“LINCOLN” (1974-1976) Review

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“LINCOLN” (1974-76) Review

During the first half of the Twentieth Century, poet and historian Carl Sandburg wrote a six-volume biography on the life of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Years passed before David Wolper (“ROOTS”“THE THORN BIRDS”, and the “NORTH AND SOUTH” TRILOGY) produced a six-part miniseries on Lincoln’s life and career, based upon Sandburg’s work.

“LINCOLN” is not what I would your usual biography with a straight narrative. With the exception of one episode that centered on Lincoln acting as a defense attorney in the 1830s and another that focused on the period between his first election and inauguration, the majority of the episodes centered on his administration during the U.S. Civil War. And not in any particular order. Below is a list for those who prefer to watch the entire miniseries in chronological order:

(1.03) “Prairie Lawyer” – Lincoln goes against future political adversary Stephen A. Douglas when he defends physician Dr. Henry B. Truett against murder charges in 1838.

(2.02) “Crossing Fox River” – This episode covers Lincoln’s life between winning his first presidential election in November 1860 and attending his first inauguration in March 1861.

(1.01) “Mrs. Lincoln’s Husband” – In the wake of the death of the Lincolns’ second son William “Willie”, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln‘s erratic behavior embarrasses and endangers her husband politically when a cabal of Republican senators question her loyalty to the Union.

(1.02) “Sad Figure, Laughing” – Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase and his daughter Kate attempt to undermine President Lincoln’s bid for re-election during the 1864 presidential campaign, when they become aware of how Lincoln’s jokes and stories seem to erode their fellow Republicans’ confidence in him.

(2.01) “The Unwilling Warrior” – Lincoln finds himself forced to learn the art of war, as he searches for the right general to lead the Union Army to victory between 1861 and 1865.

(2.03) “The Last Days” – Following the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House, President Lincoln plans Reconstruction with his cabinet and discusses a post-presidential future with the First Lady.

“LINCOLN” managed to garner a great deal of critical acclaim back in the mid-1970s. Did it deserve it? Perhaps. I found myself somewhat impressed by the production. The miniseries, from a visual point-of-view, has managed to hold up rather well in the past forty years. Aside from the exterior shots, the photography struck me as somewhat sharp and colorful, thanks to cinematographer Howard Schwartz . More importantly, director George Schaefer managed to avoid that “filmed play” aspect that had tainted many British television productions and a few American productions. Somewhat. There were a few scenes that seemed to stretch a tad too long in “LINCOLN”, but not fortunately long enough to stretch my patience too thin.

A part of me wishes that “LINCOLN” had included more scenes of Lincoln’s life before the Civil War. The 1974-76 miniseries must be the first of three productions titled “LINCOLN” – the other two being the 1988 miniseries and the 2012 Steven Spielberg movie – that seemed to be about Lincoln’s years in the White House. Another aspect of this miniseries that I found a bit odd is that it did not feature any African-American characters, other than the occasional extra portraying a White House servant. I think. There is a chance that my memory might be playing tricks with me. I simply find it odd that a production about a U.S. president who had such a strong impact on the history of African-Americans . . . did not feature any black supporting characters. No Elizabeth Keckley, the Washington D.C. seamstress who became Mrs. Lincoln’s personal modiste and close companion, or Frederick Douglass, who had met Lincoln in 1863. Considering Lincoln’s overly cautious approach on the subjects of abolition and civil rights, there is a chance that producer David Wolper feared that Lincoln’s reputation as an emancipator would have slightly eroded. It was okay to discuss slavery, which the production did . . . but not with any real depth.

The miniseries certainly did not hesitate to display Lincoln’s ruthlessness and talent for political manipulation. Even when those traits were occasionally clouded by compassion, humor and verbosity, it was on display. This was especially apparent in two episodes – namely “Sad Figure, Laughing”, in which Lincoln had to deal with the political machinations of Salmon Chase for the Republican nomination for President in 1864; and in “The Unwilling Warrior”, in which he dealt with one general after another in his search for the one military leader who could deal with the Army of Northern Virginia and Robert E. Lee.

The best aspect of “LINCOLN” were the performances. Well . . . some of the performances. I hate to say this, but some of the minor performances struck me as a bit theatrical or amateurish. There were some performances that struck me as solid – including Norman Burton as General Ulysses S. Grant, Robert Foxworth as John T. Stuart, Lloyd Nolan as Secretary of State William H. Seward, Ed Flanders as General George B. McClellan, and Catherine Burns as Mary Owens. But there were those performances that I found impressive. This especially seemed to be the case for Roy Poole as Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Elizabeth Ashley as the latter’s older daughter Kate Chase Sprague, Beulah Bondi as Lincoln’s stepmother Sarah Bush Lincoln, John Randolph as the first Secretary of War Simon Cameron and James Carroll Jordan as the Lincolns’ oldest son Robert Todd Lincoln.

But the two performances that outshone the others came from Hal Holbrook and Sada Thompson as the presidential couple, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. This is not really surprising. Of the three productions I have seen about Lincoln, the actors and actresses who have portrayed this couple have all given superb performances. This was the case for both Holbrook and Thompson. Holbrook seemed to have some special connection to the 16th president. The 1974-76 miniseries marked the first time he portrayed the role. He also portrayed Lincoln in the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” and he appeared in the 2012 Steven Spielberg movie as an old political crony of the President’s, Francis P. Blair. Holbrook’s portrayal of Lincoln could have easily strayed into the realm of folksy idealism. The actor did not completely reveal the more negative aspects of Lincoln’s character, but he did a superb job in conveying not only the President’s style of humor, but also his political savvy and a temper that can be fearsome. In an odd way, Sada Thompson had the easier job portraying First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Hollywood productions are more inclined to explore the more negative aspects of her personality than Lincoln’s. What I enjoyed about Thompson’s performance is that she still managed to make Mrs. Lincoln a likable person, despite the character flaws. It is not surprising that Holbrook won an Emmy for his performance and Thompson earned a nomination. Both of them deserved the accolades.

There are aspects of “LINCOLN” that I found questionable. Well . . . my main problem is that the production did not focus enough on the question of slavery, which I found rather odd, considering the subject matter. I also wish that the miniseries had included more scenes of Abraham Lincoln’s life before the Civil War. Now some television viewers might find the scattered narrative somewhat disconcerting. I simply figured out the chronological order of the episodes and watched them in that manner. But overall, “LINCOLN” is a first-rate miniseries about the 16th President that holds up rather well, thanks to George Schaefer’s direction and a skillful cast led by the talented Hal Holbrook and Sada Thompson.

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Nine

The following is Chapter Nine of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Nine – Independence and Westport

May 2, 1849
Independence at last! After nearly six weeks on the road, Alice and I have finally completed the first stage of our journey to California. Only twenty-five years old, Independence had developed from a crude, frontier town into a rich metropolis filled with dry goods stores, barber shops, grog shops, harness shops, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and emporiums. Whatever an emigrant needed for the overland journey, Independence provided it.

Alice and I visited a livery stable that provided new stock to pull our wagon. Both Mr. James and Mr. Wendell had suggested we trade my horses for mules. We met a Negro named Hiram Young, who happened to be the best wagon maker in this part of the country. At least according to Mr. James. What supplies we could not find in Independence, we came upon in a meadow that stretched from the city to the little Missouri River port of Westport. Nearly every inch of that meadow was filled with tents, huts, sheds, and lean-tos. And from them, merchants, farmers and other workmen provided goods and services to the emigrants.

Traveling across that meadow, our little caravan seemed trapped by a sea of humanity, buildings and animals. Kanzas Landing, which was located at the edge of Westport, seemed no better. White, black, olive and bronze faces had assembled there. Mountain men of every color, the Mexican drivers for the Santa Fe Trail, soldiers, Indians,, merchants, river men and emigrants. Especially emigrants. There was a moment when I feared I would not be able to breathe.

We finally halted near the edge of a high bank that overlooked the Missouri’s brownish-gray waters. People, wagons and freight were disembarking from a two-deck sternwheeler. Our Pennsylvania companions finally bid the rest of us good-bye. It was time for them to search for an Oregon-bound wagon train. And not many of them were departing Western Missouri this year. Instead of searching for a wagon company bound for California, we decided to form our own company right there, with Mr. Robbins acting as president, Mr. James as our guide and Mr. Wendell as scout.

Two wagons joined us within three hours after the formation of the wagon company. Two brothers from Vermont – Richard and Warren Palmer – owned the first wagon. They were a gregarious lot who were talkative, inquisitive and always had a joke on their lips. Tall, burly and freckled, the sandy-haired Vermonters seemed quite a contrast to the staid image of New Englanders. The second wagon joined our little company at the end of the day. Unlike the Palmers, Horace Bryant and Joel Moore of Evansville, Indiana did not talk that much. I could almost say that they were not very social. During our first night at Westport, they remained inside their wagon, while the rest of us listened to Mr. James’ tall tales and the Palmers’ jokes.

Our newcomers had one thing in common – they possessed plenty of equipment for mining gold. They had picks, shovels, patent tents, some new-fangled machine for purifying gold (I do not have the foggiest idea what it was called) and believe it or not, mackintosh boats. A mackintosh boat in the gold fields? Whatever for? What the Palmers, Mr. Bryant and Mr. Moore lacked was food. In fact, they hardly had any room in their wagons for food. And both parties continued to use horses to pull their wagons. Mr. James announced his intentions to rectify their situation.

May 3, 1849
Two more wagons joined our company. The first wagon belonged to a Tennessee dry goods merchant named Ralph Goodwin and his twenty year-old son, Jonas. There were not exactly a friendly pair, but they seemed more approachable than the two friends from Evansville. The Goodwins seemed slightly uncomfortable by Alice’s presence and mine. Yet, they regarded Mr. Wendell with suspicious eyes. They had obviously heard about the runaway near Franklin. But since the town was clear across the state and the wagon company was scheduled to depart Westport tomorrow morning, they could do nothing.

The second wagon belonged to a family named Gibson from Western New York. Mr. James pointed out that this was rare for wagons heading for California this year. Most wagon parties with children were bound for Oregon. California may have been fine for families in the past. But with the Gold Rush, the former Mexican province seemed like the last destination for children, let alone women. I found myself wondering if I had been wise to bring Alice along on this journey.

End of Chapter Nine

“NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy Images

Below are images from the “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy – the 1985-1994 adaptation of John Jakes’ 1982-1987 novels:

NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy Images

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Eight

The following is Chapter Eight of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Eight – New Franklin, Missouri

April 23, 1849
Two weeks have passed since our departure from St. Louis. Five days have passed since our encounter with the slave catchers. Despite failing to find a fugitive slave, Mr. Whiskers continued to follow our wagon company. I am beginning to realize that he might be a very stubborn and determined man.

“Ignore him,” Alice advised. “He is only trying to rattle us. He has failed to find his prisoner and needs something to bolster his self-esteem.” Deep contempt rang in her voice.

I wish that I possessed her nerve. But a running fear continued to nag at the back of my mind that sooner or later, the fugitive will appear. And our bewhiskered lurker will have an excuse to toss us – especially Alice and myself – into the nearest county jail. We nearly met that fate upon our arrival in New Franklin.

According to Mr. James, the old Franklin used to be the first jump-off site of the Santa Fe Trail, the first of many overland roads that led west of the Mississippi River. This lasted from 1821 – when a freight driver from Virginia named William Becknell led the first wagon caravan to Santa Fe – to 1828, when the flooding Missouri River finally engulfed it in 1828. The residents resettled their town on higher ground and renamed it New Franklin. I must say that the latter is a very pleasant community with numerous schools, churches and even an attorney’s office.

Alice, myself, Mr. James, the Robbinses and our two Pennsylvania families did not have much time to enjoy New Franklin. No sooner had we arrived, the law appeared with Mr. Whiskers in tow. They demanded to search our wagons. By now, I began to suspect that Alice had been right. Mr. Whiskers’ failure to find his fugitive slave had turned into harassment against our wagon company. Mr. James and Mr. Robbins insisted that we were not harboring a fugitive slave. But the lawmen insisted – backed by a show of force – upon searching our wagons. Again, we had no choice but to comply. And like before, no fugitive slave was found.

Our wagon company had intended to linger in New Franklin and purchase a few supplies. But the ladies, led by Mrs. Robbins, felt affronted by the community’s greeting and demanded that we continue our journey. Understanding how the women felt, the rest of us agreed and the company quietly left New Franklin.

May 2, 1849
Tonight is our last night before our arrival at Independence, tomorrow. Finally! I have had enough of Missouri to last me a lifetime. It is a beautiful state. But I would have enjoyed it more if did not have slavery within its borders.

Mr. Whiskers had continued to trail us, following our departure from New Franklin. Then two days later, he suddenly disappeared. Perhaps he had finally realized the futility of the chase.

Mr. James informed us that many wagon trains should be organizing in Independence by now. Surprisingly, Independence was not the only jump-off spot for the western trails. Rival sites had form in both nearby St. Joseph and Council Bluffs in Iowa. Both towns were easily approachable by a Missouri River steamboat. And an emigrant would save four days on the trail by departing from either town, since both were north of Independence. Despite all of this, our company voted to head for Independence.

Our little caravan has just received a late night visitor. His name is Elias Wendell, formerly of Baltimore, Maryland. He is on his way to Westport. And he is also a fellow Negro. At first, I wonder if he was the fugitive slave that half of Missouri had been searching for. In the end, I dismissed the idea for Mr. James seemed quite familiar with him. And yet . . . this Mr. Wendell happened to be wearing Mr. Whiskers’ royal blue waistcoat. Or something similar. Interesting.

Since he happened to be Mr. James’ old friend, our party welcomed him into our camp. I noticed that Alice exerted good deal of energy to prepare a plate of beans, roast quail and cornbread for our guest. Elias Wendell had been the apprentice of one of Mr. James’ old colleagues – one Thomas Ford. The name struck a familiar note.

Minutes passed before I realized that Mr. Whitman had once mentioned this Ford fellow. Apparently, the latter had been killed in a barroom brawl in St. Charles, a year ago. Since then, Elias had been roaming the state working at odd jobs. When he had learned about the gold found in California, he decided to try his luck and get himself hired to a wagon company.

His story seemed above board. Yet . . . why was Mr. Wendell wearing a waistcoat similar to Mr. Whiskers’? I decided to remain silent. Why create any suspicions that he might be the runaway Mr. Whiskers had been searching for? I had no desire to bring trouble upon his head. Apparently, neither did anyone else. After all, if I had noticed his waistcoat, surely some of the others had.

End of Chapter Eight

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Seven

The following is Chapter Seven of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Seven – Missouri Plains

April 16, 1849
Traveling through Missouri, I finally received my first glimpse of what a prairie looked like. I had imagined flatter land with no grass . . . not this rolling land filled with long tufts of grass. “You should see this land in full bloom in about a month from now,” Mr. James commented. “The grass becomes just as high as your knees.”

No wonder most emigrant guides insist that wagon trains depart at least by early May. Judging from the amount of prairie grass that now grows, I could see that it was not enough to sustain teams of oxen and mules during a 2,000-mile trek . . . let alone 200 miles.

Mr. James decided that it would be best for us to follow the Missouri River along the bluffs just north of it. Since it happened to be early spring, the river would be subjected to floods, which could be deadly due to its fast currents. Casting my eyes upon the Missouri below, I spotted a steamboat with a stern wheel churning westward. A brief longing to be aboard that boat rose within me. I still long to reach Independence as soon as possible, and finally begin the journey across the continent. Oh, the impatience of youth!

April 19, 1849
The wagon company experienced a chilling moment, early this afternoon. A group of riders appeared from the south and interrupted our small procession at a crossroads. Judging from their hostile expressions, along with the shackles and ropes they carried; a suspicion came to me that these men might be bounty riders or even worse.
Unfortunately, I proved to be right. The riders had turned out to be a group of lawmen and slave catchers searching for a black fugitive. One fellow, a swarthy creature with black whiskers demanded a search of our wagons. And considering that he and his companions were better armed than us, we had no choice but to comply.

It came to no surprise that the slave catchers had lingered around our wagon longer than the others. That same bewhiskered gentleman who led the bunch demanded to see Alice’s and my papers. Mr. James’ face turned red and insisted that we were free people of color. “And how would you know that for sure, Mister?” our tormentor demanded. “How long have you known these nigras?”

“Almost two weeks,” Mr. James replied. “They happen to be from Ohio.” The whiskered man shot back, “They could have said that. Maybe they’re lying.” This did not bode well for Alice and myself.

Fortunately, Mr. James never relented in his defense of us. “And how would you know?” he replied scathingly. “Can you recognize an Ohio accent when you hear it? And why are you harassing these two? Surely, you know who you’re looking for?”

I saw flashes of anger, resentment and sheer embarrassment in the slaver’s dark eyes. He murmured a quick oath and walked away. The other men continued their search through our wagons with no success. The fugitive could not be found. With no reason to delay us any further, the search party allowed us to continue our journey. However, our caravan had not traveled three miles when Alice noticed a figure in a thicket to our right – a lone rider.

“He looks like one of those slave catchers,” my sister commented. I squinted for a closer look. Sure enough, there was Mr. Whiskers riding by himself. Following our wagon party. If the fellow was so determined to capture this slave, he was surely barking up the wrong tree. Or was he merely determined to prove that we were slave stealers? If so, I pray that his fugitive never seek refuge with our group . . . at least until we manage to put Missouri and slave catchers behind us for good.

End of Chapter Seven

“HARRIET” (2019) Review

“HARRIET” (2019) Review

Many people are familiar with Harriet Tubman, the former slave-turned-Underground Railroad conductor-turned-Civil War operative-turned-political activist. She has appeared as a supporting character in a handful of television productions and the leading character in two other television productions. However, a full-length feature film has finally been made about the famous historical figure. That film is called “HARRIET”.

As I had earlier stated, there have been two television productions about the famous Underground Railroad conductor. One of them was an episode from the 1963-1964 historical anthology series “THE GREAT ADVENTURE” called (1.06) “Go Down, Moses”. It starred Ruby Dee. The other television production was the 1978 miniseries “A WOMAN CALLED MOSES”, which starred Cicely Tyson. Following the latter, the Harriet Tubman figure appeared in a few television productions about slavery and the Underground Railroad until the release of this new film.

“HARRIET” basically covered Tubman’s life during a nine-year period between 1849 and 1850, along with a sequence set in 1858. The movie began in 1849 Maryland with Harriet (or Araminta “Minty” Ross Tubman, as she was known then), along with her husband John Tubman and father Ben Ross (both who were free) approached Harriet’s owner Edward Bodress with a promise made by the latter’s ancestor that her mother Harriet “Rit” Ross would be freed by the age of 45, along with their children (including Harriet). Bodress refused to acknowledge the promise. He also forbade Harriet from seeing her husband John. Brodess’s adult son Gideon caught Minty praying for God to take Mr. Brodess. The latter died shortly afterward. Alarmed by this, Gideon decided to sell Minty as punishment. Suffering from spells that began after she had been struck in the head as a child, Minty had a vision of her being free and decided to run away. She convinced John to remain behind, in case he got caught and punished for escaping with her. Minty eventually reached Philadelphia and freedom. She managed to acquire a job, thanks to the assistance of Underground Railroad abolitionist/writer William Still and a fashionable free black woman named Marie Buchanon. After a few months in Philadelphia, Minty (who renamed herself as Harriet Tubman) returned to Maryland to retrieve John and discovered that he had remarried, believing she was dead. Instead, Harriet decided to escort some family members north to freedom and began her career as a conductor for the Underground Railroad.

I have been aware of Harriet Tubman ever since I was a child of nine years old. My mother had purchased a copy of Marcy Heidish’s 1976 novel called “A Woman Called Moses”, the basis for the 1978 miniseries. But “HARRIET” marked the first time that Tubman was featured as the a character in a motion picture, let alone the leading character. So naturally, I had to see it. I had some problems with the movie. One, I could easily see that it was not historical accurate. This is not a real problem for me. After seeing two television productions that erroneously featured Harriet Tubman operating in the Ohio River Valley, the historical inaccuracies in this film struck me as a piece of cake.

One example would be the scene during her own escape in which her new owner, Gideon Bodress, and a slave patrol cornered her on a bridge. Instead of surrendering, she evaded them by jumping into the river. Needless to say, no such thing happened, since her owner (Anthony Thompson), or any slave patrol were able to capture her during her journey to Philadelphia. But . . . I was able to tolerate this scene. Somewhat. I was also a bit confused about her relationship with John Tubman in this film. Director-writer Kasi Lemmons and co-writer Gregory Allen Howard portrayed Harriet or Minty’s marriage as loving and trouble free. This has not been the case in another Hollywood production I could think of. Unfortunately, no one really knows whether the Tubmans had experienced any marital strife before her flight from Maryland. So . . . I tolerated this portrayal. However, the movie indicated that Minty had suggested John not run with her so that he would not be caught aiding a runaway. This is false. According to history, John did not want her to run in the first place. They also made it clear that John had remarried because he had assumed Minty/Harriet was dead. I do not know whether this is true or not. But it seemed as if Lemmons and Howard seemed hell bent upon portraying John in a positive light as much as possible.

But there were changes in the narrative that left me scratching my head. “HARRIET” featured Minty making her escape from Maryland in the middle of the day . . . which I found odd. The movie had her working in a garden when someone warned her that Bodress had plans to sell her to the Deep South in order to alleviate family debts. No sooner had she received the warning, one of the plantation’s foremen appeared to grab her. Minty ran and . . . hid. She hid around the plantation for hours before she contacted her family and left. What made this even more odd is that Bodress did not learn of her escape from the foreman until hours later. Which I found very odd. Historically, most slave escapes began in the middle of the night, not in the middle of the day. Why did Minty wait so long to contact her family before her escape? And why did the plantation foreman wait so long to inform Bodress? Also, she made most of her journey by night and hid during the daytime. Which would have made that daytime encounter on the bridge with Bodress somewhat implausible. I can only assume Lemmons and Howard had added it for dramatic reasons.

In the movie, Minty/Harriet did not wait very long to return to Maryland and contact her family and John. After escorting several members of her family north, she returned to Maryland and helped others escape on several occasions before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Now this is ridiculous. One, Tubman returned to Maryland to help some relatives escape at least three to four months after the law’s passage. I find it very hard to believe that she had made so many trips to Maryland between her own escape in September 1849 and when the fugitive law was passed in September 1850.  Another troubling aspect of the movie was the sequence featuring the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. The movie featured a scene with former slaves – including Harriet – leaving en masse from the Philadelphia docks, while God knows how many slave catchers suddenly appeared to capture these fugitives. What the hell? I had felt as if I was watching a war movie with refugees escaping from an invaded city. Yes, many fugitive slaves were forced to flee the Northern states for Canada following the law’s passage. But not like THAT. Not like a scene from “CASABLANCA” or “THE WINDS OF WAR”.

I have two more complaints. Why did Lemmons and Howard added that . . . relationship between Harriet and Bodress? Why? It was bad enough that Gideon Bodress never existed. But Tubman had never recounted having to deal with the unwanted sexual interest or assault from any white man. And I got the impression that Lemmons wanted to include some watered down version of the Patsey-Edwin Epps relationship from the Oscar winning film, “12 YEARS A SLAVE” – but without the overt violence and sex. It was obvious that Bodress had never laid a violent hand on Harriet in the film, aside from the slap on the face after he had overheard her wish for his father’s death. But I find it implausible that Gideon Bodress had never attempted to sexually assault her. Even when his father was alive. Another sequence featured Northern black and white members discussing the Fugitive Slave Act passage and whether it would be safe to continue the Underground Railroad. What I disliked about this sequence is that most of them seemed to have this attitude without the organization’s conductors appearing on Southern plantations to lead them, many slaves would not be willing to escape or would not succeed in escaping. And this was far from the truth. One could argue that this scene was a perfect example of a patronizing behavior from Northern abolitionists. But Harriet did not point out that slaves were capable of escaping on their own. Instead, she simply argued for the continuation of the Underground Railroad. Which simply made her equally patronizing to me.

One would think that I disliked “HARRIET”. That person would be wrong. I actually enjoyed it very much. Despite some of the narrative choices, lightweight characterizations and historical inaccuracies; “HARRIET” was both an entertaining and interesting film. One, it is nice to see Hollywood produce a feature film about the former abolitionist. “HARRIET” is a thoughtful drama about a period in United States history about which very few Americans want to discuss, let alone contemplate. Like other Hollywood productions, the movie mainly featured Tubman’s early career as an Underground Railroad conductor. I had assumed that it would also focus on her Civil War experiences, due to some publicity stills released before the film hit the theaters. But the movie only included a coda, featuring Tubman’s participation in a raid during the war. “HARRIET” was, without a doubt, about her role with the Underground Railroady.

Due to the film’s focus on Harriet’s career as an Underground Railroad conductor, it did not focus that strongly on her family life . . . with the exceptions of her attempts to lead them to freedom. Many critics have complained about this. But I can understand why Lemmons only focused on one aspect of Harriet’s life. This was a feature-length film that ran nearly two hours, not a television miniseries. Frankly, I thought it was smart of her to focus one one aspect of Harriet’s life, considering the format she had used. And she focused on one of the former slave/abolitionist’s most famous period in her life – namely that as an Underground Railroad conductor. Only through this story arc was the movie able to somewhat focus on her connection to her family. In fact, one the most interesting arcs in this narrative proved to be a sequence that featured Tubman’s attempts to rescue her sister Rachel and the latter’s children.

This focus on Harriet’s career with the Underground Railroad allowed Lemmons and Howard to reveal Harriet as the action heroine she truly was. The writers’ narrative arc also featured some well staged action sequences. Among my favorite sequences are Harriet’s initial escape from Maryland and her successful rescue of Rachel’s children in the film’s second half. Both struck me as well-shot sequences that featured a great deal of more tension and drama than action. And I thought the focus on these two aspects may have allowed the sequences to be more effective without the obvious action. I also enjoyed the movie’s final action sequence in which Harriet attempted to rescue and lead her parents to freedom in the late 1850s. Not only was this sequence filled with the usual solid action for this trope, it featured a tense-filled final confrontation between Harriet and Bodress.

I certainly did not have a problem with the film’s production values. I thought Warren Alan Young did an exceptional job in re-creating antebellum America, especially in scenes that featured the Bodress plantation, Baltimore (at least I think it is), Canada and especially Philadelphia. I believe Young was ably supported by John Troll’s sharp and colorful cinematography, Wyatt Smith’s film editing, Kevin Hardison and Christina Eunji Kim’s art direction, and Marthe Pineau’s set decorations. I also have to commend Paul Tazewell for his costume designs. I thought Tazewell did an excellent job of conveying the movie’s setting and characters through his costumes, as shown in the images below:

I have a confession to make. Aside from a handful, I was not exactly blown away by the performances featured in “HARRIET”. I am not claiming that most of the performances were terrible or even mediocre. I simply found them solid . . . or serviceable. There were a few that I found slightly above being serviceable – like Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Zackary Momoh, Tim Guinee, Henry Hunter Hall, Joseph Lee Anderson, Jennifer Nettles and Omar J. Dorsey. But like I had said, there were a few that struck me as memorable. One of them Clarke Peters, who gave a subtle, yet warm portrayal of Harriet/Minty’s father, Ben Ross. I was also impressed by Vanessa Bell Calloway, who gave an exceptional performance as the abolitionist’s emotional and slightly edgy mother, Harriet Ritt Ross. Joe Alwyn did an excellent job of portraying Gideon Bodress as a slightly complex character without transforming the character into a one-note, mustache-twirling villain. And I really enjoyed Vondie Curtis-Hall’s subtle, yet colorful portrayal of Reverend Green, the local free black minister, who also happened to be a member of the Underground Railroad.

But the performance that really counted in “HARRIET” came from leading lady Cynthia Erivo. It is almost a miracle that Erivo managed to give such an exceptional performance as Harriet Tubman. I say this, because Lemmons and Howard had failed to fully portray Tubman as a complex human being with not only virtues, but also a few flaws. Their Tubman almost struck me as a borderline Mary Sue, due to their determination to basically portray her as an action heroine. But they did provide some intimate moments between Tubman, her family and friends. And this gave Erivo the opportunity to skillfully convey the warm, yet strong-willed individual underneath the heroic facade. This was especially apparent in scenes that featured Tubman’s desperation to put as much distance between her and the Bodress plantation as possible; her determination to return to Maryland to rescue her family; and her discovery that her husband had married another woman. Thanks to her superb performance, Erivo managed to earn both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. And if I must be brutally honest, she deserved them.

Overall, I enjoyed “HARRIET”. I have always been interested in Harriet Tubman as a historical figure and was happy to see a motion picture about her. It was not the best or most compelling biopic I have ever seen. Nor was it the best biopic about Tubman I have ever seen. But I cannot deny that thanks to Kari Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard’s interesting screenplay, Lemmons’ solid direction and a first-rate cast led by Cynthia Erivo, “HARRIET” is a movie that I will be more than happy to watch on many occasions in the future.

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“Eggs Benedict”

Below is an article about the breakfast dish known as Eggs Benedict:

“EGGS BENEDICT”

I have known about the American breakfast dish, Eggs Benedict, since I was a child. However, I have yet to experience it. After learning about the origins and ingredients for Eggs Benedict, I believe it is time to remedy my lack of experience.

Eggs Benedict is a traditional American breakfast or brunch dish that consists of the following – two halves of an English muffin, topped with a poached egg, bacon or ham, and Hollandaise sauce. Many variations of Eggs Benedict have been created over the years. Among the most popular are:

*Eggs Florentine – which substitutes spinach for the ham or adds it underneath. Older versions of eggs Florentine add spinach to poached or shirred eggs.

*Eggs Chesapeake – substitutes a Maryland blue crab cake in place of the ham.

*Eggs Mornay – substitutes Mornay cheese sauce for the Hollandaise sauce.

*Irish Benedict – which replaces the ham/bacon with corned beef or Irish bacon.

*Eggs Cochon – a variation from New Orleans restaurants which replaces the ham with pork “debris” (slow roasted pork shredded in its own juices) and the English muffin with a large buttermilk biscuit.

The following are conflicting accounts to the origins of Eggs Benedict:

One of those accounts claimed that Delmonico’s, the famous restaurant in lower Manhattan claimed on its menu that the dish was first created in one of its ovens in 1860. The restaurant also claimed that one of its former chefs, Charles Ranhofer, had published the recipe for Eggs à la Benedick in 1894, naming it in honor of two of the restaurant’s patrons, Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict.

A retired Wall Street stockbroker named Lemuel Benedict claimed in an interview recorded in the “Talk of the Town” column of The New Yorker in 1942, the year before his death, that he had wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 ordered “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of hollandaise” in the hopes to find a cure for his morning hangover. Oscar Tschirky, Waldorf’s maître d’hôtel, was so impressed with the dish that he put it on the breakfast and luncheon menus, but substituted ham for the bacon and a toasted English muffin for the toast.

The third account to the dish’s origin came from Edward P. Montgomery on behalf of Commodore E. C. Benedict. In 1967, Montgomery wrote a letter to then food columnist Craig Claiborne that included a recipe he claimed he had received through his uncle, a friend of the commodore. Commodore Benedict’s recipe, via Montgomery, varies greatly from Ranhofer’s version. The recipe called for the addition of a “hot, hard-cooked egg and ham mixture” in the Hollandaise Sauce.

Below is a classic recipe for Eggs Benedict from the Betty Crocker website:

Eggs Benedict

Ingredients – Hollandaise Sauce

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup firm butter

Ingredients – Eggs Benedict

3 English muffins
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon butter
6 thin slices Canadian-style bacon or fully cooked ham
6 eggs
4 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
Paprika, if desired

Preparation

1. In 1-quart saucepan, vigorously stir egg yolks and lemon juice with wire whisk. Add 1/4 cup of the butter. Heat over very low heat, stirring constantly with wire whisk, until butter is melted.

2. Add remaining 1/4 cup butter. Continue stirring vigorously until butter is melted and sauce is thickened. (Be sure butter melts slowly so eggs have time to cook and thicken sauce without curdling.) If the sauce curdles (mixture begins to separate and melted butter starts to appear around the edge of the pan and on top of the sauce), add about 1 tablespoon boiling water and beat vigorously with wire whisk or egg beater until smooth. Keep warm.

3. Split English muffins; toast. Spread each muffin half with some of the 3 tablespoons butter; keep warm.

4. In 10-inch skillet, melt 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat. Cook bacon in butter until light brown on both sides; keep warm.

5. Wipe out skillet to clean; fill with 2 to 3 inches water. Add vinegar to water. Heat to boiling; reduce to simmering. Break cold eggs, one at a time, into custard cup or saucer. Holding dish close to water’s surface, carefully slip eggs into water. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or until whites and yolks are firm, not runny (water should be gently simmering and not boiling). Remove with slotted spoon.

6. Place 1 slice bacon on each muffin half. Top with egg. Spoon warm sauce over eggs. Sprinkle with paprika.

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Six

The following is Chapter Six of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Six – Gateway to the West

April 4, 1849
St. Louis. Finally! I have never felt so relieved to leave the floating death trap that was the ALBERT P. SIMPSON. Four more passengers died before we finally berthed at St. Louis’ levee. I wondered why the city officials did not put the SIMPSON‘s passengers under quarintine before we could disembark.

“Why bother?” Alice had replied. According to her, half of St. Louis’ citizens have already keeled over from cholera since last December. She felt it would be a miracle if we manage to depart St. Louis . . . alive. Ever since leaving Cleveland, I have detected an increasing sharpness in my dear sister’s tongue. Am I now facing the real Alice Fleming? I hope not.

The city’s citizens have developed their own cure for the deadly disease – cholera masks. A person could perchase one for ten dollars. Alice says that I should not even bother. She claims that cholera came from bad food and milk and not the air. Naturally, I could not take the word of a nineteen year-old girl from a well-to-do family over any respectable doctor. So I went ahead and purchased two masks. Alice refused to wear hers.

St. Louis struck me as a grander city than Cinncinati. I was informed by a deckhand on the SIMPSON that it was the biggest city west of Pittsburg. However, Cleveland seemed a lot cleaner. The river traffic that docked near the levee seemed twice the amount we had encountered in Cinncinati. Just above the levee stood an elegant white building with an olive green, dome-shaped roof.

The mass of humanity that we had first encountered in Cinncinati seemed twice as big, here in St. Louis, only with added touches – red-skinned Indians, trappers, blue-coated Army officers and soldiers, and olive-skinned Mexicans. I gather that the latter were among those who drove the freight wagons along the Santa Fe Trail. And naturally there were slaves. After all, Missouri happened to be a slave state. Mind you, they were not the occasional fugitive slaves captured by bounty hunters. They were black men, women and children shackled together in long coffles and hearded into Lynch’s, the city’s slave pen on Market Street. What sad-eyed, ragged creatures they were! The expressions on their faces seemed to indicate resignation to their fate.

Alice suggested that we purchase more supplies for our trip west. I told her there was no need. We will have plenty of opportunities for that in Independence. “But the merchants there will charge the earth!” she insisted. Alice had learned this bit of news from an old fur trapper she had met aboard the ALBERT P. SIMPSON. When did she find the time to become aquainted with some trapper without my knowledge? This soothsayer of the Plains had recommended we travel to Independence by land, instead of a Missouri River steamboat. Alice added that it would be cheaper and we would not arrive at the jump-off point too soon.

“The perfect time for a wagon train to depart from Independence is early May,” she added. Leaving Independence before that period of time meant the possibility of being snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas. She also suggested that I trade the horses for mules or oxen. Horses were unsuited for pulling wagons over a long distance. And we should travel light as possible. “He also suggested that we never take short cuts.”

Feeling slightly intimidated by my sister’s surprising knowledge of traveling across the plains, I replied sardonically, “Anything else?”

Alice had nothing further to say. Thank goodness. I wish to God that mountain man had minded his own business. However, a voice at the back in my head whispered that I should heed the advice.

April 6, 1849
We spent two days in St. Louis, outfitting for our journey. We purchased lynch pins, rope, chains, barrels, flour, bacon, cornmeal, beans, dried apples, coffee and other equipment. And as Alice had suggested, I traded my team of horses for mules. It saddened me to bade farewell to those wonderful animals. They had accompanied us from Cleveland and I will miss them.

During our two-day shopping spree, our wagon joined three others to form a small camp not far from Jefferson Barracks – an Army outpost southwest of the city. Among our new companions were a middle-aged couple from Kentucky named Robbins. Alice managed to form a surprisingly quick friendship with Mrs. Robbins, a habitual gossip. We also became aquainted with two families from Pennsylvania on their way to Oregon. And lo and behold, the old trapper who had made Alice’s acquaintance on the ALBERT P. SIMPSON had joined our little company. His name was Lyman James and he did not look as old as I had imagined. At least somewhere between fifty and sixty years old. Like the Robbinses, Alice and myself, he was bound for California. Only he chose not to travel by wagon . . . just his horse and a pack mule.

We spent our last night around a campfire, listening to Mr. James’ recollections of his years as a mountain man. A night of tales about rendevouses, near escapes, Indian war parties and the Western landscape brought back memories of Mr. Whitman. I asked Mr. James if he ever knew my former benefactor.

“Ephraim Whitman?” he asked. A wistful expression appeared on his face. “By God! I haven’t heard that name in years! One of the best trappers I have ever known. And a good friend. He taught me and Joe Wright all about the fur trade. Heard he had settled somewhere in Ohio.”

I told him that Mr. Whitman had ended up in Cleveland. I also informed him about my benefactor’s death, last month. The former trapper seemed to age within seconds. “Poor old Ephraim,” he muttered. “At least he had lived a good life.” It was the best ephitat anyone could have given Mr. Whitman.

End of Chapter Six

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Five

The following is Chapter Five of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Five – Rollin’ on the River

April 1, 1849
Our journey down the Ohio River seems more like a pleasure cruise than a difficult journey. And I must add that the river must be one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever laid eyes upon, save Lake Erie.

Alice and I have claimed a spot for our wagon on the SIMPSON’s main deck, along with other westbound travelers with covered wagons. Other passengers on this deck include farmers, slave coffles (I fear I might be becoming familiar with the sight), livestock, mountain men and other ordinary folk. The topic on everyone’s lips seem to be gold in California.

A fellow emigrant from Pennsylvania expressed fear that all of the gold may have already been picked. After all, nearly fifteen months had passed since that fellow, James Marshall, had discovered that gold nugget. Another emigrant – a red-haired man who happened to be a fellow Ohioan – dismissed the idea. ”California was a vast land,” he said. Plenty of gold left for those who have yet to arrive.

April 3, 1849
We have finally reached Cairo, a small river port at the tip of Southern Illinois. And I cannot think of any other place I would rather not be. There is nothing wrong with the town’s physical appearance. Frankly, I found it very pleasant. Somewhat. It does seem slightly diminished. I had expected it to be slightly bigger. There is an unpleasant side to Cairo that I had learned from one of the boat’s deckhands. The city, like the rest of Illinois, has a reputation for hostility toward Negroes. In fact, the entire state does not encourage free Negroes to live within its borders. And those who do are subjected to a level of harassment not even known throughout the rest of the North. I suggested to Alice that we remain aboard the ALBERT P. SIMPSON.

Because of its position at the junction of both the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers, Cairo has become an important river port. Many folks bound south for Memphis, Natchez and New Orleans were forced to disembark. In their place, the ALBERT P. SIMPSON acquired new passengers. Many were, like us, bound for St. Louis or further west. And now the main deck is filled with more covered wagons and emigrants.

The Mississippi River is not at all like the Ohio. Its majestic view is somewhat dimmed by its muddy coloring. Brown and thick, it is truly an ugly river. Alice and I have also learned that the Mississippi River Valley has been struck by a cholera epidemic. I am not that surprised. The river strikes me as the perfect breeding ground for diseases of all sorts. From New Orleans to St. Louis, folks have been dropping like flies. Two passengers have died since our departure from Cairo. Their bodies were dumped overboard and into the river. This whole matter does not bode well for Alice and myself. For the first time, I am wondering if I had been wise to leave Cleveland.

End of Chapter Five

Five Favorite Episodes of “UNDERGROUND” Season Two (2017)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Two of the WGN series, “UNDERGROUND”. Created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, the series stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge:

 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “UNDERGROUND” SEASON TWO (2017)

1. (2.03) “Ache” – Underground Railroad conductor/Macon 7 fugitive slave Rosalee struggle to evade Patty Canon’s slave catching band. Her mother Ernestine is haunted by her past, while adjusting to her new role as a field hand on a South Carolina Sea Island plantation.

 

2. (2.08) “Auld Acquaintance” – When Rosalee’s plan to rescue her younger brother James from the Macon plantation fails in the previous episode, fellow Macon 7 fugitive Noah struggles to form a new plan to save sister and brother. Ernestine’s attempt to escape from the South Carolina plantation is thwarted by slave catcher August Pullman.

 

3. (2.01) “Contraband” – Rosalee and the Northern abolitionists, John and Elizabeth Hawke, scheme to prevent Noah from being convicted for the murder of an Ohio lawman and from being sent back to the Macon plantation in Georgia.

 

4. (2.07) “28” – Noah helps Rosalee rescue her brother James from the Macon plantation, unaware that she is pregnant with their child. Ernestine flees the South Carolina plantation where she was a field hand. And fellow Macon 7 fugitive Cato, who has been captured by the Patty Canon gang, is forced to help them abduct and sell free blacks into slavery.

 

5. (2.09) “Citizen” – While Noah, Rosalee and James travel north from Georgia; Cato has encounters with Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Hawke and a biracial abolitionist named Georgia in Ohio; while working for Patty Canon.