Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1870s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1870s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1870s

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1. “The Age of Innocence” (1993) – Martin Scorcese directed this exquisite adaptation of Edith Wharton’s award winning 1920 novel about a love triangle within New York’s high society during the Gilded Age. Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfieffer and Oscar nominee Winona Ryder starred.

 

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2. “The Big Country” (1958) – William Wyler directed this colorful adaptation of Donald Hamilton’s 1958 novel, “Ambush at Blanco Canyon”. The movie starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Charlton Heston.

 

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3. “True Grit” (2010) – Ethan and Joel Coen wrote and directed this excellent adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel about a fourteen year-old girl’s desire for retribution against her father’s killer. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hattie Steinfeld starred.

 

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4. “Far From the Madding Crowd” (2015) – Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen starred in this well done adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel about a young Victorian woman who attracts three different suitors. Thomas Vinterberg directed.

 

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5. “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956) – Mike Todd produced this Oscar winning adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel about a Victorian gentleman who makes a bet that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Directed by Michael Anderson and John Farrow, the movie starred David Niven, Cantiflas, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton.

 

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6. “Stardust” (2007) – Matthew Vaughn co-wrote and directed this adaptation of Neil Gaman’s 1996 fantasy novel. The movie starred Charlie Cox, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfieffer.

 

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7. “Fort Apache” (1948) – John Ford directed this loose adaptation of James Warner Bellah’s 1947 Western short story called “Massacre”. The movie starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda, John Agar and Shirley Temple.

 

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8. “Zulu Dawn” (1979) – Burt Lancaster, Simon Ward and Peter O’Toole starred in this depiction of the historical Battle of Isandlwana between British and Zulu forces in 1879 South Africa. Douglas Hickox directed.

 

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9. “Young Guns” (1988) – Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips starred in this cinematic account of Billy the Kid’s experiences during the Lincoln County War. The movie was directed by Christopher Cain.

 

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10. “Cowboys & Aliens” (2011) – Jon Favreau directed this adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s 2006 graphic novel about an alien invasion in 1870s New Mexico Territory. The movie starred Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.dom

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“OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” (1998) Review

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“OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” (1998) Review

As a rule, I have never been an ardent fan of Charles Dickens’ novels. I suppose my aversion to his writing stemmed from being forced to read his 1838 tale, “Oliver Twist”, while in my early teens. That was the last time I had read a Dickens novel, but several film and television adaptations of his work awaited me for many years down the road. And I did not warm up to them. 

After years of avoiding Dickens’ novels or adaptations of his work, I finally decided to put my aversion of his writing aside and set my mind on watching “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND”, Sandy Welch’s 1998 adaptation of his last completed novel, published in 1864-65. Needless to say, “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” proved to be a complicated tale. It featured at least three subplots – major and minor – and they all stemmed from the alleged death of the heir to a fortune created by his father, a former collector from London’s rubbish.

“OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” began with a solicitor named Mortimer Lightwood, who narrates the circumstances on the death of his late client and the details of the latter’s will to his aunt and a group of listeners at a London society party. According to Lightwood, Mr. Harmon made his fortune from London’s rubbish. The terms of his will stipulated that his fortune should go to his estranged son John, who is returning to Britain after years spent abroad. John can inherit his father’s money on the condition that he marry a woman he has never met, Miss Bella Wilfer. However, Lightwood receives news that John Harmon’s body has been found in the Thames River. He and his close friend Eugene Wrayburn head toward the river to identify the body. And it was this sequence that led to the following subplots:

*Mr. Harmon’s employees, Nicodemus and Henrietta Boffin inherit the Harmon fortune and take Bella Wilfer as a ward to compensate for her loss, following John Harmon’s “death”.

*John Harmon fakes his death and assumes the identity of John Rokesmith, the Boffins’ social secretary, in order to ascertain Bella Wilfer’s character.

*The man who found Harmon’s “body” is a waterman and scavenger named Gaffer Hexam. He is later accused of murdering “Harmon”.

*While accompanying his friend, Mortimer Lightwood, to identify Harmon’s body, Eugene Wrayburn meets and falls in love with Hexam’s daughter, Lizzie.

*Charley Hexam, Lizzie’s younger brother, has a headmaster named Bradley Headstone, who becomes romantically and violently obsessed with Lizzie.

*A ballad-seller with a wooden leg named Silas Wegg is hired by the Boffins to read for them. When he finds Harmon’s will in the dust, he schemes with a taxidermist named Mr. Venus to blackmail the newly rich couple.

*Mr. and Mrs. Lammle are a society couple who married each other for money and discovered that neither had any. They eventually set their sights on the Boffins to swindle.

I have seen many movies and read many novels in which disparate subplots eventually form into one main narrative. A major example of this is the 2002 novel and its 2008 adaptation, “MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA”. But I cannot recall any form of fiction in which a particular narrative divides into a series of subplots in which one barely have anything in common with another. And I must say that I found this narrative device not only original, but rather disconcerting.

The problem I mainly have with “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” is that I only enjoyed one major subplot – which dealt with Eugene Wrayburn, Lizzie Hexam and Bradley Headstone. I cannot deny that I found it very interesting and very tense, despite David Morrissey’s occasional moments of histronics, when expressing Headstone’s feelings for both Wrayburn and Lizzie; and actress Keeley Hawes’ inability to express Lizzie’s true feelings for Wrayburn until the last episode. And I suspect that director Julian Farino may have been at fault, instead of Hawes. Paul McGann’s portrayal of the ambiguous Wrayburn struck me as the best performance not only in this particular subplot, but also in the entire miniseries.

Inheriting John Harmon’s fortune attracted a good deal of greedy fortune hunters to the Boffins. Unfortunately, Silas Wegg’s attempts to blackmail them ended on a whimper. It did not help that he spent at least two to three episodes (out of four) complaining about his lot in life and plotting with Mr. Venus. I was even less impressed with the poor and newly married Mr. and Mrs. Lammle’s attempts to swindle money from the Boffins. In fact, I am still in the dark over how their attempt failed.

The subplot featuring John Harmon/Rokesmith and Bella Wilfer could have amounted to something. I found Harmon’s gradual love for Bella very interesting to watch, thanks to Steven Mackintosh’s subtle performance. And Anna Friel did a great job in developing Bella Wilfur from a materialistic and ambitious young woman, to one for whom love and morality meant more to her than material wealth. But the problem I have with this subplot? Bella did not learn the truth about John until some time after their wedding. Even worse, he had to resort to deception to find out whether Bella was worthy of his hand. I realize that when they first met, she was not exactly a pleasant woman. But he conducted their courtship, while deceiving her. Even worse, Bella forgave John a bit too easily, once she learned the truth.

Aside from the excellent performances; including those from Peter Vaughn and Pam Ferris as the Boffins, Kenneth Cranham as Silas Wegg, Margaret Tyzack as the imperious Tippins, and Dominic Mafham as Mortimer Lightwood; “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” has two other virtues that I found impressive. The four-part miniseries’ visual style struck me as colorful and at the same time, epic. And I believe one has to thank David Odd for his excellent. And Mike O’Neil’s Victorian costumes truly blew me away. Not only did I find them beautiful, but a near accurate reflection of Britain in the 1860s.

One might believe that I dislike “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND”. Trust me, I liked it. But I did not love it. I suspect that Sandy Welch and director Julian Farino did the best they could in translating Dickens’ tale to the screen. Perhaps they more than did their best and that was the trouble. The 1864-65 novel is not considered among the novelist’ best. “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” has yet to improve my opinion of Charles Dickens as a novelist. Perhaps a second viewing might do the job.

Second Look: “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (1988)

Second Look: “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (1988)

Years after Robert Ludlum’s famous literary trilogy about an amnesiac CIA agent was published, Matt Damon starred in the movie versions of those novels between 2002 and 2007. Naturally, they became big box office hits and turned Damon into a full fledged action star. The ironic thing is that the three movies bore scant resemblance to the novels they were based upon. 

Fourteen years before Damon’s first movie was released in the theaters, ABC Television aired a two-part miniseries based upon the first novel – “THE BOURNE IDENTITY”. This miniseries starred Richard Chamberlain as David Webb aka Jason Bourne, the amnesiac CIA agent. And Jacyln Smith portrayed Marie St. Jacques, a Canadian economist who becomes his ally and lover.

As you can see, the first difference between the miniseries and the 2002 movie has been spotted. In the miniseries, Marie was an economist from Canada. In the movie, Franka Potente portrayed Marie as an unemployed German traveler trying to get into the U.S. Another major difference between the miniseries and the movie is that in the former, Chamberlain is a CIA operative who works for a black-ops organization called Treadstone 71. Treadstone’s job is to flush out the notorious assassin named Carlos. They recruit another assassin named Jason Bourne. But the real Bourne proves to be an uncontrollable asset and they kill him. Treadstone replaces the real Bourne with David Webb – Chamberlain’s character – who impersonates the dead assassin. In the movies, Bourne is nothing more than an alias for CIA/Treadstone assassin David Webb (Damon). As anyone can see, the miniseries’s plot – which adhered a lot closer to Ludlum’s novel – is a lot more complicated. Both versions begin with the shooting of one David Webb aka Jason Bourne aboard some boat in the Mediterranean. In this version, Webb/Bourne floats toward a fishing village off the coast of Southern France, where he is turned over to an alcoholic former doctor played by Denholm Elliot. The doctor discovers a chip embedded in his hip that contains a Swiss bank account number. Once Webb/Bourne recovers, he heads for Zurich to access the bank account. And there, his troubles begin. By the second half of the story Bourne/Webb finds himself not only hunted by Carlos and his minions, but by the police and the CIA.

From the first time I saw this miniseries in February 1988, I fell in love with it. It was an exciting and well written thriller about a man trying to come to terms with his past, while struggling to find his identity. Many critics tend to point the length of this version of ”THE BOURNE IDENTITY”. Considering that this version was created as a two-part miniseries and the complexities of the plot, I fail to understand why they have made such a fuss. Yes, ”THE BOURNE IDENTITY” is long in compare to the 2002 movie. It has a running time of three hours and five minutes. But this version’s length gave the producers the chance to air a rather close version of the novel without cutting out too much. And if I must be honest, I was never aware of the miniseries’ length, considering how well paced it was, thanks to director Roger Young and screenwriter Carol Sobieski.

Another criticism directed at the miniseries by certain fans was that the miniseries seemed outdated in compare to the 2002 version. Chamberlain’s version had been filmed fourteen years before Damon’s version. What did they expect? The only aspect of the miniseries’ plot that seemed outdated was the main villain, Carlos. Although the real Carlos was at large when the miniseries aired in February 1988, he was eventually caught six years later. The Alfred Hitchcock thriller, ”NOTORIOUS” was filmed and released in 1946. In fact, there is a moment in which the film reveals the time period in which the film began – April 1946. Yet, hardly anyone complains about this.

As I had stated before, the miniseries is a tight and exciting thriller boasting fine performances from Chamberlain and Smith. The pair – who has been featured in a score of television miniseries and two successful TV series in the past – created a sizzling chemistry on the screen. I am amazed that they had never worked together before . . . or since. Chamberlain’s Bourne is a more openly emotional character than the one portrayed by Matt Damon.

One could say that Chamberlain has a more theatrical style of acting. Although there were moments I found it a bit hard to take, I really enjoyed his theatricality in a scene that featured him and Anthony Quayle, who plays a high-ranking French general married to Carlos’ mistress. Another thing I noticed about Chamberlain’s version of the character is that he seemed more inclined to use aliases and disguises to reach those he need information on – whether he is an employee of a New York furniture moving company, a Texas millionaire or a harried American businessman. Although I have never been that impressed by Jacyln Smith as an actress, I believe that she did some of her best work in this miniseries. As Marie St. Jacques, Smith was able to overcome her usual monotone style to infuse a great deal of passion and emotion into the role of a woman who desperately wants to help her lover, yet is constantly repelled by his profession. The supporting cast seemed to be top-notch. I especially enjoyed Anthony Quayle as the passionate French patriot who discovers the truth about his wife’s connections to Carlos; Denholm Elliot as the drunken ex-doctor who befriends Webb/Bourne at the beginning of the story; Peter Vaughn as Carlos’ Swiss-born right-hand man, and Donald Moffat as Webb/Bourne’s compassionate yet very harried boss/mentor, David Abbott.

Most fans of the Bourne saga seem to be divided on their preference between the two versions. There are some who prefer Damon’s take on Bourne as a super spy/assassin who tries to distance himself from the villainous Treadstone/Blackbriar black-ops operations. And there are those who prefer Chamberlain’s take on the character, which adheres a lot closer to Ludlum’s original novel. Frankly, I am a fan of both the miniseries and the movie. And I hope that one day, I might encounter Jason Bourne fans who harbor the same views as me.