Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Recently, the WGN Network began airing a new series about a group of Georgia slaves who plan and conduct a daring 600 miles escape to freedom in the Northern states called "UNDERGROUND". However, it is not the first television production about American slaves making a bid for freedom. Below is a list of previous productions that I have seen over the years:
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD IN TELEVISION
"A WOMAN CALLED MOSES" (1978) - Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries adaptation of Marcy Heidish's 1974 novel about the life of escaped slave-turned Underground Railroad conductor/activist Harriet Tubman during the years before the Civil War. The miniseries' first half focused on Tubman's years as a Maryland slave and her escape to freedom in December 1849. The second half focused on her years as a conductor with the Underground Railroad. Paul Wendkos directed.
"THE LIBERATORS" (1987) - Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott portrayed Virginia-born abolitionist John Fairfield and Bill, the escaped slave of the former's uncle; who become conductors for the Underground Railroad. After the former helps the latter escape from Virginia, the pair reunite nearly a year later to rescue the relatives of African-American freedmen living in the North. Kenneth Johnson directed.
"RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD" (1994) - Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred in this cable television movie about a group of slaves who risk their lives to escape from their master's North Carolina plantation to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Look for the surprise twist at the end. The movie co-starred Glynn Turman, Dawnn Lewis, Michael Riley, Falconer Abraham, and Ron White. Don McBrearty directed.
"CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY" (1996) - Lou Gossett Jr. and Kate Nelligan portrayed a Canadian mixed race couple who sought a husband for their only daughter, Mary. The latter ends up marrying a Northern American. Upon their arrival in the United States, he sells her to a Virginian slave dealer and she ends up as a slave in that slave. After Mary manages to send word to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mink set out for Virginia to organize a rescue of their daughter with the help of the Underground Railroad. Bruce Pittman directed.
Three of the productions on this list - "A WOMAN CALLED MOSES", "RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD" and"CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY" can be found on DVD. Only "THE LIBERATORS" has not been released on DVD. In fact, I do not know if it has ever been released on VHS.
Monday, March 28, 2016
Below are images from "AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL", the 1987 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1965 novel. The movie starred Joan Hickson as Miss Jane Marple:
"AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL" (1987) Image Gallery
Saturday, March 26, 2016
"KELLY’S HEROES" (1970) Review
When one thinks of acclaimed movies about World War II, titles such as 1962’s "THE LONGEST DAY" or 1998’s"SAVING PRIVATE RYAN" come to mind. But an offbeat movie about a group of U.S. Army soldiers that go AWOL behind enemy lines to rob Nazi gold from a bank in a small French town does not conjure up images of Academy Award statuettes in one’s mind. In fact, I doubt that 1970’s "KELLY’S HEROES" had ever received a prestigious award or nomination.
"KELLY’S HEROES" began on a stormy night in 1944 France, in which a U.S. Army private named Kelly was ordered by his sergeant to find a German officer for information on the best taverns, restaurants, hotels and whorehouses in the nearby town of Nancy. Do you see where this is going? Instead, Kelly managed to nab a German officer who, in a state of alcoholic bleariness, revealed the location of a cache of Nazi gold being held at a bank in the German-held town of Clermont. Kelly then convinced the rest of the men in his squad and their gruff sergeant – Big Joe – to take advantage of the three-day furlough being offered to go after the gold. After all, their less-than-competent company commander, Captain Maitland, is rarely around to lead them and he had plans for a trip to Paris. Kelly also recruited an acid-tongued and avaricious supply sergeant named Crapgame, and a proto-hippie tank commander named Oddball for support in his little caper. What followed was a hilarious, caustic and epic journey for a group of weary soldiers, determined to benefit somehow from a brutal war.
One aspect about "KELLY’S HEROES" that struck me as . . . interesting was that the majority of the cast seemed to be between the ages of 30 and 45 during the movie’s production and looked it. Including the film’s main star, Clint Eastwood. The Army uniforms wore by most of the cast seemed historically questionable. One of the characters, namely Oddball, behaved like a slightly aged 1969/70 hippie with a questionable New York accent, instead of a 1940s Army sergeant. There are NO female characters in this movie whatsoever. The pacing threatened to bog down two-thirds into the film. And yet . . . and yet I LOVE this movie. In fact, I never get tired of watching it.
What do I love about "KELLY’S HEROES"? Well, I could start with the screenplay, written by Troy Kennedy-Martin. It is a first-rate war story/caper that went into detail over Kelly’s discovery about the gold, his recruitment of his squad for the mission, the journey to Clermont . . . everything. Another aspect of the movie I had enjoyed was the witty dialogue. And who had received the cream of it? Who else but the King of Insults, Don Rickles. The movie also had some first-rate action that included a firefight near a field booby-trapped with mines, an attack upon a Nazi fuel depot by Oddball and his tank unit, and the final assault on Clermont that ended with a humorous and ironic twist. My favorite action sequence centered on the tank unit’s attack upon the Nazi fuel depot. There was something surreal and bizarre about Oddball’s tanks blowing nearly everyone to hell, while country-western music blasted from their speakers.
What did I love most about "KELLY’S HEROES"? The characters, of course. Clint Eastwood portrayed the caper’s brainchild, Kelly - the former officer who was busted down to private. There was nothing particularly unique about Eastwood’s performance. Well . . . I must admit that I found his reactions to the lunatic characters around him rather funny. Especially when he interacted with the likes of Oddball. There are times – especially in this movie – when I feel that Eastwood might be one of the best reactors in Hollywood. Telly Savalas gave Eastwood a run for his money in terms of screen presence as Kelly’s sardonic, yet practical squad leader, Big Joe. After all, Kelly needed Big Joe’s cooperation to convince the rest of the squad to join him in on the caper. Whereas Eastwood reacted to the lunacy around him with facial expressions, Savalas responded with some very funny and caustic remarks.
Don Rickles. What can I say about his performance? He surely earned his moniker as the King of Insult Comedy in this movie. The man seemed to have twice the number of witticisms as the rest of the cast put together. And his performance as Crapgame, the caustic and avaricious supply sergeant was spot on. Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of the loopy tank sergeant, Oddball, is probably my favorite performance in the entire movie. On the surface, Sutherland’s Oddball seemed out of sync in a movie set during World War II. If "KELLY’S HEROES" had been set during the Vietnam War, his Oddball would fit in beautifully. Ironically, Sutherland’s performance is one of the reasons why I love this movie. I really enjoyed watching Eastwood, Savalas, Rickles and especially Gavin McLeod (who played Oddball’s machine gunner and mechanic) react to his lunacy and hippie-style dialogue. A year before he had shot to fame as Archie Bunker in "ALL IN THE FAMILY", Carroll O’Connor appeared in this movie as the squad’s gung-ho division commander, Major General Colt. O’Connor literally infused the screen with a raw energy in his portrayal of the aggressive general with a tendency to refer to military action in football terms.
"KELLY’S HEROES" also had the good fortune to be filled with some memorable supporting characters that were portrayed by some first-rate actors. Stuart Margolin first made his presence known as Big Joe’s pragmatic and witty radio operator, Little Joe. Jeff Morris and Harry Dean Stanton provided plenty of comic relief as a pair of Southern-born soldiers that also happened to be best friends. Richard Davalos (grandfather of Alexa Davalos of "ANGEL", "DEFIANCE" and"MOB CITY") gave a memorable performance as the squad’s trigger happy marksman, Private Gutowski. Four years before "CHINATOWN", Perry Lopez was hilarious as the slightly dim-witted Private Petuko. Karl-Otto Alberty made a brief, but memorable appearance as the German tank commander in Clermont who ended up standing between our "Heroes"and the gold inside in the bank. And Gavin McLeod turned out to be a perfect straight man to Sutherland’s loopy Oddball as the latter’s exasperated mechanic and gunner.
While perusing the Wikipedia website, I discovered that "KELLY’S HEROES" had placed at #34 on the 100 Greatest War Movies list. Frankly, I would heartily agree. In fact, I consider it to be one of my top ten favorite World War II movies of all time. That is how much I love it.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1880s:
TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1880s
1. "Stagecoach" (1939) - John Ford directed this superb adaptation of Ernest Haycox's 1937 short story, "The Stage to Lordsburg", about a group of strangers traveling by stagecoach through the Arizona territory. Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell starred.
2. "The Four Feathers" (2002) - Shekhar Kapur directed this fascinating adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's 1902 novel about a former British Army officer accused of cowardice. Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou and Kate Hudson starred.
3. "Back to the Future Part III" (1990) - Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd starred in this third installment of the "BACK TO THE FUTURE" TRILOGY, in which Marty McFly travels back to the Old West to prevent the death of fellow time traveler, Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown. Written by Bob Gale, the movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis.
4. "Topsy-Turvy" (1999) - Mike Leigh wrote and directed this biopic about W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and their creation of their most famous operetta, "The Mikado". Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner.
5. "Tombstone" (1993) - Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer starred in this colorful and my favorite account about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the famous O.K. Corral gunfight. George P. Cosmatos directed.
6. "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" (1939) - Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in this adaptation of William Gillette's 1899 stage play, "Sherlock Holmes". Directed by Alfred L. Werker, the movie co-starred Ida Lupino and George Zucco.
7. "The Cater Street Hangman" (1998) - Eoin McCarthy and Keeley Hawes starred in this television adaptation of Anne Perry's 1979 novel about a serial killer in late Victorian England. Sarah Hellings directed.
8. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) - Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders starred in this adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel about a handsome young Englishman who maintains his youth, while a special portrait reveals his inner ugliness.
9. "High Noon" (1952) - Gary Cooper won his second Oscar as a town marshal forced to face a gang of killers by himself. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, the movie was written by blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and co-starred Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado.
10. "Open Range" (2003) - Kevin Costner directed and co-starred with Robert Duvall in this western about a cattle crew forced to take up arms when they and their herd are threatened by a corrupt rancher.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Below are images from the new comedy, "HAIL, CAESAR!". Written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, the movie stars Josh Brolin:
"HAIL, CAESAR!" (2016) Photo Gallery