Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley" [PG-13] - 1/7


FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Just before meeting Evelyn for the first time, Rafe and Danny recall the former's past love life.
DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda! All characters pertaining to the motion picture, "Pearl Harbor", belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Randall Wallace and the Walt Disney Company . . . unfortunately.


PART 1 - First Love

MITCHELL FIELD, LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Lieutenant Daniel Walker stood in line behind his best friend and fellow Army pilot, Lieutenant Rafe McCawley. He noticed how the older man shifted from one foot to another, almost like a jackrabbit in flight. 

"Godalmighty, Rafe! Simmer down!" Danny hissed into his friend's ear. "You act like a man trying to run from his own hanging."

Fearful brown eyes bored into those that belonged to the twenty-three year-old pilot. "You can call it that," Rafe shot back. "Jiminy cricket! A physical! Dammit Danny! Why didn't you tell me there was gonna be one?"

"I just found out about it, yesterday," Danny explained. "And you didn't return to the base until lights out. What took you so long in getting back?"

Rafe sighed. Both he and Danny moved a step forward toward the nurse. She was about to stick a needle into Anthony Fusco's bare bottom. The two friends squirmed at the sight of their fellow pilot's plight.

"Claudia," Rafe finally answered. "We broke up."

Danny tried not to express any jubilation over the news. He loved Rafe. Both had grown up together in Shelby County, Tennessee. They started out as best friends. And when Danny moved in with the McCawleys following his daddy's death, they virtually became brothers. The pair had gone through a lot together - childhood, love of flying, high school, college and now, the Army Air Corps. There was a lot about Rafe that Danny admired. However, the former's love life did not happen to be one of them.

"Oh, hey Rafe! I'm sorry to hear about you and Claudia." Danny tried to sound mournful over his friend's romantic mishap. Apparently, he had failed, judging by Rafe's scornful expression. "What?"

Rafe's scorn deepened. "Did you know that you were a lousy liar, Danny?"

"You never fail to tell me, if you must know."

"Well, I was right," Rafe shot back. Anthony cried out in pain and moved on, rubbing his behind. The two friends took another step forward and watched another man bend over before the nurse. Rafe continued, "I'll bet that you're jumping for joy over what happened between me and Claudia."

Danny tried to sound innocent. "Of course not!" he protested. Rafe gave him a hard stare. As usual, Danny wilted. "All right, maybe I am. I never liked her anyway. Big deal!"

"You've never liked any of my girlfriends," Rafe accused.

"What are you talking about? What about Fenton Marsh? Or Julie Fisher? I liked them!"

The soldier at the head of the line walked away, rubbing his rear end. Everyone else took a step forward. Only Billy from the two friends' squadron, stood between Rafe and a shot in the behind. Which Danny felt temporarily grateful.

Rafe whirled on the younger man, his eyes shining with suspicion. "Oh yeah?" he countered. "What about Mary Jo Burnett? From grade school? Did you like her?"

* * * *

SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE; OCTOBER 1926 TO APRIL 1927 . . . The final bell at Shelbyville Elementary School in Shelby, Tennessee, announced the end of another day. Scores of children poured out of their classrooms and rushed toward the exits. Among them were ten year-old Rafe McCawley and his best friend, nine year-old Danny Walker.

The pair paused in front of a large oak tree in the schoolyard. The older boy dug into his pockets. "Look what I got!" He triumphantly produced two shiny blue marbles and showed them to Danny.

The younger boy's eyes grew wide with excitement. "Hey! Don't those marbles belong to Carl Jordan? How did you get 'em?"

"A bet." Rafe flashed his usual cocky smile. "I bet Carl that I could beat him in a bike race on Shelby Road. I won, of course."

Danny declared breathlessly, "I reckon Carl must be pretty sore. Those marbles must have cost him a fortune."

Rafe sniffed. He had never harbored a high opinion of Carl Jordan, the younger son of a local merchant. "Fifteen cents. Course, I would have never bet anything this valuable. Carl, on the other hand, never had much sense. Much like his daddy."

Admiration shone in the younger boy's eyes. "Yeah, that's Carl alright. Did you know that he once . . .?"

A scream from the other side of the schoolyard interrupted Danny. Rafe's eyes immediately shifted to the sight of two boys around his age, trying to wrestle a paper bag from the clutches of a girl. The other kids in the yard seemed determined to ignore them. Not Rafe.

The moment the ten year-old became aware of the situation, he became a knight in shining armor. The Southern gentleman who always saved the honor of a fair damsel. With a roar reminiscent of the Rebel yell, he charged at the girl's tormentors. Rafe knocked one to the ground and punched the latter a few times to ensure that the boy remained down.

The other boy, whom Rafe recognized as Carl Jordan, stared at him with baffled eyes. Before Carl could react, Rafe snatched the paper bag from the former's clutches. A snarl left Carl's mouth and he tried to rush Rafe. Fortunately, the latter proved to be quick. Rafe avoided Carl's fist with a duck and responded with a better aimed blow to the other boy's face. Carl fell to the ground with blood gushing from his nose.

"Rafe!" Danny rushed forward, obviously prepared to come to his friend's defense. "Rafe, are you okay?"

The older boy shot back, grinning, "Just fine and dandy!" Rafe glanced at the paper bag in his hand and remembered the girl standing nearby. When he turned to face her, Rafe found himself staring into a pair of dark brown eyes. He forgot about Danny, Carl Jordan and just about everyone else. "Uh," he began nervously, "I reckon this uh . . . this belong . . ."

The girl smiled. "Thank you," she said in a soft voice that could melt butter. "Thank you for returning my bag to me." She held out her hand.

Rafe blinked. "Huh? Oh." He handed the bag to her.

"May I know the name of my rescuer?"

He gave a slight cough. "Rafe. My name is Rafe McCawley."

"And mine is Mary Jo Burnett." A smile curved her generous mouth. Groans from the ground interrupted the conversation and Mary Jo's smile transformed into a frown. Carl Jordan and his friend slowly scrambled to their feet.

A groggy Carl began, "Wha . . .?"

Rafe grabbed the boy's arm. "You get out of here, Carl Jordan. Both you and Orwin. And if either of you ever bother . . . uh, Mary Jo again, both me and Danny'll whup you good. Or I just might do it myself. You hear?"

The two boys gulped nervously and raced away. Rafe turned to Mary Jo with a smile. "May I see you home, Miss Burnett?"

Her smile dazzled Rafe. "Of course." Mary Jo nodded at Danny. "Both of you can."

"Huh?" Rafe turned and saw his friend standing next to a tree stump, squirming with discomfort. He had forgotten about Danny. "Oh! Danny. Well, yeah. Sure."

Still looking uncomfortable, the nine year-old murmured, "That's okay. You two can go ahead. I gotta get home, anyway."

Rafe knew that Danny had lied. For the latter, home meant a broken down two-room shack off Horton Road, with a drunken brute of a father still recovering from the war. Danny usually delayed going home after school, as long as he possibly could.

"What are you talking about, Danny?" Rafe protested. "You usually . . ."

But the younger boy quickly bid Rafe and Mary Jo good-bye and ran off, leaving behind a bewildered Rafe. A soft hand touched the latter's arm. "Rafe? You ready?" Ah yes, Mary Jo.

Danny quickly forgotten, Rafe offered Mary Jo his arm. She accepted it and the pair strolled away from the schoolyard.

* * * *

Mary Jo Burnett. From the moment Rafe first laid eyes upon the nine year-old girl, he could not get enough of her. In fact, it did not take long for the pair to become a romantic twosome.

Rafe developed a habit of escorting Mary Jo home, after school. In doing so, he missed the school bus that usually conveyed him to his farm. But he did not care. Especially since either Mr. Burnett or his dad would give him a ride home.

During his growing romance with Mary Jo, Rafe learned that the Burnetts originally came from Arkansas. Little Rock, Arkansas. Mary Jo's daddy happened to be one of those men who helped local farmers with their crops. Mr. Burnett was one of those what Daddy called an agriculturist, who worked for the Federal government.

Despite his new relationship with Mary Jo, Rafe made sure that he spent some time with Danny. He had hoped that his best friend and his best girl would become close friends. Mary Jo seemed willing. Whenever she invited Rafe over to her house, she always included Danny in the invitation. The latter usually had an excuse not to join them. Only when Mary Jo became unavailable, did Rafe spend time with Danny.

Rafe enjoyed those increasingly rare times with Danny. However, any time spent with his best friend could not deter his feelings toward the lovely Mary Jo. He realized that he had found the love of his life. Okay, he was only ten year-old and would turn eleven in April. But Rafe recalled that his mama once told him that she and Daddy had once been childhood sweethearts. If his parents could end up married, he decided, so could he and Mary Jo.


One Saturday afternoon in late March, Rafe expressed his desires to Danny. "I'm gonna marry Mary Jo, one day," he announced. The two friends stood in the middle of a field behind the McCawley barn, tossing a baseball back and forth.

Danny's arm paused in mid-air, after catching one of Rafe's tosses. He stared at the older boy with an expression Rafe could not fathom. "Marry?" A frown darkened Danny's countenance. "You're in love with that girl, or something?"

"Her name is Mary Jo. And yeah, I'm in love with her. I plan to make her my wife." Rafe spoke with his usual self-assurance.

Disbelief now shone in Danny's eyes. "What you talking about, Rafe? You're almost eleven. You're too young to get married!"

"Not now, dummy!" Unbeknownst to Rafe, Danny winced. "Later. When we're grown up. I plan to marry Mary Jo, just like Daddy married Mama. They also used to be childhood sweethearts."

Danny's eyes focused on the large, red barn, beyond. "Oh.

Rafe noticed his friend's lackluster response and frowned. "What's wrong?"


"Don't you want me to get married?"

Danny shrugged his shoulders. "Sure. I reckon. Only . . ." He sighed.

"Only what?" Rafe demanded.

"What about flying? I thought we were gonna join the Army, together. Become pilots, like your daddy did during the war."

Rafe retorted, "Of course we are! That don't mean I can't get married. Army officers get married too, you know!"

"Yeah." Danny tossed the baseball at Rafe. Who neatly caught it.

At that moment, Rafe decided that he had enough of Danny's tepid attitude. Every since he met Mary Jo, his friend seemed to be in a snit. Which led Rafe to wonder what Danny had against her. "You don't like Mary Jo, do you?" he said, as he rushed forward to confront the younger boy. "Well?"

Danny's face turned red. He mumbled, "Course I like her."

Rafe could usually tell when his friend was lying. Like now. "Oh yeah?" he continued, "Then why do you always have something else to do when Mary Jo invites you to her house?"

A resentful tone resonated in Danny's voice. "Hey, she's your girl, not mine!"

"What's that suppose to mean?" Rafe thrust his face just inches away from Danny's.

The other boy scowled. "Back off, Rafe! I don't feeling like arguing with you!"

"That's too bad! You should have thought of that before you made those scurrilous remarks about Mary Jo!"

"What are you talking about? You don't even know what 'scurrilous' mean!" Danny shouted back.

Rage gripped Rafe. If there was one thing he hated, were insults about his reading and spelling inabilities. He dropped his mitt and the baseball and tackled the younger boy. The two friends wrestled for a few seconds, before Rafe managed to pin Danny to the ground. "Now what was that you said about Mary Jo?"

"I didn't say nothing!" Danny shot back. He squirmed to free himself from Rafe's grip, but to no avail. "But if you must know, I don't like her! Not one bit! I hate that she gets to spend more time with you, than I do!"

Danny's frank confession shocked Rafe. Dazed, the older boy released his friend. "What are you saying, Danny?" he asked quietly.

"What do you think? You spend every chance you can get with Mary Jo! I hardly get to see you anymore! How do you think that makes me feel?"

Rafe calmly replied, "Mary Jo has asked you over, a couple of times. You always turn her down."

"Because it's obvious that you wanna be with her and not me! You've made that quite clear, ever since you met her! You always walk her home! And you two always spend time together, either during lunch or any other time. I want it to be the way it used to be, Rafe! Before Mary Jo, we used to be like brothers! But now . . ." Danny struggled to his feet and glared accusingly at Rafe. "Now, I don't know what we are, anymore!" He quickly raced away.

Rafe called after his friend. "Danny? Hey Danny!" Unfortunately, the other boy did not hear. Or simply ignored him, leaving behind a stunned and bewildered ten year-old.


His argument with Danny plagued Rafe's thoughts over the next several days. To the point that it created a schism in his relationship with Mary Jo. The day following the argument, Rafe did not bother to escort her home. He excused himself on the grounds of an emergency at home. After that first day, he did not bother to make any more excuses. Rafe simply boarded the school bus without saying a word. For a while, Rafe wondered why he even bothered. Especially since Danny usually subjected him to the silent treatment during those bus rides home.

One blustery Friday, Mary Jo finally confronted Rafe during the lunch period, in the schoolyard. She demanded to know why he avoided her for nearly a week. When Rafe failed to give her an adequate explanation, Mary Jo accused him of growing weary of her. Their subsequent argument spelled the end of the romance.

Later that afternoon, Rafe boarded the school bus for home. Just seconds after he sat down, a second figure filled the empty seat next to him. It was Danny.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECT: (4.08-4.09) "The Year of Hell"

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECT: (4.08-4.09) "The Year of Hell"

While reading some of the TREK forums and message boards over the years, I have noticed that many fans seemed to harbor mixed views of the "STAR TREK VOYAGER" Season Four two-part episode called (4.08-4.09) "The Year of Hell"

"The Year of Hell" began with the U.S.S. Voyager entering Krenim space, the same region of space that the former Ocampan crewman, Kes, had warned about in the Season Three episode called (3.21) "Before and After". Only Kes' description of Krenim space was set in an alternate timeline in which a very powerful race came dangerously close to destroying Voyager within a year. The Krenim space encountered by the Federation starship at the beginning of this episode seemed a lot more benign . . . until something or someone alters the timeline.

Unbeknownst to Voyager's crew, a Krenim military scientist named Annorax had developed a weapon ship designed to create temporal incursions. He used the to supervise the complete genocide of the Zahl, an enemy race that had ended the Krenim's status as a dominant power in their region of the Delta Quadrant. But the erasure of the Zahl nearly caused the destruction of the Krenim. Annorax's attempt to undo his actions led to the erasure of other worlds . . . and his wife from existence. And for two centuries, he has been creating one causality paradox after another in an attempt to get his wife back. However, one of Annorax's actions allowed a formerly harmless Krenim ship that Voyager had encountered at the beginning of the episode to develop into a powerful starship and inflict heavy damage upon the Federation ship. In this new timeline, Janeway and the rest of Voyager's crew are forced to endure a "year of hell", as they struggle to survive.

Screenwriters Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky created a fascinating and complex tale of what could have befallen Voyager if some of Kes' experiences in "Before and After" had occurred in their regular timeline. There have been occasions in which Voyager's crew had encountered more powerful alien vessels and societies. The starship was also captured by alien forces on two or more occasions. "The Year of Hell" featured the second time that Kathryn Janeway and her crew were forced to survive for a period of time in a damaged starship. But "The Year of Hell" took place during a period of nearly an entire year. Watching Voyager' become an increasingly uninhabitable vessel struck me as both fascinating and depressing. By the time Voyager was left with its senior staff (sans the kidnapped First Officer and Chief Pilot) after Janeway sent the rest of crew away in life pods, it had become a desolate place to be.

Braga and Menosky provided the episode with plenty of complex drama and characterizations. Kate Mulgrew gave an outstanding performance as a besieged Kathryn Janeway, determined to keep her crew alive and ship together by any means possible. Even if it meant sacrificing her health and sanity. The other outstanding performance came from guest star Kurtwood Smith, who portrayed the Krenim scientist, Annorax. Like Mulgrew, Smith portrayed his character as a leader determined to save or protect those he held dear - his species, his homeworld and especially his family. Unlike Janeway, Annorax's determination led to a more tragic conclusion. Both Janeway and Annorax - on a larger scale - reminded me a great deal of the Captain Nemo character from Jules Verne's 1870 novel, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".

The supporting cast were given plenty of opportunities to shine. The best performances came from Tim Russ (Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok), Robert Beltran (Commander Chakotay), Robert Duncan McNeill (Lieutenant Paris) and Robert Picardo (the Doctor). Both Chakotay and Paris found themselves as prisoners aboard Annorax's time ship in Part II of the episode. This situation gave Beltran an opportunity to convey Chakotay's dismay at Annorax's abuse of temporal mechanics and his desire to help the Krenim scientist restore the damaged timeline. McNeill was excellent in portraying Paris' dismay at Chakotay's cooperation and impatient desire to stop Annorax and find Voyager. Russ gave a poignant performance as the uber-efficient Tuovk, who is forced to depend upon Seven-of-Nine as his guide after he lost his sight in an explosion. Picardo had two juicy scenes in which he gave it his all, involving the Doctor's moral dilemma in sacrificing several crewman in order to save a few and himself from the destruction of one of the ship's decks; and the Doctor's confrontation with Janeway over her careless attitude toward her health. Roxann Dawson, Garrett Wang and Jeri Ryan provided a bit of fun in a comedic scene in which Ensign Harry Kim, an injured Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres and Seven-of-Nine recalled a bit of Federation history from the 1996 movie, "STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT". And second guest star John Loprieno was excellent in his portrayal of Obrist, Annorax's first officer who becomes increasingly dismayed by the scientist's abuse of the time ship.

Unfortunately for "The Year of Hell", it has accumulated a good deal of negative comments about its ending. The mixed opinions of the entire episode stemmed from an ending that many fans viewed as a cop out. When Seven-of-Nine discovered a chroniton torpedo in one of the ship's Jeffries tubes, the crew realized they had been the victims of temporal manipulations. Seven used a devise on the torpedo to successfully shield Voyager against Annorax's time ship and any future temporal changes. However in Part II, Captain Janeway made an alliance with two species to attack the Krenim timeship. The remaining crew members move to the allied ships, while Janeway remained behind alone on Voyager to pilot the heavily damaged ship herself. After learning that the Krenim ship's temporal core had been placed offline and theorizing that the true timeline will be restored if the Krenim ship is destroyed, Janeway ordered the fleet to drop their temporal shields before ramming Voyager into the time ship. Her actions destroyed Voyager, caused the time ship to destabilize and erase from history . . . and reset the timeline to the day Voyager first encountered the temporal waves.

Many TREK fans accused the episode's writers of using the "reset button" to restore Voyager to its original timeline and erase the one featuring the year of hell. They also criticized Braga and Menosky for this act. Braga also did not want to use the "reset button" device. He wanted Voyager to remain wrecked for the rest of Season Four. But he failed to get his way, thanks to Paramount and producer Rick Berman. I do recall a fan fiction - a coda to the Season Seven episode(7.11) "Shattered" - that left Chakotay lost in time and both Janeway and Tuvok dead. As the new captain, Tom Paris was forced to land Voyager on an "M" class and order repairs on the ship that lasted for a year or more. 

Recalling the state of Voyager in the alternate timeline, I saw no other fate for the ship if Janeway had not reset time."Before and After" saw Voyager still traveling through Krenim space, despite its condition after nearly a year. But it did not look as damaged as it did right before the time reset in "The Year of Hell". The idea of a wrecked Voyager still traveling through space after nearly a year . . . strikes me as illogical. And how did Braga plan to deal with Annorax and the time ship? Did he have plans for the Krenim scientist to remain the series' main adversary for the rest of Season Four? Did he have plans for a series of plotlines featuring the adventures of the Voyager crew on an "M" class planet, while they repair the ship?

I am not saying that I am against the idea of time NOT being reset. But I still have bad memories of the early Season Three episodes of "BATTLESTAR GALACTICA", in which some of the colonists ended up as prisoners of the Cylons on some planet. And combining that with the knowledge of the "reset button" being used on many occasions, I find it difficult to get upset over the ending for "The Year of Hell". More importantly, I find it difficult to understand the fans and critics' reactions to the use of the "reset button". I guess I still find it so ridiculously strident, especially since such use of the plot device had been used so many times. 

As far as I am concerned, "The Year of Hell" was a pretty damn good episode that featured an interesting twist on the Captain Nemo character and the alternate timeline subplot. It also featured superb performances from Kate Mulgrew and Kurtwood Smith, and some excellent acting from the rest of the cast. I am not surprised that it has remained one of my favorite episodes from the series' Season Four.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"THE BIG COUNTRY" (1958) Review

"THE BIG COUNTRY" (1958) Review

William Wyler and Gregory Peck first worked together in the 1953 comedy classic, "ROMAN HOLIDAY". The director and the actor became close friends and spent a few years trying to find the right property for which they could co-produce and work on together. Peck finally came across a magazine story, which eventually transformed to the movie screen as 1958's "THE BIG COUNTRY"

The magazine story in question happened to be the 1957 Saturday Evening Post serialized article called "Ambush at Blanco Canyon". Written by future Matt Helm author, Donald Hamilton; the story was basically about a Baltimore sea captain, who travels to Texas to claim his bride, the daughter of a wealthy rancher; and finds himself in the middle of a bitter feud between his future father-in-law and less wealthy rancher.

"THE BIG COUNTRY" began with the arrival of sea captain Jim McKay to a small, dusty town in western Texas to join his fiancée Patricia Terrill at the enormous ranch owned by her father, Major Henry Terrill. Terrill has been feuding with Rufus Hannassey, the patriarch of a poorer, less refined ranching clan. Patricia's friend, schoolteacher Julie Maragon, owns the "Big Muddy", a large ranch with a vital water supply. Although she cannot afford to hire men to operate her ranch, Julie is caught in the middle of the Terrill-Hannassey feud, as she has been allowing both Terrill and Hannassey to use her water for their cattle, while both ranchers long to buy her land in order to put the other man out of business. McKay refuses to be provoked into proving his manhood, having sworn off such behavior since his father died in a meaningless duel. He does nothing to stop Hannassey's trouble-making son Buck from harassing him during his and Patricia's ride to the Terrill ranch; and he declines a challenge by Terrill's foreman, Steve Leech, to ride an unruly horse. When McKay decides to purchase Julie's ranch and maintain her promise to provide water for the two rivals, matters eventually escalate into romantic problems and more violence between Terrill and Hannassey.

During his first three years as a director, William Wyler worked only on Westerns. Then between 1929 and 1940, he directed two Westerns - "HELL'S HEROES" (1930) and "THE WESTERNER" (1940). Wyler waited another seventeen-to-eighteen years before he worked on his final Western, 1958's "THE BIG COUNTRY". Although many movie fans seemed to like "THE BIG COUNTRY", very few seemed to regard it as one of his finest films. I cannot decide whether or not I would view it as one of his best films. But if I must be honest, I do consider it as one of my favorite Wyler movies . . . even if my opinion of it has declined slightly over the years.

My recent viewing of "THE BIG COUNTRY" made me realize that it might be at least 40 minutes too long. A tight story about an Easterner getting caught in the middle of a land feud did not seem epic enough for a movie with a running time of 165 minutes. After he had finished production on the film, Wyler rushed into pre-production for his next film,"BEN-HUR". Co-producer and star Gregory Peck had feuded with him over a scene that he felt needed some serious editing. tried to convince him to finish "THE BIG COUNTRY" with some much needed editing - a feud that lasted two years. And their feud was not helped by Wyler's preoccupation with "BEN-HUR". In the end, I believe that Peck had a right to be concerned. I feel that the movie needed a good deal of editing. Wyler wasted a good deal of film on Buck Hannassey and his two brothers' hazing of Jim McKay during the latter and Patricia Terrill's ride to her father's ranch. The movie also wasted film on McKay's self-challenge to ride the very horse that Steve Leech had earlier dared him to ride - Old Thunder. That scene took too damn long. Wyler also seemed enraptured over the eastern California and western Arizona landscape that served as Texas in the movie. Perhaps he became too enraptured. In the end, it seemed as if Wyler's interest in Western culture and landscape had almost spiraled out of control. Even worse, "THE BIG COUNTRY" almost became a series of far shots to indicate the size of the movie and its setting.

Despite its flaws, "THE BIG COUNTRY" still remains a big favorite of mine. Robert Wilder, along with Jessamyn West, James R. Webb and Sy Bartlett did a first-rate job in adapting Hamilton's story. Their efforts, along with Wyler's direction, produced what I believe turned out to be one of the most unique Westerns I have ever seen. What I enjoyed about "THE BIG COUNTRY" was that it took the public's image of what a Western - whether made in Hollywood or published in novels and magazines - and turned it on its head. Rarely one would find a Western in which its hero is a mild-mannered personality with the guts to reject the prevailing ideal of a Western man. The 1939 movie "DESTRY RIDES AGAIN" came close to it, but its quiet hero was an expert gunman, despite his "pacifist" ways. Even the Jim McKay eventually gives in to his own aggression, due to his developing feelings toward his fiancee's best friend, Julie Maragon. But he also ends up learning a good deal about himself, thanks to Rufus Hannassey. I found it interesting that movie made a big deal over an eventual conflict between Terrill and Hannassey's two "lieutenants" - Terrill's foreman Steve Leech and Hannassey's oldest son Buck. And yet, both ended up clashing with McKay over two women - Pat Terrill and Julie. And their clashes with Jim ended with ironic twists one rarely or never finds in many other Westerns.

"THE BIG COUNTRY" featured an excellent cast led by the always remarkable Gregory Peck. I cannot deny that he gave a first-rate portrayal of a character many might find uninteresting. I think that Peck's Jim McKay would not have been that interesting in a modern-day tale. But as a character that upset the notions of manhood in the West . . . he was perfect for this story. As I had stated earlier, even McKay could not contain his emotions any longer. And Peck did a fine job in slowly revealing his character's contained emotions - whether it was his dislike of Steve Leech, who constantly taunted him out of jealousy toward his engagement to Patricia; his frustrated anger at both Henry Terrill and Rufus Hannassey's unwillingness to end their destructive feud; or his anger at Buck Hannassey, whom he viewed as a threat to a woman he eventually grew to love, namely Julie. Not surprisingly, Peck did an excellent job in holding this movie together.

But there were other performances that also caught my eye. The always dependable Jean Simmons gave a charming and solid performance as schoolmarm Julie Maragon. Charles Bickford, who had first worked with Wyler in "HELL'S HEROES", did a fine job in revealing Henry Terrill's malice and ego behind a dignified facade. "THE BIG COUNTRY"proved to be the last movie for Mexican-born actor Alfonso Bedoya (known for a famous line from the 1948 movie,"THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE". What I enjoyed about Bedoya's portrayal of Terrill ranch hand Ramón Guiteras was his ability to reveal his character's wisdom behind the cliché of the childlike immigrant. I would go even further to state that Bedoya's Ramón proved to be the wisest character in the story.

Chuck Connors is finally receiving some recognition of his performance as the blowhard Buck Hannassey and I say that it is about time. Most people tend to dismiss his character as a one-note bully . . . a typical cliché of what one might find in a Western. But thanks to Wyler's direction and Connors' acting skills, the latter also revealed the pathetic boy who had more or less longed for the love and respect from a parent who never liked him and who may have bullied him. Charlton Heston's Steve Leech also proved to be a surprise. His character also started out as another cliché - the solid and virile Western cowboy. Thanks to Heston's skillful performance, he developed Steve into a mature man who began to question the West's code regarding manhood and who realized that the man he admired - Henry Terrill - may not have been as admirable as he had perceived for so long. One of Heston's best moments on the screen was his quiet and determined effort to stop Terrill from the leading their cowboys into an ambush set up Hannassey in Blanco Canyon. 

I was surprised to realize that the Patricia Terrill character, portrayed by Carroll Baker, struck me as more of a contrast to Buck Hannassey than Steve Leech. Whereas Buck longs for his father's respect and admiration, Patricia has her father's love in spades. Perhaps too much of it. Buck has spent most of his life being bullied by Hannassey. Patricia has spent most of her life being spoiled. Buck reacts with violence or bullying tactics when he does not get his way. Patricia resorts to temper tantrums. And she turns out to be just as childish and pathetic. I was shocked to learn that Baker now possesses a reputation for being a sex symbol. It seemed the public has tacked this reputation on her, based upon a handful of movies she appeared in the 1960s. I find this criminal, for it is plain to me that she was a very talented actress, who did a superb job in capturing the spoiled and childish nature of Pat Terrill. I feel she gave one of the best performances in the movie. But the one cast member who walked away with an award for his performance was singer-actor Burl Ives, who portrayed Henry Terrill's rival, the seemingly brutish and sharp-tongued Rufus Hannassey. I might as well say it . . . he deserved that Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Some have claimed that he actually won for his performance in another movie, "CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF". Others have claimed that he won for his performances in both movies. I have never seen "CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF". But I cannot deny that he was SUPERB in "THE BIG COUNTRY". Ives had all of the best lines and he did wonders with it . . . especially in his scenes with Chuck Connors. His Hannassey seemed to be, without a doubt, not only the most interesting character in the movie, but also I feel that Ives gave the best performance. 

Even though I found some of the movie's photography excessive and its editing almost non-existent, I still found myself enraptured over cinematographer Franz Planer's work. He really allowed the eastern California and western Arizona locations to live up to the movie's title. Without Wyler's post-production input, Robert Belcher and John Faure's editing pretty much came up short. However, there was one scene in which their work, along with Wyler's direction and Planner's camera, made it one of the most memorable in the movie. I am sure that very few have forgotten that moment in which a silently exasperated Leech changed his mind about following Terrill into Blanco Canyon. This entire sequence was enhanced by the stirring score written by Jerome Moross. Speaking of the composer, Moross received a much deserved Oscar nomination for the movie's score. Personally, I would have preferred it he had actually won. In my opinion, his score for "THE BIG COUNTRY" is one of the best ever in Hollywood history.

Is "THE BIG COUNTRY" one of the best movies ever directed by the legendary William Wyler? I really cannot say. I have seen better movies directed by him. The movie has some series flaws, especially in regard to editing and too many far shots. But thanks to an unusual story, an excellent cast led by Gregory Peck, a superb score by Jerome Moross and some not-too-shabby direction by Wyler, "THE BIG COUNTRY" remains one of my favorite Westerns of all time.

Friday, February 14, 2014

"THE WINDS OF WAR" (1983) Photo Gallery

Below are images from "THE WINDS OF WAR", the 1983 television adaptation of Herman Wouk's 1971 novel.  Directed by Dan Curtis, the seven-part miniseries starred Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw and Jan-Michael Vincent:

"THE WINDS OF WAR" (1983) Photo Gallery