Sunday, March 31, 2013
"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (1939) Review
There have been seven versions of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel, ”The Four Feathers”. At least three of them were silent films. In 1939, British producer Alexander Korda released the first sound adaptation of the novel. This version was also the first one to be filmed in color. Directed by Korda’s brother, Zoltan Korda, ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” starred John Clements, June Duprez, Ralph Richardson and C. Aubrey Smith.
Not only was this version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” the first to feature both sound and color, it is regarded by many as the best adaptation of Mason’s novel. Fifteen years has passed since I last saw this movie. When I first saw it back in the mid-1990s, I was very impressed by this film. After seeing it fifteen years later (or more), I am still impressed. Somewhat. Granted, my admiration for the movie has dimmed slightly, but I still believe that it is a first-class movie.
Unlike Mason’s novel or the recent 2002 version, this version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” is not set right after General Charles Gordon’s death in 1885. Instead, the movie is set in 1895. Harry Faversham is an officer in the British Army and his regiment has been ordered to the Sudan to avenge the death of “Chinese” Gordon from ten years ago. On the eve of its departure, British officer Harry Faversham (Clements) resigns his commission. As a result, his three friends and fellow officers, Captain John Durrance (Richardson) and Lieutenants Burroughs (Donald Grey) and Willoughby (Jack Allen), express their contempt of his supposed cowardice by each sending him a white feather attached to a calling card. When his fiancée, Ethne Burroughs (Duprez), says nothing in his defense, he bitterly demands one more from her. She refuses, but he plucks one from her fan and leaves. While the officers go off to war, he admits to his old acquaintance Dr. Sutton (Frederick Culley) that he is a coward and must make amends. He departs for Egypt. There, he adopts the disguise of a native with the help of Dr. Harraz (Henry Oscar), choosing to play a despised mute Sangali to hide his lack of knowledge of the language.
What can I saw about ”THE FOUR FEATHERS”? For one, it is a beautiful looking film. I understand that it had been filmed in both Great Britain and in Sudan. And photographers Georges Périnal and Osmond Borradaile did a beautiful job in capturing the scope and color (via Technicolor) of both countries. It was not surprising for me to learn that the film had received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography. I also found Miklos Rozsa’s score, Vincent Korda’s uncredited production design, W. Percy Day’s matte paintings, along with Godfrey Brennan and René Hubert’s costume designs impressive, as well.
But I am merely procrastinating. I have not discussed the meat of the movie – namely the story and the acting. Well, I might as well start with the first. R.C. Sherriff, Lajos Biro and Arthur Wimperis created a solid adaptation of Mason’s novel. They made a few changes. As I had stated before, they set the movie in the 1890s, enabling them to incorporate the British victory at the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898 into the plot. The novel was set around the mid 1880s. The character of Abou Fatma (featured in both the novel and in other versions, including the 2002 movie) is not this film. But these changes did not hurt the plot.”THE FOUR FEATHERS” still turned out to be a rousing action-adventure film. When I first saw the movie back in the early 1990s, the patriotic jingoism surrounding the British Empire did not bother me at all. Fifteen years later, it did. Somewhat. I have seen plenty of old films from the 1930s and 1940s that painted the British Empire in a positive light. Unfortunately, this version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” did so at a level that sometimes came off as a little too heavy-handed for my taste. I suspect that the reason behind the three screenwriters’ decision to set the movie in the mid-to-late 1890s in order to allow the movie to feature an actual British imperialist victory – Omdurman - and a chance to wave the flag. The movie did question the idea of what constituted bravery or cowardice. But once Harry arrived in the Sudan, the topic never reared its ugly head again. Hmmm. Too bad.
The movie featured a solid, first-rate cast. John Clements gave an excellent performance as Harry Faversham, who is emotionally torn between his aversion to the idea of serving as a British officer and continuing his family’s military tradition. My only quibble with his performance was that I found his . . . ’portrayal’ of a mute Sangali exaggerated. The other first-rate performance featured in this movie came from Ralph Richardson, who portrayed Faversham’s best friend and romantic rival, Jack Durrance. I was especially impressed by how Richardson conveyed Jack’s desperation to hide his blindness from his command and his hopeless infatuation with Harry’s fiancée, Ethne Burroughs. Who, by the way, was portrayed by June Duprez. Ms. Duprez gave a charming performance. But aside from two scenes – one that featured her discovery of Harry’s resignation from the Army and her regret for pushing him away – Miss Duprez’s Ethne seemed to lack depth. Well known British character actor, C. Aubrey Smith gave a sprightly and funny performance as Ethne’s father, the irascible General Burroughs who continues to live in the past glories of his service during the Crimean War. In fact, the movie’s running joke turned out to be the General’s embellishments of his favorite war story – the Battle of Balaclava.
When one comes down to it, the 1939 version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” is a rousing and entertaining tale about a disgraced British Army officer who finds redemption through his private heroic acts to protect his former colleagues and friends during the last year of the Mahdist War. My main quibble with the movie centered around the script written by R.C. Sherriff, Lajos Biro and Arthur Wimperis. Granted, they did a first-rate job of adapting Mason’s novel. But aside from the first third of the movie in which the script briefly questioned society’s idea of bravery, the story seemed lack depth and in the end, came off as a propaganda film for the British Empire. However, Georges Périnal and Osmond Borradaile’s Technicolor photography of both England and the Sudan are absolutely breathtaking and deserving of an Oscar nomination. The movie featured a solid cast that included excellent performances by John Clements and Ralph Richardson. And Zoltan Korda kept it all together with his skillful direction that featured some excellent dramatic moments and great action.
I realize that many consider Korda’s version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” to be the best of the seven already made. This is an opinion that I cannot honestly share. It is also an opinion I have not harbored in the past decade. It is a little too jingoistic for my taste. And aside from the Harry Faversham and Jack Durrance characters, most of the other characters do not strike me as possessing enough depth. But it is a first-rate action-adventure film. And it is easy to see why so many fans still love it after seventy-four years.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Below are images from "AFTER THE THIN MAN", the 1936 sequel to the 1934 hit film, "THE THIN MAN". Directed by W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke, the movie starred William Powell and Myrna Loy.
"AFTER THE THIN MAN" (1936) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, March 27, 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”.
The person who maintains the following blog - Irish Eyes - is a THIEF. He or she assumed that any material posted on the Internet was part of public domain, allowing the handler of the blog to lift material from my blogs and post it on his/her without crediting me for the material. This person is a THIEF and is only capable of lifting material created by other people, instead of creating his/her own. I suggest you keep an eye on this person. If you find any of your material on this blog, I suggest you contact the following e-mail address - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Four (2001-2002) of "CHARMED". Developed for television by Constance Burge and produced by Brad Kern, the series starred Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan and Holly Marie Combs:
TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "CHARMED" (Season Four)
1. (4.15) "The Fifth Halliwell" - In this slightly perverse episode, new half-sister Paige Matthews feels like a fifth wheel among her happily married sisters and their husbands, but becomes firmly convinced that one brother-in-law, the demonically possessed Cole Turner, is still evil and a demon. Meanwhile new (temporary) Source and The Seer secretly plot to impregnate Phoebe using Cole's possessed body.
2. (4.03) "Hell Hath No Fury" - Piper, who remains angry over the death of oldest sister Prue and Paige's recent actions, becomes a member of a supernatural band of vigilantes known as the Furies. Meanwhile, Paige takes the Book of Shadows into her work to cast spells, which help her co-workers.
3. (4.10) "A Paige From the Past" - With whitelighter brother-in-law Leo Wyatt as her guide, Paige goes back in time to her teen years, in an attempt to resolve her feelings about the accident that killed her adoptive parents. Meanwhile, ghosts have taken possession of Phoebe and Cole's bodies and Piper must prevent them from fulfilling a mission.
4. (4.07) "Brain Drain" - The Source sends Piper into a deep coma, where she perceives an alternate reality. Phoebe, Paige, Leo and Cole must find a way to return her to reality and save her from giving up her powers, while she is delusional.
5. (4.13) "Charmed and Dangerous" - The Source breaks an age-old agreement between good and evil by stealing an ancient grimoire called The Hollow, which he uses to absorb Piper and Paige's powers. Meanwhile, Phoebe must allow Cole to help them, despite her having a premonition that involves Cole sacrificing his life to save her from evil.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Friday, March 22, 2013
"MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA" (2001) Review
One can categorize the "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT" television movies into two categories. The ones made between 1989 and 2001, featured the supporting characters Captain Arthur Hasting, Miss Lemon (Hercule Poirot), and Chief Inspector Japp. The ones made post-2001 sporadically featured the mystery writer, Adriande Oliver. The very last television movie that featured Poirot's close friend, Hastings, turned out to be 2001's "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA".
Based upon Agatha Christie's 1936 novel, "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA" told of Hercule Poirot's investigation into the murder of Louise Leidner, the wife of an American archeologist named Dr. Leidner. The story began with Poirot's arrival in Iraq, who is there to not only visit his friend Captain Arthur Hastings, but also meet with a Russian countess of a past acquaintance. Hastings, who is having marital problems, is there to visit his nephew Bill Coleman, one of Dr. Leidner's assistants. Upon his arrival at the dig, Poirot notices the tension between Mrs. Leidner and the other members of her husband's dig - especially with Richard Carey and Anne Johnson, Dr. Leidner's longtime colleagues.
Both Poirot and Hastings learn about the series of sightings that have frightening Mrs. Leidner. The latter eventually reveals that she was previously married to a young U.S. State Department diplomat during World War I named Frederick Bosner, who turned out to be a spy for the Germans. Mrs. Leidner had betrayed Bosner to the American government before he was arrested and sentenced to die. But Bosner managed to escape, while he was being transported to prison. Unfortunately, a train accident killed him. Fifteen years passed before Louise eventually married Dr. Leidner. Not long after Poirot learned about the lady's past, someone killed her with a deadly blow to her head with a blunt instrument.
Many Christie fans claim that the 1989-2001 movies were superior to the later ones, because these movies were faithful to the novels. I have seen nearly every "POIROT" television movie in existence. Trust me, only a small handful of the 1989-2001 movies were faithful. And "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA" was not one of them. First of all, Arthur Hastings was not in the 1936 novel. Which meant that Bill Coleman's was not Hasting's nephew. Poirot's assistant in Christie's novel was Louise Leidner's personal nurse, Amy Leatheran. In the 2001 movie, she was among the main suspects. There were other changes. Dr. Leidner's nationality changed from Swedish to American. Several characters from the novel were eliminated.
I only had a few quibbles about "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA". One, I found Clive Exton's addition of Captain Hastings unnecessary. I realize that the movie aired during the last season that featured Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon. But what was the point in including Hastings to the story? His presence merely served as a last touch of nostalgia for many fans of the series and as an impediment to the Amy Leatheran character, whose presence was reduced from Poirot's assistant to minor supporting character. Two, I wish that the movie's running time had been longer. The story featured too many supporting characters and one too many subplots. A running time of And if I must be brutally honest, the solution to Louise Leidner's murder struck me as inconceivable. One has to blame Agatha Christie for this flaw, instead of screenwriter Clive Exton. I could explain how implausible the murderer's identity was, but to do so would give away the mystery.
But I still enjoyed "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA". Clive Exton did the best he could with a story slightly marred by First of all, I was impressed by the production's use of Tunisia as a stand-in for 1933-36 Iraq. Rob Hinds and his team did an excellent job in re-creating both the setting and era for the movie. They were ably assisted by Kevin Rowley's photography, Chris Wimble's editing and the art direction team - Paul Booth, Nigel Evans and Henry Jaworski. I was especially impressed by Charlotte Holdich's costume designs that perfectly recaptured both the 1930s decade and the movie's setting in the Middle East.
David Suchet gave his usual top-notch performance as Hercule Poirot. I am also happy to include that he managed to avoid some of his occasional flashes of hammy acting during Poirot's revelation scene. Hugh Fraser gave his last on-screen performance as Arthur Hastings (so far). And although I was not thrilled by the addition of the Hastings character in the movie, I cannot deny that Fraser was first rate. Five other performances really impressed me. Ron Berglas was perfectly subtle as the quiet and scholarly Dr. Leidner, who also happened to be in love with his wife. Barbara Barnes wisely kept control of her portrayal of Louise Leidner, a character that could have easily veered into caricature in the hands of a less able actress. I also enjoyed Dinah Stabb's intelligent portrayal of Anne Johnson, one of Dr. Leidner's colleagues who happened to be in love with him. Christopher Bowen did an excellent job of keeping audiences in the dark regarding his character's (Richard Mason) true feelings for Mrs. Leidner. And Georgina Sowerby injected as much energy as possible into the role of Amy Leatharan, a character reduced by Exton's screenplay.
"MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA" was marred by a running time I found too short and an implausible solution to its murder mystery. But it possessed enough virtues, including an excellent performance by a cast led by David Suchet, an interesting story and a first-rate production team; for me to consider it a very entertaining movie and one I would not hesitate to watch over again.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Three (2012) of HBO's "BOARDWALK EMPIRE":
"BOARDWALK EMPIRE": TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON THREE (2012) EPISODES
1. (3.11) "Two Imposters" - In this nail biting episode, Atlantic City political boss Enoch "Nucky" Thompson goes on the run, when nemesis "Gyp" Rossetti and his crew take over the city.; forcing Nucky to seek Albert "Chalky" White's help. Following Rossetti's takeover of the city, Gillian Darmody forces henchman Richard Harrow to leave her whorehouse.
2. (3.09) "The Milkmaid's Lot" - Wounded from the bombing of Babette's in the previous episode, a feverish Nucky struggles to maintain control of his family and operations. Meanwhile, Margaret Thompson plots to runaway with her lover and Nucky's henchman, Owen Sleater.
3. (3.12) "Margate Sands" - In this bloody finale, Richard Harrow takes matters into his own hands, as he attempts to get young Tommy Darmody out of Gillian's whorehouse, now occupied by Rossetti's men. Chalky White, Al Capone help Nucky engage in a bloody battle to regain control of Atlantic City on the latter's behalf.
4. (3.01) "Resolution" - Nucky, his family, friends and business colleagues bring in the New Year of 1923; while former Treasury agent Nelson Van Alden finds himself as a Chicago door-to-door salesman in this colorful season premiere.
5. (3.07) "Sunday Best" - The Easter holiday is the scene of a family reunion between Nucky and Eli's families. "Gyp" Rossetti spends a despondent holiday with his family, while Richard takes young Tommy to dine with Julia Sagorsky and her hostile father.