Ever since its release during the summer of 2011, many have been contemplating on the box office failure of “COWBOYS & ALIENS”. I could go over the many theories spouted about its failure over the years, but I would find that boring. I am simply aware that the movie had only earned $34 million dollars short of its budget. And all I can say is . . . what a damn pity.
“COWBOYS & ALIENS” had some big names participating in its production. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were the movie’s stars. The cast also included well known names such as Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano and Clancy Brown. Jon Farveau, the director of the two successful “IRON MAN” movies, helmed the director’s chair. At least five of the screenwriters – Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby – have been associated with projects like “LOST” and the “STAR TREK”. And big names in the film industry such as Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Steven Spielberg acted as some of the producers. But despite all of this “COWBOYS & ALIENS” remained one of the flops of the 2011 summer movie season. Again, pity. I realize that I keep using the word “pity” as a response to the movie’s failure. But I cannot help it. I really enjoyed “COWBOYS & ALIENS”. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that it has become one of my favorite movies from the summer of 2011.
The movie was based upon the 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. It told the story of an alien invasion that occurred in the New Mexico Territory in 1873. The story focused upon a mysterious loner that awakens in the desert, injured and wearing a strange bracelet shackled to his wrist. He wanders into the town of Absolution, where the local preacher, Meacham treats his wound. After the stranger subdues Percy Dolarhyde, who has been terrorizing the populace, Sheriff Taggart recognizes the loner as Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw, and tries to arrest him. Jake nearly escapes, but a mysterious woman named Ella Swenson knocks him out. Percy’s father, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, a rich and influential cattleman, arrives with his men and demands that Percy be released to him. He also wants Jake, who had stolen Dolarhyde’s gold. During the standoff, alien spaceships begin attacking the town. Percy, Sheriff Taggart and many townsfolk are abducted. Jake shoots down one ship with a device concealed in his wrist band, ending the attack. Realizing that the bracelet that Jake wears stands between them and the aliens, Colonel Dolarhyde, Meacham and Ella convinces Jake to help them find the aliens and the kidnapped townspeople, despite the fact that he has no memory of his own identity, let alone of any previous encounters with the aliens. Their expedition leads them Jake’s former gang and a band of Chiricahua Apaches, who have also been victims of the aliens.
“COWBOYS & ALIENS” is not perfect. It has its flaws. To be honest, I can think of one or two flaws. Perhaps one. Although I understood that the aliens were taking the gold found near Absolution to power their starship, the script never made it clear on why they were taking the populace, as well. The only thing that the script made clear was that the kidnapped populace were being experimented upon. When it comes to human experimentation of reasons behind an invasions, many plots for alien invasion movies and television series tend to be rather weak in this area, including some of the best in this genre. And my other problem was that the script failed to reveal how Ella, who turned out to be another alien whose people had been destroyed by the invaders, ended up on Earth.
But despite these flaws, “COWBOYS & ALIENS” really impressed me. I thought that Jon Favreau did an excellent job in combining action with the film’s dramatic moments. And his eye for location, greatly assisted by Matthew Libatique’s photography of the New Mexican countryside, gave the movie’s visuals a natural grandeur. In my review of “SUPER 8”, I had commented that it reminded me of an old “STAR TREK VOYAGER” episode. I cannot say the same for “COWBOYS & ALIENS”. But it did remind me of a “STAR TREK VOYAGER” fanfiction story called “Ashes to Ashes”. At least Jake’s experiences with the aliens before the movie began. And “COWBOYS & ALIENS” must be the only alien invasion movie I can think of that was set before the 20th century. It occurred to me that if the two most famous adaptations of H.G. Wells’ novel, “War of the Worlds” had been given its original setting, this would not have been the case. Unless someone knows of another alien invasion movie with a pre-20th century setting. Ever since I first saw the trailers for “COWBOYS AND ALIENS”, I wondered how the screenwriters would combine the two genres of Science-Fiction and Westerns. Hell, I wondered if they could. Mixing Jake’s history as an outlaw with his experiences with the aliens did the trick. At least I believe so. More importantly, “COWBOYS & ALIENS” provided plenty of opportunities for character development – and that includes the supporting cast.
The cast certainly proved to be first-rate. There have been British actors who have appeared in Westerns before. Come to think of it, Daniel Craig is not even the first James Bond actor who has appeared in a Western. But he is the only one I can recall who appeared in a Western as an American-born character. And if I must be blunt, the man takes to Westerns like a duck to water. More importantly, both Craig’s super performance and the screenwriters made certain that his Jake Lonergran did not come off as some cliché of the “Man With No Name” character from Sergio Leone’s DOLLAR TRILOGY”. Craig made him a man determined to learn of his past, while dealing with the sketchy memories of a past love and his attraction toward Ella.
The character of Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde seems like a far cry from Harrison Ford’s usual roles. His Colonel Dolarhyde was not the solid Jack Ryan type or the rough, yet dashing Indiana Jones persona. In one of his rare, offbeat roles, Ford’s Colonel Dolarhyde was a ruthless, no-nonsense man who ruled his ranch and the town of Absolution with an iron fist. And Ford did a first-rate job of diluting Dolarhyde’s distasteful ruthlessness into something more . . . human and warm. I wondered how I would take Olivia Wilde’s performance as the mysterious Ella Swenson, who seemed determined to get Jake to help the rest of Absolution’s citizens find the aliens. After seeing the movie, I enjoyed her performance very much. She had a strong chemistry with Craig. More importantly, she gave a solid performance and possessed a strong screen presence. But I really enjoyed about Wilde’s performance was that she conveyed an other world quality about Ella that strongly hinted her role as an alien who landed on Earth to find the invaders who had destroyed most of her race.
The supporting cast was led by the likes of Sam Rockwell, who competently portrayed Absolution’s insecure saloon keeper, Doc; and Adam Beach, who gave a deliciously complex performance as Dolarhyde’s right-hand man, Nat Colorado. And actors such as Paul Dano as Dolarhyde’s s raucous son, a serene Clancy Brown, Noah Ringer (from “THE LAST AIRBENDER”), who portrayed the sheriff’s grandson, and a solid Keith Carradine gave firm support.
I do not know what else I could say about “COWBOYS & ALIENS”. I find it a pity that it had failed to become a hit. Because I really enjoyed it. The screenwriters, along with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, a first-rate cast led by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford and fine direction by Jon Favreau made it one of my favorite films from the summer of 2011.
What happened with the original “CHARMED” (1998-2006) series? How did a show that for a brief period, used to be one of my top ten favorites ended up as something for me to be derisive about?
Well, below are what I believe are the three major traits that contributed to the show’s decline (at least for me) – morality, portrayal of men and magical powers.
For me, this was a major problem with the series. The audience was led to believe that the Halliwell sisters aka the Charmed Ones were the epitome of goodness, yet the writers have allowed them to get away with some very despicable acts. I am not one of those who demand that protagonists of a fictional story – whether in print, movies, plays or television – be flawless or ideal. I realize this is impossible, due to human nature. But I believe that when a work of fiction allows its protagonist to make a mistake or crime, I believe the writers should allow that character to face the consequences of his or her actions. Unfortunately, this rarely happened on “CHARMED” – especially in regard to the Charmed Ones and their whitelighter, Leo Wyatt. On the other hand, the Charmed Ones, Leo and the series’ show runners and writers made certain that others – like Cole Turner – pay the price for their actions. Whether they deserved it or not.
Piper Halliwell’s Purchase of Illegal Fruit – In the Season Two episode, (2.12) “Awakened”, a greedy Piper had purchased illegal fruit from South America that had not been inspected by U.S. Customs for a cheap price. She had plans to serve the fruit to her customers at her P3 bar. After sampling the fruit, Piper became afflicted with a deadly disease called “Oroyo Fever”. First, her sisters Prue and Phoebe used a spell to save her life by directing the disease from her body to an ninja action figure toy owned by another patient. This act led to other patients in the hospital being afflicted by the disease. Eventually, Prue and Phoebe reversed the spell and Piper became afflicted again. In the end, Leo used his whitelighter ability to cure Piper.
Since Leo had used magic for personal gain, he lost his whitelighter wings . . . temporarily. The Charmed Ones, on the other hand, did not pay any price whatsoever for their actions in this episode. Piper managed to survive and did not face any illegal prosecution for breaking Federal law. Also, Prue and Phoebe did not pay any price for using magic for personal gain and threatening the lives of innocents in the process. On the other hand, Piper’s miraculous recovery attracted the attention of physician, Dr. Curtis Williamson. His determination to learn how she had recovered so quickly led to him temporarily possessing the Charmed Ones powers and his death in a later episode, (2.20) “Astral Monkey”. While Piper had lamented over not answering one of his earlier requests for a medical examination, neither she or her sisters felt any guilt over how their actions in “Awakened” led to Dr. Williamson’s death in “Astral Monkey”.
The 48-Hour Window of Opportunity Rule – According to the Season Four premiere, (4.01-4.02) “Charmed Again”, the Whitelighters (“good”) and the demons (“evil”) had made a compromise regarding the moral compass of witches. This compromise created a period of forty-eight hours for a witch to decide his or her alliance or moral path. Frankly, I thought this was a dumb idea ever created by Brad Kern or one of his writers. The idea that the Elders’ Council and the Source’s Council had the authority to give a new witch a specific time period of free will to choose between good and evil is ludicrous. That witch or any other individual should constantly have some semblance of free will to choose any particular path . . . should have been regarded as a natural right. What made this rule even more ludicrous is once a witch makes up his or her mind, he/she will remain either good or evil until death. What on earth? This whole “Window of Opportunity” rule smacks of a fairy tale for children and not for a series about adult women. What Kern had failed to remember that life is uncertain, which means there are no real absolutes upon which one can depend. In other words, if Paige had chosen evil, her decision could never be regarded as absolute. In the real world . . . or in a well-written story, there would be no real absolute. Not only was this rule a prime example of how the series’ black-and-white morality stagnated the series’ writing development, it also appeared in the “CHARMED” reboot series. Pity.
Darryl Morris’ Soul – In Season Six’s (6.01-6.02) “Valhalley of the Dolls”, two of the Charmed Ones, Phoebe and half-sister Paige Matthews had committed a despicable act with the psychic rape of their close friend, Inspector Detective Darryl Morris. The pair used a spell to strip Darryl of his soul without his consent. They had committed this despicable act in order to free Leo from Valhalla (Norse/Viking version of heaven) and have him remove a spell he had cast on Piper. Phoebe and Paige’s act should have had major consequences for them. Instead, the writers treated this act of psychic rape as a joke and dismissed the whole matter with Darryl lamely and quickly forgiving them. I was disgusted by this episode.
Rick Gittridge’s Murder – Phoebe and Paige had committed another despicable act in the Season Six episode, (6.17) “Hyde School Reunion”. Nervous over facing former classmates at a high school reunion, Phoebe had cast a spell on herself, regressing her personality to her seventeen year-old self. While under this spell, she used magic to help a former high school classmate named Rick Gittridge escape from prison. Eventually, Phoebe recovered from her spell and realized she had a convict who knew she was a witch on her hands. When Rick held her and Paige at gunpoint and demanded that they change his face so that he could avoid the police, Paige obliged, at Phoebe’s urging, by giving him the face of their nephew and Piper and Leo’s younger son, Chris Halliwell. What Rick did not know and the sisters did was Chris was on the run from a group of Scabber demons that he had angered. So . . . instead of teleporting the gun from Rick’s hand and sending him back to prison with his memories wiped, Paige transformed his face to resemble Chris’. The Scabber demons saw Rick with Chris’ face and promptly killed him before disappearing. And both Phoebe and Paige – to my utter disgust – declared their action had been necessary. In other words, Phoebe and Paige got away with cold-blooded murder thanks to Brad Kern’s misplaced sense of justice.
Alliance with the Avatars – Another major crime that the Halliwells had committed was helping the Avatars (an ancient group of extremely powerful magical beings) change the world by removing any dark thoughts from the human race and committing genocide against demons … all so that they can selfishly lead happy lives and not hunt demons. This little act, which had occurred in (7.12) “Extreme Makeover: World Edition”, resulted in the psychic rape of the world’s population and the deaths of those few who were not affected by the spell. And what happened after the following episode, (7.13) “Charmeggedon”? Leo paid the price for his part in the spell with the loss of his whitelighter wings and position as an Elder. Yet the sisters – especially Piper – avoided any consequences for their actions. Again. Instead, they blamed the Avatars for not telling them everything and the Elders for driving Leo into becoming an Avatar. This was so cowardly on so many levels. At this point, my opinion of the Charmed Ones had sunk to a new low. Their unwillingness to learn any lesson from their own mistake and blame others disgusted me to my core.
Cole Turner aka Belthazor’s First Death and the Source – Sometime in early Season Four, Phoebe’s lover and former assassin – the demon/hybrid Cole Turner aka Belthazor – lost his magical powers due to an old potion made by the Charmed Ones back in Season Three, because a woman wanted revenge for his past killing of her fiance. When the sisters were threatened with death at the hands of the demonic leader known as the Source, Cole used a magical object to strip the villain of his magical powers and use them to save Phoebe and her sisters. Unfortunately for Cole, he ended up being possessed against his will by the Source’s spirit. Episodes like (4.14) “The Three Faces of Phoebe” and (4.16) “The Fifth Halliwell” had made it very clear that the Source had taken possession of Cole’s body. Instead of having the Charmed Ones discover this, Brad Kern and his writers had allowed them to succumb to their worst fears and prejudices regarding Cole’s past and kill him. To make matters worst, the sisters never found out in the following season that he had been an innocent victim of the Source. Instead, Kern and the writers dump some “Cole turns insane” story line in early Season Five on viewers in order to set in motion the character’s departure from the series in the shitty episode (5.12) “Centennial Charmed”. In doing this, show runner Brad Kern and staff writers had failed to allow the sisters a chance to discover their own potential for bigotry and evil and thus, kill any chance of them developing as characters. Only Prue had been given this chance in Season Three episodes like (3.15) “Just Harried” and (3.16) “Death Takes a Halliwell”.
Other Magical Beings – The series’ “black-vs-white” morality had became a prime example of how people judge others on a purely superficial basis. Which the Halliwells had been guilty of. Look at Cole for example. The only reason Phoebe and her sisters had originally believed he possessed the potential for good was due to his human ancestry on his father’s side. For Phoebe and her sisters, Cole’s human half equated to good, and his demon half equated to evil. When Cole had lost his powers for the second time in Season Five (5.07) “Sympathy For the Demon”, the sisters’ whitelighter Leo Wyatt automatically judged him good, because he no longer had his “demonic” powers.
This all stemmed from the the series’ never ending habit of labeling certain powers as good (“witches, fairies, whitelighters, etc.”) or evil (“demons, darklighters, warlocks”), based on what kind of beings possessed them. I never understood why the series had continued to portray magical abilities in this infantile manner – especially for a show that was about adult women. “CHARMED” also made a big deal about witches not using their powers for personal gain. Yet, from what I have read about the Wiccan Rede (please correct me if I am wrong), personal gain is not even considered forbidden. Wiccans seemed to be more concerned with intent – using one’s powers to deliberately hurt another, forcing someone to do something against his or her will, or using magic on others without their consent, which the Halliwells were extremely guilty of in “Vahalley of the Dolls”, (6.17) “Hyde School Reunion” and “Extreme Makeover: World Edition”. And by the way, the Charmed Ones never paid any consequences for their transgressions.
Phoebe, her sisters and Leo seemed incapable of accepting the possibility that ALL BEINGS, no matter who or what they are – have the potential for both good and evil within them. The show has refused to accept the possibility that demons have the potential for good and humans have the potential for great evil (with the exception of a few). To the series’ writers (and characters), a sentient being’s morality is mainly based upon WHAT he or she is, and not on the individual’s emotional state . . . OR CHOICES.
The reason I brought these issues is that Kern and the series’ writers had allowed the sisters to get away with major crimes. The sisters had paid the price for using their powers for minor acts – like Prue using her telekinesis to force an annoying neighbor, who had been allowing his dog to poop against their front steps, to step in said dog poop; and Phoebe using her premonition power to find the future father of her future child – but never for major acts that I had listed above. Also, I really wish that “CHARMED” had been more ambiguous and complex in its portrayal of morality. Everything was so simple-minded and childish. Demons/warlocks are all evil; humans are all good (unless there are no demons around). What exactly was wrong in portraying demons and other supernatural beings as morally ambiguous? What was wrong in the sisters learning that morality was not as simple and easy to label, as they have assumed for so many years?
Portrayal of Men:
Another problem I had with “CHARMED” was its portrayal of many male characters. I understand that the series had wanted to portray women in a positive light – strong and intelligent. There was nothing wrong with that. By why did the series’ portrayal of men had to be basically negative? “CHARMED” was supposed to be about feminism. However, my idea of feminism was not male bashing or emasculation. Unfortunately, the series was guilty of both. During most of Seasons One and Two, the sisters had a tendency to make many unnecessary quips at the expense of the male gender. And there was the (2.05) “She’s a Man, Baby! She’s a Man!” episode that I would dearly love to forget. And what happened to male witches? I can only recall seeing one so-called male witch on the show – Max Franklin from (1.14) “Secrets and Guys” – and at age thirteen, he was too young to be practicing witchcraft.
Regular Male Characters – Another problem is that most of the strong male characters on the show are either stripped of their power or dies. this happened to characters like Cole Turner, Andy Trudeau, Leo Wyatt, Chris Halliwell and Kyle Brody. The powerful half-demon Belthazor aka Cole ended up having his powers stripped in (4.08) “Black As Cole” and was “deemed safe” to marry Phoebe. And when he became more powerful than ever in Season Five, he was judged “evil and insane” and targeted for death by Kern and his writers in “Centennial Charmed”. Andy Trudeau, a strong-willed San Francisco cop who also happened to be Prue’s true love, ended up dead not long after he discovered that the sisters were witches at the end of Season One. Although Piper and Leo’s older son Wyatt became a very powerful witch, he was too young for the writers to do anything about it. Leo became a whitelighter Elder at the end of Season Five and later, an Avatar in early Season Seven. Thus the writers felt that they had to break him away from Piper. And they did not reunite the couple until Leo permanently became a mortal (aka “safe”). Both Chris (Piper and Leo’s younger son) and FBI Special Agent Kyle Brody (Paige’s love interest in Season Seven) were strong personalities who ended up dead – along with ex-demon named Drake who had decided to become a human. And how did the series end? With a powerless Leo, a non-magical husband for Paige, and a “Cupid” (magical being associated with love) for Phoebe to marry.
Darryl Morris – One would notice that I did not mention Darryl Morris, the detective inspector from the San Francisco Police Department, who had known the Halliwells since the beginning. Darryl had began the series as Andy Trudeau’s partner. Following Andy’s death, Darryl became the sisters’ main non-magical contact between Seasons Two and Seven. The writers’ treatment of Darryl really annoyed me over the years. After Season Two, I got tired of him freaking out whenever faced with the sisters’ magic. Also, the sisters had badly mistreated him during Season Six . His soul was stripped from his body against his will in “Valhalley of the Dolls” by Phoebe and Paige. And he was was framed for murder by magical beings known as the Cleaners, who used him to cover up the Halliwells’ careless use of magic. When he had decided that he wanted nothing to do with the Charmed Ones (and I did not blame him) in late Season Six, the writers had treated as the bad guy for failing to forgive them for what happened to him. And when Darryl finally reconciled with them in Season Seven, he returned to being one of the sisters’ lap dogs. Leo became the other one.After years of watching the show, I found myself wondering if both Constance Burge and Brad Kern had become leery of the idea of the Halliwells being associated on a permanent basis with strong male characters. And I found that sad.
How can I put this? One of the more confusing aspects of “CHARMED” has always been its portrayal of magic. The series’ portrayal of magical beings and various abilities have struck me as contradicting. Another problem with the series was that the show runners and the writers had allowed its black-and-white mentally to label what kind of abilities that its characters can practice.
Fire Ability – For example, according to the series, any ability to do with fire can only be possessed by evil magic practitioners like demons and warlocks. Why? Fire is an element, not something evil. The series had featured a witch in its premiere episode, (1.01) “Something Wicca Comes This Way” as a pyrokinetic. Later, a young foster child named Tyler Michaels in Season Four’s (4.12) “Lost and Bound” also had the ability to create fire. These were two rare cases in which “CHARMED” featured pyrokinetics who were not evil. However, the series eventually ret-conned Tyler as a Archai, an elemental being who could not only create fire, but use fire to create portals. Was Brad Kern uneasy over the idea of a minor protagonist being a mere fire starter? It certainly felt like it. Was the series’ portrayal of fire as something evil stemmed from religion? Again . . . it felt like it, but I cannot say for certain.
The Nexus – Another aspect of magic that I found ridiculous on “CHARMED” was the whole “Nexus Theory” from the episode (1.15) “Is There a Woogy in the House?”. An earthquake had revealed a magical entity called “the Woogeyman” that resided in the Charmed Ones’ basement. The sisters had learned that their home was located on top of a spiritual nexus – a location that was equidistant from the five spiritual elements. And because Phoebe had been born inside their home, her moral compass could easily swing from good to evil, in compare to her sisters. This was all bullshit, of course, since anyone can swing from good to evil or back, considering the circumstances. But what made this “Nexus Theory” even more laughable was that the five elements that played a role in it – earth, fire, water, wood and metal – are associated with Chinese philosophy, not Wiccan beliefs. The elements associated with Wicca are – earth, fire, water, air and spirit. Prue had claimed that the first list of elements were Wiccan, when they were actually associated with Chinese philosophy. Sigh!
Paige Matthews’ Ability – Season Four had introduced a new member of the Halliwell family – half-sister, Paige Matthews. Paige was the creation of an affair between the sisters’ mother, Patricia “Patty” Halliwell and her whitelighter, Sam Wilder. With Prue no longer a member of the Charmed Ones, Paige had replaced her. Naturally, Brad Kern and his writers believed they had to create an ability for Paige that was similar to Prue’s telekinesis. And what was it? Well, the sisters dubbed it telekinetic orbing. Sigh! In a nutshell, when Paige wanted to move something or someone, her object would disappear in one spot and reappear in another. Does this sound familiar? Well it should. This ability is usually regarded as teleporting. But the objective is the same as telekinesis – moving someone or something from one spot to another. Because Paige’s father was a whitelighter and her ability manifested in white or blue orbs, her ability was labeled as telekinetic orbing. It would have been a lot easier for the writers to use the correct phrase for Paige’s ability – teleporting – and easier on the mouth for the actors. But alas . . .
The above are simply examples of the series’ rather odd and occasional erroneous portrayal of magic. If I truly wanted to delve into this subject, it would have required me to write another essay – a long one at that. So, I will end it right here.
I have written other articles about “CHARMED” in which I had discussed issues I found problematic. But when it came to morality, male characters and magic abilities, I feel that the series had made its most obvious mistakes.
RATING: PG-13 E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames. SUMMARY: Just before meeting Evelyn for the first time, Rafe and Danny recall the former’s past love life. DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda! All characters pertaining to the motion picture, “Pearl Harbor”, belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Randall Wallace and the Walt Disney Company . . . unfortunately.
PART 1 – First Love
MITCHELL FIELD, LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Lieutenant Daniel Walker stood in line behind his best friend and fellow Army pilot, Lieutenant Rafe McCawley. He noticed how the older man shifted from one foot to another, almost like a jackrabbit in flight.
“Godalmighty, Rafe! Simmer down!” Danny hissed into his friend’s ear. “You act like a man trying to run from his own hanging.”
Fearful brown eyes bored into those that belonged to the twenty-three year-old pilot. “You can call it that,” Rafe shot back. “Jiminy cricket! A physical! Dammit Danny! Why didn’t you tell me there was gonna be one?”
“I just found out about it, yesterday,” Danny explained. “And you didn’t return to the base until lights out. What took you so long in getting back?”
Rafe sighed. Both he and Danny moved a step forward toward the nurse. She was about to stick a needle into Anthony Fusco’s bare bottom. The two friends squirmed at the sight of their fellow pilot’s plight.
“Claudia,” Rafe finally answered. “We broke up.”
Danny tried not to express any jubilation over the news. He loved Rafe. Both had grown up together in Shelby County, Tennessee. They started out as best friends. And when Danny moved in with the McCawleys following his daddy’s death, they virtually became brothers. The pair had gone through a lot together – childhood, love of flying, high school, college and now, the Army Air Corps. There was a lot about Rafe that Danny admired. However, the former’s love life did not happen to be one of them.
“Oh, hey Rafe! I’m sorry to hear about you and Claudia.” Danny tried to sound mournful over his friend’s romantic mishap. Apparently, he had failed, judging by Rafe’s scornful expression. “What?”
Rafe’s scorn deepened. “Did you know that you were a lousy liar, Danny?”
“You never fail to tell me, if you must know.”
“Well, I was right,” Rafe shot back. Anthony cried out in pain and moved on, rubbing his behind. The two friends took another step forward and watched another man bend over before the nurse. Rafe continued, “I’ll bet that you’re jumping for joy over what happened between me and Claudia.”
Danny tried to sound innocent. “Of course not!” he protested. Rafe gave him a hard stare. As usual, Danny wilted. “All right, maybe I am. I never liked her anyway. Big deal!”
“You’ve never liked any of my girlfriends,” Rafe accused.
“What are you talking about? What about Fenton Marsh? Or Julie Fisher? I liked them!”
The soldier at the head of the line walked away, rubbing his rear end. Everyone else took a step forward. Only Billy from the two friends’ squadron, stood between Rafe and a shot in the behind. Which Danny felt temporarily grateful.
Rafe whirled on the younger man, his eyes shining with suspicion. “Oh yeah?” he countered. “What about Mary Jo Burnett? From grade school? Did you like her?”
* * * *
SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE; OCTOBER 1926 TO APRIL 1927 . . . The final bell at Shelbyville Elementary School in Shelby, Tennessee, announced the end of another day. Scores of children poured out of their classrooms and rushed toward the exits. Among them were ten year-old Rafe McCawley and his best friend, nine year-old Danny Walker.
The pair paused in front of a large oak tree in the schoolyard. The older boy dug into his pockets. “Look what I got!” He triumphantly produced two shiny blue marbles and showed them to Danny.
The younger boy’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “Hey! Don’t those marbles belong to Carl Jordan? How did you get ’em?”
“A bet.” Rafe flashed his usual cocky smile. “I bet Carl that I could beat him in a bike race on Shelby Road. I won, of course.”
Danny declared breathlessly, “I reckon Carl must be pretty sore. Those marbles must have cost him a fortune.”
Rafe sniffed. He had never harbored a high opinion of Carl Jordan, the younger son of a local merchant. “Fifteen cents. Course, I would have never bet anything this valuable. Carl, on the other hand, never had much sense. Much like his daddy.”
Admiration shone in the younger boy’s eyes. “Yeah, that’s Carl alright. Did you know that he once . . .?”
A scream from the other side of the schoolyard interrupted Danny. Rafe’s eyes immediately shifted to the sight of two boys around his age, trying to wrestle a paper bag from the clutches of a girl. The other kids in the yard seemed determined to ignore them. Not Rafe.
The moment the ten year-old became aware of the situation, he became a knight in shining armor. The Southern gentleman who always saved the honor of a fair damsel. With a roar reminiscent of the Rebel yell, he charged at the girl’s tormentors. Rafe knocked one to the ground and punched the latter a few times to ensure that the boy remained down.
The other boy, whom Rafe recognized as Carl Jordan, stared at him with baffled eyes. Before Carl could react, Rafe snatched the paper bag from the former’s clutches. A snarl left Carl’s mouth and he tried to rush Rafe. Fortunately, the latter proved to be quick. Rafe avoided Carl’s fist with a duck and responded with a better aimed blow to the other boy’s face. Carl fell to the ground with blood gushing from his nose.
“Rafe!” Danny rushed forward, obviously prepared to come to his friend’s defense. “Rafe, are you okay?”
The older boy shot back, grinning, “Just fine and dandy!” Rafe glanced at the paper bag in his hand and remembered the girl standing nearby. When he turned to face her, Rafe found himself staring into a pair of dark brown eyes. He forgot about Danny, Carl Jordan and just about everyone else. “Uh,” he began nervously, “I reckon this uh . . . this belong . . .”
The girl smiled. “Thank you,” she said in a soft voice that could melt butter. “Thank you for returning my bag to me.” She held out her hand.
Rafe blinked. “Huh? Oh.” He handed the bag to her.
“May I know the name of my rescuer?”
He gave a slight cough. “Rafe. My name is Rafe McCawley.”
“And mine is Mary Jo Burnett.” A smile curved her generous mouth. Groans from the ground interrupted the conversation and Mary Jo’s smile transformed into a frown. Carl Jordan and his friend slowly scrambled to their feet.
A groggy Carl began, “Wha . . .?”
Rafe grabbed the boy’s arm. “You get out of here, Carl Jordan. Both you and Orwin. And if either of you ever bother . . . uh, Mary Jo again, both me and Danny’ll whup you good. Or I just might do it myself. You hear?”
The two boys gulped nervously and raced away. Rafe turned to Mary Jo with a smile. “May I see you home, Miss Burnett?”
Her smile dazzled Rafe. “Of course.” Mary Jo nodded at Danny. “Both of you can.”
“Huh?” Rafe turned and saw his friend standing next to a tree stump, squirming with discomfort. He had forgotten about Danny. “Oh! Danny. Well, yeah. Sure.”
Still looking uncomfortable, the nine year-old murmured, “That’s okay. You two can go ahead. I gotta get home, anyway.”
Rafe knew that Danny had lied. For the latter, home meant a broken down two-room shack off Horton Road, with a drunken brute of a father still recovering from the war. Danny usually delayed going home after school, as long as he possibly could.
“What are you talking about, Danny?” Rafe protested. “You usually . . .”
But the younger boy quickly bid Rafe and Mary Jo good-bye and ran off, leaving behind a bewildered Rafe. A soft hand touched the latter’s arm. “Rafe? You ready?” Ah yes, Mary Jo.
Danny quickly forgotten, Rafe offered Mary Jo his arm. She accepted it and the pair strolled away from the schoolyard.
* * * *
Mary Jo Burnett. From the moment Rafe first laid eyes upon the nine year-old girl, he could not get enough of her. In fact, it did not take long for the pair to become a romantic twosome.
Rafe developed a habit of escorting Mary Jo home, after school. In doing so, he missed the school bus that usually conveyed him to his farm. But he did not care. Especially since either Mr. Burnett or his dad would give him a ride home.
During his growing romance with Mary Jo, Rafe learned that the Burnetts originally came from Arkansas. Little Rock, Arkansas. Mary Jo’s daddy happened to be one of those men who helped local farmers with their crops. Mr. Burnett was one of those what Daddy called an agriculturist, who worked for the Federal government.
Despite his new relationship with Mary Jo, Rafe made sure that he spent some time with Danny. He had hoped that his best friend and his best girl would become close friends. Mary Jo seemed willing. Whenever she invited Rafe over to her house, she always included Danny in the invitation. The latter usually had an excuse not to join them. Only when Mary Jo became unavailable, did Rafe spend time with Danny.
Rafe enjoyed those increasingly rare times with Danny. However, any time spent with his best friend could not deter his feelings toward the lovely Mary Jo. He realized that he had found the love of his life. Okay, he was only ten year-old and would turn eleven in April. But Rafe recalled that his mama once told him that she and Daddy had once been childhood sweethearts. If his parents could end up married, he decided, so could he and Mary Jo.
One Saturday afternoon in late March, Rafe expressed his desires to Danny. “I’m gonna marry Mary Jo, one day,” he announced. The two friends stood in the middle of a field behind the McCawley barn, tossing a baseball back and forth.
Danny’s arm paused in mid-air, after catching one of Rafe’s tosses. He stared at the older boy with an expression Rafe could not fathom. “Marry?” A frown darkened Danny’s countenance. “You’re in love with that girl, or something?”
“Her name is Mary Jo. And yeah, I’m in love with her. I plan to make her my wife.” Rafe spoke with his usual self-assurance.
Disbelief now shone in Danny’s eyes. “What you talking about, Rafe? You’re almost eleven. You’re too young to get married!”
“Not now, dummy!” Unbeknownst to Rafe, Danny winced. “Later. When we’re grown up. I plan to marry Mary Jo, just like Daddy married Mama. They also used to be childhood sweethearts.”
Danny’s eyes focused on the large, red barn, beyond. “Oh.
Rafe noticed his friend’s lackluster response and frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t you want me to get married?”
Danny shrugged his shoulders. “Sure. I reckon. Only . . .” He sighed.
“Only what?” Rafe demanded.
“What about flying? I thought we were gonna join the Army, together. Become pilots, like your daddy did during the war.”
Rafe retorted, “Of course we are! That don’t mean I can’t get married. Army officers get married too, you know!”
“Yeah.” Danny tossed the baseball at Rafe. Who neatly caught it.
At that moment, Rafe decided that he had enough of Danny’s tepid attitude. Every since he met Mary Jo, his friend seemed to be in a snit. Which led Rafe to wonder what Danny had against her. “You don’t like Mary Jo, do you?” he said, as he rushed forward to confront the younger boy. “Well?”
Danny’s face turned red. He mumbled, “Course I like her.”
Rafe could usually tell when his friend was lying. Like now. “Oh yeah?” he continued, “Then why do you always have something else to do when Mary Jo invites you to her house?”
A resentful tone resonated in Danny’s voice. “Hey, she’s your girl, not mine!”
“What’s that suppose to mean?” Rafe thrust his face just inches away from Danny’s.
The other boy scowled. “Back off, Rafe! I don’t feeling like arguing with you!”
“That’s too bad! You should have thought of that before you made those scurrilous remarks about Mary Jo!”
“What are you talking about? You don’t even know what ‘scurrilous’ mean!” Danny shouted back.
Rage gripped Rafe. If there was one thing he hated, were insults about his reading and spelling inabilities. He dropped his mitt and the baseball and tackled the younger boy. The two friends wrestled for a few seconds, before Rafe managed to pin Danny to the ground. “Now what was that you said about Mary Jo?”
“I didn’t say nothing!” Danny shot back. He squirmed to free himself from Rafe’s grip, but to no avail. “But if you must know, I don’t like her! Not one bit! I hate that she gets to spend more time with you, than I do!”
Danny’s frank confession shocked Rafe. Dazed, the older boy released his friend. “What are you saying, Danny?” he asked quietly.
“What do you think? You spend every chance you can get with Mary Jo! I hardly get to see you anymore! How do you think that makes me feel?”
Rafe calmly replied, “Mary Jo has asked you over, a couple of times. You always turn her down.”
“Because it’s obvious that you wanna be with her and not me! You’ve made that quite clear, ever since you met her! You always walk her home! And you two always spend time together, either during lunch or any other time. I want it to be the way it used to be, Rafe! Before Mary Jo, we used to be like brothers! But now . . .” Danny struggled to his feet and glared accusingly at Rafe. “Now, I don’t know what we are, anymore!” He quickly raced away.
Rafe called after his friend. “Danny? Hey Danny!” Unfortunately, the other boy did not hear. Or simply ignored him, leaving behind a stunned and bewildered ten year-old.
His argument with Danny plagued Rafe’s thoughts over the next several days. To the point that it created a schism in his relationship with Mary Jo. The day following the argument, Rafe did not bother to escort her home. He excused himself on the grounds of an emergency at home. After that first day, he did not bother to make any more excuses. Rafe simply boarded the school bus without saying a word. For a while, Rafe wondered why he even bothered. Especially since Danny usually subjected him to the silent treatment during those bus rides home.
One blustery Friday, Mary Jo finally confronted Rafe during the lunch period, in the schoolyard. She demanded to know why he avoided her for nearly a week. When Rafe failed to give her an adequate explanation, Mary Jo accused him of growing weary of her. Their subsequent argument spelled the end of the romance.
Later that afternoon, Rafe boarded the school bus for home. Just seconds after he sat down, a second figure filled the empty seat next to him. It was Danny.
During the first half of the Twentieth Century, poet and historian Carl Sandburg wrote a six-volume biography on the life of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Years passed before David Wolper (“ROOTS”, “THE THORN BIRDS”, and the “NORTH AND SOUTH” TRILOGY) produced a six-part miniseries on Lincoln’s life and career, based upon Sandburg’s work.
“LINCOLN” is not what I would your usual biography with a straight narrative. With the exception of one episode that centered on Lincoln acting as a defense attorney in the 1830s and another that focused on the period between his first election and inauguration, the majority of the episodes centered on his administration during the U.S. Civil War. And not in any particular order. Below is a list for those who prefer to watch the entire miniseries in chronological order:
(1.03) “Prairie Lawyer” – Lincoln goes against future political adversary Stephen A. Douglas when he defends physician Dr. Henry B. Truett against murder charges in 1838.
(2.02) “Crossing Fox River” – This episode covers Lincoln’s life between winning his first presidential election in November 1860 and attending his first inauguration in March 1861.
(1.01) “Mrs. Lincoln’s Husband” – In the wake of the death of the Lincolns’ second son William “Willie”, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln‘s erratic behavior embarrasses and endangers her husband politically when a cabal of Republican senators question her loyalty to the Union.
(1.02) “Sad Figure, Laughing” – Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase and his daughter Kate attempt to undermine President Lincoln’s bid for re-election during the 1864 presidential campaign, when they become aware of how Lincoln’s jokes and stories seem to erode their fellow Republicans’ confidence in him.
(2.01) “The Unwilling Warrior” – Lincoln finds himself forced to learn the art of war, as he searches for the right general to lead the Union Army to victory between 1861 and 1865.
(2.03) “The Last Days” – Following the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House, President Lincoln plans Reconstruction with his cabinet and discusses a post-presidential future with the First Lady.
“LINCOLN” managed to garner a great deal of critical acclaim back in the mid-1970s. Did it deserve it? Perhaps. I found myself somewhat impressed by the production. The miniseries, from a visual point-of-view, has managed to hold up rather well in the past forty years. Aside from the exterior shots, the photography struck me as somewhat sharp and colorful, thanks to cinematographer Howard Schwartz . More importantly, director George Schaefer managed to avoid that “filmed play” aspect that had tainted many British television productions and a few American productions. Somewhat. There were a few scenes that seemed to stretch a tad too long in “LINCOLN”, but not fortunately long enough to stretch my patience too thin.
A part of me wishes that “LINCOLN” had included more scenes of Lincoln’s life before the Civil War. The 1974-76 miniseries must be the first of three productions titled “LINCOLN” – the other two being the 1988 miniseries and the 2012 Steven Spielberg movie – that seemed to be about Lincoln’s years in the White House. Another aspect of this miniseries that I found a bit odd is that it did not feature any African-American characters, other than the occasional extra portraying a White House servant. I think. There is a chance that my memory might be playing tricks with me. I simply find it odd that a production about a U.S. president who had such a strong impact on the history of African-Americans . . . did not feature any black supporting characters. No Elizabeth Keckley, the Washington D.C. seamstress who became Mrs. Lincoln’s personal modiste and close companion, or Frederick Douglass, who had met Lincoln in 1863. Considering Lincoln’s overly cautious approach on the subjects of abolition and civil rights, there is a chance that producer David Wolper feared that Lincoln’s reputation as an emancipator would have slightly eroded. It was okay to discuss slavery, which the production did . . . but not with any real depth.
The miniseries certainly did not hesitate to display Lincoln’s ruthlessness and talent for political manipulation. Even when those traits were occasionally clouded by compassion, humor and verbosity, it was on display. This was especially apparent in two episodes – namely “Sad Figure, Laughing”, in which Lincoln had to deal with the political machinations of Salmon Chase for the Republican nomination for President in 1864; and in “The Unwilling Warrior”, in which he dealt with one general after another in his search for the one military leader who could deal with the Army of Northern Virginia and Robert E. Lee.
But the two performances that outshone the others came from Hal Holbrook and Sada Thompson as the presidential couple, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. This is not really surprising. Of the three productions I have seen about Lincoln, the actors and actresses who have portrayed this couple have all given superb performances. This was the case for both Holbrook and Thompson. Holbrook seemed to have some special connection to the 16th president. The 1974-76 miniseries marked the first time he portrayed the role. He also portrayed Lincoln in the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” and he appeared in the 2012 Steven Spielberg movie as an old political crony of the President’s, Francis P. Blair. Holbrook’s portrayal of Lincoln could have easily strayed into the realm of folksy idealism. The actor did not completely reveal the more negative aspects of Lincoln’s character, but he did a superb job in conveying not only the President’s style of humor, but also his political savvy and a temper that can be fearsome. In an odd way, Sada Thompson had the easier job portraying First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Hollywood productions are more inclined to explore the more negative aspects of her personality than Lincoln’s. What I enjoyed about Thompson’s performance is that she still managed to make Mrs. Lincoln a likable person, despite the character flaws. It is not surprising that Holbrook won an Emmy for his performance and Thompson earned a nomination. Both of them deserved the accolades.
There are aspects of “LINCOLN” that I found questionable. Well . . . my main problem is that the production did not focus enough on the question of slavery, which I found rather odd, considering the subject matter. I also wish that the miniseries had included more scenes of Abraham Lincoln’s life before the Civil War. Now some television viewers might find the scattered narrative somewhat disconcerting. I simply figured out the chronological order of the episodes and watched them in that manner. But overall, “LINCOLN” is a first-rate miniseries about the 16th President that holds up rather well, thanks to George Schaefer’s direction and a skillful cast led by the talented Hal Holbrook and Sada Thompson.
Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the Syfy Channel series, “EUREKA”. Created by Andrew Cosby and Jaime Paglia, the series starred Colin Ferguson:
FIVE FAVORITE “EUREKA” SEASON ONE (2006) Episodes
1. (1.03) “Before I Forget” – Occurrences of short-term memory loss begin afflicting the citizens of Eureka, when visiting scientists arrive in town, forcing Sheriff Jack Carter and Dr. Henry Deacon to determine the cause behind the phenomenon. Tamlyn Tomita and Andrew Airlie guest-starred.
2. (1.12) “Once in a Lifetime” – After another lab accident Jack wakens to a Eureka set in an alternate future. Tamlyn Tomita guest-starred.
3. (1.08) “Right As Raynes” – Odd fluctuations in computer-controlled environments may have something to do with the return of a former Eureka citizen, a computer programmer named Callister Raynes, who has past connections with Global Dynamics CEO Nathan Stark and Deputy Sheriff Jo Lupo. David Paetkau guest-starred.
4. (1.01) “Pilot” – After a strange accident sidelines Eureka’s sheriff, Jack, then a U.S. Marshal, takes over the investigation into the mysterious phenomenon that led to a resident’s death, while traveling through town with his teenage daughter Zoe. Maury Chaykin, Rob LaBelle and Greg Germann guest-starred.
5. (1.11) “H.O.U.S.E. Rules” – Following Henry’s decision to leave Eureka and Jack considering to do the same; S.A.R.A.H., the artificial intelligence (A.I.) for the latter’s home, traps Carter, Henry, and others in order to protect Eureka from being abandoned by many.
Six years had passed since I last saw a movie based upon a William Shakespeare play. Needless to say, I was not that impressed by it. In fact, I went out of my way to avoid another cinematic adaptation of one of the playwright’s works for years. Image my surprise when I discovered that the 1954 movie movie, “BROKEN LANCE” proved to be another.
Although set in the Old West of the 1880s, “BROKEN LANCE” is based upon elements from Shakespeare’s 1606 play, “King Lear”. It is also a remake of the 1949 movie, “HOUSE OF STRANGERS”, but critics have found connections to the play a lot stronger in the 1954 Western. The latter told the story of an Arizona cattle baron named Matt Devereaux, who has tried to raise his four sons – Ben, Mike, Denny and Joe – with the same hard-working spirit that has made him a successful rancher. However, Devereaux had never learned to express affection to his three older sons, as a consequence. His marriage to a Native American woman resulted in a fourth son – the mixed-blood Joe, to whom he was affectionate. Matt’s “tough love” attitude and affection toward Joe led the other three sons to harbor resentment toward their father and racial prejudice toward their half-brother. After disrupting a cattle rustling attempt by his sons, Mike and Denny, Devereaux discovers that 40 of his cattle had died from a polluted stream. He and his sons also discover that a copper mine, located 20 miles away, is responsible for the pollution. Devereaux’s violent reaction to his discovery will not only lead to legal ramifications, but also further disruptions and tragedy.
I have never read “King Lear” or seen any of the screen adaptations of the actual play. Nor have I ever seen “HOUSE OF STRANGERS”. So, I have nothing to compare “BROKEN LANCE” with. All I can say that I enjoyed most of the film and was especially impressed by the film’s strong characterizations. Despite its Old West setting, “BROKEN LANCE” is not your typical Western. In fact, it is easy to see that it is basically a character drama. One might add there are plenty of Westerns that feature strong character drama. True. But aside from a minor gunfight and a brawl in one of the movie’s final scenes, this is no real action in “BROKEN LANCE”. This is a drama set in the Old West. I had no problem with this. Why? Because “BROKEN LANCE” is basically a damn good story about the disintegration of a family. What makes “BROKEN LANCE” a tragedy is that Matt Devereaux is responsible. That “hard-working” spirit that led him to become a wealthy cattle baron and dominate his family, also led his three older sons to dislike and resent him. Devereaux’s “spirit” also affected his business operation, took away three years of his youngest son’s life and in the end, even affected his oldest son.
I was also impressed by how the movie handled the topic of racism in this film. Granted, all of the non-white characters in the film seemed ideally likable – something that human beings of all ethnic and racial groups are incapable of being on a 24/7 basis. But at least they were not portrayed as simple-minded or childlike. Joe Devereaux came the closest to being naive, but that was due to his age. And even he developed into a more hardened personality. One of the best scenes that conveyed the racism that permeated in 1880s Arizona Territory featured Matt Devereaux being asked by the Territorial Governor to keep Joe from furthering any romance with the latter’s daughter, Barbara. It struck me as subtle, insidious, ugly and very effective.
The production values for “BROKEN LANCE” struck me as very admirable. Twentieth-Century Fox, the studio that produced and released the film, developed the CinemaScope camera to achieve wide lens shots – especially for their more prominent films between the early 1950s and late 1960s. Joseph MacDonald’s photography of Arizona and use of the CinemaScope camera struck me as very colorful and beautiful. Also adding to the movie’s late 19th Arizona setting were Lyle Wheeler (who won an Oscar for his work on 1939’s “GONE WITH THE WIND”) and Maurice Ransford’s art direction, the set decorations by Stuart A. Reiss and Walter M. Scott, and the scenic designs by an uncredited Jack Poplin. I also thought that Travilla’s costume designs for the film greatly added to the movie’s setting . . . especially those designs for the costumes worn by Jean Peters and Katy Jurado.
If there is one aspect of “BROKEN LANCE” that bothered me, it was the film’s last scene. I wish I could explain what happened, but I do not want to reveal any spoilers. Needless to say, I found it vague, unsatisfying and a bit unrealistic. I realize that writers Philip Yordan and Richard Murphy, along with director Edward Dmytryk, were more or less trying to follow the ending for “HOUSE OF STRANGERS”. But in doing so, I think they had failed to consider the film’s Western setting, along with the racial and ethnic makeup of the Joe Devereaux character. Otherwise, I had no real problems with the movie.
I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Spencer Tracy was larger than life as the domineering Matt Deveareaux. He has always been one of those performers who can either give a subtle performance, or be very theatrical without chewing the scenery. He managed to be both in “BROKEN LANCE”. I have read a few review of the movie in which some were not that impressed by Robert Wagner’s performance as Deveareaux’s youngest son, Joe. Yes, I could have done with the slight make-up job to indicate Joe’s racial status. But I was impressed by Wagner’s performance. He did a very good job in conveying different aspects of Joe’s personality – from the enthusiastic young man, who is desperate to maintain peace within his family to the embittered man, who finally realizes how much his older half-brothers disliked him. Another excellent performance came Richard Widmark, who portrayed Deveareaux’s oldest son, Ben. There were times when Widmark almost seemed as larger than life as Tracy. Yet, he reigned in his performance a little tighter. But what I really found interesting about Widmark’s performance is that despite his character’s resentment of Deveareaux and racist dislike of Joe, he seemed to have a clear head on his shoulders and an awareness of how business had changed in the later years of the Old West. The only acting Oscar nomination went to Katy Jurado, who portrayed Deveareaux’s second wife, “Señora” Devereaux. I am a little perplexed by this nomination. Granted, she gave a very good performance as a Native American woman trying to maintain peace between her husband and three stepsons. But there was nothing about her performance that I thought deserved an Oscar nod. Frankly, I found her performance in 1952’s “HIGH NOON” a lot more impressive.
Jean Peters portrayed the Governor’s daughter and Joe’s love interest, Barbara. I thought she gave a spirited, yet charming performance. I was also impressed by how Peters conveyed Barbara’s strong-will and open-minded nature in regard to Joe’s Native American ancestry. Remember my comments about that scene between Deveareaux and the Governor? I believe what made this scene particularly effective were the performances of both Tracy and E.G. Marshall as the Governor. In fact, I would say that Marshall’s skillful conveyance of the Governor’s insidious racism in regard to Joe really sold this scene. Although their roles seemed lesser as Deveareaux’s second and third sons Mike and Denny, I thought both Hugh O’Brian and Earl Holliman gave effective performances. O’Brian’s Mike struck me as an insidious personality, who seemed to hover in the background, watching older brother Ben and their father battle over the family’s fortunes. And Holliman was equally effective as the gutless pushover Denny, who seemed more interested in clinging to whomever could make his life more easy than any resentful feelings toward his father and younger brother. The movie also featured solid performances from Eduard Franz, Carl Benton Reid and Philip Ober.
In the end, I rather liked “BROKEN LANCE” . . . a lot. I knew from my past viewing of the film that it was not a traditional Western, but more of a character-driven drama. And I thought director Edward Dmytryk, along with writers Philip Yordan and Richard Murphy did a first-rate job of translating William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to this family drama set in the Old West. The movie also boasted first-rate performances from a cast led by Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner. My only problem with the movie proved to be its last five minutes or so. I found the ending rather vague and lacking any consideration of the Old West setting and the racial background of the Joe Deveareaux character. Otherwise, I no further problems with the film.
Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of the Netflix series, “THE CROWN”. Created by Peter Morgan, the series starred Claire Foy and Matt Smith as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:
TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE CROWN” SEASON TWO (2017)
1. (2.05) “Marionettes” – After Queen Elizabeth II makes a tone-deaf speech at a Jaguar factory, she and the British monarchy come under public attack by an outspokern liberal peer named Lord Altrincham.
2. (2.03) “Lisbon” – Palace insiders try to prevent the scandalous divorce of the Duke of Edinburgh’s aide, Lieutenant-Commander Mike Parker, that could reflect poorly on the former and the monarchy. Prime Minister Anthony Eden faces censure from his cabinet and the press over the Suez Crisis.
3. (2.09) “Paterfamilias” – Prince Philip insists that Prince Charles attend Gordonstoun, his alma mater in Scotland. Also, he reminisces about the life-changing difficulties he experienced there as a student.
4. (2.07) “Matrimonium” – A heartbreaking letter from former lover Peter Townsend spurs Princess Margaret to make a bold proposal to her current lover, photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. The Queen has good news that causes complications for Margaret.
5. (2.02) “A Company of Men” – Elizabeth feels disconnected from Philip during his five-month royal tour in the South Pacific. Meanwhile, Eden copes with ill health and international pressure to withdraw British troops from Egypt during the Suez Crisis.
The year between 2011 and 2012 had been a busy period for the Brothers Grimm. During that period, there have been two television shows and two movies that featured their work. At least one television series and the two movies retold the literary pair’s story about Snow White, including the 2012 film, “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN”.
Directed by Rupert Sanders; and written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” is a twist on the Snow White tale in which the Huntsman not only becomes the princess’ savior, but also her protector and mentor. In this tale, Snow White is a princess of Tabor and the daughter of King Magnus and Queen Eleanor. After the Queen’s death, King Magnus marries a beautiful woman named Ravenna after rescuing her from an invading force of glass soldiers. As it turns out, Ravenna is a powerful sorceress that controls the glass soldiers. She kills Magnus on their wedding night and seizes control of Tabor. Duke Hammond and his son William (Snow White’s childhood friend) manages to escape the castle. But Snow White is captured by Ravenna’s brother Finn and imprisoned in one of the castle’s towers.
As a decade passes, Ravenna drains the youth from the kingdom’s young women in order to maintain her youth and beauty. When Snow White comes of age, Ravenna learns from her Magic Mirror that the former is destined to destroy her, unless she consumes the young woman’s heart. When Finn is ordered to bring Snow White before Ravenna, the princess manages to escape into the Dark Forest. Eric the Huntsman is a widower who has survived the Dark Forest, and is brought before Ravenna. She orders him to lead Finn in pursuit of Snow White, in exchange for her promise to revive his dead wife. But when Eric learns from Finn that Ravenna will not be able to resurrect his wife, he helps Snow White escape through the Forest. Snow White later promises him gold if he would escort her to Duke Hammond’s Castle. Meanwhile, the Duke’s son William manages to infiltrate Finn’s band in order to find Snow White on his own.
What can I say about “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN”? It is not perfect. Well . . . I had at least two minor and one major problems with the movie. The two minor problems centered around the performances of Chris Hemsworth (Eric the Huntsman) and Charlize Theron (Ravenna). Basically, both gave first-rate performances. I cannot deny that. But . . . there were moments during the movie’s first half hour in which I found it difficult to comprehend Hemsworth’s accent? Was he trying to use a working-class Scots or English accent? Or was he using his own Australian accent? I could not tell. As for Theron . . . she had a few moments of some truly hammy acting. But only a few moments. But the major problem centered around the character of Snow White.
The movie’s final showpiece featured a battle between Snow White and Ravenna’s forces at Tabor’s Castle. The battle also featured the princess fighting along with both Eric and William. When on earth did Snow White learn combat fighting? When? She spent most of the movie’s first thirty minutes either as a young girl or imprisoned in the Castle. I figured that Eric, William or both would teach her how to fight in combat before their forces marched back to Tabor. The movie featured a scene in which Eric taught Snow White on how to stab someone up close . . . but nothing else.
The only reasons I wanted to see “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” were the visual effects and the fact that I was a fan of ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME”. That is it. Otherwise, I would not have bothered to pay a ticket to see this film. But I am glad that I did. Because I enjoyed it very much, despite its flaws. Thanks to Daugherty, Hancock and Amini’s script, “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” is part epic, part road movie, part fantasy horror tale and part romance. For me, all of these aspects made this tale about Snow White fascinating to me. And Snow White has never been one of my favorite fairy tales. Director Rupert Sanders not only meshed these attributes into an exciting movie. More importantly, his direction gave the movie a steady pace. I find it amazing that “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” is Sanders’ first feature film.
The most interesting aspect about the film was its love triangle between Snow White, Eric and William. Although Eric was originally supposed to be nothing more than a savior and mentor for Snow White, someone made the decision to add a little spice to their relationship. I suspect that this had something to do with Hemsworth’s age and his chemistry with star Kristin Stewart. The movie did not end with Snow White romantically clenched with one man or the other. Although some people were either disturbed or annoyed at this deliberately vague ending, I was not. I suspect that if Snow White had chosen either Eric or William, she would not have found her choice an easy one – either politically or romantically.
There are other aspects of “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” that I found admirable. One, I was impressed by Dominic Watkins’ production designs, which ranged from horror to light fantasy. I was afraid that the movie would visually turn out to be another fantasy production with another second-rate “LORD OF THE RINGS” look about it. Watkins’ designs were ably enhanced by the special effects team led by Vince Abbott and Greig Fraser’s beautiful photography. And I loved Colleen Atwood’s costume designs. She did a great job for most of the cast. But her designs for Charlize Theron’s evil queen were outstanding. Take a look:
The performances featured in “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” struck me as pretty damn good. The revelations of the actors portraying the Seven Dwarfs took me by surprised. Toby Jones was the first to catch my eye. Then I realized that a who’s who of well known British character actors were portraying the dwarves – Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, and Eddie Marsan. They were all entertaining, especially Hoskins, McShane and Marsan. More importantly, I was very impressed by their roles in the movie’s final battle. Sam Spruell’s performance as Ravenna’s sleazy brother Finn sruck me as almost as frightening as Charlize Theron’s Queen Ravenna. But only almost. Despite her moments of hammy acting, Theron nearly scared the pants off me, making her Evil Queen just as frightening as the one featured in the 1937 Disney animated film or the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME”.
I must admit that I was not that impressed by Sam Claflin’s performance as the missionary in 2011’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”. But I suspect that was due to the role he was stuck with. “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” provided him with a much better role as the aristocratic William, who felt guilty over his and his father’s failure to prevent Snow White’s imprisonment following the King’s death. Not only was Claflin was able to strut his stuff in a more interesting role and prove that he could be a first-rate action hero; he also had surprisingly great chemistry with both Stewart and Hemsworth. As for the Australian actor, he was superb as the grieving huntsman, Eric. Okay, I had a few problems with his questionable accent during the movie’s first half hour. However, he overcame that flaw and gave a great and emotionally satisfying performance as a man whose destructive grieving was overcome by his relationship with Snow White. And he also proved that he was more than an action star in a scene in which he gave a beautiful soliloquy regarding Eric’s feelings for the princess. The belle of the ball – at least for me – was actress Kristen Stewart. I must be honest. I am not a fan of the “TWILIGHT” movies or Stewart’s role of Bella Swann. But I certainly enjoyed her performance as Snow White in this film. For the first time, Stewart seemed to be portraying a character that seemed animated, interesting and pro-active. She has great chemistry with both Hemsworth and Claflin. And she did surprisingly well in the action sequences . . . especially in Snow White’s confrontation with Ravenna. I hope to see Stewart in more roles like this.
I heard rumors that due to the movie’s surprising success, Universal Pictures had hopes to release a sequel to “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN”. I do not think this was a good idea. Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie very much, despite its flaws. The script proved to be an interesting mixture of fantasy, horror, comedy, romance and a road trip. And the cast, led by Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, was first-rate. But considering how the movie ended, I never saw the need for a sequel. Universal eventually made a prequel to this film about the Eric and Ravenna. And yes, I found it unsatisfying. Especially since I felt more than satisfied with this particular film.
The following is Chapter Nine of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Nine – Independence and Westport
May 2, 1849 Independence at last! After nearly six weeks on the road, Alice and I have finally completed the first stage of our journey to California. Only twenty-five years old, Independence had developed from a crude, frontier town into a rich metropolis filled with dry goods stores, barber shops, grog shops, harness shops, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and emporiums. Whatever an emigrant needed for the overland journey, Independence provided it.
Alice and I visited a livery stable that provided new stock to pull our wagon. Both Mr. James and Mr. Wendell had suggested we trade my horses for mules. We met a Negro named Hiram Young, who happened to be the best wagon maker in this part of the country. At least according to Mr. James. What supplies we could not find in Independence, we came upon in a meadow that stretched from the city to the little Missouri River port of Westport. Nearly every inch of that meadow was filled with tents, huts, sheds, and lean-tos. And from them, merchants, farmers and other workmen provided goods and services to the emigrants.
Traveling across that meadow, our little caravan seemed trapped by a sea of humanity, buildings and animals. Kanzas Landing, which was located at the edge of Westport, seemed no better. White, black, olive and bronze faces had assembled there. Mountain men of every color, the Mexican drivers for the Santa Fe Trail, soldiers, Indians,, merchants, river men and emigrants. Especially emigrants. There was a moment when I feared I would not be able to breathe.
We finally halted near the edge of a high bank that overlooked the Missouri’s brownish-gray waters. People, wagons and freight were disembarking from a two-deck sternwheeler. Our Pennsylvania companions finally bid the rest of us good-bye. It was time for them to search for an Oregon-bound wagon train. And not many of them were departing Western Missouri this year. Instead of searching for a wagon company bound for California, we decided to form our own company right there, with Mr. Robbins acting as president, Mr. James as our guide and Mr. Wendell as scout.
Two wagons joined us within three hours after the formation of the wagon company. Two brothers from Vermont – Richard and Warren Palmer – owned the first wagon. They were a gregarious lot who were talkative, inquisitive and always had a joke on their lips. Tall, burly and freckled, the sandy-haired Vermonters seemed quite a contrast to the staid image of New Englanders. The second wagon joined our little company at the end of the day. Unlike the Palmers, Horace Bryant and Joel Moore of Evansville, Indiana did not talk that much. I could almost say that they were not very social. During our first night at Westport, they remained inside their wagon, while the rest of us listened to Mr. James’ tall tales and the Palmers’ jokes.
Our newcomers had one thing in common – they possessed plenty of equipment for mining gold. They had picks, shovels, patent tents, some new-fangled machine for purifying gold (I do not have the foggiest idea what it was called) and believe it or not, mackintosh boats. A mackintosh boat in the gold fields? Whatever for? What the Palmers, Mr. Bryant and Mr. Moore lacked was food. In fact, they hardly had any room in their wagons for food. And both parties continued to use horses to pull their wagons. Mr. James announced his intentions to rectify their situation.
May 3, 1849 Two more wagons joined our company. The first wagon belonged to a Tennessee dry goods merchant named Ralph Goodwin and his twenty year-old son, Jonas. There were not exactly a friendly pair, but they seemed more approachable than the two friends from Evansville. The Goodwins seemed slightly uncomfortable by Alice’s presence and mine. Yet, they regarded Mr. Wendell with suspicious eyes. They had obviously heard about the runaway near Franklin. But since the town was clear across the state and the wagon company was scheduled to depart Westport tomorrow morning, they could do nothing.
The second wagon belonged to a family named Gibson from Western New York. Mr. James pointed out that this was rare for wagons heading for California this year. Most wagon parties with children were bound for Oregon. California may have been fine for families in the past. But with the Gold Rush, the former Mexican province seemed like the last destination for children, let alone women. I found myself wondering if I had been wise to bring Alice along on this journey.