“Altered Lives” [PG-13] – Chapter Five

“ALTERED LIVES”

CHAPTER FIVE

CORUSCANT

Palpatine glanced up from the data pad in his hand, as Sly Moore entered his office. She bowed to the new Emperor. “Pardon me, Your Highness. Senator Jaren Tagge of Bonadan awaits your presence.”

The Emperor quickly switched off his data pad and tossed it on his desk. “Send him in.” The Umbaran female started to turn away, when Palpatine added, “Also, send in the Jedi prisoner . . . after you have escorted Senator Tagge into my office.”

Sly Moore nodded and left the office. Nearly a minute later, she returned with the senator from Bonadan, Jaren Tagge. A stocky human with pale skin and pale blue eyes, Senator Tagge happened to be a scion from a wealthy family that has represented Bonadan for the past twelve years. “Your Highness!” the visitor greeted Palpatine with a low bow. “As you can see, I have returned from Naboo. Very sad business. Very sad.” He spoke with the sincerity of a smuggler from the Outer Rim.

“Ah yes,” Palpatine responded with equal insincerity. “Senator Amidala’s funeral. I regret not being there. Considering that she had represented my homeworld.”

Senator Tagge heaved a feigned sigh. “And to have died so young . . . and violently.” He paused, as a sly expression crept across his solid face. “By the way, did you know that she was with child at the time of her death?”

“Really?” Palpatine crowed inwardly at the comment. He had seen the news report of Amidala’s funeral and recalled noticing her pregnant body being carried through the streets of Theed. The HoloNet News Service made no mention of the late senator’s pregnant state. Obviously, the news service had decided to respect Nabooan tradition of respecting the citizens’ private lives. It seemed that Senator Tagge could not care less about Nabooan tradition. Palpatine felt greatly relieved. He already has to live with the idea of Anakin Skywalker no longer within his grasp. A possible encounter with both Skywalker and his offspring could have proven to be a greater threat.

“I wonder who was the father.”

Palpatine deliberately hesitated. “I am not in the habit of spreading rumors, mind you, but I have been aware of a . . . friendship between the late senator and a young Jedi Knight.”

Pale blue eyes widened with surprise . . . and pleasure. “A Jedi? No wonder they had her killed. I never believed the story that Senator Amidala had merely been caught up in the Jedi’s attempt to grab control of the Senate.”

Heaving a mournful sigh, Palpatine replied, “I can only say that we will never know the truth. By the way,” he sat down in the chair behind his desk, “I wanted to discuss another matter. Namely, the hyperbarides that your family’s corporation has been supplying the Empire. I . . .” He paused dramatically. “I have just received word from your sister-in-law, the Baroness, that the Tagge Company insists upon charging the Empire 1,000 credits per kilo for the mineral. Is this true?”

Tagge’s demeanor stiffened. The obsequious politician with a taste for gossip had disappeared. In its place appeared a cool and ruthless businessman. “Yes, I’m afraid so, Your Highness. My sister-in-law had been foolish to promise you that the price for the hyperbarides would remain at 600 credits per kilo. Considering the recent political upheavals and the costs of the war, we felt it was best to raise the prices. After all, hyperbarides is very expensive to mine.”

Palpatine gave the politician a long, hard stare. He considered using the Force to manipulate the senator’s thoughts. But instinct told him that corrupt or not, Jaren Tagge was not weak-minded. The Tagge family possessed a reputation for their business acumen, ruthlessness and strong will. So that left . . .

His office door slid open, revealing Sly Moore. The Umbaran aide entered the room. “Pardon me, Your Highness. The Jedi prisoner is here. I believe you wanted to see him before we send him to the detention center for execution.”

“He’s here?” Palpatine asked, feigning surprise.

Sly Moore hesitated. “Why . . . yes. He is . . . in the corridor, outside. I wanted to make sure . . .”

“Send him in,” Palpatine ordered. “I want to speak to him, one last time.”

A frowning Tagge spoke up. “Pardon me Your Highness, but is that wise? He could be a danger to you.”

Playing her role to perfection, Sly Moore added, “The Jedi traitor has been slightly drugged. He is in no condition to be a threat.”

Palpatine nodded. “Send him in,” he repeated.

Sly Moore bowed and disappeared into the corridor. Seconds later, she returned with two red-clad Imperial Guards escorting a slightly dazed Romulus Wort. “Like I said, he is slightly drugged,” the aide added.

From the corner of his eye, Palpatine saw his aide surreptiously inject the Jedi prisoner’s arm with a needle . . . something to purge the drug from the latter’s blood system. It did not take long for Wort to lose his dazed expression. “What hap . . .?” He glanced down at the shackles that bound his wrists. They snapped open. Tagge jumped back in fear. Using the Force, Palpatine refastened the shackles. The Jedi Knight stared at him with sheer hatred. The Sith Lord could barely contain his revelry in the young man’s emotions. This should prove to be interesting.

“So, this is the Jedi,” Tagge pronounced in a sneering voice. “Guardians of the galaxy. Or should I say . . . usurpers?” The Bonadanian senator regarded Wort with contempt. “Tell me Jedi, were you into seducing female senators, as well?”

Wort stared at Senator Tagge with shock and confusion. “What?”

The Bonadanian ignored the younger man’s question, as he snorted with derision. “Jedi scum! You know, clone troopers managed to find two of your kind hiding out on my homeworld. Thankfully, they were cut down like the scum they were. It’s a shame that you’ll receive a military execution.” He turned to Palpatine. “Your Highness, may I ask how you had captured him?”

The Emperor replied smoothly, “Our Imperial troopers found him inside the Jedi Temple.” He found himself enjoying Tagge’s harassment of the young Jedi. The Bonadanian not only enjoyed gossip, but intimidating his lesser opponents. This made Tagge well feared in the Senate.

“Probably hiding, while his comrades were finally being rid of.” Tagge returned his attention to Wort. “You! Jedi! Did you hide, while your comrades were being killed? How did it feel to betray the Senate? To betray the Re . . . the Empire? I bet you enjoyed it.” A sly smile curved his lips. “Just as you must have enjoyed Senator Amidala’s favors. Were you the piece of scum who had conceived a child with her?

In a timely fashion, Palpatine intervened. “Now, Senator. Even though Senator Amidala had a relationship with one of the Jedi Knights, I do not believe that Master Wort here, was the father of her child.”

Wort’s eyes widened in shock. “Senator Amidala was . . .?” He shook his head. “That means Ana . . .”

Nodding, Tagge interrupted. “I believe you may be right, Your Highness. I doubt very much that this . . .” He sneered at the Jedi Knight. “. . . this scum has the energy, let alone the imagination to warm the late senator’s bed. I can only imagine which Jedi filth had been responsible.” He threw back his head in raucous laughter.

The next few minutes happened so fast that it nearly took Palpatine’s breath away. Once more, Wort’s restraints snapped open. He shook them off, grabbed one of the guard’s pike and knocked both guards to the floor. Then the Jedi Knight let out a roar and swung the pike Senator Tagge’s head. Three times. His left temple bleeding profusely, the senator slowly slumped to the floor. Palpatine quickly intervened by using the Force to thwack the back of Wort’s neck, causing the latter to fall to his knees, bleeding.

“Good!” Palpatine cackled. “Very good!”

The second Imperial Guard examined the unconscious senator and announced sonorously, “He is dead.”

“I assumed as much,” the Emperor coolly replied. “Leave us. All of you.” The guard dragged his unconscious colleague out of the office. A slightly shaken Sly Moore followed closely behind. Once the door slid shut, Palpatine turned to the slightly injured Jedi Knight. “Congratulations, Master Wort. I’m afraid that Senator Tagge was becoming quite a problem for me. However, you have managed to solve it, quite well.”

Wort’s eyes regarded Tagge’s body with horror. “What have I done? I didn’t mean to hurt . . . I mean . . . He was saying all those horrible things about the Jedi. I had to shut him up.”

“Of course you did,” Palpatine replied in his most sympathetic voice. “But you must realize that you have just murdered a member of the Senate and a member of a prominent family. The Bonadanians, and especially the Tagge family will not take kindly to learning of his murder.”

“It’s not true,” Wort demanded, “about Senator Amidala being pregnant, is it?”

Palpatine sighed. “She was pregnant. Both she and the unborn child did not survive the recent upheaval, thanks to the child’s father.” He paused. “And I am quite certain that you now know his identity.”

Disbelief and rage formed storm clouds within Wort’s eyes. “Skywalker! This is all his fault! He is responsible! I never trusted him. Even from the day when he first joined the Order! And now, this? He had an illicit affair with Senator Amidala?”

“Yes, that did come as a surprise,” Palpatine murmured. “Along with the unborn child.”

Rage literally poured from Wort’s eyes. “Where is he? Where is Skywalker? Before you execute me, I should at least have the chance to kill him! He deserves nothing less!”

Coolly, Palpatine faced the young Jedi. “I’m afraid that Skywalker is . . . missing. Disappeared. He has failed to return from an assignment on Mustafar.”

“Is he dead?”

“Oh no, my young Jedi. No, I believe that he is still alive.” Palpatine paused before he murmured, “Or else I would have sensed otherwise.”

Wort’s dark eyes bored into Palpatine’s. “So, he has betrayed you, as well. I’m still asking for that chance.”

Palpatine returned Wort’s stare. “I sense a great desire to exact revenge, Master Wort. If that is what you truly desire, there is only one path in which to attain it.” He paused dramatically. “By my side.”

For a long moment, Wort hesitated. His eyes reflected a conflict between his past loyalties and oath and a new desire to inflict pain. The latter finally won out, as he slowly knelt on one knee. His face trembling with emotion, Wort declared, “The Jedi is gone. The Order no longer exists. Everyone that mattered to me in my life is . . . gone. I’ve committed murder . . . in cold blood.” His eyes once again expressed rage. “And that scum, Skywalker roams the galaxy. There is nothing left for me . . . other than to spill that traitorous scum’s blood. If serving you means allowing me the chance to do so, then so bet it.”

“You cannot back away from this,” Palpatine warned. “One apprentice has already betrayed me. I will not take kindly to another . . .”

Wort resolutely declared, “Unlike Skywalker, I am not in the habit of betraying one’s trust.” He lowered his head. “I will do . . . as you ask. Even if learning the Dark Side will achieve both of our goals. I . . . I pledge myself to the Empire, to the ways of the Sith . . . and to you.”

Palpatine allowed himself a triumphant smile. “Arise, my young apprentice. From now on, you shall be known as Darth Rasche.”

“Yes . . . Master.” The new Darth Rasche rose unsteadily to his feet and faced his new master.

“And now, we need to see about your immediate needs.” Palpatine activated the comlink on his desk. Sly Moore entered the room. “Please tend to Lord Rasche’s injuries. And he will also need new clothes and new quarters. Also, have someone tend to . . . Senator Tagge’s body. I will need to contact Baroness Tagge, as soon as possible.”

Sly Moore bowed. “Yes, Your Highness.” She turned to face Darth Rasche. “Please follow me, my Lord.”

After his aide and new apprentice had left the office, Palpatine strode toward the new windows that overlooked Coruscant’s skyline. Amazing, he thought. In one fell swoop, he had managed to rid himself of a troublesome senator and acquire a new apprentice . . . all at the same time. And this new apprentice might prove to be more malleable than his predecessor.  Anakin Skywalker will rue the day he had turned his back on the Sith.

END OF CHAPTER FIVE

 

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“STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999) Review

 

 

“STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999) Review

Sixteen years after the 1983 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI” hit the movie screens, producer-director George Lucas returned to the world of STAR WARS for a new trilogy that depicted the years before the 1977-1983 movies, starting with the 1999 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” was received very poorly by critics and veteran STAR WARS fans when it was first released in 1999. Many believed that it had failed to capture the spirit of Lucas’ saga first established in the 1977-1983 films. Despite the negative opinions, the movie proved to be a blockbuster champion at the box office. But public opinion of the movie in the following nineteen years remained negative. In fact, public opinion has not been that kind to the two movies that followed. When Lucas announced his intentions to re-release “THE PHANTOM MENACE” in 3D back in 2012, many either wondered why he would bother or accused the producer of trying to milk the STAR WARS cash cow even further. As for me, I received the news with mixed feelings. When the movie was first released in 1999, I must admit that I enjoyed it very much, even though I would never view it as one of my top favorite STAR WARS movies. On the other hand, I despise the 3D process. I despised the use of it in movies like 2009’s “AVATAR” and my feelings for it had not changed when I last saw it used for “THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”.  But my love for STAR WARS overcame my distaste for 3D and I went to see the movie.

Like other STAR WARS, this one began in a galaxy, far, far away . . . thirty-two years before the events of the 1977 movie. Instead of an empire, this story is set during the Old Republic in which knights and masters of the religious Jedi Order serve as “the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy” on behalf of the Republic Senate. A Jedi Master named Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice (or padawan) have been dispatched by the Senate’s Chancellor Finis Valorum to negotiate a peace between the planet Naboo and the Trade Federation, an organization who has decided to establish a blockade of battleships in response to a taxation on trade routes. The Federation has made this move on the “advice” of their partner, a Sith Lord (and enemy of the Jedi) named Darth Sidious. Unfortunately for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, the Trade Federation attempt to kill them on the order of Darth Sidious. Both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape from the Trade Federation battleship and make their way to Naboo’s surface, during the former’s invasion of the planet. The pair enlists the help of Jar-Jar Binks and his fellow Gungans (Naboo’s underwater inhabitants) to reach Queen Padme Amidala, the planet’s 14 year-old ruler. They save her and her entourage, before making their escape from Naboo. Due to a failing power converter, the entire party make an emergency landing on the remote Tatooine in order to find the parts to fix the ship. In one of Tatooine’s major cities, Mos Espa; Qui-Gon, Padme (who is disguised as a royal handmaiden), and Jar-Jar meet a young slave boy named Anakin Skywalker. It is not long before Qui-Gon Their meeting will prove to not only have major consequences on the outcome between Naboo and the Trade Federation, but also upon the galaxy.

My recent viewing of “THE PHANTOM MENACE” made me realize that after 19 years, I still love the movie. Nothing has changed my view of the movie, including the addition of the 3D effects. However, I cannot deny that “THE PHANTOM MENACE” is perfect. I have my complaints. My major complaint was Lucas’ addition of the 3D effects. They were not impressive. I had expected them to be, considering the outstanding 3D effects of the updated STAR WARS attractions at the Disney amusement parks. But the movie’s effects proved to be a poor comparison and a not-so-surprising disappointment. My second complaint centered around the use of Tatooine as a setting. In fact, the saga’s use of Tatooine has proven to be a major disappointment since the first movie, 1977’s “A NEW HOPE”. Aside from a few sequences, Tatooine proved to be a major bore. After Qui-Gon and Padme’s first meeting with Anakin, I had to struggle to stay awake before the podrace sequence. Lucas’ slow pacing and John Williams’ less-than-stellar score nearly put me to sleep. The only movie in which Tatooine proved to be interesting from start to finish was 2002’s “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. I realize that many STAR WARS fans dislike the Gungans and specifically, one Jar-Jar Binks. There are times that I feel I could write a detailed essay on the fans’ dislike of Jar-Jar, but this is not the time or place for such an article. Although I harbor no dislike of Jar-Jar, there were a few times when I had some difficulty understanding his and the other Gungans’ dialogue.

It may not be perfect, but I cannot deny that I found “THE PHANTOM MENACE” enjoyable as ever. George Lucas wrote a complex, yet comprehensive tale that set in motion the downfall of the Galactic Republic, the Jedi Order and most of the major characters. “THE PHANTOM MENACE” offered a great deal for all ages and tastes. It provided a complex political tale that culminated in an exciting military battle that freed Naboo from the clutches of the Trade Federation. It provided an exciting duel between the two Jedi – Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan – and Sith Lord Darth Sidious’ apprentice, Darth Maul. The movie provided characters such as a nine year-old Anakin Skywalker, his Tatooine friends and Jar-Jar Binks for children. But the one thing that really impressed me was the exciting Boonta Eve Podrace that Anakin participated in order to win parts for Qui-Gon, Padme and their ship. In fact, if I had to choose my favorite sequence in the entire STAR WARS movie saga, it had to be the one featuring the podrace. This sequence began with the Skywalkers, Qui-Gon, Padme and Jar-Jar arriving at the Mos Espa arena and ended aboard the Nabooan starship when Qui-Gon introduced Anakin to Obi-Wan, following his brief duel with Darth Maul.

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” provided some solid acting, despite George Lucas’ cheesy dialogue. This is no surprise, considering that a combination of solid acting and cheesy dialogue has been the hallmark of STAR WARS movies since the first one in 1977. Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best, Hugh Quarshie, Terence Stamp, Andrew Secombe and Ray Parks all did solid work. It was nice to hear vocals from STAR WARS veterans Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker. The movie also featured brief moments for British stars such as Keira Knightley, Oliver Ford-Davies, Celia Imrie, Brian Blessed, and Richard Armitage. But there were a few performances that stood out. One came from Ian McDiarmid, who returned to portray Senator Palpatine of Naboo aka Darth Sidious for the second time in his career. Unlike his portrayal of Palpatine in 1983’s “RETURN OF THE JEDI”, his performance was a great deal more subtle and layered with much charm. Jake Lloyd may not have been the best child actor in existence, but I cannot deny that his Anakin Skywalker was like a ball of solar energy that charmed the pants off of me. The good-bye scene between Anakin and his mother, Shmi was one of the most poignant in the saga. Both Lloyd and Pernilla August did such a superb job that their performances brought tears to my eyes. And aside from a few wooden moments, I thought he handled the role rather well. But if I had to choose the best performance in the movie, I would select Liam Neeson as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. First of all, he did a great job in conveying Qui-Gon’s warmth and appeal. He made it easy for many to see why both Anakin and Obi-Wan viewed him as a father figure.

Since this is a STAR WARS movie, one might as well discuss the technical aspects of “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Without a doubt, it is a beautiful looking movie. It was so beautiful that I did not know who to single out. But I can think of a few. First of all cinematographer David Tattersall did a beautiful job in photographing the movie’s locations of England, Tunisia and especially Italy. Thanks to Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith’s editing, the podrace and the Battle of Naboo proved to be two of the best sequences in the movie. And what can I say about Trisha Biggar’s dazzling costume designs? Just how beautiful are they? Take a look:

 

It seems a crime that Biggar’s work was never acknowledged by the Academy Arts of Motion Pictures and Sciences or the Golden Globes. At least she won a Saturn Award for the costumes in this movie.

However, it was George Lucas who put it altogether in the end. Twenty-two years had passed between the time he directed “A NEW HOPE” and “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Personally, I thought he did a pretty damn good job. The 1999 movie was not perfect. And if I must be perfectly frank, I was not impressed by the movie’s 3D effects. But I am glad that I went to see “THE PHANTOM MENACE” in the movie theaters again. It reminded me that the STAR WARS had not lost its magic on the big screen.

 

“STAGECOACH” (1939) Review

Below is my review of the 1939 classic, “STAGECOACH”, which was directed by John Ford: 

“STAGECOACH” (1939) Review

The year 1939 is regarded by many film critics and moviegoers as the best year for Hollywood films. According to them, Hollywood was at the height of its Golden Age, and this particular year saw the release of an unusually large number of exceptional movies, many of which have been honored as memorable classics when multitudes of other films of the era have been largely forgotten. I do not harbor the same view as these critics and moviegoers. I can only view at least a handful of 1939 movies as truly worthwhile movies. However, one of those movies happened to be John Ford’s 1939 classic, ”STAGECOACH”.

Written by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, ”STAGECOACH” was an adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story, ”The Stage to Lordsburg”. It told the story of a group of strangers in 1880, traveling by stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory from Tonto in the Arizona Territory to Lordsburg in New Mexico Territory. Among the group of people traveling together are:

*Dallas (Claire Trevor) – a prostitute who is being driven out of Tonto by the members of the “Law and Order League”

*”Doc” Boone (Thomas Mitchell) – an alcoholic doctor who is also being driven out of Tonto

*Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) – a pregnant, Virginia-born gentlewoman who is traveling to Dry Fork to reconcile with her Army officer husband

*Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek) – a mild mannered whiskey drummer from Kansas City

*Hatfield (John Carradine) – a former Virginia Confederate-turned-gambler, who joins the stagecoach’s other passengers in order to provide protection for Mrs. Mallory

*Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill) – a pompous banker who decides to leave Tonto after embezzling some of the bank’s funds

*Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) – a lawman who decides to serve as the stagecoach’s shotgun guard after learning the escape of Ringo Kid from the territorial prison.

*Buck (Andy Devine) – the slightly nervous stage driver

As the stagecoach starts to pull out, U.S. cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard (Tim Holt) informs the passengers that Geronimo and his Apaches are on the warpath. His small troop will provide an escort until they get to Dry Fork. Along the way, they come across the Ringo Kid, whose horse had become lame and left him afoot. Ringo had escaped from prison after learning that his family’s killers – Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) and his brothers – are in Lordsburg. Even though they are friends, Curly has no choice but to take Ringo into custody.

Although ”STAGECOACH” was an adaptation of Haycox’s short story, John Ford had claimed that the inspiration in expanding the movie beyond the barebones plot given in “The Stage to Lordsburg” was his familiarity with Guy de Maupassant’s 1880 short story set during the Franco-Prussian War called “Boule de Suif”. Many film critics never took Ford’s claim seriously. Instead, many of them believed that ”STAGECOACH” bore a stronger resemblance to Bret Harte’s 1892 short story, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”.

The director had gone through a great deal of trouble to film ”STAGECOACH”. After purchasing the rights to Haycox’s story, Ford tried to shop the project around to several Hollywood studios, but all of them turned him down because Ford insisted on using John Wayne in a key role in the film. Wayne had appeared in only one big-budget western, Raoul Walsh’s 1930 film ”THE BIG TRAIL”, which was a huge box office flop. Wayne had estimated that he appeared in about eighty “Poverty Row” westerns between 1930 and 1939. When Ford approached independent producer Walter Wanger about the project, Wanger had the same reservations about producing an “A” western and even more about one starring John Wayne. Worse, Ford had not directed a western since the silent days, the most notably 1924’s ”THE IRON HORSE”. Wanger said he would not risk his money unless Ford replaced John Wayne with Gary Cooper. Ford refused to budge about replacing Wayne. Eventually, he and Wanger compromised. Wanger put up $250,000, a little more than half of what Ford had been asking for, and Ford would give top billing to Claire Trevor, a far better-known name than John Wayne in 1939. Ford and Wanger’s gamble paid off. ”STAGECOACH” made a healthy return at the box office. Wayne’s star began to rise in Hollywood following the movie’s success. And the movie earned six Academy Award nominations, with Thomas Mitchell winning the Best Supporting Actor award.

”STAGECOACH” is not perfect. The movie has a few problems and most of them centered on the character of Lucy Mallory. One, her character is supposed to be in the last trimester of her pregnancy. Not only did Louise Platt’s Mrs. Mallory did not look pregnant, her character’s introduction featured her jumping out of the stagecoach following its arrival in Tonto. Without any help. Rather odd for a woman who is supposed to be in the late stages of her pregnancy. Both Mrs. Mallory and the whiskey drummer, Samuel Peacock, are the only two passengers who were on route at the beginning of the film. Instead of traveling westward, this particular stagecoach is traveling eastward – from Tonto in Arizona Territory to Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Yet, according to Lucy Mallory, she had traveled from Virginia to meet her Army officer husband:

”I’ve travelled all the way here from Virginia and I’m determined to get to my husband. I won’t be separated any longer.”

How could Lucy Mallory travel all the way from Virginia to the Arizona and New Mexico Territories on an eastbound stagecoach?

The movie has other problems. Some of the movie’s shots featured the stagecoach traveling in the far distance . . . and one can see tracks clearly made from motorized vehicles like cars and trucks, instead of a 19th century vehicle. In the movie’s opening sequence, two scouts alerted the commander of an Army post about Geronimo’s activities in the territory. One of those scouts was a Native American:

”WHITE SCOUT: These hills are full of Apaches! They’ve burned every ranch in sight. (His finger sweeps the map; his head nods to the impassive Indian.) He had a brush with them last night. Says they’re being stirred up by Geronimo.

(The word has a striking effect on Sickels and Blanchard. Even the telegraph operator takes a step forward.)

CAPT. SICKELS: Geronimo? (He turns to the Indian, regarding him narrowly.) How do we know… (Cut to medium close-up of the Indian standing still.) …he’s not lying?

WHITE SCOUT: (off) He’s a Cheyenne. They hate Apaches worse than we do.

What we have here is a simple case of historical inaccuracy. The Apache had resided in the Southwest (present day New Mexico and Arizona) the Cheyenne resided in the Great Plains (from present Oklahoma to Montana) by the 19th century. How on earth did the Cheyenne and the Apache ever find the opportunity to develop a dislike toward one another? One last problem I had with the movie turned out to be the Ringo Kid’s showdown with the Plummer brothers in Lordsburg. I realize that it was bound to happen, due to the fact that Ringo’s conflict with the Plummers kept popping up in the movie’s dialogue. But did Ringo and the Plummers’ showdown have to take so damn long? I nearly fell asleep during the buildup leading to the gunfight. In fact, I did fall asleep and had to rewind the movie in order to watch the actual gunfight.

Now that I got my complaints out of the way, I might as well focus upon why I love ”STAGECOACH”. As I have stated in my review of the 1956 version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”. I love travel movies. And ”STAGECOACH” is probably one of the best cinematic road trips I have ever seen on the silver and television screens. The interesting thing about this movie that the distance traveled in this movie is not as extensive as movies like ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” or ”SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”. But I love it. Ford took his cast and production crew for the first time to Monument Valley, in the American southwest on the Arizona-Utah border, which became the setting for the road between Tonto in Arizona Territory and Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Cinematographer Bert Glennon, who has worked with Ford on several other films, earned an Academy Award nomination for photography. And man did he deserve his nomination. The two following photographs are excellent examples of Glennon’s work:

 

Many film critics have complimented on the film’s use of integrating traditional 19th music and songs into the score. Yes, I have noticed the numerous old tunes used in the film. But if I must be honest, I was also impressed by Gerard Carbonara’s score. I was especially impressed by Carbonara’s work in the sequence that featured the stagecoach’s encounter with the Apaches not far from Lordsburg. The composer’s use of drums to emphasize the stagecoach’s motion and the hoof beats of the horses conveying the coach and those being ridden by the attacking Apache warriors were truly inspired.

Screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht wrote a near faithful adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s short story. Well . . . almost. They made a few changes. Like the Ringo Kid, the hero in ”Stage to Lordsburg” is involved in a feud with men he eventually dueled against by the end of the story. Unlike the Ringo Kid, the hero in the short story was not a fugitive outlaw who had been framed for murder. Nor did the short story feature a local banker who had embezzled funds from a mining company’s payroll. Personally, I rather like their extension of Haycox’s story. Not only did Nichols and Hecht – along with Ford – include a criminal element to the story, they took clichéd Western characters and gave them depth and complexity. In fact, I could easily surmise that the characters themselves served as the story’s center and driving force.

Speaking of the characters, I have to commend Ford and casting director for gathering a collection of first-rate performers for this film. One, he was wise enough to hold his ground about casting John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. Now, I would not consider Ringo to be Wayne’s best role. His Ringo was a charming and easy-going young man with a streak of naivety, whose only dark side seemed to be a desire to exact vengeance and what he believe was justice for his family’s deaths. However, the role did not exactly allow the actor to display his later talent for ambiguous characters like Thomas Dunson, Tom Doniphon and Ethan Edwards. But one must remember that Ringo was his second important role (his first was in the 1930 box office failure, ”THE BIG TRAIL” and ”STAGECOACH” marked the first time that Ford directed the actor. One could easily say that Wayne finally learned to act in this movie. That was certainly apparent in the scene that featured Dallas’ presentation of Lucy Mallory’s new infant daughter. The silent exchanges between Wayne and actress Claire Trevor spoke volumes of how their two characters loved each other, without being overbearingly obvious about it.

As I had stated earlier, Claire Trevor found herself cast as the good-hearted prostitute Dallas, due to producer Walter Wanger insisting that a name slightly bigger than Wayne’s receive top credit. And I believe she deserve it, for her Dallas turned out to be the heart and soul of that stagecoach making its perilous journey. What I liked about Trevor’s performance is that she took a stock character like ”the whore-with-a-heart of gold” and gave it depth, without any of the character type’s clichés. Instead of portraying Dallas as an easy-going type with a seductive manner, she portrayed the prostitute as a reserved and desperate woman, who is not only resentful of being stuck in her profession, but of society’s unwillingness to view her as the decent human being she truly is. It is a pity that she did not receive an acting nomination for her performance, because I believe that she deserved one. But the one cast member who did receive an Academy Award nomination was Thomas Mitchell, who portrayed the affable, yet sardonic drunken doctor, Doc Boone. His character served as a well of wisdom and support for the resentful Dallas, a reminder to Hatfield of the latter’s disreputable past whenever the gambler became snobbish toward Dallas and the Ringo Kid. And yet, his penchant for alcohol came off as rather sad; considering how supportive he was toward Dallas and Ringo and the fact that when sober, he could be a first-rate doctor. Not only did Mitchell earn his Oscar nomination, he eventually won the statuette for Best Supporting Actor during a night in which ”GONE WITH THE WIND” dominated the awards show.

”STAGECOACH” also included a talented supporting cast. Louise Pratt wonderfully portrayed the haughty, yet very human Lucy Mallory who became increasingly desperate to be reunited with her husband. George Bancroft gave a solid performance as Curly Wilcox, the lawman who was determined to arrest Ringo for more humanitarian reasons – he wanted to save the younger man from being slaughtered by the Plummer brothers. Donald Meek’s portrayal of the mild-mannered Samuel Peacock seemed like one of a numerous mild characters he had portrayed over the years. Yet, thanks to two scenes in the movie, Meek managed to take Peacock’s character beyond his other characterizations. Berton Churchill made a career out of portraying stuffy or bureaucratic characters in Hollywood. His portrayal of the embezzling banker Henry Gatewood was no exception, but Ford gave him the opportunity in a private scene that revealed the banker’s silent reason to take a chance and steal that bankroll. Andy Devine was wonderfully funny as the movie’s comic relief – stage driver Buck. There is a story that Ford tried to bully Devine on the set in the same way he was bullying Wayne. But Devine reminded Ford of the latter’s box office flop ”MARY OF SCOTLAND” . . . and the director left him alone. John Carradine, in my opinion, gave the strangest performance in the film. And I meant that in a good way. He portrayed the ex-Confederate Army officer-turned-gambler, Hatfield. What is interesting about Hatfield that in offering his protection to fellow Virginian Lucy Mallory, he seemed determined to maintain the social hierarchy inside the stagecoach . . . while completely forgetting the disreputable reputation he had gained as a violent gambler in the West. In fact, he was so determined to protect Mrs. Mallory that he was willing to kill her in order to spare her from ”a fate worse than death” at the hands of the Apaches. But in an ironic twist, the Apaches turned out to be Mrs. Mallory’s saviors when they mortally wounded Hatfield before he could shoot the Army officer’s wife.

Some movie fans have complained that Ford had failed to explore racial bigotry in ”STAGECOACH”, as he had in some of his other films. What they failed to realize that Geronimo and the other Apaches were merely a plot device for the story, like the U.S. Army, the “Law and Order League” in Tonto and the Plummer brothers. The real story took place within the characters that journeyed from Tonto to Lordsburg, via a class struggle in which most of the characters managed to overcome upon their arrival in Lordsburg.  If you really look at ”STAGECOACH” from a certain point of view, it is merely a drama or character study with a Western setting and two action sequences near the end of the film. And with Nichols and Hecht’s script, John Ford managed to make it one of his best films ever with some exceptional direction and storytelling.

 

Five Favorite Episodes of “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” Season One (2014)

Group-Shot_Turn

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of AMC” “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES”. Created by Craig Silverstein, the series stars Jamie Bell: 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” SEASON ONE (2014)

1 - 1.08 Challenge

1. (1.08) “Challenge” – Against the wishes of Abraham “Abe” Woodhull, one of the Culper Ring spies, fellow spy Anna Strong earches for enemy intelligence at an exclusive gentleman’s party hosted by British spymaster Major John Andre.

2 - 1.10 The Battle of Setauket

2. (1.10) “The Battle of Setauket” – Mary Woodhull discovers that Abe is a rebel spy. Other members of the spy ring, Major Benjamin Tallmadge and Lieutenant Caleb Brewster, lead a raid on the Long Island community, Setauket, to save the local Patriot families.

3 - 1.05 Epiphany

3. (1.05) “Epiphany” – During the 1776 Christmas holidays, Caleb and Ben follow mysterious orders, while General George Washington’s army crosses into enemy territory in New Jersey. Meanwhile, one of Anna’s recently freed slaves, Abigail, agrees to spy for the Rebels after she is assigned to work for Major Andre, if the former would agree to look after her son Cicero.

4 - 1.09 Against Thy Neighbor

4. (1.09) “Against Thy Neighbor” – British Army Captain John Graves Simcoe (at least the fictional version) ignites a political witch-hunt to weed out rebel conspirators in Setauket. General Washington assigns Ben to a secret mission.

5 - 1.06 Mr. Culpepper

5. (1.06) “Mr. Culpeper” – En route to New York, Abe is ambushed by a desperate patriot. Washington charges Ben with the task of creating America’s first official spy ring.

 

“THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD” (2017) Review

 

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“THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD” (2017) Review

It occurred to me that the buddy action film genre has become a dying breed in Hollywood summer blockbusters. I cannot think of the last one that did not feature science-fiction, fantasy or costumed heroes. So, imagine my surprise when Lionsgate released “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD” during the late summer of 2017. 

Directed by Patrick Hughes and written by Tom O’Connor, “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD” is an action-filled travelogue about a private bodyguard who is hired to protect a professional hitman convinced to testify against a bloodthirsty dictator at the International Criminal Court. The movie began with Private European Union based bodyguard Michael Bryce protecting a Japanese arms dealer leaving London. Unfortunately for Bryce, the arms dealer is shot in the head through the airplane window after boarding a plane. Because of this failure, Bryce’s reputation declined within two years, until he found himself eking out a living protecting drug-addicted corporate executives in London.

During this time, the ruthless Belarus dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich has been put on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. But thanks to Dukhovich’s men assassinating potential witnesses, the prosecution has been unable to make headway in the case against him. The prosecution finally struck gold when they managed to make a deal with an incarcerated hitman named Darius Kincaid, who agreed to testify against Dukhovich in exchange for the release of his wife Sonia from prison. When Dukhovich’s men managed to kill nearly the entire security detail escorting Kincaid from Manchester, England to the Hague in Amsterdam; the surviving guard, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel recruited ex-boyfriend Michael Bryce to serve as Kincaid’s bodyguard.

Upon the release of “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD”, it received mixed reviews from critics. They loved the screen chemistry between the two stars – Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. But many of them found the movie’s narrative rather unoriginal. I must admit that I also found the plot unoriginal. An uptight, possibly “official” bodyguard or law enforcer escorting a criminal type across country? Reminds me of the 1988 movie, “MIDNIGHT RUN”, the recent film “HOT PURSUIT” and scores of other action-adventure comedies. I had another problem with “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD” and it had to do with the character
Amelia Roussel. I found it difficult to believe that the same woman who managed to shoot it out with Dukhovich’s thugs in order to protect Kincaid had to be rescued by Bryce, when the dictator’s Interpol inside man tried to strangle her. After seeing Roussel in action earlier in the film, I would have preferred if she had rescued herself instead of depending upon one of the leading men to rescue her. Frustrating.

Otherwise, I enjoyed “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD”. It was not the best film I had seen during the summer of 2017. And it is certainly not the best action-adventure film I have ever seen. But I still enjoyed it. One, I liked the characters. Well, most of them. Two, aside from the last thirty minutes or so, the movie is basically a road trip . . . which I love. Three, the movie featured some first-rate action sequences, thanks to director Patrick Hughes. And four, the best aspect of “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD” proved to be the two leads – Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. I do not know if the pair had ever worked with each other before. But I must admit that they really had a strong chemistry. Between Reynolds’ portrayal of the uptight and proud Michael Bryce and Jackson’s sardonic and very clever Darius Kincaid . . . hell, they were dynamite.

The movie featured some pretty strong supporting performances from the cast. My favorite performances came from Élodie Yung, who portrayed Bryce’s ex-girlfriend, the strong-willed Interpol Agent Amelia Roussel; Joaquim de Almeida as the slippery Interpol Assistant Director Jean Foucher; Richard E. Grant as the very nervous and funny drug-addicted corporate executive, Mr. Seifert; and especially a very hilarious Salma Heyek as Kincaid’s temperamental wife, Sonia Kincaid. Gary Oldman portrayed the movie’s main villain, Vladislav Dukhovich. He made a very effective villain. But my problem is that I did not find his performance particularly memorable. I thought it was a bit too subtle – especially in a movie that featured several borderline over-the-top performances.

I found Jules O’Loughlin’s cinematography rather lovely. His sharp and colorful photography brought out the best in his shots of Great Britain, Bulgaria and the Netherlands. And as I had stated earlier, I thought the action sequences were first-rate. But my two favorite sequences featured the Dukhovich thugs’ first attempt to kill Kincaid in Manchester; their attempt to kill him in Amsterdam, which led to an excellent boat chase along the city’s canals and the final action within the halls and on top of the Hague’s rooftop. More importantly, Hughes did an excellent in maintaining a steady pace for the film.

What else is there to say about “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD”? It was not a perfect film. Nor was it one of the best action-adventure comedies I have ever seen. But I cannot deny that it was entertaining film that not only maintained my interest, but also had me in stitches. And it was all due to a decent screenplay written by Tom O’Connor, lively direction by Patrick Hughes and a first-rate cast led by Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson.

 

Doberge Cake

Below is an article about the dessert known as the Doberge Cake

DOBERGE CAKE

For years, I have heard about New Orleans, Louisiana being something of a “foodie town”. But after learning about the origins of this latest dish, I am finally beginning to realize that this might be true. And what is the latest dish I just learned had originated in New Orleans? Namely a dessert known as the Doberge Cake.

The Doberge Cake is actually an adaptation of a Hungarian dessert known as the Dobos TorteBeulah Levy Ledner was the daughter of Hungarian-Jewish immigrants who had settled in St. Rose, Louisiana in the late 19th century. By the beginning of the Great Depression, she had moved to New Orleans where she started her own bakery business from her home in 1931. Sometime between 1931 and 1933, Ledner created her own version of the Dobos Torte.

Ledner kick started the Doberge Cake by following the recipe of the Dobos torte with layers of Genoise cake. But instead of spreading each layer of cake with buttercream and topping the whole thing with a layer of hard caramel glaze; Ledner spread each cake layer with a custard filling and iced the whole cake with buttercream and a thin layer of fondant icing. The traditional flavors used for a Doberge cake are chocolate, lemon or caramel. Many times, the cakes are made with half chocolate pudding and half lemon pudding.

A man named Joe Gambino purchased the name of the cake, the recipe and the retail shop from Ledner in 1946. She also promised that she would not reopen in New Orleans for five years. After a few years of illness, Ledner reopened her bakery in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, under the name of “Beulah Ledner, Inc.” As her business and popularity grew, her son, Albert, designed and built a new building for a new machine to mass-produce sheet cakes using his mother’s recipes. Ledner opened another bakery on May 21, 1970 and operated it until she retired in 1981 the age of 87 and sold her business and the Doberge recipe to Maurice’s French Pastries. The latter continues the business of baking and selling Doberge cakes in Metairie.

Below is a recipe for the Doberge Cake from the Genius Kitchen website:

Doberge Cake

Ingredients – Genoise Cake
3⁄4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated, whites stiffly beaten
1 cup milk
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 1⁄2 cups cake flour (measured after sifting)
scant teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation – Genoise Cake
Cream the butter, sugar and salt until smooth.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, and blend until smooth.
Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk.
Beat until blended. Add vanilla and lemon juice.
With a spatula, fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Grease 9-inch cake pans.
Pour ¾ cup batter into each pan, spreading evenly over bottom.
Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes.
Repeat process until batter is completely used, to make eight thin layers.

Ingredients – Chocolate Pudding
2 cups granulated sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 kitchen spoons cocoa (heaping spoonfuls)
4 tablespoons bitter chocolate
4 eggs (whole)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 cups milk

Ingredients – Lemon Filling
1 1⁄4 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
1⁄8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1⁄2 cups cold water
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sweet butter
2 teaspoons lemon peel, finely shredded
1⁄3 cup fresh lemon juice

Preparation – Pudding and Custard
Stir all dry ingredients together in a saucepan, then add the remaining ingredients.
Cook over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly.
Remove from fire to cool.

Ingredients – Chocolate Buttercream Icing
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1⁄2 lb oleo, softened (margarine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cocoa
1 ounce bitter chocolate, melted

Ingredients – Chocolate Icing
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 semi-sweet chocolate baking squares, melted
1⁄4 cup butter
3⁄4 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Ingredients – Lemon Frosting
6 ounces cream cheese, softened, room temperature
3 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon lemon peel, finely shredded
1⁄4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon lemon extract

Preparations – Chocolate Butter Cream Icing
Cream sugar and oleo, then add cocoa, then the melted chocolate and vanilla.
If too thick, add a little hot water, very slowly, until the consistency is right.

Preparations – Chocolate Icing
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and let it come slowly to a boil, then boil about 10 minutes until it thickens.
Beat until thick enough to spread.

Preparation – Lemon Frosting
Beat cream cheese, icing sugar until fluffy.
Add 1 tsp lemon peel, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and 1/4 tsp lemon extract and beat till smooth.

Cake Assembly
To assemble the cake, place one layer on bottom of a cake platter. Pour 1/2 cup of lemon filling on top of 1/2 of the cake. Spread Chocolate pudding on the other half of the cake.
Repeat the above procedure with the remaining cake layers and filling.
Top with final layer of cake with both the chocolate pudding and lemon filling.
Cover cake with plastic wrap and put in fridge for 2 hours till well chilled.
Spread Lemon Frosting on the sides and top of the lemon half the cake.
Spread chocolate butter cream icing on top and sides of the cake’s chocolate side.
Cover and chill inside the refrigerator.
Then cover the chocolate side with the Chocolate Icing.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

“Altered Lives” [PG-13] – Chapter Four

 

“ALTERED LIVES”

CHAPTER FOUR

OUTSKIRTS OF MOS ESPA, TATOOINE

Anakin glided his Jedi fighter over the stark Tatooine desert before he landed at a spot just outside of Mos Espa. The heat from the planet’s twin suns seemed to radiate even stronger than he remembered from the last time he had visited, three years ago. He checked his pockets. Thank goodness he had remembered that Republic credits were not valued highly on Tatooine. Back on Melida/Daan, he had the good luck to exchange the Republic credits in his possession for Wupiupi, which Tatooine’s merchants did value.

A sigh left his mouth, as he contemplated his situation. Although he knew possessed Wupiupi, he only had enough to possibly last him a few days. If he failed to find employment with Watto or any other Tatooine merchant in Mos Espa, he might find himself in serious financial trouble.

The former Jedi Knight and Sith apprentice grabbed his robe and climbed out of the cockpit. He then removed his Jedi tunic before donning the robe to protect himself from the suns’ heat. For nearly a half hour, he trudged across the planet’s flat sandy terrain. Anakin found himself remembering why he had always disliked this planet. He could already feel the sand slip into his boots and torment the bottom of his feet.

The dome-shaped roofs of Mos Espa finally appeared on the horizon. The closer he reached the city, the more it looked just as Anakin had remembered from his early childhood and from three years ago – crowded, dusty and crude.  However, he knew that Mos Espa was a glittering metropolis in compare to smaller cities and towns like Mos Entha, Anchorhead, Tosche Station and the planet’s capital – Bestine. Only Mos Eisley was larger. He weaved his way through the crowds, ignoring the occasional stare from passing pedestrians. He finally came upon the junk shop where he had worked for several years as a slave.

A door chime announced his entrance. A young human male with light brown hair and a face slightly red from too much sun rushed from the workroom in the back to greet Anakin. “Good afternoon, sir,” he greeted obsequiously. “May I help you?”

Anakin hesitated. Had Watto finally managed to survive hard times and acquire a new slave? If so, his chances for employment looked slim. “Um . . . may I speak to the owner of this shop?”

The man’s smile widened. “You’re speaking to him. I’m the owner. Bashir Gupa. May I help you?”

Oh no. This really looked bad. “You mean that Watto no longer owns this shop?”

Gupa’s smile disappeared. “Uh, no. I’m afraid not. I became the new owner nearly two years ago. Watto had lost it in a bet we had made. Over podracing.” He peered warily at Anakin. “Were you . . . an old friend?”

Anakin nearly snorted at the idea. He could hardly describe his relationship with his former Toydarian master as friendly. Then he blinked. Did the man just said . . .?“Were?”

“Why yes.” Gupa hesitated. “Watto had been killed by one of the Hutts. He had failed to pay back a loan given to him by one of their moneylenders. You see, he had borrowed money from them to save his business. Instead of using it to save his business, he lost it betting on the podraces. And then we . . . uh, wagered on another race. I put up money. And he bet his shop.” Looking slightly embarrassed, Gupa added, “I won, as you can see. And when the time came to pay back the loan . . . I’m sure that you understand.”

Shock overwhelmed Anakin’s mind. Watto dead at the hands of the Hutts? Yet, recalling his former owner’s betting habits, Anakin realized that he should not have been surprised. Poor Watto. The Jedi Knight was surprised to feel a glimmer of grief for the late Toydarian. But more importantly, he saw his initial plans for a new life in danger.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” Gupa asked politely. A plea for a temporary job entered Anakin’s mind. He opened his mouth to speak, when he spotted an R4 astromech droid rolled into the main room. Anakin saw his chances for employment with Gupa turn into dust.

Smiling politely, the former Jedi shook his head. “No, I’m fine. Thank you for the information.”

“If you have parts you might want to acquire . . .” Gupa began. But Anakin had left the shop before the other man could finish.

———-

THEED, NABOO

The funeral of Padme Nabierre Amidala proved to be a stately and memorable affair. Reports of her death had not only drew prominent Nabooan figures and many of her fellow senators to the planet’s capital, Theed, but also Nabooan citizens from all walks of life.

Jobal Nabierre glanced around the chapel with great interest. Her eyes rested upon the tall senator from Alderaan. Bail Organa stood before a podium, as he delivered what Jobal found to be a very stirring eulogy about her daughter. As she listened to Senator Organa’s words, Jobal understood how he had become such a prominent figure in the Galactic Senate. It seemed a shame that he had been unable to use that prominence to prevent the three-year Clone War. Or stop the Chancellor from becoming Emperor.

As for the Emperor, he had not bothered to attend Padme’s funeral. Which Jobal found rather odd, considering that he had once been her daughter’s mentor. Instead, Palpatine had sent Mas Amedda, the Senate’s Speaker, to represent him. Perhaps it was fortuitous that the Emperor had not bother to appear. Considering her daughter’s true fate.

Three days ago, the citizens of Naboo had received word that their respected senator and former was dead. The news shocked the planet’s citizens and enveloped the Nabierre household into a state of grief. Then more terrible news followed. The Jedi had killed Padme and a few other senators during an attempt to overthrow the Chancellor and take control of the Senate. According to the HoloNet news, this incident had led to the Jedi Temple massacre and the Order’s destruction.

After Padme had first began a career in politics, Jobal feared that her daughter’s profession might prove to be troublesome or worse, hazardous. In the following years, her fears proved correct after Padme survived the Trade Federation invasion, the Battle of Genoisis and several assassination attempts. But never did Jobal imagine that the Jedi would cause her daughter’s destruction. And never did she felt so happy to be proven wrong when she and Ruwee finally learned the truth.

Bail Organa had arrived in Theed with two Jedi masters, Padme’s unconscious body and two infants. When the Alderaanian senator and the Jedi revealed the circumstances behind Padme’s present state, Jobal and Ruwee learned that they were the grandparents of twin infants. They had already known of their daughter’s secret wedding to the young Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. But Jobal found it slightly disturbing that Padme had never bothered to reveal her pregnancy to her own parents.

Following the memorial service, many gathered around the Nabierre family to pay their respects. Jobal accepted well wishes from prominent Nabooans as Boss Nass and Jar-Jar Binks of the Gungans, Queen Apailana, and Grand Moff Panaka – who used to be Padme’s bodyguard, when she was Naboo’s queen. Only Padme’s immediate successor and Apailana’s predecessor, former Queen Jamilla, was conspicuously missing. Jobal suspected that Jamilla’s sympathies toward the Separatist movement had made it impractical for her to make an appearance. Some of Padme’s former colleagues also came forth to pay their respects – Senators Garm Bel Iblis, Mon Mothma, Jaren Tagge, Giddean Dann, Solipo Yep and Meena Tills, amongst them. Jobal overheard her husband inhaled sharply, when Senator Mas Amedda approached them.

“The Emperor wishes to convey his sympathy during these trying times for your family,” the Chagrian boomed solemnly. “He also wishes to convey his regret for being unable to attend. Due to the present political turmoil, he has been forced to remain on Coruscant.”

Juwee bowed politely. “Thank you,” he replied.

Senator Amedda continued, “And I would also like to convey my sympathy, as well. Senator Amidala had been a bright beacon within the Senate. What had happened to her was a travesty.”

Ruwee’s jaw twitched slightly, as he replied, “Again, thank you . . . for your kind words.” The Chagrian senator bowed slightly and moved on. Husband and wife heaved muted sighs of relief.

Less than an hour later, the funeral procession commenced. Padme’s drugged body was placed in an open carriage. Three teams of white horses pulled the carriage along a route that stretched from the chapel, through the streets of Theed and to the Nabierre’s house. Candles carried by Theed’s grieving citizens illuminated the procession. Jobal could not help but feel touched by the Nabooans’ response to her daughter’s memory. She wondered how many would feel if they knew that Padme was alive.

The procession finally ended at the Nabierres’ townhouse. There, the family held a wake. Jobal felt an overwhelming sense of relief when the wake finally ended after three hours. While her older daughter, Sola, bid the guests good-bye, Jobal and Ruwee made their way to a private room in the far west wing of the house. There, they found Padme’s two droids attending their now conscious younger daughter. In one corner of the room, the twins slept in matching basquinetts.

“Mother, Father,” Padme muttered, as she struggled to sit up.

Jobal rushed forward to help her daughter. “Padme,” she exclaimed, “you shouldn’t get up. You need more rest.”

A sigh left the younger woman’s mouth. “I’ve had enough rest for the past day or two. What I need is to get up. Please help me.”

Reluctantly, Jobal and Ruwee helped escort their daughter from her bed to a nearby chair. “Do you want to hold the children?” Ruwee asked.

Padme shook her head. “No, let them sleep.” She turned to her protocol droid. “Threepio, could you please pour a glass of juice for me?”

“Yes, Miss Padme.” The protocol droid made its way toward the sideboard.

“Where are Master Yoda and Master Kenobi?” Padme asked, after the droid handed her a glass of juice. “And where is Bail?”

Ruwee replied, “The Jedi are in another room. They would like to speak to you before they leave. To say good-bye.”

A grimace appeared on Padme’s face before it quickly disappeared. “Now that I’m awake, you might as well send them in.”

After Ruwee left the room, Jobal sat down in a nearby empty chair. “Well, this has certainly been an interesting week. By the way, Padme, when were you planning to tell us about your pregnancy?”

Padme sighed heavily. “Ani . . . Anakin and I had plans to move here to Naboo. We had wanted to go to the Lake District for the twins’ births. Only . . .”  Another sigh left her mouth. “Only, we never had a chance to go ahead with our plans.”

“Like Anakin joining the Emperor?” Jobal asked. Padme glanced sharply at her. “Yes, Senator Organa and Master Kenobi told us what happened on Mustafar and Polis Massa.”

Padme’s mouth twisted into another grimace. “I wanted to tell you and Father, myself.”

“Would you have told us the truth?”

The younger woman took another sip of juice. “What happened is a long story, Mother. It’s not as simple as you think.”

At that moment, Ruwee returned with the two Jedi masters in tow. Both Master Yoda and Master Kenobi bowed at Padme. “Have recovered, I am happy to see,” the green, diminutive Jedi Master commented. “You are well, we hope?”

Padme’s mouth barely stretched into a smile. “Yes. Thank you, Master Yoda. And thank you for your help. Both of you.” She paused, as hope gleamed in her dark eyes. “About . . . um, what happened to Anakin on Mustafar? You never told me.”

Master Yoda and Master Kenobi exchanged uneasy looks. Jobal felt a small, sense of foreboding.   Master Kenboi inhaled sharply, as he glanced at her daughter with mournful eyes. “I’m so sorry, Padme. I really am. But you must understand. I had to . . . face him.”

Jobal saw the hope dim from her daughter’s eyes. Her mouth twitched momentarily. “I see,” Padme murmured. She glanced away. “So much for that.”

“Again, I am so sor . . .”

Padme held up one hand, interrupting Master Kenobi. “No. It’s fine.  I . . .” She took a deep breath. “I suppose it’s time for you two to leave.”

Master Yoda murmured, “Yes, of course.” He took hold of her hand and bowed over it. “Farewell, Senator Amidala. May the Force be with you.” He hobbled out of the room.

Slowly, Master Kenobi approached Padme with sorrowful eyes. He leaned forward and planted a light kiss on Padme’s cheek. She flinched slightly. “Take care, Padme. And may the Force be with you.” He then bowed and immediately left. Ruwee followed.

A heavy silence permeated the room. Jobal glanced at her daughter’s mournful expression. Pity welled within her chest. She tried to lift Padme’s mood by suggesting that the latter eat a meal. “You probably haven’t eaten a bite in days. I’ll have one of your droids bring you a tray . . .”

“I’m not hungry, Mother,” Padme murmured. “Not now. Frankly, I would rather rest.”

Jobal protested. “But you said that you had enough rest for the past few days.”

Padme sighed. “Apparently, I was wrong. So, if you don’t mind?”

Keeping her thoughts to herself, Jobal helped lead her daughter back to the bed. As she covered Padme with a blanket, a dark wish came to her that Padme had never given up on Kun Largo’s son, Ian, those many years ago.

——–

MOS ESPA, TATOOINE

The tavern’s barkeep walked along the bar’s length before he dumped a plate of food before Anakin. “Anything else, sir?”

Anakin stared at the food and murmured, “No. This will be fine. Thanks.” The bartender nodded and moved away.

Ignoring the conversation that buzzed around the tavern’s main dining room and the Holonet monitor situated above the bar, Anakin heaved a sigh. Now that his plans for being temporarily employed by Watto no longer existed, he realized that he might have to consider another option – the Lars’ moisture farm. He did not look forward to facing the painful memories of his mother’s death. But it was either that or face gradual homelessness and starvation, here in Mos Espa.

After learning of Watto’s death, Anakin had sought employment at some of the other local businesses. But slavery had maintained a firm grip upon Tatooine’s economy. Most merchants were willing to accept Anakin’s labor – but only if he volunteered his services as an indentured servant. Being a slaveowner was considered to be part of the planet’s status quo. And if one could not afford to purchase slaves, one used droids instead. Free labor seemed a long way from becoming popular on Tatooine. Anakin wondered if it ever will.

He took a bit of the Lamta. Not bad, he thought. Although Shmi Skywalker could have done a lot better. While he continued to eat his Lamta and Jerked Dewback Meat, a dusty stranger sat down on the stool next to him. “Bartender!” the man cried. “I’ll have a Tatooine Sunburn.” The bartender nodded and proceeded to prepare the beverage.

“How do you do?” the stranger greeted Anakin. “Nice little meal you got there.”

Anakin suppressed an annoyed sigh. He felt no urge to engage in light conversation. “It’s not bad,” he politely replied.

The bartender returned with the man’s drink. He took a sip. “Ah! That hits the spot! Nothing like a Tatooine Sunburn to relieve you after hours in this damn, dusty town.”

So much for a private meal. Anakin spared the man a cool smile and said, “Yeah. Mos Espa can be rather congested.”

“No kidding! I much prefer the wide, open spaces of my moisture farm, near Anchorhead.” The man paused. “Are you a farmer? Though to be honest, you don’t look like one.”

Anakin took a sip of his blue milk. “I’m a pilot. A spacer.”

“Oh.”

A thought came to the younger man. “You say that you’re a moisture farmer?” he asked. “Do you, by any chance, know one named Cliegg Lars?”

The man nodded. “Sure, I knew him.”

“Knew?” A bad feeling formed in the pit of Anakin’s stomach.

“Well . . . yeah.” The man paused. “I’m Gorn Meese, by the way.”

Anakin replied, “I’m . . . Ric Olie. Did you say that you knew Cliegg Lars?”

Meese nodded. “That’s right. Lars had passed away over two years ago. Poor fellow. He had lost a leg after his wife was kidnapped and killed by Tusken Raiders. He didn’t live very long after that. His son, Owen, now owns the farm. Good solid lad, but a bit too solemn for my taste, if you ask me.”

Dead? Anakin’s mind reeled at Meese’s news. Cliegg Lars had died . . . along with his last hope. Anakin realized that he could still seek refuge at the Lars’ homestead. But the idea of spending most of his time with Owen Lars did not appeal to him. The two step-brothers had not exactly warm to each other when they met, three years ago. Anakin harbored a slight suspicion that Owen either disliked him – or merely disapproved of him. And he had no desire to spend time at a place where he was barely tolerated. Thirteen years with the Jedi Order had been bad enough.

“Hey fella! Mr. Olie. Are you okay?” Meese asked with a slight frown. “You look a bit pale.”

Anakin shook his head. “No, I’m . . . I’m fine. I . . . I had known Mr. Lars. A few years ago, I had sold him a utility droid in exchange for parts. He and his . . . wife . . . had offered me a meal and a bed for the night.” Anakin swallowed hard, as he spoke his next words. “I haven’t forgotten their kindness.”

Again, Meese nodded. “I know what you mean. Quite a pair they were – Cliegg and Shmi Lars.” He drained the last of his Tatooine Sunburn. “Well, nice meeting you, Mr. Olie. Hope you have good luck in your future ventures.”

“Same to you, Mr. Meese. Good day.” Anakin managed to give the farmer a brief smile, before the latter left the bar.

Once alone, the former Jedi Knight sighed long and hard. Since he could not find refuge with Watto and refused to do so with Owen Lars, he no longer had a place to go. Well, that not might be true. He could return to Coruscant and continue to serve Palpatine. But Anakin could no longer accept the idea of becoming a Sith Lord again. Of course, there was Naboo . . .

While Anakin continued to finish his meal, the bartender turned up the Holonet monitor’s volume. “. . . yesterday, mourned the loss of one of the Senate’s most prominent members. During the Jedi Order’s attempted takeover of the Galactic Senate, Senator Padme Amidala of Naboo had been killed during the ensuing struggle. Her body was returned to Theed, Naboo’s capital, where fellow citizens bid her a final farewell.”

A horrified Anakin glanced up at the monitor and listened while the journalist described details of the funeral at Theed and Padme’s personal and political background. The journalist concluded, “Senator Padme Nabierre Amidala, Princess of Theed, Queen of Naboo and Senator of the Galactic Senate . . . dead at the age of 27. This is Narella Shibab of the HoloNet News Service, reporting.”

“Damn Jedi!” the bartender muttered. “Can you beat that? Killing a good woman for their own thirst for power.” He faced Anakin. “Say mister, would you like a refill? Mister?”

Anakin could not hear the bartender over the anguished cries that filled his mind.

———

It took all of Anakin’s self-control to keep his grief in check. Anger, sorrow and disbelief raged within him as he quickly paid the bartender for his meal. Then he rushed out of the tavern and made his way toward the edge of town. By the time he reached his the spot where had left his starfighter, Anakin allowed his emotions to overwhelm him.

Padme dead? It could not have been possible! He had felt her. Sensed her, after he had . . . With a cry, Anakin shut off the unpleasant memory of his attack upon his wife. No! No, it was impossible. She could not be dead. Not his Padme. She . . .

At that moment, Anakin completely surrendered to his grief. He plopped down on the sand and began to cry. She could not be dead. Not Padme. Not . . . The sobs tore from his mouth, while his shoulders heaved up and down in grief. After several minutes had passed, he sniffled for a few seconds and wiped away his tears. He decided that he would go to Naboo and discover the truth. There must be some mistake. Perhaps she was in hiding from the Emperor. Or perhaps she . . .  Memories of the HoloNet News Service airing Padme’s funeral procession flashed in Anakin’s mind. Along with a memory of his wife’s body – her pregnant body – being carried throughout the streets of Theed in an open carriage.

Utter despair finally settled within him. There seemed to be no doubt that Padme was dead. By his hand. He was evil. An evil monster. Not only had he helped destroy the Jedi Order, he had killed the one person who meant more to him than anyone in this galaxy, aside from his mother. At first, Anakin had an urge to return to Mos Espa and inflict his grief upon the city’s population. Someone had to experience the pain he now felt. But then he remembered Shmi’s death and how he had reacted. A sigh left his mouth. He simply could not do it. Not again. Becoming a monster had done nothing but ruined his life. And indulging in his darker impulses would only sink his life further into the abyss. But Anakin could not remain here on Tatooine. Once again, the desert planet had reared its ugly head and inflicted great pain upon him. He had to leave. Find a place where he could escape from his painful memories.

Anakin took a deep breath and stood up. His eyes fell upon a few small cogs half-buried in the desert sand near his left foot. He also noticed tracks made from a Jawa sandcrawler. What were they . . .? Then Anakin glanced around his surroundings. Sure enough, this seemed to be the very spot where he had landed on Tatooine. Only . . . aside from a few cogs, his Jedi starfighter seemed to be missing.

END OF CHAPTER FOUR

“THE GLASS KEY” (1935) Review

The Glass Key (1935) 1

“THE GLASS KEY” (1935) Review

Years ago, I watched the 1942 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930-31 novel called “The Glass Key”. At the time, I had no idea that there had been a previous adaptation. Then I stumbled across one – produced and released by the same movie studio, Paramount Pictures, back in 1935. 

“THE GLASS KEY” told the story of Ed Beaumont, a gambler and the brainy aide of a crooked political boss named Paul Madvig. The latter plans to support the political campaign of the corrupt Senator John T. Henry and marry the latter’s daughter Janet. Unfortunately, the senator’s son, Taylor Henry, is a gambling addict who is in debt to a gangster named Shad O’Rory, a gangster whose club Paul intends to put out of business. Also, Taylor has been romancing Paul’s younger sister, Opal Madvig, much to the political boss’ dismay. When Ed finds Taylor’s dead body not far from Paul’s home, everyone begins to suspect him of murder. Ed begins an investigation to discover Taylor’s true killer, much to the displeasure of not only O’Rory, but also the Henry family and Paul.

I have read a few reviews of “THE GLASS KEY”. Most of the reviews seemed to be of the opinion that it is more of a film noir than the 1942 version. To be honest, I did not make a big deal of trying to determine how much of a noir movie it was. I was too busy trying to maintain my interest in the story. What can I say? The plot seemed pretty damn good. And screenwriters Kathryn Scola and Kubec Glascom, along with dialogue scribe Harry Ruskin did a very solid job of adapting Hammett’s novel. Sure, they made a few nips and tucks in the narrative. But overall, I had no real problems with the story.

The performances in “THE GLASS KEY” struck me as pretty solid. I thought the most memorable performances came from Edward Arnold as political boss Paul Madvig, Claire Dodd as Janet Henry, Guinn Williams as the O’Rory thug Jeff, and Ray Milland as the privileged and weak senator’s son, Paul Henry. All gave very interesting performances. Rosalind Keith, Charles Richman and Robert Glecker also gave solid performances as Opal Madvig, Senator Henry and Shad O’Rory. One would notice that I have not said anything about lead actor George Raft. Before one assumes that I have a low opinion of his performance . . . I do not. I thought he did a pretty solid job, even if there were moments he came off as slightly wooden. He certainly did a pretty good job in carrying the film.

So, if I had no problems with the movie’s narrative and the acting . . . why did I find it so difficult to maintain my interesting in the film? I have to lay most of the blame on director Frank Tuttle. I found his direction of the film rather dull and lifeless. Boring. It is a miracle that the cast managed to rise above his insipid direction. In fact, I find it a crime that a director could make a movie with a first-rate narrative and an eighty minute running time so dull and slow. Even the famous scene in which Ed Beaumont suffered a beating at the hands of Jeff the Thug came off as slightly dull.

Another problem I had with “THE GLASS KEY” proved to be its production values. Just because a movie has been labeled as a film noir does not mean I had to spend most of the film trying to make out the shapes and figures on the screen. There were plenty of moments when I could barely make out the images on the screen, due to Henry Sharp’s photography. I found it incredibly dark at times. Sharp’s dim photography was not helped by Hans Dreier and A. Earl Hedrick’s art direction for this film. I was less than impressed by the film’s production designs and art direction. The entire film looked as if it had been produced as an off-Broadway stage play. I have seen Warner Brothers B-movies released three or four years earlier that looked more prestigious. When one combines dark photography with less-than-mediocre production designs, well . . . it does not look good for a movie based upon a first-rate novel by Dashiell Hammett.

“THE GLASS KEY” had plenty of virtues to offer – solid and excellent acting from a cast led by George Raft, and first-rate adaptation of Hammett’s novel. It seems a pity that those virtues seemed wasted by the movie’s mediocre production values, a slow pacing and limpid direction by Frank Tuttle. Oh well. It has been years since I saw the 1942 version of Hammett’s story. It would be interesting to see how it fares in compare to this film.