“THE CROWN” and Prince Philip

“THE CROWN” AND PRINCE PHILIP

Do not get me wrong. I really enjoyed “THE CROWN”. And I also enjoyed Matt Smith’s performance as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. I thought he did a great job in capturing both the positive and negative aspects of the prince’s character. But I do have a few complaints about the series’ portrayal of the prince consort.

For me, one of the more frustrating aspects of “THE CROWN” was its portrayal of Prince Philip. I am beginning to that think show runner Peter Morgan never truly understood him. Everyone talked about how Philip should have stopped complaining about his boredom and support the Queen. He has always supported her, whether he was complaining or not. Even when he criticized her, he supported her. But Philip had a very good reason to complain. The Palace courtiers and the Queen Mother, who never wanted him to marry Elizabeth in the first place, did not want him to have any influence upon the Court. I think their idea of Philip as consort was for him to sit on his ass most of the day, doing nothing – aside from acting as royal stud or escort to major events and state visits. That’s it. From what I have read about Philip, those first four to five years of the Queen’s reign were very frustrating for him.

It was not until after his 1956-57 world tour and visit to the Melbourne Olympic Games that he started establishing his own style and role as consort. Morgan seemed to hint that the Queen creating Philip as a prince of Great Britain and Northern Ireland solved his problems with the royal courtiers and his role as consort. That is far from the truth. In the end, Philip established the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Commonwealth Study Conferences during the period covered by Season Two. He also joined the Queen’s Privy Council for both Britain and Canada. He served as president of the National Playing Fields Association and The World Wildlife Fund. He also served as Chancellor of the Universities of Edinburgh and Wales, while at the same time began engaging in more State Visits by himself, on behalf of the Crown. But for some reason, the series never really established or hinted this. Season One had established his earlier frustration at being prince consort, but failed to follow through in the second season, especially when history offered Morgan the chance to do so.

Instead, “THE CROWN” mainly focus upon its speculation on whether Philip had cheated on the Queen or not. What made this even more annoying was that Morgan established the idea of Philip having an affair with a Soviet Union ballerina named Aliya Tanykpayeva (aka Galina Ulanova), who was eleven (11) years his senior. The idea is just ludicrous to me. I doubt very much that they hung around the same social circles. And chances are Tanykpayeva (Ulanova), as a Soviet citizen, would have been monitored by MI-5 during her tour of Britain. As for Philip’s connection to the Promfumo Affair . . . like Princess Margaret and several other members of the Royal Family, he was a patient of Dr. Stephen Ward. There has been no real evidence or anything of women being procured for him by Ward. Morgan could have portrayed the prince’s alleged infidelity as the mystery is truly is. Unfortunately, the show runner seemed incapable of doing this. Not only did Morgan seemed to be stuck in this obsession over whether Philip had committed adultery or not, but also over the latter’s “toxic masculinity” . . . and nothing else.

I forgot the name of the blog, but its owner once hinted that Peter Morgan might have some hang-up or hostility toward Prince Philip. Personally, I rather doubt it. Either this was a case of Morgan using the rumors of infidelity as a source of more drama. Or perhaps my earlier speculation might be correct . . . that the show runner simply did not understand the prince or the consequences of his role as the sovereign’s consort.

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter One

“EL DORADO WEST”

RATING: [PG]
SUMMARY: Benjamin and Alice Fleming, siblings of a free black Ohio family, head west to California during the Gold Rush.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind.

From the Journal of Benjamin Fleming

Chapter One – The Proclamation

December 16, 1848
It has been confirmed! Gold discovered in California. I can hardly contain my excitement. My staid family, on the other hand, seemed quite capable of doing just that.

“Foolish nonsense!” my father declared during supper, later that evening. According to him, folks have been claiming gold in California for ages. Including Spanish explorers who went there to search for the gold weapons of the Black Amazons. When I told him that an Army officer had brought a sample of the gold to Congress, he remained unconvinced.

I suspect that Papa’s antipathy toward this gold discovery came from his activities as an abolitionist. As the son of a former slave, he naturally became an enemy of slavery. The entire family felt the same, of course. And like many abolitionists, my father had been against the recent war against Mexico. This same war had enabled the United States to grab Texas, New Mexico and California. As far as Papa was concerned, the war had been nothing but an excuse for the slave power to spread slavery into the West. He wanted nothing to do with any of the territory we had acquired from Mexico. Including California.

January 21, 1849
Thomas Russell left for New York City this morning. He was the first from Cleveland’s colored community to depart for the California gold fields. From New York, he plans to board one of the clipper ships that will take him around the tip of South American and north to San Francisco. The journey should take him six months.

“An utter fool,” my older brother Randolph declared after I had informed him. He was another like Papa who saw the acquisition of California and other former Mexican territories as some slaveocracy plot. Perhaps they were both right. Perhaps the South did plan to make California a slave state like Texas. Yet, both Papa and Randolph have forgotten that part of California lay north of the Missouri Compromise line – the same region where gold had been discovered.

Whatever Papa or Randolph may have felt about Mr. Russell’s decision, mattered not to me. I admired him for taking the initiative to pull up stakes to seek a new life. I wished I could do the same. Unfortunately, there was no real need for me to seek gold. The Flemings were financially secured. Papa owned two livery stables and a hotel in the city. I managed one of the stables. On one hand, I enjoyed the work for I love horses. But I have become weary of Cleveland. The frontier spirit that had first permeated the city before my birth had waned after four decades. Papa had enough money to outfit a journey to California. But he would have never given me the money, considering his feelings on the subject.

End of Chapter One

“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Review

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“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Review

A little over twelve years ago, I first had learned about how a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson led the effort to drive the Soviet Army from Afghanistan after nearly ten years. I learned about Operation Cyclone from the 2007 biopic, “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”.

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the C.I.A. program to arm and finance the mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, prior to and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of its client, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in neighboring Pakistan, instead of the less militant Afghan resistance groups that had also been fighting the pro-Marxist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan regime since before the Soviet invasion. Operation Cyclone proved to be one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations undertaken during the agency’s history.

Directed by Mike Nichols and based upon George Crile III’s 2003 book, “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History”“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” began in 1980, when Congressman Charles “Charlie” Wilson (D-Texas) became aware of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan during to trip to Las Vegas. But it took an old friend of his, Texas socialite Joanne Herring, to encourage him to finally get involved with driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan. First, Wilson pays a visit to Afghanistan, where he visits a refugee camp and the country’s leader, President Zia-ul-Haq. Upon his return to the U.S., Wilson recruits the help of veteran C.I.A. agent Gust Avrakotos to help him kick start an operation that would provide aid – food, medical and especially military – to the Afghans. And finding military aid would mean enlisting support from both Israel and Egypt. At the same time, Wilson is forced to face a Federal investigation into allegations of his cocaine use, as part of a larger investigation into Congressional misconduct.

I must admit that I did not have a very high opinion of “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” when I first saw it over twelve years ago. I honestly did not know what to expect. I certainly did not expect a comedy-drama with a lot of wit and snappy one-liners. Or perhaps I was expecting something a little more . . . intense? Who knows. But looking back on the film, I finally realized that my opinion of it has increased over the years.

I enjoyed how the movie went to a great deal of effort to provide details of Wilson’s efforts to aid the Afghans, especially the Mujahidee (Afghanistan’s freedom fighters). Whether those details were historically accurate or not – I have not the foggiest idea. But I found Wilson’s efforts to find ways to provide aid and help the Afghans throw out the occupying Soviets without the rest of the world finding out about U.S. involvement very interesting . . . and rather amusing. This sequence of events included a rather humorous first meeting between Wilson and his C.I.A. liaison, Gust Avrakotos. Another aspect of the film that I found humorous were Wilson’s efforts to curb his friend Ms. Herring’s patriotic and religious fervor over the program – including one scene in which she bluntly assured her guests at a fund raiser that President Zia-ul-Haq was not responsible for the death of his predecessor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. For me, one of the film’s most interesting and hilarious scenes featured Wilson’s meeting with both Israeli and Egyptian representatives in order to acquire arms for the Mujahidee – a meeting that included an Arabic dance (belly dance) from the daughter of an American businessman.

Judging from the movie’s Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations, one could see that “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” was not exactly a front-runner for Academy Award nominations during the 2007-2008 movie awards season Philip Seymour-Hoffman earned the majority of the film’s major nominations. Julia Roberts did earn a Golden Globe Awards, but nothing else. Did it deserve more acclamation? I do not know. Mike Nichols did a competent and entertaining job in allowing moviegoers peeks into C.I.A. policies, Washington and international politics. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as C.I.A. operative Gust Avrakotos) all gave excellent performances. Well . . . Hanks and Hoffman struck me as entertaining and excellent. But I really enjoyed Roberts’ performance as the colorful Houston socialite. It seemed a shame that she was only nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The movie also featured solid performances from Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, Om Puri, Christopher Denham, John Slattery, Ken Stott, Shaun Tolb, Peter Gerety and Emily Blunt.

But if I must be honest, the movie did not give me a charge. I enjoyed it very much. I mean, I really found it entertaining. But I did not love “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”. I remember while leaving the theater following my first viewing of the film, I had this feeling that something was missing. I do not know. It could have been the unsatisfying ending, which I found to be rushed. It could have been James Newton Howard’s score that seemed too treacly for a borderline black comedy about a U.S. congressman, the C.I.A. and the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. Or perhaps I found the movie’s ending even more treacly than its score. Either Nichols or the movie’s producers – Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman – lacked the balls to portray the consequences of Operation Cyclone.

I cannot say that “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” was a great film. I do not know if I would regard it as one of Mike Nichols’ best efforts. But I found it very entertaining, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, Nichols’ direction and a first-rate cast led by Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And if one is intrigued by a peek into American politics during the 1980s, I would highly recommend it.

Chicken à la King

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Below is an article about the dish called Chicken à la King:

CHICKEN A LA KING

Have you ever come across one of those dishes in which there are so many origin tales about it that it keeps your head spinning? For me, one of those dishes is Chicken à la King. And what I find so amazing about this it that the dish has always strikes me as so simple, it would never occurred to me that it had such a complicated origin.

Chicken à la King is a very simple dish to prepare. It basically consists of diced chicken in a cream sauce. The dish is prepared with sherry, mushrooms, and vegetables. And it is usually served over rice, pasta, or some kind of bread . . . like toast. It has become very popular with some to serve it over biscuits. The reason behind the complication over the dish’s origin is that several people have claim responsibility for creating Chicken à la King and no one has been able to confirm which origin tale is true. Here are some of the claims for the dish’s origin:

*Charles Ranhofer, chef of Manhattan’s Delmonico’s restaurant had created the dish sometime during the 1880s. According to this claim, Ranhofer created the dish for American race horse breeder/trainer, Foxhall P. Keene, and the dish was originally called Chicken à la Keene.

*According to another claim, someone cook at Claridge’s Hotel created the dish in 1881 and named it after Keene’s father, American stockbroker James P. Keene.

*George Greenwald of the Brighton Beach Hotel in Brighton Beach had created the dish in 1898 and named it after hotel patron E. Clarke King II and his wife.

*William “Bill” King , a cook at the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia, had created the dish sometime during the 1890s. When King died in 1915, several newspapers gave him credit for the dish. Most people believe this is the most plausible origin of the dish.

Although the recipe for the dish was included in cookbooks throughout the first two decades of the 20th century, like 1906’s “The Fanny Farmer Cookbook”, Chicken à la King really became popular during the middle to late 20th century. Regardless of who was truly responsible for the creation of Chicken à la King, below is a recipe for it from the Betty Crocker website:

Chicken à la King

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 small green bell pepper, chopped (1/2 cup)
3 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced (3 ounces)
1/2 cup Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/4 cups Progresso™ chicken broth (from 32-ounce carton)
2 cups cut-up cooked chicken or turkey
1 jar (2 ounces) diced pimientos, drained

Preparation
1. Melt butter in 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook bell pepper and mushrooms in
butter, stirring occasionally, until bell pepper is crisp-tender.
2. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until bubbly;
remove from heat. Stir in milk and broth. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and
stir 1 minute. Stir in chicken and pimientos; cook until hot. Serve over rice.

Note: You can serve Chicken à la King over rice, any other kind of past, toast or even biscuits. The choice is yours.

1910s Costumes in Movies and Television

Below are images of fashion from the decade of the 1910s, found in movies and television productions over the years:

 

1910s COSTUMES IN MOVIES AND TELEVISION

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“Mr. Skeffington” (1944)

 

 

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“My Fair Lady” (1964)

 

 

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“Out of Africa” (1985)

 

 

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“Legends of the Fall” (1994)

 

 

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“The Wings of the Dove” (1997)

 

 

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“Titanic” (1997)

 

 

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“Chéri” (2009)

 

 

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“Downton Abbey” (2010-2015)

 

 

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“Parade’s End” (2012)

 

 

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” (2006) Review

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” (2006) Review

As far as I know, Academy Award winning actor Robert De Niro has directed at least two movies during his long career. One of them was the 1992 movie, “A BRONX’S TALE”, which I have yet to see. The other was the 2006 espionage epic called “THE GOOD SHEPHERD”.

Starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” told the fictionalized story about the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) and counter-intelligence through the eyes of one man named Edward Wilson. Edward, the product of an East Coast aristocratic family and a C.I.A. official, has received an anonymous package during the spring of 1961. The famous C.I.A operation, the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba had just failed. Inside the package is a reel-to-reel tape that reveals two unidentifiable people engaged in sex. Suspecting that the tape might reveal leads to the failure behind the Cuban operation, Edward has the tape investigated. The results lead to a possibility that the operation’s failure may have originated very close to home. During Edward’s investigation of the reel tape and the failure behind the Bay of Pigs, the movie reveals the history of his personal life and his career in both the C.I.A. and the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) during World War II.

Many film critics and historians believe that the Edward Wilson character in “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” is loosely based upon the lives and careers of American intelligence officers, James Jesus Angelton and Richard M. Bissell, Jr.. And there might be some truth in this observation. But if I must be frank, I was never really concerned if the movie was a loose biography of anyone associated with the C.I.A. My concerns mainly focused on whether “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” is a good movie. Mind you, I had a few quibbles with it, but in the end I thought it was an above-average movie that gave moviegoers a peek into the operations of the C.I.A. and this country’s history between 1939 and 1961.

It is a pity that “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was marred by a handful of prominent flaws. It really had the potential to be a well-made and memorable film. One of the problems I had were most of the characters’ emotional repression. Are we really supposed to believe that nearly every member of the upper-class in the country’s Northeast region are incapable of expressing overt emotion? I am not claiming that the performances were bad. Frankly, I was very impress by the performances featured in the movie. But the idea of nearly every major character – especially those born with a silver spoon – barely speaking above an audible whisper, due to his or her priviledged background, strikes me as more of a cliché than interesting and/or original characterization. I never understood what led Edward to finally realize that the man he believed was the genuine KGB defector Valentin Mironov, was actually a double agent. He should have realized this when the real Mironov had arrived several years earlier. The circumstances that led Edward to seek evidence inside one of the fake defector’s struck me as rather vague and far-reaching on screenwriter Eric Roth’s part. My main problem with “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was its pacing. It was simply TOO DAMN SLOW. The movie has an interesting story, but De Niro’s snail-like pacing made it difficult for me to maintain my interest in one sitting. Thank goodness for DVDs. I feel that the only way to truly appreciate “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” without falling asleep is to watch a DVD copy in installments.

However, thanks to Eric Roth’s screenplay and Robert De Niro’s direction, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” offered plenty of scenes and moments to enjoy. The moment of seduction at a Skull and Bones gathering that led Edward into a loveless marriage with Margaret ‘Clover’ Russell struck me as fascinating. It was a moment filled with passion and sex. Yet, the circumstances – namely Margaret’s pregnancy – forced Edward to give up a college love and marry a woman he did not truly love. I also enjoyed how De Niro and Roth used flashbacks to reveal the incidents in Edward’s post-college life and C.I.A. career, while he persisted into his investigation of the mysterious tape in the movie’s present day (1961). I was especially impressed by De Niro’s smooth ability to handle the transition from the present, to the past and back without missing a beat.

There were two scenes really stood out for me. One involved the Agency’s interrogation of the real Soviet defector, Valentin Mironov. I found it brutal, somewhat bloody and rather tragic in a perverse way. The other scene featured a loud and emotional quarrel between Edward and Margaret over the latter’s demand that Edward should convince his son not to join the C.I.A. What made this quarrel interesting is that after twenty years of a quiet and repressive marriage, the two finally revealed their true feelings for each other. But the best aspect of “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was its depiction of how a decent, yet flawed allowed his work in intelligence and his position of power within the intelligence community warp his character. The higher Edward rose within the ranks of the C.I.A., the more he distanced himself from his family with his lies and secrets, and the more he was willing to corrupt himself in the name of national security . . . even to the extent of disrupting his son’s chance for happiness.

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” must be one of the few large-scale movie productions, whose photography and production designs failed to give the impression of an epic. I found Robert Richardson’s photography rather limited, despite the numerous settings featured in the plot. So much of the movie’s scenes featured an interior setting. Yet, even most of the exterior scenes seemed to reflect a limited view. In the end, it was up to the movie’s 167 minute running time and 22 years time span that gave “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” an epic feel to it.

Robert De Niro and the casting team did a pretty good job in their selection of the cast. The only one I had a problem with was actor Lee Pace, who portrayed a fictionalized version of C.I.A. director Richard Helms named . . . Richard Hayes. I have always viewed Pace as an outstanding actor, but he spent most of his scenes smirking on the sidelines or making slightly insidious comments to the Edward Wilson character. I believe Roth’s screenplay had failed to give substance to his role. But there were plenty of other good supporting performances. I was especially impressed by Oleg Shtefanko’s subtle, yet insidious portryal of Edward’s KGB counterpart, Stas Siyanko aka Ulysses. Director Robert De Niro, John Sessions, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Joe Pesci and Tammy Blanchard all gave solid performances. Eddie Redmayne held his own with both Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie as the Wilsons’ intimidated and resentful son, Edward Wilson, Jr. Michael Gambon was his usual competent self as an MI-6 spymaster named Dr. Fredricks. Gambon was also lucky to give one of the best lines in the movie.

At least three performances impressed me. John Tuturro was very memorable as Edward’s tough and ruthless deputy, Ray Brocco. For once, De Niro’s insistence upon minimilist acting worked very well in Tuturro’s favor. The actor did an excellent job in portraying Brocco’s aggression with a very subtle performance, producing an interesting contrast in the character’s personality. I realize that Angelina Jolie had won her Oscar for “GIRL, INTERRUPTED”, a movie that had been released at least seven years before “THE GOOD SHEPHERD”. But I sincerely believe that her portryal of Edward’s long suffering wife, Margaret, was the first role in which she truly impressed me. She tossed away her usual habits and little tricks in order to give a very mature and subtle performance as a woman slowly sinking under the weight of a loveless and repressive marriage. And I believe that Jolie has not looked back, since. The task of carrying the 167-minute film fell upon the shoulders of Matt Damon and as usual, he was more than up to the job. And while there were times when his performance seemed a bit too subtle, I cannot deny that he did a superb job of developing the Edward Wilson character from a priviledge, yet inexperienced college student to a mature and emotionally repressed man who was willing to live with the negative aspects of his profession.

I do not believe that “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” will ever be considered as a great film. It has a small number of flaws, but those flaws were not as minor as they should have been – especially the slow pacing that threatened to put me to sleep. But I cannot deny it is damn good movie, thanks to Robert De Niro’s direction, Eric Roth’s screenplay and a talented cast led by Matt Damon. Five years have passed since its release. It seems a pity that De Niro has not directed a movie since.

 

“The Corellian Connection” [PG-13] – Chapter 2

 

“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”

CHAPTER TWO

CORONET, CORELLIA

The young boy had first spotted his mark leaving one of the spaceport’s hangars, earlier this afternoon. Han Solo usually avoided robbing pilots, but he was desperate today. His “benefactor”, one Garris Shrike, had insisted that the eleven year-old collect at least 1,000 credits by the end of the day. Five hundred credits more than his usual quota. Apparently, Shrike had not forgiven him for breaking a favorite landspeeder. For the umpteenth time, Han found himself wishing he could go back to being a beggar. It seemed to be an easier way to rob the public.

The target’s tall and lean frame had made it easy for Han to follow him through Coronet’s crowded streets. But when the man paused before the Golden Flame restaurant, the young boy gained a closer look at his mark. Despite his youth, the man possessed a hard-edged aura and eyes that scanned the crowd like a hunter. An odd feeling came to Han that he had ceased to be the hunter and became the hunted. The young boy decided to find another target and leave the pilot alone.

Over an hour had passed and Han found himself unable to find another mark. Then he spotted the pilot again – leaving the Torvian Blue Hotel. Only this time, the man looked despondent. Distracted. Han saw a perfect opportunity to pick the man’s pocket. He made the attempt . . . and failed.

“Ow!” the young Corellian cried out in pain, as the man twisted his hand. “That hurts! Lemme go!”

The pilot retorted, “Let go of my credit chip and I will.” He gave Han’s wrist a twist. The boy finally released the small credit into the pilot’s other hand. “Thank you.”

Before Han could recover from his humiliation, a uniformed security officer from the Corellian Security Force (CorSec) appeared before the pair. “What’s going on, here?” He frowned at the young boy. “Solo! Were you . . .?” Then he glanced at the pilot. “Is this boy giving you any trouble, sir?”

Intense, blue eyes stared at Han. The pilot answered, “No, everything’s fine.” Han nearly sagged with relief. “The boy was simply giving me some directions to Kembel Avenue.”

Suspicion remained fixed in the CorSec officer’s eyes. “If you say so, Mister.” He glared at Han. “However, I would suggest that you be careful around this boy, sir. Solo . . .” He nodded sharply at Han. “. . . belongs to a gang of thieves and pickpockets, operated by a notorious gangster.”

“Really?” The pilot smiled politely at the security officer. “Mr. Solo seemed very helpful to me. If he and his . . . associates are as dangerous as you claim, why aren’t they in a detention cell?”

The CorSec officer shot another glare at Han. “We haven’t been able to catch any of them in the act. Yet.”

“I see. Meanwhile,” the pilot placed himself between Han and the officer, “thank you for your assistance. And don’t worry. Everything is fine.”

A cross between a polite smile and a grimace touched the CorSec officer’s lips. “If you insist . . . sir. Excuse me.” Once more, he glared at Han and walked away.

Astonished that the pilot had not turned him in, the eleven year-old stared at his benefactor. “Why didn’t you tell him the truth?”

“What for?” the pilot asked. “You gave me my money back.” He smiled sardonically at Han. “Nice meeting you . . .?”

“Han. Han Solo.” The eleven year-old immediately clamped his mouth shut. Now why did he give the pilot his real name?

A genuine smile curved the man’s lips. “I’m . . .” He sighed heavily. “I’m Set Horus. It was nice meeting you . . . Han.” The smile disappeared. “Good day.” He turned away.

Han watched the man’s tall frame merge into the crowd. For some inexplicable reason, he felt an urge to follow the man. Despite catching him at attempted theft, Set Horus had shown more compassion toward him in the past five minutes than anyone else ever had – aside from Dewlanna. Once the pilot’s figure disappeared, Han heaved a sigh. Time to return to Shrike. He dreaded how the gangster would react to him being 500 credits short.

———

ALDERA, ALDERAAN

Laughter filled one of the Aldera Royal Palace’s smaller dining rooms. Inside, Her Majesty Queen Breha and His Highness Prince Bail Organa shared their day’s experiences with each other during supper. Bail had just related a humorous meeting he had experienced with a regional councilman, who wanted to discuss Aldera’s growing problems with the pleasure industry developing in the Spacer Quarter – a section of the city that accommodated the needs of off-worlders and refugees.

“Honestly Breha,” Bail concluded between chuckles, “I’m beginning to wonder if the man ever had intimate relations. Despite being the father of four children.”

Breha’s smile curved wider. “Considering what I have heard about Lahrus Vornac, you might be right.”

At that moment, Raymus Antilles, one of Bail’s aides and Breha’s cousin, strode into the dining room. He bowed before the royal couple. “Pardon me for the interruption, Your Majesty, but . . .” He took a deep breath. “His Highness has just received a message. An encrypted message from his private holo projector.”

The couple exchanged long-suffering glances. Then Bail heaved a sigh and stood up. “Pardon me, Breha. I’ll be back.” He bowed to his wife and strode out of the dining room, with Raymus close at his heels. The pair made their way to Bail’s private study. Raymus bowed at the older man and walked away. Bail entered the study and headed straight for his holo projector. He used it for private and unofficial messages. The flashing red light at the projector’s base indicated that someone awaited his response.

Bail pressed a button. The surprising image of Solipo Yeb materialized. “Bail!” the Andalian senator cried in relief. “Thank goodness! I’m finally able to contact you.”

“Solipo, where are?” Bail demanded.

The now former senator glanced around uneasily. “Corellia. My sister and I are in Coronet. We need to reach Averam. I have . . . property there. ”

“Surely, you can hire a pilot to take you there,” Bail said.

The other man sighed. “Unfortunately, I cannot afford the fees these Corellians are demanding for passage. They’re scavengers, all of them. When I left Andalia, I was forced to leave behind most of my assets.” He sighed. “I was in a hurry.”

After a few seconds of contemplation, Bail said, “I suppose I could lend you a sufficient amount of credits for you to hire a pilot. But I suggest that you do not stay there, Solipo. It is still part of the Core World, and too close to Coruscant.”

“Where can I go?”

Bail shook his head. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m trying to find a place for a close . . . relative of mine. I’ll meet you in Averam and we can discuss the matter.”

“I don’t know if that is a good idea, Bail.”

A sigh left the Alderaanian’s mouth. “It’s either that or you remain on Corellia in false security.”

A long pause followed before Solipo gave his consent. “I will await for the funds. And I will see you on Averam within a few days. If all goes well. Until later, my friend.”

Bail heaved one last heartfelt sigh. He had the oddest feeling that his conversation with Solipo Yeb might result in dire consequences for a good number of people.

———–

CORONET, CORELLIA

Anakin swallowed the last of his Corellian ale and placed his glass on the table. The Burning Musk did not possess a reputation for fine dining. The café, located in the city’s Blue Sector, merely served dishes for the average citizen who only required a hearty meal at low prices. And yet, Anakin considered it the best restaurant in all of Coronet. Even exclusive restaurants like those inside the Torvian Blue Hotel, could not match the Burning Musk’s superb cooking, as far as he was concerned. In his opinion, the only other restaurant that could match the Musk in quality was Dexter Jettster’s diner on Coruscant.

After he pushed his plate aside, Anakin signaled his waitress. A red-haired woman appeared by his table and smiled. “Will there be anything else, Captain Horus? A dessert, perhaps?”

“Another time,” Anakin replied politely. “I would like the bill, please.”

“Here you go.” The waitress handed over a data pad. It listed his order and the price – fifteen credits.

Anakin slipped his credit chip into the data pad. He included a tip for the waitress. “Thank you, Freya.”

“My pleasure.” The redhead’s smile broadened, as she practically cooed the words. Anakin ignored the obvious attempt at flirtation and politely returned Freya’s smile. Then he left the restaurant.

As he weaved his way through the crowded Treasure Ship Row, a large bazaar located just inside Blue Sector, Anakin became aware of two men following him. Upon emerging from the bazaar, he paused before a tailor’s stand and glanced at the window’s reflection. Just as he had thought . . . Orlan Remar’s thugs.

 

 

 

 

Anakin whirled upon the men, taking them by surprise. “May I assume that your employer is looking for me?” he asked in a sarcastic tone.

One of the thugs, a tall blond man with pale green eyes and pockmarked skin stared at Anakin in his most intimidating manner . . . affecting Anakin not one bit. “Mr. Remar had left you a message to meet him at the hangar. Two hours ago.”

“I didn’t receive the message,” Anakin coolly replied. “I was busy. Eating.”

The blond man took a step toward Anakin. “I hope you’re not trying to cheat Mr. Remar of his cargo.”

Anakin regarded the thug with cold eyes. The man stepped back. “Say that again?” he murmured in a menacing voice.

The thug shivered. “I . . .”

“Mr. Remar is waiting for you,” the shorter thug added. “In the hangar.”

A sigh left Anakin’s mouth. “Let’s go.” He continued walking along the street. The two men followed. Anakin had considered using a speeder taxi to reach the spaceport. But he took a perverse pleasure in testing the two men’s physical endurance. By the time they reached the spaceport, Remar’s thugs were panting from exertion.

They found a tall, red-haired man in his early forties, impatiently pacing back and forth in front of the Javian Hawk. A deep green robe covered his expensive outfit. Orlan Remar regarded Anakin with sharp, greenish-blue eyes. “Captain Horus,” he greeted in a soft voice, “I see that you’ve finally arrived.”

Anakin approached his client with a raised eyebrow. “Finally? I’ve been here since this afternoon, Mr. Remar.”

“And yet . . . I didn’t receive a message that you had arrived.”

Coolly, Anakin shot back, “You should have. Unless the hotel had been remiss in attending to its duty. How did you find out that I was here?”

A pause followed before Remar heaved an exasperated sigh. “I had received a bill . . . from the Customs Office. I had also left a message at your usual hotel, instructing you to meet me here over an hour ago.”

“I never received the message,” Anakin retorted. “Now that we’ve learned about the hotel’s inability to pass on messages, I suggest that we tend to business.”

Again, Remar sighed. “Fine. I believe I owe you four thousand credits.”

Anakin glared at the older man. “You owe me five thousand. That was the price we had agreed upon.”

“Let’s just say that I’m deducting a thousand for the inconvenience. I do not like to be kept waiting, Captain Horus.”

Anakin took a step forward. “It’s either five thousand or I leave and take your precious cargo elsewhere. I’m sure there are others interested in Carsunum.”

The merchant stiffened slightly. Then he turned to his men. “Boys, I think that the good captain needs to learn a little lesson on how business transactions are conducted.”

Remar’s two thugs regarded Anakin in a menacing manner. For several seconds, the former Jedi felt a deep desire to kill the pair, along with Remar. He no longer possessed a lightsaber, but there were other ways to kill them. All he had to do was squeeze Remar’s . . . He took a deep breath. This would not do. He did not want to return to that young Sith Lord he had discarded back on Mustafar. Anakin directed a fierce gaze at the merchant. “I suggest that you call off your thugs, Remar,” he hissed. “Even if they shoot me down, they won’t be fast enough to save your life.”

The Corellian’s eyes widened in fear. Anakin sensed the man’s heartbeat increase rapidly. Seconds passed before a nervous chuckle escaped Remar’s lips. “Really, Captain! Such melodrama is unnecessary. Of course I will pay the fee we had agreed upon. Five thousand credits.” He inhaled sharply. “Your credit chip, please.”

Anakin handed over his credit chip to the merchant. Who inserted it into a data pad and handed it back to the pilot. “Thank you.” Anakin inserted his chip into his own data pad to verify the payment. Sure enough, his account had increased by five thousand credits. He boarded the Javian Hawk and unlocked the ship’s cargo hold. Then he returned to the top of the ramp. “It’s all yours.”

While Remar’s men began to unload the Carsunum, Anakin stood near the cargo hold and watched them. “Hey,” the blond man said, “aren’t you going to help?”

“What for? I did all the hard work between here and Servacos II.”

The two men grumbled and continued their task. Once they had loaded the entire cargo into Remar’s land shuttle, Anakin joined them and Remar at the bottom of the boarding ramp. “Okay, that’s it,” he said. “Our business is over.” He stared directly at Remar. “Good night. Unless there is something else you need.”

“I doubt it,” the merchant retorted. He and the other two men boarded the shuttle and sped away.

Once alone, Anakin secured the Javian Hawk and left the hangar. He had only walked less than a block away from the spaceport, when he sensed another presence. One that seemed both scared and desperate. Anakin turned into the nearest alley and paused. He waited for a few seconds, until that same presence approached the alley. Then he reached out and grabbed an arm. He dragged the robed body attached to the arm, deep into the alley. Anakin jerked the robe’s hood and found himself staring into the face of a woman with light-brown skin, high cheekbones and dark eyes. For some reason, the woman reminded him of Anjuli Nab. “Who are you and why are you following me?” he growled.

“I . . . I need a pilot,” the woman replied nervously. “I need a pilot to convey me and my brother from here.”

Anakin glanced around. “Where is your brother?”

“Back at our hotel room,” the woman replied nervously. “He . . . he doesn’t know that I’m here. He’s asleep.” Then she began to ramble. “Listen, I would have approached you in better circumstances, but I need to get my brother off of this planet as soon as possible. We now have the resources to pay for passage and I had spotted you heading for the spaceport. I was desperate and took a chance.”

Maintaining a grip on the woman’s arm, Anakin demanded, “Why do you need to leave so soon?”

A sigh left the woman’s mouth. “My brother . . . He’s wanted by the Empire. He’s exhausted and I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to find another pilot after tonight.”

“Okay,” Anakin said with a nod. “I might consider the job.”

Relief flooded the woman’s dark eyes. “Oh thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me.”

“I said I might consider the job,” Anakin insisted in a hard voice. “After I meet your brother and we discuss . . . certain terms. I’ll follow you back to your room.” He released the woman.

She hesitated. “Look, I know that I said that time was of the essence, but my brother . . . well, he’s fast asleep. The past week has been very busy for him and for the first time, he has been able to get some sleep. Could you meet us at our hotel room, tomorrow morning? We’re at the Selonia Hotel. Ask for Thalia Kor.” She turned away.

“Wait a minute!” Anakin cried, as he grabbed her arm. “You don’t even know my name.”

Miss Kor smiled briefly. “Of course I do. I overheard what that man called you – Captain Horus, I believe?”

“Set Horus,” Anakin added. “I . . .”

With a firm nod, Miss Kor said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Captain. Good night.” She freed herself from Anakin’s grip and disappeared into the night.

Anakin chuckled lightly to himself and shook his head in disbelief. It seemed that his meeting with his last client had led to another meeting with a new one. He wondered if meeting Thalia Kor and her brother would prove to be just as dangerous as smuggling Carsunum spice out of Sevarcos II.

——–

CORUSCANT

The glittering lights of Coruscant twinkled outside of the Emperor’s private gymnasium. The two men inside the room barely noticed. They were busily engaged in an intense lightsaber duel.

Clutching his weapon, Darth Rasche exerted as much energy as he possibly could to overcome his Sith master. Despite his use of the Shien Form, he seemed incapable of defeating his opponent. Lord Sidious managed to parry every thrust he made. Rasche then decided to change tactics and express an exhaustion he did not fee. Sidious took that moment to execute a 180-degree turn and strike the Sith apprentice in the mid-section. Before the older man could strike, Rasche dropped to one knee and blocked the strike. Then he took advantage of his master’s surprise and knocked the latter’s lightsaber to the floor. Rasche proceeded to attack the unarmed man, but Sidious snatched up his weapon, using the Force, and parried Rasche’s attack just in time.

“Good!” the Sith Lord declared enthusiastically. “Excellent! Very clever of you to lure me into attacking you, Lord Rasche. May I assume that you have used similar tactics to defeat your recent opponent?” He smiled broadly, causing his deformed countenance to look even more hideous. When Rasche failed to disarm his weapon, Sidious added in a more sinister tone, “I suggest that you disarm your weapon, my Lord Rasche. Before you live to regret it.”

A hot flush crept into Rasche’s cheeks, as he switched off his lightsaber blade. “If you must know, I had used such a tactic to defeat Anjuli Nab. Nor do I see why I should have disarmed my weapon. I was simply tapping into my anger . . . as you have instructed me, time and again.”

“Your problem, my young apprentice, is that you allow your anger to get the best of you!” Sidious snapped. He turned away. “Yes, anger is the best way to tap into the Force. But it should be used as a tool. A weapon. A weapon kept in control by you. However, I have no need for you to indulge in your anger like some petulant and temperamental child. You were in danger of doing just that, Lord Rasche. Pray that it does not happen, again.”

The Sith Lord’s words burned into Rasche’s psyche. He wanted to re-activate his lightsaber and cut down his master. Let the old fool know that he had learned to use the Dark Side . . . and was ready to face Skywalker. But his earlier refusal to disarm his weapon had alerted Sidious. Rasche could sense the older man’s wariness. His anger barely under control, the young apprentice grumbled, “Will that be all, my Master?”

“Yes, you may be excused.” Sidious strode toward a single chair, where his robe laid.

Before he reached the double doors, a thought came to Rasche. He paused and whirled around. “I have one question, Master. When you talked of using anger as a weapon . . . is that what you had done with me? Used my anger to kill Jaren Tagge, last year?”

Sidious turned to give Rasche a subtle smile. “I see that you’re now beginning to finally understand, Lord Rasche. I commend you. Yes, I did exploit your anger. Senator Tagge had tried to take advantage of the newly formed Empire, through his family corporation. I needed your help to keep his family in check.”

His anger threatening to reassert itself, Rasche growled, “So, is that all I am to you? Merely a weapon and nothing else?”

“Yes . . . and no,” the Emperor murmured. “On one hand, you are a weapon, Lord Rasche. I will not deny it. After all, I needed a powerful apprentice to help me maintain order throughout the Empire. But you are also more than just a tool to me. You’re a comrade-in-arms. Together, we can bring about a new world. Ensure that the Sith will last for more than just a mere millennia.” The Sith Lord paused, while Rasche continued to regard him with a stony expression. Then he added with subtle malice, “May I remind you, my young apprentice, that you also regard me as a mere tool? After all, do you not require my help and the Empire’s resources to hunt down Skywalker? To exact vengeance upon him?”

Rasche stiffened. “Touche, Master. You have made your point. Now, if you will excuse me?” Again, he started toward the double doors. As it slid open, he nearly bumped into his master’s Umbrian aid, Sly Moore.

The Umbrian woman stopped short and bowed at Rasche before bowing even lower at the Emperor. “Pardon me, Your Highness.”

“Do you have news for me?” Palpatine demanded.

Sly Moore replied, “Actually . . .” She turned to Rasche. “. . . I have news for Lord Rasche. It is from Inquisitor Malorum.” She handed a data pad to the Sith apprentice.

Rasche scanned the pad. “Interesting,” he commented. “Apparently, over two weeks ago, Senator Solipo Yeb’s sister had booked passage aboard a space freighter bound for Corellia. And nearly an hour ago, the Inquisitorium had intercepted an encrypted message from Corellia . . .” He paused dramatically. “. . . to Alderaan.”

“Alderaan?” Palpatine frowned. “Bail Organa? That’s impossible. He has been one of my most loyal supporters.”

Rasche continued, “But he and Yeb were close colleagues in the Senate, Master. And there is the matter of Senator Organa’s presence at the Jedi Temple, last year. If Senator Yeb has reached his sister on Corellia, it is possible that he would contact Prince Organa.”

The Emperor took a deep breath. Rasche sensed that the older man seemed disturbed by the possibility that Organa might be a possible traitor. “Then you shall go to Alderaan, Lord Rasche. Question Organa about the message. And if you learn that he might be involved with Senator Yeb’s escape, then Alderaan shall share Andalia’s fate.”

“What about Yeb?” Rasche demanded. “Shall I search for him on Corellia?”

With a wave of his hand, Palpatine dismissed the idea. “No. Searching for some former senator amongst that piratical den on Corellia should not concern you. As my right hand, it is more befitting that you deal with Alderaan.”

Rasche bowed respectfully. “Yes, my Master.”

END OF CHAPTER TWO

 

Favorite Movie and Television Productions About Journalism

favorite-journalism-movies

Below is a list (in chronological order) of my favorite movie and television productions about journalism or features journalism:

FAVORITE MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS ABOUT JOURNALISM

1 - His Girl Friday

1. “His Girl Friday” (1940) – Howard Hawks directed this second adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1931 stage play, “The Front Page”. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell starred.

 

2 - Roman Holiday

2. “Roman Holiday” (1953) – William Wyler directed this delightful comedy about a bored European princess visiting Rome on a state visit, who becomes involved with an American reporter after giving her courtiers the slip. Gregory Peck, Oscar winner Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert starred.

 

3 - All the Presidents Men

3. “All the President’s Men” (1976) – Alan J. Pakula directed this Oscar nominated adaptation of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s 1974 book about their investigation of the Watergate scandal. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman directed.

 

4 - Broadcast News

4. “Broadcast News” (1987) – James L. Brooks directed this Oscar-nominated tale about a love triangle between a neurotic television news producer; a prickly reporter, who happens to be her best friend and a charismatic, yet less intelligent news anchorman. Oscar nominees Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt starred.

 

5 - The Pelican Brief

5. “The Pelican Brief” (1993) – Alan J. Pakula directed this adaptation of John Grisham’s 1992 novel about a Tulane University law student and a Washington D.C. reporter investigating the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices. Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts starred.

 

6 - Lois and Clark - The New Adventures of Superman

6. “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” (1993-1997) – Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher starred in this television series about Superman, which heavily emphasized on Clark Kent aka Superman and Lois Lane’s relationship and roles as journalists for The Daily Planet. The series was created by Deborah Joy LeVine.

 

7 - State of Play 2003

7. “State of Play” (2003) – John Simm and David Morissey stared in this six-part miniseries about a newspaper’s investigation into the death of a political researcher, who worked for a Member of Parliament (MP) investigating the connection between the oil industry and corrupt high-ranking ministers. Created by Paul Abbott, the miniseries was directed by David Yates.

 

8 - Good Night and Good Luck

8. “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005) – Oscar nominee David Strathairn, George Clooney and Jeff Daniels starred into this historical drama about the conflict between Edward R. Murrow and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin about the Cold War blacklists of the 1950s. The Oscar nominated movie was directed by Clooney and co-written with Grant Heslov.

 

9 - State of Play 2009

9. “State of Play” (2009) – Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck starred in this movie adaptation of Paul Abbott’s 2003 television miniseries in which a Washington D.C. newspaper investigates the death of a political researcher who worked for a congressman investigating the connection between a private defense contractor and corrupt high-ranking politicians. Kevin Macdonald directed.

 

10 - Spotlight

10. “Spotlight” (2015) – Tom McCarthy co-wrote and directed this account of The Boston Globe‘s investigation into widespread and systemic cases of child sex abuse by numerous Roman Catholic priests in Boston. Michael Keaton, along with Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams starred.

“LORD EDGWARE DIES” (2000) Review

“LORD EDGEWARE DIES” (2000) Review

The worlds of Britain’s upper-crust and artists mingled in Agatha Christie’s 1933 novel called “Lord Edgeware Dies aka Thirteen at Dinner”. There have been at least three movie and one radio adaptations of the novel in the past seven to eight decades. The most recent was a 100 minute television adaptation that aired in 2000 on the ITV series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.

In “LORD EDGEWARE DIES”, Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot is approached by celebrated stage actress, Jane Wilkinson aka Baroness Edgeware, to approach her rather unpleasant husband on the possibility of a divorce. She has plans to marry her current beau, the Duke of Merton. Although reluctant to carry out such a task, a reluctant Poirot is charmed by the actress into committing this deed. However, both he and his friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, are surprised to learn that Lord Edgeware had already informed his estranged wife of his willingness to grant her a divorce in a letter. Poirot surprises the actress with this information. But she claims that she has never received such a letter.

Jane’s relief at this bit of news is spoiled when Lord Edgeware is found murdered inside his study. When both his secretary and butler claim that the actress had appeared at her husband’s house, several minutes before his death, she becomes the prime suspect. However, a newspaper article catches the eyes of Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard. Through the article, they discover that Jane had been a guest at a dinner party on the night of her husband’s murder. Although Jane was one of the first guests to rise from the table, she was only gone for a few minutes. And when the American-born impersonator/comedienne Carlotta Adams was found dead from an overdose, Poirot begins to realize that someone had hired her to appear at the Edgeware home as Jane Wilkinson.

“LORD EDGEWARE DIES” surprisingly turned out to be that rare occasion in which a screen adaptation adheres faithfully to the novel source. The only major difference between the 1933 novel and the 2000 movie was the addition of Poirot’s secretary, Miss Lemon, to the story. One would think that such faithfulness made “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” one of the best Christie adaptations to be filmed. Perhaps other Christie fans might believe so, but not me. I am not saying that “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” is a terrible movie. Trust, it is not. If I have to be brutally honest, I found nothing exceptional about it.

There were a few aspects about Anthony Horowitz’s screenplay that I found troubling. The screenwriter nearly gave away the murderer’s identity just before the death of the third victim, a Scottish writer named Donald Ross, with a penchant for Greek mythology. And I could have done without the subplot involving Hasting’s return to England. It could have worked in a POIROT aired five years earlier or so. But “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” proved to be one of the last three or four movies to feature the Arthur Hastings character. Why create a big hullabaloo over Hasting’s return to England, when his character was destined to be gone within a year? Worse, Hastings seemed more than ever like a buffoon. Poirot’s interactions with Chief Inspector Japp seemed a lot stronger.

Aside from a few performances, I found nothing exceptional about the cast featured in “LORD EDGEWARE DIES”. David Suchet seemed competent as usual as Hercule Poirot. So did Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon. Only Hugh Fraser suffered, thanks to Horowitz’s script. And despite being a competent actor, I am afraid that Fraser was unable to overcome the script’s less-than-pleasing portrayal of Hastings. Helen Grace gave one of the few outstanding performances as prime suspect Jane Wilkinson. Her portrayal was complex, yet at the same time, made it easy for me to see why Poirot was charmed by her personality. Fiona Allen gave an amusing performance as impersonator Carlotta Adams. And Iain Fraser was solid as the intelligent and observant writer, Donald Ross. Aside from the Fraser, the only other performance that failed to impress me came from John Castle. I found this disappointing, because Castle is usually a subtle, yet outstanding performer. I suspect that like Fraser, Castle was hampered by a badly written character. Even worse, his Lord Edgeware came off as a one-dimensional bully.

Rob Harris did an outstanding job as the movie’s production designer. I thought he and his team did a great job in re-creating London of the 1930s. I was also impressed by Chris O’Dell’s cinematography and Frank Webb’s editing. I was especially impressed by Webb’s editing and Brian Farnham’s direction in the sequence featuring Scotland Yard’s chase of Lord Edgeware’s butler at Croydon Airport. I found Charlotte Holdich’s costumes very sharp and sophisticated – especially for the Lady Edgeware character. However, whoever styled Helen Grace’s hair for role, did a slightly sloppy job in re-creating a 30s hairdo for her character.

In the end, I found “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” as a solid, entertaining, yet undistinguished addition to the list of adaptations for “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. I enjoyed it, despite its flaws. But I would never consider it to be one of the best Christie adaptations around. It is a good movie, as far as I am concerned . . . but not a great one.

“FLASHMAN” (1969) Book Review

 

“FLASHMAN” (1969) Book Review

Forty-one years ago, an old literary character was re-introduced to many readers, thanks to a former Scottish journalist named George MacDonald Fraser. The author took a character from a famous Victorian novel and created a series of novels that placed said character in a series of historical events throughout the middle and second half of the 19th century.

The 1857 novel, “TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS”, told the story of a young English boy named Tom Brown and his experiences at the famous school, Rugby, during the 1830s. One of Tom’s travails focused on his abuse at the hands of an older student – a bully – named Flashman. However, Flashman got drunk at a local tavern and in the following morning was expelled by Rugby’s famous headmaster, Dr. Thomas Arnold. Fraser took the Flashman character, gave him a first name – Harry – and continued his story following the expulsion from Rugby in the 1969 novel, “FLASHMAN”.

The beginning of the novel saw the seventeen year-old Harry Flashman trying to find a new profession following his expulsion from Rugby. Due to his father’s wealth and his maternal Uncle Bindley Paget’s social connections, Flashman found a position as a junior officer in one of Britain’s most elite Army regiments, the 11th Hussars aka the Cherrypickers. And thanks to his talent for toadying and projecting a sense of style (inherited from his aristocratic late mother), Flashman managed to win the support and favor of the regimental commander, the haughty James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. Unfortunately, Flashman’s ideal life as a leisurely Army officer came to an end. His involvement with the French mistress of a fellow officer kicked off a series of events that led to Flashman being swept into the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). One of those events included seducing one Elspeth Morrison, the sixteen year-old daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant. After being forced to marry her by her relations, Flashman was kicked out of the 11th Hussars and sent to India by Lord Cardigan, who regarded the marriage as a step down the social ladder for the usually favored young Army officer.

It was in Afghanistan that Flashman earned the nickname, “Bloody Lance” by taking credit for his servant’s killing of four Afghan attackers. There, he also met one Ilderim Khan, the son of a pro-British Afghan nobleman and became the latter’s lifelong friend and blood brother. This friendship would end up saving Flashman’s life during the Sepoy Rebellion in “FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. Flashman also managed to earn two deadly enemies – an Afghan warlord named Gul Shah and his mistress (later wife), a dancer named Narreeman. The source of the pair’s enmity toward Flashman originated with his rape of Narreeman.

More importantly, “FLASHMAN” allowed readers to view many important events of the First Anglo-Afghan War. Not only did Flashman meet many historical figues such as Lord Cardigan, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington, but also Alexander Burnes, Akbar Khan, William Macnaghten, Thomas Arnold, and the incompetent commander of the British Army in Afghanistan, General William Elphinstone.

I must admit that my opinion of the novel has changed a great deal over the years. Originally, I held a low opinion of “FLASHMAN” for years, comparing it to the more epic-like sagas such as “FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE” (1973)“FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975)“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) and “FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON” (1985). I still regard these four novels in a higher regard than “FLASHMAN”. But I must admit that perhaps I had been a little unfair in my regard for the 1969 novel. It is actually a solid adventure story filled with historical interest, witty humor, sharp action and excellent pacing. Some fans of The Flashman Papers have expressed disgust or disenchantment with the Harry Flashman character portrayed in this novel. I suspect that a great deal of these negative opinions may have stemmed from Flashman’s rape of Narreeman. And I understand. However, many of these fans also complained about the young British officer’s crass style and manner – especially toward his father’s mistress, Judy. One has to remember that Harry Flashman aged from 17 to 20 years old in this story. He did convey some semblance of the style, common sense and instinct that would fool many people and serve him for years. But as an adolescent on the threshold of twenty, he had yet to learn some of the hard facts of life. As for his rough treatment and negative opinion of Judy, I suspect that his ego suffered a massive blow, when she rejected him, following a one-time bout under the sheets. A blow that he obviously had failed to recover from after six decades, while “writing” his memoirs.

“FLASHMAN” also had its share of interesting fictional characters. I have already mentioned the villainous Gul Shah and his mistress (later wife) Narreeman. I have also mentioned the young Afghan who became a close friend of Flashy’s, Ilderim Khan. But he had an even larger role in “FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. And as I had mentioned, Elspeth also appeared in the novel. However, her presence in the novel would not be truly felt, until the last chapter that featured Harry’s homecoming. Fraser barely explored her personality in the novel, but he did allow a peek into her promiscuous and self-absorbed nature in that last chapter. One particular character, Sergeant Hudson, proved to be a reliable source of defense for Flashman during the retreat from Kabul. During this event, Flashman experienced one of the most bizarre moments of his life, while being rejected by the young wife of an Army officer named Mrs. Betty Parker, whom he was trying to seduce:

“‘What the devil’ says I. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Oh, you brute!’ she hissed – for she had the sense to keep her voice down – ‘you filthy, beastly brute! Get out of my tent at once! At once, d’you her?’

I could make nothing of this, and said so. ‘What have I done? I was only being friendly. What are you acting so damned missish for?’

‘Oh base!’ says she. ‘You . . . you . . .’

‘Oh, come now,’ says I. ‘You’re in very high ropes, to be sure. You weren’t so proper when I squeezed you the other night.’

‘Squeezed me?’ says she, as though I had uttered some unmentionable word.

‘Aye, squeezed. Like this.’ And I reached over and, with a quick fumble in the dark, caught one of her breasts. To my amazement, she didn’t seem to mind.

‘Oh, that!’ she says. ‘What an evil creature you are! You know that is nothing; all gentlemen do that, in affection. But you, you monstrous beast, presume on my friendship to try to . . . Oh, oh, I could die of shame!’

If I had not heard her I shouldn’t have believed it. God knows I have learned enough since of the inadequacies of education given to young Englishwomen, but this was incredible.”

This last encounter with Mrs. Betty Parker struck me as a hilarious metaphor for the blindingly naïve morality that had began to encroach early Victorian society.

“FLASHMAN” also provided some interesting historical vignettes from the First Anglo-Afghan War. And young Flashman managed to witness or participate in a good number of them. The novel allowed him to be the sole surviving British witness to the murder of political officer, Sir Alexander Burnes and his younger brother, Charles. He also witnessed the murder of another political officer named Sir William Macnaghten, along with Last Stand at Gandamak and the Siege of Jalalabad. But Fraser’s pièce de résistance in “FLASHMAN” proved to be the disasterous Kabul retreat in which the British contingent under General Elphinstone were forced to march from Afghanistan to India in cold weather and dire circumstances:

“From other accounts of that frightful march that I have read – mostly Mackenzie’s and Lawrence’s and Lady Sale’s – I can fit a few of my recollections into their chronicle, but in the main it is just a terrible, bloody nightmare even now, more than sixty years after. Ice and blood and groans and death and despair, and the shrieks of dying men and women and the howling of the Ghazis and Gilzais. They rushed and struck, and rushed and struck again, mostly at the camp-followers, until it seemed there was a slashed brown body every yard of the way. The only place of safety was in the heart of Shelton’s main body, where the sepoys still kept some sort of order; I suggested to Elphy when we set off that I and my lancers should ride guard on the womenfolk, and he agreed at once. It was a wise move on my part, for the attacks on the flanks were now so frequent that the work we had been doing yesterday was become fatally dangerous. Mackenzie’s jezzailchis were cut to ribbons stemming the sorties.”

Reading the above passage made me wonder about the wisdom of the current Western presence in Afghanistan. And there is nothing like a British military disaster to bring out the best of Fraser’s writing skulls. It proved to be the first of such passages in novels like “FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” and “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”.

In the end, Fraser did a solid job in initiating what would proved to be The Flashman Papers in his first novel, “FLASHMAN”. Granted, the novel’s first part set in England struck me as slightly rushed. And the Harry Flashman character seemed a bit crude in compare to his characterizations in the novels that followed. Like many other readers, I found his rape of the Narreeman character hard to stomach. But Fraser did an excellent job in re-creating early Victorian Britain, British India, Afghanistan and the First Anglo-Afghan War. In short, “FLASHMAN” turned out to be a solid start to an excellent series of historical novels.