L.A. Noir I (1942-1956)

Below is the first set of images from some famous film noir movies set in Los Angeles:

L.A. NOIR I (1942-1956)

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“This Gun For Hire” (1942)

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“Double Indemnity” (1944)

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“Murder My Sweet” (1944)

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“The Big Sleep” (1946)

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“Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

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“Kiss Me Deadly” (1956)

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 7/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Seven

Gary Wheeler entered the elegant lobby of the exclusive condominium and made his way toward the front desk. “Good evening,” he greeted the desk clerk in a polite manner.

“Good evening sir.” An obsequious smile curved the clerk’s lips. “May I help you?”

“Yes, is Mr. Cole Turner at home? I’m here to see him.”

To Gary’s surprise, the clerk immediately answered, “Yes sir. Mr. Turner and Miss McNeill had just arrived about . . . oh, twenty minutes ago.”

Miss McNeill? Gary’s stomach began to form knots. “Miss McNeill?”

“Yes sir, his fiancée, sir.” The clerk continued, “Shall I call Mr. Turner and see if he’s . . .?”

What the hell was Olivia McNeill doing back at Turner’s place? Gary quickly squashed his disappointment and smiled at the clerk. “Never mind,” he said in a controlled voice. “I’ll call upon Mr. Turner, tomorrow.”

“Yes sir.” Gary barely heard the clerk, for he had turned away and walked out of the building.

Outside, Gary found Idril waiting patiently next to one of the canopy’s poles. “What are you doing out here?” she demanded with a frown stamped on her face.

“He’s not alone,” Gary replied.

“What?”

With a sigh, the warlock repeated, “Belthazor isn’t alone. Apparently, Miss McNeill had decided to join him for the night.”

“I thought you said . . .” Idril paused, as a couple strolled by. Once alone, she continued, “I thought you said that she would be at her parents’ home!”

“What are you talking about?” Gary retorted. “You were the one who had made that assumption! You were the one who told me that the McNeill witch has been staying with her folks this past week!”

Idril growled, as she forcibly crossed her arms. “I know! Damn! This is getting out of hand!”

“Why don’t you take care of the McNeill woman . . .?”

Dark eyes blazed at the warlock. “Are you serious? She’s a powerful witch! From what I hear, she eats daemons like me for breakfast!” Her shoulders sagged with defeat. “Maybe you should call him in the morning. Try to convince him to see you one last time.”

Gary sighed. “Okay. If you insist.”

————–

The following morning, Gary dialed the number to the Law Offices of Jackman, Carter and Kline. Seconds later, an operator directed him to the extension he had requested. “Cole Turner’s office,” a female voice answered. “May I help you?”

“Yes, this is Mr. Whalen. Gary Whalen,” the warlock replied.

The secretary continued, “Ah yes, Mr. Whalen. I believe Mr. Turner had recommended you to his colleague, Ms. Veronica Altman. Is there a problem?”

Gary hesitated. “Ye . . . uh, no . . .” He sighed. Dramatically. “Well, yes. I’m . . . I’m afraid that I’m not very comfortable with Ms. Altman.” Actually, Gary had never set eyes upon the woman.

“And you would like to become Mr. Turner’s client,” the secretary finished.

Relief surged in Gary’s voice. “Yes! Yes, I . . . no disrespect to Ms. Altman, but I would much prefer Mr. Turner to represent me.”

Silence followed. Then, “Hmmmm,” the secretary finally said. “I guess I can make an appointment for you to see Mr. Turner on January 8. In 2004, of course.”

“January?”

The secretary added, “Mr. Whalen, may I remind you that Mr. Turner will not return to the office until after the holidays? In fact, he is supposed to be busy with wedding rehearsals, today. And tomorrow will be the actual wedding. Now, I can schedule an appointment for early January, or . . . I can recommend an attorney, other than Ms. Altman.”

Gary realized that this phone call might have been a waste of time. He sighed. “All right. Schedule me with a new attorney.”

For a second, Gary thought he had heard a relieved sigh from Belthazor’s secretary. “Yes sir. Can you please hold for a minute? Excuse me.”

Several minutes passed silently before the secretary transferred Gary to another attorney with the firm. After he had hung up, the warlock turned to Idril. “It didn’t work. Belthazor ‘still’ won’t be available until after the New Year.”

One glance at the daemon’s face told Gary that Idril was not pleased. “Shit!” she muttered. “I suppose we’ll have to do this the hard way. Do you have any idea where Belthazor will be, today?”

Gary replied that the half-daemon will be at the McNeill home for wedding rehearsals, most of the day. “The wedding is tomorrow,” he added. “Which means that his bachelor’s party will probably be tonight.” The warlock paused. “In case you don’t know, a bachelor’s party . . .”

“I know what it is,” Idril interrupted sharply. “Daemons have them, too.” She paused momentarily. “Does this mean that the McNeill witch WILL be at her parents’ home, tonight?”

A sigh left Gary’s mouth. “The wedding is tomorrow. And if Belthazor and the witch are following mortal customs . . .” Idril rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry, both mortal and daemon pre-wedding customs, she should be at her parents’ home, tonight.”

Idril smiled. Slowly. “Good. That means tonight, you should have the perfect opportunity to approach Belthazor. And succeed, this time.”

———-

A heartfelt sigh left Paige’s mouth. She placed her elbows on the kitchen table, allowing her hands to hold up her head. “God, I’m tired! What time did we leave that party, last night?”

Piper opened one of the kitchen cabinets above the sink. “Twelve-thirty, I think. Thank goodness I managed to get some sleep. Because, I’m going to be very busy all day, preparing P3 for Olivia’s party.”

“Hey, any chance of a male stripper?” Paige asked hopefully.

Piper seared her youngest sister with a contemptuous glance. “You’ll have to ask Barbara or Cecile. And if there is one, let’s just hope that he doesn’t end up being murdered and impersonated by an incubus.”

A third figure entered the kitchen. “What this about an incubus?” Victor’s deep voice filled the room. He sat down in a chair, opposite Paige. “You’ve encountered one?”

Paige stared at the older man. “You’ve heard of them?” she asked.

“From your mother.”

Piper related the incident regarding a demonic order led by a powerful succubus, who had been after Bruce McNeill during his wedding. “Fortunately, I don’t think anyone is after Cole or Olivia. Or is trying to stop their wedding.”

“Don’t be too sure, Piper,” Paige commented dryly. “I bet that Livy’s uncle – the one from Wales – would love to stop this wedding. He doesn’t seem particularly thrilled by it. And then there’s Leo.”

Victor nodded. “Leo, huh? You think he might try to get between Olivia and Cole, again? Like he did, last summer?”

Piper rolled her eyes. She placed a frying pan on the stove. “I don’t think so, Dad. Neither Olivia or Cole have barely said a word to him in the past four months.”

“What did you expect?” Paige retorted. “Leo hasn’t apologized or shown any remorse for what he had done.” Victor grunted in approval.

Shooting both her sister and father an annoyed glance, Piper continued, “Anyway, Chris has assured the Elders that they won’t have to worry about the consequences of Olivia and Cole’s marriage. Being from the future, I guess he would know.”

Victor asked, “Who’s Chris?”

“Our new whitelighter since Leo became an Elder,” Paige replied. “He’s from the future and he’s got a lot of secrets. Too many, if you ask my opinion.”

A bedraggled Phoebe entered the kitchen, stifling a yawn. “God, I had such a horrible night!” she declared dramatically. “I barely got any sleep.”

“I’m surprised that you’re even here,” Piper said. She opened the refrigerator and retrieved a carton of eggs. “I thought you would be with Jason.”

Phoebe groaned, as she sat down in an empty chair. “Please don’t bring up Jason.” She then revealed an embarrassing encounter between herself, Jason and Cole at the McNeill party, last night. “I think he’s freaked out by the possibility that I might still care for Cole.”

Piper placed a tub of butter on the counter. “Do you?”

“Of course not!” Phoebe protested. Perhaps too forcibly, in Paige’s opinion. “I’m in love with Jason, now! But I still have . . . affection . . . for Cole.”

Victor asked, “Does Jason know that you’re a witch?”

All eyes, including Paige’s, fell upon the middle Charmed One. Who fidgeted on her chair. “Not yet,” she muttered. “I just don’t think . . .”

“Phoebe!” Shocked by her sister’s revelation, Paige cried out, “Are you serious? My God! You and Jason have been dating for nine months! When do you plan to tell him?”

Piper added, “She’s got a point, Pheebs. Look at what happened between me and Dan.”

“Yeah, and I also remember what happened when you finally told him,” Phoebe shot back. “I don’t want the same to happen between Jason and me.”

“You know Phoebe, if Prue had only told Andy the truth a lot sooner – and without using that spell – they could have spent a lot more time, together,” Piper continued. “Even though Andy didn’t react well to the news at first; in the end, he couldn’t stay away from her. And by then it was too late.”

“Piper . . .”

This time, Victor spoke up. “I hate to say this, Phoebe, but . . .” He sighed. “Look, your mother and I had both made mistakes that led to our breakup. We were both guilty. But there was one thing I had difficulty dealing with was the fact that Patty had never bothered to tell me that she was a witch . . . until after our wedding. And for a long time, I had this feeling that I had been trapped into that marriage – for whatever reasons she had. All I’m saying is that don’t make the same mistake with Jason. Especially if you’re serious about him.”

Silence filled the kitchen. Paige noticed that a slightly resentful expression had crept into Phoebe’s eyes. And inwardly thanked the God and Goddess that she had become involved with another witch.

Phoebe finally muttered, “I guess I’ll think about it.” Then in a louder voice, she added, “Although if you ask me, Jason is the least of my problems, right now. Or should I say . . . ‘our’ problems.”

“Meaning?” Piper demanded.

Phoebe paused dramatically and took a deep breath. “When I had bumped into Cole last night, I had a premonition. Of him marrying someone other than Olivia. I think she was a demon.”

Paige frowned. “What makes you think so?”

“Because the priest who was marrying them, was the same demonic bastard who had married Cole and me, when he was the Source.”

At that moment, the doorbell rang.

————

A slightly exhausted Olivia sauntered into the McNeill dining room and found Cecile and her Cousin Margaret at the dining table. They seemed to be enjoying morning coffee. “Well, look who’s here!” Cecile declared. “Cole didn’t come with you?”

Olivia sat down in one of the dining table’s empty chairs and sighed. “Andre had cornered him, as soon as we had arrived. I think Andre wants his room back at the penthouse.”

A smirk curved Cecile’s lips. “Don’t count on it. In fact, I think Andre’s hoping that you’ll stay with Cole, tonight.”

“I don’t think so, dear,” Margaret gently chided. “Not on the night before the wedding.” She faced Olivia. “By the way, have you and Cole discussed the matter regarding Cecile’s vision?”

Astonishment overwhelmed Olivia, as she stared at her best friend. The latter nodded. “Andre’s big mouth had let the cat out of the bag, earlier this morning. Don’t worry. Your family isn’t demanding that you call off the wedding. Especially since I had hinted that Cole might have been under a spell in my vision.”

“Really?” Olivia responded. “Because Cole and I came to the same conclusion, last night.”

“So, you did talk about my vision.” Cecile’s smirk returned. “About time.”

Olivia glared at her friend. Cousin Margaret spoke up. “Jack did point out that Cole might be susceptible to telepathic spells. How interesting.”

Someone other than her fiancé popped into Olivia’s mind. Which led her to ask, “What about Brion? How did he react to the news?”

“Oh, he wasn’t here, dear,” Margaret replied. “I believe I saw him leave the house before I came down for breakfast.” She shook her head in a bewildered manner. “Strange people, the Morgans.” An apologetic expression immediately appeared on her face. “Oh dear! I didn’t mean to insult . . .”

Olivia dismissed her elderly cousin’s last remark with a wave of her hand. “Don’t worry, Margaret. Even Mom and Nana would agree with you. Fortunately, not all of the Morgans act as if they have bugs up their . . .” She broke off, aware of the older woman’s presence.

A sly smile appeared on the elderly witch’s mouth. “Up their arses, you mean?” Cecile chuckled.

“Mom once told me that the Morgans are that way, because of ‘you-know-who’,” Olivia explained.

Cecile frowned. “You mean that ancestor of yours? The one who was a warlock on your mother’s side?”

“Ah yes,” Margaret added with a nod. “Briana Morgan. The woman is practically a legend amongst the British Pagans. I remember Gwen talking about her, once. Favorite of the old Source, wasn’t she? Is it true that he had offered her a chance to ascend to daemonhood?”

Olivia nodded. “It’s all true. I guess the sadist in her had appealed to the Source. According to Cole, he was another one. Which is why I think he was an idiot. Ever since her death, the Morgans have lived in fear that another Briana would crop up in the family bloodline. Mind you, Aunt Rhiannon came dangerously close to achieving that.”

Margaret sighed. “Och dearie, who hasn’t? I certainly did. Once.” A haunted expression flashed in her eyes for a brief second. “Besides, I wouldn’t be surprised there isn’t one family involved in magic that doesn’t have a warlock, evil witch or whatever in the family closet.”

“And bokors,” Cecile added. “In both of my parents’ fami . . .” She broke off, as Cole appeared in the dining room.

He said to the three women, “There you are. Gwen has been screaming for all three of you during the past five minutes. Uh, something about starting the wedding rehearsal. And she needs Margaret’s help over something about the decorations.”

A long suffering sigh escaped from Margaret’s mouth. “Bloody hell,” she muttered. “And I thought I had escaped from ‘Queen Gweneth’.” Olivia and Cecile exchanged knowing grins, as she stood up. “Oh well. I’ll see you all later.” She patted Cole’s arm. “You too.” And she sauntered out of the room.

Cole stared at the elderly woman’s disappearing form. “What, uh . . . what were you three talking about?”

After a brief pause, Cecile answered, “My vision of you.”

“Oh yeah,” Cole grumbled with a shake of his head. “Andre told me that he had let the cat out of the bag.” Then he sighed. “Now everyone knows. Even the Halliwells.”

“What are you talking about? Paige hasn’t shown up, yet.”

Olivia explained, “Cole had bumped into Phoebe, last night.”

“I think she might have had a premonition, last night,” Cole said to Cecile. “Maybe one very similar to yours. But that Dean character had appeared before I could find out.”

Cecile let out a gust of air. “Oh. Oh! I see.”

Cole added sardonically, “That’s right. We’re talking about the Charmed Ones, here. Who knows how they’ll react, once Phoebe spills the beans.”

“I don’t think they’ll react irrationally,” Olivia said. “They just might surprise you. On the other hand,” she paused, “you should be thankful that Brion doesn’t know.”

———–

A surprised Piper ushered a determined-looking Brion Morgan inside the house. The other family members had gathered inside the living room. “Hey guys,” the oldest Charmed Ones said with a forced smile, as she led the visitor toward the others, “look who’s here. Olivia and Harry’s uncle.”

Victor held out his hand to the visitor. “Nice to meet you, again, uh . . . Brian, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Brion Morgan.” The Welshman shook Victor’s hand. “And you’re Victor, I believe? Victor Bennett?” He nodded at Paige and Phoebe. “Ladies.”

Piper continued, “So Mr. Morgan, what brings you here?”

“I’ll be direct,” Mr. Morgan shot back. “It’s about Bel . . . uh, Cole. You see, I’m beginning to wonder if it is wise of my niece to marry him.”

Paige snorted with derision. “You’re beginning to wonder?” She regarded the British witch with a dubious eye. “I thought you were against the wedding from the start.”

A wry smile touched Mr. Morgan’s lips, as he nodded. “Yes, well . . . perhaps at first. But I did eventually resign myself to this . . . marriage. Until I had witnessed Miss Halliwell’s encounter with Bel . . . Cole, last night.” He directed his gaze at Phoebe.

Both Piper and Paige stared at the middle sister, as well. Victor angrily rounded on the other man. “You were eavesdropping on my daughter’s private conversation?”

“It was unintentional,” Mr. Morgan protested. “I assure you. However, I cannot deny that Miss Halliwell did react strangely, when she bumped . . . into Cole.” He paused, before adding dramatically, “In the same manner that my cousin, David Llewellyn usually reacted whenever he received a premonition.” He continued to stare at Phoebe. “You see, he is also a seer.”

Paige’s brusque tone interrupted the deafening silence. “Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but what exactly do you want?”

“I want to know if your sister had a vision, when she bumped into Cole,” Mr. Morgan replied sharply. “And if it had anything to do with my niece. Olivia and I may not share a cordial relationship, but I do have her best interests at heart. If her fiancé proves to be a future threat . . .”

To Piper’s dismay, Phoebe heaved a sigh. “All right. I understand. If you must know, I had a vision of Cole marrying someone other than Olivia. Some tall, dark-haired woman, who looked kind of skanky. And they were being married by this demonic priest.” She hesitated. “The same priest who had married us, when Cole was the Source. I mean . . . possessed by the Source.”

Mr. Morgan frowned. “You were married by a dark priest?”

“We didn’t know it at the time!” Phoebe protested.

A sigh left the male witch’s mouth. “I see. Well . . . you must tell Olivia about your vision. I see no other recourse.”

“Me?” Reluctance filled Phoebe’s dark eyes. “Are you kidding? You want me to tell my ex-husband’s fiancée that he’s going to marry a strange woman? Possibly another demon?”

Strange demonic woman who happened to be dark-haired and skanky? Piper exchanged a knowing look with Paige. Phoebe’s description of Cole’s possible bride seemed very familiar. “Uh, Pheebs,” she began, “can you describe the woman a little more?”

Phoebe stared at the older sister. “I don’t know. She’s tall. Slightly taller than Olivia. Dark, long hair. Straight. Her eyes are light, but I don’t know the color. Sorry, vision in black-and-white. And she looked a bit skanky. Like someone who belonged in that new TV series, “LAS VEGAS”.

A heavy sigh escaped from Piper’s mouth. She had a pretty good idea whom Phoebe had seen. “You’re right about one thing, Pheebs, the woman is a demon. But she’s no stranger.”

Paige added, “Yeah, it seems she had popped up at Cole and Livy’s engagement party, in the Melora dimension.” She paused. “Her name is Idril and she’s one of Cole’s old girlfriends.”

“What?” Phoebe’s eyes widened in horror. “Why didn’t you tell me about her?”

Feeling defensive, Piper shot back, “Because we had forgotten about Whatshername . . .”

“Idril,” Paige interjected.

Piper rolled her eyes. “Whatever! Anyway, we had forgotten about her, after some warlock tried to kill Olivia. Besides, I don’t think Cole really liked What . . . uh, Idril, very much.”

“How about not at all?” Paige added sardonically. “Which is why I find it hard to believe that Cole will dump Livy for her.”

Phoebe protested, “I’m not lying or anything like that! I know what I saw!”

Mr. Morgan stared at Phoebe. “Tell me, Miss Halliwell, have any of your visions ever been wrong?”

The middle Charmed One squirmed with obvious discomfort. “I don’t . . . think so. Maybe I’ve misinterpreted one or two.”

Or more, Piper added silently. But she kept the thought to herself.

Mr. Morgan added, “Then it would be suffice to say it is possible that Belthazor will reject my niece. Marry this daemon. And if he does . . . can you imagine the danger this union might represent?”

Piper sighed. “Look . . . Mr. Morgan, what exactly do you expect us to do? Vanquish Cole? We can’t. He’s too powerful. Even for the Power of Three. I don’t have the stomach to do it, anyway. And I certainly don’t want a pissed off Olivia or Cole’s mother on our backs.”

“Your son . . .” Mr. Morgan began.

“Forget it!” Piper snapped. “I won’t allow anyone to use my son to kill Cole!”

Victor turned to Phoebe. “Sweetheart, why don’t you simply tell Olivia about your vision. She’s probably the best person to deal with this matter.”

Mr. Morgan’s green eyes brightened considerably, much to Piper’s disgust. “Of course! I had heard that Olivia had nearly killed Cole, last summer. Once she realizes that both he and this daemon will pose a potential threat, she certainly won’t hesitate to use that vanquishing potion that she had created.”

“What?” Phoebe regarded the male witch with dismay. Paige glared at the man.

Piper rolled her eyes. She really needed to get rid of this guy. “Wait a minute! How do you know that Olivia will kill Cole, once she learns about Phoebe’s premonition? We don’t even know the circumstances behind the whole thing in the first place!”

The Welshman stared at the oldest Charmed One. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? Beltha . . . I mean Cole still have feelings for this woman.”

Another derisive snort escaped from Paige’s mouth. “Really? And you know this for a fact?”

“I . . .”

Phoebe calmly and coolly spoke up. “If what Piper and Paige say about Cole’s feelings for this woman is true, I doubt very much that Olivia will simply use the potion on him. However . . .” She heaved a morose sigh. “I guess I better tell Olivia about the premonition.”

For the first time, Piper began to wonder if her younger sister was finally growing up. She hoped so. And she hoped that Brion Morgan was wrong about Cole’s feelings for this Idril. The last thing any of them needed was an all-powerful half-demon for an enemy.

END OF CHAPTER SEVEN

“LIONS FOR LAMBS” (2007) Review

“LIONS FOR LAMBS” (2007) Review

I honestly had no intention of seeing Robert Redford’s 2007 political drama, “LIONS FOR LAMBS”, when it first hit the theaters twelve years ago. I had simply had no interest in it. But as with another movie, I had to be talked into seeing it. And to my utter surprise, it turned out to be a lot better than I had expected.

The movie is basically about the recent war in Afghanistan and it affected two California-born Army soliders (Derek Luke and Michael Peña), their college professor (Robert Redford) and his current disaffected student (Andrew Garfield); a Washington-based TV journalist (Meryl Streep) and a U.S. senator (Tom Cruise). The story is basically divided into three segments featuring the following:

a) Former California college students-turned Army soldiers Arian and Ernest decide to do something with their lives and enlist in the Army, instead of continue into graduate school. Their actions lead them to take part in a new military operation in Afghanistan, in which the Army will occupy certain strategic points in the mountains in small units. Their copter is shot at and the two fall out before the copter can crash. Arian and Ernest end up being stranded in the Himilayas, surrounded by the Taliban.

b) In Washington D.C. a charismatic Republican Presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving, has invited TV journalist Janine Roth to announce the new Army strategy in Afghanistan that Arian and Ernest are participating in. He hopes that what Roth will write will convince the public that this tactic is a good thing, but Roth has her doubts and does not want to become an instrument of propaganda. Her boss feels differently.

c) Arian and Ernest’s former college professor, Dr. Stephen Malley, attempts to reach privileged but disaffected student Todd Hayes, who is the very opposite of Arian and Ernest. He is bright but not working very hard; he says this is because of the time he spends with his girlfriend, and as president of his fraternity.

As I had stated before, “LIONS FOR LAMBS” turned out to be a lot better than I had envisioned. Quite frankly, I had expected to be bored. I had learned that many critics were not enamoured of the movie and viewed it nothing more than a filmed play. Although there is plenty of conversations and dialogue in the story, Redford’s shift to Arian and Ernest’s adventures managed to keep the movie from stagnating. And to be honest, I found the dialogue itself to be very interesting. Redford, along with screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan not only focus on how the Bush Administration’s missteps in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but also on American public and media’s support of the initial invasions and the public’s reluctance to face the realities of the country’s political state.

The performances were, of course, outstanding. Well, almost outstanding. I must admit that I found Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Roth a little mannered at times – especially toward the end. But the other performances were excellent – specifically Cruise, whose Senator Irving seemed at times charming and chilling. But I especially have to give kudos to Derek Luke and Michael Peña for their poignant portrayals of the two former college students-turned-Army soldiers.

I do not know if many would have the patience or the depth to appreciate, let alone understand this movie. Hopefully, there are many out there who will be able to. I find it disappointing that the most of the critics seemed non-appreciative of “LIONS FOR LAMBS”. Their views of the movie have only reinforced my belief that is better for a person to form his or her own opinion than allow someone else to form one for him/her.

“All Aboard the Orient Express”

Below is a look at two major movies and a television movie that featured journeys aboard the famed Orient Express:

“ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS”

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of those who demand that a novel, a movie or a television production to be historically accurate. Not if history gets in the way of the story. But there is an anal streak within me that rears its ugly head, sometimes. And that streak would usually lead me to judge just how accurate a particular production or novel is.

Recently, I watched four movies that featured a journey aboard the legendary train, the Orient Express. Perhaps I should be a little more accurate. All four movies, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010)“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963) featured a famous route that came into existence nearly a year following World War I called the Simplon Orient Express. The original route for the Orient Express stretched from Paris to Istanbul via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Then in 1919, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits introduced a more southerly route, due to the opening of the Simplon Tunnel. This route stretched between Paris and Istanbul, via Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia. Writers Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming made the Simplon Orient Express route famous thanks to their novels, “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) and “From Russia With Love” (1957). And the movie adaptations of these novels increased the route’s fame.

Both Christie and Fleming’s novels featured the Simplon Orient Express’ route from Istanbul to France via Yugoslavia and Italy. There are reasons why their stories do not stretch further west to as far as at least France. In “Murder on the Orient Express”, the train became stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia and detective Hercule Poirot spent the rest of the novel trying to solve the murder of an American passenger. And in “From Russia With Love”, British agent James Bond and his companion, Tatiana Romanova, made it as far as either Italy or France. The 1974, 2010 and 2017 adaptations of Christie’s novel, more or less remained faithful to the latter as far as setting is concerned. However, EON Production’s 1963 adaptation of Fleming’s novel allowed Bond and Tatiana to escape from the train before it could cross the Yugoslavia-Italy border.

While watching the four movies, I discovered that their portrayals of the Simplon Orient Express route were not completely accurate. I can imagine the thoughts running through the minds of many, declaring “Who cares?”. And I believe they would be right to feel this way. But I thought it would be fun to look into the matter. Before I do, I think I should cover a few basics about this famous train route from Istanbul to Paris-Calais.

During its heyday, the Orient Express usually departed from Istanbul around 11:00 p.m. Following the rise of the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Orient Express extended it route to stops in Greece in order to avoid the Soviet-controlled countries. The only Communist country it passed through was Yugoslavia. When the train became the slower Direct Orient Express in 1962, it usually departed Istanbul around 4:15 p.m. I do not know whether a restaurant car and/or a salon “Pullman” car was attached to the Direct Orient Express when it departed Istanbul between 1962 and 1977. One last matter. In the three adaptations of the two novels, the Orient Express usually made a significant stop at Belgrade. It took the Orient Express, during its heyday, at least 23 to 24 hours to travel from Istanbul to Belgrade.

Let us now see how accurately the three “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” movies and the 1963 “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” flick accurately portray traveling aboard the Simplon Orient Express (or Direct Orient Express) on film. I will begin with the “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)

Following the conclusion of a successful case for the British Army somewhere in the Middle East, Belgian-born detective is on his way home to London, via a train journey aboard the famed Orient Express. When an American businessman named Samuel Rachett is murdered during the second night aboard the train, Poirot is asked by his friend and director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Senor Bianchi, to investigate the crime.

In this adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, the Simplon Orient Express that left Istanbul did so at 9:00 at night. The movie also included a dining car attached to the train. One scene featured a chef examining food being loaded onto the train. This scene is erroneous. According to the The Man in Seat 61 website, there was no dining car attached to the train when it left Istanbul. A dining car was usually attached at Kapikule on the Turkish/Bulgarian border, before it was time to serve breakfast. The movie also featured a salon car or a “Pullman”, where Hercule Poirot interrogated most of the passengers of the Istanbul-Calais car.

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According to the “Seat 61” site, there was no salon “Pullman” car attached to the train east of Trieste, Italy. Christie needed the presence of the car for dramatic purposes and added one into her novel. The producers of the 1974 movie did the same. At least the producers of the 1974 used the right dark blue and cream-colored car for the Pullman. More importantly, they used the right dark blue cars for the train’s sleeping coaches, as shown in the image below:

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In the movie, the Simplon Orient Express reached Belgrade 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. For once, the movie was accurate. Somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, the Orient Express ended up snowbound and remained there until the end of the story.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010)

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel first aired on Britain’s ITV network in 2010. The television movie started with Hercule Poirot berating a British Army officer caught in a devastating lie. After the officer commits suicide, Poirot ends up in Istanbul, where he and a British couple witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. Eventually, the couple and Poirot board the Orient Express, where the latter finds himself investigating the murder of an American passenger.

I do not know what time the Simplon Orient Express departed Istanbul in this adaptation. The movie never indicated a particular time. This version also featured a brief scene with a chef examining food being loaded aboard a dining car. As I previously mentioned, a dining car was not attached until Kapikule. The movie did feature Poirot and some of the Istanbul-Calais car passengers eating breakfast the following morning. In this scene, I noticed a major blooper. Car attendant Pierre Michel was shown serving a dish to Poirot in the dining car. Note the images below:

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Pierre Michel greets Poirot and M. Bouc before they board the train

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Pierre serves breakfast to Poirot

Why on earth would a car attendant (or train conductor, as he was in the 1934 novel) act as a waiter in the dining car? Like the 1974 movie, the ITV adaptation also featured a salon “Pullman” attached to the train, east of Italy. In fact, they did more than use one salon “Pullman”. As I had stated earlier, the westbound Simplon Orient Express usually acquired a salon “Pullman” after its arrival in Trieste. But in this adaptation, the producers decided to use the dark blue and cream-colored “Pullman” cars for the entire train as shown in these images:

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This is completely in error. As I had stated earlier, the Orient Express usually featured a dark-blue and cream-colored salon “Pullman” between Italy and Paris. But it also featured the dark-blue and cream-colored seating “Pullmans” between Calais and Paris. There is no way that the Orient Express leaving Istanbul would entirely consist of the blue and cream “Pullman” cars.

However, the train did arrive at Belgarde at least 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. Like the other movie, the train ended up snowbound between Vinkovci and Brod and remained there until the last scene. However, I am confused by the presence of the police standing outside of the train in the last scene. Poirot and the other passengers should have encountered the police, following the train’s arrival in Brod, not somewhere in the middle of the Yugoslavian countryside.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017)

In this adaptation of Christie’s 1934 novel, in which Kenneth Branagh directed and starred, Poirot solves a theft at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The detective hopes to rest in Istanbul after traveling there via the Mediterranean and Agean Seas, but a telegram summons him to London for a case and he boards the Orient Simplon Orient Express with the help of young Monsieur Bouc, a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. When an American passenger named Samuel Rachett is found stabbed to death following his second night aboard the Orient Express, Poirot is asked to solve his murder.

This movie featured the departure of the Simplon Orient Express around 7:00 p.m., instead of eleven o’clock. However, this is probably the only adaptation of Christie’s novel that featured the strongest similarity to the real Sirkeci Terminal in Istanbul, the train’s eastern terminus.

However, I also noticed that passengers boarded via the dining car, at the tail end of the train. That is correct. This adaptation also has a dining car attached to the Orient Express in Istanbul, instead of having it attached at Kapikule, the Turkish-Bulgarian border crossing. And unlike the previous adaptations, the dining car and the lounge car are dark blue like the sleeping compartments, instead of a color mixture of dark-blue and cream-colored. Which was an error.

The movie did not feature a stop in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. It did, however, featured a brief stop at Vinkovci, before it encountered a snow drift, later in the night. Since it was definitely at night when the train stopped at Vinkovci, no error had been committed. Especially since it was not quite dark when the train departed from Istanbul. And the journey between Istanbul and Belgrade lasted roughly 24 hours. At the end of the film, Poirot departed from the Orient Express at Brod. This is also appropriate, since the train had been snowbound somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod in the novel. More importantly, unlike the 2010 adaptation, Poirot gave his false resolution to Rachett’s murder to the police … in Brod and not in the spot where the train had been trapped.

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“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963)

Ian Fleming’s tale begins with the terrorist organization, SPECTRE, plotting the theft of the KGB’s a cryptographic device from the Soviets called the Lektor, in order to sell it back to them, while exacting revenge on British agent James Bond for killing their agent, Dr. No. After Bond successfully steals the Lektor from the Soviet consulate in Istanbul, he, defector Tatiana Romanova and MI-6 agent Kerim Bey board the Orient Express for a journey to France and later, Great Britain.

While I found this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel extremely enjoyable, I found myself puzzled by the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s journey aboard the Orient Express. It seemed so . . . off. In the movie; the Orient Express conveying Bond, his traveling companions and SPECTRE assassin “Red” Grant; departed Istanbul somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. The train departed Istanbul around nine o’clock at night, in Fleming’s novel. Mind you, the novel was set in the 1950s and the movie, set in the early 1960s, which meant that its departure in the movie was pretty close to the 4:15 pm departure of the Direct Orient Express train that operated between 1962 and 1977. I do not recall seeing a dining car attached to the train, during its departure in the movie, so I cannot comment on that. But after the train’s departure, the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s Orient Express journey proved to be mind boggling.

The main problem with “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” is that Bond’s journey proved to be the fastest I have ever witnessed, either on film or in a novel. It took the train at least three-to-four hours to reach Belgrade, following its departure from Istanbul. One, it usually took the Orient Express nearly 24 hours to reach Belgrade during its heyday. During the first ten-to-fifteen years of the Cold War, it took the Orient Express a little longer to reach Belgrade, due to it being re-routed through Northern Greece in an effort to avoid countries under Soviet rule. This was made clear in Fleming’s novel. But the 1963 movie followed the famous train’s original eastbound route . . . but at a faster speed. After killing Grant, Bond and Tatiana left the train before it reached the Yugoslavian-Italian border. Bond’s journey from Istanbul to that point took at least 15 hours. During the Orient Express’ heyday, it took at less than 48 hours. And during the 15 years of the Direct Orient Express, it took longer.

Unlike many recent film goers and television viewers, historical accuracy or lack of it in a movie/television production has never bothered me. I still remain a major fan of both “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974 version) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. And although I have other major problems with the 2010 “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, there are still aspects of it that I continue to enjoy. Historical inaccuracy has never impeded my enjoyment of a film, unless I found it particularly offensive. But since I can be occasionally anal and was bored, I could not resist a brief exploration of the Hollywood and British film industries’ portrayals of the Orient Express.

“JANE EYRE” (1973) Review

“JANE EYRE” (1973) Review

When I began this article, it occurred to me that I was about to embark upon the review of the sixth adaptation I have seen of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. I have now seen six adaptations of “Jane Eyre” and plan to watch at least one or two more. Meanwhile, I would like to discuss my views on the 1973 television adaptation.

For the umpteenth time, “JANE EYRE” told the story of a young English girl, who is forced to live with her unlikable aunt-by-marriage and equally unlikable cousins. After a clash with her Cousin John Reed, Jane Eyre is sent to Lowood Institution for girls. Jane spends eight years as a student and two as a teacher at Lowood, until she is able to acquire a position as governess at a Yorkshire estate called Thornfield Hall. Jane discovers that her charge is a young French girl named Adele Varens, who happens to be the ward of Jane’s employer and Thornfield’s owner, Edward Rochester. Before she knows it, Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester. But the path toward romantic happiness proves to be littered with pitfalls.

After watching “JANE EYRE” . . . or least this version, I hit the Web to learn about the prevailing view toward the 1973 miniseries. I got the impression that a number of Brontë fans seemed to regard it as the best version of the 1847 novel. I can honestly say that I do not agree with this particular view. Mind you, the miniseries seemed to be a solid adaptation. Screenwriter Robin Chapman and director Joan Craft managed to translate Brontë’s tale to the screen without too many drastic changes. Yes, there are one or two changes that I found questionable. But I will get to them later. More importantly, due to the entire production being stretch out over the course of five episode, I thought it seemed well balanced.

I was surprised to see that “JANE EYRE” was set during the decade of the 1830s. It proved to be the second (or should I say first) adaptation to be set in that period. The 1983 television adaptation was also set during the 1830s. Did this bother me? No. After all, Brontë’s novel was actual set during the reign of King George III (1760-1820) and I have yet to stumble across an adaptation from this period. Both this production and the 1983 version do come close. But since “Jane Eyre” is not a historical fiction novel like . . . “Vanity Fair”, I see no reason why any movie or television production has to be set during the time period indicated in the story.

The movie also featured some solid performances. I was surprised to see Jean Harvey in the role of Jane’s Aunt Reed. The actress would go on to appear in the 1983 adaptation of the novel as Rochester’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. As for her portrayal of Aunt Reed, I thought Harvey did a solid job, even if I found her slightly theatrical at times. Geoffrey Whitehead gave an excellent performance as Jane’s later benefactor and cousin, St. John Rivers. However, I had the oddest feeling that Whitehead was slightly too old for the role, despite being only 33 to 34 years old at the time. Perhaps he just seemed slightly older. The 1973 miniseries would prove to be the first time Edward de Souza portrayed the mysterious Richard Mason. He would later go on to repeat the role in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 adaptation. Personally, I feel he was more suited for the role in this adaptation and his excellent performance conveyed this. I do not know exactly what to say about Brenda Kempner’s portrayal of Bertha Mason. To be honest, I found her performance to be something of a cliché of a mentally ill woman. For me, the best performance in the entire miniseries came from Stephanie Beachum, who portrayed Jane’s potential rival, the haughty and elegant Blanche Ingram. I do not think I have ever come across any actress who portrayed Blanche as both “haughty” and lively at the same time. Beachum did an excellent job at portraying Blanche as a likable, yet off-putting and arrogant woman.

Many fans of the novel do not seem particularly impressed by Sorcha Cusack’s portrayal of the title character. A good number of them have accused the actress of being unable to convey more than a handful of expressions. And they have accused her of being too old for the role at the ripe age of 24. Personally . . . I disagree with them. I do not regard Cusack’s performance as one of the best portrayals of Jane Eyre. But I thought she did a pretty damn good job, considering this was her debut as an actress. As for her “limited number of expressions”, I tend to regard this accusation as a bit exaggerated. Yes, I found her performance in the scenes featuring Jane’s early time at Thornfield a bit too monotone. But I feel that she really got into the role, as the production proceeded. On the other hand, many of these fans regard Michael Jayston’s portrayal of Edward Rochester as the best. Again, I disagree. I am not saying there was something wrong with his performance. I found it more than satisfying. But I found it difficult to spot anything unique about his portrayal, in compare to the other actors who had portrayed the role before and after him. There were a few moments when his performance strayed dangerously in hamminess. Also, I found his makeup a bit distracting, especially the . . . uh, “guyliner”.

The production values for “JANE EYRE” seemed solid. I felt a little disappointed that interior shots seemed to dominate the production, despite the exterior scenes of Renishaw Hall, which served as Thornfield. Some might argue that BBC dramas of the 1970s and 1980s were probably limited by budget. Perhaps so, but I have encountered other costumed productions of that period that have used more exterior shots. I had no problem with Roger Reece’s costume designs. But aside from the outstanding costumes for Stephanie Beacham, there were times when most of the costumes looked as if they came from a warehouse.

Earlier, I had commented on the minimal number of drastic changes to Brontë’s novel. I am willing to tolerate changes in the translation from novel to television/movie, if they were well done. Some of the changes did not bother me – namely Bessie’s visit to Jane at Lowood and the quarrel between Eliza and Georgiana Reed, during Jane’s visit at Gateshead Hall. But there were changes and omissions I noticed that did not exactly impress me. I was disappointed that the miniseries did not feature Jane’s revelation to Mrs. Fairfax about her engagement to Mr. Rochester. I was also disappointed that “JANE EYRE” did not feature Jane begging in a village before her meeting with the Rivers family. Actually, many other adaptations have failed to feature this sequence as well . . . much to my disappointment. And I was a little put off by one scene in which Mr. Rochester tried to prevent Jane from leaving Thornfield following the aborted wedding ceremony with over emotional kisses on the latter’s lips. Not face . . . but lips. I also did not care for the invented scenes that included a pair of doctors telling Reverend Brocklehurst that he was responsible for the typhus outbreak at Lowood. What was the point in adding this scene? And what was the point in adding a scene in which two society ladies discussed John Reed during a visit Thornfield?

Overall, “JANE EYRE” proved to be a solid adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, thanks to director Joan Craft and screenwriter Robin Chapman. Everything about this production struck me as “solid”, including the performances from a cast led by Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. Only Stephanie Beachum’s portrayal of Blanche Ingram stood out for me. The production values struck me as a bit pedestrian. And I was not that thrilled by a few omissions and invented scenes by Chapman. But in the end, I liked the miniseries. I did not love it, but I liked it.

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 6/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Six

The front door swung open and Piper entered the Halliwell manor, followed by her companions. “Here we go,” she announced cheerfully. “Home sweet home.”

A sigh left Victor Bennett’s mouth. “I don’t know if this place was ever home to me, sweetheart.”

“Dad,” Piper gently admonished the older man. “I’ll show you to your room. And then you can clean up and get dressed.” She headed toward the staircase.

Victor followed his daughter. “Get dressed for what?”

Piper began to climb the staircase. “For the wedding dinner at the McNeills.” Then she shouted, “Phoebe, we’re here!” She and Victor paused outside of Wyatt’s nursery, where they found the middle Charmed One rocking her ten-month old nephew.

“Phoebe’s here?” Victor gaped at his youngest daughter. “In San Francisco?”

Phoebe smiled. “Hey Dad! Welcome back.”

“What . . . what are you . . .?”

Piper jerked her father’s arm. “Not now, Dad. Later. You need to get dressed, first.” She led him to his bedroom.

“What is Phoebe doing here?” Victor demanded. “I thought she was in Hong Kong. With that Jason fellow.”

Phoebe appeared in the doorway. “I was,” she said. “Jason and I had also received wedding invitations.”

“From your ex-husband?”

Piper added, “And Jason’s ex-girlfriend.”

Victor frowned at her. “What . . .?” He glanced at Phoebe. “What’s going on? Look honey, I know that you and Cole had made your peace. And I know that he was as much a victim of the whole Source mess, as you were. But why on earth would you attend his wedding to another woman? And did I hear right? Olivia McNeill was Jason’s . . .?”

“. . . ex-girlfriend,” Phoebe finished with a sigh. “Yeah, that’s right. In a nutshell, Olivia and Jason had also made their peace. Then she and Cole had sent wedding invitations to the both of us. I think they were just trying to be polite. Unfortunately, Jason had decided to accept on behalf of both of us. And I couldn’t say no . . . because I didn’t want Jason to think I was jealous. About Cole’s upcoming wedding.”

Concern and sympathy mingled in Victor’s eyes. “And are you? Jealous, I mean.” Before Phoebe could answer, he added, “Sweetheart, it would be okay if you were a bit jealous. It’s only natural. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason is wondering why he and Olivia didn’t work out.”

Piper glanced at Phoebe and noticed that the younger woman did not care for her father’s last suggestion. Then she glanced at her watch. “Uh-oh, I hate to cut this short guys, but we’ve got less than three hours to get ready. Now, if only I knew where Paige . . .”

A sharp bang signaled someone slamming a door. Then a voice cried out, “Hey! I’m home!” It was Paige.

“Well,” a slightly relieved Piper continued, “I guess we now know. Okay guys, let’s get busy.” She grabbed Phoebe’s arm and pulled the younger woman out of their father’s bedroom.

————-

A sigh left Claude Dubois’ mouth. He stood in front of a large mirror as he struggled to adjust his tie. His wife frowned. “What was that about?” she asked.

“What?” Frustrated by the tie, he turned to Vivian for help.

The middle-aged woman calmly finished the task. “That little sigh of yours. What was that all about?”

“This whole wedding thing,” Claude finally confessed. “There’s just a whole lot of . . . I don’t know . . . craziness going on. Olivia is marrying a half-daemon. Okay, he’s now one of the good guys, but still . . . his past makes Andre’s look like nothing. And that mother of his . . .”

Vivian interrupted. “Evil or not, she seems like an interesting person. And she obviously loves her son and has no problems with him marrying Olivia.”

“Is it any wonder? She knew Jack’s great-granddaddy,” Claude reminded his wife. “Who also happens to be her own son’s godfather. And then there’s this whole mess about Jack and his family being related . . . to daemons?”

Rolling her eyes, Vivian pointed out that the Dubois family knew about the McNeills’ blood connection to an incubus. “And you’re complaining now?”

Claude sighed. “What about the other two daemons they’re supposed to be kin to?”

Vivian shot him a hard look. “If you wanna leave now, Claude . . . you can go back to New Orleans, now. This isn’t about the McNeills or Cole . . . or even those daemons that Jack is supposed to be related to. This is about Andre becoming your son-in-law, next month. If Jack and Gwen can accept a former daemonic assassin in the family, surely you should be able to accept a former bokor into yours. Or do you wonder if you can?”

He hated it when Vivian exposes his true feelings. It made Claude feel vulnerable and guilty. Yet, his wife’s bluntness happened to one of her traits that he valued. “I hope I can,” he finally said. “For Cecile’s sake. It’s just that . . . well, it’s hard.” A sigh left his mouth. “It’s hard to just dismiss all that I’ve been taught in my life. But I don’t want to become like Gwen’s daddy. Or her brother for that matter.”

“Good,” Vivian said with a final pat on his arm. “Now let’s go downstairs. We have a party to attend.” The couple linked arms and left the bedroom.

———–

Brion Morgan stood on a balcony that overlooked San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the bay in the far distance. His eyes barely acknowledge the panoramic view. But his mind seethed with disturbing thoughts.

A slight cough interrupted his reverie. “Ready to leave now, darling,” his mother announced. When he failed to move, she added, “Brion?”

“Yes Mother.” Brion returned inside Bronwyn’s bedroom and found his mother dressed in a deep blue cocktail dress. “You look lovely,” he announced.

Bronwyn smiled. “Thank you. You look handsome yourself. Now, let’s go.” Brion sighed as they linked arms. The elderly woman frowned. “What is it now, Brion?”

Son and mother stopped short near the doorway. “Nothing . . . Mother. It’s just . . .” Unable to remain silent, he burst out, “This entire wedding is a mistake! It’s wrong! Completely wrong! In two days, a powerful daemon, who happens to be a notorious assassin, is about to become my nephew-in-law! A notorious assassin who was once the Source. Doesn’t this disturb you?”

Bronwyn sighed. “I admit that when Gweneth first told us about Olivia and Cole, I was a bit . . . flabbergasted. But she and Jack have convinced me . . .”

“Convinced you? One would think after that debacle with Richard Bannen . . .”

With surprising speed for someone her age, Brion’s elderly mother whirled around, blocking his path to the door. “Look here, Brion,” she said in a low voice. “It is time you realize that the only one truly responsible for your sister’s death was Rhiannon, herself. She had allowed her grief over Tony’s death to veer out of control. And if your father and the others can forgive her little . . . murderous spree, you can certainly do the same over Olivia’s attack against Dafydd. How long do you plan to bear a grudge against her?”

“I don’t . . .” Brion pressed his mouth together and shook his head. “This is not about what Olivia had done to Dafydd, Mother. I’m just concerned over this upcoming marriage to Belthazor. A former daemonic assassin! Aren’t you concerned?”

Bronwyn shot back, “After meeting him . . . no. Olivia is in love with him. And it’s obvious that he feels the same about her. Gwen and the others seem to regard him as a member of the family.”

“Yes, but . . .”

Again, his mother interrupted him. “Brion, when you had asked to accompany me to this wedding, I assumed that you wanted to make your peace with Olivia.” The elderly woman’s eyes nearly resembled black marble. “Am I wrong?”

Brion wanted to convince his mother that it was wrong to support Olivia’s marriage to the notorious Belthazor. But what could he say? She seemed perfectly convinced otherwise. He finally murmured, “No, you’re not wrong.”

“Good. Now,” the elderly woman extended her arm to her son. “I’m ready.” Brion linked his arm through hers and led her into the hallway.

————-

Olivia reached for a glass of champagne from one of the refreshment tables. She took a sip, as her eyes scanned the crowd inside the McNeills’ large drawing-room. She felt thankful that her parents had only invited friends and family, and not invited half of San Francisco’s high society to this engagement party. It would have been difficult dealing with them. And the only non-magical mortals attending the party were Darryl and Sheila Morris, Carlotta and Marcus from the squad, along with Veronica Altman from Cole’s office. And dealing with those three mingling with magic practitioners seemed bad enough.

In the past three or four hours, Olivia had tried to become involved in tonight’s celebration. She tried to be happy when Dad had toasted the engaged couple. She tried to be happy when some of the presents were opened. She simply wished that she could enjoy the party. But Cecile’s vision about Cole and Idril had left her in a state of anxiety and confusion.

Olivia simply could not understand why Cole would be willing to marry someone like Idril. Someone whom the half-daemon apparently harbored a low opinion. Olivia could understand if Phoebe Halliwell had been in Cecile’s vision. Or even a blast from the past like another one of Cole’s former girlfriends – Christine Bloom. But Idril? Why would Cole change brides in the first place? Will something happen to break up their engagement?

Longing to clear the cobwebs of questions from her mind, Olivia left the party for a few minutes. After retrieving a coat to ward off the December chill, she headed for the garden, outside. She sat down on her favorite bench. And continued to brood. But not even the garden’s scented sanctuary could offer escape from her anxiety. Olivia realized that sooner or later, she would have to face . . .

“Mind if I join you?” a soft, masculine voice asked.

Olivia’s heartbeat increased, as she recognized the voice. She glanced up and sure enough, Cole’s tall figure loomed before her. “Sure,” she said with a dim smile. “Go ahead.”

After Cole had filled the empty spot next to hers, he commented, “Why are you sitting outside, like this? Aren’t you cold?”

“It’s not that cold,” Olivia said with a shiver. “And I have a coat.” Dammit! Why did he have to remind her?

One of his dark brows formed an arch. “Oh really? Then I can only assume that your reason for being out here in 50 degrees weather is that you’re trying to avoid me.”

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “I’m not trying . . . I mean . . . maybe I . . . All right! Maybe I have.”

“Why?”

Olivia seared the half-daemon with a sardonic look.

Cole shrugged. “Of course. Idril.” He paused before adding, “Here’s another question.” His blue eyes pierced into Olivia’s. “Do you honestly believe I would dump you for someone like Idril?”

Strange. Olivia had expected Cole to ask such a question. Yet, she still found herself taken by surprise. “No, I . . .” She paused – and sighed. “I don’t know, Cole. Normally, I would say no. But . . . you have to understand.”

“Understand what?”

Another sigh left Olivia’s mouth, as she realized that she would finally have to reveal a certain aspect of her life. “I, uh . . . I haven’t had much luck with men in life. And I mean with guys I’ve been serious about.” She told Cole about her first love, a high-school football player named Ronnie Whitelaw. He had dumped her about a week or two, after he took her virginity when she was seventeen.

“And then there was Richard,” she continued.

Cole frowned. “I know that Richard’s death had been difficult for you,” Cole said with a frown. “But I don’t see how . . .”

Olivia shook her head. “I guess that in a way . . . I felt that he had abandoned me. You see . . . he . . . I had to watch him die.”

“But I thought you had been unconscious at the time,” Cole insisted. “Because of your aunt’s attack.”

Closing her eyes, Olivia replied, “Not really. I . . .” She felt Cole’s gaze upon her. “I guess that when it came to Richard, I’ve always found it difficult to talk about his death.” She paused. “Especially about that moment when he finally died. I had to watch him die. Slowly. I didn’t mean to lie about it, when we first met. It’s just . . . we hadn’t known each other . . .” She sighed again. “Never mind. I guess the truth is that I had lied.”

“I see.” Olivia barely heard Cole’s voice. Anxiety clenched her heart. Did he really understand her reluctance to discuss that moment of Richard’s life? A sigh left the half-daemon’s mouth. “Olivia,” he added wearily, “I understand. Okay. I mean . . . I’m sure there are other matters that neither of us have brought up. There are some . . . aspects of my life I probably haven’t revealed, yet.” He gently pressed his hand against one of Olivia’s cheeks. “I understand.”

“I know,” Olivia said with a sigh. “I mean . . . now, I do. It’s just . . . well, Richard’s death was a horrible moment for me.”

Cole added, “Which is why you tend to be insecure when it comes to romance.”

The red-haired witch surprised her fiancé when she answered, “Oh, Richard’s not the main cause.”

“He’s not?” Cole said with a frown. “I don’t under. . .”

“Adrian Chambers.”

“Who?”

Olivia then proceeded to tell Cole about Adrian Chambers, a witch she had dated during her first two years in college. “Adrian’s mother was the first in his family to practice witchcraft. Which meant, he had no problem accepting a whitelighter as his guide. Like the Halliwells, he was really into daemon hunting. And I guess I was, too. I think I mainly did it to please him.”

Cole snickered, “I bet Leo must have loved this guy.”

“Are you kidding? Leo was crazy about Adrian. In fact, one of his friends happened to be Adrian’s whitelighter. Someone named Natalie. But she’s dead, now. As for Leo, he thought that Adrian and I made the perfect couple – you know, two witches battling evil daemons, together.” Olivia hesitated, as she recalled the last days of her college romance. “But . . . Adrian put an end to all that.”

The half-daemon drew Olivia closer into his arms, as she shivered. “What happened?”

With a sigh, Olivia explained, “Cecile, Barbara and I had this friend who majored in archeology. He found this artifact that belonged to a daemon named Rashik. Unfortunately, Jared had unintentionally turned it over to another daemon. Someone very unpleasant. We helped Rashik recover the artifact.”

“I’ve heard of Rashik,” Cole said. “He wasn’t a subject of the Source’s, or belonged to anything like the Gimle Order. He was an independent, like Riggerio.”

Sadly, Olivia concluded that Adrian had been appalled by her willingness to work with a daemon. “In other words, he had dumped me. Told me that he couldn’t remain involved with someone willing to work with ‘evil’.”

Cole rolled his eyes. “This guy sounds like a prick.”

“Prick or not, I was crazy about him. It had really hit me hard, when he dumped me.” Olivia paused. “So much so that I tried to win him back. I even began stalking him, but Cecile and Barbara put a stop to that. Even Leo was upset. And that’s when Bruce and I had decided that we no longer wanted a whitelighter.” She shook her head and sighed. “It took me a long time to get over Adrian. He had a talent for undermining my self-esteem, back then. In fact, I didn’t get seriously involved with anyone else for ten years . . . until I met Richard.”

Cole said, “And you think that I’ll dump you, just as this Adrian had done.” Olivia opened her mouth to speak, but the half-daemon continued, “Okay, there was that matter with Phoebe, last summer, but I was on the rebound . . . after you had dumped me, because of that spell Margolin had cast upon you. Remember?”

Olivia nodded. “Yeah, I remember. But this thing with Idril . . . I just don’t understand why Cecile would have a vision of you marrying her. You barely like her.”

“Hell, I don’t like her at all,” Cole corrected. “In fact, the only way I could see myself marrying Idril, is for her to cast a spell on me. And . . .” He broke off and stared at Olivia.

Olivia’s own eyes grew wide with realization. “Oh Goddess!” she exclaimed. “You think that’s it? Is that how she’ll end up marrying you? Through a spell?”

“I wouldn’t put it past Idril,” Cole muttered. “That’s how Leo and Margolin got to you.” He gently rubbed Olivia’s arm, as she snuggled even closer to him.

Olivia planted a light kiss on his jaw. “I wonder . . .” she began.

“You wonder what?”

“I wonder if your mother was right about Idril.” Olivia’s gaze met Cole’s. “That she was behind the attempt to kill me during our engagement party in the Melora dimension, and had poisoned that warlock.”

Cole grunted. “I wouldn’t be surprised. Poison had always been Idril’s forte. But if she comes near any of us again,” his voice hardened, “she’ll end up one dead daemon.”

Again, Olivia kissed his jaw. “Hmmm, my hero.”

“Speaking of which, how about rewarding your hero?” Cole said in a suggestive voice. “I . . . wouldn’t mind becoming familiar with your old bedroom, again.”

A light chuckle escaped from Olivia’s mouth. Sometimes, her fiance’s audacity never failed to surprise her. “You really amaze me sometimes, Cole.”

“Does that mean . . .?”

“Nana is using my old room, right now. And I’m sharing another with Cecile.”

A long, silent pause followed before Cole whispered in Olivia’s ear, “How about my place?”

Olivia stared into Cole’s eyes, which glimmered with desire. She pressed her mouth against his for a passionate kiss. After a brief, yet wet exploration of each other’s mouths, she murmured, “Hmmm, now that sounds more promising.” And their lips met once more for another kiss.

———-

Phoebe had planned to stick by Jason’s side throughout the evening. But when he drifted toward Cecile Dubois in order to discuss business, the Charmed One decided that she would prefer to be elsewhere. She eventually joined her father, who was in deep conversation with Olivia’s dad and Uncle Mike, along with Cecile’s dad, Claude Dubois.

“. . . that you’re not uneasy about Olivia marrying . . . well, you know . . . Cole,” Victor was saying. “Considering his past.”

Jack McNeill stared directly at the other man. “I’m as uneasy as any father who’s about to lose his daughter to another man.” He glanced at Mr. Dubois. “Right Claude?”

“Fortunately, I won’t have to experience that until next month,” Mr. Dubois mumbled. “And if Gabrielle ever get married . . . I’ll have to go through it, again.”

Victor stared at the New Orleans man. “Two daughters, huh?” Then he glanced at Michael McNeill. “What about you, Mike?”

“Two,” the younger Mr. McNeill replied. “One is in college right now. And not concerned with marriage, thank God. And the other is too young. Sixteen.”

Nodding, Victor continued, “But at least none of your daughters are involved with a daemon. Or a half-daemon.”

“Dad!” Phoebe grasped her father’s arm.

But Victor did not pay her any attention. “One who used to be evil, I might add. When Phoebe had married Cole, we all thought that his powers were gone.”

“Dad!”

Unfortunately, Victor seemed to be on a roll. “But now, he’s more powerful than ever. I mean . . . aren’t you a little uneasy?”

“Well, sure I am,” Jack finally replied. “Just as I’m sure that Cole’s mother is uneasy about Olivia. After all, she nearly killed him, last summer.” Victor stared at him. “Didn’t Phoebe and Piper tell you about what happened between Leo and that Margolin witch?”

Claude Dubois spoke up. “I had heard about that. From Cecile.” He shook his head. “Bad business, robbing someone’s control like that. Might as well be stealing a person’s soul.”

His comment stirred up memories of the Valhalla incident for Phoebe. And guilt for what she and Paige had done to Darryl Morris.

Victor replied gruffly, “Yeah, they told me. Let’s just say that my opinion of whitelighters took a nosedive . . . again.”

“Dad,” Phoebe admonished. “Don’t forget that Paige is half-whitelighter.”

“She’s different,” Victor said with a wave of his hand. He then paused. “But still . . . Olivia marrying a . . .”

A heavy sigh from Jack interrupted Victor. “Look . . . Victor, I’ll give you a few reasons why I have no problems with this marriage. One, I liked Cole from the moment I first met him. Two, the reason is that my gut instinct told me that he would be good for Olivia – although I haven’t told her this. Three, he had saved her life when they first met. Four, he happens to be my late great-grandfather’s godson.” Phoebe gasped. Victor’s eyes flew open in shock. Jack continued, “Apparently, the McNeills and the Turners knew each other for quite some time. Five, his Uncle Marbus had started out as a top daemonic assassin and ended up spending the last 143 years helping others as a member of the Gimle Order. Which means that Cole is capable of doing the same. And six, my family has recently discovered that we’re descended from three daemons, and not just some 10th century incubus. One of the daemons had been an assassin for the Source. And another is still alive.”

From the corner of her eye, Phoebe saw Michael McNeill wince at his brother’s last words. Her father, on the other hand, looked flabbergasted. “Oh God,” she murmured.

“Say that again?” a dazed Victor asked.

Phoebe jumped in. “Uh, Dad . . . maybe you should get a drink, or something.”

But Victor did not seem to be listening. “Did you say that you’re descended from three demons?”

Closing her eyes, Phoebe sighed. She did not want to hear anymore of this. “Excuse me,” she said. “I’ll just . . . oh boy. Excuse me.” And she quietly walked away.

The Charmed One decided that she needed a breath of fresh air. Badly. After retrieving her trench coat from a nearby room, Phoebe squared her shoulders as she attempted to find a door that would lead her outside. She finally came upon one of the smaller drawing-rooms that had double French doors that led to the garden. Just as she stepped out on the terrace, she encountered Olivia. “Oh!”

“Hi Phoebe!” the red-haired witch said with a bright smile. “Taking a walk?”

Phoebe smiled feebly. “Just getting some air.”

“Okay. See you later.” Olivia strolled into the house, wearing an unusually pleased expression.

Phoebe glanced over her shoulder to observe the other witch, who turned right to walk the length of the terrace. Where was Olivia going, and why was she looking so . . .? She turned around and bumped into a tall figure. At that moment, visions of Cole and a dark-haired woman standing before a very familiar man with hooded eyes and a beard. All three stood before a reddish stone altar. Phoebe had the distinct impression that she was witnessing a demonic wedding.

“Phoebe?” Cole’s soft voice broke Phoebe out of her trance. She opened her eyes and saw the half-demon staring at her with concerned eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Huh? Oh . . . sure. I’m okay.” Phoebe inhaled sharply.

Blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Are you sure?” Cole demanded. “Because you look a little dazed for a minute. Almost as if . . .” He paused. “Did you just have a premon . . .?”

A third figure appeared on the terrace. “Phoebe?” The Charmed One’s heart sank at the sound of Jason’s voice. The blond man glanced at Cole and looked taken aback. Phoebe’s stomach made a 360 degree somersault. “Oh . . . uh Cole.” The millionaire obviously struggled to look nonchalant. “Um . . . what’s going on, here?”

Phoebe sighed. “Nothing, Jason. I was on my way to the garden, when I bumped into Cole.”

“Uh-huh.” Jason shot another glance at the half-demon. “Tell me Turner, are you in the habit of wearing lipstick?”

Cole’s eyes grew wide. “Huh?”

“On your chin. And lips.”

Sure enough, Phoebe spotted dark streaks on Cole’s jaw and lips. Olivia.

“It’s Olivia’s lipstick, Dean,” Cole replied in a cool voice. “Not Phoebe’s.”

Phoebe added, “He’s right, Jason. Didn’t you run into Olivia?”

“No, I didn’t,” Jason replied in a hard voice.

Cole sighed. “That’s because she probably walked along the terrace and entered the house through another room.” A sneer appeared on his face. “And if you would bother to check, you would see that the lipstick on my face and that on Phoebe’s lips do not match.”

Jason blinked momentarily. “Oh . . . uh . . .”

“Excuse me.” Cole turned away and headed in the same direction as Olivia.

Phoebe sighed, as she grabbed her boyfriend’s arm. “C’mon Jason. I think we might both need some fresh air. Badly.” And she steered him down the terrace steps.

————

Unbeknownst to the three people on the terrace, a fourth person had witnessed the entire scene from one of the French doors in the direction opposite from where Olivia and Cole had gone. Once everyone else had disappeared from the terrace, Brion Morgan walked toward the terrace’s balustrade.

A perplexed frown marred the aging witch’s handsome face. He had seen that expression on Phoebe Halliwell’s face before – the gasp, followed by a deer-in-the-headlights look. On numerous occasions, Brion had seen that same expression on one Gilbert Llewellyn’s face. And he knew for a fact that his cousin was a seer. Which could only mean that Miss Halliwell possessed the same abilities.

Brion also recalled something else. Miss Halliwell’s “vision” may have struck her the moment she bumped into Bel. . . Cole Turner. Had the Charmed One foreseen something horrifying in store for the half-daemon? Or had she learned something worse – that he might be a future threat? Brion had to find out as soon as possible. Before the half-daemon marries his niece.

END OF CHAPER SIX

“HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994) – EPISODE ONE Commentary

“HEAVEN AND HELL:  NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994) – EPISODE ONE Commentary

If there is one chapter in John Jakes’ NORTH AND SOUTH saga that is reviled by the fans, it the television adaptation of the third one, set after the American Civil War. First of all, the theme of post-war Reconstruction has never been that popular with tales about the four-year war. More importantly, fans of Jakes’ saga seemed to have a low opinion of “HEAVEN AND HELL”, the 1994 adaptation of Jakes’ third North and South novel, published back in 1987. 

My opinion of the 1994 miniseries slightly differs from the opinions formed by the majority of the saga’s fans. The three-part miniseries failed to achieve the same level of production quality that its two predecessors had enjoyed. But unlike the second miniseries, 1986’s “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”, this third miniseries was more faithful to Jakes’ original novel – as I had pointed out in a previous article. And to my surprise, I discovered that some aspects of the miniseries were an improvement from the novel.

Episode One of “BOOK THREE” struck me as a solid return to John Jakes’ saga. Not only did it re-introduce some of the old characters from the previous two miniseries, but also introduced new characters. Ironcially, one of the new characters turned out to be the oldest Main sibling – Cooper Main. As many fans know, his character was left out of the first two miniseries. Why? I do not know. But Cooper was introduced as a humorless man, embittered by the South’s defeat. And Robert Wagner gave one of the best performances in the miniseries in his portrayal of Cooper. Another praiseworthy addition turned out to be Rya Kihlstedt, who portrayed Charles Main’s new love interest, actress Willa Parker. Not only did Kihlstedt did a great job in portraying the idealistic Willa, she had great chemistry with Kyle Chandler, who took over the role of Charles Main. Many fans had howled with outrage over Chandler assuming the role of Charles, following Lewis Smith’s portrayal in the previous miniseries. So did I. But after seeing Chandler do a superb job of conveying Charles’ post-war angst and desperation to find a living to support his son. James Read gave a solid performance as a grieving George Hazard, who seemed to be having difficulty in dealing with the death of his best friend, Orry Main, at the hands of their former enemy, Elkhannah Bent. Cliff De Young made a surprisingly effective villain as Gettys LaMotte, the manipulative and vindictive leader of the local Ku Klux Klan.

Unfortunately, there were performances that failed to impress me. I got the feeling that director Larry Peerce harbored an odd idea on how a 19th century upper-class Southern woman would behave. This was quite apparent in the performances of Lesley-Anne Down as Madeline Fabray Main and Terri Garber as Ashton Main Huntoon. The performances of both actresses struck me as unusually exaggerated and melodramatic – something which they had managed to avoid in “BOOK I” and “BOOK II”. Fortunately for Garber, she occasionally broke out of her caricature, when portraying Ashton’s more sardonic nature. Down only got worse, when her voice acquired a breathless tone. Being a fan of character actor Keith Szarabajka from his stint on “ANGEL” and other television and movie appearances, I was shocked by his hammy performance as a vengeful Kentucky-born Union officer named Captain Venable, whose family had been ravaged by Confederate troops. His performance was one of the most wince-inducing I have witnessed in years.

Episode One possessed some bloopers that left me scratching my head. Cooper’s sudden appearance in the miniseries was never explained by the screenwriters. Neither was the introduction of former slave Isaac, who was portrayed by Stan Shaw. And I am still curious about how Gettys LaMotte learned about Madeline’s African-American ancestry, let alone the other neighbors in the parish. I do not recall Ashton or Bent telling anyone.

Fortunately, Episode One was filled with excellent scenes and moments. One of the scenes that really seemed to stand out featured George and Madeline’s argument about the state of post-war Mont Royal. Charles’ hilarious introduction to a Cheyenne village involved marvelous acting by Chandler and Rip Torn, who portrayed mountain man Adolphus Jackson. One other scene that had me on the floor laughing featured Ashton, who became a prostitute in Santa Fe, kicking a smelly would-be customer out of her room. The episode featured very chilly moments. One of them featured Gettys LaMotte’s creepy rendition of the KKK theme song (I forgot that De Young was also a singer). Another was the murder of Adolphus Jackson and his nephew Jim by a Cheyenne warrior named Scar. But the best scene in the entire miniseries (and probably the entire trilogy) was Elkhannah Bent’s murder of Constance Hazard, George’s wife. I found it subtle, creepy and beautifully shot by Peerce. Also, Philip Casnoff and Wendy Kilbourne acted the hell out of that scene.

Despite some bloopers that either left me confused or wincing with discomfort – including some hammy performances by a few members of the cast – I can honestly say that“HEAVEN AND HELL:  BOOK III” started off rather well.  Better than I had originally assumed it would.