Martha Washington’s Great Cake

c7f42da003e732dfb36c42ce4d8a405b

Below is an article about the dish known as Martha Washington’s Great Cake: 

MARTHA WASHINGTON’S GREAT CAKE

While perusing a website that featured different American dishes from the eighteenth century, I came across one that caught my interest. It happened to be a dessert created by First Lady Martha Dandridge Washington

The background for Martha Washington’s Great Cake began near the end of the eighteenth century. In 1796, President George Washington had decided not to serve a third term as United States President near the end of his second term. Three months after issuing his farewell address in many newspapers, he returned to his estate in Virginia called Mount Vernon in time for the Christmas holidays. His wife Martha made arrangement for a “Great Cake”, a cake filled with fruits and spices, to be baked and served on Twelfth Night, the last of twelve days of Christmas.

Great Cake had been a common dessert during the country’s Colonial Era and tended to be very large. They were usually risen cakes, very similar to the Italian dessert known as Panettone. However, the “Great Cake” created by Martha Washington was somewhat denser than a panettone and possessed more fruit and spices.

The recipe for the First Lady’s version of the “Great Cake” was discovered among her private papers by her granddaughter, Martha Parke Custis Peter. It utilized different ingredients that were common in the “Great Cakes” of the past. However, Mrs. Washington did not personally prepared the cake herself. Instead, she utilized the kitchen slaves at Mount Vernon to do the actual preparation. The First Lady’s original recipe consisted of the following:

“Take 40 eggs & divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it a spoon full at a time till it is well work’d then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powder’d to it in the same manner than put in the Youlks of eggs and 5 pounds of flower and 5 pounds of fruit, 2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine & some fresh brandy.”

However, here is a more modern recipe for Martha Washington’s Great Cake from the Seasonal Wisdom website:

Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Ingredients:

*1 1/2 cups currants
*1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
*1/3 cup chopped candied lemon peel
*1/3 cup chopped candied citron
*3/4 cup Madiera, divided
*1/4 cup French brandy
*3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
*1/2 cup slivered almonds
*1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
*1/2 teaspoon ground mace
*3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
*1 1/2 cups sugar
*3 large eggs, separated

Preparation:

Combine currants, orange and lemon peels, and citron in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of Madeira and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Stir the reminder of the Madeira with the brandy; cover and set aside.

When ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Drain fruits in a large strainer set over a bowl, stirring occasionally to extract as much Madeira as possible. Add the strained Madeira to the set-aside Madeira and brandy.

Combine 1/4 cup of the flour with the fruit, and mix well. Add the almonds, and set aside. Sift the remaining flour with the nutmeg and mace.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is light. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating for several minutes after adding each ingredient. Whisk the egg yolks until they are light and smooth, and add them to the butter and sugar. Continue to beat for several minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Alternatively add the spiced flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and the Madiera and brandy, beating until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks. By hand, gently fold them into the batter, combining lightly until well blended. By hand, fold in the fruit in thirds, mixing until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula, or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. If serving the cake plain, turn it out of the pan to cool completely. If finishing it with icing, turn the warm cake out of the pan onto a baking sheet, and proceed with the icing.

To ice the cake, spread Sugar Icing generously onto the surface, piling it high and swirling it around the top and sides. Set in the turned-off warm oven, and let sit for at least 3 hours, or until the cake is cool and the icing has hardened. The icing will crumble when the cake is sliced.

Sugar Icing Recipe for Great Cake

Ingredients:

*3 large egg whites at room temperature
*1 1/2 cups of sugar
*2 tablespoons rose water or orange-flower water

Preparations:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites on low speed, gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the sugar. After about 3 minutes, or when they just begin to form soft peaks, increase the speed to high and continue adding the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until all the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites form soft peaks.

Add the rose water, and continue beating to form stiff peaks. Use immediately to ice the cake.

Advertisements

“DUPLICITY” (2009) Review

Duplicity (2009)

“DUPLICITY” (2009) Review

Several years ago, “BOURNE” franchise scribe/director Tony Gilroy went another direction and wrote and directed this 2009 comedy thriller that barely earned a profit at the box office. This romantic spy flick centered around a pair of romantically involved former intelligence spies who team up for a business scam that would allow them to enjoy an extravagant lifestyle together. 

“DUPLICITY” began five years in the past in which MI-6 agent Ray Koval is ordered to seduce and spy upon a woman named Claire Stenwick, who unbeknownst to him, is a CIA agent. After Claire drugs Ray and steals classified documents from him. The movie’s opening shifts to a physical fight between CEOs Howard Tully of Burkett & Randle and Dick Garsik of Equikrom, establishing the longstanding professional rivalries between the pair. Several years later, Ray, who has become a corporate spy for Equikrom, encounters Claire in New York City. He eventually discovers that she has been an Equikrom corporate spy, working undercover at Burkett & Randle. Ray and Claire decide to create a con job in which they manipulate a corporate race between Tully and Garsik to corner the market on a medical innovation. A con job they hope will reap huge profits for them.

When I first saw the trailer for “DUPLICITY”, I figured that Gilroy would have a smash hit on his hands. He had two leads whose screen chemistry had already been established in the 2004 romantic drama, “CLOSER”. He also had Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson (both fresh from winning awards for their performances in the 2008 HBO miniseries, “JOHN ADAMS”). And he had an interesting story line. What could go wrong? Apparently, a good deal went wrong.

To be honest, “DUPLICITY” was not a terrible movie. The four leads and the supporting cast provide excellent performances – especially Roberts and Owen. And Gilroy managed to write a very witty script. Unfortunately, I also found his script slightly confusing thanks to the flashbacks that featured Roberts and Owen’s budding romance and a slow build up to their scheme to scam Giamatti and Wilkinson. But what prevented “DUPLICITY” from being a winner for me was the ending. As it turned out, Wilkinson’s character had been aware of the scheming ex-spies all along and used them to bankrupt his rival, Giamatti, with phony plans for a new medical innovation. A flashback revealing the listening bug in Roberts’ apartment revealed how he had learned of their scheme. But the movie failed to explain how he had become suspicions of the two in the first place. I also have to add that I was disappointed that Roberts and Owen’s characters had failed to succeed in their scheme. I usual hate these ironic of endings in comedic movies that feature con artists.

What else can I say? “DUPLICITY” featured some excellent performances from Julia Roberts (who had earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy for her performance), Clive Owens and the rest of the cast. Tony Gilroy’s screenplay also featured a good deal of witty humor. But if anyone plans to watch this film and expects a well written and fascinating narrative, I suspect that viewer might end up disappointed. I certainly was.

“The Engagement News” [PG-13] – 3/5

 

“THE ENGAGEMENT NEWS”

Part Three

Jason Dean closed the portfolio on the table before him and nodded. “Impressive,” he commented. “Very impressive. No wonder Jack McNeill had decided to buy your new software.” He glanced at his attorney. “Don’t you agree, Marcia?”

The billionaire’s attorney, an attractive middle-aged woman named Marcia Freeman, continued to peruse her copy of the Crescent Incorporated portfolio with appreciative eyes. “I certainly do.”

“That’s it then,” Jason said, smiling at Cecile Dubois and Cole Turner. “We have a deal. So, uh . . . when do you want to discuss the particulars?”

Both Cecile and Turner exchanged a brief glance. The latter answered, “How about the day after tomorrow? On Friday morning? I have a meeting, tomorrow, with another client. And I need to draw up a contract.”

“We . . . need to draw up the contract,” Marcia firmly corrected. Turner politely acknowledged her comment with a brief smile.

Jason suggested, “How about ten o’clock, Friday morning? In this room?”

“Fine with me,” Cecile complied. “Cole?” Her attorney nodded. Then she stood up and glanced at her watch. “Looks like I still have time for some shopping before I meet Andre.”

The mention of the other New Orleans visitor reminded Jason of some news he had just heard. “Oh, by the way,” he said, “congratulations on your engagement. Phoebe told me the good news.”

A radiant smile graced Cecile’s lovely face. “Thanks. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who’s engaged.”

“Oh?”

The New Orleans woman nodded at her attorney. “Cole is also engaged. To Olivia.”

The news shook Jason to his core. While Marcia offered her congratulations to the visitors, the newspaper publisher stared at his girlfriend’s ex-husband in shock. Olivia McNeill . . . engaged? Jason had never considered the redhead as the marrying kind. When he finally recovered from his shock, he slowly offered his hand to Turner. “Congratulations,” he murmured.

Turner smiled. “Thanks. Olivia and I haven’t set a date, yet.”

“What about your honeymoon?” Jason said. “Have you considered the Far East? Hong Kong or Singapore?”

A long-suffering expression flashed across Turner’s face. “Actually, Olivia and I have already made our decision. Orlando.”

“Huh?” Jason blinked. “As in Central Florida?”

Turner sighed and continued, “As in Walt Disney World.”

Marcia cooed with delight. “That sounds marvelous! My younger brother and his wife had spent their honeymoon there. They stayed at the Boardwalk Resort.”

“Olivia is considering the Grand Floridian Hotel.”

Jason turned to Cecile. “Are you considering Walt Disney World, also?”

Cecile shook her head. “Oh no. Andre and I are going to Bermuda.”

“Lucky Andre,” Jason overheard Turner mumble.

While Cecile and Turner continued to discuss their separate wedding plans with Marcia, Jason’s thoughts returned to his former girlfriend. During the three months they had dated, Olivia had never shown any inclination for a deeper relationship. Or any kind of emotional attachment, for that matter. Jason had always felt that she kept him at arms’ length. He shot one last glance at the dark-haired attorney, and wondered what the latter had possessed to snare the extroverted, yet very elusive Olivia McNeill. One last thought came to him. He wondered if Phoebe knew about the engagement.

———-

Sean McNeill greeted his American cousin with his usual bear hug. “Jack! Bloody hell! Look at you, man! Just as healthy as ever. How are Gwennie and the kids? And your ma?”

Jack returned his younger cousin’s greeting with a smile. Sean had inherited the McNeill family’s looks – dark-brown hair, blue-gray eyes and a tall figure. Only his features were not as sharp as Jack’s. Also, Sean stood at least two inches shorter. “The family is doing fine,” Jack replied. “We, uh . . . we’re about to welcome a new member into the family, as a matter of fact.”

One of Sean’s brows rose questioningly. “Oh? So, Barbara and Bruce are expecting a baby, already?”

“Not quite.” Jack lifted one of Sean’s traveling bags with one hand and guided the other man toward the airport terminal’s exit with the other. Outside, they found Davies standing by the family’s limousine. After Sean’s bags were loaded into the trunk, the three men climbed into the limo . . . and Davies guided it back toward the city’s limits.

Jack turned to his cousin. “So, what exactly is the big news that had surprised the hell out of Belinda?”

“You first,” Sean said. “Who’s the new member of the family?”

“Going to be,” Jack corrected. “Olivia is engaged.”

Sean’s brows knitted into a frown. “Engaged? To . . . To that daemon fella? Belthazor? The one I had met in Scotland, last summer?”

As he mentally prepared himself to come to Cole’s defense, Jack warily replied, “That’s right. Belthazor. Apparently, Cole had asked Livy to marry her, Sunday night. Now, I realize this might come as a shock to you . . .”

To Jack’s surprise, Sean threw back his head and broke into laughter. “Bloody hell! I can’t believe it! It’s just too . . . oh, I don’t know . . . ironic.”

Ironic? Jack frowned. “Huh? What the hell are you getting at?”

A smirk appeared on Sean’s lips. “Oh, it’s nothing, mate. Well . . . actually, you’ll find out, tonight.” The smirk remained fixed upon his lips, as the limousine continued its journey back into the city.

———–

The bell above Ostera’s front door rang, as the two Charmed Ones entered the shop. The younger sister strode toward the young woman who stood behind the front counter. “Hey Maddy,” Paige greeted. “Has Barbara arrived yet?” Paige referred to the shop’s owner, Barbara McNeill, who has yet to arrive for the day.

Ostera’s other assistant, Madeline Oser, shook her dark head. “Nope. Not yet. And it’s almost one-thirty.” She glanced at the other newcomer. “Hi Piper. How’s Wyatt?”

Piper Halliwell smiled at her sister’s co-worker. “Fine. He’s with his dad, right now. So, Barbara hasn’t shown up for the day?”

“Doctor’s appointment,” Paige curtly explained. “She was supposed to be here over an hour ago. I guess she decided to stop for lunch.”

Once more, the door’s bell rang. A beautiful woman with windblown blond hair rushed into the shop. “Finally made it!” Barbara declared breathlessly. “Sorry, I’m late. I had to wait for my doctor, who ended up a half hour late.” She paused. “Okay, and I did a little shopping. Have you two had lunch, yet?”

Maddy nodded, while Paige replied, “Piper and I just got back.”

Barbara’s blue eyes settled upon the oldest Charmed One. “Oh. Piper. I didn’t realize you were here.”

“I usually have that effect upon people,” Piper commented sardonically. “How are you, Barbara?”

The blond witch smiled. “Just fine. Aside from a ridiculously long wait at the doctor’s office. And the lunch crowd at Macy’s was just horrible.”

Paige walked around the front counter. “What were you doing there, anyway?” she asked her employer. “Were they having a sale?”

“Shopping for wedding presents,” Barbara said.

Piper frowned. “Don’t you mean a wedding present? In the singular form? Or do you and Bruce plan to buy more than one present for Cecile and Andre?”

“More than one?” Confusion whirled in Barbara’s eyes. “Why would I . . . oh! That’s right. You haven’t heard.”

“Heard what?” Maddy demanded.

Barbara continued, “Olivia and Cole. They’re engaged. They became engaged on Sunday night. And they should be getting married next month.”

The two Charmed Ones stared at the blond witch in silent shock. Only Maddy immediately responded. “Wow! There’s sure a lot of matrimony in the air, lately.”

Paige became the first to rediscover her voice. “Are you serious? Cole and Livy are engaged?”

“Oh my God,” Piper murmured. “If this ever gets out . . .”

Paige retorted, “What are you talking about? Of course it’s going to get out. I doubt that Livy or Cole would hide the news. I’m just wondering how the Elders will react, when they found out.”

Barbara rolled her eyes in contempt. “Who the hell cares? Frankly, it’s none of their concern. And what can they do?”

“Never mind the Elders,” Piper said with a derisive snort. “Can you image Phoebe’s reaction?”

With a frown, Barbara said, “Why would Phoebe be upset? Isn’t she now dating that guy . . .?” She broke off, as both sisters regard her with slight contempt. Her eyes widened with realization. “Oh. Oh!” Then she sighed. “Huh. Poor Phoebe.”

———

‘Cole, your mother had waited four to five years to kill your father. Now that’s a hell of a long time to wait to get someone out of the way. Haven’t you ever asked yourself . . . why?’

The question reverberated inside Cole’s head, over and over again. He tried to ignore Olivia’s words from last night, by returning his attention to the contract before him.

‘At least I know why Leo tried to coerce me into killing you. Tell me Cole, do you know why your mother had killed your dad?’

Shit! A growl escaped Cole’s mouth. He slammed the pen onto the desk and leaned back in his chair, longing for peace from the thoughts in his head.

He took a deep breath and sighed. Of course he knew why his mother had killed his father. Raynor had told him, years ago. Mother wanted the Turner fortune. Pure and simple. And the only way to gain control of that fortune – at least according to Raynor – was to kill her husband, leaving Adam Turner’s only male grandchild as the major beneficiary. Through Cole, she would have control of the money.

Ten decades later, Cole realized that Raynor’s explanation had cracks. Although Nimue did end up taking control of the Turner family’s fortune after his grandfather’s death, she had relinquish that control when Cole turned twenty-one. That little action stumped him. Why had she relinquished control? Raynor explained that Nimue had no choice, since that she could no longer exercise parental control over her son. However, his mentor did warn that Nimue would find some way to influence him – and use the Turner fortune for her benefit. But the more Cole thought about Raynor’s words . . . and his relationship with his mother, the more he realized that Nimue had never harbored any real interest in the Turner fortune. In fact, she rarely brought up the subject. And if he had to be perfectly honest with himself, Cole also realized that he had allowed Raynor to use his feelings surrounding Benjamin’s death to manipulate both him and his relationship with Nimue. Because of this, Cole had rarely bothered to touch his grandfather’s money. And if Raynor had been wrong about Mother’s reasons for killing Father, why did she really do it? What were the real circumstances that led to Benjamin Turner’s death?

Cole decided that the only way he would ever learn the truth, would be to re-establish a relationship with his mother. He took a deep breath and picked up the telephone receiver. Then he dialed the number to Olivia’s cell phone.

———-

The cell phone rang. Olivia quickly picked it up and answered, “Hello?”

“Olivia? It’s me . . . Cole,” said the soft, masculine voice on the other end of the line. “I, uh . . . I mean . . .”

The redhead understood his hesitation. Their quarrel over Cole’s mother had left relations between the newly engaged couple, slightly cool. They had barely exchanged a warm word before leaving for work, earlier this morning.

The half-daemon inhaled slightly, before he continued. “I’ve decided to change my mind about Mother. I’m going to tell her about us. About our engagement.”

“Oh.” Olivia did not know whether to be relieved . . . or apprehensive that she may have pressured him into changing his mind. “Listen Cole,” she said, “you don’t have to tell her on my account. If you don’t really want to . . .”

Cole interrupted. “No. I do. For some bizarre reason,” he hesitated, “. . . a part of me wants to tell her. And I guess I think we need . . . Never mind. Look, I don’t know how she’ll react when she learns that her only son is about to marry another witch, but . . . well, that’s too bad for her. But I would rather tell Mother myself, than have her find out through someone else.”

Olivia understood. “Do you want me to accompany you?” she asked. “We can go together, after the dinner party for Cousin Sean.”

A long pause followed before Cole murmured, “Yeah, I would appreciate it.”

“Good. Then . . . we’ll leave dinner a little earlier than usual. I’ll see you this evening. Bye.”

Cole replied, “Bye,” and hung up.

Slowly, Olivia disconnected her cell phone. Then she leaned back into her chair. And allowed her body to sag with relief.

———-

Leo stared at Piper in disbelief. “Say that again?”

“Say what?” Piper replied. “That Cole and Olivia are getting married? Okay. Cole and Olivia are getting married. Next month.”

Horror filled Leo’s blue eyes. “Oh my God! That can’t be . . . I can’t believe that Jack McNeill would allow such a thing. He has to stop this!”

One of Piper’s brows formed an arch. “Stop it? How? May I remind you, Leo, that Olivia is a grown woman? She doesn’t need permission to get married from her parents. Or from the Elders Council, for that matter.”

Leo’s face tightened. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means . . .” Piper cut off, as her new whitelighter orbed into the middle of the kitchen. “Oh God! Now what?”

Chris barely acknowledged Leo’s presence with a grimace, before he turned to Piper. “Say, have you or the others found out anything else about the Anansi Order?”

Piper frowned. “The what?”

“Hel-lo? The Anansi Order? The group of Voodoo witch doctors that Whatsnername . . . Daley Bakker belonged to!”

Sharply, Piper replied, “One, it’s called Vodoun. Two, they’re not witch doctors. And three, no I haven’t! It’s only been two or three days, Chris. And Andre has been to busy with Olivia’s new store to tell us anything. Besides, I thought we had told you that we have no intention of going after them, unless it’s necessary?”

Chris retorted, “Considering that one of their members had managed to steal Wyatt’s powers temporarily, I would say that information is necessary.”

“Oh for God’s sake! Chris, as far my sisters and I are concerned, the Elders can hold their breaths on that information about the Anansi Order.” She shot a quick glance at Leo. “No insult intended.”

Leo sighed. “None taken.”

Piper continued, “Besides, there’s still the matter of finding out who had hired that demon, Nairn, to attack Wyatt and me. Which means there is someone else who wants Wyatt dead.”

With a frown Leo said, “You mean the same person who had killed that witch in Santa Fe?”

“Yes.” Piper added, “Now, if the both of you don’t mind, I have some work to do. I’m sure that your fellow whitelighters must miss you, terribly.”

Chris heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. A red-faced Leo said, “They won’t, after I tell them the news about Olivia and Cole. You know, Piper, I’m surprised that you’re not all that upset over this engagement. Because you should.”

“Olivia and Cole are engaged?” Chris asked, wide-eyed.

Piper nodded. “Yes. Are they married in your future?”

A brief pause followed before the young whitelighter replied, “Well . . . yeah. Sure.” He glanced at Leo. “Is there a problem?”

“Of course there is!” Leo retorted. “A union between Olivia and Cole could prove to be a major threat to the future of magic! Can you imagine how powerful their child would be? A child that will be one-quarter demon?”

To Piper’s surprise, Chris seemed unconcerned. “Trust me when I say that you won’t have to worry about Olivia and Cole’s . . . child becoming a major threat. In fact, someone else’s . . .” He sighed. “Never mind. I’ve gotta go.”

Wondering what Chris was about to reveal, Piper added, “Well, I guess that’s it, then. No reason for us to worry about Olivia and Cole. Leo, thanks for taking care of Wyatt. Chris, thanks for the information. And good-bye . . . both of you.”

The two whitelighters regarded each other sheepishly, before they orbed out of the kitchen. Piper sank into the nearest chair and sighed with relief.

End of Part Three

“LOVE AND WAR” (1984) Book Review

loveandwar

LOVE AND WAR (1984) Book Review

I have stumbled across my share of “Best Civil War Novels” lists on the Internet. I have yet to come across a list that includes John Jakes’ 1984 novel, “LOVE AND WAR”

Back in the 1980s, Jakes created his second major literary series, a trilogy about two wealthy American families during a period of thirty years during the 19th century. The first novel, “NORTH AND SOUTH” (1982) focused on the experiences of the Hazards of Pennsylvania and the Mains of South Carolina between the years 1842 and 1861. “HEAVEN AND HELL” (1987), the third novel, is set between 1865 and 1877. But the second novel, “LOVE AND WAR” focused on the two families’ experiences during the Civil War.

The trilogy began when George Hazard, the son of a wealthy iron industrialist; and Orry Main, the son of a South Carolina rice planter; first met on their way to West Point in the late spring of 1842. The pair quickly became life-long friends, as they survived four years at the military academy, the Mexican-American War, and nearly a decade-and-a-half of political strife over the issue of slavery. Due to George and Orry’s friendship, their two families became very close over the years. By the end of “NORTH AND SOUTH”, George’s younger brother Billy had married Orry’s younger sister, Brett. Orry and the love his life, Madeline Fabray LaMotte, finally reconciled after years of clandestine meetings, when Madeline left her venal husband Justin Lamotte, after seventeen years of marriage.

However, following the outbreak of the Civil War, the friendship and familial connection between the Hazards and the Mains became tested when the Civil War begins. “LOVE AND WAR” began two weeks after “NORTH AND SOUTH” ended – in late April 1861. By the beginning of “LOVE AND WAR”, the two families consist of:

The Hazards
*George Hazard – one of the protagonists, who is a former Army officer and like his father, an iron industrialist
*Constance Flynn Hazard – George’s Irish-born wife and an abolitionist
*Stanley Hazard – George’s older brother, who left the iron trade to become a politician
*Isobel Truscott Hazard – Stanley’s shrewish and social-climbing wife
*Virgilia Hazard – George’s only sister and die-hard abolitionist
*Billy Hazard – George’s younger brother and Army officer
*Brett Main Hazard – Orry’s youngest sister and Bily’s new bride

The Mains
*Orry Main – one of the protagonists, who is a former Army officer and like his father, a rice planter
*Madeline Fabray LaMotte Main – Orry’s wife and widow of Justin LaMotte
*Cooper Main – Orry’s older brother and owner of a shipping company
*Ashton Main Huntoon – Orry’s younger sister and die-hard secessionist
*Charles Main – Orry’s young cousin, who had resigned from the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy Army
*Judith Stafford Main – Cooper’s wife, who also happens to be an abolitionist
*James Huntoon – Ashton’s husband, who is also a secessionist and attorney
*Clarissa Brett Main – Orry’s ailing mother

The novel not only featured the viewpoints of the Hazards and Mains, but also their friends, lovers, slaves and one Elkhannah Bent, an Ohio-born Army officer who had become an enemy of George and Orry during their years at West Point. Bent even became an enemy of Charles Main, when the two had served together on the Texas frontier in the late 1850s. the outbreak and chaos of war, along with Bent’s determination to survive, failed to put a damper on his desire to strike back at George, Orry, Charles and the other members of the two families.

I noticed that most of “LOVE AND WAR” focused on the Civil War’s Eastern Theater. Aside from taking readers to the political offices, salons and the military hospitals of Washington D.C. and Union Army camps; the novel also explored the Union and Confederate home fronts in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania – the Hazards’ hometown; and the Mains’ plantation, Mont Royal, in the South Carolina low country. Jakesk also explored various historical and violent incidents on the homefront through his characters – especially the Southern bread riot that broke out in 1862 Richmond, and the 1863 New York City draft riots. Although both George and Orry become military officers again after thirteen-to-fourteen years as civilians, their wartime experiences as military bureaucrats prove to be sources of great frustration for both of them. Stanley Hazard’s role as a political aide with the War Department gave readers a look into the politics of wartime Washington D.C. Readers learn about politics in wartime Richmond via the eyes of Ashton Main Huntoon, who also happened to be a politician’s wife. Through Virgilia Hazard, readers not only discover what countless number of women – including a future famous author – experienced as a wartime nurse. Cooper Main joined the Confederate’s Navy Department at the beginning of the war and through him, readers learned about the Confederates’ efforts to construct new warships in Great Britain’s shipyards. Through characters like Charles Main and Billy Hazard, readers explored the horrors of Civil War combat and prison camps in Maryland, Pennsylvania and especially Northern Virginia. Only through the Elkhannah Bent character were readers able to experience the war’s Western theater via the Battle of Shiloh and Union occupied New Orleans.

If I must be honest, I am rather surprised that Jakes’ trilogy, especially “LOVE AND WAR”, became major bestsellers. From the recent comments and reviews I have read on the Internet, I came away with the feeling that many found “LOVE AND WAR”difficult to read. In fact, many readers have complained that the novel featured too many characters. I found this complaint rather odd, considering that novels with several major characters have been the norm during the 20th century. And when did the number of characters suddenly became a detriment to a good novel? Following my recent reading of “LOVE AND WAR”, I must admit that I find this opinion hard to accept. And then there is the matter of the novel’s content. I have discovered that a good number of critics seem unwilling to accept Jakes’ mixture of historical drama and melodrama. And so, I found myself scratching my head at another criticism. Melodrama and history in a novel? These two elements have been the norm in many historical dramas – including the still highly rated “GONE WITH THE WIND” and the “POLDARK” series. When did the mixture of history and melodrama become unacceptable?

When it comes to the mixture of history and melodrama, I believe John Jakes has proven to be one of the few novelists who did it best. In “LOVE AND WAR”, I thought he did an excellent job in conveying both the personal and historic experiences of his major characters – especially during a highly charged period in American history like the Civil War. Not only did the author explore his characters’ desires, loves, fears, personal tragedy and ambition; he did so while exploring the historical background of the novel’s setting. I just realized that aside from a handful of history books and documentaries, I managed to learn a great deal about the United States’ Antebellum period, the Civil War and the post-war era from the NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy, due to Jakes’ meticulous research and skillful writing. And about human nature.

Four of the most interesting aspects of “LOVE AND WAR” proved to be the wartime experiences of Billy Hazard, Brett Main Hazard, a former slave named Jane and Charles Main. Being an Army engineer, Billy Hazard did not participate in any battles, although he did witness a good deal of danger. Billy started out the novel as an Army officer loyal to the Union cause, but lacking any sympathy toward abolition or African-Americans – unlike Virgilia, Constance or George. Despite spending the first half of the war maintaining this attitude, it took capture by Confederate forces and a harrowing period as a prisoner of war inside Libby Prison for Billy to even understand what it means to be treated cruelly, let alone be under the complete control of another. And it took his experiences with black troops during the war’s last year to make him view them more than just subhuman, children or victims.

Ironically, his wife, Brett Main Hazard, went through a similar metamorphosis on the home front. Being the daughter and later, the sister of a South Carolina planter, Brett had difficulty adjusting to life in the North and the resentment of the Hazards’ neighbors. Throughout the novel, Brett’s encounter with several people during the war forced her to question her own priviledged Southern upbring through a series of stages. First, she helped her impoverished sister-in-law, the hardcore abolitionist Virgilia Hazard, regain some kind of physical attraction. George and Constance Hazard’s sponsorship of a local orphanage for Southern black children displaced by the war led Brett to develop compassion for them – something she had failed to do with her family’s slaves back at Mont Royal. The orphanage also led to a surprising friendship with the orphanage’s founder, a New England-born black man named Arthur Scipio Brown.

Another interesting character proved to be a young African-American woman named Jane, who found herself living at Mont Royal during the war. Jane was never owned by the Mains. She was introduced as a recently emancipated slave, who was accompanying her aunt, an elderly free black woman named Aunt Belle Nin, to the Union lines. Due to Aunt Belle’s illness, the pair sought brief refuge at Mont Royal, due to the elderly woman’s friendship with Madeline Main. Following Aunt Belle’s death, Madeline asked Jane to remain at Mont Royal and educate the plantation’s slaves in preparation for the end of the war. Madeline, who was biracial, foresaw the end of slavery and wanted the slaves to be prepared for the chaos of a post-war South. Through Jane’s eyes, readers saw how the institution of slavery affected her fellow African-Americans throughout generations. What made Jane’s role in the novel so interesting is that readers were given a closer and more personal look at the slaves as human beings than he ever did in the trilogy’s first novel, “NORTH AND SOUTH”.

Charles Main’s wartime experiences did not bring about a social and political metamorphisis as it did his cousin and best friend, Brett and Billy Hazard. Even as a child, he never really shared his family’s racism or dismiss the ugliness of slavery. On the other hand, readers were granted an exploration of life within the ranks of the Confederate Army through his eyes. Looking back, I realized that Charles’ experiences pretty much served as a metaphor for the novel’s title. Charles had began the story as a man who had already gained experience as a military officer during his four years at West Point and another four years as a U.S. Army officer on the Texas frontier. He spent his early months of the war not only trying (and sometimes failing) to instill a sense of professionalism to the Confederate soldiers who served under him. Charles’ sense of professionalism also included a belief that soldiers had no business getting involved in a serious romance. As far as Charles was concerned, serious romance prevented a soldier from being distracted and doing his job. This belief was immediately challenged after meeting a young and witty Virginia widow named Augusta Barclay, who owned a farm in Northern Virginia. Despite his efforts to maintain an emotional distance from Augusta, Charles’ feelings for her deepened. And as the war began to take an emotional toll upon him, Charles began to question the logic of continuing his romance with Augusta. If anything, Charles’ professional and personal experiences during the war proved to be a prime example of Jakes’ ability to skillfully weave both history and melodrama together.

I do have a few complaints about “LOVE AND WAR”. One, most of the novel’s setting seemed to be focused solely on the war’s Eastern Theater – with scenes and chapters set along the Eastern Seabord. Villain Elkhanah Bent’s participation in the Battle of Shiloh and his assignment in New Orleans gaves readers a view of the war’s Western theater. Also, at least three characters ended up in the New Mexico Territory by the end of the war. But a part of me wished that Jakes had allowed more scenes away from the East – as he had done in “NORTH AND SOUTH”.

But my complaint about setting is minor in compare to another issue – namely the novel’s villains. I will give Jakes kudos for managing to portray them with the same kind of complexity as he did his protagonists. I suspect that he may have somewhat succeed with Elkhannah Bent, Ashton Huntoon and Stanley Hazard. The author went further in revealing their desires, fears and ways of dealing with their personal demons and crisis. However, both Bent and Ashton still seemed less rounded than in compare to the protagonists. James Huntoon had been portrayed as a minor villain in the 1982 novel. But once his marriage fell apart, thanks to Ashton’s love affair with a smuggler and political conspirator named Lamar Powell and his career within the Confederate government stalled, Huntoon ceased to be a villain and Jakes portrayed him with a lot more sympathy.

Jakes’ portrayal of the Mont Royal slave named Cuffey began with some level of complexity, as the character expressed his anger over being considered the Mains’ property. But not much time had passed before Jakes had reduced Cuffey to a one-note thug and bully. I look back at Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of the character in the 1986 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” and found myself wishing that the literary version of the character had been portrayed in a similar manner. Jakes’ portrayal of Isabel Truscott Hazard remained as static as ever. Although Jakes seemed willing to portray Stanley with more complexity, he kept Isabel as the one-note vindictive shrew throughout the novel – with the exception of one scene in which she discovered Stanley’s affair with a tawdry actress. As for the Lamar Powell character, he struck me as a one-dimensional rogue with a cruel and controlling streak. Granted, Jakes did allow one sequence featuring Powell’s point-of-view. But that could not save the character for me.

I cannot say the same about George’s older brother, Stanley Hazard. Jakes seemed a lot more sympathetic toward Stanley in “LOVE AND WAR” than he was in the preceeding novel. Stanley did not become a better person. His views of his brother George remained as resentful as ever, despite his own success in politics. And his support of the Radical Republicans and their pro-abolitionist views was at best, a hoax on his part in order to further his career. And yet, Jakes seemed more than willing to portray Stanley with a bit more sympathy and more complexity.

On the other hand, I found it odd that Jakes was willing to be more flexible with Stanley’s character, but he could not do the same for the character’s only sister, Virgilia Hazard. Unlike other fans of Jakes’ saga, I have never regarded Virgilia as a villain and I never will. I do not regard her as perfect. And she is guilty of killing a wounded Confederate officer who had the bad luck to share the same name as her former lover, a fugitive slave named Grady who had been killed during John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. But I can never regard Virgilia as a villain. One, I share her political views . . . very strongly. Two, I find her family’s unwillingness to allow Virgilia to be herself rather frustrating. I suspect that their dismissal of her politics – due to their own conservatism and her gender – had a negative effect on her character. And three, I have noticed that Jakes’ negative portrayal of Virgilia seemed to have spread toward those historic figures that share her politics – namely the Radical Republicans.

I realize that the Radical Republicans were not perfect. But not all of them were not as bad as Jakes had portrayed them. Not once have I ever sensed the author’s willingness to portray them with any kind of sympathy or understanding. He seemed willing to criticize their behavior and policies, yet he avoids criticizing moderates such as President Lincoln like the plague. In once scene, Brett Hazrard had learned from her brother-in-law Stanley about the Republican Party’s plans to exploit the freed slaves’ gratitude over being emancipated after the war. I can only wonder if Jakes was accusing all of the Radical Republicans (including men like Thaddeus Stevens) for this willingness to exploit former slaves or fake abolitionists like Stanley and Isabel Hazard. Were all Radical Republicans – save for Virgilia – fake abolitionists? And was he trying to convey to readers that Virgilia was blind to the machinations of the Radical Republicans? Or was Virgilia simply a victim of Jakes’ overall negative attitude toward the Radical Republicans? Judging from what I have read, I can only conclude the latter.

In regard to historical accuracy, I can only account for one major example in the novel. It features an assassination plot hatched by Lamar Powell, along with the Huntoons and a few others against Confederacy president Jefferson Davis. Needless to say, this never happened. However, dislike and/or hatred of Davis did exist within the Confederacy. But aside from this story arc, Jakes painted a realistic portrait of the Civil War.

“LOVE AND WAR” is probably one of the finest Civil War novels I have ever read. The novel really gives readers a wide range view of war through the eyes of the Hazard and Main families and those with close connections to them. More importantly, Jakes managed to provide readers with a realistic portrait of the Civil War filled with a good deal of personal drama, humor, brutality, euphoria and tragedy. It is a shame that this novel is so underrated by book readers and critics today, because I thought it was simply superb, despite the few flaws it might possess. Who knows? Perhaps one day it will be universally appreciated again.

TIME MACHINE: Assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)

TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF SENATOR ROBERT F. KENNEDY (1925-1968)

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, in Los Angeles, California. Kennedy was fatally shot by a gun man, while walking through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel with his wife Ethel Kennedy, former FBI agent William Barry, Olympian athlete Rafer Johnson and former football player Rosey Grier

Kennedy was the seventh child of former U.S. Ambassador to Britain and businessman Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Following the election of his older brother John F. Kennedy as the 35th U.S. President in 1960, Kennedy served as Attorney General for his brother’s administration. In November 1968, Jack Kennedy was assassinated by a sniper in Dallas, Texas. Nine months following his brother’s death, Robert Kennedy ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate, representing the State of New York and beat his opponent, Kenneth Keating. Kennedy spent his years in the Senate, Kennedy advocated gun control and the Johnson Administration’s Great Society program for the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. He served on the Senate Labor Committee and supported the campaigns for better working conditions for laborers. And by 1968, Kennedy had shifted his opinion on American involvement in Vietnam by advocating the eventual withdrawal of American and North Vietnamese soldiers from South Vietnam.

While meeting with labor activist Cesar Chavez in Delano, California in February 1968, Kennedy decided to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President. However, Johnson changed his mind about running for re-election following the Tet Offensive in Vietnam that occurred between late January and late March 1968. Kennedy officially announced his candidacy on March 16, 1968. His main opponents for the Democratic nomination were Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and later, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Kennedy ran on a platform of racial and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power, and social change. His policy objectives did not sit well with the business community, where he was viewed as something of a liability. Many businessmen also opposed Kennedy’s support of tax increases to social programs.

Kennedy learned of the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee; while visiting Indianapolis, Indiana. Riots broke out in many cities following King’s death, with the exception of Indianapolis. There, Kennedy gave his famous “On the Mindless Menace of Violence” speech on April 5, 1968. Later, he attended King’s funeral with his younger brother Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and his sister-in-law, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. He won the Indiana Democratic primary on May 7, 1968; and the Nebraska primary on May 14. But he lost the Oregon primary to Senator McCarthy on May 28. The Kennedy campaign hoped that the senator would beat McCarthy for the California primary, knocking the latter out of the race; and eventually face Vice-President Humphrey in Chicago, Illinois.

The 1968 California presidential primary elections were held on Tuesday, June 4, 1968. Kennedy claimed victory over McCarthy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, four hours after the California polls closed. He spoke on the telephone with one of his major supporters, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Then around 12:10 a.m., Kennedy addressed his campaign supporters in the hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom. He ended his speech with the following words:

“My thanks to all of you; and now it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there!”

Since presidential candidates were not entitled to Secret Service protection back in 1968, Kennedy’s only official security was William Barry, a former F.B.I. agent. Both Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier served as unofficial bodyguards. He had planned to meet another gathering of supporters in another part of the Ambassador Hotel by making his way through the Embassy Room ballroom. However, reporters wanted a second press conference and Kennedy’s campaign aide, Fred Dutton, suggested to Barry that the senator should forgo the second gathering and instead head for the press area, via the hotel’s kitchen and pantry area behind the ballroom. After his speech, Kennedy started to leave the ballroom, when Barry stopped him and suggested the alternate route through the kitchen corridor. Both Barry and Dutton tried to clear a path for Kennedy, but he was hemmed in by a crowd and followed maître d’hôtel Karl Uecker through a back exit. While Kennedy allowed Uecker to lead him through the hotel’s kitchen area, he shook hands with people he encountered. As they started down a narrow passageway, Kennedy turned and shook hands with busboy Juan Romero. At that moment, Sirhan Sirhanstepped down from a low tray-stacker beside the ice machine, rushed past Uecker, and fired a .22 caliber Iver Johnson Cadet revolver at Kennedy at least three times or more, before the latter fell to the floor.

Romero cradled the wounded Kennedy’s head, while sitting on the floor. Sirhan was subdued by Barry, Johnson, Grier, and writer George Plimpton, while he continued to shoot in random directions. Five other people were wounded:

*William Weisel of ABC News
*Paul Schrade of the United Auto Workers union,
*Democratic Party activist Elizabeth Evans
*Ira Goldstein of the Continental News Service
*Irwin Stroll, Kennedy campaign volunteer

Ethel Kennedy, who was three months pregnant, stood outside the crush of people at the scene seeking help. Someone led her to her husband and she knelt beside him. Thirty minutes later, Kennedy was transferred to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan. Surgery began at 3:12 a.m. and lasted three hours and forty minutes. Spokesman Frank Mankiewicz announced at 5:30 p.m. that Kennedy’s doctors were concerned over his failure to show any improvement. Kennedy had been shot three times. Despite extensive neurosurgery to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his brain, he was pronounced dead at 1:44 a.m. on June 6, 1968; nearly 26 hours after being shot.

Historians believed that Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab with Jordanian citizenship, had shot Kennedy in retaliation for the latter’s support of Israel during the Six Day War. However, others have criticized this oversimplification of Sirhan’s motives, pointing out that these historians have failed to take account of his psychological problems. Sirhan’s lawyers attempted to use a defense of diminished responsibility during the trial, while he tried to confess to the crime and change his plea to guilty on several occasions. With Lynn Compton serving as prosecutor, Sirhan was eventually convicted of the murder of Robert F. Kennedy on April 17, 1969. He was sentenced to death six days later. However, the sentence was commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 1972; after the California Supreme Court invalidated all pending death sentences that were imposed prior to 1972. This was due to the California v. Anderson ruling. Since that time, Sirhan has been denied parole 15 times and is currently incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in southern San Diego County.

Robert Kennedy’s funeral was held on June 8, 1968 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. His brother, Ted Kennedy, gave the eulogy. Following the mass, Kennedy’s body was transported by a slow-moving train to Washington, D.C., where he was buried near his older brother John, in Arlington National Cemetery.

After the assassination, Congress altered the Secret Service’s mandate to include protection for presidential candidates. Ethel gave birth to Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy in December 1968. Although he had a slight lead over Kennedy at the time of the latter’s death, Vice-President Humphreys became the leading Democratic nominee for the 1968 Presidential election and won the nomination during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, later that summer. He eventually lost the election to the Republican candidate, former Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, in November 1968.

TIME MACHINE: Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

martin-luther-king-jr

TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1929-1968)

Last April marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Civil Rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was a clergyman, a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who became known for his advancement of civil rights by using civil disobedience. 

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929; Dr. King was the son of Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Both he and his father’s legal birth names was Michael King. However, his father changed their names after a 1934 trip to Gernamny to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. During this trip, King Sr. decided that he and his son would be called Martin Luther in honor of the German reformer, Martin Luther. Dr. King Jr. graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a B.A. degree in sociology. He then enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. He married Coretta Scot in 1953 and both became the parents of four children. In 1954, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Dr. King’s reputation as a Civil Rights activist came to the fore in 1955 over the case involving Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger aboard a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King led a 385 days boycott of the city’s transportation system in protest against Parks’ arrest and the Jim Crow Laws that demanded she sit in the back of the bus. The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought national attention to King and his civil rights activities. Over the next twelve-to-thirteen years, he led other movements that protested against U.S. society’s treatment of African-Americans and other oppressed groups. He led the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and gave the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and openly opposed the Vietnam War from 1965 to his death.

In early 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support the city’s African-American sanitation workers who had staged a walkout in protest against lower wages than white workers and longer hours. On April 3, 1968, King returned to Memphis On April 3, King returned to Memphis to address a gathering at the Mason Temple (World Headquarters of the Church of God in Christ). His airline flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. King and his entourage, which included the Reverend Jesse Jackson, booked into Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel. On that day, King delivered the last speech of his life, while a thunderstorm raged outside the Mason Temple. The address is now known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Address. Here are some of the words of his last speech:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats… or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. [applause] And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! [applause] And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

On Thursday, April 4, 1968; King was standing on the Lorraine Motel’s second floor balcony, when a single .30 bullet fired from a Remington 760 Gamemaster struck King. He fell violently backwards onto the balcony unconscious. Shortly after the shot was fired, witnesses saw James Earl Ray fleeing from a rooming house across the street from the Lorraine Motel where he was renting a room. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed manual heart massage. He never regained consciousness and they pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.

Authorities found a package that included a rifle and binoculars with Ray’s fingerprints on them. A worldwide manhunt began for Ray and British authorities arrested him two months later at London’s Heathrow Airport. Ray was quickly extradited back to Tennessee and charged with King’s murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969. However, he later recanted this confession three days later. He was sentenced to a 99-year sentence. After an attempt to break from prison in 1977, Ray spent the rest of his life trying to withdraw his guilty plea. He died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70.

Despite pleas from other civil rights activists, King’s assassination led to a series of riots in more than 100 U.S. cities. The city of Memphis quickly settled the strike on favorable terms to the sanitation workers. A crowd of 300,000 attended King’s funeral in Atlanta, Georgia. The King family and others believe that the assassination was carried out by a conspiracy involving the US government, and that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat. This conclusion was affirmed by a jury in a 1999 civil trial.

Martin Luther King Memphis Hotel

“THE BLACK DAHLIA” (2006) Review

“THE BLACK DAHLIA” (2006) Review

Judging from the reactions among moviegoers, it seemed quite obvious that director Brian DePalma’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1987 novel had disappointed them. The ironic thing is that I do not share their feelings.

A good number of people – including a relative of mine – have told me that they had expected “THE BLACK DAHLIA” to be a docudrama of the infamous 1947 murder case. Others had expected the movie to be an epic-style crime drama similar to the 1997 Academy Award winning film, “L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” – another Ellroy adaptation. ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” proved to be neither for many fans. For me, it turned out to be an entertaining and solid film noir that I enjoyed.

Told from the point-of-view of Los Angeles Police detective Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Harnett), ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” told the story of how the January 1947 murder of Hollywood star wannabe, Elizabeth Short aka “The Black Dahlia” (Mia Kershner) affected Bleichert’s life and the lives of others close to him – especially his partner, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). The story began over three years before Short’s murder when Bleichert saved Blanchard’s life during the Zoot Riots in 1943. After World War II, the pair (who also happened to be celebrated local boxers) participated in an inter-departmental boxing match to help raise support for a political bond issue that will increase pay for the LAPD, but with a slight tax increase. Although Bleichert lost the match, both he and Blanchard are rewarded by Assistant District Attorney Ellis Loew (Patrick Fischler) with promotions and transfers to the Warrants Department and the pair became partners. Bleichert not only became partners and friends with Blanchard, he also became acquainted with Blanchard’s live-in girlfriend, a former prostitute and artist named Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). Although Bleichert fell in love with Kay, he kept his feelings to himself, due to his relationship with Blanchard. Thanks to Blanchard’s penchant for publicity, the two partners eventually participated in the murder investigation of Elizabeth Short (nicknamed the Black Dahlia). The case not only led the pair to a rich young playgirl named Madeleine Linscott (Hillary Swank) and her family, but also into a world of prostitution, pornography, lesbian nightclubs and the dark underbelly of Hollywood life.

Written by James Ellroy and originally published in 1987, ”The Black Dahlia” became the first of four novels about the Los Angeles Police Department in the post-World War II era (”L.A. Confidential” was the third in the quartet). In my opinion, it was the best in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. I believe that it translated quite well to the movie screen, thanks to DePalma’s direction and Josh Friedman’s screenplay. Like the movie ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL””THE BLACK DAHLIA” turned out to be superior to its literary version. Not only did DePalma and Friedman’s screenplay recapture the ambiance of the novel’s characters and 1940s Los Angeles setting, the plot turned out to be an improvement over the novel. Especially over the latter’s chaotic finale. Despite the improvement, ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” never achieved the epic style and quality of ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”. If I must be frank, I really do not care. Movies like the 1997 Oscar winner are rare occurrences of near perfect quality. Just because ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” was another film adaptation of an Ellroy novel, did not mean that I had expected it to become another ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”.

Mark Isham’s score for the film did not turn out to be that memorable to me. All I can say is that I am grateful that he did not attempt a remake of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” and ”CHINATOWN”. On the other hand, I was very impressed with Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography for the film. One sequence stood out for me – namely the overhead shot that featured the discovery of Elizabeth Short’s dead body in the Leimert Park neighborhood in Los Angeles. Ironically, part of the movie was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria substituting as 1946-47 Los Angeles. Production Designer Dante Ferretti and Art Director Christopher Tandon did a solid job in disguising Sofia as Los Angeles. But there were a few times when the City of Angels seemed like it was located on the East Coast. And I could spot a few palm trees that definitely looked false. However, I really loved the set designs for Kay’s home and the lesbian nightclub where Bleichert first met Madeline. I loved Jenny Beavan’s costume designs for the film. She did an excellent job of recapturing the clothing styles of the mid-to-late 1940s and designing clothes for particular characters.

One of the movie’s best strengths turned out to be its very interesting characters and the cast of actors that portrayed them. Characters that included the ambitious and sometimes malevolent ADA Ellis Loew, portrayed with great intensity by Patrick Fischler; Rose McGowan’s bitchy and shallow Hollywood landlady/movie extra; Elizabeth Short’s frank and crude father Cleo Short (Kevin Dunn); Mike Starr’s solid portrayal of Bleichert and Blanchard’s immediate supervisor Russ Millard; and Lorna Mertz, the young Hollywood prostitute portrayed memorably by Jemima Rooper. John Kavanagh and Fiona Shaw portrayed Madeline Linscott’s parents – a Scottish-born real estate magnate and his alcoholic California society wife. Kavanagh was charming and fun in a slightly corrupt manner, but Shaw hammed it up in grand style as the alcoholic Ramona Linscott. I doubt that a lesser actress could have pulled off such a performance.

Not only were the supporting characters memorable, so were the leading characters, thanks to the performances of the actors and actresses that portrayed them. I was very impressed by Mia Kershner’s portrayal of the doomed Elizabeth Short. She managed to skillfully conveyed Short’s desperation and eagerness to become a Hollywood movie star in flashbacks shown in the form of black-and-white audition clips and a pornographic film clip. At first, I found Scarlett Johansson as slightly too young for the role of Kay Lake, the former prostitute and artist that both Bleichert and Blanchard loved. She seemed a bit out of her depth, especially when she used a cigarette holder to convey her character’s sophistication. Fortunately, Johansson had ditched the cigarette holder and Kay’s so-called sophistication and portrayed the character as a warm and pragmatic woman, who turned out to be more emotionally mature than the other characters. I found Aaron Eckhart’s performance as the passionate, yet calculating Lee Blanchard great fun to watch. He seemed funny, sharp, verbose, passionate and rather manic all at once. There were times when his character’s growing obsession toward the Black Dahlia case seemed to border on histrionics. But in the end, Eckhart managed to keep it all together. Another performance I truly enjoyed was Hillary Swank’s portrayal of the sensual, rich playgirl Madeline Linscott. Just by watching Swank on screen, I got the impression that the actress had enjoyed herself playing Madeline. I know I had a ball watching her reveal the charming, yet dark facets of this interesting character.

Ellroy’s novel had been written in the first person – from the viewpoint of LAPD detective, Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert. Which meant that the entire movie had to focus around the actor who portrayed Bleichert. I once heard a rumor that Josh Harnett became interested in the role before casting for the movie actually began. In the end, many critics had either dismissed Hartnett’s performance or judged him incapable of portraying a complex character. Personally, I found their opinions hard – even impossible – to accept. For me, Harnett did not merely give a first-rate performance. He ”was” Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert. One must understand that Bleichert was a difficult role for any actor – especially a non-showy role that also had to keep the story together. Throughout the movie, Harnett, DePalma’s direction and Friedman’s script managed to convey the many complexities of Bleichert’s personality without being overtly dramatic about it. After all, Dwight was basically a quiet and subtle character. Harnett portrayed the character’s growing obsession with both the Black Dahlia case and Madeline Linscott without the manic and abrupt manner that seemed to mark Blanchard’s obsession. You know what? I really wish I could say more about Harnett’s performance. But what else can I say? He perfectly hit every nuance of Bleichert’s personality. I personally believe that Dwight Bleichert might be his best role to date.

I wish I could explain or even understand why ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” had flopped at the box office. Some have complained that the film had failed to match the epic qualities of ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”. Others have complained that it failed as a docudrama that would solve the true life murder of Elizabeth Short. And there have been complaints that Brian DePalma’s editing of a film that was originally three hours ruined it. I had never expected the movie to become another ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” (which did a mediocre job at the box office) – a rare case of near Hollywood perfection. I really do not see how a three hour running time would have helped ”THE BLACK DAHLIA”. It was a complex story, but not as much as the 1997 film. Hell, the novel was more straightforward than the literary L.A. Confidential”. And since the Hollywood publicity machine had made it clear that the movie was a direct adaptation of the novel, I found the argument that ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” should have been a docudrama that would solve Short’s murder rather ludicrous. Since I had read the novel back in the late 90s, I simply found myself wondering how DePalma would translate it to the movie screen.

In the end, I found myself more than satisfied with ”THE BLACK DAHLIA”. It possessed a first-rate cast led by a superb performance from Josh Harnett. Screenwriter Josh Friedman’s screenplay turned out to be a solid job that slightly improved Ellroy’s novel – especially the finale. And director Brian DePalma did an excellent job of putting it all together. I highly recommend it – if one does not harbor any high expectations.