Saturday, September 13, 2014
Below are images from the CBS series, "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" (2005-2014). Created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, the series starred Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan:
"HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" (2005-2014) Photo Gallery
Friday, September 12, 2014
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" (1980) Review
As far as I know, Guy Hamilton is the only director who has helmed two movie adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. The 1982 movie, "EVIL UNDER THE SUN" was the second adaptation. The first was his 1980 adaptation of Christie's 1962 novel, "The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side".
A big Hollywood production has arrived at St. Mary's Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple, to film a costume movie about Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England, starring two Hollywood stars - Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster. The two actresses are rivals who despise each other. Marina and her husband, director Jason Rudd, have taken residence at Gossington Hall, where Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly used to live. Due to Colonel Bantry's death, Mrs. Bantry - who is one of Miss Marple's closest friends - has moved to a smaller home.
Excitement runs high in the village as the locals have been invited to a reception held by the movie company in a manor house, Gossington Hall, to meet the celebrities. Lola and Marina come face to face at the reception and exchange some potent and comical insults, nasty one-liners, as they smile and pose for the cameras. The two square off in a series of clever cat-fights throughout the movie.
Marina, however, has been receiving anonymous death threats. After her initial exchange with Lola at the reception, she is cornered by a gushing, devoted fan, Heather Badcock (played by Maureen Bennett), who bores her with a long and detailed story about having actually met Marina in person during World War II. After recounting the meeting they had all those years ago, when she arose from her sickbed to go and meet the glamorous star, Babcock drinks a cocktail that was made for Marina and quickly dies from poisoning. It is up to Miss Marple and her nephew, Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock of Scotland Yard to discover the killer.
I surprised to learn that Guy Hamilton was the director of "THE MIRROR CRACK'D". This movie was the first of two times in which he directed an Agatha Christie adaptation that placed murder in the world of show business. Frankly? I am beginning to suspect that he was more suited for this particular genre that he was for the James Bond franchise. Like the 1982 film, "EVIL UNDER THE SUN", I enjoyed it very much. I am not a big fan of Christie's 1962 novel. I understand that the origin of its plot came from Hollywood history, which gives it a touch of pathos. Along with the quaint portrayal of English village life and the delicious bitch fest that surrounded the rivalry between Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster, I believe that Hamilton and screenwriters Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler in exploring that pathos in the end. There is one aspect of Christie's story that the screenwriters left out - namely the connection between Marina and the photographer Margot Bence. Honestly, I do not mind. I never cared for it in the first place. I found this connection between Marina and Ms. Bence a little too coincidental for my tastes.
I did not mind the little touches of English village life featured in "THE MIRROR CRACK'D". Although I must admit that I found them occasionally boring. Only when the citizens of St. Mary's Mead interacted with the Hollywood visitors did I find them interesting. On the other hand, the rivalry between Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster was a joy to watch. And I feel that Hamilton and the two screenwriters handled it a lot better than Christie's novel or the 1992 television movie. And to be honest, I have to give Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak most of the credit for the venomous and hilarious manner in which their characters' rivalry played out on screen.
The behind-the-scene productions for "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" certainly seemed top-notch. Christopher Challis' photography struck me as colorful and beautiful. However, there were moments when he seemed to indulge in that old habit of hazy photography to indicate a period film. Only a few moments. Production designer Michael Stringer did a solid job of re-creating the English countryside circa early-to-mid 1950s. His work was ably supported by John Roberts' art direction and Peter Howitt's set decorations. Phyllis Dalton did a very good job of re-creating the fashions of the movie's 1950s setting. I especially enjoyed the costumes she created for the fête sequence. The only aspect of the production that seemed less than impressive was John Cameron's score. Personally, I found it wishy-washy. His score for the St. Mary's Mead setting struck me as simple and uninspiring. Then he went to another extreme for the scenes featuring the Hollywood characters - especially Marina Gregg - with a score that seemed to be a bad imitation of some of Jerry Goldsmith's work.
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" certainly featured some first-rate performances. Angela Landsbury made a very effective Jane Marple. She not only seemed born to play such a role, there were times when her portrayal of the elderly sleuth seemed like a dress rehearsal for the Jessica Fletcher role she portrayed on television. Elizabeth Taylor gave an excellent performance as the temperamental Marina Gregg. She did a great job in portraying all aspects of what must have been a complex role. Rock Hudson was equally first-rate as Marina's husband, the sardonic and world-weary director, Jason Rudd. He did a great job in conveying the character's struggles to keep his temperamental wife happy and the impact these struggles had on him. Edward Fox was charming and very subtle as Miss Marple's nephew, Scotland Yard Inspector Dermot Craddock. I especially enjoyed how his Craddock used a mild-mannered persona to get the suspects and others he interrogated to open up to him.
I was never impressed by Agatha Christie's portrayal of the Lola Brewster character . . . or of two other actresses who portrayed the role. But Kim Novak was a knockout as the somewhat crude and highly sexual Hollywood starlet. Watching the comic timing and skill she injected into the role, made me suspect that Hollywood had underestimated not only her acting talent, but comedy skills. Tony Curtis certainly got a chance to display his comedic skills as the fast-talking and somewhat crude film producer, Martin Fenn. And I rather enjoyed Geraldine Chaplin's sardonic portrayal on Ella Zielinsky, Jason Rudd's caustic-tongued secretary, who seemed to be in love with him. The movie also featured solid performances from Charles Gray, Wendy Morgan, Margaret Courtenay and Maureen Bennett. And if you look carefully, you just might spot a young Pierce Brosnan portraying a cast member of Marina's movie.
Overall, I enjoyed "THE MIRROR CRACK'D". I thought Guy Hamilton did an excellent job in creating a enjoyable murder mystery that effectively combined the vibrancy of Hollywood life and the quaintness of an English village. He was assisted by a first-rate crew, a witty script by Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler, and a very talented cast led by Angela Landsbury.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
TIME MACHINE: BATTLE OF JONESBOROUGH
August 31-September 1 mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War conflict called the Battle of Jonesborough. This conflict, fought over two days, proved to be the last battle of the Atlanta Campaign, which occurred during the summer of 1864. The battle also led to the fall of Atlanta, Georgia and contributed to President Abraham Lincoln's re-election in November 1864.
The Atlanta Campaign began following the Union victory at Chattanooga, Tennessee in November 1864. After Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to Lieutenant-General and made commander-in-chief of the entire Union Army in March 1864, he handed over command of the Union troops in the Western Theater to Major-General William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman led the invasion of Georgia with three armies - Army of the Cumberland under Major-General George Henry Thomas, Major-General James B. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, and Major-General John M. Schofield's Army of the Ohio. He fought a lengthy campaign of maneuver through mountainous terrain against the Army of the Tennessee, which was first led by Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, who was replaced by the more aggressive General John Bell Hood in July 1864.
Following the Union victory at Battle of Ezra Church on July 28, 1864; Sherman's forces settled into a siege of Atlanta. The Union and the Confederacy clashed during three more battles before Sherman decided to make a drastic measure to remove Hood's defense of Atlanta. He decided to cut the Confederates' railroad supply lines and force the Southern troops to evacuate Atlanta. Sherman moved six of his seven infantry corps against the Confederate supply lines. The Union Army pulled out of its positions on August 25, 1864 and struck the Macon & Western Railroad between Rough and Ready and Jonesborough. To counter the move, Hood sent Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee with two corps to halt and possibly rout the Union troops. Unfortunately, neither Hood or Hardee realized that Sherman's forces was already there in force.
Then on August 31, Hardee attacked two Union corps west of Jonesborough. He was easily repulsed. Fearing an attack on Atlanta, Hood withdrew one corps from Hardee's forces that night. The following day, a Union corps broke through Hardee's line and his troops retreated in good order to Lovejoy's Station. On the night of September 1, Hood evacuated Atlanta, and ordered the burning of Confederate military supplies and installations. This order caused a great conflagration within the city. Union troops finally entered Atlanta on September 2, 1864 and began occupation of the city. Although Sherman managed to cut Hood's supply line, he failed to destroy Hardee's command.
As I had stated earlier, the Battle of Jonesborough proved to be the final battle of the Atlanta Campaign. It caused the besieged city of Atlanta to fall into Union hands. The capture of Atlanta greatly aided the re-election of Abraham Lincoln in early November 1864, and hastened the end of the war. Hood led his defeated army away from Atlanta and to the west. His actions allowed the Union troops to commence upon Sherman's March to the Sea in mid-November. They also resulted in Hood's reputation as an aggressive and careless commander and the virtual destruction of his Army of Tennessee during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign.
If you are interested in reading more about the Battle of Jonesborough and the Atlanta Campaign, I recommend the following books:
*"Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864" (1992) by Albert Castel
*"Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy" (2000) by Richard M. McMurry