Chicken and Waffles

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

Ingredients

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

Preparation

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.

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TIME MACHINE: Compromise of 1850

TIME MACHINE: COMPROMISE OF 1850

One hundred and seventy-two years ago marked the passage of the controversial document, the Compromise of 1850. The document was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850. These bills were used to defuse a political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired after the Mexican–American War.

A new debate over slavery in the territories had erupted during the Mexican–American War. Many Southerners sought to expand slavery to the newly-acquired lands and many Northerners, wary of economic competition with slave owners in the West, opposed any such expansion. The new state of Texas’ claim to all former Mexican territory north and east of the Rio Grande, including areas that had never been effectively controlled, further complicated the debate. These issues prevented the passage of acts to create organized territorial governments for the land acquired during the recent war – lands that included the present-day states of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and western Colorado.

In early 1850, with the assistance of Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky had proposed a package of bills that would settle the more important issues before Congress. His proposals included:

*The cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief
* The establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories
*Admission of California as a free state
*A ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) for sale
*A tougher fugitive slave law

Clay had originally favored voting on each of his proposals separately. However, Democrat Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi convinced him to combine the proposals regarding California’s admission and the disposition of Texas’s borders into one bill. Both Clay and Foote hoped this combination of measures would convince congressmen from both North and South to support the overall package of laws even if they objected to specific provisions.

Clay’s proposal had attracted the support of some Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs like Douglas and Vice-President Millard Fillmore. But the proposal lacked the backing necessary to win passage. President Zachary Taylor opposed the proposal and wanted both California and New Mexico to be admitted as free states. Democrat Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and some other Southern leaders argued that the compromise was biased against the South because it would lead to the creation of new free states. Not long after expressing his opposition to the proposal, Calhoun died at the end of March. Northern politicians like Whig Senator William H. Seward of New York opposed the pro-slavery elements of the Compromise, especially a new fugitive slave law. During a speech on the Senate floor on March 11, 1850, Seward invoked a “higher law than the Constitution” argument to express his opposition against Clay’s proposals.

The debate over Clay’s proposal led to verbal sparring between Vice-President Fillmore and Democrat Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri (who opposed the pro-slavery elements of the proposal) over Texas’s borders. During the pair’s debate, Senator Foote drew a pistol on Benton. In early June, nine slaveholding Southern states sent delegates to the Nashville Convention to determine their course of action if the compromise passed. Some delegates preached secession, while the moderates ruled and proposed a series of compromises that included extending the Missouri Compromise of 1820’s dividing line to the Pacific Coast. The situation took a major turn when President Taylor suddenly died on July 9, 1850. His death led Fillmore to become the 13th President of the United States and the end of presidential opposition to the proposals.

The individual proposals were initially introduced as one “omnibus” bill. Despite Clay’s efforts, the bill failed to pass during a crucial vote on July 31, 1850. It was opposed by southern Democrats and by northern Whigs. Clay announced his intention to pass each part of the bill on the Senate floor the following day. However, the 73-year-old Clay became physically exhausted from the effects of tuberculosis, which would eventually kill him nearly two years later. After Senator Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island; Senator Stephen A. Douglas took the lead in attempting to pass Clay’s proposals through the Senate.

Instead of presenting Clay’s proposals as one bill, Douglas ensured that the proposals were presented as separate bills:

*The Fillmore Administration and the Senate would deny Texas’s claims to New Mexico, asserting that the United States had promised to protect the territorial integrity of New Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. However, the compromise would allow the United States to assume Texas’s debts and set the state’s northern border at the 36° 30′ parallel north (the Missouri Compromise line) and much of its western border followed the 103rd meridian.

*California would be admitted as a free state on September 9, 1850.

*The Territories of New Mexico and Utah would be organized under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

*The nation’s capital, Washington D.C., would cease to become a major center for the domestic slave trade. However, slavery would continue to exist within its borders. Although all Southern politicians opposed this proposal, they were eventually outvoted.

*A new fugitive slave law would be created in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Enacted on September 8, 1850; this new law would enforce Federal judicial officials in all states and Federal territories, including those states and territories in which slavery was prohibited, to assist with the return of escaped slaves to their masters from those states and territories that permitted slavery. Anyone who refused to assist in the capture of fugitive slaves or assisted a fugitive would be liable to a steep fine or imprisonment.

By September 1850, both the United States Senate and House of Representatives managed to form an agreement over all major issues and voted for the passage of the new Compromise of 1850. President Fillmore signed four of the proposals, with the exception of the Fugitive Slave Act. He signed that into law after Attorney General John J. Crittenden assured him that the law was constitutional. Many historians argue that the Compromise of 1850 had played a major role in postponing the American Civil War by at least a decade. However, one element of the new compromise – the establishment of the Fugitive Slave Act – led to legal abuses regarding the pursuit of fugitive slaves and the safety of free blacks throughout the country. The new law also led to growing support of the abolition movement and the re-opening of the slavery issue. This led to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, a law drafted by Stephen Douglas that would help inflame the slavery issue until the eve of the U.S. Civil War.

“MERCY STREET” Season One (2016) Episode Ranking

Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of the PBS Civil War medical series called “MERCY STREET”. Created by Lisa Wolfinger and David Zabel, the series stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Hannah James and Josh Radnor:

“MERCY STREET” SEASON ONE (2016) EPISODE RANKING

1 - 1.04 The Belle Alliance

1. (1.04) “The Belle Alliance” – Emma and Alice Green, along with Confederate spy Frank Stringfellow plot a daring plan to help prisoner-of-war Tom Fairfax escape during an Union ball held at the Greens’ house . . . with tragic results. Meanwhile, Union nurse Mary Phinney and Dr. Jedediah Foster (still recovering from his drug detox), guide freedman Samuel Diggs through a delicate operation on the pregnant former slave Aurelia Johnson.

2 - 1.03 The Uniform

2. (1.03) “The Uniform” – Maryland-born Dr. Foster confronts his family’s divided loyalties when his mother and wounded Confederate brother arrive. Alice is shocked to find fiancé, Tom Fairfax, deeply changed by the war. Samuel and Aurelia try to persuade a slave boy owned by Mrs. Foster to seize a chance at freedom.

3 - 1.01 The New Nurse

3. (1.01) “The New Nurse” – The series premiere featured the recently widowed Mary’s arrival in Union occupied Alexandria, Virginia to assume the position of head nurse at a Union military hospital that used to be a local hotel owned by the Southern Green family.

4 - 1.05 The Dead Room

4. (1.05) “The Dead Room” – The unexpected visit of an inspector throws the hospital’s staff into disarray. Mary feels empathy for an army deserter, while Samuel is hunted by a trio of Delaware-born soldiers who believe he had stolen their wounded brother’s provisions. Tom’s tragic death forces James Green Sr. to take a risky step to help the soldier’s family and earn the Green family’s respect.

5 - 1.06 The Diabolical Plot

5. (1.06) “The Diabolical Plot” – Frank Stringfellow sets in motion an assassination plot, when he learns that President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Lincoln plan to visit the Mercy Street hospital. A recovering Aurelia decides to leave Alexandria in order to find her brother and Dr. Foster uncovers a scheme to undermine him at the expense of his patients.

6 - 1.02 The Haversack

6. (1.02) “The Haversack” – Emma nurses Tom, her sister’s fiancé. Dr. Foster wrestles with his marriage and career. Mary strives to improve the lives of her patients with help from Samuel. And Aurelia finds herself swept into a corrupt and sordid deal with the hospital’s slimy quartermaster, Silas Bullen.

TIME MACHINE: Compromise of 1850

TIME MACHINE: COMPROMISE OF 1850

One hundred and seventy years ago marked the passage of the controversial document, the Compromise of 1850. The document was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850. These bills were used to defuse a political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired after the Mexican–American War.

A new debate over slavery in the territories had erupted during the Mexican–American War. Many Southerners sought to expand slavery to the newly-acquired lands and many Northerners, wary of economic competition with slave owners in the West, opposed any such expansion. The new state of Texas’ claim to all former Mexican territory north and east of the Rio Grande, including areas that had never been effectively controlled, further complicated the debate. These issues prevented the passage of acts to create organized territorial governments for the land acquired during the recent war – lands that included the present-day states of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and western Colorado.

In early 1850, with the assistance of Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky had proposed a package of bills that would settle the more important issues before Congress. His proposals included:

*The cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief
* The establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories
*Admission of California as a free state
*A ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) for sale
*A tougher fugitive slave law

Clay had originally favored voting on each of his proposals separately. However, Democrat Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi convinced him to combine the proposals regarding California’s admission and the disposition of Texas’s borders into one bill. Both Clay and Foote hoped this combination of measures would convince congressmen from both North and South to support the overall package of laws even if they objected to specific provisions.

Clay’s proposal had attracted the support of some Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs like Douglas and Vice-President Millard Fillmore. But the proposal lacked the backing necessary to win passage. President Zachary Taylor opposed the proposal and wanted both California and New Mexico to be admitted as free states. Democrat Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and some other Southern leaders argued that the compromise was biased against the South because it would lead to the creation of new free states. Not long after expressing his opposition to the proposal, Calhoun died at the end of March. Northern politicians like Whig Senator William H. Seward of New York opposed the pro-slavery elements of the Compromise, especially a new fugitive slave law. During a speech on the Senate floor on March 11, 1850, Seward invoked a “higher law than the Constitution” argument to express his opposition against Clay’s proposals.

The debate over Clay’s proposal led to verbal sparring between Vice-President Fillmore and Democrat Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri (who opposed the pro-slavery elements of the proposal) over Texas’s borders. During the pair’s debate, Senator Foote drew a pistol on Benton. In early June, nine slaveholding Southern states sent delegates to the Nashville Convention to determine their course of action if the compromise passed. Some delegates preached secession, while the moderates ruled and proposed a series of compromises that included extending the Missouri Compromise of 1820’s dividing line to the Pacific Coast. The situation took a major turn when President Taylor suddenly died on July 9, 1850. His death led Fillmore to become the 13th President of the United States and the end of presidential opposition to the proposals.

The individual proposals were initially introduced as one “omnibus” bill. Despite Clay’s efforts, the bill failed to pass during a crucial vote on July 31, 1850. It was opposed by southern Democrats and by northern Whigs. Clay announced his intention to pass each part of the bill on the Senate floor the following day. However, the 73-year-old Clay became physically exhausted from the effects of tuberculosis, which would eventually kill him nearly two years later. After Senator Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island; Senator Stephen A. Douglas took the lead in attempting to pass Clay’s proposals through the Senate.

Instead of presenting Clay’s proposals as one bill, Douglas ensured that the proposals were presented as separate bills:

*The Fillmore Administration and the Senate would deny Texas’s claims to New Mexico, asserting that the United States had promised to protect the territorial integrity of New Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. However, the compromise would allow the United States to assume Texas’s debts and set the state’s northern border at the 36° 30′ parallel north (the Missouri Compromise line) and much of its western border followed the 103rd meridian.

*California would be admitted as a free state on September 9, 1850.

*The Territories of New Mexico and Utah would be organized under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

*The nation’s capital, Washington D.C., would cease to become a major center for the domestic slave trade. However, slavery would continue to exist within its borders. Although all Southern politicians opposed this proposal, they were eventually outvoted.

*A new fugitive slave law would be created in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Enacted on September 8, 1850; this new law would enforce Federal judicial officials in all states and Federal territories, including those states and territories in which slavery was prohibited, to assist with the return of escaped slaves to their masters from those states and territories that permitted slavery. Anyone who refused to assist in the capture of fugitive slaves or assisted a fugitive would be liable to a steep fine or imprisonment.

By September 1850, both the United States Senate and House of Representatives managed to form an agreement over all major issues and voted for the passage of the new Compromise of 1850. President Fillmore signed four of the proposals, with the exception of the Fugitive Slave Act. He signed that into law after Attorney General John J. Crittenden assured him that the law was constitutional. Many historians argue that the Compromise of 1850 had played a major role in postponing the American Civil War by at least a decade. However, one element of the new compromise – the establishment of the Fugitive Slave Act – led to legal abuses regarding the pursuit of fugitive slaves and the safety of free blacks throughout the country. The new law also led to growing support of the abolition movement and the re-opening of the slavery issue. This led to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, a law drafted by Stephen Douglas that would help inflame the slavery issue until the eve of the U.S. Civil War.

“LITTLE WOMEN” (1949) Review

“LITTLE WOMEN” (1949) Review

Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel is a bit of a conundrum for me. I have never been a fan of the novel. I have read it once, but it failed to maintain my interest. Worse, I have never had the urge to read it again. The problem is that it is that sentimental family dramas – at least in print – has never been appealing to me. And this is why I find it perplexing that I have never had any problems watching any of the film or television adaptations of her novel.

One of those adaptations proved to be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1949 adaptation, which was produced and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. It is hard to believe that the same man who had directed such hard-biting films like “LITTLE CAESAR”“I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG” and “THEY WON’T FORGET”, was the artistic force behind this sentimental comedy-drama. Or perhaps MGM studio boss, Louis B. Meyer, was the real force. The studio boss preferred sentimental dramas, comedies and musicals. Due to this preference, he was always in constant conflict with the new production chief, Dore Schary, who preferred more realistic and hard-biting movies. Then you had David O. Selznick, who wanted to remake his 1933 adaptation of Alcott’s novel. One can assume (or not) that in the end, Meyer had his way.

“LITTLE WOMEN”, as many know, told the experiences of the four March sisters of Concord, Massachusetts during and after the U.S. Civil War. The second daughter, Josephine (Jo) March, is the main character and the story focuses on her relationships with her three other sisters, the elders in her family – namely her mother Mrs. March (“Marmee”) and Aunt March, and the family’s next-door neighbor, Mr. Laurence. For Jo, the story becomes a “coming-of-age” story, due to her relationships with Mr. Laurence’s good-looking grandson, Theodore (“Laurie”) and a German immigrant she meets in New York City after the war, the equally good-looking and much older Professor Bhaer. Jo and her sisters deal with the anxiety of their father fighting in the Civil War, genteel poverty, scarlet fever, and the scary prospect of oldest sister Meg falling in love with Laurie’s tutor.

Despite my disinterest in Alcott’s novel, I have always liked the screen adaptations I have seen so far – including this film. Due to the casting of Margaret O’Brien as the mild-mannered Beth, her character became the youngest sister, instead of Amy. Screenwriters Sally Benson, Victor Heerman, Sarah Y. Mason and Andrew Solt made other changes and they left out some of Alcott’s memorable plot points from the novel’s narrative. But these changes, however regretful a few of them were (namely Jo and Amy’s conflict over the former’s manuscript) did not have any real impact on Alcott’s original story. Ironically, both Victor Heerman and Sarah Y. Mason wrote the screenplay for Selznick’s 1933 film. This should not be surprising, considering that this adaptation bears a strong similarity to the earlier version. I thought Mervyn LeRoy’s direction injected a good deal of energy into a tale that could have easily bored me senseless. In fact, MGM probably should have thank its lucky stars that LeRoy had served as producer and director.

As much as I admired LeRoy’s direction of this film, I must admit there was a point in the story – especially in the third act – in which the pacing threatened to drag a bit. My only other problem with “LITTLE WOMEN” is that I never really got the impression that this film was set during the 1860s, despite its emphasis on costumes and the fact that the March patriarch was fighting the Civil War. Some might say that since “LITTLE WOMEN” was set in the North – New England, as a matter of fact – it is only natural that the movie struggled with its 1860s setting. But I have seen other Civil War era films set in the North – including the 1994 version of “LITTLE WOMEN” – that managed to project a strong emphasis of that period. And the production values for this adaptation of Alcott’s novel seemed more like a generic 19th century period drama, instead of a movie set during a particular decade. It is ironic that I would make such a complaint, considering that the set decoration team led by Cedric Gibbons won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction.

I certainly had no problems with the cast selected for this movie. Jo March seemed a far cry from the roles for which June Allyson was known – you know, the usual “sweet, girl-next-door” type. I will admit that at the age of 31 or 32, Allyson was probably too young for the role of Jo March. But she did such a phenomenon job in recapturing Jo’s extroverted nature and insecurities that I found the issue of her age irrelevant. Peter Lawford, who was her co-star in the 1947 musical, “GOOD NEWS”, gave a very charming, yet complex performance as Jo’s next door neighbor and friend, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence. Beneath the sweet charm, Lawford did an excellent job in revealing Laurie’s initial loneliness and infatuation of Jo. Margaret O’Brien gave one of her best on-screen performance as the March family’s sickly sibling, Beth. Although the literary Beth was the third of four sisters, she is portrayed as the youngest, due to O’Brien’s casting. And I feel that Le Roy and MGM made a wise choice, for O’Brien not only gave one of her best performances, I believe that she gave the best performance in the movie, overall.

Janet Leigh, who was a decade younger than Allyson, portrayed the oldest March sister, Meg. Yet, her performance made it easy for me to regard her character as older and more emotionally mature than Allyson’s Jo. I thought she gave a well done, yet delicate performance as the one sister who seemed to bear the strongest resemblance to the sisters’ mother. Elizabeth Taylor was very entertaining as the extroverted, yet shallow Amy. Actually, I have to commend Taylor for maintaining a balancing act between Amy’s shallow personality and ability to be kind. The movie also featured solid performances from supporting cast members like Mary Astor (who portrayed the warm, yet steely Mrs. March), the very charming Rossano Brazzi, Richard Stapley, Lucile Watson, Leon Ames, Harry Davenport, and the always dependable C. Aubrey Smith, who died not long after the film’s production.

Overall, “LITTLE WOMEN” is a charming, yet colorful adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. I thought Mervyn LeRoy did an excellent job in infusing energy into a movie that could have easily sink to sheer boredom for me. And he was enabled by a first-rate cast led by June Allyson and Peter Lawford. Overall, “LITTLE WOMEN” managed to rise above my usual apathy toward Alcott’s novel.

Top Favorite Movies of the Decade (2010-2019)

Below is a list of my top favorite movies of the decade between 2010-2019:

TOP TWENTY FAVORITE MOVIES OF THE DECADE (2000-2009)

1. “Django Unchained” (2012) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this first-rate film about a slave-turned-bounty hunter, who searches for his enslaved wife in antebellum Mississippi, with the help of his mentor. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson star.

2. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) – Zack Synder directed this superb and vastly underrated second installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) about supervillain Lex Luthor’s efforts to manipulate veteran vigilante Batman into a pre-emptive battle with Superman, whom Luthor is obsessed with destroying. Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill starred as Bruce Wayne aka Batman and Clark Kent aka Superman.

3. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – Chris Evans starred in this superb sequel to his 2011 hit about the Marvel superhero, who finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy regarding S.H.I.E.L.D. and its old nemesis, HYDRA. The movie was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.

4. “Lincoln” (2012) – Steven Spielberg directed this excellent look at President Abraham Lincoln near the end of his presidency. Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones star.

5. “Man of Steel” (2013) – Zack Snyder directed this excellent reboot of the Superman mythos, in which the Kryptonian superhero battles a nemesis from his father’s past. Henry Cavill starred as Clark Kent aka Superman.

6. “Inception” (2010) – Christopher Nolan wrote and directed one of the most unique films I have seen – which told the story of a thief who uses dream sharing technology to steal and plant corporate secrets. Leonardo DiCaprio starred.

7. “Saving Mr. Banks” (2013) – John Lee Hancock directed this superb and emotional tale about author P.L. Travers and producer Walt Disney’s tug-of-war over the development of the 1964 movie, “MARY POPPINS”. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks starred.

8. “Dunkirk” (2017) – Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this acclaimed look at the British Expeditionary Force’s evacuation from Dunkirk, France in 1940. Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance starred.

9. “Hidden Figures” (2016) – Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe starred in this Oscar nominated biopic about the true story of African American women who provided NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. Theodore Melfi directed.

10. “The Great Gatsby” (2013) – Baz Luhrmann co-wrote and directed this splashy yet entertaining adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel about a mysterious millionaire during the early years of the Jazz Age. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton starred.

11. “True Grit” (2010) – Ethan and Joel Coen wrote and directed this excellent adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel about a fourteen year-old girl’s desire for retribution against her father’s killer. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hattie Steinfeld starred.

12. “Gone Girl” (2014) – David Fincher directed this outstanding and colorful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel about whether a man is responsible for the disappearance of his wife or not. Ben Affleck and Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike starred.

13. “Silver Lining Playbook” (2012) – David O. Russell wrote and directed this Oscar-nominated adaptation of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, “The Silver Linings Playbook”. Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper and Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence starred.

14. “The Avengers” (2012) – Joss Whedon wrote and directed this excellent blockbuster in which S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury forms a team of superheroes to save Earth from Asgardian villain Loki and alien invaders. The cast included Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson.

15. “Wonder Woman” (2017) – Gal Gadot starred in this excellent movie about the D.C. Comics’ heroine Wonder Woman and her experiences during World War I. Patty Jenkins directed.

16. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) – Gareth Edwards directed this excellent stand alone film in the Star Wars saga about a group of Rebels who learn about the Imperial Galaxy’s new weapon, the Death Star, and set about stealing the plans. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna starred.

17. “Rush” (2013) – Ron Howard directed this exciting biopic about Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda … and their rivalry during the 1976 racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred as the two rivals.

18. “Solo: A Star Wars Movie” (2018) – This excellent STAR WARS movie set ten years before the Original Trilogy, told the story of the early years of Han Solo as a smuggler and criminal. Directed by Ron Howard, Alden Ehrenreich starred in the title role.

19. “Black Panther” (2018) – Chadwick Boseman starred in this excellent adaptation of the Marvel Comics hero Black Panther aka King T’Challa of Wakanda about the title character’s efforts to maintain his position as Wakanda’s king, while dealing with a vengeful relation. Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, the movie co-starred Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o.

20. “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood” (2019) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this excellent tale about a fading actor and his stunt double struggling to regain success in the film industry during the final year of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles. Oscar nominee Leonardo Di Caprio, Oscar winner Brad Pitt and Oscar nominee Margot Robbie starred.

Honorable Mention: “Incredibles 2” (2018) – This first-rate direct sequel to the 2004 hit Disney animated film follows the Parr family as they try to restore public’s trust in superheroes, while balancing their family life. They also find themselves combating a new foe who seeks to turn the populace against all superheroes. Directed by Brad Bird, Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Samuel L. Jackson provided the voices.

“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.

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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