“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.

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“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.

“West to Laramie” [PG] – 4/4

Part 4 – The conclusion of a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.

“WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 4

May 10, 1860

Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Falmouth, MA

Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

How is your family? You should receive the last letter I had written to you from Fort Kearny within a few weeks. But so much has happened that I decided to write another.

Since leaving the Fort, the trip has become even more miserable. The weather remains hot and windy. A pale-colored dust called alkali continues to blow in our faces. Gnats take every opportunity to bite us. And we still have to contend with the constant verbosity of Mr. Hornbottom. The gambler, Mr. McEvers, once asked him to stop talking. Mr. Hornbottom actually managed to do so for one hour.

We have stopped at least two of these home stations where we ate and rested, while the horses were being changed. We have slept at three of these stations since the beginning of our trip. What wretched hives they have turned out to be! The beds barely seemed stable and are infested with bugs. The meals usually consisted of rancid meat (usually bacon) and fried corn dodgers. However, at least one of these home stations did provide satisfactory service. But I do find myself longing for Fort Kearny or anywhere east of Kansas.

At the first home station west of Fort Kearny, a Mr. William Duff joined our stagecoach. A former trapper and wagon train guide, he plans to head for Virginia City and prospect for silver in the Nevada mines. To our surprise, he turned out to be an old friend of Mr. Wright, the shotgun rider. Mr. Duff spent his first day riding with Mr. Kolp and Mr. Wright on top. The following day, he switched places with Captain Pearson (thank goodness). He turned out to be a lively companion. Unfortunately, he also possesses an offensive body odor. Practically everyone inside the coach had no choice but to cover their noses with handkerchiefs in order to breath.

Two days following our departure from Kearny, we had encountered a ferocious thunderstorm. Mr. McEvers’ mistress went into hysterics and at one point, opened the door and tried to jump out of the coach. Fortunately, Mr. McEvers and Captain Pearson (who had rejoined us inside) managed to settle her back into her seat. It seems the ”lady” has a fear of thunderstorms dating from an incident during childhood. Before the storm finally subsided, the coach had found itself stuck in a quagmire of mud. We were forced to step outside and endure the last twenty minutes of the storm, while the men attempted to pry the coach loose. One of those Pony Express riders, a skinny young fellow with lanky brown hair and buckskins, stopped to offer his help. He and the other men finally managed to pry the coach loose from the mud after the storm subsided.

We reached another home station for a supper break within a few hours. Horrid as usual. The place – or more accurately, hovel – looked as if it could barely remain erect. The landscape looked flat and desolate. The stationmaster, a morose fellow with missing teeth, spent most of his time grunting orders to his two colored workers. His wife, an overweight slattern, prepared overcooked beans, bacon and greasy corn dodgers. Unfortunately for Mrs. Middleton, she found the meal unsettling and had to rush outside before her food could come back up. Later that evening, I had walked around the station for some fresh air in my own attempt to recover from the meal. One of the colored handymen, a tall fellow in his mid-thirties made lewd advances toward me. The other handyman, the only decent person on that station, attempted to intervene on my behalf. Before this gallant man could do so, I came to my own defense and let the lecherous pest know that I was the wrong woman to fool around with. There is nothing, I believe, like a good kick below the belt to teach a person a valuable lesson.

The next day, we passed the first of rock formations on this trail – Courthouse Rock. I swear Elizabeth, it looked as if it had been constructed by man himself. Mr. Hornbottom claimed that it strongly resembled the old courthouse in St. Louis. Our coach has now stopped near another monument called Chimney Rock. This formation bears a strong resemblance to a large, craggy tower twisting toward the sky. The reason I am able to write this letter is that we have come across a band of Indians traveling from the south. At first sight, Mr. McEvers drew out his revolver in order to shoot. But Mr. Duff stopped this act of folly in time. According to the former trapper, the Indians had given a sign of peace.

There are five of them – three men and two women. Two of the men are tall. All are muscular and gaunt-looking. They wear muslin shirts and buckskin trousers or leggings colorfully decorated with beads. The women, who are attractive, wear doeskin dresses decorated with tassels and a wide ornamental belt. According to Mr. Duff, they belong to the Ogalalla Sioux tribe. All five are on horseback and on their way to Fort Laramie. The coach stopped in order to allow Mr. Duff to converse with the newcomers. He informed us that the Indians have asked to accompany the coach to Laramie. Mr. McEvers, his mistress Lucy and Mr. Hornbottom have all objected. Captain Pearson remained silent and both Mr. Kolp and Mr. Wright have given their consent.

In a few minutes, we shall resume our journey. The traveling party now consists of five Ogalalla Sioux Indians and the usual and now nervous passengers. I have no idea how Mrs. Middleton feels about our new companions. Personally, I see no reason for us to be apprehensive. The Sioux seem friendly and there are only five of them. As for the others, it never fails to surprise me how some people can be so easily frightened by the presence of others considered different. Some things never change. Good-bye for now. You shall hear from me, once we reach Fort Laramie.

Your loving cousin,

Patricia North

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May 14, 1860

Mrs. Adalaide Middleton Taylor
231 Green Street
Philadelphia, PA

Dear Addie,

This journey has been the most tedious and uncomfortable I have ever experienced. Except for the last day. I hope that I will never have to endure what I had experienced yesterday. All I can say is thank goodness it will be a while before Patricia and I will resume our journey back East.

Four days ago, a small group of Sioux Indians had joined our coach near an earth formation called Chimney Rock to travel with to Laramie. Personally, I found them to be a barbarous and colorful group. After our journey had resumed, we passed an imposing rock formation called Scott’s Bluff. I have never seen anything like this for it resembled a walled city.

Fifty miles later, we came upon another home station. Thankfully, this station – like a previous one we had encountered nearly a week ago – not only served decent meals, but had a stoic man named Fox and his family as competent stationmasters. If only other home stations along the route could be this satisfactory. Mr. Fox warned us to be on the lookout for a band of outlaws operating in the area. I do not believe that any of us had bothered to pay attention to his warning. We were more apprehensive of our red companions.

Around noon, the following day, the three male Indians went ahead to hunt for game and left their two women behind with us. Mr. McEvers began spouting that the men had left to ”fetch their red brethren in order to massacre the lot of us”. Both Mr. Duff and Mr. Wright scoffed at the idea, pointing out that the Sioux had left behind their women. However, the rest of the passengers and I agree with Mr. McEvers – Patricia being the exception. She regarded the rest of us with scorn, but remained silent. The coach ended up being attacked after all. Thirty minutes after the Sioux men left, the very outlaws that Mr. Fox had warned us about, swooped upon the stagecoach from an isolated patch of woods, situated below a low ridge. Within minutes, they had rifles trained on us.

They were nine outlaws. Their leader, a shifty-eyed short man on a bay roan ordered two of his men to grab the Sioux women – “for some fun later”, he had remarked. His words made my blood chill thinking of the fate of those poor women. The leader then ordered our men to throw down their weapons. As Mr. Hornbottom started to comply, three shots rang out, killing three of the bandits. The outlaws became confused as more shots followed. Another bandit fell dead. Ahead, the three Sioux men galloped toward us, releasing horrendous war cries. The bandits attempted to escape the red men’s attack, but our men took the opportunity to join in the fray. Both Captain Pearson and Mr. Duff managed to climb out of the coach, while bullets flew in all directions. We women did our best to remain out of the line of fire by crouching in our seats. Rather difficult to accomplish in full skirts One bandit aimed his rifle at Patricia, when Captain Pearson blocked his line of fire and received a bullet in the temple. Both Patricia and myself found ourselves in a state of shock when we realized that the Army officer had given his life to save hers.

Less than eight minutes later, the gun battle finally ceased. One of the bandits managed to escape. Two other bandits fell dead – including the leader. Another two became our prisoners. One prisoner turned out to be the very fellow who had killed Captain Pearson. He was seriously injured. One of the Sioux women had been injured in the shoulder. Mr. Wright and Mr. Duff slung Captain Pearson’s body over a horse and tied the latter behind the coach. We resumed our journey until we came upon another home station. There, Captain Pearson’s killer died. And the good captain’s body was buried.

Patricia and I are still in shock over Captain Pearson’s sacrifice. Perhaps both of us should have realized that he had been the type who would defend anyone he felt it was his duty to do so – despite any bigotry on his part. This reminded me of those brave Sioux Indians who had come to our rescue. How ironic! We had been so concerned with their presence that we did not take heed of Mr. Fox’s warning about the outlaws. And the Sioux turned out to be our rescuers.

It took us eighteen hours upon leaving the last home station to reach Fort Laramie. Both Robert and Penelope were at the stage depot to greet us. The wounded Indian woman went to the infirmary and Mr. Kolp informed the fort’s commander about Captain Pearson’s death and the location of his body. The remaining outlaw was arrested by troopers and sent to the jailhouse. I can only assume that he will swing from a rope within a few days for his part in the attempted robbery and the captain’s death. Some officer offered the Army’s appreciation to the Sioux for their rescue. Yet, he seemed to be rather cool about it – as if he did not want to forget that he considered them his enemies. I also detected this attitude amongst the other military personnel – including Robert, I am sorry to say. Patricia, myself and the other passengers were more appreciative toward our rescuers. They had saved our hides, after all.

Three new passengers boarded the stagecoach, while Patricia, Mr. Hornbottom and I said our good-byes to the remaining travelers. As the coach resumed its journey west, Patricia turned around and remarked that it seemed a shame there was no chance of a railroad being built in time for our trip back east. Both Robert and Penelope merely treated her remark as a joke. I believe Patricia was being serious. I certainly felt the same.

Dearest Addie! The West is such a complex place. Yes, it has its physical beauties. But it so different and stark . . . so incredibly harsh in compare to the East. It is beyond my understanding. Why on earth would anyone want to settle here? There is still good farmland back East. My love to you and Harold and I hope to see you again by early September.

I love you always,

Mother

THE END

“West to Laramie” [PG] – 3/4

Part 3– The third part in a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.

“WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 3

May 3, 1860

Mrs. Adelaide Taylor
231 Green Street
Philadelphia, PA

Dear Addie,

Patricia and I have arrived at this small prairie town in the Kansas Territory. Our coach stopped for a few minutes to retrieve mail and other packages. The sooner we are on our way, the better. Stagecoach travel has proved to be quite unbearable. You cannot imagine how I long to be at Fort Laramie by now. Being here in Kansas has reminded me of the violent outbreaks over slavery that has tainted this part of the country, recently. I fear that some Missouri border ruffians or Kansas Jayhawkers might descend upon our coach and harass us before we can leave the territory.

Addie my love, whoever said that stagecoach traveling would be comfortable was either the greatest charlatan on this earth or worse, a drunk. No reflection upon your brother, but we must remember that he has been blind with love for nearly a year. I should really listen to Patricia more often.

I must say that the land here in Kansas seem quite impressive – at least visually. The eastern part of the territory resembled Missouri with its green woods and expansive plains filled with tall grass that swayed like graceful dancers. Eventually, the land became flat as a pancake with hardly a stem of grass or flowers in sight. An occasional tree or prairie animal would break the monotony of the open wide spaces. Thank goodness for the bright orange that glows across the western skyline when the sun descends for the night.

Right now, I am sure you are asking – ”What is Mother complaining about?” Well, there is this series of elements that seem bent upon assaulting my face – namely the wind, dust, heat and insects. Rocks and other objects of this so-called “road” cause the coach to bump and sway over long periods of time. It had taken me nearly three hours to recover from a case of maldemere, after our departure from St. Joseph. The coach leaves very little room for passengers. There are only six of us, inside the vehicle – including three females who did not have the sense to don narrower skirts for this journey. Patricia and I have the best seats – right behind the front boot, facing backward. We can see the backs of two men seated in the coach’s most uncomfortable spots.

The passengers come from an extremely interesting selection of humanity. First, there is Mr. Atticus Hornbottom (trust me, I am not making this up), a whiskey drummer from St. Louis. This rotund and balding man wears a horrid checked suit and spends most of his time either talking about himself or snooping into the background of other passengers. He sells whiskey to various Army and trading posts throughout the Plains. He is also destined for Fort Laramie.

Another passenger happens to be Captain Jonas Pearson, an Army officer destined for Fort Hall, which is further west of Laramie. After Mr. Hornbottom managed to coerce that bit of information from him, the good Captain kept to himself. It took the subject of the violence here in Kansas raised by Mr. Hornbottom for Captain Pearson to finally speak again. He declared that the Jayhawkers were to blame for the troubles here in Kansas. This prompted Patricia to declare that the Missouri border men were also not exempt from blame. She also accused the bordermen of attempting to vote in a pro-slavery constitution by fraudulent means. The captain did not take kindly to such an outburst – especially from a colored woman. The two have been exchanging dark looks ever since. By the way, Captain Pearson hails from Georgia.

Sitting against the rear boot is a flashy-looking couple that consist of a gentleman (I use this word in the broadest sense) named Reese McEvers and an overdressed woman with gold curls named Lucy. By the look of his clothes and dark hair slicked back with Madagascar oil, Mr. McEvers must be a professional gambler or a distributor of women’s favors. As for his golden-curled companion, Mr. McEvers claimed that she is his wife. Yet, I saw no wedding ring on her finger. Curious.

Our ”jehu” or driver is Mr. Kolp, a no-nonsense type who is all business. Every now and then, he encourages the horses on with cries of “Ha!” or ”Giddap there!”. Riding shotgun is a Mr. Harvey Wright, a former muleteer who is as talkative as Mr. Hornbottom. Unlike the whiskey-drummer, we rarely have the chance to listen to his talk. Except at way stations and stops such as this place. I would love to continue this letter, but we are about depart. Writing in a jostling stagecoach is virtually impossible. Give my love to Harold for me.

I love you always,

Mother

P.S. I will write another letter when we reach Fort Kearny, near the Platte River.

=============================================

May 6, 1860

Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Falmouth, MA

Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

We have finally reached Fort Kearny in the Nebraska Territory late this afternoon and will not depart until tomorrow, due to certain complications. The coach’s left axle wheel (or whatever) was in danger of loosening. Mr. Kolp, our driver, ordered us out of the coach and we were forced to walk the last twelve miles to the fort. Once inside, Mr. Kolp informed us that the axle should be repaired by tomorrow morning.

Both Mrs. Middleton and I were at first relieved to be outside that stuffy coach. Sitting inside with four other passengers became quite unbearable. The prairie winds had covered everyone’s faces with layers of dust. Do you remember that Army captain from Georgia that I had written about in my last letter? Well, I find it amusing that the captain’s face now closely resembles mine. What delicious irony. But after walking eight miles, we found ourselves missing that coach a great deal. My pair of sturdy shoes was nearly ruined by the time we reached the fort.

Fort Kearny is one of the many forts that station the Army’s First Calvary (the same regiment that Robert Middleton serve) on the Great Plains. Named after Philip Kearney, a Mexican War army officer, it is situated near the Platte River. And what a dismal looking body of water the Platte is! The Missouri and Ohio Rivers are beautiful and even the Mississippi River possesses a certain magnificence. But the Platte? Good Lord! I have never looked upon a more turgid stream of water in my life.

The fort’s commander was kind enough to offer Mrs. Middleton, Mr. McEvers’ mistress (wife indeed!) and myself the guest rooms. For which I am eternally grateful! The men accepted room in the enlisted men’s barracks. For one evening, we have walking space to stretch our legs and comfortable beds to sleep upon. I do not have much to say about the fort. It is merely a collection of adobe, sod and wooden buildings that include the kitchen, the stables for the horses, one for the sutler (civilian trader for the military), two dining rooms, a recreation hall, a billiard’s room, barracks for the enlisted troopers and living quarters for the officers. All of these buildings surround a central parade ground. Yet, the fort lacks fortified walls.

This evening, we dined on an edible meal (the only one we will have, I suspect, until Fort Laramie) that consisted of pheasant, roasted potatoes, sage stuffing, beans and salt pork, garden vegetables, sourdough bread and a dried apple pie. The memory of that meal still lingers. Afterwards, the wife of a junior office sang ”Listen to the Mockingbird” and other selections for our entertainment. She has a sweet voice, but not as strong as your Charlotte’s. She also struck me as a poor, delicate creature. I suspect that she will not last very long on the frontier. Her husband, in my opinion, apparently lacked the sense and compassion to realize that she needs to be sent back East. Preferably with relations or friends. Or perhaps he cannot afford to do so. It would be a shame if this is true. Anything would be better for her than staying in this wilderness.

It is late and I need my rest. I do not look forward to resuming our journey in that stagecoach. But I fear I would need to take advantage of our stay here for peaceful rest. Who knows how long it will be before we find ourselves at Fort Laramie and in decent beds again. Give my love to your family and take care of yourself.

Your loving cousin,

Patricia North

“West to Laramie” [PG] – 2/4

Part 2 – The second part in a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.

————-

”WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 2

April 28, 1860

Mrs. Adelaide Middleton Taylor
231 Green Street
Philadelphia, Pa

Dear Addie,

Nearly twenty-four hours after you and Harold had deposited Patricia and myself aboard the train for New York City, we finally arrive in Chicago. Despite a delay in Princeton, we managed to make our connecting train for Chicago in time. The basket of food that you had insisted upon giving to me proved to be most fortuitous.

The trip to Chicago provided no complications, I am happy to say – aside from the boorish behavior of our conductor. An unpleasant man with a sour face, the conductor had insisted that Patricia leave the first-class coach and sit in the car reserved for colored passengers. Patricia became irritated by his manner and an argument ensued between the two. I must say that man conducted himself in the most ridiculous manner! At least Patricia did not carry on like some hysterical child. I had firmly insisted that she stay with me, claiming I would require her services at all time. I doubt that the conductor believed me, but he had no proof to doubt my word. Patricia remained in my company throughout the entire trip. The conductor obviously must have been the type who was too cowardly to make further scenes. Especially with a white woman.

The basket of food proved to be more than fortuitous. It was God-sent. Both Patricia and I discovered in Pittsburg how atrocious the food served in these railway dining depots can be. One bite of a smoked sausage had sent us both scurrying back to the train for your basket.

We finally arrived in Chicago covered in dust and soot. The station master informed us that the next train for St. Joseph, Missouri was due to leave tomorrow afternoon. Patricia and I shared a room at a local boardinghouse located near the railway station. A plump, cheerful woman named Lenora Clarke owned the place. We had assumed that she would raise a fuss regarding Patricia’s presence. Unlike some of her fellow citizens of Illinois, Mrs. Clarke turned out to be a very tolerant woman. In fact, she and Patricia took to each other like ducks to water.

Chicago struck me as being a thriving city with great vitality. Within two decades, it has become the railway center of the West and the major stockyard for the entire country. Mrs. Clarke informed us that the city is preparing for the Republican convention for the next presidential election. There is talk that Illinois will push for one of its prominent citizens – an attorney named Abraham Lincoln from Springfield – as a potential candidate. He was the fellow who had ran against Stephen Douglas for the U.S. Senate seat, two years ago. He had made that famous ”house divided against itself” speech.

After supper, I had hired a local cab to drive Patricia and myself on a little evening excursion along Lake Michigan. We stopped briefly to stretch our legs and encountered a Mr. McPherson, a local businessman and congenial companion. When I had informed him of our travel plans, he assured us that unlike the stagecoaches here in the East, the Western coaches were the latest models built in Concord, New Hampshire. They should prove to be very comfortable. Patricia remained silent, but there seemed to be a ”wait and see” expression in her eyes.

Dearest Addie, I do hope that you and Harold will take care of yourselves. I hope to meet the third member of your little family by the time Patricia and I return to Philadelphia.

I love you always,

Mother

=============================================================

May 3, 1860

Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Falmouth, MA

Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

How is Samuel and the rest of your family? And how is my favorite cousin, Charlotte? Is she still working as an assistant for the town’s doctor? I cannot say that I approve of her working for him. After all, nursing is an inappropriate profession for a young lady from a respectable family. I hope, for her sake that she is happy.

As you know from my last letter, Mrs. Middleton and I are on our way to Fort Laramie to attend her son’s wedding to the daughter of an Army major. We have finally reached St. Joseph in Western Missouri, two days ago. Frankly, I still find this little metropolis rather uncomfortable and cannot wait to leave. Do not misunderstand me. St. Joseph, I must admit, is a pleasant-looking community. There seem to be a large number of emigrants waiting to form trains for the trek west. It is situated directly north of the Missouri River and just east of the Missouri-Kansas border. Because it is a jump-off spot for westbound travelers, St. Joseph has grown quickly in size over the past decade.

Mrs. Middleton and I stayed at a hotel situated across the street from the Russell, Major and Widdell office of the Pony Express. Unlike a pleasant woman we had met in Chicago named Mrs. Clarke, the proprietor of the Hatten Hotel had at first refused to allow me to share a room with my employer. Claiming he did not want any ”free niggers”in his place, he bluntly suggested that I find another place to board or sleep in the stables. Frankly, I would have preferred another hotel or boarding house than stay under the same roof with the narrow-minded fool. But Mrs. Middleton lied by informing him that I was her ”bond servant” (Dear God!) and lacked extra money to pay for a room elsewhere. How humiliating! Mrs. Middleton’s ploy only reminded me that the North still practiced indenture servitude. The proprietor did not mind my new . . . ”status” and allowed me to remain. However, I was forced to eat in the kitchen with the slaves.

During our tour of the town, we stopped at the Central Overland Stage Line office. The clerk assured us that we will have a comfortable trip. He added that the Indians would be no trouble. Apparently, the Army is keeping them away from ”civilized” settlers and back on their lands. It amazes me that so many people have insisted that we had nothing to worry about the trip by stage. I feel that the Government and private businesses seem bent upon inducing people to settle in the West. And for some reason, my doubts regarding this journey have increased.

As I had stated before, the headquarters for the Pony Express is located across the street from our hotel. This postal service delivers mail and small packages between St. Joseph and San Francisco on the West Coast, using orphan boys and young men as dispatch riders. These young fellows travel hundreds of miles across the wilderness to deliver the mail in record speed. The Pony Express service has been in operation for only a month so far. I do not think it will last very long. Already, there is word of telegraph lines scheduled to be erected in the near future.

Yesterday afternoon, I came face to face with a very unsettling scene. It not only made me more than anxious than ever to leave this town, it reminded me that St. Joseph is part of Missouri – a slave state. Upon finishing my supper, I stepped outside for some air and spotted a gang of slaves shackled together and being herded toward the local slave mart. The sight of the ragged prisoners slowly making their way down the street, accompanied by a white man driving a wagon, sent chills down my spine. Not only did I remember that I was presently in a slave state, but that said state has sent hundreds of men into Kansas in order to turn that territory into a slave state.

At the moment, Mrs. Middleton and I are at the stage depot, waiting for the horses to be harnessed to our coach. All of the passengers were given two blankets (in May?) and a canteen of water for the journey. Four other passengers wait with us to board the coach. I will write to you when I can. Give my love to your family.

Your loving cousin,

Patricia North

“West to Laramie” [PG] – 1/4

”WEST TO LARAMIE”

Summary: A Philadelphia matron and her companion travel west by stagecoach to attend the wedding of her son, an Army officer, in pre-Civil War West.
Rating: PG

———————–

”WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 1

November 14, 1859

Mrs. Anne Middleton
63 46th Street
Philadelphia, PA

Dear Mother,

I am sure you will be happy to learn of the latest fortune to be bestowed upon me. I have the pleasure to announce my engagement to Miss Penelope Hilland, the only daughter of Major and Mrs. Ronald Hilland of Akron, Ohio.

Penelope and I have agreed to have our wedding on June 3 of next year at the fort’s chapel. I will be granted a three-month furlough between June and September. Unfortunately, Major Hilland will be unable to attend any ceremony held in the East, due to military duties. Penelope and I have decided to make the trip east as part of our honeymoon. Since Major Hilland is unable to travel, we hope that you and Addie will make the trip west to attend the wedding. I would not dream of getting married without my family in attendance.

I understand that the new Central Overland Stage Line between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California has recently opened. You and Addie can travel from Philadelphia to St. Joseph by train. From there, you can reach Fort Laramie by stagecoach. From what I understand, traveling by stage should be more comfortable that it would in the East. A new type of coach is now in use. You should not have to worry about Indians. Our boys are keeping them busy and making sure they cause no trouble for the white settlers here on the plains.

Please try to make the trip. Nothing would please me more than to have my family witness my beginning with the most wonderful girl in this world. Tell everyone – especially Addie – hello for me. I hope to see you both next spring.

Your loving son,

Robert

===================================================

February 7, 1860

First Lieutenant Robert Middleton, U.S.A.
Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory

Dear Robert,

My heart glowed at the news of your upcoming marriage to Miss Hilland. It is wonderful to hear that you have finally met a young lady with whom you can share the rest of your life. I also have news to share. Addie and her husband, Harold, are expecting a child sometime in July. This means that Addie will be unable to make the trip. Instead, my companion – Patricia North – will accompany me. I am sure it will be nice for you to finally meet her. I informed her that we will travel by train and stagecoach. She merely implied in her usual pessimistic manner that the trip might not be as comfortable as you had described in your letter.

We will depart from Philadelphia during the last week of April. We should arrive at Fort Laramie within a week-and-a-half. Please convey my greetings to your fiancée and her parents. I anticipate in finally seeing the West for the first time . . . and you after so many years.

I love you always,

Mother

“THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” (1981) Review

manions

 

“THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” (1981) Review

Back in early 1981, ABC Television aired a miniseries about the lives of an Anglo-Irish immigrant family called “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA”. Starring Pierce Brosnan and Kate Mulgrew, the miniseries aired in three parts and was marketed as the Irish-American version of the 1977 miniseries, “ROOTS”.

“The Irish-American version of “ROOTS”? Hmmmm . . . I do not know if that similarity genuinely works. Yes, both miniseries focused upon the beginning of a family line in the United States. Both are family sagas set before the 20th century. But the differences between the two productions are so obvious that I found it hard to accept this comparison. The Kunta Kinte character from “ROOTS” was kidnapped from his homeland and dragged into forced labor in the Americas. Worse, he died as a slave. The Rory O’Manion character was forced to flee his Ireland homeland from British oppression. And despite facing American bigotry against Irish immigrants, he was able to become a well-respected businessman by the end of the series. “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” focused upon one generation – Rory, his sister Deidre and their loved ones – within a period of two decades or so. As for“ROOTS”, it focused upon four to five generations for at least ten to eleven decades.

Part One of “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA”begins in 1845 Ireland. This episode focused upon the intoduction of the O’Manion family and their struggles during the Great Famine. Both Rory and his twin brother, Padric O’Manion, are hired by a newly arrived English landlord named Harry Clement to work on the latter’s estate. Rory meets and falls in love with Mr. Clement’s daughter and younger offspring, Rachel. Rory’s sister Deidre meets and falls in love with Rachel’s older brother, a British Army officer named David. Both couples face considerable strain, due to nationality and class. But Rory’s participation in the Young Ireland not only places considerable strain on his romance with Rachel, but also Deidre’s relationship with David. Worse, his political activism leads to a tragic parting between him and Padric. Rory is eventually forced to flee Ireland for the United States.

Part Two begins at least two to three years following the events of Part One. Rory is reunited with Rachel, who has moved to Philadelphia following the death of her father. She ends up living with with her aunt Charlotte Kent and the latter’s husband, a powder mill owner named James Kent. Rachel convinces her uncle to hire Rory as an employee. The young couple also become acquainted with a banker named Caleb Staunton, who becomes impressed by Rory’s ambition and business acumen. Caleb also ends up falling in love with Deidre, who finally arrives in the United States in the wake of a family tragedy involving the youngest O’Manion sibling. And Rachel receives disturbing news about her brother David . . . news that ends up having a major impact on Deidre’s future. Part Three mainly focused on the years following the end of the U.S. Civil War and Rory’s attempt to keep the Kent Powder Works that he has purchased with two partners (Caleb and David). Rory’s business dealings also clash with his resumed interest in his political activism regarding Ireland. And while Deidre finds herself struggling with Caleb’s jealousy of her past relationship with David, Rory endangers both his marriage and friendship with a fellow immigrant with a dangerous affair.

When I first saw “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” when I was a kid, I was pretty impressed with it. Even back then, I was a literary and history nut with a weakness for family sagas. And this miniseries seemed to fulfill my desire for those stories to a “T”. A recent viewing of the production made me realize that I still found it very satisfying. I would not regard “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” on the same level as a good number of historical television dramas I have seen over the following years. But I feel that Agnes Nixon and Rosemary Anne Sisson created a solid television drama that managed to hold up very well after three decades. As I had pointed out earlier, “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” focused only on one generation . . . namely the one that featured Rory O’Manion, his sister Deidre, his twin brother Padric O’Manion, the youngest sibling who might or might not be the missing Sean O’Manion, Rachel Clements and her brother David. Nixon and Sisson did a solid job of balancing the experiences of the main characters’ experiences.

Part One focused upon the establishment of the romances between the O’Manion and the Clement siblings, along with the events that led to Rory’s flight from Ireland. Part Two focused not only on the reunions and problems of the two romantic couples, but also on Rory’s financial and professional rise in the United States. And Part Three focused on Rory and Deidre’s possible reunion with a young man they believe to be their missing brother Sean; the events that led to the culmination of the love triangle between Deidre, David and Caleb; Rory’s last hurrah with the movement to free Ireland from British rule; and the events that led to the birth of a new generation in the now Manion family. Frankly, I thought they balanced the miniseries’ narratives very well. More importantly, the story arcs featured first-rate direction by both Charles S. Dubin and Joseph Sargent; along with solid writing by Nixon and Sisson . . . with the exception of one story arc.

The one story arc that proved to be problematic for me was Rory and Rachel’s efforts to have children. I had no problem with Rachel’s miscarriage near the end of Part Two. It was basically used as a plot device to reconcile her with Rory and Deidre, who were angry about the lie she told about David’s fate in India. The lie encouraged Deidre to go ahead and marry Caleb Staunton, who was planning to form a partnership with Rory over a powder sale. But Part Three opened with Rachel suffering another miscarriage during the Civil War (she had suffered other miscarriages in the period between the two episodes). This latest miscarriage eventually led Rory to have an affair with another woman, in order to prevent himself from having sex with Rachel and impregnating her. And with whom does he have this affair? With the unmarried daughter of one of his closest friends and colleagues. Is this bat-shit crazy or what? I will give kudos to Rory being more concerned with his wife’s health than the idea of conceiving an heir. But I found this story arc just plain stupid and the main reason why Part Three is my least favorite episode. I find it odd that a good number of people seemed dismissive of the Deidre-David-Caleb love triangle. Yet, no one complained about this idiotic story arc about Rory and Rachel’s marriage. And it ended on a note that to this day, I still detest.

“THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” was filmed in Ireland and England (one or two scenes). And it showed. Part One benefited from the Irish locations . . . especially since it was that episode was set in Ireland. But once the story shifted to the United States, the locations did not serve the setting very well. I suppose the miniseries’ producers called themselves trying to save money on the production. If so, they could have shot the film in the United States or Canada. Unless filming in Ireland was considered cheap back in the early 1980s. “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” featured three cinematographers – Lamar Boren, Héctor R. Figueroa and Frank Watts. I found this rather odd for a television miniseries that only featured three episodes. And yet, this would explain the inconsistent style of photography for the production. The scenes ranged from bright and colorful – especially in Part Two – to dark and rather depressing. And from what I have seen, the dark photography DID NOT serve any particular scene, aside from those featuring the interior of the O’Manions’ dank hovel in Part One. I also have mixed feelings regarding the costumes designed by Barbara Lane. The costumes she designed especially for Kate Mulgrew, Linda Purl, Kathleen Beller and Barbara Parkins in Episodes Two and Three were beautiful and excellent examples of women’s fashion between the 1840s and the 1860s. However, I had a problem with Mulgew’s costumes in Part One. They looked as if they came straight from a costume warehouse in Hollywood. And they seemed a bit of a come down for a character that was supposed to be the daughter of a well-to-do English landowner.

A good number of the reviews I have read for “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” did not seem that impressed by the supporting cast. Well, I feel differently. I thought the three-part miniseries was blessed by excellent performances – not only from the leads Pierce Brosnan and Kate Mulgrew – but also the supporting players. I was very impressed by Linda Purl’s command of an Irish accent and the amazing way that she conveyed both the quiet and demure side of Deidre O’Manion, along with the character’s sharp temper and strong will. Simon MacCorkindale’s portrayal of young British officer, David Clements, made it very easy for me to see why Deidre had no problems with falling in love with his character. MacCorkindale gave a very passionate, yet charming performance. David Soul’s performance as Caleb Staunton struck me as very interesting, complex and also very appealing. Despite his Caleb being a more introverted man, Soul did an excellent job in making it clear why Deidre would find him attractive as a mate . . . and why Rory regarded him as a potential business partner. Steve Forrest was very interesting as Rachel’s uncle-by-marriage, James Kent. Forrest did an excellent job in conveying Kent’s respectable facade and the chaotic emotions he felt toward his niece. His attempt to “seduce” his niece was a squirm worthy moment. Barbara Parkins gave a very competent performance as Rachel’s chilly aunt Charlotte. Yet, Parkins managed to show the hot jealousy toward Rachel, underneath the chilly facade. Anthony Quayle made his presence known as the temperamental English landowner and magistrate, Lord Montgomery. There were moments when Quayle seemed a bit over-the-top The movie also boasted some first-class performances from Kathleen Beller, Peter Gilmore, Simon Rouse, Hurd Hatfield, Jim Culleton and Tom Jordan.

“THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” marked Pierce Brosnan’s first role in an American production. And he really took it to the max as the fiery political immigrant, Rory O’Manion. Brosnan’s performance is probably one of the most energetic he has given throughout his career. That is due, of course, to the hot-tempered and obsessive nature of his character. But as much as I admired Brosnan’s performance, I must admit there were times when I found the Rory O’Manion character a bit hard to like. He struck me as unrelentingly obsessed with his political activities against the English and too self-righteous for me to relate with. Equally fiery was Kate Mulgrew, who portrayed Rory’s English wife, Rachel. Mulgrew did a superb job in portraying Rachel’s strong, romantic nature; her intelligence and talent for manipulation. Also, both she and Brosnan made such a fiery screen team that they were almost resembled a bonfire. Yet, my vote for the best performance in the miniseries would have gone to Nicholas Hammond, who had the difficulty of portraying two members of the O’Manion family (allegedly). In Part One, Hammond gave a complex and skillful performance as Rory’s non-identical twin brother, Padric O’Manion, whose quiet and pacifist nature led to conflict and great tragedy within the family. And in Part Three, he gave another superb performance as a rowdy and independent-minded ex-Confederate soldier who may or may not be Rory and Deidre’s missing younger brother, Sean. I was impressed by how Hammond conveyed Sean’s blunt personality and inner conflict over the possibility of finally discovering his family and retaining his independence.

Overall, “THE MANIONS OF AMERICA” is a pretty solid production that did a first-rate job in presenting a family saga that began in Ireland and ended in the United States during the mid 19th century. Yes, the miniseries suffered from inconsistent photography that ranged from colorful to unnecessarily dark. And the subplot regarding the main protagonists’ marriage in the third episode struck me as particularly ridiculous. But I still managed to enjoy the production as a whole and regard it as a fine example of what both Pierce Brosnan and Kate Mulgrew were capable during the early stages of their careers.