The 19th Century in Television

Recently, I noticed there have been a good number of television productions in both North America and Great Britain, set during the 19th century. Below is a list of those productions I have seen during this past decade in chronological:

THE 19TH CENTURY IN TELEVISION

1. “Copper” (BBC America) – Tom Fontana and Will Rokos created this series about an Irish immigrant policeman who patrols Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood during the last year of the U.S. Civil War. Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh starred in this 2012-2013 series.

2. “The Crimson Petal and the White” (BBC) – Romola Garai starred in this 2011 miniseries, which was an adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2002 novel about a Victorian prostitute, who becomes the mistress of a powerful businessman.

3. “Death Comes to Pemberley” (BBC) – Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell-Martin starred in this adaptation of P.D. James’ 2011 novel, which is a murder mystery and continuation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice”.

4. “Hell on Wheels” (AMC) – This 2012-2016 series is about a former Confederate Army officer who becomes involved with the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad during the years after the Civil War. Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, and Dominique McElligott starred.

5. “Mercy Street” (PBS) – This series follows two volunteer nurses from opposing sides who work at the Mansion House Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Josh Radnor and Hannah James.

6. “The Paradise” (BBC-PBS) – This 2012-2013 series is an adaptation of Émile Zola’s 1883 novel, “Au Bonheur des Dames”, about the innovative creation of the department story – only with the story relocated to North East England. The series starred Joanna Vanderham and Peter Wight.

7. “Penny Dreadful” (Showtime/Sky) – Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Harnett star in this horror-drama series about a group of people who battle the forces of supernatural evil in Victorian England.

8. “Ripper Street” (BBC) – Matthew Macfadyen stars in this crime drama about a team of police officers that patrol London’s Whitechapel neighborhood in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s serial murders.

9. “Underground” (WGN) – Misha Green and Joe Pokaski created this series about runaway slaves who endure a long journey from Georgia to the Northern states in a bid for freedom in the late Antebellum period. Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge star.

10. “War and Peace” (BBC) – Andrew Davies adapted this six-part miniseries, which is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1865–1867 novel about the impact of the Napoleonic Era during Tsarist Russia. Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1931 novel, “The Sittaford Mystery”. And I have read a lot of her novels. But since the novel did not feature Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford; I never took the trouble to read it. Well, that is not fair. I can think of at least two or three Christie novels that did not feature any of these sleuths that I have read. But I have never read “The Sittaford Mystery”.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ITV channel had aired an adaptation of the novel in which Geraldine McEwan appeared as Jane Marple. Okay. This is not the first time this has happened, considering that Christie did not write that many Miss Marple novels. “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” revolved around the murder of a politician who is viewed as a potential Prime Minister in the 1950s. The story begins in the 1920s Egypt, where Clive Trevelyan and a few companions stumble across an important archaeological discovery. Then the story jumps nearly thirty years later when Trevelyan, now a politician, returns to his home Sittaford House in Dartmoor with his aide John Enderby, while Parliament decides on whether he will become Britain’s new Prime Minister, following the retirement of Sir Winston Churchill. Due to his friendship with the novelist Raymond West, Trevelyan finds himself forced to accept the latter’s elderly aunt, Miss Jane Marple, as a house guest.

Much to Miss Marple and Enderby’s surprise, Treveylan decides to chance the snowy weather outside and stay at a local hotel six miles away. The hotel include guests who seemed to be very familiar with Treveylan or familiar with an escapee from the local Dartmoore prison. One of the guests conduct a séance using a Ouiji board, which predicts Treveylan’s death. Hours later, the politician is found stabbed to death in his room. With Miss Marple stuck at Sittaford House (temporarily); Enderby; a young journalist named Charles Burnaby; and Emily Trefusis, the fiancee of Treveylan’s wastrel ward James Pearson; set out to find the murderer. However, it is not long before the trio find themselves seeking Miss Marple’s help.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” strikes me as a rather confusing tale. I have a deep suspicion that in his effort to somewhat change the plot from Christie’s original novel, screenwriter Stephen Churchett ended up creating a very convoluted story . . . right up to the last reel. I have seen this movie twice and for the likes of me, I still have no real idea of what was going on . . . aside from the first fifteen minutes and the movie’s denouement. I was aware that the hotel featured guests that had connections with or knew Treveylan, including a former lover, her wallflower daughter, a middle-aged woman who seemed to be a fan of Treveylan, and an American businessman and his aide.

Churchett created a script filled with so many red herrings – unnecessary, as far as I am concerned – that I simply gave up in trying to guess the murderer’s identity and waited for Miss Marple to expose him or her. Upon my first viewing. Upon my second viewing, I tried to examine the plot for any hints or clues that would lead to the killer’s identity. Unfortunately, that did not happen until at least fifteen minutes before Miss Marple revealed the killer. I was also disappointed with how the movie resolved the romantic entanglements of Emily Trefusis, Charles Burnaby, James Pearson and a fourth character. I found it so contrived, for it came out of left field with no set up or hint whatsoever. What I found even more unconvincing was the last shot of the murderer staring at the camera with an evil grin. This struck me as an idiotic attempt by director Paul Unwin to channel or copy Alfred Hitchcock’s last shot of Anthony Perkins in the 1960 movie, “PYSCHO”. I found that moment so ridiculous.

I will give kudos to Rob Harris, the movie’s production designer. I thought he did a competent job in creating the movie’s setting – a snowbound English community in the early-to-mid 1950s. But do to the majority of the film being limited to either Treveylan’s home and the hotel, Harris really did not have much to work with. Frances Tempest certainly did with her costume designs. I found nothing outstanding about them. But I must admit that I found them rather attractive, especially the costumes that actress Zoe Telford wore. On the other hand, I found Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography rather odd . . . and not in a positive way. I did not like his photography, if I must be brutally honest. His unnecessary close-ups and odd angles struck me as an amateurish attempt by him and Unwin to transform “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” into an independent film or Hammer-style horror flick.

The performances in “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” proved to be a mixed bag. I have usually been a fan of Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Jane Marple. But I feel that she took the whole “verbose elderly lady” act a bit too far . . . especially in her scenes with Timothy Dalton during the first fifteen to twenty minutes. If I must be honest, most of the performances in the film seemed to be either over-the-top or close to being over-the-top. This was especially the case for Michael Brandon, Zoe Telford, Laurence Fox and Patricia Hodge. James Murray managed to refrain himself during most of the film. But even he managed to get into the act during the movie’s last fifteen minutes or so. Carey Mulligan’s performance seemed competent. She did not blow my mind, but at least she did not annoy me. Robert Hardy made a cameo appearance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This marked the eighth or ninth time the actor portrayed the politician and honestly, I could see this appearance was nothing more than a walk in the park for him. There were only four performances I truly enjoyed. One came from Mel Smith, who gave a very competent performance as Treveylan’s right-hand man, John Enderby. I could say the same about Rita Tushingham, who gave a nuanced performance as a mysterious woman with knowledge of an ugly part in Treveylan’s past. The role proved to be his last, for he passed away not long after the film’s production. James Wilby was satisfyingly subtle as the town’s local hotel owner, who had a secret to maintain. For me, the best performance came from Timothy Dalton, who was dazzling at the story’s main victim, Clive Trevelyan. Considering that he was portraying a somewhat theatrical character, it is amazing that he managed to keep his performance under control, and struck a tight balance between theatricality and subtlety.

It is obvious to anyone reading this review that I did not like “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY”. I could complain about the changes made to Agatha Christie’s novel. But I have never read it, so I saw no point in making any comparisons. But I still cared very little for the movie. I found the direction and photography rather amateurish. And aside from a few first-rate performances, I was not that impressed by the majority of the cast’s acting – including, unfortunately, Geraldine McEwan’s.

New Ranking of JAMES BOND Movies

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With the recent release of the new James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, I have made a new ranking of all the Bond films produced and released by EON Productions (do not expect to find 1967’s “CASINO ROYALE” or 1983’s “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN” on this list) from favorite to least favorite:

 

NEW RANKING OF JAMES BOND MOVIES

1-On Her Majesty Secret Service

1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) – The only film to feature Australian George Lazenby, this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel has James Bond’s search for master criminal Ernst Stravos Blofeld affecting his private life. Directed by Peter Hunt, the movie also stars Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas.

2-Casino Royale

2. “Casino Royale” (2006) – Daniel Craig made his debut as James Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1953 novel about Bond’s efforts to beat a banker for a terrorist organization at a poker tournament, in order to force the latter to provide information about the organization. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench.

3-The Living Daylights

3. “The Living Daylights” (1987) – Timothy Dalton made his debut as Bond in this partial adaptation of Fleming’s 1966 short story in which Bond’s efforts to stop a Soviet sniper from killing a defector leads to a revelation of a conspiracy between the defector and an American arms dealer. Directed by John Glen, the movie co-stars Maryam D’Abo, Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbe.

4-For Your Eyes Only

4. “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) – Based on two Fleming short stories from 1960, the movie has Bond searching for a missing missile command system, while becoming tangled in a web of deception spun by rival Greek businessmen and dealing with a woman seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. Co-starring Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover and Topol; the movie marked the directing debut of John Glen.

5-From Russia With Love

5. “From Russia With Love” (1963) – Terence Young directed this adaptation of Fleming’s 1957 novel about Bond’s efforts to acquire the Soviet’s Lektor machine, unaware that he is being set up by SPECTRE. The movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, along with Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw and Pedro Armendáriz.

6-Octopussy

6. Octopussy” (1983) – A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent’s death leads James Bond to uncover an international jewel smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used by a Soviet general and an Afghan prince to disguise a nuclear attack on NATO forces in West Germany. Directed by John Glen, the movie stars Roger Moore as Bond, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Steven Berkoff and Robert Brown in his debut as “M”.

7-Thunderball

7. “Thunderball” (1965) – Adapted from Fleming’s 1961 novel, this movie has Bond and CIA agent Felix Leiter attempting to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE for an extortion scheme. Directed by Terence Young, the movie stars Sean Connery as Bond, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi and Luciana Paluzzi.

8-Goldeneye

8. “Goldeneye” (1995) – Pierce Brosnan made his debut as Bond in this tale about the agent’s efforts to prevent an arms syndicate from using Russia’s GoldenEye satellite weapon against London in order to cause a global financial meltdown. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen and Judi Dench in her debut as “M”.

9-The Spy Who Loved Me

9. “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) – Taking its title from Fleming’s 1962 novel, this movie has Bond and Soviet agent Anya Amasova investigate the disappearances of British and Soviet submarines carrying nuclear warheads. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Barbara Bach, Kurt Jurgens and Richard Kiel.

10-Quantum of Solace

10. “Quantum of Solace” (2008) – Taking its title from a Fleming short story, this movie is a follow up to “CASINO ROYALE”, continuing Bond’s investigation into the terrorist organization Quantum, while dealing with the emotional effects of a tragic death. Directed by Marc Foster, the movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Olga Kurylenko and Mathieu Amalric.

11-License to Kill

11. “License to Kill” (1989) – Directed by John Glen, this movie has Bond resigning from MI-6 in order to seek revenge against the Latin American drug lord that maimed his best friend, Felix Leiter. The movie starred Timothy Dalton as Bond, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto and Don Stroud.

12-The World Is Not Enough

12. “The World Is Not Enough” (1999) – Directed by Michael Apted, the movie has Bond uncovering a nuclear plot, when he protects an oil heiress from her former kidnapper, an international terrorist who cannot feel pain. The movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle and Denise Richards.

13-A View to a Kill

13. “A View to a Kill” (1985) – Taking its title from one of Fleming’s 1960 short stories, this film has Bond investigating an East-German born industrialist with possible ties to the KGB. Directed by John Glen, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Tanya Roberts, Christopher Walken and Grace Jones.

14-You Only Live Twice

14. “You Only Live Twice” (1967) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1964 novel, the movie has Bond and Japan’s Secret Service investigating the disappearance of American and Soviet manned spacecrafts in orbit, due to the actions of SPECTRE. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsurō Tamba and Donald Pleasence.

15-Die Another Day

15. “Die Another Day” (2002) – A failed mission in North Korea leads to Bond’s capture, fourteen months in captivity, a desire to find the MI-6 mole responsible and a British billionaire with ties to a North Korean agent. Directed by Lee Tamahori, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike and Will Yun Lee.

16-Live and Let Die

16. “Live and Let Die” (1973) – Roger Moore made his debut as Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1954 novel about MI-6’s investigation into the deaths of three fellow agents who had been investigating the Prime Minister of San Monique.

17-Moonraker

17. “Moonraker” (1979) – Based on Fleming’s 1955 novel, this movie features Bond’s investigation into the disappearance of a space shuttle on loan to the British government by a millionaire with catastrophic plans of his own. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Lois Chiles, Michel Lonsdale and Richard Kiel.

18-Tomorrow Never Dies

18. “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) – Bond and a Chinese agent form an alliance to prevent a media mogul from creating a war between Britain and China in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher.

19-The Man With the Golden Gun

19. “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1965 novel, this movie has Bond sent after the Solex Agitator, a device that can harness the power of the sun, while facing the assassin Francisco Scaramanga, the “Man with the Golden Gun”. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee and Maud Adams.

20-Dr. No

20. “Dr. No” (1962) – Based upon Fleming’s 1958 novel, this movie kicked off the Bond movie franchise and featured Sean Connery’s debut as the British agent, whose investigation into the death of a fellow agent leads him to a Eurasian agent for SPECTRE and their plans to disrupt the U.S. space program. Directed by Terence Young, the movie co-starred Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman.

21-Skyfall

21. “Skyfall” – Directed by Sam Mendes, this film has Bond’s loyalty to “M” tested, when her past comes back to haunt her in the form of a former agent, who initiates a series of attacks upon MI-6. The movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Naomie Harris.

22-Diamonds Are Forever

22. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) – Based on Fleming’s 1956 novel, this movie has Bond’s investigations into a diamond smuggling ring lead to another conflict with SPECTRE and Ernst Stravos Blofeld. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Jill St. John and Charles Gray.

23-Goldfinger

23. “Goldfinger” – Based on Fleming’s 1959 novel, this movie has Bond investigating a German-born gold magnate, who harbors plans to destroy the U.S. gold supply at Fort Knox. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Honor Blackman and Gert Frobe.

Top Ten Favorite COMIC BOOK HEROES Movies

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Below is a list of my ten favorite movies featuring comic book heroes: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE COMIC BOOK HEROES MOVIES

1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – Joss Whedon directed this superb movie about a team of Marvel Comics heroes teaming together to battle an alien invasion.

2-The Incredibles

2. “The Incredibles” (2004) – Brad Bird created one of the best Disney animated films about a family of superheroes living a quiet suburban life and forced to hide their powers, who are forced out of retirement to save the world.

3-Spider-Man 2

3. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) – Tobey Maguire made his second appearance as Marvel Comic’s web-slinger, who contemplates retirement while facing a new threat, Doctor Octavius in this first-rate sequel.

4-Captain America - The First Avenger

4. “Captain America: The First Avenger” – Chris Evans made his first appearance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Marvel’s first superhero who deals with the threat of a madman during World War II. Joe Johnston directed.

5-Iron Man 2

5. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man. In this excellent sequel, Iron Man battles a “ghost” from his family’s past and a professional threat. Jon Farveau directed.

6-The Rocketeer

6. “The Rocketeer” (1991) – Bill Campbell starred in this first-rate Disney adaptation of Dave Stevens’ comic novel about a pilot who discovers a rocket pack and struggles to keep it out of the hands of Nazi pilots in 1938 Los Angeles. Joe Johnston directed.

7-X2

7. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this second and best X-MEN film about the X-Men’s reluctant teaming with Erik Lensherr aka Magneto and friends to deal with the threat of a vengeful U.S. Army intelligence officer.

8-Batman Begins

8. “Batman Begins” (2005) – Director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale teamed for the first time in my favorite BATMANfilm about the origins of the Caped Crusader and his efforts to save Gotham City from a mysterious threat.

9-Iron Man

9. “Iron Man” (2008) – Robert Downey Jr. exploded on the scene as playboy millionaire in this origin tale about how the latter became costumed hero Iron Man. Jon Farveau directed.

10-The Dark Knight

10. “The Dark Knight” (2008) – Christopher Nolan directed Christian Bale in this well-made BATMAN movie about the Caped Crusader’s conflict with the Joker. Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart co-starred.

“Being Pure to Ian Fleming’s James Bond”

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“BEING PURE TO IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND”

Lately, there has been a great deal of talk about EON Productions being pure to the James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming. Demands that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli adhere closely to the novels have increased on many Bond forums. And I cannot help but wonder what has brought about the increasing number of demands.

Certain Bond fans have demanded the following: 

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether.

*Bond should smoke on screen.

*M should be a man.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels.

There are probably more demands, but the above are the ones I tend to encounter on the forums. I have also read demands that the Bond movies should either stick to the fantasy-adventure elements first introduced in “GOLDFINGER”or should stick to being tight spy thrillers like “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. In regard to the style of the Bond stories, I personally prefer tight spy thrillers like “CASINO ROYALE”“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”and “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. However, if a Bond movie with a fantasy-adventure style of storytelling is well written, I can be very tolerant of it. In fact, there are one or two of them that are favorites of mine – “THUNDERBALL”“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” and “GOLDENEYE”.

Now, in regard to the demands I had listed earlier, here are my responses to them:

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether – Why? Why should the Bond franchise stay mired in the political incorrectness of the past? I have always had the impression that EON Productions made sure that the Bond films kept up with the times. I have no problem with James Bond remaining sexist. That is the man’s character. But I would have a problem if the movies maintained some old-fashioned view on women, non-whites or non-British characters. In 1962’s “DR. NO”, there is a scene on Crab Key in which Bond ordered Quarrel to pick up his shoes. Every time I see that scene, I wince. Even for 1962 that seemed a bit too much, especially since the Civil Rights movement was going on at the time. Hell, in the same year, “THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE” featured a black psychiatrist working with U.S. Army intelligence. Many Bond fans have a problem with a Bond leading lady being a secret agent or someone capable of being an action character. I find this idea laughable. Are these people threatened by the idea of a woman being capable of shooting a gun or martial arts? Do they feel that such a character in a Bond movie would threatened their sense of well-being or their view of Bond as invincible and one-of-a-kind? I do not demand that all Bond women be spies or some kind of action figure. But I do not see the harm that they mix it up every now and then. In the end, I would find the idea of non-British and non-white characters being portrayed as inferior characters or the idea of Bond female leading ladies being nothing more than eye candy and bed warmers for Bond in all of the movies, repellent and a good excuse to avoid a Bond movie in the future.  In the end, these sexist moviegoers got their wish in the recent “SKYFALL”, when competent female MI-6 agent named Eve became secretary Miss Moneypenny at the end of the movie . . . on the grounds that she could not handle being a field agent.  This act pissed me off so much that I almost felt inclined to throw a shoe at the movie screen in anger.

*Bond should smoke on screen – Again, why? Why does Bond have to smoke on screen? What is the big deal? Personally, I could not care less. Connery smoked, but not that often and I barely noticed. I can say the same about Lazenby. As far as I know, Moore only smoked cigars in his first two movies. Dalton smoked in one scene of his first Bond movie. Did Brosnan smoked? If so, I do not remember . . . and I do not care. And I do not recall seeing Craig’s Bond smoking. In other words, the idea of Bond as a smoker can go either way with me. I simply feel that it is a matter that is not a big deal.

*M should be a man – The United Kingdom has had a female monarch for the past sixty-one years. For a period of ten or eleven years, it had a female Prime Minister. And MI-6 – until recently – was led by a woman. Why in the hell should gender matter in regard to M’s role? Are those who are demanding that M return to being a man are telling us that only a man can be an authority figure? This is the 21st century! That idea is ridiculous! Hell, it was ridiculous when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England back in the 16th century as one of the country’s greatest monarchs. I have also encountered complaints about M (Dench) castigating Bond whenever he screwed up. They act as if she did not have the right to lecture him. What nonsense! Dench is not the first M to castigate Bond. Bernard Lee’s “M” did it in “GOLDFINGER” after Bond had screwed up his assignment in Miami. He was bitchy with Bond in “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”, following the conclusion of the latter’s revenge search for Blofield. And Lee did it again in “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” when Roger Moore’s Bond and Lieutenant Hip lost that solar power device – “Solex agitator”. Robert Brown’s M castigated Timothy Dalton’s Bond in their two movies together. So why have certain fans decided to complain about Dench’s M doing the same during her tenure in the Bond franchise? Was it because they could not deal with Bond being castigated by a female authority figure? And why on earth is it necessary for M to be a man?  Unfortunately, EON Productions heeded the fans and replaced Judi Dench’s M – in the most gruesome and politically incorrect way possible – with a male M now portrayed by Ralph Fiennes.  The Bond franchise has taken another step backward.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels – What in the hell? Why on earth is it necessary for Felix Leiter to be a blond, white Texan? Because he was one in the Fleming novels? So what? In the 44-year history of the Bond franchise, has the movie version of Felix Leiter EVER been a blond, white Texan? I certainly do not recall one. John Terry, who portrayed Leiter in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”, was born and raised in Florida, if that would help. But he certainly was not a blond. I do not even know if Rik Van Nutter of “THUNDERBALL” was a blond or simply prematurely gray. Neither Jack Lord, Norman Burton, Cec Linder or David Hedison were tall, lanky blonds from Texas. In fact, none of these actors have ever used a Texas accent in portraying Leiter. But they have all been white. Is that the problem? Are they upset that the latest actor to portray Leiter, Jeffrey Wright, was an American black? Well another black American actor, Bernie Casey, portrayed Leiter in the 1983 unofficial Bond movie, “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN”. I do not recall any outrage over his casting. However, I do believe there should have been one. Although good-looking, Mr. Casey did not strike me as a very good actor. Since Felix Leiter has NEVER been portrayed as a lanky blond white Texan in the Bond film franchise’s 50-year history, I see no reason why EON Productions should consider one now.

As for being a Fleming purist, I can honestly say that I am not one. Quite frankly, aside from a few titles like “From Russia With Love”“Thunderball” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, I am not a real fan of Ian Fleming’s writing. And I do not consider those three novels as the best example of action or noir literature. Although Fleming seemed to have had a talent for characterization and picturesque settings, I do not think that most of his narratives were that hot. In fact, his plots seemed to be the weakest part about his writing. I do not think that a Fleming plot is needed for a Bond movie to be great. As for the battle between the fantasy-adventure elements and the spy thriller elements, EON Productions have switched back and forth between the two styles. In fact, so has Ian Fleming. The switch between the two styles can be viewed as one aspect in which EON Productions has been “pure” to the novels.

And this all brings me back to this demand that EON Productions be pure to the Fleming novels. I am not saying that many of these “purist” fans stop posting complaints about the differences between the novels and the movies. Hell, they have every right to express their opinions. But if they are going to post these complaints for the world to see, then fans such as myself have the right to express why I do not agree with them. Just as these same “purists” have the right to express their disagreement with this article – which I suspect will soon happen.

I have one last question to ask – since when has EON Productions ever been completely “pure” to the novels? Was it in“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, the 1969 adaptation of Fleming’s 1963 novel? Well, there are some differences between the novel and the movie. One, the literary Tracy is a blond. The movie Tracy (Diana Rigg) obviously is a brunette. And in the movie, Bond is portrayed by an Australian actor, whose accent popped up every now and then. If EON Productions has never been completely “pure” to the novels – aside from changing back and forth between using fantasy elements and thriller elements – why on earth should it start now?

“HOT FUZZ” (2007) Review

“HOT FUZZ” (2007) Review

I have never never seen “SHAUN OF THE DEAD”. Nor have I ever seen “SPACED”, the TV series that first made British comics Simon Pegg and Nick Frost well known. And if I must be honest, I never really had any intention of seeing “HOT FUZZ” in the theaters. Until I saw the commercials for the movie on television five years ago. Thank God I had changed my mind. 

“HOT FUZZ” tells the story of New Scotland Yard police constable, Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), whose uber-dedication to law and order, spotless arrest record (400% superior to his colleagues), and no-nonsense personality drives his superiors (which include Bill Nighy and Steve Coogan) to promote him to sergeant . . . and reassign him to the supposedly crime-free village of Sanford. Feeling like a fish out of water, Sergeant Angel struggles to adjust to rural crime fighting (like arresting underaged drinkers and a drunken future partner; and searching for a missing pet swan) and the slightly offbeat citizens of Sanford – especially his new partner, the affable Constable Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). What starts out as a mind-numbing experience for Angel, becomes intriguing when Sanford is rocked (well, as far as the intrepid police sergeant is concerned) by a series of grisly accidents. Angel eventually uncover the truth behind the so-called accidents. With the help of the eager Butterman (who happens to be an action movie fan) and the seemingly inept Sanford Police, Angel brings the . . . uh, guilty party to justice in a blaze of action-stylle gunplay.

Not only is “HOT FUZZ” one of the funniest movies I have seen in years, the screenwriters (director Edgar Wright and star Pegg) have created an array of eccentric and memorable characters that include Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (who plays Danny’s equally affable chief of police dad, Frank Butterman) and Billie Whitelaw (“THE OMEN” fame) and BAFTA nominee Anne Reid (“THE MOTHER”). Also portraying some of the villagers are a collection of British talent from famous action-adventure sagas – Timothy Dalton (the 4th James Bond), Edward Woodward (“THE EQUALIZER”), Paul Freeman (Belloq in “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”), David Threlfall (“PATRIOT GAMES”) and Stuart Wilson (“LETHAL WEAPON 3”). Even Pegg has appeared as an IMF computer tech and agent in the last two “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE” movies. And they are all hilarious . . . especially Dalton’s smarmy supermarket owner who reminds me of a stock villain straight out of“THE PERILS OF PAULINE”.

I must admit that I truly enjoyed watching Nick Frost’s Danny get under Angel’s skin. Not only was he extremely funny – and witty, but he was also so charming that it was easy how he managed to break down Angel’s chilly exterior and befriend the London cop. And his penchant for American action films has endeared me to his character more than ever. I suffer from the same penchant.

But the real revelation – at least for me – turned out to be Sergeant Nicholas Angel, portrayed with such humorless zeal by star, Simon Pegg. Straight arrow types usually turn out to be the hero or anti-hero’s long-suffering superior or rival in many action films. And it is usually the screw-up or anti-social characters who turn out to be the main character that end up being transferred away from the action. But in “HOT FUZZ”, Angel’s zealous competence causes him to lose his girlfriend (Cate Blanchett in a cameo), but earn the antipathy of his Scotland Yard colleagues (who are eager to get rid of him). I cannot explain it, but is something about Angel that I found very appealing and funny. I guess I simply found him fascinating. In real life, this guy would have seriously annoyed me. But thanks to great writing and Pegg’s tight performance, I found myself rooting for him. The ironic thing about Nick Angel is that he will eventually discover that his nemesis is just as anal as he. Danny Butterman turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.

Some critics have complained that “HOT FUZZ” seemed to long for a comedy with a running time of 121 minutes. Considering that the movie was a send-up of action movies, which usually ran at two hours, I saw nothing wrong with the movie’s length. To be honest, I was too busy laughing to notice. I have to say that without a doubt, “HOT FUZZ” is one of the funniest movies I have seen since . . . one of Danny Butterman’s favorite movies, “BAD BOYS 2” and “STARSKY AND HUTCH” (both were released in 2003). It has become increasingly difficult to find a comedy that is smart and filled with rich characterization. “HOT FUZZ” can also boast some memorable scenes that I will never forget:

-Sergeant Angel’s New Scotland Yard superiors giving him the news about his reassignment
-Angel’s first night in Sanford (which includes arresting his future partner)
-David Threlfall and Lucy Punch’s hilarious take on “ROMEO AND JULIET”
-Police Constable Doris Thatcher’s witty repartee after dealing with one of Simon Skinner’s employees
-Danny Butterman’s send up on a scene from “POINT BREAK”
-Angel and Skinner’s crazy hand-to-hand fight amidst a model of Sanford.

“HOT FUZZ” managed to reach American theaters at least two weeks before the start of the Hollywood summer season. And already, it has become one of my favorite movies from 2007. It is a hilariously rich and sharp tale about murder, consipiracy and a great friendship. Thank you Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright.

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

centennial 3.1

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 Nine “The Crime” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Nine “The Crime” Commentary

The ninth episode of “CENTENNIAL” proved to be an improvement over the last installment. Picking up a few months after “The Storm”“The Crime” proved to be an intriguing episode that featured a blossoming romance, psychological warfare and two shocking events.

“The Crime” begins during the spring of 1888, which finds Oliver Seccombe at the end of his reign as manager of Venneford Ranch. Unable to face a future disgraced and unemployed, Seccombe commits suicide to end his misery. His widow, Charlotte Seccombe returns to England to grieve. After a conversation with her dying uncle, the Earl of Venneford, she becomes the sole owner of the Colorado ranch. Upon her return to Centennial, Charlotte becomes attracted to ranch hand-turned-foreman, Jim Lloyd, and sets out to woo him in her subtle way.

Hans Brumbaugh’s efforts to find permanent farm hands continue to frustrate him. Using John Skimmerhorn as an intermediary, he contacts Ignacio “Nacho” Gomez to recruit future farm hands from Mexico. “Nacho” tries to recruit his nephew,Tranquilino Marquez, into immigrating to the United States and Colorado. But the cynical younger man does not seem interested in leaving Mexico. Brumbaugh, Jim and Amos Calendar are still threatened by gunfighters, hired by the remnants of the Petis gang, who want revenge for the deaths of Frank and Orvid Pettis in Episode Seven. Sheriff Axel Dumire was forced to arrest a hired gun in a tense moment at Centennial’s train station.

Speaking of Sheriff Dumire, he continues to harbor suspicions that the Wendell family are more than just actors and entertainers. He believes they are swindlers, who acquired a home by using the Badger Game on the town’s local pastor, Reverend Holly. Dumire’s suspicions create a surprising consequence – namely a burgeoning friendship with the Wendells’ only son, Philip. Although the young boy encourages the friendship to keep an eye on Dumire and vice versa, the two develop a liking for one another. Their friendship is tested when Maude and Mervin Wendell try to use the Badger Game on a Mr. Sorenson, a visiting businessman interested in purchasing land near Centennial. When the scam backfires, Sorenson attacks Mervin and Maude accidentally kills him with a blow to the head. Philip comes to his parents’ aid by hiding the man’s body in a nearby creek, Mervin discovers a great deal of money inside Sorenson’s satchel and Dumire begins to investigate the man’s disappearance.

“The Crime” proved to be one of the better episodes from the miniseries’ second half, thanks to Charles Larson’s screenplay and Virgil Vogel’s direction. It proved to be a well-balanced mixture of character study, psychological warfare and romance. The consequences from “The Shepherd” continue to cast a shadow on the lives of Hans Brumbaugh, Jim Lloyd and Amos Calendar. Oliver Seccombe’s suicide proved to be a sad and poignant affair, thanks to Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave’s performances. The surprising consequence to Seccombe’s death proved to be a burgeoning romance between two unlikely people – Charlotte and ranch hand, Jim Lloyd. On paper, the idea of a romance between a British aristocrat and a cowboy from Texas seemed so unlikely . . . and even a little clumsy. Yet, it worked thanks to Larson’s writing and subtle performances from Redgrave and William Atherton. Brumbaugh’s search for permanent ranch hands served to introduce a new character to the saga, future immigrant from Mexico, Tranquilino Marquez – a story that will continue with more detail in the following episodes.

But the episode’s pièce de résistance proved to be the cat-and-mouse game between Sheriff Axel Dumire and the Wendell family. The story line about the two antagonists began in “The Storm”, when Dumire tried to run the theatrical family out of Centennial. Their scam on Reverend Holly kept them in town. Two events threatened the Wendells’ increasingly popularity with the citizens of Centennial. One, young Philip and Dumire have developed a surprising friendship, despite their wariness of each other. And two, the Wendells’ use the Badger Game on the businessman, Mr. Sorenson not only backfired, but led to manslaughter, when Maude bashed him on the head. Eventually, the sheriff became aware of Mr. Sorenson’s disappearance and what followed was a delicious game of cat-and-mouse and some tense psychological warfare between Dumire and Philip. I really enjoyed it, thanks to some superb performances by Brian Keith, Doug McKeon, Lois Nettleton and Anthony Zerbe.

Although I had enjoyed “The Crime” in the past, I never really considered it as one of my favorite episodes from the miniseries. I have now changed my mind. Now that I am older, I feel as if I have developed a greater appreciation of the episode. And I also believe that it just might be one of the better ones of the miniseries.

“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 Seven “The Shepherds” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Seven “The Shepherds” Commentary

The seventh episode of “CENTENNIAL” is set thirteen years after Episode Six. And it is a doozy. Although I would not consider this episode to be the best of the miniseries, I definitely believe it is one of the better ones.

Some of the events of the last two episodes end up having major consequences in this episode, set in 1881. The feud between farmer Hans Brumbaugh and the English rancher Oliver Seccombe spill out in an ugly range war between the region’s farmers and the ranchers, led by Seccombe. Acting as the ranchers’ hired guns are members from the Pettis gang, the same outlaws that had attacked the Skimmerhorn/Poteet cattle drive, in the last episode. After killing several farmers, whose land Seccombe managed to purchase, the Pettis boys set their sights on Brumbaugh’s farm. However, they encounter stiff resistance from Hans, his family and two men from the Venneford Ranch – John Skimmerhorn, who is now ranch foreman; and Jim Lloyd, now a strapping 27 year-old ranch hand.

Brumbaugh turns to Centennial’s sheriff for justice, but Axel Dumire is reluctant to move against the Pettis boys, claiming that no one could identify them as the attackers. However, the ranchers’ focus upon the farmers transfer to a new enemy, with the arrival of one Messmore Garrett. The latter decides to settle near Centennial in order to raise sheep – something that cattle ranchers find abhorrent. Three men from the previous cattle drive end up working for Garrett – Nate Pearson, Bufe Coker (who was a former Venneford ranch hand) and Amos Calendar. The feud between Garrett and the ranchers spill into an ugly shootout that leaves Pearson, Coker and the latter’s lady love, a former Cheyenne prostitute named Fat Laura, dead. As the only surviving shepherd, Calendar recruits his former fellow cowhand, Jim Lloyd and Brumbaugh to seek vengeance against the Pettis boys.

More personal matters also loomed large in this episode. Levi Zendt, just barely into his sixties, receive a visit from his Lancaster nephew, Christian Zendt, and gives him a tour of Centennial. Christian’s visit leads Levi to visit his hometown in Pennsylvania one last time. Brumbaugh’s struggles to find decent farmhands leads him to hire a family of Japanese immigrants named Takemoto. Love also hits Centennial in this episode. Jim Lloyd falls in love with Levi and Lucinda’s wayward daughter, Clemma; who feels no affection towards him whatsoever. And Oliver Seccombe meets two visitors from England – a British investor named Claude Richards and Charlotte Buckland, the daughter of another investor – and ends falling in love and marrying the latter.

Screenwriter Charles Larson and director Virgil W. Vogel really did an outstanding job with this episode. I thought they did a great job in balancing the various storylines – including the romances, Levi Zendt’s memories of the past via a visit from his nephew, and Brumbaugh’s labor problems. But the episode’s pièce de résistance were the range wars that threatened to overwhelm the region surrounding Centennial. It is believed that James Michner had based this particular chapter on the infamous Johnson County War in 1892. This was very apparent in three brutal action scenes featuring the attack on the Brumbaugh farm (shot at night), the attack on Bufe Coker and Fat Laura’s homestead, and the vigilante attack on the Pettis gang.

The amount of violence featured in this episode seemed to contrast rather well with the more dramatic scenes directed beautifully by Vogel. I was especially taken by the romantic scenes between Seccombe and Charlotte, Brumbaugh’s meeting with the Takemoto family, and Amos Calendar’s heartfelt speech about the bonds of brotherhood, as he convinces Jim to seek vengeance against the Pettis boys. Apparently, those bonds formed during the Skimmerhorn cattle drive had failed to disappear, despite the brutal range wars. But the one scene that brought tears to my eyes turned out to be Levi and Lucinda’s emotional parting, as he prepares to board an eastbound train for Pennsylvania.

If “The Shepherds” had one fault, it was its running time. A great deal of narrative and characterization occurred in this particular episode. And not all of it was focused around the range wars inflamed Centennial. Some of the story arcs – including the visit by Claude Richards and Charlotte Buckland, Levi Zendt’s visit to Pennsylvania, and Hans Brumbaugh’s labor problems – served as introductions to the main plots for the next two or three episodes. The episode started out well paced. But when Messmore Garrett’s character was introduced into the story, I got the feeling that the pacing increased in order to include the entire plot within ninety minutes. In all honesty, “The Shepherds required a longer running time of at least two hours and fifteen minutes.

But I cannot deny that the performances featured in the episode were outstanding. Timothy Dalton continued his excellent work of conveying the ambiguous nature of Oliver Seccombe, whether the latter was plotting the destruction of Messmore Garrett and the shepherds or allowing himself to be wooed by Charlotte Buckland. “The Shepherds” served as the introduction of Lynn Redgrave as part of the main cast. She did a solid job in this episode, but her time to shine will appear in the next two to three episodes. I could say the same for Brian Keith, who gave a remarkable performance as the ambiguous and frustrating sheriff, Axel Dumire. Alex Karras was superb, as always, in his portrayal of Hans Brumbaugh. Both Mark Neely and Adrienne Larussa were excellent as Levi and Lucinda’s children, Martin and Clemma. The two did a great job in conveying how their characters dealt with the stigma of being mixed blood. Gregory Harrison and Christina Raines shone once more in the wonderful and poignant scene that featured Levi’s departure from Centennial by train.

William Atherton stepped into the role of Jim Lloyd for the first time and did a great job, especially in a scene that featured his desperate attempt to convince Amos Calendar to give up working for Garrett. Speaking of Amos Calendar, I thought Jesse Vint gave one of the better performances in this episode in a scene in which he convinces Jim to seek revenge for Nate and Bufe’s deaths. While watching Glenn Turman and Les Lannom portray Nate Pearson and Bufe Coker for the last time, it occurred to me that their characters had come a long way since setting eyes upon each other for the first time in “The Longhorns”. And both gave beautiful performances, as their characters prepared to meet death during the shootout with Pettis boys.

The running time for “The Shepherds” was very frustrating for me. I believe the episode’s transcript would have been better served with a longer running time. But as far as I am concerned, this was the only drawback to the episode. I believe it is still one of the more exciting and fascinating episodes in “CENTENNIAL”, thanks to director Virgil Vogel and screenwriter Charles Larson.