters; and most importantly a well-written story.

Because of his past as a screenwriter, I had assumed that Edwards had written the movie’s script. I was wrong. Credit went to four writers – Paul King, Joseph B. Stone, Stanley J. Shapiro, Maurice Richlin. And I must that they had written one hell of a story. I liked how they and Edwards managed to recapture those desperate, early days of the war’s Pacific Theater, when the Japanese seemed to be grabbing a great deal of territory in the Pacific. I liked the fact that despite the presence of Cary Grant, Tony Curtis and five attractive actresses portraying nurses, neither Edwards or the four screenwriters did not glamorize the movie’s setting . . . aside from the spotless uniform worn by Nick Holden upon his arrival at the Sea Tiger or the characters. The Sea Tiger remained in a questionable condition throughout most of the film. And believe it or not, a good deal of the events featured in this film actually happened during those early months of the war in the Pacific . . . including the evacuation of military nurses from the Philippines, a submarine being forced to paint its surface pink, due to the lack of enough red or white lead undercoat paint. The movie nearly ended on an ironic note, when it faced great danger of being sunk . . . but not by the Japanese Navy.

I did have a few problems with “OPERATION PETTICOAT”. Although most of the movie was set between December 1941-January 1942, the hairstyles and makeup for the actresses portraying the nurses clearly reflected the late 1950s. Hollywood tend to be rather sloppy about women’s hairstyles and fashion in movies set in the near past. And“OPERATION PETTICOAT” was mainly set seventeen to eighteen years before its release. The nurses proved to be another problem in the film. The moment the nurses boarded the Sea Tiger, a hint of sexism seemed to permeate the movie. Nearly every scene that featured the nurses, the score written by David Rose and an uncredited Henry Mancini would shift into a cheesy tune fit for a soft core porn film . . . 1950s style. The biggest problem proved to be two characters – the commanding officer of the nurses, Major Edna Heywood; and the Sea Tiger’s Chief Machinist’s Mate Sam Tostin. The latter proved to be something of a misogynist, who could not stand the idea of women aboard the submarine. I could have tolerated that. I could have tolerated his dismay over Major Heywood’s interest in the Sea Tiger’s engines, due to her father being an engineer. What I could not tolerate was Tostin’s lack of respect toward Major Heywood’s status as an officer . . . and the fact that the screenwriters allowed him to get away with such lack of respect due to her being a woman. And the fact that the screenwriters wrote a romantic subplot for the pair struck me as ridiculous. The moment Tostin said these words to Major Heywood:

Chief Mechanic’s Mate Sam Tostin: [speaking to Maj.Heywood in the engine room] You know, I spent alot of years disliking women. But I don’t dislike you.

Maj. Edna Heywood, RN: Oh?

Chief Mechanic’s Mate Sam Tostin: You’re not a woman. You’re more than a woman. You’re a *mechanic*

I hope the screenwriters and Edwards did not expect audiences to take this relationship seriously. A deep-seated misogynist like Tostin had no business being given a romantic interest in this film . . . especially with an upright woman like Major Heywood.

In my opinion, the two best aspects of any movie are usually the screenplay and the performances. I have already expressed my views of the movie’s plot. As the performances, “OPERATION PETTICOAT” was blessed with a first-rate cast. I was surprised to see that a few cast members went on to become television stars – Gavin MacLeod (“THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW” and “THE LOVE BOAT”), Dick Sargeant (“BEWITCHED”), and Marion Ross (“HAPPY DAYS”). Ross did not get much of a chance to strut her stuff in this film. But MacLeod gave a hilarious performance as the high-strung and nervous Yeoman Ernest Hunckle, who worked closely with supply officer Nick Holden. Sargeant gave a very endearing, yet funny performance as the young Ensign Stovall, who seemed to be Holden’s number one fan aboard the Sea Tiger and possessed a penchant for putting his foot into his mouth. Gene Evans was equally funny as the gruff Chief of the Boat (COB) Chief Torpedoman “Mo” Molumphry. Joan O’Brien seemed to display a talent for physical humor as the well-meaning, yet clumsy Second Lieutenant Dolores Crandall. And Clarence Lung made a great straight man for Tony Curtis as Holden’s “partner-in-crime” U.S.M.C. Sergeant Ramon Gallardo. Other fine supporting performances came from Ross, Madlyn Rhue, Robert F. Simon, Robert Gist and George Dunn.

Despite my dislike of the Major Heywood/Chief Tostin relationship, I must admit that both Virginia Gregg and Arthur O’Connell did great jobs in capturing the essence of their characters. Especially O’Connell, who still managed to be funny, despite portraying one of the most misogynist characters I have ever seen on screen. Dina Merrill gave a solid performance as Second Lieutenant Barbara Duran, the lovely nurse who managed to captured the attention of the very engaged Nick Holden. Before he did “OPERATION PETTICOAT”, Tony Curtis worked on Billy Wilder’s famous Roaring Twenties comedy, “SOME LIKE IT HOT”. In that film, he did an impersonation of Cary Grant that caught a great deal of attention at the time. Ironically, the two ended up co-starring in this film in less than a year. And they clicked very well on screen, despite the clash between their characters. Curtis was smooth as ever as the morally gray Nick Holden, who hid a larcenous and opportunist nature behind a charming and affable façade. Looking back, it occurred to me that if Curtis had been older than Grant, he could have easily portrayed the Matt Sherman character . . . and that Grant could have portrayed Holden. I realize that many people might disagree with me, but the acting styles of both actors seemed strongly similar to me. And although Grant could have easily portrayed a character like Nick Holden, I cannot deny that he did a superb job as the harried, yet strong-willed Matt Sherman. Watching Grant convey Sherman’s confusion, resolve, and quick thinking over a series of personal and military crisis was a joy to behold. In a way, Grant marvelously managed to keep the story together, thanks to his performance.

The television series, “OPERATION PETTICOAT” did not last beyond its second season. The ABC network made too many changes to the show. Besides, the idea of five Army nurses aboard a Navy submarine for such a long period of time seemed a bit too ludicrous to accept. I did enjoy its first season. However, I enjoyed even more its predecessor, the 1959 film. During his first stint as a movie director, Blake Edwards took a gritty and realistic setting – namely the early weeks of World War II for the United States forces in the Pacific – a sly sense of humor, a crazy premise of nurses aboard a pink-coated submarine and a superb cast led by Cary Grant and Tony Curtis; and created a comedic piece of cinematic gold. I could watch this movie over and over again.

Chicken Fried Steak

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Below is an article about the American dish known as Chicken Fried Steak:

CHICKEN FRIED STEAK

For years, I had avoided consuming a dish known as Chicken Fried Steak. For reason that now elude me, I tend to regard it as some dish that was nothing more than a great deal of fat and little meat, breaded and fried. During a trip to a local family restaurant, I decided to give it a chance and to my surprise, I became an immediate fan.

Chicken Fried Steak is basically associated with American South cuisine. Some believe that the dish’s name originated with the fact that the meat (actually steak) is fried in oil that had already been used for fried chicken. Others claim that the name originated from the fact that the steak is prepared with the same method for cooking fried chicken. Chicken Fried Steak resembles several European dishes like Austria’s Wiener Schnitzel, Italy’s Milanesa and Scotland’sCollops.

It is possible that Chicken Fried Steak owed its origins to the Wiener Schnitzel. German and Austrian immigrants from Europe first settled in Texas during the 1830s. Many Texans claim that some of these immigrants eventually moved to Lamesa, the seat of Dawson County on the Texas South Plains in the mid-to-late 1850s. The citizens of Lamesa claim their town as the birthplace of Chicken Fried Steak. But it is not the only claim. The citizens of Bandera, Texas (located in the region known as the Texas Hill Country) claim that one of their citizens, John “White Gravy” Neutzling, had invented the dish.

Below is the recipe for “Chicken Fried Steak” from the Cooking Channel website (courtesy Tom Perini/Perini Ranch Steakhouse):

Chicken Fried Steak

Ingredients

Steak:
3 pounds (about 6 ounces each) rib eye steaks, 1/2-inch thick
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 to 3 cups flour
2 teaspoons seasoning salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil

Gravy:
3 heaping tablespoons flour
2 cups cold milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

For the steak: Trim any remaining fat off the steaks and, using a mallet or rolling pin, pound out the steaks to 1/4-inch thick.

Beat together the milk and egg in a shallow dish and set aside. Place the flour in a shallow dish, season well with the seasoning salt and pepper and set aside.

Cover the bottom of a large skillet, preferably cast iron, with enough oil to reach about 1/2-inch up the pan. Heat over medium-high heat.

Coat the steaks in the egg mixture, then the flour and then add to the pan. Cook until the juices begin to surface and the bottom is nice and brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the steaks and cook another 2 to 3 minutes more. Be careful to not overcook. Continue this process until all the steaks are cooked, placing the finished steaks on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.

After frying the steaks, prepare to make the gravy: Let the drippings in the pan sit until the excess browned bits of seasoning settle to the bottom of the skillet. Pour off most of the oil, leaving about 4 tablespoons behind with the brown bits. Add the flour, stirring until well mixed. Place the skillet back over medium-high heat and slowly add the milk while stirring constantly. Cook until the gravy comes to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with chicken fried steak.

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” (2014) Review

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” (2014) Review

Most of the films featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been set on Earth – mainly in the United States – and featured human characters. There have been exceptions – namely the two “THOR” movies that were partly set in the realm of Asgard and 2012’s “THE AVENGERS”, which featured an alien invasion. For the first time, the MCU released a movie mainly set in worlds other than Earth. And it is called “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”.

Directed by James Gunn, who wrote the film with Nicole Perlman, “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” told the story about an uneasy alliance between a group of extraterrestrial misfits, who find themselves on the run after one of them steals a coveted orb. The movie, ironically, begins on Earth in 1988, when a kid named Peter Quill is abducted by a group of space pirates called the Ravagers led by a mercenary named Yondu Udonta, following his mother’s death. Twenty-six years later, Quill steals a valuable orb from the abandoned planet of Morag. Before he can get away, Quill is intercepted by Korath, a subordinate to the fanatical Kree, Ronan. Although Quill escapes with the orb, Yondu discovers his theft and issues a bounty for his capture. Meanwhile Ronan, who originally agreed to acquire the orb on behalf of the villainous titan Thanos, sends an assassin named Gamora after the orb. In return for getting the orb for Thanos, Ronan wants the latter to destroy the Nova Empire.

Quill attempts to sell the orb on the Nova Empire’s capital world, Xandar, when Gamora ambushes him and steals it. A fight ensues, which attracts a pair of bounty hunters – the genetically engineered raccoon Rocket and his tree-like companion, the humanoid Groot. All four are arrested by the Nova Corps and they are sentenced to a prison called Kyln. The four form an alliance to profit from a sale of the orb to a buyer that Gamora knows on an outpost called Nowhere, once Rocket informs them that he knows how to break out of prison. They acquire a new ally named Drax the Destroyer, who wants revenge against Ronan for killing his family. Drax tried to kill Gamora, due to her past association with the Kree, but Quill talks him out of it after Gamora reveals that she never intended to hand over the orb to Ronan. Gamora is willing to betray Ronan, because she is unwilling to allow him to use the orb’s power to destroy the Nova Empire and other worlds. The five misfits eventually discover from Gamora’s buyer, Taneleer Tivan aka the Collector that the orb contains a powerful stone known as one of the Infinity Stones, a collection of gems of immeasurable power that destroys all but the most powerful beings who wield them. Fearful that Ronan might destroy the Universe if he gains possession of the orb, the five friends become determined to stop him from gaining possession of it.

At first glance, “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” seemed to come out of nowhere and with no connection to the other films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the end, there were quite a few connections to the other films. One, other Infinity Stones – mentioned by Tivan – were featured in other films. “IRON MAN 2”, “THOR”, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” and “THE AVENGERS” all featured the Tesseract. And “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” featured the Aether, which found itself in Tivan’s possession by the end of that film. The character Thanos was revealed to be the one behind the Chitauri invasion in “THE AVENGERS” The character Tivan aka the Collector was featured in a mid-credit scene in “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. Also, the Ronan character is not the only Kree character to appear in a MCU production. The corpse of a dead Kree was featured in an episode of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. So, the connections between “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” and the other MCU films are pretty strong. Many had doubted the success of“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”, due to its unknown factor of the major characters. Although the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” comic book was first published by Marvel in 1969, the following publications of the title have been far and few. In fact, Marvel had to revamp the title in 2008.

Marvel and Disney’s fears proved to be groundless in the end. “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” became a major hit during the late summer of 2014. It even managed to surpass (slightly) the major success of the previous MCU movie,“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. I understand why “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” became such a success. It is a first-rate film that proved to be the gem of the summer. Thanks to Nicole Perlman and James Gunn’s screenplay, the movie expertly set up the movie’s narrative – first with Peter Quill’s kidnapping and later, his theft of the orb. Mind you, there is nothing particularly original about the narrative for “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. I cannot recall the numerous films or television productions about a group of outsiders who struggle to form an alliance or friendship in order to overcome an enemy or problem. Hell, this even sounds like the narrative backbone for “THE AVENGERS”. But I have never come across a movie or television that allowed this narrative to play out with such caustic wit and humor. Perlman and Gunn also did an excellent job in allowing the five protagonists to form both an alliance and later, a strong friendship, in a timely manner. In fact, friendship seemed to be the main theme of“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. And the focus of that friendship centered around the Peter Quill character, who abandoned one set of friends – the Ravengers under Yondu Udonta – that proved to be rather questionable, and formed a more solid friendship with his four new companions.

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” benefited from some very strong characterizations. Peter Quill – at first glance – seemed like some minor variation of the Tony Stark character. Although adept at defending himself in a fight, Quill never struck me as the aggressive type. I enjoyed how actor Chris Pratt portrayed him as someone who would prefer stealth and charm over action. Some of his facial reactions alone were a joy to watch. Gamora, the assassin who had been trained by Thanos . . . after he wiped out her family, proved to be a surprisingly moral character. In fact, I would say that she possessed the strongest moral center out of the five major characters. And that is an ironic thing to say about an assassin. Thankfully, Zoe Saldana did an excellent job of conveying Gamora’s moral center . . . and dangerous nature at the same time. I never thought I would become attached to a CGI animal described as a genetically-altered raccoon. But I must say that the character Rocket provided a great deal of sharp wit and verbosity that infused a lot of energy into the story. And a lot of that energy came from Bradley Cooper’s voice performance. Another dangerous, yet fascinating character proved to be the vengeful Drax the Destroyer. In fact, I can honestly say that Drax was probably the most chaotic character in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. But what else can you say about a character who is not only seeking revenge, but does not understand the meaning of metaphors. And I have to say that professional wrestler-turned-actor Dave Batista did a marvelous job in portraying a ferocious, yet humorless character with such sharp comic timing. And finally we have – “I am Groot.”. Ah yes, the talking and walking tree. Rocket’s companion. What can I say? I adored that warm, compassionate and loyal walking piece of timber. And I have to give kudos to Vin Diesel, who only had one line to speak over again, throughout the movie, do so with different inflections.

But there were other interesting characters featured in “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. Audiences saw the return of Taneleer Tivan aka The Collector, who was last seen in “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. And once again, Benicio del Toro gave an eccentric, yet very interesting performance of the interstellar collector. Nebula, who was raised as Gamora’s sibling by Thanos, certainly proved to be a character I will never forget. Although not the main villain, Nebula proved to be a scary and intimidating character in her own right, whose own ambiguity is dictated by feelings of jealousy toward Gamora. And actress Karen Gillian did an excellent job in conveying these aspects of Nebula’s character. Despite the presence of Thanos, the movie’s main villain proved to be a Kree fanatic named Ronan the Accuser. The fanatical Ronan refuses to accept a peace treaty between the Kree and the Nova Empire and seeks Thanos’ help in destroying Xandar. In the end, he proved to be something of a one-dimensional character lacking any eccentricities or ambiguities whatsoever. And honestly, one has to thank Lee Pace’s intense performance that managed to maintain my interest in Ronan. Another character that proved to be a minor disappointment was Korath, one of Ronan’s subordinates. And like Ronan, he also struck me as a bit one-dimensional, yet rather intense. However . . . the character had one scene that proved to be rather funny – his first meeting with Quill on Morag, in which he failed to recognized the latter’s nickname. And one has to thank Djimon Hounsou’s performance for making that scene work. It seemed a pity that Hounsou did not have a larger role in the film.

The characters from Xandar struck me as solid, but not particularly memorable. There were two exceptions – Corpsman Rhomann Dey, a professional member of Xandar’s military/police force and whose dry sense of humor strongly reminded me of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson; and Nova Prime Irani Rael, the slightly intimidating and righteous leader of the Nova Corps. And both John C. Reilly and Glenn Close gave outstanding performances in their roles. The most fascinating supporting character for me proved to be Yondu Udonta, the temperamental, yet occasionally decent leader of the Ravagers, who had served as Quill’s guardian after snatching him. There were times when I could not tell whether he was a bad guy, a good guy or simply another self-absorbed rogue after his own interest. And I must say that Michael Rooker gave a very entertaining and flamboyant portrayal of the character. I look forward to seeing him in future films.

I have to be honest. Most of the visual effects for “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” did not blow my mind. But there were a few scenes that I found noteworthy. I liked the idea of the Nowhere outpost being set inside the floating head of a Celestial corpse. Very original. And the wide exterior shot of the colony upon the protagonists’ arrival is very impressive, as shown the following image:

gotg-03

The scene was enhanced by Ben Davis’ photography. I also enjoyed his work in the movie’s final action sequence that featured Ronan’s attempt to destroy Xandar. Gunn’s direction, along with the visual effects made the scene breathtaking. To a certain degree. Some of the aerial action involving Rocket and the Nova Corps struck me as somewhat confusing. I also enjoyed Alexandra Byrne’s costumes, but like the visual effects, they did not take my breath away. I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary, but . . . I found them at best, solid.

The summer of 2014 proved to be very dismal for me, aside from a few films. One of those films that provided some realentertainment was “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. If it were not for the work of director James Gunn, the exciting and witty screenplay he co-wrote with Nicole Perlman and the first-rate performances from a cast led by Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, the 2014 summer could have ended on a bad note for me.

“A Convenient Proposal” [PG-13] 1/5

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The following is a “PEARL HARBOR” (the movie) story I had written some time ago. It is called, “A Convenient Proposal” and is set several weeks following the Doolittle pilots to Hawaii:

 

A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL

RATING: PG-13
SUMMARY: Rafe returns to Hawaii after burying Danny in Tennessee and asks Evelyn a very important question.
DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda! All characters pertaining to the motion picture, “Pearl Harbor”, belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Randall Wallace and the Walt Disney Company . . . unfortunately.

NOTE: Following Danny’s death, I’ve always wondered how Rafe and Evelyn managed to resolve their problems and become the happily married couple shown at the end of the movie.

——

PART 1 – The Proposal

Talk about déjà vu. Evelyn Johnson stood near a gate at Hickham Field and watched a B-25 aircraft circle over the runway. Her hand gently pressed against her swollen belly, as she sighed.

Just nearly a month ago, she had stood at this very same spot, awaiting the arrival of the Doolittle Raid pilots who had returned from China. Evelyn recalled feeling a surge of happiness at the sight of one Rafe McCawley descending from another plane. That happiness had soon transformed into dread when Rafe failed to return her smile. And when the other surviving pilots left the plane, carrying a coffin, Evelyn’s dread became grief. Draped over the coffin was Danny’s flight jacket.

Danny Walker. A wave of grief washed over Evelyn. Along with guilt. She had been carrying his child for nearly seven months. Ever since that evening inside the hangar, following a flight over Oahu. Evelyn considered that evening a magical time for her. Without it and other times with Danny, she would have never recovered from her heart-wrenching grief that had threatened to consume her, following news of Rafe’s “death” over the English Channel. Yet, Rafe did returned and Evelyn’s happiness soon became chaos.

The B-25 straightened out as it glided over the runway. The wheels extended and the plane finally touched down. Evelyn held her breath as it rolled to a stop. A minute passed before the plane’s doors swung open. Four Army officers – two men and two women descended the stairway. A fifth figure appeared in the plane’s doorway. Rafe.

Evelyn let out a gust of breath. Her heartbeat increased ten times its normal pace. A warm flush ignited her skin. Even after all that has happened between them in the past year-and-a-half, Rafe’s presence still managed to affect her, since that first moment their eyes met back in New York.

Brown eyes scoured the airfield, until they rested upon Evelyn. An invisible electricity crackled in the air. Evelyn longed to run toward Rafe and throw her arms around him. Unfortunately, her bulky form made that impossible. Instead, she waved. Rafe returned her wave with a smile. A rather dim one, in Evelyn’s opinion.

With one hand holding his overnight bag and the other, clenching his Army jacket, the Tennessee pilot strode toward Evelyn. “Hey,” he greeted quietly.

Evelyn replied in an equally quiet voice, “Hey, yourself.” She reached out to touch his arm. Rafe did not flinch from her touch. Nor did he seem to welcome it, either. His reaction disturbed Evelyn. To cover her feelings, her smile widened before she added, “Welcome back.”

“Thanks.” Rafe glanced around the field. “Where’s Red and Gooz? I had sent them a telegram to pick me up.”

“Yeah, Red told me. I asked him to let me pick you up, instead.”

A slight frown crinkled Rafe’s forehead. “Why?” he asked.

Doubt crept into Evelyn’s heart. She began to wonder if he still felt the same for her after all that has happened between them. They had went through so much lately – eleven months apart, her romance with Danny, Rafe’s return, the pregnancy, the attack at Pearl, her decision to marry Danny, the latter’s death in China. It was a wonder that they managed to carry on a conversation.

Rafe repeated his question. “Why couldn’t Red pick me up? I mean, considering your condition . . .”

An answer failed to reach the tip of Evelyn’s tongue. What could she say? That the last time Rafe was in Hawaii, grief over Danny’s death and the preparations for the burial in Tennessee kept them apart? That she longed to see him again? Remain longer than five minutes in his presence? Evelyn found herself unable to confess her true feelings to Rafe. Fear of rejection or outright laughter prevented her.

Evelyn finally replied, “I asked Red and Gooz to let me pick you up.” She gave her shoulders a shrug. “I just wanted to welcome you back.” The moment those words left her mouth, Evelyn regretted them. Her heart lurched as disappointment and confusion mingled in Rafe’s brown eyes. My God! How lame that sounds!

* * * *

Rafe found himself in mental turmoil. That’s it? She just wanted to welcome me back? What about I miss you? Or I love you?

He mentally castigated himself. What in the hell did he expect? An outburst of emotion? Hell, neither he or Evelyn have exchanged a word of love since she informed him of her plans to marry Danny right after the Pearl Harbor attack. Looking at her round belly reminded Rafe of that terrible moment at the motel court. When he learned that Evelyn was pregnant with Danny’s child, Rafe realized that he had lost her for good.

“Shall we go?” Evelyn said, interrupting Rafe’s thoughts. He stared at her dark eyes. Eyes that merely reflected friendly curiosity. Rafe let out a sigh and followed her away from the airfield.

The couple walked slowly – thanks to Evelyn’s pregnancy – to a parked car, a 1937 black Buick convertible. Danny’s car. Rafe spotted the bullet holes left by Japanese Zeroes on that unforgettable morning, over six months ago. A frown creased his brow, as he halted in his tracks. “I didn’t realize you had Danny’s car.”

Evelyn’s face turned pink. “Danny gave it to me, just before the both of you left for California. You know, when you reported to Colonel Doolittle. After he died . . . well, you and I never really saw much of each other and I found out that Danny left the car to me in a will.” She paused, as the pink in her cheeks deepened. “It helped me get around easier. But you can have it, if you want.” A slight wariness crept into her eyes.

“That’s okay,” Rafe murmured. “Danny wanted you to have the car. You should keep it.”

“Oh.”

Rafe added, “But I wouldn’t mind using it every now and then. At least until I’m sent overseas.”

A brief, sad smile touched Evelyn’s lips. “Hmmm, overseas. I forgot about that. But since you’re here,” she handed Rafe a set of keys, “you can drive.” Evelyn’s smile broadened. Looking at it warmed Rafe’s own heart and he smiled back. Forever the Southern gentleman, he escorted Evelyn to the convertible’s passenger side and helped her climb in. She murmured a quiet “thank you” before he climbed into the driver’s seat.

Within a matter of minutes, the Buick was speeding along the Hawaiian countryside. Evelyn instructed Rafe to drive toward a quiet, residential area near the beach, instead of the hospital base at Pearl. When her pregnancy had begun to show, she decided to rent a bungalow near the beach. “I would have rented a smaller house, but the girls decided they had enough of the base and moved in with me.” Rafe assumed the girls were Barbara, Sandra and Martha.

Evelyn continued with a detailed description of the bungalow. Rafe barely heard a word. Not even the lush, tropical countryside could grab his attention. His mind focused on the road ahead . . . and past memories.

Hearing Evelyn’s voice, seeing her smile and her pregnant state, produced a stream of regrets within Rafe. There seemed to be so many “if onlys” to choose. If only he had never volunteered to serve in the RAF’s Eagle Squadron. If only he had more than a month with Evelyn before leaving the States for England. If only he had not been shot down over the English Channel. And if only he had returned to Evelyn before she could recover from her grief with Danny. What Rafe regretted the most was the death of his best friend – the only man he had ever regarded as a brother.

“Penny for your thoughts,” a soft voice said, interrupting Rafe’s musings.

He blinked and shot a quick glance at his companion. “Huh? What did you say?”

“I was describing the bungalow,” Evelyn continued. “Yet, somehow I got the feeling that your mind was on something else.”

Rafe gave a nervous cough. “What made you think that?”

“You just passed the road that leads to my house. Even after I told you to turn.”

Embarrassed over his mistake, Rafe immediately made a U-turn. He then made a right turn on a small road and the convertible eventually came upon a two-story bungalow built out of whitewashed clapboards. “Well, here we are.” Rafe announced after he stopped the car and turned off the engine. “Home.”

The sounds of palm fronds rustling in the wind and waves beating against the shore filled the silence between the couple inside the Buick. Rafe would usually enjoy the shared silence with Evelyn. But not today. In fact, he wondered if he would ever learn to enjoy Evelyn’s company again. But he had to. Especially after what he had promised his dying friend back in that rice paddy in China.

“Would like to come in for a cup of coffee or another drink?” Evelyn asked, breaking the silence before Rafe could.

Rafe felt his palms grow moist. God, this was difficult!

“Rafe?” Evelyn continued. “Did you hear me? Is everything okay?”

The pilot nodded. “Yeah. Everything’s swell. Just swell.”

Evelyn frowned. “Are you sure? You seem rather quiet.” Despite her seemingly calm voice, Rafe thought he had detected a hint of nervousness.

“Don’t worry. I’m fine. I just . . .”

“Just what?” Evelyn added.

A heavy sigh escaped Rafe’s mouth. Memories of the past six months began to assault his mind. His arrival in Hawaii. Evelyn’s reaction to his appearance at the hospital at Pearl. Danny’s reaction. The fight at the Hula-La Bar. The Japanese attack, the following morning. Evelyn’s revelation of her pregnancy. His talk with Danny on that California beach. The raid on Tokyo. Danny’s death. Rafe sighed one last time. He might as well get it over with.

Rafe reached into the backseat for his jacket. “Uh, Evelyn,” he began. “I have . . . well, I have something to ask you.”

“Yes?” Dark eyes grew round.

A lump rose in Rafe’s throat. He had not felt this nervous since that last night in New York City, when he said good-bye to Evelyn. Rafe reached inside one of the jacket pockets for a small, dark blue velvet case. “I . . . uh . . . hell!”

Evelyn’s eyes fell upon the case. “Is that what I think that is?” Her voice projected muted emotion.

Rafe snapped open the case, revealing a small silver ring with a cluster of diamonds surrounding a small sapphire gem. A gasp escaped Evelyn’s lips. Rafe had purchased the ring at a jewelry store in Washington D.C.

“Evelyn,” he continued, staring into her dark eyes, “would you marry me?” Before she could answer, Rafe continued, “I realize you had expected to marry Danny, but with him gone and you expecting a baby . . . well, I’ll be more than happy to take his place.”

Evelyn’s eyes widened. “You will?” she whispered.

“Of course.” Rafe blinked at her unexpected response. Because I love you, he silently wanted to say. However, fear and pride prevented him from expressing his true feelings. Instead, he added, “Danny was like a brother to me. He would have wanted me to take care of you and the baby. And I swear, Evelyn, I’ll do just that.”

Rafe sat back into his seat, expecting a sign of approval from Evelyn. Instead, he found himself staring into a pair of very dark and angry eyes. Eyes that glared at him. Confusion whirled inside his brain. Why on earth was she angry? “Evelyn? What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Wrong?” Evelyn replied in a soft and deadly voice. Rafe felt even more confused when she opened the door and began to climb out of the car. Her large girth made it difficult, but she managed to get out before Rafe had the chance to help her. Then she marched toward the bungalow.

“Evelyn? Evelyn! What’s wrong?” Rafe cried as he rushed after her. It amazed him how a pregnant woman could move so fast. “Evelyn! Wait a minute! I just asked you to marry me!”

Evelyn reached the bungalow and inserted a key into the front door. Then she whirled upon him, her eyes flashing. “C’mon Evelyn,” Rafe begged. “Talk to me! Dammit, I just proposed to you and now you’re acting as if I had sullied your name!”

“You sullied a lot more!” Evelyn snapped, as she opened the door. “And by the way, you call that a proposal? As far as I’m concerned, Rafe McCawley, you know what you can do with your proposal! And where you can shove it!” She stepped inside the house and slammed the door on the face of a very bewildered pilot.

END OF PART 1

 

“RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD” (1994) Review

“RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD” (1994) Review

Many television viewers and moviegoers might be surprised to learn that Hollywood had aired a good number of television movies that featured the topic of U.S. slavery. One of those movies proved to be an offshoot of the 1977 miniseries,“ROOTS”. However, another was the 1994 television movie called “RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD”.

The 1994 television movie is a story about the Underground Railroad, a loose network of secret routes and safe houses occasionally used by willing 19th-century slaves in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with occasional aid of abolitionists and allies sympathetic to their cause. Before one assumes this movie is about the history of the actual network . . . it is not. Instead, “RACE TO FREEDOM” told the story of four fugitive slaves from North Carolina, who made the journey north to freedom during the fall of 1850. Since their journey took place not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850, the four fugitives were forced to journey to Canada, instead of a Northern state above the Mason-Dixon Line.

The story began with two events – the capture of a slave named Joe, who is owned by a North Carolina planter named Colonel Fairling; and the arrival of a guest of Farley’s, a Canadian ornithologist (studies birds) named Dr. Alexander Ross. Fairling is an amateur bird watcher who had invited Ross to observe the migration of certain bird in the area. Unbeknownst to the planter, Dr. Ross is also an abolitionist and newly-recruited member of the Underground Railroad. He has also arrived at the Fairling plantation to offer help to any slaves willing to escape. In the end, four slaves take up his offer – a blacksmith named Thomas; two field slaves named Minnie and Walter; and a house slave named Sarah, who is also Thomas’ love and Joe’s younger sister. After his men’s failure to capture the four runaways, Fairling hires a professional slave catcher named Wort and his slave/tracker Solomon to find and capture them.

Unlike some people, I believe that stories (in novels, movies, television, stage plays) about slavery (in any country) can be told in a variety of ways – as a family saga, a historical biopic, or even as a comedy satire on the sanctity of American history. “RACE TO FREEDOM” turned out to be an adventure tale in the form of a road trip, with history, action and romance for good measure. It is not the first movie about the Underground Railroad I have seen. But it is one of my two favorite productions on the topic.

One of the reasons why “RACE TO FREEDOM” became such a favorite with me is that . . . well, screenwriters Peter Mohan and Nancy Trites-Botkin created a first-rate, solid screenplay. The pair did an excellent job of setting up the narrative with the two events mentioned – Joe’s capture and Dr. Ross’ arrival at the Farley plantation. The screenplay also allowed viewers to become acquainted with the movie’s four protagonists, as they debate over whether or not to make the bid for freedom. It did the same for the two antagonists – the slave catching duo of Wort and Solomon. Mohan and Trites-Botkin’s screenplay also did a solid job of presenting obstacles for the protagonists to overcome, as they made their way north from western North Carolina to Canada. And the screenplay also presented a northbound route that did not come off as implausible. I still shake my head in disbelief over the California-bound route that author George MacDonald Fraser plotted in one of his FLASHMAN novels. But more importantly, “RACE TO FREEDOM” proved to be a first-rate adventure filled with a well-written narrative, solid action, strong characterization, nail-biting suspense, a strong, if not perfect, grasp of history, and a surprising twist in the end.

As I had earlier stated, “RACE TO FREEDOM” featured some strong characterizations. And this would not have been possible without a first-rate cast. The movie included some solid performances from Falconer Abraham, Jennifer Phipps, Peter Boretski and James Blendick. Dawnn Lewis gave a funny and sardonic performance as the pragmatic Minnie. Also, Tim Reid, Nigel Bennett and Alfre Woodward all made solid cameo appearances as abolitionists Frederick Douglass andLevi Coffin, and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. However, in my opinion, the movie featured five performances that really impressed me. Both Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance gave superb and subtle performances as the two of the four slaves who attempt the journey for freedom. Not only was I impressed by how they conveyed the complex aspects of their respective personalities, I was also impressed by their strong, screen chemistry. Michael Riley gave a very interesting performance as the Canadian ornithologist, Dr. Alexander Ross, who heart seemed to be in the right place, despite his obvious lack of experience with the Underground Railroad. I especially enjoyed his interactions with Vance’s character, Thomas. However, I feel that the two most interesting performances in the movie came from Glynn Turman and Ron White, who portrayed the two slave catchers, Solomon and Wort. The two actors did a superb job in conveying one of the most interesting and complex slave/master relationship I have ever seen on screen. Turman and White really made it easy for me to understand how emotionally complex that relationship can be.

There is a lot to admire about “RACE TO FREEDOM”. However, I did managed to spot certain aspects that I found questionable. The performances of the actors who portrayed Colonel Fairling’s neighbors struck me as wooden and bad clichés of the typical Southern planter found in antebellum South movie and television productions of the last forty years. Two, actor Tim Reid was too old to be portraying abolitionist Frederick Douglass at the time. I guess I should not be surprised. “RACE TO FREEDOM” marked the third time this has happened. Reid was almost fifty when this movie was in production. And the abolitionist was 32 years old during the movie’s setting of 1850. Finally, although I found Alfre Woodward’s portrayal of Harriet Tubman rather entertaining, I found myself wondering why the historical figure was in this movie. Tubman usually operated as an Underground Railroad conductor between the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Canada – which meant she never went anywhere near Cinncinati, Ohio. Yet, this movie had her escorting runaways from Cinncinati. Worse, Trites-Botkin’s screenplay strongly hinted that Tubman was a veteran conductor for the Underground Railroad. This is not true. Tubman had ran away from Maryland in December 1849. She did not begin her activities as a conductor until the late fall or early spring of 1850. During this movie’s time setting, she was as much of a newbie as Dr. Ross.

“RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD” may not be easy to find. The television movie first aired on a cable network (unbeknownst to me) some twenty years ago. And I would have never found out about it, if it were not for the channel guide I had received from my cable company on a weekly basis. And thank goodness I managed to stumble across it. The production became one of my all time movies – television or otherwise – about U.S. slavery. If you can find it in a store, on Netflix or even on the Internet, I highly suggest that you watch it.