Friday, August 30, 2013
”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” (1992) Review
There are two things one should know about Agatha Christie’s 1935 novel, ”Death in the Clouds”. One, it happened to be one of those ”murder in a locked room” type of mysteries that she rarely wrote about. And two, I have not read the novel since high school.
I would not exactly rate ”Death in the Clouds” as one of my favorite Christie novels. But I must admit that screenwriter William Humble wrote a solid adaptation for the ”AGATHA CHRISTIE’S ‘POIROT’” television series. Starring David Suchet as Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” focused upon the murder of a French woman named Madame Gisele aboard a Paris-to-London flight across the English Channel. Madame Gisele’s profession as a moneylender (and occasional blackmailer) to the British and French members of high society has made her wealthy, feared and hated. Her murder occurred during a flight that included Poirot as one of the passengers. Other passengers and suspects included:
*Lady Horbury – the wife of a British aristocrat and former actress
*Jean Dupont – a French archeologist in need of funds for an African expedition
*Jane Grey – stewardess for Empire Airways (in the novel, she was a hairdresser’s assistant on holiday)
*Norman Gale – a British dentist on holiday, who falls in love with Miss Grey
*Venetia Kerr – British aristocrat and close friend of Lord Horbury
*Daniel Clancy – a British mystery author
*Anne Gisele – Madame Gisele’s illegitimate daughter, who was impersonating as Lady Horbury’s maid
Money, class and relationships figured prominently in ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS”. With Arthur Hastings making a no-show in this tale, Poirot enlisted the help of fellow passenger Norman Gale and stewardess Jane Grey to assist him. And thanks to solid performances from Sarah Woodward and Shaun Scott, the pair proved to be mildly entertaining and made a romantic pair. Cathyrn Harrison gave a complex and interesting performance as Lady Horbury, a former actress who married into the British aristocracy and found herself in debt to Madame Gisele. Harrison’s performance conveyed a conflicted woman that hid her insecurities regarding her marriage behind a haughty and rude mask, and a gambling habit. Actor Roger Heathcott’s portrayal of mystery writer Daniel Clancy struck me as slightly bizarre and interesting. Philip Jackson’s Chief Inspector Japp was just as annoying and entertaining as ever. It was easy to for me to see why the Parisian police considered him an annoyance. However, I found his character’s control of the case on French soil very implausible. And David Suchet gave his usual, competent performance as Hercule Poirot. No . . . I take that back. In ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS”, his Poirot seemed warmer than usual. Perhaps his friendship with the lovebirds – especially Jane Grey – brought out more of his warmth.
I would not view ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” as one of Agatha Christie’s more unusual novels. Well, she did use the ”murder in a locked room” plot device for this particular story. But I found nothing that remarkable about it. I could say the same about this production. However, Humble did a solid job in adapting Christie’s novel. I found his decision to convert the Anne Gisele character into a possible suspect as unnecessary. Her role as a suspect did not go anywhere, once the movie featured her brief wedding and revelation to the police as Madame Gisele’s daughter. The humor of Japp’s presence in Paris tired quickly, once I realized that his appropriation of the case on French soil was very implausible. But Humble, with Stephen Whittaker’s direction, did a solid job in maintaining the movie’s mystery and most of the main plot. And I have to give kudos to both men for using the novel’s original publication year as an excuse to add the Fred Perry/Gottfriend Von Cramm 1935 match at the French Open as a historical backdrop.
One only has to look at ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” for a few minutes and correctly assume that it had been filmed during the 1990s. The movie has that sleek, Art Deco style that dominated the production of ”AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” during that period. But since a good deal of this particular story was set in Paris, production designer Mike Oxley’s intent upon maintaining the Art Deco style did not serve that particular setting very well. The Parisian atmosphere seemed to be dominated by stark images of tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur Basilica (which Poirot insultingly referred to as an enormous birthday cake). But I must admit that costume designer Barbara Kronig did an excellent job in recapturing the styles of the mid-1930s, especially for the Lady Horbury character. However, I cannot say the same about the women’s hairstyles. I understand that some women wore chignons during the 1930s. Unfortunately, most of the female characters in this movie wore one, which I found rather ridiculous. Only the Venetia Kerr character sported a 1930s soft bob.
”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” had a few problems that included Japp’s implausible presence of Chief Inspector Japp investigating the case in Paris. But it still turned out to be a believable and intelligent movie. For me, it was one of the better feature-length movies that aired on ”AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.
Monday, August 26, 2013
"GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT"
CODE: Paris, Torres, Kim, Seska, J/C (implied) & P/T
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FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Voyager's crew react to Tom Paris' murder conviction by the Baneans in Season 1's "Ex Post Facto".
DISCLAIMER: Sigh! All characters and etc. pertaining to Star Trek Voyager belongs to Paramount, Viacom and . . . well, you know who.
NOTE: I realize that "Ex Post Facto" was never a favorite with VOYAGER fans, but I have always wondered how many of them reacted to Tom's murder conviction - especially a certain Chief Engineer.
B'Elanna burst into Sickbay and nearly blanched at the sight of her friend stretched out on a biobed. "Harry!" she cried and rushed to the ensign's side.
Poor Starfleet! His face looked ashen and tightly drawn. Dark circles formed beneath his eyes. B'Elanna's heart thumped rapidly at the frightening sight. "Kahless! Harry, what in the hell happened down there?"
"Ensign Kim is dehydrated," Voyager's holographic doctor replied in his usual dry tone. "Now, if you don't mind, I would like to finish treating him. Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok have caused enough delays." He gave B'Elanna a slight shove and leaned over his patient.
Angered by the EMH's rudeness, B'Elanna raised her arm in a threatening manner. "B'Elanna!" The Doctor's medical assistant placed a gentle hand on the half-Klingon's shoulder. "Don't mind the Doctor," Kes continued. "He's just as concerned as the rest of us." B'Elanna found that hard to believe. "It's just that he hasn't developed a bedside manner, yet."
And probably never will, B'Elanna silently added. She took a deep breath. Calm down, B'Elanna. This is no time to have a Klingon tantrum. "Do you know what happened, Kes?" she asked the Ocampan woman in a shaky voice. "Last I heard, Harry and Paris were on the Banean homeworld, to receive information on how to repair our collimator."
"I . . ." Kes glanced uneasily at the two figures around the biobed. She gave a slight cough. "There was a little trouble with the Baneans, B'Elanna. Tom Paris was arrested for murder and the authorities held Ensign Kim for questioning."
Shock nearly rendered B'Elanna speechless - until she managed to squeak out a "What?" How in the hell did a friendly first contact develop into such a disaster? Naturally, she should have known that pig Paris was somehow responsible!
The Doctor pressed contents of a hypospray into Harry's neck. "Your hearing must be suffering, Lieutenant. Kes has just informed you that Lieutenant Paris was arrested for murder. Apparently, he had an affair with a married woman and killed her husband, who was working with Ensign Kim on your collimator."
"Doctor!" Kes protested.
Unfortunately for the Ocampan nurse, her protests failed to cease the EMH's runaway tongue. "And the reason Ensign Kim is suffering from dehydration," he continued, "is that the Banean authorities had questioned him for two days following Mister Paris' arrest. However, as of this moment, he is no longer in danger." He added with a smirk. "Thanks to me."
B'Elanna rolled her eyes. Someone needs to do something about the hologram's personality subroutines. B'Elanna had a good mind to see to that task, herself. In a patient voice, she asked, "Is Harry conscious? I would like to speak with him."
"I just gave the ensign a sedative. He needs at least a few hours of rest before I can release him from Sickbay. You can see him later." The Doctor sniffed before turning his back on B'Elanna.
A growl threatened to rise from the Chief Engineer's throat, but she held it back. Instead, she fixed the EHM's back with a Klingon version of Janeway's death glare and stalked out Sickbay.
* * * *
Harry Kim took a deep breath and stepped outside the turbolift. Upon releasing him from Sickbay, the Doctor had ordered Harry to eat a meal before retiring to his quarters for more rest. The young ensign had every intention of getting a bite. After two days of interrogation by the Baneans without a meal, his stomach literally cried for food. However, eating was not the only thing occupying Harry's mind at the moment. He worried about the fate of his friend, still held in custody by the Baneans.
His stomach rumbled. He really needed to eat something! Even Neelix's Talaxian cusine would suit him. Harry picked up his pace, rushing toward the Mess Hall. Until he collided with another figure coming from the opposite direction.
"What's the rush, Ensign?" Harry immediately recognized the soft, deep voice that belonged to Voyager's new First Officer. Nor could he help feel a little intimidated by the older man's presence. Although he had agreed with the Captain's decision to integrate the Maquis with the ship's crew, a small part of him could not help but wonder if Voyager might find itself facing a Maquis uprising. To be honest, B'Elanna Torres was the only former Maquis he completely trusted.
Chakotay stared at Harry. "Ensign? Is there a problem? I asked what was the rush."
"Oh." Harry flushed again. "Sorry, Commander. I . . . I'm really hungry right now. I haven't had a bite to eat in two days."
The First Officer nodded. "I understand. It must be a relief to finally be back on Voyager."
"Yes sir, it is." Harry frowned as a sobering thought hit him. "I only hope that we get Tom back in time. Who knows what else the Baneans are doing to him?"
It happened in a flash. Harry noticed a slight stiffening of Commander Chakotay's shoulders at the mention of the Chief Pilot's name. Then . . . a smile tugged the corners of Chakotay's mouth. "Don't worry, Ensign. I'm sure the Captain won't leave him behind." His sincerity failed to reach his dark eyes, much to Harry's dismay.
The Mess Hall loomed ahead. Both men entered and walked straight for the new galley's counter. Lunch had drawn a heavy crowd. Harry took one look at the buffet displayed on the counter and headed for the nearest replicator. So did Chakotay.
Once Harry replicated a plate of angel hair pasta (Earth style) and shrimp, he glanced around the Mess Hall for a seat. Even after three-and-a-half months in the Delta Quadrant, the crew continued to segregate into Starfleet and Maquis cliques. Harry noticed that very few tables were filled with crewmen from both factions. His first instinct was to join a Starfleet table - until he saw B'Elanna signal him to join both her and Seska.
The half-Klingon smiled with relief at the sight of the newcomer. "Starfleet! I see that you've finally recovered. How are you feeling?"
Harry returned B'Elanna's smile with a wan one of his own. "Okay, I guess. I'm starving. Haven't had a bite in two days."
No sooner had he began to dig into his pasta, Chakotay joined them at the table. Seska glanced at the First Officer's food. "Goodness, Chakotay!" she exclaimed, laughing. "I've forgotten about your austere taste in food. Don't tell me. Mushroom soup and a salad?" Chakotay responded with a slight grimace.
Seska turned her attention to Harry and asked about his experiences with the Baneans. "I hear that Paris got arrested. What in the Prophets made them arrest him in the first place?" The smirk on her face told Harry that she already knew the answer to her question.
Several pairs of eyes, including the three around his table, focused upon Harry. He found himself very reluctant to answer Seska's question.
"I uh, . . . a misunderstanding on the Baneans' part," he lamely replied. Harry glanced at Chakotay, wondering if the latter had learned the truth from Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok.
"C'mon Starfleet," B'Elanna urged. "What actually happened down there? All I know is Paris had some affair with the wife of a Banean scientist. Is that true?"
Harry sighed. He might as well tell the truth. At least correct a few rumors that had obviously reached B'Elanna's ears. So he told them. About Tom's flirtation with the very attractive Lidell Ren, Dr. Ren's murder, Tom's and his arrest, his interrogation and Tom's conviction. The moment Harry saw the disgust in his companions' eyes, he regretted opening his mouth.
"The Doctor was right!" B'Elanna declared. "I can't believe that you nearly died of dehydration because Paris got an itch in his pants!" Her dark eyes glowered with rage. For a moment, Harry imagined her in full Klingon battle dress, brandishing a bat'leth.
Harry sighed. "It's not what you think, B'Elanna. I don't even know if Tom had . . . uh, well, had any relations with Mrs. Ren."
"You mean sex, Harry," B'Elanna retorted bluntly. "An affair. In other words, he screwed her."
"Nothing happened, as far as I know." The expressions on both B'Elanna and Seska's faces told Harry that they did not believe him. Commander Chakotay's face remained stoic as usual. Yet, Harry suspected that he shared the two women's opinions.
Seska leaned forward, her blue eyes gleaming with spite. "C'mon Ensign Kim. This is Tom Paris we're talking about. He'll go after anyone with breasts. I realize he's your friend, but something must have happened between him and that scientist's wife. Why else would he have committed murder?"
"Tom never killed anyone!" Harry angrily protested. He blushed with embarrassment over his outburst.
The smile on the Bajoran's lips stated otherwise. She added softly, "How do you know, Ensign? Were you there at the time of the murder?"
Harry opened his mouth to reply and found himself unable to speak. What could he do? Admit that he never witnessed Tom's dalliance with Mrs. Ren? Or the actual murder? To do so would play right into Seska's hands.
Seska's smile curled into a smirk. "Did you say something, Ensign?"
"No," Harry replied shortly. He glanced at his companions' faces. The smirk remained fixed on Seska's lips. Doubt had crept into Commander Chakotay's dark eyes. And as for B'Elanna, anger toward Tom still brimmed in her eyes - along with a touch of pity toward him. To hell with them! If they were so determined to condemn Tom without any evidence . . . He rose from his chair. "Excuse me," he growled.
B'Elanna frowned. "Where are you going, Starfleet? You haven't finished eating."
"Back to my quarters." Harry picked up his plate. "I've just lost my appetite." He marched toward the nearest recycler, dumped his plate and resumed his march out of the Mess Hall.
* * * *
The entire scene played inside Tom Paris's mind, over and over again. The image of him and the beautiful Lidell Ren, locked in a passionate embrace. The confrontation of the two lovers. The scuffle. The small blade that suddenly appeared in his hand. And him, shoving the blade forward.
Inside one of Voyager's turbolifts, Tom heaved a sigh of relief. For once, he did not have to relive those horrible moments with the use of the implanted Banean engrams. He had his own guilty thoughts to thank. But it seemed a hell of a lot better than listening to his inner thoughts consistently berate himself.
The turbolift doors slid open on Deck 2. Tom stepped out into the corridor. How could he have been so stupid? Getting involved with a married woman? And now, he found himself facing justice, Banean style. Reliving the murder through the victim's eyes every fourteen hours. Shit! Not only was such punishment psychological torture; but according to Voyager's holographic doctor, the engrams were causing a degenerative neural damage to his brain. The only alternate punishment seemed to be death by lethal injection.
When Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok had arrived on the Banea homeworld, Tom felt sure the Captain would wash her hands of him. Hell, just about everyone in his life had. And Tom suspected that everyone else aboard Voyager would gladly do the same, except for Harry. As it turned out, neither would Janeway. She insisted that the Banean First Minister release Tom to her custody. And she also ordered the Vulcan Security Chief to investigate the murder.
Since his return to Voyager, Tom had experienced another memory cycle, thanks to those damn engrams. The Doctor also treated his mild case of dehydration and ordered the Pilot to the Mess Hall for a much needed meal. Tom approached his destination, filled with trepidation. He had only encountered a handful of crewmen since his return. Judging from their reactions, the story of his arrest had not circulated throughout the ship. At least, not yet. However, it was only a matter of time.
Tom stepped inside the Mess Hall and all conversation stopped. Eyes that reflected smugness, suspicion and pure dislike stared at him. It seemed that time had arrived. Maybe not the entire crew knew what happened, but the occupants inside the Mess Hall obviously knew. The Paris assumed its position. Ignoring the stares, Tom strode toward the galley's counter.
"Afternoon Neelix," Tom greeted the Talaxian. "What's for lunch?"
The usually gregarious cook returned Tom's greeting in a manner one would not describe as friendly. "There it is," Neelix curtly replied, pointing out the buffet spread across the counter. "Take your pick."
Tom found himself on the verge of buckling under the suspicious stares and Neelix's coldness. But he was a Paris. He refused to give the others the pleasure of his public humiliation. Unless Tuvok discover the truth, he seemed doomed to have his brains fried by the engrams or his life cut short by a lethal injection. With his reputation further blackened.
After giving the Talaxian a cool stare of his own, Tom pointed to what looked like stew and some bread. Neelix picked up a tray and began to serve the food. Meanwhile, Tom helped himself to a glass of juice. Then he took his tray from the cook and murmured a quiet "thanks". The Talaxian responded with a derogative sniff. So much for politeness.
A quick scan of the dining room revealed an empty table next to one of the viewports. Unfortunately, Chakotay and Seska occupied the table next to it. Great! Tom sighed and headed for the empty table. The moment he sat down, conversation recommenced. Tom dug into his food. Hell, it was a lot better than meeting the contemptuous stares pointed at him. A few minutes later, his efforts to maintain a sense of privacy was dashed by Seska's mouth.
"I never thought I'd live to see this day, Chakotay," Tom heard the Bajoran ooze with spite.
Chakotay responded with a weary sigh. "What are you getting at, Seska?"
"Haven't you seen who is sitting at the table behind you?"
Tom kept his eyes glued to his food.
The First Officer coolly replied, "I know who's there."
A soft chuckle followed. "I'm sure you do, Chakotay. But don't you find it odd that Captain Janeway would allow a convicted criminal to roam free aboard a Federation starship?"
"Seska . . ."
"Oh, I know what you're going to say. The Federation already considers the Maquis criminals. But at least none of us have served time in a prison." Seska paused dramatically. "Or committed adultery and murder. But then, none of the Maquis is the Captain's personal reclamation project. Isn't that what you once called the young lieutenant, Chakotay?"
The Mess Hall fell silent for a second time. Tom's eyes focused on something other than his food - namely the First Officer's stiff back. "Cut it out, Seska!" the older man finally grumbled. "No one wants to deal with your crap!"
Seska's mouth formed a pout. Tom chuckled. Bajoran eyes narrowed dangerously glared at him. "You find something amusing, Lieutenant Paris?"
Tom smirked. "Well, there's you."
"What the hell is that suppose to mean?" Seska rose from her chair like an angry, red-haired goddess. Chakotay ordered her to sit down, but she ignored him. "What did you mean by that little comment?"
Tom continued, "For a woman who prides herself on being coy and subtle, you're not very good at it. If you want to insult me, Seska, do so. You don't need a third party."
Rage reflecting in her eyes, Seska stalked toward Tom's table. "In that case, Mister Paris," she hissed, looming over him, "I think you're contemptible. You're a liar, a traitor and definitely capable of murdering that Banean scientist. In fact, I don't see why Janeway would even bother trying get you exonerated. I would have left you on that planet to rot!"
Ignoring the murmurs of approval from other diners, Tom allowed a slow smile to stretch across his face. "Gee Seska, I didn't realize you were going to take my situation so personally. Did I hit a nerve?"
"You hit nothing, Mr. Son-of-a-Starfleet Admiral!" Seska snapped back.
All eyes fell upon the pair. An audience for Seska. How nice. If she wanted to publicize their fight, so be it. Smiling, Tom continued, "If you say so. Personally, I don't care what you think. And you're probably the last person on this ship who has any right to look down one's nose at me in moral outrage."
"What the hell? What's that suppose to mean?"
Tom shot back, "Take a wild guess."
Seska's trim body trembled in rage. "Listen, you piece of scum! If you think I'm a person of no morality, may I remind you that I joined the Maquis . . ."
"Yeah, I know, for a cause. You joined the Maquis out of protest against the Cardassian occupation of the DMZ. At least . . ." Tom gave his own version of a dramatic pause. "At least, that's what you say. Of course, I have my own opinion on that subject." Seska's face paled at his words. Curious.
Then Chakotay finally acted and rose from his chair. "That's enough, Paris!" he barked, glaring at the younger man.
"What?" Tom stared at the First Officer with innocent eyes. "I wasn't the one who started this conversation."
Anger mingled with embarrassment in Chakotay's dark eyes. He let out a gust of breath and stood next to the Bajoran. "Let's go, Seska. This conversation is over. Now."
"But Chakotay . . ."
"Now, Seska!" he insisted. "Let's go!" He grabbed the woman's arm. "Or do I have to drag you out of here?"
Dark eyes stared hard at Seska. She glared back. To Tom's amusement, she wilted under Chakotay's authoritive manner. "Fine!" she snapped. "I'll leave!" Seska's eyes bored into Tom's. "I'll see you later, Paris. Then again, maybe not, if the Baneans have their way!" She stalked out of the Mess Hall with Chakotay close at her heels.
Tom allowed himself a quiet chuckle. It was a rare moment when someone managed to get under Seska's skin. And he felt proud to be that person. However . . . her reaction to his comments about her time in the Maquis had surprised him. Had stumbled upon a secret of hers? Interesting.
A pair of eyes belonging to a crewman, glaring at him from another table attracted Tom's attention. Judging from the pips on the man's collar, an ensign. Tom stared back. "May I help you, Ensign?" he asked. The ensign looked away.
Another smile touched Tom's lips. He may be a doomed man, but at least he managed to have some fun before those engrams fried his brains for good. His combadge chirped. "Tuvok to Paris," the Vulcan's voice said. "Please report to Sickbay as soon as possible."
"I'll be there in a few minutes," Tom responded. "Paris out." So much for lunch. Tom tossed his spoon onto the tray. Oh well. This stew had not done much for his appetite, anyway.
END OF PART 1
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Below are images from "WUTHERING HEIGHTS", William Wyler's 1939 adaptation of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel. The movie starred Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, and David Niven:
"WUTHERING HEIGHTS" (1939) Photo Gallery
Thursday, August 15, 2013
"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" (1940) Review
There have been at least eight adaptations of "Pride and Prejudice", Jane Austen's 1813 novel. But as far as I know, only four are well known or constantly mentioned by many of the novelist's present-day fans. And one of the four happens to be the movie adapted in 1940 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" told the story of the five unmarried daughters of a 19th century English landowner and the efforts of his shrill wife to get them married before his estate is inherited by a distant male cousin. For years, this version of Austen's novel has been highly regarded by fans and critics alike. But ever since the advent of numerous Austen adaptations in the past 15 to 20 years, these same critics and fans have been incredibly harsh toward this Hollywood classic. Many have complained that the movie failed to be a faithful adaptation of the 1813 novel.
Many of the complaints volleyed by recent Austen fans include:
*The movie's fashions and setting changed to the late 1820s and early 1830s
*The deletion of Elizabeth Bennet's trip to Derbyshire and Pemberly
*Mr. Darcy's slightly less haughty manner
*Instead of a ball, Charles Bingley held a fête for the Hertfordshire neighborhood
*The change in Lady Catherine de Bourgh's reason for visiting Longbourn
The 1940 movie was the first version of Austen's novel I had ever seen. Since then, I have become a major fan of some of the adaptations that followed - including the 1980 miniseries, the 1995 miniseries and the 2005 movie. So, when I had decided to watch this version again, I wondered if my high regard of the film would remain. Needless to say, it has.
"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" had a running time of 117 minutes. To expect it to be a completely faithful adaptation of the novel seemed ridiculous to me. If I must be frank, I have NEVER SEEN a completely faithful adaptation. But I can say this about the 1940 movie, it remains as delightfully entertaining as ever.
However, the movie is not without its faults. And I was able to spot a few. One, I found Laurence Olivier's portrayal of the haughty Fitzwilliam Darcy as not quite so haughty . . . especially in his pursuit of Elizabeth Bennet during the Netherfield Fête. The time span between Elizabeth's departure from the Collins household in Kent and Darcy's arrival in Hertfordshire, to announce his knowledge of Lydia Bennet and George Wickham's elopement seemed ridiculously short. Since the movie was nearly two hours long, it could have spared a scene in which Colonel Fitzwilliam had revealed Mr. Darcy's part in Charles Bingley's departure from Hertfordshire. Instead, we are given a scene in which Elizabeth angrily conveyed the colonel's revelation to her friend, Charlotte Lucas. And speaking of Charlotte, I was rather disappointed by her portrayal. It made Gerald Oliver Smith's (Colonel Fitzwilliam) appearance in the movie rather irrelevant. I found nothing wrong with Karen Morely's performance. But screenwriters Aldous Huxley, Helen Jerome and Jane Muffin failed to do justice to Charlotte's character or her friendship with Elizabeth.
Despite these disappointments, I managed to enjoy "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" as much as ever. A good deal of Austen's words and wit remained in the screenplay. And the screenwriters also added some of their own memorable lines that left me laughing aloud. After my recent viewing of the movie, I believe this "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" is one of the funniest Austen adaptations I have ever seen. Director Robert Z. Leonard has been nominated for a Best Director Academy Award at least twice in his career - for 1930's "THE DIVORCEE" and 1936's "THE GREAT ZIEGFIELD". It seems a pity that he was never nominated for "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE", because I believe that he did an excellent job of injecting a great deal of atmosphere, humor and zest into the film. And his pacing of the film is top-notch. Not once did I ever have the inclination to fall asleep, while watching it.
While many Austen fans were busy bemoaning that the movie was not completely faithful to the novel, I was too busy enjoying it. And if I must be brutally honest, there was one major change to Austen's story that really impressed me. At the Netherfield Fête, Elizabeth began to show signs of warming up to Mr. Darcy, following her demonstration of her prowess as an archer. But when he noticed the less pleasant sides of the Bennet family, Mr. Darcy withdrew himself from Elizabeth, deepening her dislike toward him even further. This was a creation of the screenwriters and to my surprise, I ended up enjoying it.
As I had hinted earlier, I found it to be one of the funniest adaptations I have ever seen. There were so many scenes that either had me laughing on the floor or smirking (with delight). Some of them included the Bennet family's introduction to Mr. Collins, poor Mary Bennet's attempt to entertain the guests at the Netherfield Fête, Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas' race to reach their respective homes in order to order their husbands to call upon Charles Bingley, Elizabeth's first meeting with George Wickham at the Meryton Assembly, and Caroline Bingley's attempt to express interest in Mr. Darcy's letter to his sister Georgiana. But the few scenes that I consider my personal favorites were the interaction between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy during a game of archery, Mr. Collins' marriage proposal to Elizabeth and the dinner sequence at Rosings with the verbose Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
I tried to find a performance that seemed out of step for me. The only one that left me feeling less than satisfied came from Karen Morely, who portrayed Charlotte Lucas. Her Charlotte seemed to fade into the background, in compare to the other characters. I suspect that the problem had more to do with Huxley, Jerome and Muffin's screenplay than the actress' performance. But everyone else seemed to be at the top of their game. Both Ann Rutherford and Heather Angel were outrageously silly as the younger Bennet sisters. Marsha Hunt was hilarious as the Bennet family's wallflower, Mary. Bruce Lester was charming as the extroverted Charles Bingley. He also made a strong screen chemistry with Maureen O'Sullivan, who was equally charming as the eldest Bennet sibling, Jane. Frieda Inescort was both convincingly cool and sometimes rather funny as the imperious and ambitious Caroline Bingley. Edward Ashley Cooper gave what I believe to be the second best portrayal of the roguish George Wickham. He was charming, smooth and insidious. And Edmund Gwenn gave a subtle, yet witty performance as the quietly sarcastic Mr. Bennet.
However, there were five performances that really impressed me. One came from Melville Cooper, who had me laughing so hard, thanks to his hilarious portrayed the obsequious William Collins, Mr. Bennet's annoying heir presumptive for the Longbourn estate. Equally funny was the unforgettable character actress, Edna May Oliver as Mr. Darcy's overbearing aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her role as an English aristocrat seemed so convincing that I was amazed to discover that she was an American from Massachusetts. Mary Boland gave a superb and entertaining performance as the equally overbearing and gauche Mrs. Bennet. In fact, I have to say that her portrayal of Mrs. Bennet is my absolute favorite. My God . . . that voice! She really knew how to put it to good use. Fresh from his success in 1939's "WUTHERING HEIGHTS", Laurence Olivier tackled the role of Fitzwilliam Darcy, regarded as the favorite Austen hero by many fans. Personally, I thought he did an excellent job, although his Darcy never struck me as haughty as the other interpretations I have seen. From what I have heard, he was not that fond of the picture or his role. I was also amazed that he had such a strong screen chemistry with his leading lady, considering that he thought she was wrong for the part. Olivier had this to say in his autobiography:
"I was very unhappy with the picture. It was difficult to make Darcy into anything more than an unattractive-looking prig, and darling Greer seemed to me all wrong as Elizabeth."
I thought it was nice of Olivier to call Greer Garson "darling". But I do not think I can take his comments about her performance that seriously . . . especially since he wanted Vivien Leigh - his paramour at the time and soon-to-be future wife to portray Elizabeth. Personally, I am glad that Garson ended up portraying Elizabeth. I thought she was superb. Garson had a deliciously sly wit that she put to good use in her performance . . . more so than any other actress I have seen in this role. Some have commented that in her mid-thirties, she was too old to portray Elizabeth. Perhaps. But Garson did such an excellent job of conveying Elizabeth's immaturities - especially when it came to passing judgment on Mr. Darcy that I never gave her age any thought. All I can say is that she was brilliant and I heartily disagree with Olivier.
Many fans have commented upon Adrian's costume designs for "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE". They seemed to have taken umbrage that he designed the costumes from the late Georgian Era - namely the late 1820s or early 1830s, claiming that Austen's story should have been set during the Regency Era. However, Austen first wrote the novel in the late 1790s. And she did not change it that much before it was finally published in 1813. There was no law that "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" had to be set in the 1810s - especially when one considers there was a version set in early 21st century India. Personally, I found Adrian's costumes beautiful, even if they were filmed in black-and-white. And since "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" was not a historical drama, I simply do not understand the fuss.
After reading so many negative comments about "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" in recent years, I wondered how I react to watching it again after so many years. To my surprise, I discovered that I still love it. Even after so many years. I admit that it is not perfect. But neither are the other versions I have seen. The magic of Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier and director Robert Z. Leonard still holds up after so many years.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Kathryn Janeway and Starfleet Principles - "STAR TREK VOYAGER" (2.14 "Alliances")
Many ”STAR TREK” fans have claimed that the lead character of ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” lead character, Captain Kathryn Janeway, barely developed as a character during the series’ seven (7) season run. After watching the Season Two episode, (2.14) "Alliances”, I am can see that I would never agree with those critics of Janeway’s character. The Season Two Kathryn Janeway featured in this episode struck me as a far cry from the Janeway that finally returned to Earth in the series finale, (7.25-7.26) “Endgame”.
But this article is not simply about Kathryn Janeway. It is mainly about the good captain and the major role she played in”Alliance”. The episode began with a Kazon attack upon Voyager, which resulted in damages to the starship, several wounded and the death of another Voyager crewman - the popular ex-Maquis and close friend of Commander Chakotay named Kurt Bendera. After Chakotay delivered the eulogy after the funeral, Crewmen Hogan and Michael Jonas voiced their opinion to Captain Janeway that Voyager should operate in a manner similar to the Maquis and consider making a deal with the Kazon for safe passage. Naturally, Janeway refused to consider the idea of trading technology with Kazon, which is something they have proposed in the past. But her resistance to the idea of an alliance eventually faded when Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok both proposed that she consider an alliance with one or two Kazon factions to secure peace. Not to trade technology, but to offer protection from attacking forces and emergency supplies. As I had pointed out, the Captain was reluctant to accept Chakotay’s idea, but eventually accepted. Ensign Harry Kim seemed horrified by the idea, claiming that the Federation would never consider forming alliances with the likes of the Kazon. Apparently, the young ensign forgot about the treaty that the Federation had signed with the Klingon Empire in the late 23rd century (something that Tuvok had reminded the Captain about) and one with Cardassia a few years earlier. Fortunately, Janeway ignored Kim’s protests.
During the series’ first two seasons, Janeway had been a rigid practitioner of Starfleet's principles, unwilling to be flexible about her command style. She also had a bad habit of ignoring advice that required her to be a little more flexible . . . unless it suited her. Obviously, Chakotay's suggestion of mixing a little Starfleet principles with Maquis methods never really appealed to Janeway. And I got the feeling that she was determined to prove him wrong. Bear with me. There was nothing wrong in Janeway’s policies about following Starfleet principles - when the situation demanded it. After all, if Janeway had not maintained discipline on her ship, Voyager could have easily become another U.S.S. Equinox. However, there was a time for adhering to Starfleet . . . and a time for using other methods.
Chakotay's idea of forming an alliance with the Kazon seemed sound. Even Tuvok thought it was a good idea. Yet, Janeway decided to sabotage Chakotay’s idea by accepting Torres and Paris’ not-so-bright suggestion of forming an alliance with Seska and Maj Cullah of the Kazon Nistrim sect. Why on earth would she agree to sign a treaty with the very Kazon sect that the crew of Voyager had been in conflict with since Season One’s (1.11 “State of Flux”). And why did she not simply consider contacting other Kazon sects, as Chakotay and Tuvok had suggested. Then Janeway added more fuel to the fire when she disregarded Tuvok's advice against forming an alliance with the Trabe, the Kazons' blood enemy. The Trabe used to be a major power in the Delta Quadrant that were also brutal slave masters ruling over the Kazon race. The Kazon eventually revolted and stole all of the Trabe technology, spacecraft and even their home world. The Trabe had been reduced to wanderers that were constantly pursued by Kazon fleets and unable to settle on any permanent planet for fear of being exterminated by the former slaves. In the end, Tuvok’s objections against an alliance with the Trabe proved to be sound. The effort to form an alliance with the Kazon ended up being undermined by the Trabe’s attempt to assassinate the Kazon majes (leaders).
As I had earlier stated, one of Janeway's major flaws had been her inability to be flexible in the face of Voyager’s extraordinary situation in the Delta Quadrant. During Seasons One and Two, she seemed obsessed with maintaining Starfleet principles. In the end, this strict adherence to these principles did not prevent Voyager's capture by Seska, Maje Cullah and the Kazon in the Season Two finale, (2.26) “Basics, Part I”. Following this last incident with Seska and the Kazon, Janeway switched tactics and adhered more closely with utilizing Maquis methods. I would have cheered her for this . . . except she went from one extreme to another. Her determination to use any means possible to get home nearly led to Voyager's destruction in the early Season Three episode, (3.04)"The Swarm”, when she decided to trespass into a hostile alien space after being warned away. Another form of this kind of extremism occurred when she decided to form an alliance with the Borg in order to avoid what she believed was certain destruction at the hands of Species 8472 in (3.26-4.01) “Scorpion”. This alliance led to Species 8472’s defeat and many home worlds opened to conquest and assimilation by the Borg. After Voyager's encounter with the U.S.S. Equinox in (5.26-6.01) “Equinox”, Janeway finally learned to become flexible by striking a balance between maintaining Starfleet principles and being a little creative when the occasion demanded.
As for "Alliances”, it had the potential to be an excellent episode. Unfortunately, too much had occurred during the episode’s 45 minutes running time. ”Alliance” could have . . . should have been a two-part episode. But writer/producer Jeri Taylor decided to stuff this very eventful story into one episode. Worse, the story ended on a sour note with Janeway's speech reaffirming Starfleet principles. Her strident speech not only made me wince, it also made me wonder if she was feeling a little smug at proving both Chakotay and Tuvok wrong. The ending did not strike me as one of her finest hours.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Below is a gallery of photos from the 2006 movie, "THE ILLUSIONIST". Based upon Steven Millhauser's story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" and Directed by Neil Burger, the movie starred Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell:
"THE ILLUSIONIST" (2006) Photo Gallery
Sunday, August 4, 2013
"A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" (1958) Review
There have been many versions about the April 1912 sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Many versions. And I have personally seen at least five of them. One of them happened to be the 1958 movie, "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER".
Directed by Roy Ward Baker, "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" is based upon historian Walter Lord's 1955 book about the historical sinking. Since the 1958 movie was based upon a historical book instead of a novel, Baker, producer William MacQuitty and screenwriter Eric Ambler approached the film's plot in a semi-documentary style. Even the movie's leading character turned out to be the Titanic's Second Officer, Charles Lightoller, who was portrayed by actor Kenneth More. The movie also featured other historical figures such as J. Bruce Ismay, Thomas Andrews, Captain Edward J. Smith and Margaret "Molly" Brown. Due to this semi-documentary approach, "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" is regarded as the best movie about the Titanic.
I cannot deny that there is a great deal to admire about "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER". Not only do I feel it is an excellent movie, I could see that Roy Ward Baker did his best to re-create that last night aboard the Titanic. He and Ambler gave the audience glimpses into the lives of the ship's crew and passengers. The movie also went into great detail of their efforts to remain alive following the ship's brief collision with an iceberg. Some of my favorite scenes include the Irish steerage passengers' efforts to reach the life boats on the upper decks, the wireless operators' (David McCullum and Kenneth Griffin) efforts to summon other ships to rescue the passengers and crew, and passenger Molly Brown (Tucker McGuire)'s conflict with the sole crewman in her lifeboat. But my favorite scene has to be that moment when the Titanic's stern rose high before the ship sank into the Atlantic Ocean.
For a film shot in black and white during the late 1950s, I must admit that "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" looked very handsome. Legendary cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth's phtography struck me as sharp and very elegant. I do not know if Yvonne Caffin's costume designs for the movie's 1912 setting was completely accurate, but they certainly did add to the movie's late Edwardian atmosphere. Especially those costumes for the first-class passengers. I do have to give kudos to the special effects team led by Bill Warrington. He and his team did a superb job in re-creating the ocean liner's historic sinking. I am even more impressed that their work still manages to hold up after fifty-four years.
The cast of "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" was led by Kenneth More, who portrayed Second Officer Lightoller with his usual energetic charm. More was ably supported by the likes of Laurence Naismith as Captain Smith, Michael Goodliffe's poignant portrayal of ship designer Thomas Andrews, Frank Lawton as J. Bruce Ismay, George Rose as the inebriated survivor Charles Joughin and Tucker McGuire's colorful portrayal of American socialite Molly Brown. The movie also featured future "AVENGERS" and Bond veteran Honor Blackman; David McCullum of "THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E." and "N.C.I.S." fame; and Bernard Fox, who will also appear in James Cameron's 1997 movie about the Titanic sinking. But despite the numerous good performances, I honestly have to say that I found nothing exceptional about any of them.
Like many others, I used to believe that "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" was the best movie about the Titanic. After this latest viewing, I do not believe I can maintain that opinion any longer. In fact, I am beginning to suspect there may not be any "ultimate" Titanic film. And "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" is not perfect, as far as I am concerned. Many have applauded the filmmakers for eschewing any fictional melodrama or using the sinking as a backdrop for a fictional story. Personally, I could not care less if a Titanic movie is simply a fictional melodrama or a semi-documentary film. All I require is a first-rate movie that will maintain my interest.
"A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" began with a montage of newsreel clips featuring the Titanic's christening in Belfast. One, the ship was never christened. And two, I could see that the newsreel footage used in the movie dated from the 1930s. The movie tried its best to allow the audience to identify with some of its characters. But due to "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" being a docudrama, I feel that it failed to give an in-depth study of its more prominent characters . . . making it difficult for me to identify with any of them.
I realize that "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" was a British production, but I was amazed at the low number of American passengers featured in the cast. The 1953 film, "TITANIC" suffered from a similar malady - the only British characters I could recall were members of the crew. I do remember at least three Americans in the 1958 movie - Molly Brown; Benjamin Guggenheim, portrayed by Harold Goldblatt and a third passenger, whose name escapes me. I was satisfied with McGuire's performance as Molly Brown and the nameless actor who portrayed the third American passenger. But Goldblatt portrayed Guggenheim as a member of the British upper class in both attitude and accent. It almost seemed as if the filmmakers wanted Guggenheim to be viewed as a British gentleman, instead of an American one.
Walter Lord's book made it clear that one of the last songs performed by Titanic's band was NOT "Nearer My God to Thee". Yet, the filmmakers chose to perpetrate this myth in the movie by having the remaining passengers and crew sing the song en masse before the ship began to sink in earnest. This pious attitude continued in a scene aboard the R.M.S. Carpathia, in which the survivors listened to a religious sermon. Instead of projecting an air of melancholy or despair, the survivors, thanks to Ward Baker, seemed to project an air of the British stiff upper lip cliche. I feel that a melancholic air among the survivors would have made the scene seem more human.
I cannot deny that "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" is a first-rate look at the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. More importantly, the movie and especially the visual effects still hold up very well after half-a-century. But the movie possesses flaws that make it difficult for me to regard it as the best Titanic movie ever made. Perhaps . . . there is no "best" Titanic movie. Just bad or well made ones.