“REMINGTON STEELE”: Top Five Favorite Season Two (1983-1984) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Two (1983-1984) of NBC’s “REMINGTON STEELE”. Created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason, the series starred Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan and Doris Roberts:

“REMINGTON STEELE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON TWO (1983-1984) EPISODES

1 - 2.15 Steele Sweet on You

1. (2.15) “Steele Sweet on You” – Laura Holt and Remington Steele get involved with the marital problems of the former’s sister and brother-in-law at a dental convention. where a murderer seeks to eliminate the only evidence left against him. Maryedith Burrell, Michael Durrell and Patrick Collins guest starred.

2 - 2.21 Hounded Steele

2. (2.21) “Hounded Steele” – When the agency’s assistant Mildred Krebs becomes detective for a former thief, whose dog is missing, both become targeted by a murderous former Interpol agent who seeks revenge against the thief for ruining his career. J.D. Cannon and Tom Baker guest starred.

3 - 2.04 Altared Steele

3. (2.04) “Altared Steele” – An amnesiac hires Laura and Steele to learn his identity and why someone is trying to kill him. They eventually learn that one of his wives might be a serial killer. Guest stars included Delta Burke.

4- 2.15 Blood Thicker Than Steele

4. (2.14) “Blood Is Thicker Than Steele” – Laura and Steele must protect the two obnoxious children of a Federal witness during a road trip. Eric Brown and Carolyn Seymour guest starred.

5 - 2.21 Dreams of Steele

5. (2.19) “Dreams of Steele” – The agency’s reputation is at stake when the gems Laura and Steele were guarding, disappears during the transport. Judith Light guest starred.

HM - 2.09 Steel Knuckles and Glass Jaws

Honorable Mention: (2.09) “Steel Knuckles and Glass Jaws” – A boxer hires Laura and Steele to find the missing mother of a baby that proves to be the grandson of a notorious gangster.

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“JURASSIC WORLD” (2015) Review

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“JURASSIC WORLD” (2015) Review

Being a Southern California resident and native, I have made numerous visits to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. And for the past decade, a guide for the Backlot Tour attraction has announced to visitors about the studio’s intention to produce and release a fourth film for the JURASSIC PARK movie franchise. After five years, I stopped taking these announcements seriously.

Then lo and behold, these announcements turned out to be true. Universal finally made it official last year that a fourth movie would be made and it was to star Chris Pratt. Despite this announcement, I did not make such a big deal over the matter. One . . . I simply did not care. Mind you, I am a big fan of the other three films. But fourteen years had passed between the third film and this fourth one. For me, that was ten to eleven years too long. And two, I could not see Chris Pratt in an action film in which he would have to somewhat curtail on the jokes. But when I learned about the reactions to the film overseas, I finally began to look forward to seeing it.

Set twenty-odd years after “JURASSIC PARK” and less than a decade after “JURASSIC PARK III”, “JURASSIC WORLD” takes place on Isla Nublar, the same setting as the 1993 film. There, a fully functioning dinosaur theme park called Jurassic World has operated for ten years under the ownership of Simon Masrani, CEO of the Masrani Corporation. A pair of brothers named Zach and Gray Mitchell are sent there during the winter holidays to visit their aunt Claire Dearing, the park’s operations manager. Due to Claire’s busy schedule with recruiting corporate sponsors for a new attraction – a genetically modified dinosaur called Indominus rex, her assistant is tasked to act as the boys’ guide. Slightly leery about this new attraction, Masrani orders Claire to recruit the park’s Velociraptor trainer, a former U.S. Navy SEAL named Owen Grady, to assess the Indominus rex. Unfortunately, the dinosaur manages to escape his/her compound by tricking Grady and two staff members that it had made an earlier escape. And Masrani discovers from the dinosaur’s creator, Dr. Henry Wu, that the Indominus rex has the DNA of several predatory dinosaurs and modern-day animals. While Masrani orders Security Chief Vic Hoskins and the Asset Containment Unit to capture the dinosaur, Claire tries to organize the evacuation of the park and recruits Owen to help her find her nephews.

“JURASSIC WORLD” had a few problems. Actually, I had three problems with the movie. One, I wish the movie had taken its time to set up the reason behind the Mitchell brothers’ visit to the theme park. Audiences never really learn the reason behind their visit – namely an opportunity for their parents to organize their upcoming divorce – until a brief conversation between the two brothers in the middle of the film. Apparently, director Colin Trevorrow; who also co-wrote the film with Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly; wanted to get the brothers to Isla Nubar as soon as possible. Another aspect of the script that I found slightly troubling was the vague and confusing situation regarding Masrani Corporation, the InGen Corporation, and the Dr. Henry Wu and Vic Hoskins characters. Was there an executive or two within InGen plotting with the two men to regain the company from Masrani? What roles did the Grady trained Velociraptors play in this possible scheme? Perhaps the matter will be clear once I see the DVD version. Or perhaps it will be explained in a future movie. Also, the Owen Grady character spent most of the film reacting negatively to Hoskins’ idea of training and using Velociraptors on behalf of the U.S. military. I could understand his feelings. What I failed to understand was his reasoning for training the dinosaurs to obey his commands in the first place. Why did he engage in this profession? The movie never really explained.

Otherwise, I had no problems with “JURASSIC WORLD”. Wait . . . I take that back. My reaction to the movie was a lot more that mere tolerance. I really enjoyed the film. A lot more than I had expected. In fact, it has become one of my top favorite films for the Summer 2015 movie season. Aside from the hiccups I had mentioned above, I really enjoyed the movie’s story. The previous three movies merely gave hints – although bloody ones – that the idea of introducing the general public to genetically created dinosaurs is a major mistake. Actually, the second film, 1997’s “JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD”, was really the first time that featured a confrontation between the public (citizens of San Diego) and lethal dinosaurs (a Tyrannosaurus rex and its infant child). But that incident was nothing in compare to what happened in“JURASSIC WORLD”. When I watched Jurassic World’s guests and staff members encounter the deadly Indominus rex, flocks of flying Pteranodon and Dimorphodon, and the Mosasaurus with such disastrous results; I found myself remembering what the Ian Malcolm character had said in the first movie – “There is a problem with that island. It is an accident waiting to happen.” I could also imagine his reaction to the media reports of what happened in the theme park.

I found myself wondering about that theme park. After the incident of the first film, the John Hammond character had the good sense to ditch his plans for a theme park and realize it would be wise to keep the two islands and the dinosaurs isolated from the public. Yet, according to “JURASSIC WORLD”, Simon Masrani had been encouraged to re-institute the idea of a theme park by Hammond before the latter’s death. What made Hammond change his mind? Had Masrani managed to convince the latter that he would be able to keep that park under control? Someone had pointed out that“JURASSIC WORLD” was more about the negative effects of high finance and greed, instead of bad science. I believe it was a cautionary tale regarding both . . . along with defense contracting. I had not forgotten the clash between Owen and Hoskins over the use of the Velociraptors.

One controversy managed to spring up following the movie’s release. It had to do with the Claire Dearing character and her high-heeled shoes. There have been complaints about Claire – her uptight character and the lack of respect she seemed to generate from characters like Owen, her two nephews (who had witnessed her save Owen’s life from a Dimorphodon) and Hoskins. Only Masrani seemed to have any real respect for her. A good number of critics . . . especially male critics, seemed to have a low regard for Claire. They saw her as a regression of female characters in an action-oriented film. What was the one thing that led them to harbor this low regard for Claire? Her unwillingness to shed her high-heeled shoes once the situation on the island became dicey. Perhaps they saw her shoes as this symbol of femininity that needed to be shed, once the action started. However, actress Bryce Dallas Howard thought otherwise and insisted that she continue to wear high heels throughout the movie. This decision caused a firestorm when the movie came out and still continues to do so. Personally, I am glad Howard made this decision. I do get tired of fans, the media and the entertainment industry insisting that in order for women to be considered worthy or superior, she has to shed any outward signs of femininity other than large boobs and tight leather. Besides, she was not the only female character I have seen run for her life in high heels. Stephanie Zimbalist did it on the NBC series, “REMINGTON STEELE”.

One cannot talk about a JURASSIC PARK movie without the mention of visual effects. Personally, I found the creation of the movie’s dinosaurs – especially the Indominus rex and the Mosasaurus outstanding. I could also say the same about Ed Verreaux’s production designs for the film. I admire his creation of the theme park’s shopping area – which slightly reminded me of Universal Studios Hollywood – and the way he utilized the old sets of the 1993 movie as abandoned structures. I wish I could comment on Michael Giacchino’s score for the film. But honestly . . . I simply do not remember it. Kevin Stitt did an excellent job with his editing for the film. I was especially impressed by his handling of the Pteranodons and Dimorphodons’ attack on the park’s shopping area and the Owen-led expedition against the Indominus rex in the jungle. But I was really impressed by John Schwartzman’s cinematography – especially in the scene below:

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Amidst the crazy plot, the CGI dinosaurs and action, there is the matter of the performances featured in the movie. Personally, I had no problems with them. Perhaps I am being a bit too subtle. I really enjoyed the performances in the film.“JURASSIC WORLD” featured solid performances from Judy Greer, Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Katie McGrath, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins. The movie also featured a funny cameo by Jimmy Fallon as a video guide for the park’s Gyrosphere tour.

For me, the outstanding performances came from certain members of the cast. Vincent D’Onofrio gave an energetic, yet slightly sinister portrayal of the park’s head of security operations, Vic Hoskins. Irrfan Khan was equally energetic, yet very charming as the park’s owner, Simon Masrani. B.D. Wong made his second appearance in the movie franchise as Dr. Henry Wu, the geneticist behind the dinosaurs’ creations. Wong made a decent appearance in the 1993 movie. But his performance in “JURASSIC WORLD” revealed the character’s inability to question the consequences of his creations. More importantly, his performance gave Dr. Wu more depth and complexity. Chris Pratt did an excellent job as the movie’s leading man and Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady. Pratt effectively ditched his usual humor schtick to portray the no-nonsense Owen. But I believe that Bryce Dallas Howard gave the best performance in the movie as the park’s operation manager, Claire Dearing. Howard did an exceptional job in portraying Claire’s development from an emotionally reserved workaholic to a woman fiercely determined to keep her nephews safe at all costs . . . even if it meant wearing those much-discussed high heels throughout the entire movie.

What else can I say about “JURASSIC WORLD”? The movie’s producers (including Steven Spielberg), director Colin Trevorrow and the three other screenwriters who worked with him on the script did an excellent in keeping the JURASSIC PARK franchise alive. They were ably assisted by a talented cast led by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the behind-the-scenes crew that contributed to the movie’s visual style. And if I must be honest, I never thought they could do it.

Controversy in High Heels

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CONTROVERSY IN HIGH HEELS

There has been a great deal of controversy over Bryce Dallas Howard remaining in high heels during her Claire Dering character’s adventures in “JURASSIC WORLD”.  It grew worse with the release of “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION” in which many film critics (especially male) made a big deal by approving how the Ilsa Faust character portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson removed her high heels during a particular action sequence in the film.  It was their way of making a dig at Howard’s character.

Then I remembered . . . Howard was not the first actress to keep her high heels on in the middle of an action sequence.  I still have memories of a particular scene from a “REMINGTON STEELE” episode called “Steele in the Chips”, when guest star Geena Davis asked Stephanie Zimbalist’s Laura Holt how she managed to keep her heels on, while running for her life.  Miss Holt’s reply?   “Practice”.

Enough said.

“REMINGTON STEELE”: Top Five Favorite Season One (1982-1983) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One (1982-1983) of NBC’s “REMINGTON STEELE”. Created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason, the series starred Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan, James Read and Janet DeMay:

“REMINGTON STEELE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON ONE (1982-1983) EPISODES

1- 1.21 Sting of Steele

1. (1.21) “Sting of Steele” – Remington Steele’s former mentor, Daniel Chalmers, travels to Los Angeles to seek Steele’s help in dealing with a vindictive and crooked London casino owner, and winds up romancing Laura Holt’s mother, Abigail. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Beverly Garland guest starred.

2 - 1.05 Thou Shalt Not Steele

2. (1.05) “Thou Shalt Not Steele” – A woman from Steele’s past asks him to help her steal a valuable painting that Laura has already agreed to protect, while the latter deals with her visiting mother. Cassandra Harris and Beverly Garland guest starred.

3- 1.16 Steele Crazy After All These Years

3. (1.16) “Steele Crazy After All These Years” – Fellow detective Murphy Michaels’ college homecoming is marred by a murder that awakens memories of a bombing on campus ten years before. Annie Potts, Sharon Stone, Todd Susman, Tony Plana, Allyce Beasley and Xander Berkeley guest starred.

4- 1.13 A Good Night Steele

4. (1.13) “A Good Night’s Steele” – Laura and Steele pose as a doctor and insomniac patient respectively, in order to find a murderer at a sleep disorder clinic. Paul Reiser guest starred.

5- 1.20 Steele Gold

5. (1.20) “Steele’s Gold” – A prospector’s journal stolen during a party leads Laura, Steele and Murphy on a wild gold hunt through the desert with murder suspects. William Russ guest starred.

HM - 1.22 Steele in Circulation

Honorable Mentioned: (1.22) “Steele in Circulation” – After preventing a banker from committing suicide, Steele recruits Laura and Murphy’s help in finding out who had tricked the man into stealing over two million dollars.

“WESTWARD HO!”: Part Three – “CENTENNIAL” (1978-79)

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Below is Part Three to my article about Hollywood’s depiction about the westward migration via wagon trains in 19th century United States. It focuses upon “”, the third episode of the 1978-79 television miniseries, “CENTENNIAL”

 

“WESTWARD HO!”: Part Three – “CENTENNIAL” (1978-79)

I. Introduction

Between the fall of 1978 and the winter of 1979, NBC aired an adaptation of James Michner’s 1973 novel, “Centennial”. The twelve-part miniseries spanned 180 years in the history of a fictional town in Northern Colorado called Centennial. Episode Three, titled “The Wagon and the Elephant”, revealed the experiences of a Pennsylvania Mennonite from Lancaster named Levi Zendt and his bride, Elly, during their overland journey to the west.

In the early spring of 1845 (1844 in the novel), Levi found himself shunned by his conservative family after being falsely accused of attempted rape by a local Mennonite girl named . Apparently, Miss Stoltzfus did not want the community to know about her attempts to tease Levi. Only two other people knew the truth, two 17 year-olds at the local orphanage – Elly Zahm and Laura Lou Booker. Levi eventually befriends Elly. And when he decides to leave Lancaster, he asks Elly to accompany him to Oregon as his bride.

Since “CENTENNIAL” was about the history of a Northern Colorado town, one would easily assume that Levi and Elly never made it to Oregon. Instead, a few mishaps that included Elly nearly being raped by their wagon master named Sam Purchas and a bad wagon wheel, convinced the Zendts to turn around and return to Fort Laramie. There, they teamed with former mountain man Alexander McKeag and his family to head toward Northern Colorado and establish a trading post.

“The Wagon and the Elephant” is my favorite episode of “CENTENNIAL”. One of the reasons I love it so much is well . . . I love the story. And aside from one of two quibbles, I believe the episode gave a very effective portrayal of life for an emigrant traveling by wagon train.

II. History vs. Hollywood

From a historical perspective, I believe producer John Wilder made only one major blooper in the production. The fault may have originated with writer James Michner’s novel. Before leaving Lancaster, Levi Zendt purchased a large Conestoga wagon from a teamster named Amos Boemer. As I have stated in the Introduction, a Conestoga wagon was a heavy, large wagon used for hauling freight along the East Coast. It was considered too big for mules or oxen to be hauling across the continent. Which meant that the Zendts’ Conestoga was too heavy for their journey to Oregon.

The wagon eventually proved to be troublesome for Levi and Elly. Yet, according to the episode’s transcript and Michner’s novel, the fault laid with a faulty left wheel, not the wagon’s impact upon the animals hauling it. In St. Louis, both Army captain Maxwell Mercy and wagonmaster Sam Purchas had advised Levi to get rid of his teams of gray horses, claiming they would not survive the journey west. Levi refused to heed their warning and Purchase swapped the horses for oxen behind his back. This was a smart move by Purchas. Unfortunately, neither the wagonmaster or Captain Mercy bothered to suggest that Levi rid himself of the Conestoga wagon. Since the miniseries said nothing about the size of the Zendts’ wagon, it did not comment on the amount of contents carried by the couple and other emigrants in the wagon party.

But I must congratulate both Michner and the episode’s writer, Jerry Ziegman, for at least pointing out the disadvantages of using horses to pull a wagon across the continent. “The Wagon and the Elephant” also made it clear that the Zendts were traveling along the Oregon Trail, by allowing their wagon party to stop at Fort Laramie. The miniseries called it Fort John, which was another name for the establishment. Before it became a military outpost, the fort was known officially as “Fort John on the Laramie”.

The miniseries’ depiction of the emigrants’ encounter with Native Americans was not exaggerated for the sake of Hollywood drama . . . thank goodness. The Zendts, Oliver Seccombe and other emigrants encountered a small band of Arapahos led by the mixed-blood sons of a French-Canadian trapper named Pasquinel. Levi, who was on guard at the time, became aware of Jacques and Michel Pasquinel’s presence and immediately alerted his fellow emigrants. A great deal about this encounter reeked with realism. The emigrants were obviously well armed. The Pasquinels and the other Arapaho only consisted of a small band of riders. More importantly, no violence erupted between the two parties, despite Sam Purchas’ obvious hostility. Due to Paul Krasny’s direction, the entire encounter was tense, brief and polite. The miniseries also conveyed a realistic depiction of whites like Purchas to randomly murder an individual brave or two out of sheer spite or hatred.

Thanks to the episode, “The Wagon and the Elephant”“CENTENNIAL” provided a brief, yet realistic portrait of westward emigration in the mid 19th century. The miniseries was historically inaccurate in one regard – the Conestoga wagon that Levi and Elly Zendt used for their journey west. But in the end, this episode provided a injection of history, without allowing Hollywood exaggeration to get in the way.

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Eight “The Storm” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Eight “The Storm” Commentary

The eighth episode of “CENTENNIAL” is a bit of a conundrum for me. Of the eight episodes so far, it seemed to be the only one in which the time span struck me as rather confusing. Which is a pity, because I found it rather interesting.

“The Storm” had the potential to be one of the better episodes of the miniseries. Unfortunately, it seemed marred by a good deal of mistakes that left the time span rather confusing. The previous episode, “The Shepherds” ended with Levi Zendt leaving Centennial to visit his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And since the episode opened with Levi’s arrival in Lancaster, I can only assume that the episode began in the fall of 1881. Levi did not return to Centennial until the onset of winter. And this led me to assume that the episode spanned a few months around the late fall and early winter of 1881. However, certain aspect in the episode seemed to hint that several years, instead of a few months, had passed between Levi’s arrival in Lancaster and the winter storm that finally struck Centennial.

Charles Larson’s screenplay made it clear that Levi’s visit to Pennsylvania did not last that long. In fact, his wife Lucinda and his son, Martin, expressed surprise that he had returned home to Centennial before the winter. And considering that it took seven days to journey by rail from the West Coast to the East Coast; Levi’s journey from Colorado to Pennsylvania should have taken less than seven days. In total, his entire trip should have lasted less than a month. And yet . . . there were signs in the episode that several years had passed since the end of “The Shepherds”. One, the character of Amos Calendar seemed to have aged by a decade. Seriously. While Levi was in Pennsylvania, the Findlay Perkins character had arrived in Centennial. Around the time of his arrival, Oliver and Charlotte Seccombe were behaving like a couple that had been married for several years, instead of honeymooners. More importantly, a semi-manor made of brick (or stones) had replaced the clapboard ranch house that served as Venneford Ranch’s main house. I doubt very much that Seccombe was able erect a small manor house within a month or two. Also, the winter storm that struck the Western Plains occurred in 1886-1887. Levi’s journey to Pennsylvania should have occurred five years later. Larson’s handling of the episode’s time span seemed so sloppy that I could only shake my head in disbelief.

But the episode’s time span was not the only thing that troubled me. The first thirty minutes of “The Storm” featured a number of flashbacks I have not seen since “Only the Rocks Live Forever”. The flashbacks in that first episode made sense. It was the only episode that featured the character of Lame Beaver in the main narrative, yet at the same time, allowed viewers access to the character’s past. Because “The Storm” featured the deaths of Levi Zendt and Mule Canby, viewers were subjected to flashbacks featuring Levi’s journey to the West in “” and the Skimmerhorn cattle drive in “The Longhorns”. Instead of providing background to the characters of Levi and Mule, these flashbacks only dragged the episode’s first half hour.

Thankfully, “The Storm” was not a complete waste of time. It featured some first-rate drama and performances. The episode marked the first appearances of the Wendell family. So far, the family has managed to charm most of Centennial’s citizens with their good manners, verbal skills and acting talent. They have also attracted the suspicion of one Sheriff Axel Dumire. As I had stated earlier, the character of Mule Canby, last seen wounded and hauled to a military fort by R.J. Poteet in “The Longhorns”. He has become a trick shot artist for a circus, with Nacho Gomez as his assistant. Their reunion with former members of the Skimmerhorn drive – Jim Lloyd, John Skimmerhorn and Amos Calendar – provided the episode with a very warm and emotional moment before Canby’s tragic death in a tent fire.

There were two story arcs in “The Storm” that proved to be the highlights of the episodes. One story arc featured Levi and Lucinda’s frustrations with their younger offspring, the unhappy and unstable Clemma. Following his return to Centennial, Levi was surprised by the appearance of his daughter, who was supposed to be going to school in St. Louis. Instead, the couple learned of their wayward daughter’s lurid exploits that included prostitution, jail time and marriage to a bigamist. In a memorable speech, Levi reminded Lucinda that despite the disappointments and unhappy times, they had also experienced many positive things in their lives – including their marriage and the growth of Centennial. Unfortunately, this poignant moment was spoiled by Clemma’s decision to leave town on the first available eastbound train – a decision that led to Levi’s death near the rail tracks during the winter storm.

The storm also featured in a tense plot arc that spelled the possible doom of Oliver Seccombe’s career as a rancher. His handling of the Venneford Ranch’s accounts had led his London bosses to send a Scottish accountant named Findlay Perkins to check the books. Both John Skimmerhorn and Jim Lloyd tried to explain to the accountant that the region’s method of free-range cattle ranching made it impossible to precisely account for every cow or bull on the ranch. Being a very perceptive man, Findlay was still able to discover that Seccombe had been mishandling the ranch’s profits in order to build the new house for his wife, Charlotte. Before Findlay could return to Britain, the storm struck the region, forcing him to remain at Venneford. One of the episode’s highlights proved to be the tense scenes between Findlay and the Seccombes, as they waited out the storm.

The episode’s biggest virtue proved to be the outstanding performances by the cast. Just about everyone in this episode gave top-notch performances. But there were a few I would consider to be the best. One of them came from Gregory Harrison, who made his last appearance as former emigrant-turned-merchant, Levi Zendt. Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave were superb as the besieged Oliver and Charlotte Seccombe, anxious over their future with Venneford Ranch and forced to deal with the likes of Findlay Perkins. Clive Revill gave an excellent performance as the Scottish accountant. And his scenes with Dalton and Redgrave were filled with delicious tension and humor. It was nice to see Greg Mullavey as the always gregarious Mule Canby. And I truly enjoyed the tensions between Brian Keith’s suspcious Sheriff Axel Dumire and the wonderfully scheming Wendells, portrayed by Anthony Zerbe, Lois Nettleton and Doug McKeon. But the stand-out performance came from Adrienne LaRussa’s excellent portrayal of the sad and conflicted Clemma Zendt. LaRussa was superb in conveying all aspects of Clemma’s personality, which included her spiteful teasing of Jim Lloyd, and her insecurities. But she gave an Emmy worthy performance in the scene in which she conveyed Clemma’s pathetic life back East to the Zendts.

It is a pity that “The Storm” was marred by a questionable time span and unnecessary flashbacks. The episode had the potential to be one of the best in the 12-part miniseries. It marked the death of a major character and also a change in Centennial’s history with the end of free-range ranching and the Wendells’ arrival. But some outstanding performances and the winter storm featured still made it one of the more interesting episodes, in the end.

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Three “The Wagon and the Elephant” Commentary

 

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Three “The Wagon and the Elephant” Commentary

The third episode of “CENTENNIAL”“The Wagon and the Elephant”, picks up at least fifteen to sixteen years after the last episode ended. This episode also shifted its focus upon a new central character; a young Mennonite from Lancaster, Pennsylvania named Levi Zendt. 

The story begins in the early spring of 1845, in which young Levi Zendt irritates his more conservative family by forgetting to appear on time for Sunday supper with a local minister. This infraction proved to be nothing in compare what follows. Encouraged by the flirtations of a local Mennonite girl named Rebecca Stolfitz, Levi kisses her after they deliver market scrapings to a local orphanage. Unfortunately, Rebecca becomes aware that the orphanage’s head mistress is observing them and accuses Levi of attempted rape. The accusation not only leads Levi to be shunned by the Mennonite community, but also by his older brothers – include Mahlon, who had plans to marry Rebecca. The only people who know the truth are two late adolescent girls – Elly Zahm and Laura Lou Booker. After befriending Elly, Levi decides to leave Lancaster and head west to Oregon. He also makes a surprise visit at the orphanage and asks Elly to accompany him on the journey west, as his bride. During their journey west, Levi and Elly quickly fall in love. Upon their arrival in St. Louis, they meet three other men who will play major roles in their future – Oliver Seccombe, an Englishman with plans to write a book about the American West; Army Major Maxwell Mercy, the husband of Lisette Pasquinel, who has been assigned to find and establish an Army fort on the Plains; and the venal mountain man Sam Purchas, who acts as a guide to the wagon train that the Zendts accompany.

“The Wagon and the Elephant” is without a doubt, my favorite of all the twelve episodes featured in “CENTENNIAL”. I love it. I am not saying that it is perfect. But I love it. I do have a few quibbles about the episode. One, I was not that impressed by Helen Colvig’s costumes for the female characters. I am willing to give leeway to the costumes worn by Stephanie Zembalist, Barbara Carrera and Christina Raines; considering their characters’ social positions. But the costumes worn by actress Karen Carlson and numerous female extras portraying middle and upper-class females seemed a bit . . . cheap. It seemed as if Colvig failed to put much effort into their costumes, in compare to the female costumes featured in “Only the Rocks Live Forever” and “The Yellow Apron”. Another complaint I have is the presence of white families in the sequence that featured Major Mercy and McKeag’s efforts to negotiate with various tribes for help in establishing an Army fort. This particular incident occurred after the Zendts, Oliver Seccombe, Sam Purchas and the rest of the wagon train continued its journey west. Which meant that Mercy and McKeag’s meeting with the Pasquinel brothers and other tribal leaders must have occurred in mid-to-late August. Any westbound white emigrants still at Fort Laramie (Fort John) during that time of the year, had probably left western Missouri a good deal later than any emigrant with common sense would. The presence of those white families at Laramie in that particular sequence made not only lacked any logic, but was also historically incorrect.

But these are minor quibbles in what I otherwise consider to be a superb episode. I have admitted in past reviews of my love for tales featuring long distance traveling. This theme was featured in “The Wagon and the Elephant” in a manner that more than satisfied me. The episode covered the Zendts journey from Pennsylvania to (present day) Northern Colorado with plenty of drama and action that left me breathless. Although this chapter in James Michner’s saga was set in 1844 in the novel, producer-writer John Wilder had decided to set it one year later. Why? Who knows? And frankly, who cares? After all, this minor change did no harm to the story. But I never understood why he made the change in the first place. Another aspect about this episode is that after watching it, I realized that it served as the first half of a two-part tale that introduced Levi Zendt into the saga. The incidents in “The Wagon and the Elephant” severed Levi from everything that was familiar to him in Pennsylvania – family, home, and all of his assets. By the end of the episode, McKeag spoke of how Levi’s losses and upheavals brought him to a crossroad in his life.

After watching “The Wagon and the Elephant”, I was amazed at the number of memorable moments featured in it. Those moments included:

*A tardy Levi and the rest of the Zendt family entertain the Reverend Fenstermacher for Sunday supper

*Rebecca Stolfitz falsely accuses Levi of attempted rape

*The elderly Mrs. Zendt encourage Levi to leave Lancaster and head west

*Levi and Elly meet Oliver Seccombe for the first time

*Oliver introduce Sam Purchas to the Zendts and Major Mercy

*Purchas exchange the Zendts’ team of gray horses for oxen

*Levi’s conversation with Sergeant Lykes about “seeing the elephant”

*The wagon trains’ encounter with Jacques and Michel Pasquinel

*Maxwell Mercy introduce himself to McKeag, Clay Basket and Lucinda as Pasquinel’s son-in-law at Fort Laramie

*Mercy and McKeag’s meeting with the Pasquinel brothers, Broken Thumb, Lost Eagle and other tribal leaders

*Purchas’ attempted rape of Elly

*The Zendts’ decision to part from the wagon train and return east

*McKeag and Levi form a trading partnership

*Elly’s encounter with a rattlesnake

I could go into detail on the scenes mentioned above, but that would require an entire article on its own. The fact that this episode featured so many memorable scenes made it a favorite of mine. However, there are two or three scenes that I had failed to mention. Two of them featured private and intimate discussions between Levi and Elly, conveying their deepening love for one another. But my favorite scene featured Levi’s arrival at the local orphanage to ask Elly for her hand in marriage and to accompany him on his journey to Oregon. With John Addison’s score and the first-rate performances by Gregory Harrison, Stephanie Zimbalist and Leslie Winston; director Paul Krasny created a magical and emotionally satisfying scene that still makes my skin tingle . . . and tears fall.

But it was not only Krasny’s direction and Jerry Ziegman’s script that made this episode so memorable. “The Wagon and the Elephant” also featured some superb performances. They came from the likes of Richard Jaeckel, who was given a chance to shine in his “seeing the elephant” speech; John Bennett Perry, who effectively portrayed Levi’s overbearing older brother, Mahlon Zendt; Leslie Winston, who shone in two scenes as Elly’s vivacious best friend, Laura Lou Booker; Stephen McHattie, who gave a first hint of his brilliant portrayal of the mercurial Jacques Pasquinel; Chad Everrett, who provided a great deal of strength as Major Maxwell Mercy; and Irene Tedrow, who gave a very warm portrayal of the compassionate Mrs. Zendt. Before portraying Sam Purchas in this episode, Donald Pleasence had portrayed a mountain man in the 1965 comedy, “THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL”. In “CENTENNIAL”, he ended up portraying a very unpleasant frontiersman, namely the venal Sam Purchas. Although Pleasence’s Purchas was not what I would call a complex character, I must admit that he was memorable and the British actor portrayed him with a great deal of relish. Richard Chamberlain continued his role as Alexander McKeag in this episode. Although his role had been diminished, he still continued his superb portrayal of the character. And Timothy Dalton made his first appearance as Oliver Seccombe, the Englishman that ended up falling in love with the West . . . for better or worse. Even in “The Wagon and the Elephant”, Dalton would skillfully provide a great deal of charm and moral ambiguity in what I believe turned out to be one of his best roles ever.

However, “The Wagon and the Elephant” truly belonged to Gregory Harrison and Stephanie Zimbalist as Levi and Elly Zendt. Years ago, I had learned that these two had worked together at least four times. It seemed a pity that they did not work more often together, because these two were magic. They took a couple that seemed unrequited (at least from Elly’s point of view) at the beginning of their marriage and created one of the most loving and believable romances in the entire miniseries. They really were quite wonderful. I wish I could say more about their excellent performances . . . but I suspect that I have said enough.

In fact, I believe I have said enough about “The Wagon and the Elephant”. I mean . . . what else can I say? Producer John Wilder took a first rate script written by Jerry Ziegman, an excellent cast led by Gregory Harrison and Stephanie Zimbalist and one of my favorite themes – long distance travel – to create what has become my favorite episode in “CENTENNIAL”.