Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Welsh Rarebit



Here is some information and an old recipe about a dish made with a savory sauce of melted cheese and various other ingredients served hot over toasted bread. The dish is called the Welsh Rarebit:


THE WELSH RAREBIT

The origin and evolution of Welsh Rabbit (aka Welsh Rarebit) differs according to one's point of view. Combinations of melted cheese and toasted bread have been enjoyed in several cultures and cuisines for thousands of years. However, the name of this dish originated from 18th century Great Britain, after Wales. Welsh Rarebit is typically made with Cheddar cheese, in contrast to the Continental European fondue. And Welsh Rarebit made be considered a local variant.

There is no evidence that the Welsh actually originated this, although they have always had a reputation as cheese-lovers. A more likely derivation of the name is that Welsh in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was used as a patronizingly humorous epithet for any inferior grade or variety of article – as a substitute for the real thing. Welsh rabbit may therefore have started life as a dish resorted to when meat was not available.

Although the term is often used simply for a slice of bread topped with cheese and put under the grill, the fully-fledged Welsh rabbit is a more complicated dish with several variations - the cheese (classically Cheddar or Double Gloucester) can be mixed with butter or mustard, beer or wine, and it can be pre-melted and poured over the toast rather than grilled. Welsh rabbit has of course produced one of the great linguistic causes celebres of gastronomy with it genteel variant Welsh Rarebit. There is little doubt that rabbit is the original form and that rarebit (first recorded in 1785) is an attempt to reinterpret the odd and inappropriate-sounding rabbit as something more fitting to the dish. Precisely how this took place is not clear. It has been speculated that ”rarebit” was originally ”rearbit” - that is, something eaten at the end of a meal. But there is no actual evidence for this.

Here is a recipe for Welsh Rarebit from Chowning’s Tavern, located in Colonial Williamsburg:





WELSH RABBIT

- from Chowning's Tavern
Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia


Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

1 cup beer
2 teaspoons mustard powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1½ cups grated Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt to taste
4 to 6 tomato slices
8 to 12 slices (½ inch thick), toasted French or Italian bread


Instructions:

Preheat a broiler. Place the beer, mustard, cayenne and Worcestershire sauce in a saucepan, and heat over medium heat until boiling. Slowly whisk in the cheese, making sure each addition is melted before adding the next. Add the butter, and whisk until smooth. Season with salt to taste, and set aside.
Place the tomato slices on the rack of a broiler pan, and broil for 1 minute, or until lightly browned.
To serve, place the toast slices on the bottom of an oven proof gratin dish or in individual gratin dishes. Pour the cheese over the toast, and then top with the tomato slices. Place under the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and brown. Serve immediately.

Note: The components of the dish can be prepared up to a few hours in advance and kept at room temperature. Reheat the cheese until hot, whisking until it is smooth, before the final broiling.

- history.org

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"STAGECOACH" (1939) Photo Gallery




Below is a gallery of photos from the 1939 Western classic, "STAGECOACH". Directed by John Ford, the movie starred Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Academy Award winner, Thomas Mitchell:


"STAGECOACH" (1939) Photo Gallery
































Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Altered Lives" [PG-13] - Chapter Five




"ALTERED LIVES"

CHAPTER FIVE

CORUSCANT

Palpatine glanced up from the data pad in his hand, as Sly Moore entered his office. She bowed to the new Emperor. "Pardon me, Your Highness. Senator Jaren Tagge of Bonadan awaits your presence."

The Emperor quickly switched off his data pad and tossed it on his desk. "Send him in." The Umbaran female started to turn away, when Palpatine added, "Also, send in the Jedi prisoner . . . after you have escorted Senator Tagge into my office."

Sly Moore nodded and left the office. Nearly a minute later, she returned with the senator from Bonadan, Jaren Tagge. A stocky human with pale skin and pale blue eyes, Senator Tagge happened to be a scion from a wealthy family that has represented Bonadan for the past twelve years. "Your Highness!" the visitor greeted Palpatine with a low bow. "As you can see, I have returned from Naboo. Very sad business. Very sad." He spoke with the sincerity of a smuggler from the Outer Rim.

"Ah yes," Palpatine responded with equal insincerity. "Senator Amidala's funeral. I regret not being there. Considering that she had represented my homeworld."

Senator Tagge heaved a feigned sigh. "And to have died so young . . . and violently." He paused, as a sly expression crept across his solid face. "By the way, did you know that she was with child at the time of her death?"

"Really?" Palpatine crowed inwardly at the comment. He had seen the news report of Amidala's funeral and recalled noticing her pregnant body being carried through the streets of Theed. The HoloNet News Service made no mention of the late senator's pregnant state. Obviously, the news service had decided to respect Nabooan tradition of respecting the citizens' private lives. It seemed that Senator Tagge could not care less about Nabooan tradition. Palpatine felt greatly relieved. He already has to live with the idea of Anakin Skywalker no longer within his grasp. A possible encounter with both Skywalker and his offspring could prove to be a greater threat.

"I wonder who was the father."

Palpatine deliberately hesitated. "I am not in the habit of spreading rumors, mind you, but I have been aware of a . . . friendship between the late senator and a young Jedi Knight."

Pale blue eyes widened with surprise . . . and pleasure. "A Jedi? No wonder they had her killed. I never believed the story that Senator Amidala had merely been caught up in the Jedi's attempt to grab control of the Senate."

Heaving a mournful sigh, Palpatine replied, "I can only say that we will never know the truth. By the way," he sat down in the chair behind his desk, "I wanted to discuss another matter. Namely, the hyperbarides that your family's corporation has been supplying the Empire. I . . ." He paused dramatically. "I have just received word from your sister-in-law, the Baroness that the Tagge Company insists upon charging the Empire 1,000 credits per kilo for the mineral. Is this true?"

Tagge's demeanor stiffened. The obsequious politician with a taste for gossip had disappeared. In its place appeared a cool and ruthless businessman. "Yes, I'm afraid so, Your Highness. My sister-in-law had been foolish to promise you that the price for the hyperbarides would remain at 600 credits per kilo. Considering the recent political upheavals and the costs of the war, we felt it was best to raise the prices. After all, hyperbarides is very expensive to mine."

Palpatine gave the politician a long, hard stare. He considered using the Force to manipulate the senator's thoughts. But instinct told him that corrupt or not, Jaren Tagge was not weak-minded. The Tagge family possessed a reputation for their business acumen, ruthlessness and strong will. So that left . . .

His office door slid open, revealing Sly Moore. The Umbaran aide entered the room. "Pardon me, Your Highness. The Jedi prisoner is here. I believe you wanted to see him before we send him to the detention center for execution."

"He's here?" Palpatine asked, feigning surprise.

Sly Moore hesitated. "Why . . . yes. He is . . . in the corridor, outside. I wanted to make sure . . ."

"Send him in," Palpatine ordered. "I want to speak to him, one last time."

A frowning Tagge spoke up. "Pardon me Your Highness, but is that wise? He could be a danger to you."

Playing her role to perfection, Sly Moore added, "The Jedi traitor has been slightly drugged. He is in no condition to be a threat."

Palpatine nodded. "Send him in," he repeated.

Sly Moore bowed and disappeared into the corridor. Seconds later, she returned with two red-clad Imperial Guards escorting a slightly dazed Romulus Wort. "Like I said, he is slightly drugged," the aide added.

From the corner of his eye, Palpatine saw his aide surreptiously inject the Jedi prisoner's arm with a needle . . . something to purge the drug from the latter's blood system. It did not take long for Wort to lose his dazed expression. "What hap . . .?" He glanced down at the shackles that bound his wrists. They snapped open. Tagge jumped back in fear. Using the Force, Palpatine refastened the shackles. The Jedi Knight stared at him with sheer hatred. The Sith Lord could barely contain his revelry in the young man's emotions. This should prove to be interesting.

"So, this is the Jedi," Tagge pronounced in a sneering voice. "Guardians of the galaxy. Or should I say . . . usurpers?" The Bonadanian senator regarded Wort with contempt. "Tell me Jedi, were you into seducing female senators, as well?"

Wort stared at Senator Tagge with shock and confusion. "What?"

The Bonadanian ignored the younger man's question, as he snorted with derision. "Jedi scum! You know, clone troopers managed to find two of your kind hiding out on my homeworld. Thankfully, they were cut down like the scum they were. It's a shame that you'll receive a military execution." He turned to Palpatine. "Your Highness, may I ask how you had captured him?"

The Emperor replied smoothly, "Our Imperial troopers found him inside the Jedi Temple." He found himself enjoying Tagge's harassment of the young Jedi. The Bonadanian not only enjoyed gossip, but intimidating his lesser opponents. This made Tagge well feared in the Senate.

"Probably hiding, while his comrades were finally being rid of." Tagge returned his attention to Wort. "You! Jedi! Did you hide, while your comrades were being killed? How did it feel to betray the Senate? To betray the Re . . . the Empire? I bet you enjoyed it." A sly smile curved his lips. "Just as you must have enjoyed Senator Amidala's favors. Were you the piece of scum who had conceived a child with her?

In a timely fashion, Palpatine intervened. "Now, Senator. Even though Senator Amidala had a relationship with one of the Jedi Knights, I do not believe that Master Wort here, was the father of her child."

Wort's eyes widened in shock. "Senator Amidala was . . .?" He shook his head. "That means Ana . . ."

Nodding, Tagge interrupted. "I believe you may be right, Your Highness. I doubt very much that this . . ." He sneered at the Jedi Knight. ". . . this scum has the energy, let alone the imagination to warm the late senator's bed. I can only imagine which Jedi filth had been responsible." He threw back his head in raucous laughter.

The next few minutes happened so fast that it nearly took Palpatine's breath away. Once more, Wort's restraints snapped open. He shook them off, grabbed one of the guard's pike and knocked both guards to the floor. Then the Jedi Knight let out a roar and swung the pike Senator Tagge's head. Three times. His left temple bleeding profusely, the senator slowly slumped to the floor. Palpatine quickly intervened by using the Force to thwack the back of Wort's neck, causing the latter to fall to his knees, bleeding.

"Good!" Palpatine cackled. "Very good!"

The second Imperial Guard examined the unconscious senator and announced sonorously, "He is dead."

"I assumed as much," the Emperor coolly replied. "Leave us. All of you." The guard dragged his unconscious colleague out of the office. A slightly shaken Sly Moore followed closely behind. Once the door slid shut, Palpatine turned to the slightly injured Jedi Knight. "Congratulations, Master Wort. I'm afraid that Senator Tagge was becoming quite a problem for me. However, you have managed to solve it, quite well."

Wort regarded Tagge's body with horror. "What have I done? I didn't mean to hurt . . . I mean . . . He was saying all those horrible things about the Jedi. I had to shut him up."

"Of course you did," Palpatine replied in his most sympathetic voice. "But you must realize that you have just murdered a member of the Senate and a member of a prominent family. The Bonadanians, and especially the Tagge family will not take kindly to learning of his murder."

"It's not true," Wort demanded, "about Senator Amidala being pregnant, is it?"

Palpatine sighed. "She was pregnant. Both she and the unborn child did not survive the recent upheaval, thanks to the child's father." He paused. "And I am quite certain that you now know his identity."

Disbelief and rage formed storm clouds within Wort's eyes. "Skywalker! This is all his fault! He is responsible! I never trusted him. Even from the day when he first joined the Order! And now, this? He had an illicit affair with Senator Amidala?"

"Yes, that did come as a surprise," Palpatine murmured. "Along with the unborn child."

Rage literally poured from Wort's eyes. "Where is he? Where is Skywalker? Before you execute me, I should at least have the chance to kill him! He deserves nothing less!"

Coolly, Palpatine faced the young Jedi. "I'm afraid that Skywalker is . . . missing. Disappeared. He has failed to return from an assignment on Mustafar."

"Is he dead?"

"Oh no, my young Jedi. No, I believe that he is still alive." Palpatine paused before he murmured, "Or else I would have sensed otherwise."

Wort's dark eyes bored into Palpatine's. "So, he has betrayed you, as well. I'm still asking for that chance."

Palpatine returned Wort's stare. "I sense a great desire to exact revenge, Master Wort. If that is what you truly desire, there is only one path in which to attain it." He paused dramatically. "By my side."

For a long moment, Wort hesitated. His eyes reflected a conflict between his past loyalties and oath and a new desire to inflict pain. The latter finally won out, as he slowly knelt on one knee. His face trembling with emotion, Wort declared, "The Jedi is gone. The Order no longer exists. Everyone that mattered to me in my life is . . . gone. I've committed murder . . . in cold blood." His eyes once again expressed rage. "And that scum, Skywalker roams the galaxy. There is nothing left for me . . . other than to spill that traitorous scum's blood. If serving you means allowing me the chance to do so, then so bet it."

"You cannot back away from this," Palpatine warned. "One apprentice has already betrayed me. I will not take kindly to another . . ."

Wort resolutely declared, "Unlike Skywalker, I am not in the habit of betraying one's trust." He lowered his head. "I will do . . . as you ask. Even if learning the Dark Side will achieve both of our goals. I . . . I pledge myself to the Empire, to the ways of the Sith . . . and to you."

Palpatine allowed himself a triumphant smile. "Arise, my young apprentice. From now on, you shall be known as Darth Rasche."

"Yes . . . Master." The new Darth Rasche rose unsteadily to his feet and faced his new master.

"And now, we need to see about your immediate needs." Palpatine activated the comlink on his desk. Sly Moore entered the room. "Please tend to Lord Rasche's injuries. And he will also need new clothes and new quarters. Also, have someone tend to . . . Senator Tagge's body. I will need to contact Baroness Tagge, as soon as possible."

Sly Moore bowed. "Yes, Your Highness." She turned to face Darth Rasche. "Please follow me, my Lord."

After his aide and new apprentice had left the office, Palpatine strode toward the new windows that overlooked Coruscant's skyline. Amazing, he thought. In one fell swoop, he had managed to rid himself of a troublesome senator and acquire a new apprentice . . . all at the same time. And this new apprentice might prove to be more malleable than his predecessor. Anakin Skywalker will rue the day he had turned his back on the Sith.


END OF CHAPTER FIVE

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES" (1982) Review





"THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES" (1982) Review

Back in 1982, the BBC turned to 19th century author Anthony Trollope for a seven-part miniseries called ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES”. The miniseries was based upon the author’s first two Barchester novels about the Church of England. 

Directed by David Giles and written by Alan Plater, ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES” is an adaptation of ”The Warden” (1855) and ”Barchester Towers” (1857). The novels focused upon the the dealings and social maneuverings of the clergy and gentry literature concern the dealings of the clergy and the gentry that go on between the citizens and members of the Church of England in the fictitious cathedral town of Barchester. Episodes One and Two, which are adaptations of ”The Warden”, center on the impact upon the Reverend Septimus Harding and his circle when a zealous young reformer named John Bold launches a campaign to expose the disparity in the apportionment of Hiram House, an almshouse for bedesmen, and its income between the latter and its officer, Reverend Harding. Mr. Bold embarks on this campaign out of a spirit of public duty, despite his previously cordial relationship with Mr. Harding and his romantic involvement with the latter’s younger daughter, Eleanor. Mr. Bold attempts to enlist the support and interest of Tom Towers, the editor of The Jupiter, who writs editorials supporting reform of the charity, and a portrait of Mr. Harding as being selfish and derelict in his conduct of his office. Despite the efforts of his bombastic, but well-meaning son-in-law, the Archdeacon Grantly, to ignore Mr. Bold’s reform campaign, and continue his position as warden of Hiram House. But Reverend Harding concludes that he cannot in good conscience continue to accept such a generous salary and resigns the position. John Bold, who had tried in vain to reverse the injury done to Mr. Harding, returns to Barchester and marries Eleanor.

In the remaining five episodes, based upon ”Barchester Towers”, the beloved Bishop of Barchester dies and many assume that his son, Archdeacon Grantly, will gain the position in his place. However thanks to a new Prime Minister, a newcomer, the Reverend Proudie, becomes the new bishop. His overbearing wife, Mrs Proudie, exercises an undue influence over the new bishop and becomes unpopular with right-thinking members of the clergy and their families. Her interference in the reappointment of the universally popular Mr Septimus Harding as warden of Hiram House is not well received, even though she gives the position to a needy clergyman with a large family to support. Even less popular than Mrs Proudie is the bishop's newly appointed chaplain, the hypocritical Mr. Obadiah Slope, who takes a fancy to Harding's wealthy widowed daughter, Eleanor Bold. He hopes to win her hand in marriage by interfering in the controversy over the wardenship of Hiram House. Due to Mrs. Proudie’s influence, the Bishop and Mr. Slope order the return of Dr. Vesey Stanhope from Italy. Dr Stanhope has been there, recovering from a sore throat for 12 years and has spent his time catching butterflies. His wife and three children accompany him back to Barchester. Dr. Stanhope’s only son also has eyes on Eleanor and her fortune. And the younger of his two daughters, the serial flirt Signora Madelina Vesey Neroni, causes consternation and hostility within Mrs. Proudie and threatens the plans of Mr. Slope.

Over the years, ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES” has become a highly acclaimed television production amongst costume drama fans and the critics. It also received several BAFTA nominations and won an award for Best Design (Chris Pemsel). Many fans and critics have also viewed it as the production responsible for one of Donald Pleasence’s best roles and the start of Alan Rickman’s fame as a skilled actor. When the miniseries first aired in the United States nearly two years later in October 1984, I tried very hard to enjoy it. I really did. Looking back, I realized that I was too young to really appreciate it and ended up getting bored. I never had any intention of ever watching again. But when I purchased a DVD set featuring ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES” and two other miniseries productions based upon Anthony Trollope’s works, I figured that I might as well give it another shot. And I am glad that I did.

"THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES" turned out to be a sharp and funny look at the Church of England during the 1850s. The miniseries was filled with characters that have become so memorable to me that I find it difficult to erase them from my mind. In fact, I can honestly say that the characters really made the miniseries for me – especially characters such as Mrs. Proudie, the Reverend Obadiah Slope, Signora Neroni and the wonderfully charming and sweet, Reverend Harding. But the characters alone did not impress me. I was also impressed by screenwriter Alan Plater’s adaptation of the two novels. In my review of the 2007 miniseries, "CRANFORD", I had complained that it seemed disjointed to me and was more suited as an episodic television series, due to the fact that it was based upon three of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novellas. Although ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES” was based upon the first two of Trollope’s Barchester novels, it did not seem disjointed to me. Perhaps I felt this way, because the subject of the first two episode – namely Reverend Harding’s position as warden of Hiram House – also had a major impact on the plotlines of the last five episodes. I must admit that my knowledge of the hierarchy of the Church of England barely existed before I saw ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES” for the second time. After viewing the miniseries, it is still rather vague. But the controversy over Hiram House and the backstabbing, the romances and the manipulations that occurred between the characters really made watching the miniseries rather fun. There were moments when the miniseries’ pacing threatened to drag. And I could have done without a full sermon from Reverend Slope in Episode Three. But these flaws did not hamper the miniseries in the end.

I found most of the performances in ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES” top-notch. Mind you, there were some excursions into hammy acting – notably from Nigel Hawthorne as Archdeacon Grantly, Peter Blythe as the feckless Nigel Stanhope and yes, from Geraldine McEwan as Mrs. Proudie. Even Alan Rickman had a moment of hammy acting in his very last scene. But, the cast was generally first-rate. Despite their moments of hamminess, I must admit that I was very impressed by Hawthorne, McEwan and Rickman.  Especially the latter, who gave a star turn as the slippery and obsequious Obadiah Slope. And Clive Swift gave a deliciously subtle performance as the weak-willed Bishop Proudie, who allowed himself to be bullied by his wife and manipulated by Mr. Slope. I was also impressed by Susan Hampshire’s performance as the manipulative and sexy Signora Neroni. The series did not go much into her character’s problems with her Italian husband, despite her negative comments on marriage. But watching her manipulate Rickman’s Reverend Slope really impressed and entertained me. And I also enjoyed Angela Pleasence’s portrayal of Archdeacon Grantly’s wife, Susan Harding Grantly. In many ways, she seemed like a more respectable version of the Signora Neroni – feminine, soft-spoken, a little manipulative and strong-willed. But the one performance that shone above the others for me was Donald Pleasence’s portrayal of the Reverend Septimus Harding. Characters like Reverend Harding usually tend to bore me. But Pleasence’s Reverend Harding was not only interesting, but also entertaining. I enjoyed how he managed to maintain his mild-mannered personality, while displaying a great deal of backbone against the aggressive maneuverings of Archdeacon Grantly and Mrs. Proudie, and his hostility over the slippery manipulations of Reverend Slope. My only quibble about Pleasence’s performance is that his scenes with Janet Maw, who portrayed Eleanor Harding Bold, left me feeling a bit uneasy. I realize that Reverend Harding and Eleanor had a close relationship, but there were moments – thanks to Pleasence and Maw’s performances – when their interactions seemed to hint a touch of incest. Very creepy.

Does ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES” still hold up after twenty-eight years? Perhaps. The miniseries was obviously filmed on video tape. And the pictures are not as sharp as they could be. But I must admit that the photography was rich with color. And I just adored Juanita Waterson’s costume designs, which were shown with great effect in scenes that featured the Proudies’ soirée at the Bishop's residence and the Thornes’ garden party. She effectively captured the styles of mid-Victorian England. Perhaps some of the performances were a little hammy at times. And there were moments when the miniseries’ pacing threatened to drag. But overall, ”THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES” was a first-rate production that featured a well-written script by Alan Plater, an excellent cast led by Donald Pleasence and solid direction by David Giles. After twenty-eight years, it remains a sharp and entertaining miniseries for me.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary




"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary

The last episode, ”Replacements” saw Easy Company reeling from the Allies’ disastrous defeat during the Operation Market Garden campaign in Holland. Directed by Tom Hanks, this latest episode depicted Richard Winters’ last combat engagement as the company’s commander, Operation Pegasus, and the company’s departure for Belguim as they prepare to participate in the Bastogne campaign. 

At the beginning of the aptly named ”Crossroads”; Winters, now the executive officer of the 2nd Battalion of 506th regiment, recounts his last combat mission as commander of Easy Company in a report for regimental headquarters that took place at a crossroads, near a dike in Holland. In the aftermath of the battle, Winters is informed that he has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Strayer’s executive officer, leaving Easy without a commander. However, a new man - Frederick Theodore "Moose" Heyliger – becomes Easy’s new commander and leads them in Operation Pegasus, a military mission to escort a large number of British paratroopers trapped behind enemy lines, following the failure of Market Garden. Unfortunately, about a week later, Lieutenant Heyliger is seriously wounded by an American sentry and Easy ends up with a new commander named Norman Dike. Unlike Winters and Heyliger, Easy Company has no respect for their new leader and nicknames him ”Foxhole Norman”.

Not long after Dike becomes Easy’s new commander, a reluctant Winters is ordered to spend a few days of furlough in Paris. During his furlough, Winters is haunted by a moment when he killed a teenaged German soldier during the crossroads battle. Not long after his return to the regiment, the 101st Airborne learns about the German counterattack near Bastogne and is sent to Belgium to repel it. The episode ends with Easy company marching into the Belgian forest in the middle of the night, with minimum supplies and inadequate clothing.

I have always liked ”Crossroads” . . . despite itself. I cannot put my finger on it. Perhaps my feelings about the episode have to do with how Hanks directed the battle fought at the crossroads. He injected a great deal of style into that very moment that featured Winters leading a charge against S.S. troops at the crossroads. I also enjoyed Damian Lewis’ performance during the Paris furlough scenes and Neal McDonough as the slightly stressed out "Buck" Compton, who has returned from the hospital. And I enjoyed the sequence featuring the interaction of some of the company’s men, while watching a Marlene Dietrich film. However, my favorite sequence featured Easy Company’s brief journey to another crossroad – one near the town of Bastogne, Belgium. Screenwriter Erik Jendresen certainly did his best to ensure that the episode’s title adhere to its theme. A good deal seemed to be at a crossroads in this episode - including the location of a Dutch dike, where Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time; and the crossroads near Bastogne, where the company was sent to halt the German counterattack. Winters’ Army career was at a crossroads, as he went from company commander to battalion executive officer. And Easy Company endured a crisis of leadership following Winters’ promotion to battalion.

Yet, despite my positive feelings for ”Crossroads”, I cannot deny that it was one of the miniseries’ weaker episodes. For such a short episode, so much had occurred. Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time. The company participated in Operations Pegasus. It lost “Moose” Heyliger as its commander after he was accidentally shot and gained Norman Dike as the new commander – a man for whom no one seemed to have much respect. This episode should have been longer than 50 minutes. More importantly, watching both ”Replacements” and ”Crossroads” made me realize that Spielberg and Hanks had limited the company’s experiences in Holland to two engagements. The miniseries could have explored a lot more, judging from what I have read in Stephen Ambrose’s book.

It seemed a pity that Spielberg and Hanks failed to take the opportunity to explore more of Easy Company’s Holland experiences. Instead, the second half of this episode focused on Winters’ furlough in Paris and the company’s preparations for the Belgium campaign. And because of this ”Crossroads” seemed unfulfilled . . . and lacking. But it did provide an excellent performance from Damian Lewis as Richard Winters. And it featured a first-rate combat sequence and some personal interactions between the men that I found interesting. It was not a complete waste of time.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (1939) Photo Gallery




Below is a gallery featuring stills from the 1939 version of A.E.W. Mason's novel, "THE FOUR FEATHERS". This version stars John Clements, Ralph Richardson, June Duprez, and C. Aubrey Smith. It was produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Zoltan Korda:


"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (1939) Photo Gallery


































Monday, May 14, 2012

"THE SACKETTS" (1979) Review


Below is my review of the 1979 miniseries called "THE SACKETTS"



"THE SACKETTS" (1979) Review

Thirty years ago, CBS aired a two-part miniseries (or television movie) based upon two novels written by the late Louis L’Amour. Directed by Robert Totten, "THE SACKETTS" starred Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage as the three Sackett brothers.

"THE SACKETTS" told the story of Tell (Elliot), Orrin (Selleck) and Tyrel (Osterhage) Sackett and their efforts to make new lives for themselves in the post-Civil War West. Screenwriter Jim Byrnes took two novels about the Sackett brothers - "The Daybreakers" (1960) and "Sackett" (1961) - and weaved them into one story. ”The Daybreakers” mainly focused upon Tyrel and Orrin’s efforts to settle out West following the tragic circumstances of a family feud in East Tennessee. The two brothers eventually become involved in a between an elderly New Mexican rancher (Gilbert Roland) and a bigoted American businessman (John Vernon) in Santa Fe. At the same time, Tyrel struggles to keep the peace between a former New Orleans attorney named Tom Sunday (Glenn Ford), whom the two brothers had befriended during a cattle drive and Orrin. "Sackett", on the other hand, focused upon the oldest Sackett brother and former Civil War veteran, Tell. Tell’s story centered around his search for gold in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and his problems with a family of outlaws who want revenge for Tell’s killing of their brother, a crooked gambler.

To Totten and Byrnes’ credit, they did an admirable job of fusing the two novels by adding two reunions between the brothers near the ends of Parts 1 and 2. They also allowed the supporting character of Cap Roundtree (Ben Johnson), a grizzled former mountain man whom Tyrel and Orrin also meet on the cattle drive; to break away from the two younger brothers and join Tell’s hunt for gold following the three brothers’ reunion at the end of Part 1. "THE SACKETTS" is also an entertaining and solid Western with two interesting tales that involve land feuds, romance, brotherly love, political change, vengeance and plenty of action.

One of the best aspects of the miniseries focused upon the developing hostility between the middle Sackett brother Orrin, and the brothers’ friend, Tom Sunday in Part 2. It was an interesting tale on how a solid friendship could easily sour over a difference of opinion regarding moral compass. After Cap had hooked up with Tell; Tyrel, Orrin and Sunday encountered the smoking remains of an emigrant family that had been killed by Ute warriors. Sunday wanted to split the money between the three of them. Orrin, upon discovering a letter written to the family by a relative, wanted to send the money back to said relative. Orrin got his way. And Tom’s resentment toward Orrin ignited. That same resentment exacerbated when he lost the election of Santa Fe’s new sheriff to the middle Sackett.

Politics also played a major role in the miniseries. The topic focused upon a feud between an aging New Mexican rancher Don Luis Alvarado (Gilbert Roland) and American businessman Jonathan Pritts (John Vernon). The feud was mainly the old Anglos vs. Mexican conflict that still dominates the Southwest to this day. The Sacketts became dragged into it, due to Orrin’s courtship of Pritts’ daughter (Marcy Hanson) and Tyrel’s romance with Don Luis’ granddaughter, Drusilla (Ana Alicia). In the end, the Sacketts and even Sunday sided with the New Mexicans. One has to applaud L’Amour for introducing this topic into the story, and for screenwriter Byrnes for maintaining it. But if I must be honest, I thought the execution of Don Luis’ feud with Pritts came off as heavy-handed and preachy.

One would think that Tell Sackett’s hunt for gold would dominate his storyline. Amazingly, it did not. Well, Tell did meet and fall in love with a woman named Ange Kerry (Wendy Rastattar), who had been stranded in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for several years. But his story mainly focused upon his problems with the brothers (Jack Elam, Slim Pickens and Gene Evans) of crooked gambler named Bigelow (James Gammon), whom he had killed early in Part 1. This reminded me of a line from the 1984 adventure-comedy, "ROMANCING THE STONE" - "But if there was one law of the West, bastards had brothers . . . who seemed to ride forever." And both Tell and Cap eventually discovered, the Bigelows had brothers and allies everywhere. One ally turned out to be an insecure gunfighter named Kid Newton (Paul Kelso), who had an unfortunate and humiliating encounter with Tell and Cap. Tell’s problems with the Bigelows culminated in a tense situation in the Sangre de Cristo foothills and a violent showdown in a nearby town.

Most of the performances featured in "THE SACKETTS" struck me as pretty solid. To the cast’s credit, they managed to use mid-to-late 19th century dialogue without being sloppy or indulging in what I considered the cliché "Frontier" speech pattern that seemed popular in the Westerns of the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, I found at least four performances that really impressed me. One of them belonged to Sam Elliot, who portrayed the oldest brother, Tell. I might as well be frank. He has always been a favorite actor of mine for a long time. With his grizzled, deep voice and demeanor, the man looked as if he had stepped out of a 19th century daguerreotype. He also did an effective job of conveying Tell Sackett’s loner personality, making it easy for viewers to accept the idea that this is a man who would wait years before contacting any members of his family. 

Another performance that impressed me belonged to Jeff Osterhage as the tense, yet pragmatic youngest Sackett, Tyrel. To this day, I am amazed that Osterhage never became a big star in television or movies. He seemed to have possessed both the looks and screen presence to become one. And I was certainly impressed by his ability to portray Tyrel’s pragmatic, yet intimidating nature. Traits that led him to be the best shot in the family. 

I also enjoyed Wendy Rastattar’s performance as Ange Kerry, the young woman that Tell and Cap had discovered in the mountains. Rastattar did a first-rate job in portraying a tough, yet passionate young woman, who ended up falling in love with Tell. But the best performance came from Hollywood icon, Glenn Ford as the enigmatic friend of the Sacketts, Tom Sunday. In Ford’s hands, Sunday became one of a gallery of complex characters he had portrayed during his career. For me, it was sad to watch Sunday regress from Orrin and Tyrel’s wise mentor to Orrin’s drunken and embittered foe. And Ford did an excellent job in exploring Sunday’s many nuances, including those flaws that led to his downfall. 

One might noticed that I had failed to include Tom Selleck’s performance as one of the more impressive ones, considering that both Elliott and Osterhage made the list. I found nothing wrong with Selleck’s performance. Unfortunately, he had the bad luck to portray Orrin, the least interesting member of the Sackett family. Orrin is an affable, yet solid character that lacked any nuances, which could have made him as interesting as his brothers. A great deal happened to Orrin in this story – he lost his bride in a family feud, fell briefly in love with the villains’ daughter and pissed off Tom Sunday. Yet, the character failed to strike me as interesting. Which left Selleck, usually a top-notch performer, with very little to work with.

The movie’s production values struck me as very impressive. Production designer Johannes Larson, costume designers Carole Brown-James and Barton Kent James, and cinematographer Jack Whitman did an excellent job in capturing the ambiance of the Old West circa 1869-1870. Along with the director Totten, they managed to create a West during a period before it truly threatened to become settled. They managed to capture the ruggedness and beauty of the West without overcompensating themselves, like many other Westerns released after the 1960s tend to do.

Many years have passed since I have read "The Daybreakers" and "Sackett". Which is my way of saying that I cannot tell whether the miniseries was a completely faithful adaptation of the two novels. If I must be honest, I really do not care whether it is faithful or not. The television version of the two novels – namely "THE SACKETTS” - is a first-rate and entertaining saga. I am certain that many fans of Louis L’Amour will continue to enjoy it.