The UNDERGROUND RAILROAD in Television

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Recently, the WGN Network began airing a new series about a group of Georgia slaves who plan and conduct a daring 600 miles escape to freedom in the Northern states called “UNDERGROUND”. However, it is not the first television production about American slaves making a bid for freedom. Below is a list of previous productions that I have seen over the years:

 

 

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD IN TELEVISION

“A WOMAN CALLED MOSES” (1978) – Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries adaptation of Marcy Heidish’s 1974 novel about the life of escaped slave-turned Underground Railroad conductor/activist Harriet Tubman during the years before the Civil War. The miniseries’ first half focused on Tubman’s years as a Maryland slave and her escape to freedom in December 1849. The second half focused on her years as a conductor with the Underground Railroad. Paul Wendkos directed.

 

 

“THE LIBERATORS” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott portrayed Virginia-born abolitionist John Fairfield and Bill, the escaped slave of the former’s uncle; who become conductors for the Underground Railroad. After the former helps the latter escape from Virginia, the pair reunite nearly a year later to rescue the relatives of African-American freedmen living in the North. Kenneth Johnson directed.

 

 

“RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD” (1994) – Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred in this cable television movie about a group of slaves who risk their lives to escape from their master’s North Carolina plantation to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Look for the surprise twist at the end. The movie co-starred Glynn Turman, Dawnn Lewis, Michael Riley, Falconer Abraham, and Ron White. Don McBrearty directed.

 

 

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“THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” (1995) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about an early 19th century farmer in North Carolina, who finds himself helping a runaway slave, while on his way home from the market. Co-starring Larry Drake and Sam Waterston, the movie was directed by John Duigan.

 

 

“CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY” (1996) – Lou Gossett Jr. and Kate Nelligan portrayed a Canadian mixed race couple who sought a husband for their only daughter, Mary. The latter ends up marrying a Northern American. Upon their arrival in the United States, he sells her to a Virginian slave dealer and she ends up as a slave in that slave. After Mary manages to send word to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mink set out for Virginia to organize a rescue of their daughter with the help of the Underground Railroad. Bruce Pittman directed.

 

 

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Four of the productions on this list – “A WOMAN CALLED MOSES”, “RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD”, “THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING”, and “CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY” can be found on DVD. Only “THE LIBERATORS” has not been released on DVD. In fact, I do not know if it has ever been released on VHS.

 

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” (1998) Review

 

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” (1998) Review

For years, I had made an effort to avoid any novel written by Thomas Hardy and any movie or television production based upon his works. This has nothing to do with how I felt about the quality of his work. My attitude sprang from my reading of his 1886 novel, “The Mayor of Casterbridge”, when I was in my late teens. I found the latter rather depressing and suspected that most of his other works possessed the same downbeat tone. As I grew older, I discovered a tolerance for stories with a downbeat or bittersweet ending. This led me to try Hardy again and so, I focused my attention on the 1998 miniseries, “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”.

Based upon Hardy’s 1874 novel, “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” told the story about a young woman named Bathsheba Everdene, who had recently inherited her late uncle’s prosperous estate. Possessing a vain, yet independent and naïve personality, Bathsheba finds herself torn between three men who wish to marry her:

*Gabriel Oak – a failed sheep farmer who is hired by Bathsheba as a shepherd for her farm

*William Boldwood – a prosperous farmer and Bathsheba’s neighbor, who develops a romantic obsession toward her

*Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy – a dashing Army sergeant, who turns to Bathsheba not long after his planned wedding to a local girl named Fanny Robin fails to take place.

The story begins with Bathsheba living on a farm with her aunt, Mrs. Hurst. She meets Gabriel Oak, a former shepherd who has leased and stocked a sheep farm. Although the pair develops a close friendship, Gabriel falls in love with Bathsheba and eventually proposes marriage. Valuing her independence too much, Bathsheba refuses and their relationship cools down. Gabriel’s fortunes take a worse for turn, when his inexperienced sheep dog drives his flock of sheep over a cliff, bankrupting him. Bathsheba, on the other hand, inherits her uncle’s prosperous estate in Westbury. Their paths crosses again, and she ends up hiring Gabriel as her new shepherd.

However, Bathsheba has also become acquainted with her new neighbor, the wealthy farmer, John Boldwood, who becomes romantically obsessed with her after she sends him a Valentine’s Day card as a joke. He sets about wooing her in a persistent manner that she finds difficult to ignore. But just as Bathsheba is about to consider Mr. Boldwood as a potential husband, Sergeant Frank Troy enters her life and she becomes infatuated with him. Unbeknownst to anyone, Frank was set to marry one of Bathsheba’s former servants, a young woman named Fanny Robin. Unfortunately, the latter showed up at the wrong church for the wedding. Humiliated and angry, Frank called off the wedding. While Bathsheba finds herself in the middle of a rather unpleasant love triangle between Boldwood and Frank, Gabriel can only watch helplessly as this situation develops into tragedy.

I might as well be honest. “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” did not strike me as completely tragic. It did not prove to be tragic at the same level as stories like “The Mayor of Casterbridge” or “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”. In fact, the story did not even have a tragic ending (for which I am grateful). But there was something . . . I cannot put my finger on it . . . there was an undertone to the story that I found both fascinating and disturbing. And it all revolved around the character of Bathsheba Everdene. Personally, I feel that she was one of Hardy’s best creations. Bathsheba proved to be a curious mixture of virtues and flaws that I fear is becoming increasingly rare among fictional female characters.

One one hand, Bathsheba was an intelligent woman who quickly learned to manage an estate and lead a group of workers who harbored doubts about her, due to her gender. She also had the good sense to realize she lacked the experience or talent to deal with some aspect of estate managing and turn to someone who could help her – usually Gabriel Oak. On the other hand, Bathsheba also proved to be a vain young woman, who seemed a bit too concerned about how others thought about her. This vanity led her to hide her previous friendship with Gabriel . . . to the point that she insisted they maintain an employer-employee distance from each other. Bathsheba also possessed a slightly cruel streak that led her to thoughtlessly play an unkind joke on John Boldwood by sending him a Valentine Day’s card with the words “Marry me” scribbled on it. Ironically, Bathsheba also proved she could be just as obsessive as Boldwood, when she fell for Frank Troy and realizes after their wedding that he had continued to love his former fiancée, Fanny Robin. It was this combination of positive and negative traits that made Bathsheba such an interesting and ambiguous character. And Bathsheba’s ambiguous nature seemed to have a strong impact on Hardy’s tale.

Through Bathsheba’s relationship with Gabriel Oak, audiences received glimpses of the day-to-day realities of business and life on a 19th century farm. Audiences also got a chance to view Bathsheba through Gabriel’s eyes – despite his love for her, he seemed to harbor a realistic view of her. Through her relationships with neighbor John Boldwood and husband Frank Troy, audiences got the chance to see Bathsheba deal with obsession from both sides of the fence – whether she was the object of Boldwood’s obsession or Frank was the object of hers. Now that I think about it, I find it odd that a major character would experience obsession from different perspectives in that manner. How strange . . . and yet, satisfying in a way.

Although the plot for “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” focused strongly on the romantic dynamics between Bathsheba, the three men in her life and the Fanny Robin character; I was pleased to discover that Philomena McDonagh’s screenplay also gave audiences many glimpses into the lives of the farmhands that worked for Bathsheba. The miniseries delved into her relationship with her workers and their own perspectives and hangups over whether she could handle being the owner of prosperous farm. As with her relationship with Gabriel, Bathsheba’s relationship with her workers allowed the audiences to appreciate the realities of life on a 19th century farm.

The production values for “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” seemed pretty top-notch. Well . . . most of them. I had no problems with Adrian Smith’s production designs. I thought he did an excellent job in re-creating mid 19th century Wessex. Rosie Hardwick and Paul Kirby’s art direction contributed to the movie’s overall look, along with Nic Ede’s costume designs. I find it interesting that this version is set between the late 1850s and 1860, especially since the other two adaptation are set in the 1870s . . . the same decade as the novel’s publication. Although I admire John Daly’s use of the locations in Derbyshire, Cheshire and Wiltshire as substitutes for Wessex, I did not care for the cinematography very much. I found it slightly too dark and the color did not hold up well in the following seventeen to eighteen years.

The cast, on the other hand, struck me as first-rate. It is a pity that very few ever comment on Paloma Baeza’s portrayal of Bathsheba Everdeen. Frankly, I thought she did an excellent job in conveying both the character’s ambiguities, charm and intelligence. More importantly, she did a first-rate job in carrying such a large production on her shoulders, at such a young age. Nathaniel Parker’s portrayal of Gabriel Oak proved to be the production’s emotional backbone. But the actor also did an excellent job in conveying his character’s quiet passion, along with his jealousy and growing despair over Bathsheba’s relationships with both John Boldwood and Frank Troy.

John Terry was at least a decade older than the John Boldwood character at the time this miniseries was filmed. However, I do not believe that this decade old age difference hampered his character one whit. He gave an outstanding performance as the love-sick, middle-aged farmer who developed a growing obsession over the young and pretty Bathsheba. At first, I had some difficulty is viewing Jonathan Firth as the dashing, yet egotistical Frank Troy. I fear this had to do with my inability to view the actor as the roguish type. And I was not that impressed by the sword demonstration scene between his his character and Baeza’s Bathsheba. But the more I watched Firth on the television screen, the more I found myself impressed by his performance . . . especially by the time his character had married Bathsheba and began to reveal his less than pleasant traits to his new wife. Natasha Little gave a very charming, yet sympathetic performance as the hard-luck Fanny Robin, whose mistake in showing up at the wrong church for her wedding to Frank, proved to be so disastrous. Fortunately for Little, the screenplay allowed her to portray Fanny as an individual with her own set of emotions, instead of the mere plot device that Hardy had portrayed in the novel. The production also benefited from solid performances by Tracy Keating, Gabrielle Lloyd, Linda Bassett, Phillip Joseph, Rhys Morgan, Reginald Callcott and Sean Gilder.

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” may have suffered from questionable photography, but I certainly had no problems with other aspects of the productions. Its 216 minutes running time allowed screenwriter Philomena McDonagh and director Nicholas Renton to create a superb and detailed adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel. Also, top-notch production values (aside from the photography) and excellent performances from a cast led by Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker added a great deal to already well done miniseries.

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R.I.P. Nigel Terry (1945-2015)

“Adapting AGATHA CHRISTIE”

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“ADAPTING AGATHA CHRISTIE”

Ever since the release of the BBC recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel, “And Then There Were None”, television viewers and critics have been praising the production for being a faithful adaptation. In fact these critics and fans have been in such rapture over the production that some of them have failed to noticed that the three-part miniseries was not completely faithful. As long as the production followed Christie’s original ending, they were satisfied.

Mind you, I thought this new production, “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” was top notch, I have found myself growing somewhat annoyed over this attitude. Why do so many people insist that a movie/television production should be faithful to the novel it is adapting? I honestly believe that it should not matter. Not really. I believe that sometimes, it’s a good thing to make some changes from the original novel (or play). Sometimes, it’s good to remain faithful to the source novel. Sometimes, what is in a novel does not translate well to the television or movie screen.

A good example are the two adaptations of Christie’s 1941 novel, “Evil Under the Sun”. The 1982 adaptation, which starred Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, made some major changes in regard to characters and a minor subplot. The 2001 television adaptation, which starred David Suchet, was somewhat more faithful . . . but not completely. In my personal view, I believe that the Ustinov version was a lot better . . . more entertaining. Why? If I have to be brutally honest, I am not a big fan of Christie’s 1941 novel. No matter how many times I tried to like it (and I tried), it simply bored me.

In regard to the adaptations of “And Then There Were None”, there are only two adaptations that I really enjoyed – Rene Clair’s 1945 adaptation and this new version. The 1945 film is actually an adaptation of the 1943 stage play written by Christie. Because the play first opened in the middle of World War II, Christie had decided to change the ending in order to spare wartime theater goers the story’s nihilistic ending. Two years later, director Rene Clair and 20th Century Fox decided to adapt Christie’s stage play, instead of the novel. Several other movie adaptations – including the 1996 and the 1974 – did the same. As far as I know, only the Russian 1987 adaptation followed Christie’s original ending.

And how do I care about these numerous adaptations? I have seen both the 1966 and 1974 movies. I am not a fan of either. Personally, I found them rather cheap. I have never seen the 1987 Russian film. As for the 1945 and 2015 versions . . . I am a big fan of both. That’s right . . . both of them. I do not care that 2015 miniseries stuck to Christie’s original novel, despite some changes, and Clair’s 1945 movie did not. I simply happen to enjoy BOTH versions. Why? Both versions were made with skill and style. And I found both versions fascinating, despite the fact that they have different endings.

I do not believe it should matter that a movie or television ALWAYS adhere to the novel it is adapting. What should matter is whether the director, writer or both are wise enough to realize whether it is a good idea to be completely faithful or to make changes . . . for the sake of the production. If producer John Bradbourne and director Guy Hamilton can make a superior adaptation of “Evil Under the Sun” by utilizing major changes to Christie’s original story and if there can be two outstanding versions of “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” . . . with different endings, I really do not see the need for any film or television production to blindly adhere to every aspect of a novel it is adapting.

“Crossroads of the Force” [PG-13] – Chapter Four

 

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“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”

CHAPTER FOUR

THE VELM SYSTEM

Han and Anakin stood near the Javian Hawk’s boarding ramp, while they observed Mako converse with the Dreadnought’s captain. Both the Hawk and Mako’s ship, the Alastian Star, stood inside the Imperial cruiser’s shuttle bay, surrounded by stormtroopers. Han glanced at his partner’s face. Despite Anakin’s stoic expression, the young Corellian could sense the older man’s unease.

“Don’t worry,” Han whispered. “Mako seems to know what he’s doing. He probably knows this guy from the Imperial Academy or something. They seem a little friendly.”

Anakin muttered back, “I hope so, for our own sake. Because if this Captain Skafte insists upon inspecting our cargo, be prepared to run for it.” A sharp sigh escaped from his mouth. “I should have stayed aboard the Hawk. We both should.”

Han could not help but privately agree. It worried him that an Imperial ship had finally been able to catch them after ten years of smuggling. Perhaps Anakin had a right to complain about Mako’s route to Maldore. He stole another glance at the older man. Anakin’s expression now looked intense. The former Jedi seemed to be concentrating on Mako and Captain Skafte. “I wonder what they’re talking about,” Anakin commented in a dark tone. “Do you really think Spince will be able to convince the captain to let us go?”

With a shrug, Han replied, “I don’t know. Like I said, they seem to be a little friendly with each other.

“Right now, I don’t sense anything amiss,” Anakin continued. “But the moment I give the signal that something’s wrong, get aboard the Hawk as soon as possible. And start shooting at anyone who moves.”

Han saw a flaw in Anakin’s desperate plan. “Shouldn’t I at least wait for Mako to board his ship?”

Anakin shot a dark glance at Han. “Why bother? You honestly think he would make it in time?”

Slowly, Han turned to stare at his partner. Was Anakin actually willing to sacrifice Mako in order to escape from the Imperials? Before he could comment, his eyes fell upon a handcuffed Wookie entering the shuttle bay with flanking stormtroopers. “What’s he doing here?” Han whispered.

“Who?”

“The Wookie!” Han indicated the newcomer with a nod of his head. “Looks like he’s a prisoner.”

Anakin mumbled, “I’m not surprised. After Kashyyyk, the Imperials have been using captured Wookies as slaves.”

“Slaves!” Han felt a stab to his stomach. The idea of any Wookie being a prisoner sickened him. And this particular prisoner reminded him of Dewlanna. He wondered if she would have faced a similar fate if she had returned to Kashyyyk following her husband’s death. One glance at Anakin told Han that the former felt equally disgusted. After all, the two partners had endured some form of slavery during their respective childhoods. “I wish we could free him,” Han added. “The Wookie, I mean.”

“Right now, we should be worried about us,” Anakin muttered.

At that moment, Mako and Captain Skafte approached the partners. “So,” the latter commented, “you’re friends of Mako?”

“That’s right,” Han replied with fake cheerfulness.

Mako added, “I had just informed Captain Skafte that we’re shipping power converters to Maldore.”

Anakin asked, “Are you two familiar with each other?”

“Captain Skafte used to be one of my instructors at the Imperial Academy,” Mako explained. He added sheepishly, “Before I was expelled.”

The captain added, “Now that Mako has explained everything, you’re free . . .”

A loud roar filled the shuttle bay. The four men diverted their attention to the stormtroopers struggling with the Wookie captor. A frown darkened Skafte’s countenance. “Now what?” he muttered. “Treece! What is going on?”

A blond-haired junior officer replied, “I’m sorry sir. The Wookie is being difficult. Being an animal, I guess he can’t help himself.”

“You have a Wookie as a slave?” Anakin asked, surprising Han, Mako and Skafte.

The captain regarded Anakin warily. “Do you have a problem with this . . . uh, Captain . . .?”

“Horus. Set Horus.” Anakin shook his head. “No sir, I don’t. In fact, slavery is very common where I come from. I’m merely surprised that you would use Wookie labor. I’ve heard rumors that they can be difficult as slaves. Not that I actually believe such rumors.” Han noticed that Anakin had refrained from mentioning his homeworld by name.

A cool smile touched Skafte’s lips. “They’ve made pretty good slaves since the fall of Kashyyyk, ten years ago. And this slave,” he nodded at the Wookie, “happens to be a talented technician and pilot. The Trandoshans had captured him some three months ago. This Wookie tried to escape before he could be sold, but he failed and served under another Imperial commander before he was transferred to me.”

Anakin’s face expressed interest. “Really? A pilot and a technician? How long have you had him aboard this starship?”

With a shrug, Skafte replied, “Oh, about a week. I’m transporting this . . . creature to the Maw, where he is to work on one of the Empire’s new projects.”

“How much are you willing to sell for this . . . creature?” Anakin’s question surprised Han.

Apparently, Skafte also seemed surprised by Anakin’s request. He frowned at the former Jedi and asked, “You’re interested in buying this Wookie? Why? Didn’t you say that they don’t make good slaves?”

“I said that most people don’t consider them to be good slaves,” Anakin corrected. “I also said that I didn’t believe such nonsense. According to you, he’s a good mechanic and I can certainly use one.”

Han struggled to contain his excitement. Did Anakin actually plan to help free the Wookie? He noticed that Skafte had become pensive for a few minutes. Then the officer stared at Anakin. Han wondered if his partner had gone too far.

“How do you plan to keep him in line?” the Imperial officer finally asked.

A cruel smile curved Anakin’s lips. For the first time in years, Han could imagine him as a Sith Lord. “Let’s just say that I plan to use a more effective method other than a blaster or taser,” he coldly replied.

As the two men walked away to discuss the enslaved Wookie, Mako leaned forward to whisper in Han’s ear. “What’s going on?”

Han tried to play dumb. “Huh?”

“The Wookie!” Mako hissed. “Why is Horus suddenly interested in the Wookie?”

Han murmured back, “We need an extra mechanic for the Hawk.”

“Who are you kidding?” Mako retorted. “Horus could probably fix that ship of his, blind-folded. Or else he could simply buy a droid.” Realization gleamed in his eyes. “Oh no! Horus is trying to . . .” He broke off momentarily, as an officer passed by. Then he added in a lower voice, “He plans to free that Wookie, doesn’t he?”

Keeping his gaze fixed upon Anakin and Skafte, Han merely replied, “Why would any of us be interested in freeing some slave? Let alone a Wookie?”

At that moment, Anakin and Skafte returned to the younger men. The smiling Imperial commander was saying, “. . . to be of service, Captain Horus. I only hope that you realize what you’re going to be dealing with.” He turned to the blond-haired lieutenant. “Treece! Bring the Wookie over here! He will be leaving with our new friends.”

Lieutenant Treece and two stormtroopers forced the Wookie to join Han and Anakin. As Treece began to remove the Wookie’s shackles, Anakin barked, “What are you doing?”

Treece blinked several times. “Uh . . .”

“Treece, you idiot!” Skafte retorted angrily. “The Wookie is now Captain Horus’ property! Not some member of his crew! Keep the shackles on! And hand him over to the Captain’s co-pilot, so they can be on their way.”

The red-faced Treece handed the chains to the Wookie’s shackles over to Han. Who led the Wookie aboard the Hawk. The moment the pair were safely out of sight, Han unfastened the shackles. “Welcome aboard the Javian Hawk,” he greeted. “I’m Han Solo. And the captain . . .”

Anakin quickly boarded the ship. “Let’s go, Han!” he barked. “We’re out of here! Now!”

Han flashed an apologetic smile at the Wookie and followed Anakin to the cockpit. Less than five minutes later, the Javian Hawk finally left the Dreadnought, with the Alastian Star closely behind.

——–

Chewbacca stood in the middle of the starship’s narrow passageway and stared at the shackles near his feet. Why had the boy removed them? Why . . .?

The ship jolted before Chewbacca felt it move forward. He realized that the Corellian ship had just left the Dreadnought. At first, the Wookie felt a sense of exultation. After three months he had finally escaped his Imperial masters. Then he recalled the hard eyes of the ship’s captain. A nagging fear began to worm in the back of his mind that he had exchanged several masters for a new one. Once more, his eyes fell upon the shackles. If he was still a slave, why did the boy remove his shackles?

Slowly, Chewbacca began to move around. If he could find a weapon, perhaps he might force his new . . . companions to deliver him to the nearest inhabited system. And hopefully, he would find a way to reunite with the Drunken Dancer crew.

Ten years ago, Chewbacca and a group of fellow Wookies had been charged to aid a small band of renegade Jedi, led by Olee Sandstone, to find other Jedi being hunted by the Empire. Unfortunately, the mission led to disaster as Chewbacca, Sandstone and their band fled to Kashyyyk with the Empire and a Sith Lord named Darth Rasche, close behind. Following the fall of his homeworld, Chewbacca and the Drunken Dancer’s crew spent the next decade harassing Imperial ships and freeing any Wookie slaves they came across. Just three months ago, Chewbecca came across a fellow Wookie named Tvrrdko. Unfortunately, Tvrrdko’s son had been killed while fighting alongside Chewbacca during the Clone Wars . . . and blamed the latter for his son’s death. Seeking revenge, Tvrrdko betrayed Chewbacca to a Trandoshan slaver named Ssoh. A failed attempt to escape from Ssoh led the enslaved Wookie into the hands of an Imperial officer named Nyklas. The latter, a brutal and cruel taskmaster, set out to make Chewbacca’s life as miserable as possible. Once more, Chewbacca made another attempt to escape slavery. With the help of the Dreadnought’s crew, Nyklas managed to prevent Chewbacca’s escape. Captain Skafte, the Dreadnought’s commander had suggested he transport Chewbacca to one of the galaxy’s hell spots – the Maw – for work on one of the Empire’s new projects. One week later, the Dreadnought came across two Corellian freighters and Chewbacca no longer found himself in the hands of the Empire.

Quietly, the Wookie began his search for weapons. It did not take him long to find them in a storage cabinet near the ship’s port side. Not only did it possess blaster pistols and rifles, but also a Jedi lightsaber. Chewbacca frowned at the weapon. The sight of it reminded him of Olee Sandstone and the other former Jedi on the Drunken Dancer. The weapon also reminded him of the late Roan Shryne and the little green Jedi Master he had met during those last days of the Clone Wars. How did two smugglers managed to get their hands on a lightsaber? He reached for the weapon.

“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” a deep voice murmured. Chewbacca snatched a blaster pistol from the weapons cabinet and aimed it at the voice’s owner. Who happened to be the tall, blond pilot who had just purchased him from the Dreadnought’s captain. “Well, this is a new development.”

Chewbacca growled, “I want you to drop me off at the nearest inhabited system. Now!”

The pilot shook his head. “Sorry, but I don’t speak Shyriiwook or any other Wookie language.” Then he roared, “Han! Get in here! Now!”

Nearly a minute passed before the younger man – Solo – appeared. “What’s the problem?” The words barely came out of his mouth, when his eyes fell upon the blaster in Chewbacca’s grip. “Whoa! I mean . . . what the hell is going on?”

“This Wookie wants something . . .” the older pilot began.

Chewbacca interrupted, “I want passage to the nearest habitable system. Or else.”

“Or else what?” Solo shot back. “Why are you pointing that blaster at my friend?”

“Your friend had just bought me,” Chewbacca growled. “I don’t intend to hang around and make it worth his while.”

Solo contemptuously rolled his eyes. “My friend had bought you so that you can be free! Why else would I remove your shackles?”

Feeling slightly foolish, Chewbacca lowered the blaster. “Oh. I . . . Sorry.”

“What did he say?” the older pilot asked.

Solo replied, “He said that he was sorry.” He turned to Chewbacca. “Listen, we’re on our way to Maldore. We can drop you off there, if you like. Or perhaps take you somewhere else.”

Chewbacca had intended to search for the Drunken Dancer if he ever found himself free. Unfortunately, three months had passed since his capture. Since Sandstone and her crew were wanted by the Empire, he felt certain that the Drunken Dancer would remain on the move. Quite frankly, he had no place to go. He wondered if the humans would allow him to join their crew.

The older pilot gave the Wookie a knowing look. “All alone in the world?” Chewbacca nodded. The two pilots exchanged a glance before the older one added, “I realize that this might be a spur-of-the-moment thing, but . . . you’re more than welcome to join our crew.”

The pilot’s offer took Chewbacca by surprise. The former seemed to have read his thoughts. Then he recalled the weapon in the locker. He wondered if the blond man was a former Jedi . . . or that these two were involved in activities against the Empire, like the Drunken Dancer’s crew. “Well?” Solo added.

Chewbacca nodded and growled, “I would be happy to.”

Solo translated his answer to the older pilot. Who broke into a grin. “Great! You’ve already met Han Solo and I’m . . . Set Horus.” He offered his hand. “Welcome to the Javian Hawk!”

——-

CORUSCANT

A loud buzz from the door announced a visitor. Darth Rasche switched off his lightsaber and ordered, “Come in!”

A stocky man of medium height entered the Sith Lord’s personal gymnasium. He wore the uniform of an inquisitor. “I have a report regarding Senator Dahlma,” the Inquisitor announced. “Yesterday, she and her aide boarded a transport for Maldore.”

Rasche sighed. “It looks as if she had been telling the truth, after all.”

The Inquisitor continued, “There’s more. The senator remained at her private home in Malag. She did not bother to travel to her family’s estate in the Dalgar region.”

“Interesting.” It looked as if the Emperor’s suspicions about a non-existent funeral might be well founded. “Tell your agent to keep an eye on the senator. See who goes in and out of her home.”

The agent bowed. “Yes, my Lord.” He immediately left the gymnasium.

Rasche took a deep breath and picked up his comlink. “Commander Abbas, summon the crew and prepare the Exactor for departure. I will be leaving for Maldore.”

END OF CHAPTER FOUR

“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” (1993) Review

“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” (1993) Review

Looking back, I realized that I have seen very few movie and television adaptations of Mark Twain’s novels – especially those that featured his two most famous characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I take that back. I have seen a good number of adaptations, but it has been a long time since I have viewed any of them. Realizing this, I decided to review the 1993 Disney adaptation of Twain’s 1885 novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

According to Wikipedia, “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” mainly focused the first half of Twain’s novel. After watching the film, I realized that Wikipedia had made an error. The movie focused on four-fifths of the narrative. It ignored the novel’s last segment – namely Huck Finn’s reunion with his friend, Tom Sawyer, at the Arkansas plantation owned by the latter’s uncle. Actually, director/screenwriter Stephen Sommers combined the aspects of both this chapter and the previous one in which Huck meets the two con men – “The Duke” and “The King” – along with the Wilkes sisters into one long segment for the movie’s second half. In fact, Sommers named the town in which the Wilkes sisters lived after Tom’s Uncle Phelps. I know what many are thinking . . . “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” is not a completely faithful adaptation of Twain’s novel. Considering that I have yet to come across a movie or television production that is not completely faithful of a source novel or play, I find such complaints unnecessary. At least for me. Especially since I had very little problems with Sommers’ adaptation in the first place.

Anyone familiar with Twain’s novel knows what happened. A Missouri boy named Huckleberry Finn (who first appeared in Twain’s 1876 novel, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”) is living with a pair of widowed sisters – the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson – when his drunken and violent father, “Pap” Finn, reappears in his life, determined to get his hands on the money left to Huck by his late wife. After Huck spends a terrifying night with a drunken Pap, he decides to fake his death and head for Jackson’s Island in the middle of the Mississippi River. There, he discovers Jim, Miss Watson’s slave and one of Huck’s closest friends, hiding out as well. Jim had escaped after learning Miss Watson’s decision to sell him down the river. Huck initially condemns Jim for running away. But due to their friendship, he decides to help Jim escape and join the latter on a trip down the Mississippi to Cairo, Illinois. There, Jim hopes to find river passage up the Ohio River to freedom. Unfortunately, their plans fail fall apart and the two friends end up facing a series of adventures and different characters as they find themselves heading down the Mississippi River.

To be honest, I have never read a review of “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN”. In fact, I have never seen the movie in theaters. Which is a shame. Because this film is damn good. I had seen the version that aired on PBS back in 1985. And I never thought any version could top it. Well, this particular version did not top it . . . so to speak. But, I do not regard it as inferior to the 1985 version. I believe that both movies are truly first-rate. I just happen to prefer this version, which was written and directed by Stephen Sommers. I do recall how many critics had initially dismissed the film, believing it had “Disneyfied” what is regarded by many as Mark Twain’s masterpiece . . . well, at least in the many years following his death.

Sommers’ screenplay had managed to “Disneyfied” Twain’s story in one way. It avoided the use of the word “nigger” to describe Jim Watson and other African-American characters. Instead, some characters called Jim “boy” in a very insulting and derogatory manner. But there were other changes made to Twain story. Huck’s joke to Jim by pretending he was dead was erased. And as I had stated earlier, the last segment that featured Jim being sold to an Arkansas plantation owned by Tom Sawyer’s uncle, along with Huck’s reunion with his best friend, had been removed. Personally, I had no problems with the removal of Tom’s appearance. Like many literary critics – including those who admired the novel – I have never liked that particular subplot. Instead, Sommers had decided to end the story with a major sequence featuring Huck and Jim’s “partnership” with the two con men who posed as the long-lost brothers of a dead rich man named Wilkes. This allowed Sommers to name Wilkes’ town after Tom Sawyer’s uncle Phelps. Sommers also allowed Huck to experience Tom’s fate in the story. By getting rid of Huck and Jim’s reunion with Tom, Sommers managed to end the movie on a more exciting note, instead of the anti-climatic one that seemed to mar Twain’s story.

But there is one thing that Sommers did not do . . . he did not softened the anti-slavery and anti-racism themes from Twain’s novel. Sommers not only retained the strong sense of travel and adventure along the Mississippi River in the story, he did an effective job of maintaining the author’s anti-slavery and anti-racism themes. This was apparent in scenes that featured Huck and Jim’s debate about the presence of non-English speaking people in the world, the two con men’s discovery of Jim’s status as a runaway slave and their blackmail of the two friends and finally, Huck and Jim’s attempt to make their escape from Phelps’ Landing to a northbound steamboat. To reinforce the theme, Sommers even allowed Jim to be caught by the Grangerford family and forced to become one of their field slaves – something that did not happen in Twain’s novel. More importantly, Jim’s decision to run from Miss Watson would have an impact on their friendship, which had already been established before the story began. This was apparent in Huck’s reluctance to help Jim escape and the latter’s knowledge of Pap’s death . . . something he kept from the boy throughout most of the story. Jim’s status as a runaway, along with the two con men’s dealings at Phelps’ Landing culminated in an exciting conclusion that resulted with a rather scary lynch mob after Huck and Jim’s hides.

But it was not just Sommers’ adaptation of Twain’s story that I found satisfying. “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” is a visually beautiful film. And the producers can thank veteran Hollywood filmmaker Janusz Kaminski for his beautiful photography. His rich and sharp colors, which holds up very well after 22 years, really captured the beauties of the film’s Natchez, Mississippi locations. His photography also added to the film’s early 19th century Mississippi Valley setting. However, Kaminski’s photography was not the only aspect that allowed Sommers to beautifully recapture the film’s setting. I was also impressed by Randy Moore’s art direction and Michael Warga’s set decorations – especially at a riverboat landing in which Huck, Jim and the two con men meet a former resident of Phelps’ Landing. I noticed that Betsy Heimann’s career in Hollywood mainly consisted of movie projects set in the present day. As far as I know, “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” was her only movie project set in the past. I find this a pity, because I was very impressed by her costumes for the movie. In fact, I found them quite beautiful, especially her costumes for Anne Heche, Renée O’Connor and Dana Ivey.

However, the costumes also brought up a small issue I had with the movie. Exactly when is this movie set? Was it set during the 1820s or the 1830s? During a scene between Huck and young Susan Wilks, the former (who was impersonating the Duke and the King’s Cockney valet) pointed out that George IV reigned Great Britain. Which meant the movie could be set anywhere between January 1820 and June 1830. But Heimann’s costumes for the women, with its fuller skirts, seemed to indicate that the movie was definitely set in the 1830s. So, I am a little confused. I am also confused as to why Huck had failed to tell Billy Grangerford that the captured Jim was his servant. Why did he pretend that he did not know Jim? The latter could have been spared a brutal beating at the hands of the family’s overseer. I congratulate Sommers for using the Grangerford sequence to reveal more on the brutality of 19th century American slavery. But he could have easily done this by allowing both Huck and Jim to witness the whipping of a Grangerford slave. I also had a problem with Bill Conti’s score. Well . . . at least half of it. On one hand, Conti’s score meshed well with the story and its setting. However . . . I noticed that some parts of his score had not originally been created for this movie. Being a long time fan of John Jakes’ “North and South” Trilogy and the three television adaptations, I had no problem realizing that Conti had lifted parts of the score he had written for the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH” and used it for this movie.

I might have a few quibbles about “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN”. But I certainly had no complaints about the film’s cast. The movie was filled with first-rate performances from the movie’s supporting cast. Colorful performances included those from Dana Ivey and Mary Louise Wilson as the kind-hearted Widow Douglas and her more acerbic sister Miss Watson; Ron Perlman, who was both scary and funny as Huck’s drunken father Pap Finn; Francis Conroy as the verbose shanty woman from Huck tries to steal food; Garette Ratliff Henson as the friendly Billy Grangerford; Tom Aldredge as the suspicious Dr. Robinson, who rightly perceives that the two con men are not his late friend’s brothers; Curtis Armstrong as the slightly brainless and naïve former resident of Phelps’ Landing, who told the “Duke and King” everything about the Wilks family; and James Gammon as the tough sheriff of Phelps’ Landing, who seemed to have a naïve regard for the two con men. Anne Heche, along with Renée O’Connor (Gabrielle from “XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS”) and Laura Bundy portrayed the three Wilks sisters – Mary Jane, Julia and young Susan. Both Heche and O’Connor gave charming performances. But I found Bundy rather funny as the suspicious Susan, especially in her interactions with Elijah Wood.

Of all the actors I could have imagined portraying the two con men – the King and the Duke – neither Jason Robards or Robbie Coltrane enter my thoughts. In fact, I could never imagine the gruff-voiced, two-time Oscar winner and the Scottish actor known for portraying Rubeus Hagrid in the “HARRY POTTER” movie franchise as a pair of 19th century Mississippi Valley con artists, let alone an effective screen team. Not only did the pair give great performances, but to my surprise, managed to create a very funny comedy pair. Who knew? But the pair that really carried “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” turned out to be Elijah Wood as the titled character, Huckleberry Finn and Courtney B. Vance as Jim Watson. Someone once complained that Wood was too young to portray Huck Finn in this movie. How on earth did he come up with this observation? Wood was at least twelve years old when he portrayed Huck. Not only was he not too old, he gave a superb performance as the intelligent, yet pragmatic Missouri boy. More importantly, Wood did an excellent job serving as the film’s narrator. Equally superb was Courtney B. Vance, who in my opinion, turned out to be the best cinematic Jim Watson I have ever seen. Vance did an excellent job in conveying the many facets of Jim’s nature – his sense of humor, lack of education, pragmatism and intelligence. Vance made sure that audiences knew that Jim was uneducated . . . and at the same time, a very intelligent man. The best aspect of Wood and Vance’s performances is that the pair made a superb screen team. I have no idea how they felt about each other in real life. On screen, they sparkled like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” may not be a literal adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel. It is clear that writer-director made some changes. And I must admit that the movie possessed a few flaws. But in the end, I felt it was a first-rate adaptation of the novel that bridled with energy, color, pathos, suspense, humor and a sense of adventure. And one can thank Stephen Sommers for his excellent script and energetic direction, along with the superb cast led by Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance. It is one Twain adaptation I could never get tired of watching over and over again.

“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” (2015) Review

 

“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” (2015) Review

Following the success of his 2012 movie, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, Quentin Tarantino set about creating another movie with a Western theme that also reflected today’s themes and social relationships in the United States. However, due to circumstances beyond his control, Tarantino nearly rejected the project. And if he had, audiences would have never seen what came to be . . . “THE HATEFUL EIGHT”.

The circumstances that nearly led Tarantino to give up the project occurred when someone gained access to his script and published it online in early 2014. The producer-director had considered publishing the story as a novel, until he directed a reading of the story the United Artists Theater in the Ace Hotel Los Angeles. The event was organized by the Film Independent at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of the Live Read series. The success of the event eventually convinced Tarantino to shoot the movie.

“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” is at its heart, a mystery. I would not describe it as a murder-mystery, but more like . . . well, let me begin. The story begins in the post-Civil War Wyoming Territory where a stagecoach rushing to get ahead of an oncoming blizzard, is conveying bounty hunter John Ruth aka “The Hangman” and his handcuffed prisoner, a female outlaw named Daisy Domergue. The stagecoach is bound for the town of Red Rock, where Daisy is scheduled to be hanged. During the journey, an African-American bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren, who is transporting three dead bounties to the town of Red Rock, hitches a ride on the stagecoach. His horse had died on him. Several hours later, the stagecoach picks up another passenger, a former Confederate militiaman named Chris Mannix, who claims to be traveling to Red Rock in order to become the town’s new sheriff. The stagecoach passengers are forced to seek refuge at a stage station called Minnie’s Haberdashery, when the blizzard finally strikes. The new arrivals are greeted by a Mexican handyman named Bob, who informs them that Minnie is visiting a relative and has left him in charge. The other lodgers are a British-born professional hangman Oswaldo Mobray; a quiet cowboy named Joe Gage, who is traveling to visit his mother; and Sanford Smithers, a former Confederate general. Forever paranoid, Ruth disarms all but Warren, with whom he had bonded during stagecoach journey. When Warren has a violent confrontation with Smithers, Daisy spots someone slip poison into a pot of coffee, brewing on the stove. Someone she recognizes as a fellow outlaw, who is there to spring her free from Ruth’s custody. And there is where the mystery lies – the identity of Daisy’s fellow outlaw.

“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” marks the sixth Quentin Tarantino movie I have ever seen. I also found it the most unusual. But it is not my favorite. In fact, I would not even consider it among my top three favorites. And here is the reason why. “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” struck me as being too damn long with a running time of two hours and forty-seven minutes. I realize that most of Tarantino films usually have a running time that stretches past two hours. But we are talking of a film that is basically a character study/mystery. Even worse, most of the film is set at a stagecoach station – a one-story building with one big room. Not even Tarantino’s attempt to stretch out the stage journey at the beginning of the film could overcome this limited setting. And due to the limited setting and film’s genre, “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” is probably the least epic film in his career, aside from his first one, 1993’s “RESERVOIR DOGS”. At least that film did not stretch into a ridiculously long 167 minute running time.

I also thought Tarantino made too much of a big deal in the confrontation between Major Marquis Warren and General Sanford Smithers. Apparently, Warren had a grudge against Smithers for executing black troops at the Battle of Baton Rouge. I find this improbable, due to the fact that there were no black troops fighting for the Union during that battle, which was a Union victory. There were no black Union or Confederate troops known to have taken part in that particular battle. Tarantino should have taken the time to study his Civil War history. But what really annoyed me about the Warren-Smithers confrontation was that Tarantino thought it was necessary to include a flashback showing Warren’s encounter with Smither’s son, which resulted in the latter’s death. I realize that the Warren-Smithers encounter allowed Daisy’s mysterious colleague to poison the coffee. But a flashback on Warren and Smithers Jr.? Unnecessary. I also found Tarantino’s narration in the film somewhat unnecessary. Frankly, he is not a very good narrator. And I found one particular piece of narration rather unnecessary – namely the scene in which Daisy witnessed the coffee being poisoned. Tarantino could have shown this on screen without any voice overs.

Despite these flaws, I must admit that I still managed to enjoy “THE HATEFUL EIGHT”. It featured some outstanding characterizations and dialogue. And it seemed the cast really took advantage of these well-written aspects of the script. I am not surprised that the film had received numerous nominations for Best Ensemble. Although the running time for “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” might be longer than it should, I have to give Tarantino kudos for his well-structured screenplay. He took his time in setting up the narrative, the mystery and his characters. And although he may have overdone it a bit by taking his time in reaching the film’s denouement, Tarantino delivered quite a payoff that really took me by surprise, once he reached that point. Unlike many movie directors today, Tarantino is a firm believer in taking his time to tell his story. My only regret is that he took too much time for a story that required a shorter running time.

But what I really liked about “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” is that it proved to be a new direction for Tarantino. In this age filled with lack of originality in the arts, it was refreshing to see there are artists out there who are still capable of being original. After viewing the movie at the theater, it occurred to me that is was basically an Agatha Christie tale set in the Old West. Tarantino utilized many aspects from various Christie novels. But the movie resembled one movie in particular. Only I will not say what that novel is, for it would allow anyone to easily guess what happens in the end. Although many of Christie’s novels and Tarantino’s movies feature a good deal of violence, “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” featured very little violence throughout most of its narrative . . . until the last quarter of the film. Once the Major Warren-General Smithers confrontation took place, all bets were off.

I wish I could comment on the movie’s production values. But if I must be honest, I did not find it particularly memorable. Well, there were one or two aspects of the movie’s production that impressed me. I really enjoyed Robert Richardson’s photography of Colorado, which served as Wyoming Territory for this film. I found it sharp and colorful. I also enjoyed Yohei Taneda’s production designs for the movie . . . especially for the Minnie’s Haberdashery setting. I though Taneda, along with art directors Benjamin Edelberg and Richard L. Johnson, did a great job of conveying the Old West in that one setting.

Naturally, I cannot discuss “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” without mentioning the cast. What can I say? They were outstanding. And Tarantino did an outstanding job directing them. As far as I know, “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” marked the first time at least three members of the cast have worked with Tarantino – Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Channing Tatum and Demián Bichir. Otherwise, everyone else seemed to be veterans of a Tarantino production, especially Samuel L. Jackson. “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” marked his sixth collaboration with the director. It is a pity that he was not recognized for his portrayal of bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren. As usual, he did an outstanding job of portraying a very complex character, who not only proved to be a ruthless law enforcer, but also a somewhat cruel man as shown in his confrontation with General Smithers. Actually, most of the other characters proved to be equally ruthless. Kurt Russell’s portrayal of bounty hunter John Ruth struck me as equally impressive. The actor did an excellent job in conveying Ruth’s ruthlessness, his sense of justice and especially his paranoia. Walton Goggin’s portrayal of ex-Confederate-turned-future lawman seemed like a far cry from his laconic villain from “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. Oddly enough, his character did not strike me as ruthless as some of the other characters and probably a little more friendly – except toward Warren. Jennifer Jason-Leigh has been earning acting nominations – including Golden Globe and Academy Award Best Supporting Actress nods – for her portrayal of the captured fugitive Daisy Domergue. Those nominations are well deserved, for Jason-Leigh did an outstanding job of bringing an unusual character to life. Ironically, the character spent most of the movie as a battered prisoner of Russell’s John Ruth. Yet, thanks to Jason-Leigh, she never lets audiences forget how ornery and dangerous she can be.

Tim Roth, who had not been in a Tarantino production since 1995’s “FOUR ROOMS”, gave probably the most jovial performance as the very sociable English-born professional hangman, Oswaldo Mobray. Bruce Dern, who was last seen in “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, had a bigger role in this film as the unsociable ex-Confederate General Sanford Smithers, who seemed determined not to speak to Warren. Despite portraying such an unsympathetic character, Dern did an excellent job in attracting the audience’s sympathy, as his character discovered his son’s grisly fate at Warren’s hands. Michael Masden gave a very quiet and subtle performance as Joe Gage, a rather silent cowboy who claimed to be on his way to visit his mother. And yet . . . he also projected an aura of suppressed danger, which made one suspect if he was Daisy’s collaborator. A rather interesting performance came from Demián Bichir, who portrayed the stage station’s handyman, Bob. Like Madsen’s Gage, Bichir’s Bob struck me as a quiet and easygoing man, who also conveyed an element of danger. I was very surprised to see Channing Tatum in this film, who portrayed Jody Domergue, Daisy’s older brother. Although his role was small, Channing was very effective as the villainous Domergue, who could also be quite the smooth talker. “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” also featured excellent supporting performances from the likes of James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley, Zoë Bell, Keith Jefferson and Gene Jones.

Yes, I found “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” too long. I feel it could have been cut short at least by forty minutes. And I was not that impressed by Quentin Tarantino’s voice over in the film. I could have done without it. But despite its flaws, I cannot deny that I found “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” to be one of the director’s more interesting movies in his career. With a first-rate cast led by Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason-Leigh; and a screenplay that seemed to be an interesting combination of a murder mystery and a Western; Tarantino created one of his most original movies during his career.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode Three “September 1862 – August 1863” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE THREE “September 1862 – August 1863”

I have mixed feelings about Episode Three of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. Fortunately, most of my feelings are positive. This episode featured the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Gettysburg, and a major schism in the Main family, regarding Madeline Main and her two sisters-in-law – Brett Hazard and Ashton Huntoon. But there was still certain aspects of this episode that I did not find particularly appealing.

I found the first half of this episode to be rather dull. Those reading this article would find this statement surprising, since the Battle of Antietam was featured in this first third of the episode. But I did. Following President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, one of the Mains’ slaves, Jim, decided to take matters into hands and run away. Unfortunately, he was caught and killed by the Mains’ former overseer, Salem Jones. I will admit that the reaction to Jim’s death proved to be slightly interesting, thanks to the excellent acting by Erica Gimbel, Beau Billingslea and especially Forest Whitaker; who portrayed Semiramis, Ezra and Cuffey. I was especially impressed by Whitaker’s performance as he conveyed Cuffey’s bitterness over being owned by the Mains. However, I found Brett and Madeline’s presence at Jim’s funeral to be a touch patronizing. But that is merely a private opinion.

Now, I had no problems with Kevin Connor’s direction of the Battle of Antietam. I believe he did the right thing by keeping the battle solely focused upon Billy Hazard and Charles Main. This allowed their brief reunion to be not only surprising, but dramatic. But I do have one major quibble about this particular sequence. How did Charles and his fellow officer, Ambrose Pell go from being cavalry scouts to leading large bodies of infantry troops on the field? If the miniseries had earlier included a small band of scouts under their command, I could see them leading these men into battle. But large bodies of infantry troops? Were the officers of these troops dead? And what kind of troops were they leading? Infantry or dismounted cavalry? I found this kind of inconsistent vagueness very irritating. The Battle of Gettysburg was better handled . . . somewhat. Considering it was one of the major conflicts of the war and fought in the same region – Southern Pennsylvania – as the Hazards’ hometown of Lehigh Station, I was surprised that the screenplay did not focus too highly on it. The battle was simply used as a literary device for the reunion of George and Billy Hazard and an excuse for the latter to go AWOL and see Brett.

The second half of Episode Three turned out to be a big improvement. Most of the slaves left Mont Royal and I did not blame them one bit. Orry’s reaction to their departure was interesting, considering how “BOOK I” had established his slight aversion to slavery. More importantly, his character came off as increasingly conservative. I found this surprising, considering that in the novel, “Love and War”, his views on slavery and racial relations had become slightly more radical. I found that little moment in which Orry bid his mother Clarissa Main good-bye, following his furlough, rather lovely and touching, thanks to the performances of Patrick Swayze and Jean Simmons. But I have mixed feelings about Billy’s decision to go AWOL in order to see Brett in South Carolina. Frankly, I found it disturbing. I do not blame him for missing Brett. But if the writers had not sent her to South Carolina in that ridiculous story line in Episode 2, she would have remained in the North and Billy would not have went AWOL. And his decision to head for South Carolina will prove to be troublesome for Episode Four‘s plot. I am also remain dumfounded by George’s position in the Union Army. During his reunion with Billy before the Gettysburg battle, he claimed that he had been transferred to field duty. And he was seen commanding artillery units. Yet, after the battle, he was seen attending another meeting with President Lincoln and his Cabinet. What the hell? The screenwriters really screwed up this time.

The episode’s second half, Ashton Main Huntoon’s appearance at Mont Royal really stirred things a bit. I found it to be the episode’s most enjoyable segment. Before I explain why I enjoyed it, I have to say a few words regarding Ashton’s reason for visiting her home – namely to confront Madeline about her African ancestry and drive her from Mont Royal and Orry’s radar. If I must be frank, I found Ashton and Bent’s revenge against Orry by using Madeline’s family secret, a bit . . . anti-climatic. Frankly, I thought they could have exposed Madeline’s secret in a more dramatic and satisfying moment – like during a political party in Richmond (which happened in the novel) or expose the secret to the Mains’ neighbors. However, their act of revenge did result in a marvelous scene well acted by Terri Garber and Lesley Anne Down. Semiramis’ rant against Ashton, thanks to another great piece of acting from Gimpel, was nice touch, although a bit fruitless. But it was Brett’s confrontation with Ashton that really did justice to this episode. Kudos to Garber and especially Genie Francis. Francis also shared an excellent scene with Parker Stevenson, who as Billy Hazard expressed his growing discontent with the war.

There is one major problem with this sequence. When Ashton arrived at Mont Royal, she carried foodstuff for the plantation. This makes no sense whatsoever. Ashton was traveling from a state – namely Virginia – that had been ravaged by two years of war. The amount of foodstuff she was carrying from Virginia should have been rare. South Carolina, on the other hand, had been freed of any battles by 1863, aside from the Sea Islands and the forts off the coast of Charleston. There should have been plenty of foodstuff at Mont Royal, thanks to Madeline, Brett, Semiramis and Ezra.

Anthony Zerbe made his first appearance as General Ulysses S. Grant, whom George had traveled all the way to Tennessee to meet, on behalf of President Lincoln. Veteran stars James Stewart and Olivia De Havilland appeared near the end of this episode. Did anyone know that those two had once dated in the late 1930s? Anyway, Stewart gave a charming performance as Madeline’s Charleston attorney, despite his Midwestern accent. However, De Havilland’s portrayal as Virgilia Hazard’s field hospital supervisor, Mrs. Neal, proved to be more interesting and complex. I could not decide which character was more irritating – Virgilia’s arrogant disregard for Mrs. Neal’s advice, or the latter’s patronizing concern for Southern patients at the expense of the other patients and her unfounded suspicions that Virgilia was ignoring them. Both De Havilland and Kirstie Alley gave superb performances in their scenes together.

Although Episode Three had its flaws, I cannot deny that Kevin Connor did an excellent job as the director. But I believe he was ably supported by the miniseries’ crew. Once again, Jacques R. Marquette’s photography provided a good deal of color and style to this episode – especially in the Battle of Antietam sequences. Jospeh R. Jennings continued his excellent production designs, ably transforming viewers back to the United States of the early 1860s. I could say the say about Robert Fletcher’s costume designs. I was especially impressed by his wardrobe for Maude and Isobel Hazard, along with Ashton Huntoon, who ended up being the best-dressed character of the episode. Below are examples of Fletcher’s work:

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Despite a some quibbles and a dull first half hour, Episode Three was an improvement over Episode Two. I was surprised by the number of excellent dramatic moments and first-rate acting in this episode. Also Kevin Connor’s direction of the Battle of Antietam and Gettysburg struck me as pretty damn good. I could say that Episode Three was the highlight of the 1986 miniseries. But I do not believe I would go that far.

“Crossroads of the Force” [PG-13] – Chapter Three

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“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”

CHAPTER THREE

CORUSCANT

The petite Igraine Colbert entered Senator Dahlma’s suite with data pad in hand. She found her employer in the middle of packing a valise. “The last transport to Ord Montell had left twelve hours ago,” she reported. “And another is not scheduled for departure until another two days. I’m sorry, Milady.”

Zoebeida Dahlma heaved a sigh. “Wonderful. I suppose I might as well hire private transportation to the planet.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Igraine continued. The senator stared at her. “Don’t forget . . . you had informed the Grand Vizer of your intent to return home to Maldore. Perhaps you should find transport for there and then hire a pilot to take you to Ord Mantell. That way, you will not have to worry about Imperial spies.”

Shaking her head, Senator Dahlma commented, “I would have never thought of that. I knew there was a reason I had made you my aide. Good thinking, Igraine.”

The compliment sent a shaft of warmth throughout the young Maldarian’s body. For the umpteenth time in her life, she privately thanked her uncle for arranging her to become Zoebeida Dahlma’s aide. Harboring political ambitions for years, Igraine gave up the prospects of becoming Vin Roudet’s wife when the position of Senator Dahlma’s aide became available. A shared interest in the galaxy’s political situation and a distrust of the Empire and the Emperor had drawn the two women into a close friendship.

“Shall I book passage for you to Maldore?” Igraine asked.

The older woman nodded. “As soon as possible. I want to leave by tonight. And you need to pack, as well. You’re coming with me.”

The news took Igraine by surprise. The senator had rarely allowed her to experience or learn about the former’s activities against the Empire. “Yes, Milady,” she replied breathlessly. “Right away.” And she left he senator’s chamber, thrilled by the prospect of a little adventure.

———

MOS EISLEY, TATOOINE

“Stop pouting, Leia!” Padme ordered her daughter. “It’s unbecoming for a young lady, such as yourself.”

The eleven year-old girl retorted, “What did you expect, Mother? I’m going to be stuck here on Tatooine for nearly a week.”

The Skywalker party had just arrived at Tatooine’s largest city, Mos Eisley. Upon their arrival, Padme had booked her family into two rooms at a local inn. Luke accepted their arrival with his usual stoicism. Leia, on the other hand, raised a fuss.

“If you continue to maintain that attitude, young lady, you will end up insulting both Owen and Beru,” Padme lectured. “They were kind enough to allow you to stay at their farm, while I’m gone. I suggest that you show some gratitude.”

Leia muttered a comment under her breath before she murmured, “Yes, Mother.”

“Personally, I do not blame Miss Leia,” C3-P0 added in his usual direful manner. “I do not care to be here, either.”

Padme sighed. “Threepio, if this is about my decision to take Artoo with me and leave you here . . .”

“Oh no, Milady!” the droid protested. “I perfectly understand why you need Artoo to join you. He would be most helpful.”

Suspicion nibbled at the back of Padme’s mind. “Thank you, Threepio,” she said cautiously.

“As for me,” the golden droid continued, “I will simply endure staying on the Lars’ farm in my usual efficient manner. I have done it before, when Miss Shmi had married Master Cliegg and I will do so, again. After all, we droids are made to suffer.”

Padme slowly turned to stare at the protocol droid. Made to suffer? Since when did droids learn to utilize the guilt trip against their owners? “Threepio, if there will be a problem . . .”

“Oh no, Milady! Please! Just ignore me.”

Rolling her eyes, Padme decided it would be best to accept the droid’s advice. She turned away from Threepio and the children and headed toward one of the windows. On the street below, two men draped in hoods, strode toward the inn’s entrance. Padme immediately recognized the taller man. Bail Organa. His broad shoulders and walk seemed unmistakable. However, Padme wondered about the identity of Bail’s companion.

“Magda, look after the children,” Padme said to the nursemaid. “I will be downstairs, if you need me.” After grabbing her cloak, she rushed out of the room.

Seconds later, Padme reached the inn’s lobby and found Bail and his companion speaking to the innkeeper. “Her name is Yane Rivaaj,” Bail declared. “She has either checked in today, or yesterday. With two children and . . .”

“I had checked in, yesterday,” Padme announced. The two men whirled around in surprise. Before Bail could open his mouth, Padme greeted him with open arms. “Dear cousin! You’ve finally made it.”

With an understanding nod, Bail enveloped Padme into a bear hug. “Cousin Yane. I wondered if I would have to wait for you. How are you?”

“Perfectly well,” a smiling Padme replied. She turned to the innkeeper. “Is there a place where we can talk privately?” The innkeeper led all three to an unoccupied loggia filled with tables and chairs. It overlooked the wide street, beyond. Once seated, Padme said to the Alderaanian, “Bail, why don’t you introduce me to your friend?”

The other man threw back his hood, revealing a handsome and aristocratic face with a long, aquiline nose, light-brown hair and beard, and pale blue eyes. His thin lips formed a slight smile. “My name is Ferus Olin. I’m Senator Organa’s body . . .” His smile disappeared, as his eyes widened in surprise. “Good heavens! You look like . . . aren’t you Senator Padme Amidala? Of Naboo? You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Mister O . . .” Padme frowned. “Wait a minute. Did you say . . . Ferus Olin? You name sounds very familiar.”

Mister Olin blushed, while Bail explained, “Mister Olin used to be a Jedi. He had been apprenticed . . .”

“Of course!” Padme exclaimed. “No wonder I have heard of your name, before! From . . .” She paused. No need for her to connect Anakin to herself. “I mean . . . uh . . .”

The former Jedi regarded her with curious eyes. “Pardon me, Milady, but from whom?”

Padme took a deep breath. “Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I have . . . had . . . several dealings with him, over the years. I first met him when he was still padawan to Master Qui-Gon Jinn and I was Queen of Naboo. During the crisis with the Trade Federation.”

“Of course.”

Bail added, “And do not forget Master Siri Taschi. Ferus used to be her apprentice, before he left the Order.”

“Oh yes,” Padme added softly. “I remember Master Taschi.” Memories of the fair-haired Jedi Knight that had saved her life, rushed back to her. “Her death was a tragedy to us all.”

Ferus Olin nodded. “At least she is now with the Force. At peace.”

“Of course.”

Bail continued, “Ferus used to be part of a resistance cell on Acherin. Unfortunately . . .” His voice faded away, as he shot a look of pity at the former padawan.

“Unfortunately, the cell has dissolved and most of them are dead,” Ferus added gravely. “Killed by the Empire. I am one of two or three survivors.”

Padme murmured, “I’m so sorry.”

Once more, Bail explained, “Ferus had eventually made his way to Alderaan and joined the other Jedi refugees on the planet. Captain Antilles became aware of his presence and recommended that he act as my bodyguard on this trip. I thought that we both could use Master Olin’s services.”

Padme stared at the two men. “Do you really feel that we will need a bodyguard?” she asked.

A fourth figure appeared by Padme’s side. He threw back his hood. “It would not hurt to have one, Milady,” Obi-Wan Kenobi replied.

———–

VELM SYSTEM

The commission to smuggle glitterstim to Maldore seemed to be obstacle-free. Both the Javian Hawk and the Alastian Star – Mako Spince’s ship – had arrived on Kessel with no problems. The three smugglers collected their cargo of stim. Mako paid off Sekka Verdu’s contact and both ships departed for Maldore.

“So far, so good,” Han commented inside the Hawk’s cockpit.

Anakin retorted, “Don’t say that!”

“Don’t say what?”

“Don’t be so . . . optimistic about this trip.” Anakin paused. “It makes you sound so complacent. And that’s not a good thing.”

Han heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Okay, okay. Geez!”

Silence fell between the two men. Then Han ruined it by adding, “But you’ve got to admit that we’ve been in the Velm System for over twelve hours and . . .”

“Han!”

A faint beep caused both men to glance at the ship’s console. Anakin’s stomach turned, when he interpreted the light’s meaning – the presence of a nearby Imperial warship. “That’s just great,” he muttered. “The Imperials.”

“We can outrun them!” Han insisted.

Anakin sardonically replied, “Sure we can. And they’ll report the whole incident and track us down to Maldore.”

Han sighed. “Then what . . .?” The Hawk shuddered momentarily. “I think we’ve just been caught in a tractor beam.”

Mako’s voice boomed from the Hawk’s comlink system. “Uh guys, looks like we’ve got visitors. Looks like an Imperial cruiser. Hang on. I’ll talk to them.”

The suggestion did not ease Anakin’s anxieties. “Wait a minute, Mako. Maybe I should do it. I’m familiar . . .”

“Don’t worry,” the older Corellian exclaimed. “I’m an old Academy man. Trust me. I know how to deal with these guys.”

However, Anakin did not feel ready to put his life in Mako’s hands. “Look Mako, I really think I should . . .”

Unfortunately, another interrupted before the former Jedi could finish. “This is Captain Skafte of the Dreadnought. Prepare to be boarded.”

Han shot a worried look at Anakin. “What do we do?”

Anakin sighed. “Just like the man said – prepare to be boarded. And hope that Spince knows exactly what he’s doing.” The two men sat in helpless silence, as the Imperial cruiser tractor both the Javian Hawk and the Alastian Star.

—–

MOS EISLEY, TATOOINE

Padme stared at the former Jedi Master in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”

Obi-Wan gathered his robes and sat down next to Ferus Olin. “I was here in Mos Eisley, purchasing parts for my power calibrator, when I . . . sensed Ferus’ presence. However, I had no idea that you would be here.” He coolly directed his gaze at Padme. “I’m surprised to find you here on Tatooine, Milady. Why are you here?”

After a brief hesitation, Padme replied, “Bail and I are on our way to an important conference. I’m here to deliver the children to Owen and Beru. I felt that it would be safer for them here on Tatooine than alone . . . with Madga.”

“I see.” Obi-Wan replied with a nod. Padme allowed herself a closer inspection of the former Jedi and noticed that the last decade had not been kind to him. The lines on his face seemed to have deepened. Whereas his hair only had a few strands of gray the last time she saw him, now it possessed only a few strands of ginger. His blue eyes no longer twinkled. They seemed to have acquired a permanent melancholy air. At age 49 or 50, Obi-Wan looked older than his former master did, twenty-four years ago. And Padme recalled Anakin telling her that Qui-Gon Jinn had been at least 60 years old around the time of his death. Despite their current estrangement, the former senator felt a swell of pity toward Obi-Wan.

The former Jedi Master asked, “What is so important about this conference, anyway?”

Bail allowed himself a dramatic pause before he answered, “Hopefully, the consolidation of an organized alliance against the Empire. Senator Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis and I believe that it is time . . .”

“Senator Iblis is still alive?” Master Olin interrupted, looked shocked. “I thought he and his family had been killed on Anchoron, ten years ago.”

“Garm had managed to escape,” Bail explained. “He became a fugitive and eventually contacted Senator Mothma and myself. It was he who suggested this conference in the first place. Thanks to Padme, Solipo Yeb and a few others, we have managed to contact many individual resistance cells.”

Again, Obi-Wan said, “I see.” He turned to his former Jedi colleague. “Ferus, are you taking part in this conference? As a representative of the Nixor resistance cell?”

A touch of sadness crept into the younger Jedi’s eyes. “No, I’m acting as bodyguard for Senator Organa . . . and Senator Amidala. The resistance cell on Nixor . . .” He paused as his expression became emotionless. “Actually, I have no idea what happened to the cell. I haven’t been a part of it for several years.”

Obi-Wan seemed surprised by the news. “Is it possible that they are all dead? What about Roan and Trevor?”

Olin sighed. “As far as I know, they’re both alive. I think. I’m not certain, for I have not heard from them in several years. We . . . went our separate ways.”

Frowning, Obi-Wan shook his head. “What do mean . . . you went your separate ways?”

The younger Jedi’s face now resembled a mask. “Like I said, we went our separate ways. I ended up on Alderaan, where I met Senator Organa.”

The discussion between the two Jedi left Padme thinking about Anakin. Determined not to wallow in her own loneliness, she brusquely interrupted. “I do not mean to be rude, but I believe it is time that we leave for the Lars Homestead. We have a long journey ahead of us.”

The three men quietly agreed. Then Obi-Wan asked if he could join them on the brief journey to the edge of the Jundland Wastes. “You could take me as far as Anchorhead. I had left my speeder there, which will convey me . . . home.” He grimaced, as he said the last word. Padme recalled that Obi-Wan had converted some cave hovel in the Jundland Wastes, into his home.

“I’m sure that would be no problem,” Bail replied. “Right Padme?”

She noticed the unease in her former colleague’s eyes. “Of course not,” Padme murmured politely. Privately, she wondered why the Alderaanian prince had pleaded for her permission. Especially since the ship probably belonged to him. She stood up and the three men did the same. “Excuse me, gentlemen. I need to make preparations for the trip.” She turned to Bail. “What time do you plan to leave?”

Bail replied, “Hopefully less than three hours from now.”

“I shall be ready by then.”

Exactly three hours later, Padme and her family followed Bail to one of the private hangars at Mos Eisley’s spaceport. To her surprise, Bail’s personal starship was not parked inside. Instead, she found the starship of none other than Voranda Sen – the woman who had flown her family from Alderaan to Tatooine, ten years ago. The two women greeted each other happily before Sen’s ship, the Alberforce, departed Mos Eisley for the Tatooine desert.

END OF CHAPTER THREE

Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season Three (2009) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Three (2009) of “MAD MEN”. Created by Matthew Weiner, the series stars Jon Hamm:

FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON THREE (2009) Episodes

1 - 3.11 The Gypsy and the Hobo

1. (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo” – Don’s past finally catches up with him when Betty confronts him about his identity theft. Roger Sterling meets a former client/lover who wishes to rekindle their affair. And Joan discovers that her husband, Greg Harris, has joined the Army after failing to start a medical career in New York.

2 - 3.12 The Grown Ups

2. (3.12) “The Grown Ups” – The assassination of President John Kennedy serves as the backdrop of the wedding for Roger’s daughter and the final breakup of the Draper marriage.

3 - 3.07 Seven Twenty-Three

3. (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three” – Don’s attempts to land the Conrad Hilton account leads to him being blackmailed by Bert Cooper to sign a three-year contract with Sterling Cooper. Peggy begins an affair with former Sterling-Cooper Accounts Head, Duck Phillips. And Betty expresses interest in the Governor’s aide, Henry Francis, when she becomes involved in civic politics.

4 - 3.06 Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency

4. (3.06) “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency” – A visit by the British owners of the Sterling Cooper agency and an account involving a motorized lawn motor results in mishap and bloodshed.

5 - 3.09 Wee Small Hours

5. (3.09) “Wee Small Hours” – An executive from Sterling Cooper’s client, Lucky Strikes, demands that the agency fire art director Sal Romano after the latter rejects the executive’s sexual advances. Betty grows closer to Henry Francis and Don begins an affair with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne Farrell.

“BARBARY COAST” (1935) Review

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“BARBARY COAST” (1935) Review

I have seen a good number of television and movie Westerns in my time. But I find it rather odd that it is hard – almost difficult – to find a well done movie set during the California Gold Rush era. And I find that rather surprising, considering many historians regard it as one of the most interesting periods in the history of the American Old West.

Of the movies and television productions I have come across, one of them is the 1935 Western, “BARBARY COAST”. Directed by Howard Hawks and adapted from Herbert Asbury’s 1933 book, the movie told the story about one Mary Rutledge, a young woman from the East Coast who arrives in 1850 San Francisco to marry the wealthy owner of a local saloon. She learns from a group of men at the wharf that her fiancé had been killed – probably murdered the owner of the Bella Donna restaurant, one Louis Chamalis. Upon meeting Chamalis at his establishment, Mary agrees to be his companion for both economic and personal reasons. She eventually ends up running a crooked roulette wheel at the Bella Donna and becoming Chamalis’ escort. But despite her own larceny, Mary (who becomes known as “the Swan), becomes disenchanted with Chamalis’ bloody methods of maintaining power within San Francisco’s Barbary Coast neighborhood. He even manages to coerce a newspaper owner named Colonel Cobb, who had accused Chamalis of a past murder, into keeping silent. During a morning ride in the countryside, Mary meets and falls in love with a handsome gold miner named Jim Carmichael. Life eventually becomes more difficult for Mary, as she finds herself torn between Jim’s idyllic love and Chamalis’ luxurious lifestyle and his obsessive passion for her.

Judging from my recap of “BARBARY COAST”, it is easy to see that the movie is more than just a Western. It seemed to be part crime melodrama, part romance, part Western and part adventure story. “BARBARY COAST” seemed to have the makings of a good old-fashioned costume epic that was very popular with Hollywood studios during the mid-to-late 1930s. If there is one scene in the movie that truly personified its epic status, it is one of the opening sequences that featured Mary Rutledge’s arrival in San Francisco and her first meeting with Louis Chamalis. Mary’s first viewing of the socializing inside the Bella Donna is filled with details and reeked with atmosphere. Frankly, I consider this scene an artistic triumph for both director Howard Hawks and the movie’s art director, Richard Day.

“BARBARY COAST” went through four screenwriters and five script revisions to make it to the screen. The movie began as a tale about San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, but ended up as a love triangle within the setting. This was due to the Production Code that was recently enforced by Joseph Breen. The latter objected to the original screenplay’s frank portrayal of the San Francisco neighborhood’s activities. By changing the screenplay into a love story in which the heroine finds redemption through love for a decent sort, the filmmakers finally managed to gain approval from Breen. Although Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were credited as the movie’s writers, screenwriters Stephen Longstreet and Edward Chodorov also worked on the script, but did not receive any screen credit. Personally, I had no problems with this choice. Thanks to Hawks’ direction, moviegoers still managed to get a few peeps on just how sordid and corrupt San Francisco was during the Gold Rush.

The movie also benefited from a first-rate cast led by Miriam Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson and Joel McCrea. I would not consider their performances as memorable or outstanding, but all three gave solid performances that more or less kept the movie on track. I found this a miracle, considering the emotional rifts that seemed to permeate the set during production. As it turned out, Robinson and Hopkins could barely stand each other. However . . . there were moments when Robinson and McCrea’s performances were in danger of being less than competent. Robinson nearly veered into the realm of over-the-top melodrama while conveying his character’s jealousy in the movie’s last twenty minutes. And McCrea came off as a bit of a stiff in most of his early scenes. Only with Walter Brennan, did the actor truly conveyed his sharp acting skills. As for Hopkins . . . well, she gave a better performance in this movie than she did in the film for which she had earned an Oscar nomination – namely “BECKY SHARP”.

The movie also featured competent performances from the likes of Walter Brennan, Frank Craven, Harry Carey, and Donald Meek. But if I had to give a prize for the most interesting performance in the film, I would give it Brian Donlevy for his portrayal of Louis Chamalis’ ruthless enforcer, Knuckles Jacoby. Superficially, Donlevy’s Knuckles is portrayed as the typical movie villain’s minion, who usually stands around wearing a menacing expression. Donlevy did all this and at the same time, managed to inject a little pathos in a character who found himself in a legally desperation situation, thanks to his loyalty toward his employer.

But you know what? Despite some of the performances – especially Brian Donlevy’s and the movie’s production values, I did not like “BARBARY COAST”. Not one bit. There were at least two reasons for this dislike. One, I was not that fond of Omar Kiam’s costume designs – namely the ones for Miriam Hopkins. The problem with her costumes is that Kiam seemed incapable of determining whether the movie is set in 1850 or 1935. Honestly. A peek at the costume worn by the actress in the image below should convey the contradicting nature of her costume:

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The other . . . and bigger reason why I disliked “BARBARY COAST” is that the plot ended up disappointing me so much. This movie had the potential to be one of the blockbuster costume dramas shown in movie theaters during the mid-to-late 1930s. If only Joseph Breen and the Censor Board had allowed the filmmakers to somewhat follow Asbury’s book and explore the colorful history of San Francisco from the mid-1840s to the California Gold Rush period of the early-to-mid 1850s. Despite the colorful opening featuring Mary Rutledge’s arrival in San Francisco and the subplot about the Louis Chamalis-Colonel Cobb conflict, “BARBARY COAST” was merely reduced to a 90 minute turgid melodrama about a love triangle between a gold digger, a villain with a penchant for being a drama queen, and stiff-necked gold miner and poet who only seemed to come alive in the company of his crotchety companion. To make matters worse, the movie ended with Mary and Jim Carmichael floating around San Francisco Bay, hidden by the darkness and fog, while evading the increasingly jealous Chamalis, before they can board a clipper ship bound for the East Coast. I mean, honestly . . . really?

I have nothing else to say about “BARBARY COAST”. What else is there to say? Judging from the numerous reviews I have read online, a good number of people seemed to have a high regard for it. However, I simply do not feel the same. Neither director Howard Hawks; screenwriters Ben Hetch and Charles MacArthur; and a cast led by Miriam Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson and Joel McCrea could prevent me from feeling only disappointed. Pity.