Below is my ranking of the episodes from the Disney Plus limited series, “THE RIGHT STUFF”, Disney’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book. Created by Mark Lafferty, the series stars Patrick J. Adams, Jake McDorman and Colin O’Donoghue:
RANKING OF “THE RIGHT STUFF” (2020) EPISODES
1. (1.05) “The Kona Kai Séance” – After Mercury 7 astronaut John Glenn helps fellow astronaut Alan Shepard prevent the latter’s indiscretion from being exposed by the media, Glenn confronts his fellow astronauts over their relations with young female fans. Also, a greater conflict develops between him and Shepard over who will be the first sent into space.
2. (1.03) “Single Combat Warrior” – After mysterious bouts of vertigo, Shepard turns to U.S. Navy nurse Dee O’Hara to help him. Meanwhile, Cocoa Beach, Florida has transformed from a ghost town to a perpetual party between the Mercury astronauts and young groupies. Gordon “Gordo” Cooper finds himself tempted by another woman.
3. (1.06) “Vostok” – With President John F. Kennedy now in the White House, NASA finds itself under scrutiny by his administration and Shepard’s flight delayed. When NASA learns of his heart arrhythmia, Mercury astronaut Donald “Deke” Slayton is removed from the Mercury program.
4. (1.01) “Sierra Hotel” – NASA aerospace engineer Chris Kraft and his team are assigned to select the first seven astronauts for NASA’s Mercury program out of over 100 highly capable applicants.
5. (1.07) “Ziggurat” – Weather endangers Shepard’s flight. Meanwhile, tensions between him and Glenn hit a breaking point over a his past indiscretion and a letter written by the latter.
6. (1.08) “Flight” – After Shepard’s historic flight into space, he feels underwhelmed and restless. Gordo’s marriage to his wife Trudy is on the brink of collapse due to a comment he had made during a press conference. Slayton becomes the new Chief of the Astronauts Office and informs astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom that the latter will be the next American in space.
7. (1.04) “Advent” – During the holidays, the Russian space program achieves another milestone, throwing the future of NASA into question. Shepard and his wife Louise adopt her orphaned niece. Cooper is contacted by a former lover, which forces his confrontation and reconciliation with Trudy.
8. (1.02) “Goodies” – The Mercury 7 astronauts become aware of their instant fame and the pitfalls that come with it.
Grant Heslov directed this comedic adaptation of Jon Ronson’s 2004 book about the U.S. Army’s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. The movie starred George Clooney as one of the participants in this program and Ewan McGregor, who portrayed a journalist who stumbles across the story, while reporting on businesses with military contracts in Iraq.
One of the surprising aspects about “THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS” is that its story is based upon fact. According to author Jon Ronson, there was actually a similar unit actually existed within the U.S. Army called the Stargate Project. The film featured a different name for the units . . . and had probably changed some of the facts, but the Army did explore New Age concepts and military applications of the paranormal. “THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS” followed McGregor’s character, a journalist with the Ann Arbor Daily Telegram named Bob Wilton. After an emotional divorce from an unfaithful wife, Bob goes to Kuwait to report on the Iraq War. He stumbles upon an interesting story when he meets a Special Forces operator named Lyn Cassady during a trip across the Iraqi countryside. During the road trip, Cassady reveals his participation in an Army unit that trained to develop a range of par psychological skills by using New Age concepts. The unit ended up being named the New Earth Army. While the pair endured a journey that included encounters with a gang of Iraqi criminals, a kidnapped victim of the criminals, the head of a private security firm named Todd Nixon and two rival groups of American contractors who engage in a gunfight against each other in Ramadi.
During Wilton and Cassady’s journey, the latter revealed the story behind the creation of the New Earth Army and its founder, a Vietnam War veteran named Bill Django. The latter had traveled across America in the 1970s for six years to explore a range of New Age movements (including the Human potential movement) after being wounded during the Vietnam War. Django used these experiences to create the New Earth Army. Django’s recruits ended up being nicknamed “Jedi Warriors”. By the 1980s, two of Django’s best recruits were Cassady and Larry Hooper, who developed a lifelong rivalry with the former because of their opposing views of how to implement the First Earth philosophy. Cassady had wanted to emphasize the positive side of the teachings, whereas Hooper was more interested in the negative side of the philosophy. Wilton and Cassady’s journey ended when they locate a military base in the middle of the desert.
I must admit that I had not in a big hurry to see “THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” when it first hit the theaters ten years ago. In fact, I never had any intention of seeing it. The only reason I went to see the movie in the first place was that I was desperate for something to watch. The Fall 2009 movie season had seemed pretty dim to me. Aside from “THE INFORMANT”, I had difficulty finding a movie that appealed to me. And what about “THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS”? Did I find it appealing? Honestly? It was not the best movie I had seen in 2009. But I must admit that thanks to Grant Heslov’s direction and Peter Straughan’s screenplay, I found the movie rather humorous in an off-kilter manner. Some of the most humorous scenes featured:
*Wilton and Cassady’s flight from a group of Iraqi criminals
*The “Battle of Ramadi” between two American private security armies
*Bill Django’s six year exploration of New Age movements
*The results of Wilton and Django’s spiking of the Army base food with LSD.
At first, the movie’s approach to New Age religion and movements seemed inconsistent. The first half of the film treated the subject as a joke. However, once Wilton and Cassady reached the base housing the PSIC, Straughan’s script treated the subject with a lot more respect. It took me a while to realize that the story was told from Bob Wilton’s point-of-view. It only seemed natural that he would first view the New Earth Army and New Age beliefs as a joke. But after time spent with Cassady and later Django at the PSIC base, Wilton naturally developed a newfound respect for both topics. The movie also provided a slightly pointed attack upon the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Normally, I would have cringed at such protesting in a comedy. Fortunately, Heslov used humor – and very sharp humor at that – to mock American presence in the Middle Eastern country.
I think that Lyn Cassady might turn out to be one of my favorite roles portrayed by George Clooney. One, he gave a hilarious performance. And two, he also did a marvelous job in infusing Cassady’s role with a mixture of militaristic machismo and wide-eyed innocence. And despite his questionable American accent, I was very impressed by Ewan McGregor’s poignant performance as the lovelorn Michigan journalist (his wife left him for his editor), who traveled to Iraq to prove his bravery to his former wife . . . only to discover something more unique. Another joyous addition to the cast turned out to be Jeff Bridges, who gave a wonderfully off-kilter performance as Cassady’s mentor and founder of the New Earth Army, Bill Django. And Larry Hooper, the one man allegedly responsible for bringing down Django’s New Earth Army, turned out to be another one of Kevin Spacey’s deliciously villainous roles. The movie also featured performances that ranged from solid to zany from the likes of Stephen Lang, Robert Patrick, Nick Offerman, Waleed Zuaiter, Rebecca Mader and Glen Morshower.
“THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” managed to earn less than $70 million dollars at the box office. Because it only had a budget of $24 million, it still managed to earn a small profit. However, it was not a hit film and it received mixed reviews. Perhaps the audience found the film’s subject a bit hard to swallow. There is also the possibility that film goers found screenwriter Peter Straughan’s script use of constant flashbacks regarding the New Earth Army rather confusing. Personally, I rather enjoyed the movie. It never became a big favorite of mine, but I still found it entertaining and interesting.
LONG ISLAND, NY; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Danny heaved a sigh and shook his head in disbelief. “What was I thinking? I can’t believe that I thought Fenton Marsh was the right girl for you.”
“We all thought so, Danny.” Rafe slapped his friend’s back. “Hell, I even wanted to marry her.”
“At least you had doubts about her.” Once again, Danny shook his head. Then he noticed one of the nurses, a pretty redhead with glasses, staring at them. “Uh Rafe, I think we’ve rested long enough. That nurse is staring to give us the bug-eye.”
Rafe frowned at Danny. “Wha. . .?” Then he spotted the nurse. “Oh. Gee, I wonder how long she’s been staring at us?”
Danny shrugged. “Who knows? You know, she reminds me of someone. I . . .” The pilot paused, as memories of a restaurant in Manhattan came back to him. He recalled another pretty redhead, only this one had green eyes. Danny also recalled something else – Rafe’s nervous behavior whenever she was around.
The two friends walked over to the station where the red-haired nurse awaited them. “Say Rafe,” Danny began, “do you remember that girl you used to date over a year ago. What was her name? Uh, Julie . . . God, what was her name? Julie . . .”
A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. Julie Fisher. Yeah, I remember her.”
“She had seemed like a nice girl,” Danny continued. “Why did you two break up?”
Both Danny and Rafe reached Station 2, and joined the other patients in line. Danny noticed that same nervous look from the past year. “Rafe? You okay?”
“Danny, the story I am about to tell, you will find too incredible to believe. And when I finish, I don’t know if you’re going to be pissed . . . or relieved.”
* * * *
MANHATTAN ISLAND, NEW YORK; MAY TO AUGUST 1939 . . . The five pilots emerged from Grand Central Station and paused in the middle of the sidewalk. “Man-hattan!” Second Lieutenant Anthony Fusco declared with enthusiasm. “It’s good to be home!”
The fair-haired Billy Thompson rolled his eyes. “Home for you is Brooklyn, moron. So please spare us that shit-eating grin. You look like a hick.”
Oh Lord! Rafe heaved an inward sigh. Here it comes. Another fight. How could two men who were the best of friends, argue so damn much? “While you two are busy jawing over Anthony’s birthplace, why don’t we check into our hotel first, so we can find a place to eat? I’m starved.”
The pilots immediately agreed with Rafe’s suggestion and hailed two cabs that conveyed them to the St. Mark’s Hotel. After they checked in, Danny suggested that they eat dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. But the others wanted to go out on the town. Anthony suggested one of Manhattan’s most infamous restaurants – Lindy’s. “It has the best cheesecake ever,” he added. “And other stuff.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Rafe commented. “Anyone got a problem with Lindy’s?”
Billy spoke up. “I do. Isn’t Lindy’s supposed to be a hangout for gangsters?”
“Ga-ga-gansters?” Red Winkle said. He was a gangly redhead, whose nervous disposition usually expressed itself in a stammer. M-m-ma-maybe we sh-should g-g-go s-s-s-som-mmewhere else.”
Anthony dismissed Red’s concerns with a wave of his hand. “Somewhere else? Forget about it! Gangsters or no gangsters, everyone goes to Lindy’s.” The others agreed and decided to accept the dark-haired officer’s suggestion. Still dressed in their uniforms, they headed left the hotel and headed for the nearest subway.
If Lindy’s was a hangout for gangsters, Rafe did not see any signs of them – much to his relief. He really did not relish the idea of eating dinner in the company of hardened criminals. But as an officer and gentleman of the U.S. Army Air Corps, he did not feel it was appropriate for him to skulk away from danger. Even if it came in the form of thugs. The pilots found a booth near the entrance and sat down. The restaurant seemed very busy. Fortunately for the five officers, they did not have to wait very long for service. Rafe ordered grilled pork chops with mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and coffee.
“Where do we g-go from here?” Red asked his fellow pilots. “I mean, it’s only seven fifty-four.”
Billy spoke up. “How about the ’21’ Club? Or the Stork Club?”
“Why don’t we try the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, while we’re at it?” Anthony retorted sarcastically. “Do you have any idea how expensive those places are? Maybe we should try the Savoy Ballroom.”
A nervous Red added, “Isn’t that in Ha-Harlem?”
“So?” Anthony stared at the redhead, who blushed profusely. “Gotta problem with that? I used to there all the time, when I was in high school and college.”
“Y-y-you mean, th-they don’t mind people like us be-be-being there?”
Anthony heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. “If they did, do you think I would have been able to visit there in the first place? Geez Red! Think!” The other pilot’s face now matched the color of his hair.
The waiter finally returned with their dinner. Rafe enjoyed the delicious grilled pork chops, along with the conversation between him and his fellow pilots. They discussed the numerous nightspots in Manhattan, the pilot training course they were enrolled, the political calamities around the world, and the possibility of war. Rafe was among the first to finish his meal. Feeling the pressure to relieve himself, he headed for the restroom. Five minutes later, he left the Men’s Room and bumped into a couple engaged in a heated quarrel.
“The answer is no, Marty! How many times do I have to tell you?” She was a pretty woman in her mid-twenties. Lustrous red hair formed a shoulder-length bob. Her aquiline nose spared her face from the usual bland prettiness. Along with the green eyes that flashed angrily.
Marty, a brutish-looking man of medium height and obviously a low I.Q., sneered at the young woman. “C’mon Julie! Don’t play the shy young thing with me. We both know what you’re really like. Don’t we?”
“You don’t know anything about me!” the young woman named Julie retorted. “So I suggest that you let go of my arm!”
Unfortunately, Marty did not seem interested in releasing Julie. His meaty hand remained clamped around her slender wrist. Rafe, who had been raised to be a Southern gentleman, decided it was time to come to the young lady’s rescue. He stepped forward and tapped the hulk’s shoulder. “Hey buddy,” he said, “why don’t you let go of the lady’s wrist. She’s not interested.”
Both Julie and Marty slowly turned their gazes upon the Army officer. Laughter tumbled out of the young man’s mouth. “The lady? Oh brother! If you only knew!” He eyed Rafe’s uniform with derision. “Now get lost!”
Julie’s face turned pink and Rafe’s sympathy toward her increased tenfold. “I don’t care if she’s one of Polly Adler’s girls! She obviously don’t want you touching her, so let go!” Rafe glared at Julie’s tormentor.
An arrogant and smug smirk stamped on his face, Marty shot back, “Look here, Soldier Boy, I’m gonna count to three. And if you’re not gone, I’m gonna . . .”
Rafe’s fist snaked out and clipped the other man’s chin. Marty sank to the floor like a stone in water. And gave Julie the opportunity to free her wrist from his grasp. Rafe smiled at the fallen man. “Well, I reckon that’s the end of that.” He turned his smile toward Julie.
“I guess so.” Julie smiled back. “Say, do you have any plans for tonight?”
“Well, I’m with some friends at the moment. But we can’t decide where to go.”
Julie paused momentarily, giving Rafe a thoughtful look. “I know this little jazz club on 66th Street. Would you like to . . .?”
Rafe did not even give Julie a chance to finish. “That sounds swell. Let me tell the boys.” He started toward the dining room.
“Oh, wait a minute!” Julie paused. “I was thinking of us going together . . . alone.” Then she added. “If you don’t mind.”
If Rafe had to be honest with himself, he did not mind. Especially if it meant spending time alone in the company of this beauty. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Sure.” He started toward the dining room, with Julie close at his heels. They reached the table, where the other pilots sat. All eyes fell upon Rafe’s new companion. “Hey guys! This is Julie. Julie Fisher.” Rafe then proceeded to introduce her to Danny and the others. When he finished the introductions, Rafe continued, “If you all don’t mind, Julie and me are going out on the town. Alone.”
A sly smile creased Anthony’s mouth. “Hey, we all understand. Don’t we boys?” He glanced at the others, who nodded. Rafe tried not to pay attention to the slight disappointment on Danny’s face.
“Okay then . . . swell,” Rafe said uneasily. “I reckon I’ll see you all, later.” He shot one last glance at Danny and quickly guided Julie out of the restaurant.
* * * *
Miss Julie Fisher proved to be congenial company for Rafe. While they shared a table at a small jazz club in Soho, the couple exchanged life stories. Rafe told Julie about his Tennessee childhood, his friendship with Danny and their decision to become Army pilots. Julie talked about her childhood in upstate New York, her ambition to be a journalist, and her job at LIFE magazine.
“Which is?” Rafe asked. Sounds of Billie Holiday singing “Some Other Spring” filled the background.
Julie smiled. “Copy girl. But one of the editors think I have a chance at becoming a staff writer within a year or two. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”
Rafe then brought up the subject of Marty. He wanted to know how Julie had met him. According to the redhead, she met Marty at a dance club in the East Village. “He was . . . fun, at first. But I . . .” Her face turned red. “I guess I simply got bored with him. He turned out to be a little too boorish for my taste. If you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I reckon I got a little glimpse of his ‘charming’ personality,” Rafe said with a chuckle. Julie joined in the laughter, and the pair resumed their easy camaraderie. The evening wore on. Rafe and Julie eventually left the club and ended outside Julie’s brownstone in the Village.
The warm May air surrounded them, as Rafe impulsively leaned forward and planted a firm, but light kiss on Julie’s lips. A stunned expression appeared on her face, leaving Rafe to wonder if he had went to far. Until a bright smile stretched her lips. Still smiling, Julie leaned forward, wrapped her arms around Rafe’s neck and kissed him. Hard.
A minute or two passed before the couple finally separated for air. Breathing heavily, Julie seared Rafe with a sultry look and whispered, “So, would you like to come upstairs for a cup of coffee?”
* * * *
The following Monday morning found Rafe, Danny and their fellow squad members, striding toward the airfield at Mitchell Field. “So, how was your date with Julie? Did you have fun?” Danny’s voice radiated forced cheerfulness.
Rafe glanced at his best friend and noticed the tight expression on the latter’s face. “Yeah, uh, it was great. Swell.” He paused. “I see that you’ve finally decided to talk to me.”
Danny rolled his eyes. “Well, you know Rafe, I’m trying to forget that you had abandoned the rest of us on Friday night,” he snapped. “So, why don’t you just tell me how your date went?”
“Aw, c’mon Danny! I didn’t mean to abandon you guys! It’s just I couldn’t pass up the chance to be with a girl like Julie!”
Danny abruptly halted in his tracks, causing Rafe to collide into him. “You could have called us, Rafe! Let us know that you would be with her for the rest of the weekend. But you didn’t leave a word or nothing! Just showed up at the hotel, three hours before we were supposed to check out!”
Rafe warily eyed his friend. “Uh, Danny? Not only are you beginning to sound like a jealous lover, you’re also giving me the heebie-jeebies.”
“Goddamit Rafe!” Danny glared at the older man. “It’s not . . . I’m not like that and you know it!” He let out a big sigh. “It’s just . . . well, excuse me for being a worry wart, but you didn’t leave a message, or anything. And by the way, we were all worried.”
Nodding, Rafe said, “Okay, I understand. I won’t do that again. I swear. Besides, Julie would like to get know all of y’all the next time we have furlough.”
“Oh?” The two friends resumed their walk to the field.
Rafe added, “Yeah. We were thinking of all of us spending the day at the World’s Fair.”
“Sounds great,” Danny replied. He paused. “Does Julie know any girls?”
* * * *
Fortunately for Rafe’s fellow pilots, Julie managed to find dates for them. Two weeks had passed since their last trip to New York City. They spent a glorious day at the fair grounds in Flushing, Queens. Later that evening, the group found themselves at the Shubert Theater, which featured the “Streets of Paris” revue and the newest sensation from Brazil, Carmen Miranda. Once the show ended, Rafe and Julie bid the others good-bye and headed for her apartment for more intimate entertainment.
After they enjoyed an hour or two of vigorous lovemaking, the pair laid back on the bed, breathing heavily. A light breeze from the open window cooled their warm and damp skin. “I never said this before,” Rafe said, “but you have a very nice apartment. Sort of big for someone working as a copy girl. LIFE magazine must pay you a nice salary. I wish I could say the same about the Army.”
“Actually, I can’t really afford this place on my own,” Julie replied. She propped herself on her left side, facing Rafe. “I have a roommate.”
Rafe rose into a sitting position. The moonlight beamed through the window and onto his broad chest. “Roommate? Strange, I didn’t know you had one, the last time I was here.”
“Carrie . . . her name is Carrie Menlow . . . is out of town, right now. She’s a secretary for a steel manufacturer,” Julie explained. “She’s in Canada. Montreal, I think. She’s due back in town, next week. I think. She’s . . . very pretty.”
A sly smile plastered on his face, Rafe situated himself on his left side. “Hmm, now I can’t wait to meet her.”
“Oh you!” Giggling, Julie slapped Rafe’s arm. Then she pulled him toward her. “Come here.”
“Yes ma’am,” Rafe murmured. He then lowered his mouth upon hers.
* * * *
Rafe’s introduction to Julie’s roommate came about on the following weekend. And it happened in a manner that took him by surprise. He and Julie were in bed that Friday night, enjoying each other’s company with passionate kisses and caresses, when the bedroom door suddenly swung open.
“What’s this?” a female’s voice asked. Both Rafe and Julie ended their foreplay and stared at the figure standing in the doorway. Rafe had to admit that she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes upon. Shoulder-length blond hair curled into a bob, creamy white skin, wide china blue eyes and full lips. And had never seen so many curves on a figure that small. “Julie,” she continued in a voice that hinted East Coast aristocracy, “aren’t you going to introduce your friend?”
Julie sat up, allowing the sheet to slide to her waist. Rafe wondered if she realized that she was baring all to her friend. “Hi Carrie, this is Rafe. Rafe McCawley. You know, the pilot I had told you about. Rafe, this is my roommate and best friend, Carrie Menlow.”
“Oh yes.” Carrie stepped forward. Her eyes roamed lavisciously over the pilot. “The one from Tennessee. I really must visit the South, one of these days. Well,” a knowing smile touched her lips, “don’t let me interrupt you two. Nice meeting you, Rafe.” The smile still fixed on her lips, Carrie closed the door behind her.
Rafe let out a gust of breath. Julie stared at him. “Something wrong?”
“No, it’s just . . .” An embarrassed Rafe paused. “Well, with her barging in like that, I feel as if my mama had caught me with my . . . you know.”
Julie giggled. Then she pecked Rafe’s cheek. “Silly boy! I’m sorry if Carrie surprised you like that. She does have this habit of barging in. But don’t let it bother you. It’s just Carrie being herself.”
* * * *
Rafe could not help but feel bothered. But he kept his misgivings to himself. And when Julie began planting kisses over his face, he soon forgot about her disturbing roommate, Carrie. Nearly two hours later, the memory of Julie’s roommate struck back with the force of a tornado. Which would be Rafe’s way of describing the impact of a second warm body pressing against his right side. A body that did not belong to Julie.
“What the . . .?” Rafe’s eyes flew open. Shock overcame him, as he noticed Carrie’s body beside his. Her naked body. Jackknifing into a sitting position, he cried out, “What the hell are you doing here?”
His outburst awaken Julie. She sat up and rubbed her tired eyes. “Something wrong?” she asked in a sleepy voice. Then she saw Carrie. “Oh.”
“Julie, honey,” Carrie oozed sweetly, “do you mind if I join you two?”
Rafe protested hotly, “I mind, dammit!” Noting her nude state for the second time, he continued, “And what the hell do you think this is? Some damn whorehouse?”
Carrie assumed a wounded expression. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like me?” She glanced at her roommate. “I thought he liked me, Julie.”
Sympathy and a touch of anxiety mingled in Julie’s green eyes. Her hand reached past Rafe’s body to touch her friend’s arm. “Of course he does, sweetie. He’s just a little surprised. Right Rafe?” Her eyes pleaded with Rafe.
No! The word hovered on Rafe’s lips, but he found himself unable to say it. Especially with Carrie’s hand caressing his inner thigh. “This is wrong!” his mind screamed. By the outcry in his head quickly died down, as Carrie’s caresses became less subtle. And Julie began to kiss his face . . . again.
“Please Rafe,” Julie murmured between kisses, “let Carrie stay.” She gave him a lingering kiss on the mouth. “You won’t regret it. I swear.” Then Julie gently forced Rafe flat on the bed and kissed him once more. A gasp left nearly left Rafe’s mouth, as Carrie’s lips replaced the hand on his thigh. Oh well, he thought, whoever said that surrender does not necessarily meant defeat, knew what he was talking about.
* * * *
“. . . date with Bianca,” Anthony was saying. He and the other members of his squad sat inside the Officers’ Mess at Mitchell Airfield, eating dinner. The Brooklyn-born pilot wore a smug smile on his face. “It seems I got a letter from her, asking me if I was available for next Saturday night.”
Billy looked up at his friend. “Lucky bastard,” he growled. “I haven’t heard from Sheila at all. I’ve left her five phone messages in the last three days and haven’t heard a peep from her. Nothing. I mean, what does she think I have? The crabs or something?”
Anthony’s smile grew even more smug. “Well, do you?” he asked, earning a glared from the blond pilot.
Rafe ignored his friends’ conversation. His mind was fixed on something else. Namely, the last three weekends with Julie and Carrie. Rafe did not know whether to feel surprised or ashamed by the fact that he had not resisted the roommates’ suggestion of a ménage a trios. Did that mean in spite of his parents’ efforts to raise a decent Southern gentleman, they had begat a pervert?
“. . . have to wor . . . worry about a . . . a date.” Red’s voice interrupted the Tennessean’s thoughts. “R-Right Rafe?”
Rafe stared at his fellow pilots with bafflement. “Huh?”
A jab into his side by Danny followed. “C’mon Rafe, wake up! Red’s talking about Julie.” He frowned at the other man. “Something wrong?”
“Are you sure? You seemed distracted.” Danny paused. “You and Julie having problems?”
If you only knew, Rafe silently responded. Instead, he shook his head. “No, uh . . . I was . . . I was thinking of something else. About today’s flight maneuvers.”
Anthony shook his head, while he regarded Rafe with admiration. “Geez McCawley! When it comes to flying, you’re all business. A real ace.” Rafe barely heard him.
While the others continued talking, Danny leaned over and whispered in Rafe’s ear. “Okay – Ace – what’s the real problem?”
“Meaning?” a self-conscious Rafe hissed back.
Danny gave the older man a knowing look and murmured, “Meaning, if you’re really thinking about today’s maneuvers, you would be gabbing away. And not keeping it to yourself.”
Rafe shot his best friend a dark look. There were times he wished that Danny did not know him so well. Like now. “Look, it’s not . . .” He paused, longing to find a way to end this conversation. Glancing out of the window, Rafe spotted a familiar figure walk by. “It’s not what you think. Uh, look Danny, can we finish this later? I have . . . there’s someone I need to see.” He stood up and walked away, ignoring the stares of the other pilots.
Outside the Officers’ Mess, Rafe rushed after the man he was looking for – one Sergeant Lynn Greiger. “Sergeant? Sergeant!” Rafe cried out.
The sergeant paused in his tracks, spotted the approaching young officer and immediately stood at attention. He was a short, wiry man in his late 30s. “Lieutenant?” Greiger’s craggy face remained impassive, as he saluted. “May I help you sir?”
Breathing heavily, Rafe returned the salute. “At ease, Sergeant.” He hesitated, as he contemplated his next words. “Uh, may I have a few moments with you? Privately?”
Greiger frowned. “Of course, sir. Shall we walk?” He indicated the direction of the base’s Administration building. The pair continued walking. “So, Lieutenant, how may I help you?”
Rafe finally asked, “Uh, Sergeant, are you married?”
After a momentary pause, Greiger warily replied, “Divorced, sir. Twice. My former wives . . . they didn’t exactly like being married into the service.”
Nodding, Rafe continued, “Do you hang out . . . I mean, I guess you’re very popular with women. Right?”
“Uh . . . yeah.” Greiger’s frown deepened. “Look Lieutenant, what’s this all about?”
Rafe found himself unable to meet the sergeant’s eyes, when he finally blurted out, “Sergeant, have you ever thought about being with . . . more than one woman? At the same time?”
Greiger’s eyes popped out in shock. He stared at Rafe for what seemed like one long moment. Then a bright smile split his craggy face. “You must have heard those stories about me, Lieutenant. I’ll tell you this . . . they’re true. Hell, not only have I thought about more than one woman, I’ve had this happened to me on several . . .” His voice faded way. Greiger seemed aware that he was speaking to an officer. “What I meant was . . . I haven’t really experienced anything like that, but . . .”
Rafe sighed with frustration. “It’s okay, Sergeant. You have my permission to reveal your deepest and darkest secrets.”
“Yes sir! Anyway, as I was saying,” Sergeant Greiger continued in a matter-of-fact tone, “I’ve experienced . . . sex . . . with more than one woman on a few occasions.” Rafe stared at him. “Okay, on several occasions.”
The young officer urged the sergeant to continue. “What happened?”
“Well sir, I met these two women who sort of introduced me to the experience. It was enjoyable for a while. But in the end . . .” Greiger shook his head. “It just didn’t last. Maintaining a relationship like that is damn difficult, sir. With three people involved, one person is bound to feel left out sometime during the . . . uh, . . . you know, act. Soon, jealousies pop up and it’s all over in one messy fight. If you’re gonna have a . . . well, be with two women at the same time, make sure it’s a one shot deal.” Greiger gives Rafe a shrewd glance. “Pardon me, Lieutenant, but are you . . . uh, involved in a . . .?”
Rafe immediately cried out, “No! I mean . . .” In a calmer voice, he added, “I mean, not yet. But my girlfriend and her roommate . . .” He broke off.
Greiger nodded. “I understand, sir. But uh, if you’re planning to get involved with two women, remember what I had said about those problems, sir. It will happen. I assure you.”
A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “Yeah. Right. Thanks for the advice, Sergeant.” He gave Greiger a quick nod, dismissing the latter.
“Yes sir.” Greiger saluted the younger officer and walked away.
Rafe watched the older man’s back recede into the crowd. He sighed once more, as his thoughts echoed Greiger’s warning. For the first time, Rafe wondered if he had allowed himself into one hell of a fix.
* * * *
Sergeant Greiger’s warning replayed in Rafe’s mind over the next two weeks. And it played havoc with his life. The Tennessee-born officer became more distant with Danny and the other pilots in his squad. In early July barely paid attention to his flight lesson one afternoon and nearly collided with Red’s plane the following morning. The incident resulted in a chewing out by Major Doolittle, the pilots’ commanding officer. By the time the next furlough arrived, Rafe decided to break it off with both Julie and Carrie. No matter how the two women made him feel, Rafe realized that he did not have what it took to be sexually adventurous.
The day of reckoning finally arrived on a wet Friday evening in mid-August. Upon arriving at their Manhattan hotel, Rafe and his friends were surprised to find Julie, Carrie and four other girls waiting for them in the lobby. “Rafe!” Julie jumped up from her seat and rushed toward the pilot. Carrie remained behind, regarding the couple with a benevolent smile.
“Julie,” Rafe replied in a stunned voice, “uh, wha . . . what are you . . .?”
Planting a kiss, Julie said, “Carrie, myself and the rest of the girls thought we would surprise you. There’s a nightclub Carrie and I had stumbled across it, last Wednesday. We’re here to escort you there.”
Rafe summoned up a wan smile. “Sounds great.” A long pause followed.
Then Billy asked, “Who’s Carrie?” Upon mention of her name, the blond-haired woman rose from her chair and joined the group at the lobby’s desk.
Suppressing a sigh, Rafe said, “Oh, yeah. I forgot. You guys never met Carrie, did you?”
“Hi,” Julie’s roommate greeted with a smile, “I’m Carrie. Carrie Menlo. I’m Julie’s roommate.” She said to Billy, “And you are?”
Rafe introduced his four friends to Carrie. He noticed how the blond woman’s eyes roamed appreciatively over Danny. The latter’s face turned red over Carrie’s close scrutiny. “Uh, hi. I’m Danny. Lieutenant Daniel Walker. Ma’am.”
“And I’m Carrie. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand. Danny shook it. Reluctantly.
Rafe decided to quickly step in. “Uh, listen, we need to check in and get ready. So why don’t y’all continue to wait here in the lobby?”
“And go to this nightclub?” Red asked, frowning. “Aren’t we going to eat, first?”
A sigh left Anthony’s mouth. “Yes Red,” he said in a long-suffering voice. “We’ll have dinner, first. Geez!” The last word came out as a whisper. Red overheard him, anyway.
Julie agreed to Rafe’s suggestion. “We’ll be waiting for you.” She pecked Rafe’s cheek one last time. Then she and Carrie joined the other girls in the waiting area, while the desk clerk proceeded to check in the pilots.
* * * *
The evening started on a pleasant note. The pilots, along with the five women, had dinner at a cheap, but clean restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Then Julie and Carrie led the others to a Cuban nightclub on 63rd Street. Decorated with a tropical theme, the club featured a Cuban band that performed songs like “The Peanut Vendor” and “Perfidio”.
Around one-thirty in the morning, the party finally left the nightclub, weary and slightly drunk. While the other pilots headed back to the hotel, Rafe accompanied Julie and Carrie to their apartments. The moment that the three young people entered the bedroom, Sergeant Greiger’s warnings immediately left Rafe’s mind. Instead, he allowed himself to enjoy himself with the two women, as they indulged themselves on Carrie’s large bed. But the pleasure of their early morning orgy did not last, thanks to a simple suggestion from Julie.
“Rafe?” Julie’s voice sliced through the heavy silence that surrounded the satiated trio.
The pilot heaved a slight sigh. “Yeah?” He lay between the slumbering Carrie and Julie, whom he faced.
“Carrie and I were talking, earlier this evening. About Danny.”
Rafe stiffened at the mention of his best friend’s name. “What about him?” Curiosity and suspicion mingled within him.
Julie hesitated. “Well, we were wondering if you would ask him to join us, tomorrow night. You know, as a foursome.”
“Foursome?” Rafe frowned. “You mean like a double date? I had noticed that Carrie seemed interested in Danny.”
A giggle escaped Julie’s mouth. “A double date? Well, I guess you can call it that. But Carrie and I were thinking of something different. Here at the apartment. You know, a foursome.”
Rafe finally understood. Images of him, Danny and the two roommates cavorting in the bedroom with limbs all akimbo sent him into a state of shock. He understood, all right. Julie and Carrie wanted an orgy that would involve Danny. It was the last straw. Rafe shot up into a sitting position and climbed out of bed. He snatched his pair of boxers from a nearby chair.
“What are you doing?” Julie demanded with a frown.
“Leaving,” Rafe shot back. “For good. It’s over.”
An anxious-looking Julie woke up her roommate. “Carrie! Carrie, wake up! Rafe’s leaving.”
Heavy-lidded blue eyes blinked open. “Wha . . . aa . . . at?”
“Rafe’s leaving. Now!”
The two women stared at Rafe, while he continued to dress. “What’s going on?” Carrie demanded. “Why are you leaving? It’s not even three, yet.”
Resentment tinged Julie’s voice. “It’s about his friend, Danny. Apparently, Rafe doesn’t want him to join in the . . . festivities.”
“Damn right,” Rafe added, as he knotted his tie.
Carrie sat up. “What’s the matter, Rafe?” she said in a condescending voice. “Afraid that we’ll like him better?”
Rafe reached for his jacked and put it on. “Nope. I’m afraid that Danny will like your new . . . arrangement. Or even worse, be disgusted with me. And I’m not ready to lose him as a friend.” He grabbed his cap.
A sneer formed on Julie’s lips. “I should have known. Underneath that uniform, you’re just another hick unable to handle life in the big city. Maybe you’re afraid that your friend might be different.”
Squarely facing the two nude women, Rafe coolly replied, “Trust me, Julie. Danny is as much of a hick, as I am. And I aim for both of us to stay that way. If you want an orgy that bad, why don’t you get in touch with your old friend, Marty. I’m sure he could supply you with another partner or two. Good-bye ladies.”
Rafe turned smartly on his heels and marched out of the bedroom. For the first time in over two months, he felt good about himself. Despite Julie’s cry of “Self-righteous bastard!” ringing in his ears.
TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND OF AUSTRIA (1875-1914)
On June 28, 1914; Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary (present day Bosnia-Herzegovina) was assassinated. Also killed was his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. Franz Ferdinand was not only an Archduke of Austria-Hungary, but also a Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia; and from 1889 until his death, the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne.
The assassination had been planned by a group of assassins (five Serbs and one Bosnian) coordinated by a Bosnian-Serb named Danilo Ilić. The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s south-Slav provinces so they could be combined into a Yugoslavia. The assassins’ motives were consistent with a movement that will later became known as Young Bosnia. Also involved in the plot were Dragutin Dimitrijević, Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence; his assistant Major Vojislav Tankosić, and a spy named Rade Malobabić.
During a meeting held in January 1914, the group discussed possible Austro-Hungarian targets for assassination that include Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The participants eventually decided to send Mehmed Mehmedbašić to Sarajevo, to kill the Governor of Bosnia, Oskar Potiorek. However, Mehmedbašić ditched his weapons, while traveling from France to Bosnia-Herzegovina via the train, when the police was searching for a thief. Upon his arrival in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mehmedbašićhe tried to search for new weapons. When his searched delayed the attempt on Potiorek, Ilić summoned Mehmedbašić and on March 26, 1914; informed the latter that the mission to kill Potiorek had been cancelled. The group decided to assassinate Franz Ferdinand, instead. Ilić recruited two Serbian youths, Vaso Čubrilović and Cvjetko Popović on April 19, 1914; to kill Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Unbeknownst to them, three Serbian youths living in Belgrade – Gavrilo Princip, Trifko Grabež and Nedeljko Čabrinović – expressed an eagerness to carry out an assassination. They approached a fellow Bosnian Serb and former guerrilla fighter to transport arms to Sarajevo and participate in the assassination.
Franz Ferdinand, the Duchess of Hohenberg and their party traveled by train from Ilidža Spa to Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Governor Oskar Potiorek met the party at Sarajevo station. Six automobiles were waiting. Three local police officers got into the first car with the chief officer of special security. Franz Ferdinand, the Duchess, Governor Potiorek, and Lieutenant Colonel Count Franz von Harrach rode in the third car. The motorcade passed the first assassin, Mehmedbašić, who had failed to act. Vaso Čubrilović armed with a pistol and a bomb, also failed to act. Further along the route Nedeljko Čabrinović, who possessed a bomb, tossed the latter at Franz Ferdinand’s car at 10:10 am. However, the bomb bounced off the folded back convertible cover and into the street. The timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car, wounding 16 to 20 people. Čabrinović swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka River, but his suicide attempt failed. The police dragged Čabrinović out of the river and he was severely beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody. Franz Ferdinand’s procession sped away towards the Town Hall.
Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess returned to the motorcade at 10:45 am. and entered the third card. In order to avoid the city center, General Oskar Potiorek decided that the royal car should travel straight along the Appel Quay to the Sarajevo Hospital. The driver, Leopold Lojka, turned right into Franz Josef Street. After learning about the failed assassination attempt, Princip decided to make another attempt on the Archduke’s life on the latter’s return trip. He moved to a position in front of a delicatessen off Appel Quay. The Archduke’s motorcade made the mistake of following the original route. Governor Potiorek, who shared the Imperial couple’s vehicle, ordered the driver to reverse and take the Quay to the hospital. Lojka stopped the car close to where Princip was standing. The latter stepped forward and fired two shots from a Belgian-made 9×17mm Fabrique Nationale model 1910 semi-automatic pistol. The first bullet wounded the Archduke in the jugular vein. The second bullet hit the Duchess in her abdomen. Princip was immediately arrested. At his sentencing, Princip stated that his intention had been to kill Governor Potiorek, rather than the Duchess. Both victims remained seated upright, but died on the way to the Governor’s residence for medical treatment. As reported by Count Harrach, Franz Ferdinand’s last words were “Sophie, Sophie! Don’t die! Live for our children!”, followed by six or seven utterances of “It is nothing.” These mutterings were followed by a long death rattle. Sophie was dead upon arrival at the Governor’s residence. Franz Ferdinand died 10 minutes later.
Alfred, 2nd Prince of Montenuovo, Franz Joseph’s Chamberlain, hated Franz Ferdinand and Sophie with a passion and with the emperor’s connivance, decided to turn the funeral into a massive and vicious snub. He disinvited foreign royalty, the dead couple’s three children were excluded from the few public ceremonies and only the immediate Imperial family attended. Even the Austro-Hungarian officer corps was forbidden to salute the funeral train. However, this was nothing in compare to the political aftermath of the assassinations.
Not only was Princip captured, but also his fellow conspirators. They were all tried and convicted by early 1915. Ironically, Princip, who had actually pulled the trigger, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he died from malnutrition and disease in 1918. Only three of the conspirators were executed on February 3, 1915 – Danilo Ilić and Veljko Čubrilović. Anti-Serb rioting broke out in Sarajevo and various other places within the Austria-Hungary Empire, hours after the assassination. Country-wide anti-Serb pogroms and demonstrations were also organized throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire by Oskar Potiorek, the Austro-Hungarian governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The assassinations produced widespread shock across Europe. There was a great deal of initial sympathy toward Austria. Within two days, Austria-Hungary and its ally, Germany, advised Serbia that it should open an investigation on the assassination, but the Serbian government responded that the incident did not concern them. After conducting its own criminal investigation, Austro-Hungary issued what became known as the July Ultimatum, which listed demands made to Serbia regarding the assassinations within 48 hours. After receiving support from Russia, Serbia agreed to at least two out of ten demands. The government mobilized its troops and transported them by tramp steamers across the Danube River to the Austro-Hungarian at Temes-Kubin. Austro-Hungarian soldiers fired into the air to warn them off. On July 28, 1914; Austria-Hungary and its ally, Germany, declared war on Serbia. Under the Secret Treaty of 1892, Russia and France were obliged to mobilize their armies if any of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austo-Hungary and Italy) mobilized. Russia’s mobilization completed full Austro-Hungarian and German mobilizations. Soon all the Great Powers, except Italy, had chosen sides. World War I had begun.
Below is an article about the dish known as Chicken and Waffles:
CHICKEN AND WAFFLES
Considered an American dish, Chicken and Waffles is a fusion of two food times – chicken and waffles. The dish is part of a variety of culinary traditions that include soul food and Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. It is served in certain specialty restaurants in the United States. The combination that is regarded as part of African-American or Southern tradition is usually served with condiments such as butter and syrup and has become a local custom in Baltimore, Maryland. However, the Pennsylvania Dutch version of the dish is usually served with pulled or stewed chicken and gravy on top. This version has become a custom in Northeastern United States.
Several theories about the origin of Chicken and Waffles do exist. But they are theories and is not exactly regarded as fact. Waffles entered American cuisine in the 1600s with the arrival of European colonists. A chef to the prince-bishop of Liège originated the waffles used in this particular dish in the 18th century. The popularity of waffles saw a boost following Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of four waffle irons in Amsterdam after 1789.
Hotels and resorts outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania began serving waffles with fried catfish in the early 1800s. Such establishments also served other dishes like fried chicken, which gradually became the meat of choice due to catfish’s limited availability. By the 1840s, broiled chicken and waffles became the specialty at Warriner’s Tavern in Springfield, Massachusetts. The establishment was owned by Jeremy and Phoebe Warriner, two well-known African-American abolitionists. The Warriners hired African-American women as cooks for the tavern. They were usually freed or runaway slaves who had learned their trade in Southern plantation kitchens. Chicken and Waffles had been extravagant breakfast staples in plantation houses through much of the South. Earlier, I had pointed out that the chicken served with waffles by the Pennsylvania Dutch was usually stewed and topped with gravy. This version had became an established common Sunday dish among the Pennsylvania Dutch by the 1860s.
The combination of chicken and waffles did not appear in early Southern cookbooks such as “Mrs. Porter’s Southern Cookery Book”, published in 1871; or in the first African-American cookbook, “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking”, published in 1881 by former slave Abby Fisher. The lack of a recipe for the combination of chicken and waffles in Southern cookbooks during the post-Civil War era may suggest a later origin for the dish. Popular culture had associated Chicken and Waffles with the South by 1917 with the publication of Edna Ferber’s novel, “Fanny Herself”.
Fried Chicken and Waffles had arrived in Los Angeles, California by 1931. The dish was served at The Maryland, a local restaurant that marketed the dish as a Southern specialty. The protagonist in James M. Cain’s 1941 novel “Mildred Pierce” was a woman who finds success serving “chicken-and-waffle dinner” at her Glendale restaurant. Chicken and Waffles had become a staple in New York City’s African-American community in Harlem as early as the 1930s in such locations as Tillie’s Chicken Shack, Dickie Wells’ jazz nightclub, and particularly the Wells Supper Club. The dish eventually regained popularity in Los Angeles in the 1970s, due to the fame of former Harlem resident Herb Hudson’s restaurant Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. The latter has become known as a favorite of some Hollywood celebrities and been referenced in several movies.
Below is a recipe for Chicken and Waffles from the Delish website:
Chicken and Waffles
Fried Chicken 1 quart buttermilk 2 tbsp. kosher salt Mix of bone-in chicken thighs, breasts, and drumsticks (about 2 lbs.) Vegetable oil, for frying 2 cups All Purpose Flour 1 tbsp. paprika
Waffles 2 cups all-purpose flour 2 tbsp. granulated sugar 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1 cup sour cream 1 cup milk 6 tbsp. butter, melted, plus more for waffle iron 3 Large eggs, separated 1 tsp. cayenne Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 2 Large eggs
1. Brine chicken – In a large bowl, mix together buttermilk and 2 tablespoons salt. Add chicken and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
2. Meanwhile, make waffles – Preheat oven to 200°. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and a pinch of kosher salt.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together sour cream, milk, butter and egg yolks. Gently fold wet mixture into dry mixture.
4. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer), beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped egg whites into batter, being careful not to over mix. (A few fluffy streaks of whites are fine!)
5. Heat waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instruction. When the iron is hot, brush grates with melted butter. Spoon about ⅓ cup of batter into waffle maker and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter. Place cooked waffles in a clean kitchen towel on a baking sheet. Place in oven to keep warm while preparing chicken.
6. When ready to fry – Fill a Dutch oven fitted with a candy thermometer with vegetable oil until 2″ to 3″ deep, then preheat until oil reaches 350º. Prepare one sheet pan lined with paper towels and a wire rack.
7. Transfer chicken from brine to another sheet pan and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season generously with salt and pepper.
8. In a large, deep bowl, whisk together flour, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper. In a large bowl, beat eggs with 2 tablespoons water. Using tongs, place chicken in egg mixture, roll in flour mixture, and shake off excess. Fry chicken in 2 batches until golden brown and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes (internal temperature should read 165º). Bring oil back to 350º before adding last batch.
9. Place chicken on wire rack and season with salt immediately. Plate waffles with a pat of butter and top with 2 to 3 pieces of fried chicken. Serve with maple syrup on the side for drizzling.
Below is my current list of favorite movies set between 1700 and 1749:
TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET BETWEEN 1700 AND 1749
1. “Tom Jones” (1963) – Tony Richardson directed this Best Picture Oscar winner, an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling”. The movie starred Albert Finney and Susannah York.
2. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) – Gore Verbinski directed this second entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about the search for the chest that contains Davy Jones’ heart. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
3. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) – Gore Verbinski directed this first entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about a dashing pirate who forms an alliance with an apprentice blacksmith in order to save the latter’s beloved from a crew of pirates – the very crew who had mutinied against the former. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
4. “Kidnapped” (1960) – Peter Finch and James MacArthur starred in Disney’s 1960 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel about family betrayal in 1740s Scotland. Robert Stevenson directed.
5. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (2007) – Gore Verbinski directed this third entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about the Pirate Lords’ alliance and their stand against the East Indian Trading Company and Davy Jones. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush.
6. “Against All Flags” (1952) – Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Hara starred in this swashbuckler about a British sea officer who infiltrates a group of pirates on behalf of the government bring them to justice. George Sherman directed.
7. “Rob Roy” (1995) – Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange starred in this adventure film about Scottish chieftain Rob Roy McGregor and his conflict with an unscrupulous nobleman in the early 18th century Scottish Highlands. Michael Caton-Jones directed.
8. “The Master of Ballantrae” (1984) – Michael York, Richard Thomas, Fiona Hughes and Timothy Dalton starred in this second adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. Douglas Hickox directed.
9. “Swashbuckler” (1976) – Robert Shaw starred in this adaptation of Paul Wheeler’s story, “The Scarlet Buccaneer”, about an early 18th century pirate who forms an alliance with the daughter of a disgraced judge against an evil imperial politician. James Goldstone directed.
10. “The Master of Ballantrae” (1953) – Errol Flynn, Anthony Steel and Roger Livsey starred in an earlier adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. William Keighley directed.
Years ago, I had watched a 1952 movie called “THE BIG SKY”. The movie was an adaptation of a novel written by A.B. Guthrie Jr. I eventually learned that Guthrie had used some of the characters featured in “THE BIG SKY” and created a series of novels set between 1830 and the 1880s. One of them was the 1949 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Way West”.
Twenty-eight years after the 1949 novel’s release, Harold Hecht produced an film adaptation of it. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, “THE WAY WEST” told the story about an Oregon-bound wagon train being led west by a former U.S. senator. Throughout the journey, the wagon train emigrants endure weather, accidents, encounters with Native Americans and the usual personal dramas that beset a group of people forced to live with one another over a long period of time. Many film critics have dismissed “THE WAY WEST” over the years, comparing it unfavorably to the 1962 movie, “HOW THE WEST WAS WON”. I never understood this comparison. The 1962 film was about the history of one family during most of the 19th century West. Out of the film’s five segments – two had focused on members of the family emigrating to the West. “THE WAY WEST” told the story of the members of one Oregon-bound wagon train in the year 1843.
Before one starts speculating over how a film with a 122 minutes running time could tell the story about all members of a wagon train. It cannot. Guthrie’s novel, along with Ben Maddow and Mitch Lindemann’s screenplay focused on a group of people:
*William Tadock – former U.S. senator and captain of the “Liberty Wagon Train” *Lije Evans – restless Missouri farmer who decides to move his family to the Oregon Territory at the last moment *Rebecca Evans – Lije’s pragmatic wife *Brownie Evans – Lije and Rebecca’s shy son *Dick Summers – widowed mountain man and guide for the wagon train *Mr. McBee – Georgia-born farmer hoping to start a peach farm *Mrs. McBee – wife of Mr. McBee *Mercy McBee – flirtatious only child of the McBees and the object of Brownie’s desire *John “Johnnie” Mack – recently married emigrant and object of Mercy’s desire *Amanda Mack – Johnnie’s sexually frigid bride
There are aspects of “THE WAY WEST” that I found unappealing. One of those aspects proved to be Bronislau Kaper’s score for the film. I found it bombastic, awkward and unmemorable. Enough said. I was also not that impressed by some of the performances found in the film – especially from some of the supporting cast and one of the major leads. And like many other historical or period dramas, “THE WAY WEST” suffered from a few historical inaccuracies. Wagon trains were usually pulled by either oxen or mules. The stock used to convey the “Liberty Wagon Train” from Missouri to Oregon proved to be a hodge podge of horses, mules and oxen. I realize that “THE WAY WEST” is basically a Western about overland travel, but I found the costumes designed by Norma Koch very disappointing. The costumes looked as if they came straight from a warehouse. None of the women wore any layers of petticoats or corsets. And Koch’s costume designs for the McBee family proved to be a real head scratcher. I got the feeling she was trying to convey the family’s background as Georgia dirt farmers barely able to afford the journey to Oregon. Their clothes looked threadbare in compare to their fellow emigrants. And it is a miracle that the McBees did not finish their journey nearly naked. If the McBees were able to afford the journey to Oregon, they could afford to wear better quality clothing than what they wore.
The biggest historical head scratcher occurred midway into the film. During a social gathering between the emigrants and a group of Sioux warriors, one of the emigrants mistook the Sioux leader’s son for a wolf. The emigrant killed the boy and failed to inform the others of the incident. This led the Sioux to later track down the wagon party and demand the killer face justice. Initially, the wagon emigrants refused to comply until they discovered that a very large party of warriors had accompanied the Sioux leader. I am sorry, but I found this scenario improbable. The only times I could recall that many Native Americans gathering at one spot in the history of the American West was at the council for the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the Battle of Little Bighorn. And considering that the Cheyenne nation were spread out from present-day southern North Dakota and Wyoming to northern Colorado, I found this encounter between the Tadlock wagon party and the Sioux historically improbable.
Despite its flaws, I actually enjoyed “THE WAY WEST”. Very much. I can see why the original novel won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the first place. First of all, I enjoyed how the movie opened with a montage of westbound emigrants arriving and organizing in Independence to the movie’s The plot struck me as a solid psychological drama about how a group of strangers struggled to tolerate each other, while traveling long distance during a period between four to five months in a wagon train. Knowing myself, I would probably go crazy dealing with strangers who irritated me after more than two weeks. Perhaps less. And having to deal with a ruthless and controlling personality like former U.S. Senator William Tadlock? Good Lord!
In fact, I find it interesting how the megalomaniacal Tadlock seemed to have an impact on the other major subplots in this film, one way or the other. He and the easy-going farmer Lije Evans managed to consistently clash with each other from the beginning. Evans resents his controlling style of leadership, but seemed reluctant to replace him. The former senator’s attraction toward Lije’s wife Rebecca did not help matters. In onescene, Tadlock had offered himself as a potential wife to Rebecca . . . in case Lije failed to survive the journey to Oregon. I could not decide whether to be surprised or disgusted by his suggestion. Tadlock even had an impact on the Brownie Evans-Mercy McBee romantic quagmire with John and Amanda Mack.
And yet . . . despite being such a megalomaniacal personality, I must admit that I found some of Tadlock’s decisions. For example, Lije Evans and the other wagon party members wanted to fight the Sioux, instead of giving in to the latter’s demand for the Sioux boy’s killer. I suspect that a combination of racism and braggadocio led the emigrants believe it would be better to fight the Sioux than submit one of their own to justice. Tadlock, to his credit, realized it would be wiser to give in to the Sioux’s demand. I also found myself agreeing with his order that the emigrants ditch all non-essential possession in order to lighten the load for the stock that pulled their wagons. Unfortunately, Tadlock’s anger at Evans’ stubborn refusal to give up Mrs. Evans’ floor clock spun out of control and cost him his position as the wagon train’s leader. I would expand more about the human drama found in “THE WAY WEST”. But to do so would give away the plot.
Although I had a problem with the film’s music and costume designs, I certainly had none with its cinematography. “THE WAY WEST” was shot on location in Arizona and Oregon. And I found William H. Clothier’s cinematography outstanding, thanks to its sharp and colorful photography shown in the images below:
Another aspect of “THE WAY WEST” that impressed me, proved to be the sequence for its opening credits. This sequence was basically a montage of emigrants arriving in Independence, Missouri or forming wagon trains for the westbound journey. Despite Bronislau Kaper’s forgettable score and equally forgettable theme song, I thought the sequence permeated with atmosphere and strong sense of how Independence must have been during that period in history. The sequence’s strong atmosphere benefited from Andrew V. McLeglen’s skillful direction, Otho Lovering’s editing and Robert Priestley’s set direction.
For me, the performances in “THE WAY WEST” proved to be a mixed affair. A good number of the supporting performers gave some hammy performances. Most of them portrayed minor characters. But the two hammy performances that seemed to stand out belonged to Richard Widmark as Lije Evans and Jack Elam as Preacher Weatherby. Widmark seemed as if he was trying too hard to convey Evans’ good-natured personality . . . to the point that his performance seemed forced. I did not enjoy admitting that. Mind you, Widmark had some good moments, especially in those scenes in which Lije clashed with Tadlock. Otherwise . . . I found him just a tad over-the-top for my tastes. Elam portrayed a minister named Preacher Weatherby, who had sneaked aboard one of the wagons in an effort to join the wagon train. Not only did I find his portrayal of the “hell and brimstone” minister over-the-top, but also one-dimensional. On the other hand, there was one performance that seemed to go in the complete opposite direction. I am referring to Michael Witney, who portrayed John “Johnnie” Mack, one half of the newlywed couple and the object of Mercy McBee’s desire. Witney may have avoided giving a hammy performance, but he ended up being rather wooden – at least in my eyes. Watching his performance, I found myself wondering how his character managed to generate so much emotion from both Mercy McBee and his wife, Amanda.
Thankfully, “THE WAY WEST” had its share of good and excellent performances. Ironically, two of them came from Harry Carey Jr. and Connie Sawyer. Yes, I will admit they gave hammy performances as Mr. and Mrs. McBee. But their hamminess struck me as so entertaining that I could not dismiss the performances. It seemed as if both really enjoyed themselves. “THE WAY WEST” also featured solid performances from the likes of Patric Knowles, Stubby Kaye, Katherine Justice and Eve McVeagh.
But there were also exceptional performances in “THE WAY WEST”. One came from the likes of Lola Albright, who gave a competent performances as Rebecca Evans, a woman torn between her love for Lije. I thought Michael McGreevey, who gave a very skillful performance as the Evans’ shy and lovesick son, Brownie. Sally Field revealed signs of future stardom with a great performance as the ebullient, sexual and painfully naive Mercy McBee. Robert Mitchum seemed to be the film’s backbone, thanks to his portrayal of the wagon train’s warm, yet pragmatic scout Dick Summers. I especially enjoyed his scenes with McGreevey. But if I had to give the award for the film’s best performance, it would go to Kirk Douglas for his superb portrayal of the very complex and magnetic former Senator William Tadlock. Douglas’ performance struck me as so exceptionally complex that there were times I found myself wondering whether or not I should like him or not.
What else can I say about “THE WAY WEST”? Well, the movie had its flaws. I cannot deny it. But I feel that its virtues definitely outweighed its flaws. And I think that it does not deserve the lukewarm opinions it has received over the years. Thanks to screenwriters Ben Maddow and Mitch Lindemann; a first-rate cast led by Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark and Robert Mitchum; and excellent direction from Andrew V. McLaglen; I believe “THE WAY WEST” is a lot better than it is reputed to be.
“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary
The last episode, ”Replacements” saw Easy Company reeling from the Allies’ disastrous defeat during the Operation Market Garden campaign in Holland. Directed by Tom Hanks, this latest episode depicted Richard Winters’ last combat engagement as the company’s commander, Operation Pegasus, and the company’s departure for Belguim as they prepare to participate in the Bastogne campaign.
At the beginning of the aptly named ”Crossroads”; Winters, now the executive officer of the 2nd Battalion of 506th regiment, recounts his last combat mission as commander of Easy Company in a report for regimental headquarters that took place at a crossroads, near a dike in Holland. In the aftermath of the battle, Winters is informed that he has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Strayer’s executive officer, leaving Easy without a commander. However, a new man – Frederick Theodore “Moose” Heyliger – becomes Easy’s new commander and leads them in Operation Pegasus, a military mission to escort a large number of British paratroopers trapped behind enemy lines, following the failure of Market Garden. Unfortunately, about a week later, Lieutenant Heyliger is seriously wounded by an American sentry and Easy ends up with a new commander named Norman Dike. Unlike Winters and Heyliger, Easy Company has no respect for their new leader and nicknames him ”Foxhole Norman”.
Not long after Dike becomes Easy’s new commander, a reluctant Winters is ordered to spend a few days of furlough in Paris. During his furlough, Winters is haunted by a moment when he killed a teenaged German soldier during the crossroads battle. Not long after his return to the regiment, the 101st Airborne learns about the German counterattack near Bastogne and is sent to Belgium to repel it. The episode ends with Easy company marching into the Belgian forest in the middle of the night, with minimum supplies and inadequate clothing.
I have always liked ”Crossroads” . . . despite itself. I cannot put my finger on it. Perhaps my feelings about the episode have to do with how Hanks directed the battle fought at the crossroads. He injected a great deal of style into that very moment that featured Winters leading a charge against S.S. troops at the crossroads. I also enjoyed Damian Lewis’ performance during the Paris furlough scenes and Neal McDonough as the slightly stressed out “Buck” Compton, who has returned from the hospital. And I enjoyed the sequence featuring the interaction of some of the company’s men, while watching a Marlene Dietrich film. However, my favorite sequence featured Easy Company’s brief journey to another crossroad – one near the town of Bastogne, Belgium. Screenwriter Erik Jendresen certainly did his best to ensure that the episode’s title adhere to its theme. A good deal seemed to be at a crossroads in this episode – including the location of a Dutch dike, where Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time; and the crossroads near Bastogne, where the company was sent to halt the German counterattack. Winters’ Army career was at a crossroads, as he went from company commander to battalion executive officer. And Easy Company endured a crisis of leadership following Winters’ promotion to battalion.
Yet, despite my positive feelings for ”Crossroads”, I cannot deny that it was one of the miniseries’ weaker episodes. For such a short episode, so much had occurred. Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time. The company participated in Operations Pegasus. It lost “Moose” Heyliger as its commander after he was accidentally shot and gained Norman Dike as the new commander – a man for whom no one seemed to have much respect. This episode should have been longer than 50 minutes. More importantly, watching both ”Replacements” and ”Crossroads” made me realize that Spielberg and Hanks had limited the company’s experiences in Holland to two engagements. The miniseries could have explored a lot more, judging from what I have read in Stephen Ambrose’s book.
It seemed a pity that Spielberg and Hanks failed to take the opportunity to explore more of Easy Company’s Holland experiences. Instead, the second half of this episode focused on Winters’ furlough in Paris and the company’s preparations for the Belgium campaign. And because of this, ”Crossroads” seemed unfulfilled . . . and lacking. But it did provide an excellent performance from Damian Lewis as Richard Winters. And it featured a first-rate combat sequence and some personal interactions between the men that I found interesting. It was not a complete waste of time.
The following is Chapter Fifteen of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Fifteen – Fort Kearny
May 31, 1849 The wagon train finally arrived at Fort Kearny, during the late afternoon. Two weeks ago, I would have welcomed our arrival. But not now. Something disturbing has happened. Mr. Wendell has been detained, due to Mr. Goodwin’s accusation that he was the fugitive slave.
Not long after our arrival, Mr. Goodwin approached the fort’s commander, a Lieutenant Woodbury, and accused Mr. Wendell of being the fugitive slave wanted back in Franklin, Missouri. The odious man had kept a copy of the handbill with the fugitive’s description. And it nearly descri
bed Mr. Wendell to a T.
Mr. James immediately protested against Mr. Goodwin’s accusation, claiming that he has known Mr. Wendell for over a decade. Both Benjamin and Mr. Robbins backed him, recalling how the two men had greeted each other back in Missouri. Mr. James also added that when he had first met Mr. Wendell, the latter was already a freedman from Maryland. And he pointed out Mr. Wendell’s knowledge of the Plains and the trail, something no Missouri slave would have any knowledge of. None of the members of our wagon train could deny this. But when Mr. Wendell produced a piece of paper, declaring his status as a free man from Maryland, the matter was settled. Lieutenant Woodbury dropped the matter, much to Mr. Goodwin’s embarrassment.
June 1, 1849 Due to the late hour of our arrival, yesterday; my fellow travelers and I did not get a decent look at the fort until this morning. If I must be frank, Fort Kearny is a dismal affair. I had expected a citadel on the prairie. Instead, it turned out to be nothing more than a collection of adobe huts grouped together. Did the Army really expect Lieutenant Woodbury and his men to repel hordes of Indians from this place? Perhaps I had expected too much. After all, Fort Kearny has only been in existence for a year. And according to one of the troopers, its still being constructed.
Fort Kearny does have one thing in its favor. It has plenty of supplies for westbound emigrants . . . and at decent prices. According to Lieutenant Woodbury, our wagon train was the fourth one to arrive in the past three weeks. Benjamin and I purchased more cornmeal, coffee and other foodstuff for the journey.
I also noticed that both Mr. Wendell and Mr. James have been maintaining a cool distance from the Goodwins, especially the elder Mr. Goodwin. I cannot blame them, especially Mr. Wendell. But I still have questions about his strong resemblance to the fugitive slave that was being hunted . . . and why he had been wearing the very waistcoat that I first saw on one of the slave catchers.