Saturday, October 31, 2009

"STAGECOACH" (1939) Review

Below is my review of the 1939 classic, "STAGECOACH", which was directed by John Ford:

”STAGECOACH” (1939) Review

The year 1939 is regarded by many film critics and moviegoers as the best year for Hollywood films. According to them, Hollywood was at the height of its Golden Age, and this particular year saw the release of an unusually large number of exceptional movies, many of which have been honored as memorable classics when multitudes of other films of the era have been largely forgotten. I do not harbor the same view as these critics and moviegoers. I can only view at least a handful of 1939 movies as truly worthwhile movies. However, one of those movies happened to be John Ford’s 1939 classic, ”STAGECOACH”.

Written by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, ”STAGECOACH” was an adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story, ”The Stage to Lordsburg”. It told the story of a group of strangers in 1880, traveling by stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory from Tonto in the Arizona Territory to Lordsburg in New Mexico Territory. Among the group of people traveling together are:

*Dallas (Claire Trevor) - a prostitute who is being driven out of Tonto by the members of the "Law and Order League"

*”Doc” Boone (Thomas Mitchell) – an alcoholic doctor who is also being driven out of Tonto

*Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) – a pregnant, Virginia-born gentlewoman who is traveling to Dry Fork to reconcile with her Army officer husband

*Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek) – a mild mannered whiskey drummer from Kansas City

*Hatfield (John Carradine) – a former Virginia Confederate-turned-gambler, who joins the stagecoach’s other passengers in order to provide protection for Mrs. Mallory

*Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill) – a pompous banker who decides to leave Tonto after embezzling some of the bank’s funds

*Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) – a lawman who decides to serve as the stagecoach’s shotgun guard after learning the escape of Ringo Kid from the territorial prison.

*Buck (Andy Devine) – the slightly nervous stage driver

As the stagecoach starts to pull out, U.S. cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard (Tim Holt) informs the passengers that Geronimo and his Apaches are on the warpath. His small troop will provide an escort until they get to Dry Fork. Along the way, they come across the Ringo Kid, whose horse had become lame and left him afoot. Ringo had escaped from prison after learning that his family’s killers – Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) and his brothers – are in Lordsburg. Even though they are friends, Curly has no choice but to take Ringo into custody.

Although ”STAGECOACH” was an adaptation of Haycox’s short story, John Ford had claimed that the inspiration in expanding the movie beyond the barebones plot given in "The Stage to Lordsburg" was his familiarity with Guy de Maupassant’s 1880 short story set during the Franco-Prussian War called "Boule de Suif”. Many film critics never took Ford’s claim seriously. Instead, many of them believed that ”STAGECOACH” bore a stronger resemblance to Bret Harte's 1892 short story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat".

The director had gone through a great deal of trouble to film ”STAGECOACH”. After purchasing the rights to Haycox’s story, Ford tried to shop the project around to several Hollywood studios, but all of them turned him down because Ford insisted on using John Wayne in a key role in the film. Wayne had appeared in only one big-budget western, Raoul Walsh’s 1930 film ”THE BIG TRAIL”, which was a huge box office flop. Wayne had estimated that he appeared in about eighty "Poverty Row" westerns between 1930 and 1939. When Ford approached independent producer Walter Wanger about the project, Wanger had the same reservations about producing an "A" western and even more about one starring John Wayne. Worse, Ford had not directed a western since the silent days, the most notably 1924’s ”THE IRON HORSE”. Wanger said he would not risk his money unless Ford replaced John Wayne with Gary Cooper. Ford refused to budge about replacing Wayne. Eventually, he and Wanger compromised. Wanger put up $250,000, a little more than half of what Ford had been asking for, and Ford would give top billing to Claire Trevor, a far better-known name than John Wayne in 1939. Ford and Wanger’s gamble paid off. ”STAGECOACH” made a healthy return at the box office. Wayne’s star began to rise in Hollywood following the movie’s success. And the movie earned six Academy Award nominations, with Thomas Mitchell winning the Best Supporting Actor award.

”STAGECOACH” is not perfect. The movie has a few problems and most of them centered on the character of Lucy Mallory. One, her character is supposed to be in the last trimester of her pregnancy. Not only did Louise Platt’s Mrs. Mallory did not look pregnant, her character’s introduction featured her jumping out of the stagecoach following its arrival in Tonto. Without any help. Rather odd for a woman who is supposed to be in the late stages of her pregnancy. Both Mrs. Mallory and the whiskey drummer, Samuel Peacock, are the only two passengers who were on route at the beginning of the film. Instead of traveling westward, this particular stagecoach is traveling eastward – from Tonto in Arizona Territory to Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Yet, according to Lucy Mallory, she had traveled from Virginia to meet her Army officer husband:

”I've travelled all the way here from Virginia and I'm determined to get to my husband. I won't be separated any longer.”

How could Lucy Mallory travel all the way from Virginia to the Arizona and New Mexico Territories on an eastbound stagecoach?

The movie has other problems. Some of the movie’s shots featured the stagecoach traveling in the far distance . . . and one can see tracks clearly made from motorized vehicles like cars and trucks, instead of a 19th century vehicle. In the movie’s opening sequence, two scouts alerted the commander of an Army post about Geronimo’s activities in the territory. One of those scouts was a Native American:

”WHITE SCOUT: These hills are full of Apaches! They've burned every ranch in sight. (His finger sweeps the map; his head nods to the impassive Indian.) He had a brush with them last night. Says they're being stirred up by Geronimo.

(The word has a striking effect on Sickels and Blanchard. Even the telegraph operator takes a step forward.)

CAPT. SICKELS: Geronimo? (He turns to the Indian, regarding him narrowly.) How do we know... (Cut to medium close-up of the Indian standing still.) ...he's not lying?

WHITE SCOUT: (off) He's a Cheyenne. They hate Apaches worse than we do.

What we have here is a simple case of historical inaccuracy. The Apache had resided in the Southwest (present day New Mexico and Arizona) the Cheyenne resided in the Great Plains (from present Oklahoma to Montana) by the 19th century. How on earth did the Cheyenne and the Apache ever find the opportunity to develop a dislike toward one another? One last problem I had with the movie turned out to be the Ringo Kid’s showdown with the Plummer brothers in Lordsburg. I realize that it was bound to happen, due to the fact that Ringo’s conflict with the Plummers kept popping up in the movie’s dialogue. But did Ringo and the Plummers’ showdown have to take so damn long? I nearly fell asleep during the buildup leading to the gunfight. In fact, I did fall asleep and had to rewind the movie in order to watch the actual gunfight.

Now that I got my complaints out of the way, I might as well focus upon why I love ”STAGECOACH”. I love travel movies. And ”STAGECOACH” is probably one of the best cinematic road trips I have ever seen on the silver and television screens. The interesting thing about this movie that the distance traveled in this movie is not as extensive as movies like ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” or ”SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”. But I love it. Ford took his cast and production crew for the first time to Monument Valley, in the American southwest on the Arizona-Utah border, which became the setting for the road between Tonto in Arizona Territory and Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Cinematographer Bert Glennon, who has worked with Ford on several other films, earned an Academy Award nomination for photography. And man did he deserve his nomination. The two following photographs are excellent examples of Glennon’s work:

Many film critics have complimented on the film’s use of integrating traditional 19th music and songs into the score. Yes, I have noticed the numerous old tunes used in the film. But if I must be honest, I was also impressed by Gerard Carbonara’s score. I was especially impressed by Carbonara’s work in the sequence that featured the stagecoach’s encounter with the Apaches not far from Lordsburg. The composer’s use of drums to emphasize the stagecoach’s motion and the hoof beats of the horses conveying the coach and those being ridden by the attacking Apache warriors were truly inspired.

Screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht wrote a near faithful adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s short story. Well . . . almost. They made a few changes. Like the Ringo Kid, the hero in ”Stage to Lordsburg” is involved in a feud with men he eventually dueled against by the end of the story. Unlike the Ringo Kid, the hero in the short story was not a fugitive outlaw who had been framed for murder. Nor did the short story feature a local banker who had embezzled funds from a mining company’s payroll. Personally, I rather like their extension of Haycox’s story. Not only did Nichols and Hecht – along with Ford - include a criminal element to the story, they took clichéd Western characters and gave them depth and complexity. In fact, I could easily surmise that the characters themselves served as the story’s center and driving force.

Speaking of the characters, I have to commend Ford and casting director for gathering a collection of first-rate performers for this film. One, he was wise enough to hold his ground about casting John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. Now, I would not consider Ringo to be Wayne’s best role. His Ringo was a charming and easy-going young man with a streak of naivety, whose only dark side seemed to be a desire to exact vengeance and what he believe was justice for his family’s deaths. However, the role did not exactly allow the actor to display his later talent for ambiguous characters like Thomas Dunson, Tom Doniphon and Ethan Edwards. But one must remember that Ringo was his second important role (his first was in the 1930 box office failure, ”THE BIG TRAIL” and ”STAGECOACH” marked the first time that Ford directed the actor. One could easily say that Wayne finally learned to act in this movie. That was certainly apparent in the scene that featured Dallas’ presentation of Lucy Mallory’s new infant daughter. The silent exchanges between Wayne and actress Claire Trevor spoke volumes of how their two characters loved each other, without being overbearingly obvious about it.

As I had stated earlier, Claire Trevor found herself cast as the good-hearted prostitute Dallas, due to producer Walter Wanger insisting that a name slightly bigger than Wayne’s receive top credit. And I believe she deserve it, for her Dallas turned out to be the heart and soul of that stagecoach making its perilous journey. What I liked about Trevor’s performance is that she took a stock character like ”the whore-with-a-heart of gold” and gave it depth, without any of the character type’s clichés. Instead of portraying Dallas as an easy-going type with a seductive manner, she portrayed the prostitute as a reserved and desperate woman, who is not only resentful of being stuck in her profession, but of society’s unwillingness to view her as the decent human being she truly is. It is a pity that she did not receive an acting nomination for her performance, because I believe that she deserved one. But the one cast member who did receive an Academy Award nomination was Thomas Mitchell, who portrayed the affable, yet sardonic drunken doctor, Doc Boone. His character served as a well of wisdom and support for the resentful Dallas, a reminder to Hatfield of the latter’s disreputable past whenever the gambler became snobbish toward Dallas and the Ringo Kid. And yet, his penchant for alcohol came off as rather sad; considering how supportive he was toward Dallas and Ringo and the fact that when sober, he could be a first-rate doctor. Not only did Mitchell earn his Oscar nomination, he eventually won the statuette for Best Supporting Actor during a night in which ”GONE WITH THE WIND” dominated the awards show.

”STAGECOACH” also included a talented supporting cast. Louise Pratt wonderfully portrayed the haughty, yet very human Lucy Mallory who became increasingly desperate to be reunited with her husband. George Bancroft gave a solid performance as Curly Wilcox, the lawman who was determined to arrest Ringo for more humanitarian reasons – he wanted to save the younger man from being slaughtered by the Plummer brothers. Donald Meek’s portrayal of the mild-mannered Samuel Peacock seemed like one of a numerous mild characters he had portrayed over the years. Yet, thanks to two scenes in the movie, Meek managed to take Peacock’s character beyond his other characterizations. Berton Churchill made a career out of portraying stuffy or bureaucratic characters in Hollywood. His portrayal of the embezzling banker Henry Gatewood was no exception, but Ford gave him the opportunity in a private scene that revealed the banker’s silent reason to take a chance and steal that bankroll. Andy Devine was wonderfully funny as the movie’s comic relief – stage driver Buck. There is a story that Ford tried to bully Devine on the set in the same way he was bullying Wayne. But Devine reminded Ford of the latter’s box office flop ”MARY OF SCOTLAND” . . . and the director left him alone. John Carradine, in my opinion, gave the strangest performance in the film. And I meant that in a good way. He portrayed the ex-Confederate Army officer-turned-gambler, Hatfield. What is interesting about Hatfield that in offering his protection to fellow Virginian LucyMallory, he seemed determined to maintain the social hierarchy inside the stagecoach . . . while completely forgetting the disreputable reputation he had gained as a violent gambler in the West. In fact, he was so determined to protect Mrs. Mallory that he was willing to kill her in order to spare her from ”a fate worse than death” at the hands of the Apaches. But in an ironic twist, the Apaches turned out to be Mrs. Mallory’s saviors when they mortally wounded Hatfield before he could shoot the Army officer’s wife.

Some movie fans have complained that Ford had failed to explore racial bigotry in ”STAGECOACH”, as he had in some of his other films. What they failed to realize that Geronimo and the other Apaches were merely a plot device for the story, like the U.S. Army, the "Law and Order League” in Tonto and the Plummer brothers. The real story took place within the characters that journeyed from Tonto to Lordsburg, via a class struggle in which most of the characters managed to overcome upon their arrival in Lordsburg. If you really look at ”STAGECOACH” from a certain point of view, it is merely a drama or character study with a Western setting and two action sequences near the end of the film. And with Nichols and Hecht’s script, John Ford managed to make it one of his best films ever with some exceptional direction and storytelling.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"MAD MEN": Acts of Violence

"MAD MEN": Acts of Violence

The latest episode of "MAD MEN" featured a scene in which former Sterling Cooper office manager Joan Holloway had bashed a vase against the head of her husband, Greg Harris. He had been whining over failing to acquire a new job as a psychiatrist during an interview. Frustrated and angered by his lack of professional success and his bouts of whining, Joan took a vase and bashed it over his head. Then she marched into their bedroom and closed the door.

Ever since (3.11) "The Gypsy and the Hobo" had aired, many fans have been expressing glee over Joan's violent acts. And whenever someone protested against Joan's actions, many rushed to the redhead's defense. The more excuses I read, the more I find interesting that so many of these fans are drumming up excuses for what was obviously an act of violence perpetrated by Joan against her husband.

While thinking about it, I realized that Joan really had no excuse to attack her husband, anymore than Greg had for his attack upon her, last season's episode, (2.12) "The Mountain King". Both had been acts of violence perpetrated by the couple's emotions. Greg had felt threatened by Joan's sexual history and potential lack of control and raped her. Joan felt frustrated and angered by Greg's inability to become a professional success and his selfish whining and bashed him over the head with a vase. Both were wrong.

Yet, because Joan is a)very popular with fans, b) a woman, and c) had been attacked first; many fans have been condoning her actions, while continuing to condemn Greg's. I get the sense that many fans are taking an "eye for an eye" attitude toward Joan's attack, as retaliation for what Greg had done to her.

Frankly, I think Joan should have broken her engagement with Greg after he had raped her in "The Mountain King". She really had no excuse for failing to do this. She was not married to Greg. Another nine months or so would pass before she finally left Sterling Cooper. She was a 31 year-old woman at the time. Granted, society in general may have deemed her an "old maid", but she certainly had no problems with living with that stigma before 1962. Greg had not been the first man to propose marriage to her. And even at 31 years (last season), she was still young and beautiful enough to attract another man. Look at Duck Phillips' ex-wife. She managed to find another man and she must have been in her 40s at the time of their divorce.

I hate to say this, but Joan blew her chance at a better life or a better husband, when she went ahead and married Greg following the rape. Joan is supposed to be this smart and savy woman. And yet, she could not see that he might not be the right man for her after he had raped her? Had she been so determined to acquire a successful husband that she failed to realize there was something wrong with Greg?

Joan really had no obligation to marry him, after what he had done to her. And hitting him over the head with a vase out of anger and frustration was not going to change anything.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Top Ten (10) Favorite TIME TRAVEL Television Episodes

Below is a list of my top favorite television episodes that feature time travel:


1. "Future's End" ("Star Trek Voyager"; 1996) - A 29th century timeship causes a time paradox when it accidentally sends itself and Voyager to two different periods in 20th century Earth.

2. "Tempus Fugitive" ("Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman"; 1995) - Lois Lane and Clark Kent are brought back to the past by H. G. Wells, in an attempt to stop the time-travelling villain Tempus from killing the infant Superman.

3. "Endgame" ("Star Trek Voyager; 2001) - Admiral Kathryn Janeway comes from the future to try and shorten Voyager's trip home.

4. "War Without End" (Babylon Five; 1996) - Former Babylon 5 commander, Jeffrey Sinclair, returns with a mission vital to the survival of the station - travelling back in time to steal Babylon 4.

5. "LaFleur" ("Lost"; 2009) - The remaining survivors of Flight 815 and the freighter find themselves permanently in the 1970s and become part of the Dharma Initiative, following John Locke's disappearance.

6. "The City on the Edge of Forever" ("Star Trek"; 1967) - After accidentally overdosing on a powerful stimulant, Dr. McCoy acts erratically and disappears through the Guardian of Forever, a newly-discovered time portal on a remote planet. Captain Kirk and Commander Spock follow after learning that McCoy somehow changed history. Arriving in the 1930s, the duo meet Edith Keeler, a New York social worker who gives them a place to stay. As the days pass, and McCoy is nowhere to be seen, Kirk finds himself falling in love with Keeler... but Spock discovers that Keeler must die to restore the timeline.

7. "Déjà Vu All Over Again" ("Charmed"; 1999) - As a demon makes plans for his attempt to kill the Charmed Ones, he receives a visit from another demon named Tempus, who will turn back time until the demon succeeds in killing all the sisters.

8. "Babylon Squared" ("Babylon Five"; 1994) - A previous station, Babylon 4, reappears at the same place it disappeared four years before; and Jeffrey Sinclair and Michael Garibaldi lead an expedition to evacuate its crew.

9. "Chris-Crossed" ("Charmed"; 2003) - A mysterious woman from the future named Bianca arrives to take Chris Halliwell's powers and bring him back forcefully to the future.

10. "D.O.A." ("Timecop"; 1998) - After Jack Logan and his boss, Gene Matuzek are murdered, Claire Hemmings takes an unauthorized trip back to the past to warn Logan.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"THE GREAT RACE" (1965) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery of photos from Blake Edwards' 1965 comedy, "THE GREAT RACE". This tale about a 1908 auto race from New York to Paris starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk and Keenan Wynn:

"THE GREAT RACE" (1965) Photo Gallery

Monday, October 26, 2009

"MAD MEN": Fan Dislike of Betty Draper

After watching the "MAD MEN" episode, (3.04) "The Arrangement", and reading several reactions to it; I decided to write the following article on Betty Draper:

”MAD MEN”: Fan Dislike of Betty Draper

I am angry. After watching the latest episode of ”MAD MEN” - (3.04) "The Arrangement" - and reading numerous comments about it, I have become angry over fans' reaction to the character of Betty Draper.

Ironically, I am not angry at Matt Weiner. But I am angry at many fans for their continuing misreading of Betty Draper's character. I just read this article on the recent episode and now find myself wondering if the fans of this show have ever understood the character. As of this moment, I am beginning to doubt it very much. Much of the fans’ vitriol toward Betty seemed to stem from her “treatment” of her two children, Sally and Bobby.

Ever since the airing of the Season Two episode, (2.02) "Flight 1", "MAD MEN" fans have been accusing Betty Draper (portrayed by January Jones) of being a poor mother. In this particular episode, they nitpicked over her complaint about Bobby's (Aaron Hart) lies about a drawing he had submitted in school. He had traced the drawing from another illustration and declared it as his own original work.

Matters became worse in (2.04) "Three Sundays" when Betty had demanded that Don (Jon Hamm) punish Bobby for a series of infractions. After this episode had aired, many fans accused her of being a cold and abusive parent, especially since she had expressed anger at Don for refusing to discipline his son. To this day, I am shocked, not by Betty's insistence upon disciplining her son, but by the fans' reactions. Surely they realized that the episode was set in 1962? Before this decade and in the following two, parents had disciplined their children with spankings. Yet, fans had acted as if this was something rare and accused Betty of being an abusive mother.

In a later episode, (2.12) "The Mountain King", Betty caught her daughter Sally smoking. She punished the girl by locking her in a closet for a few hours. Again, fans accused Betty of being abusive. They completely ignored the fact that Sally (Kiernan Shipka), a young girl under the age of 10, was smoking and focused upon Betty's punishment. I find myself wondering how my parents would have reacted if they had caught me smoking. I suspect that they would have shown less restraint than Betty. Hell, I suspect I would also show less restraint. Betty eventually let Sally out of the closet and explained - somewhat - the situation between Don and herself (they were separated at the time). But the damage had been done. Betty was now a bad mother.

Finally, Season Three had premiered last month. And if the fans' reaction to Betty had been hostile during certain episodes of Season Two, it became downright vitrolic during this season. In the season premiere, (3.01) "Out of Town", fans complained about Betty's curt dismissal of Bobby (Jared Gilmore), as she and Don were prepared to discipline Sally for breaking into her father's suitcase. They also complained of Betty's desire to give birth to a second daughter, citing this as an example of her immaturity. They also accused her of being immature when she insisted that her ailing father, Gene Hofstadt (Ryan Cutrona), remain with the Drapers after his live-in girlfriend abandoned him. They claimed that Betty wanted to prevent her brother William from selling their father's home and profiting from it. Again, they complained about Betty being curt to Sally, when she ordered the young girl to zip up the dress she wore at Roger Sterling's garden party in (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”. But the fans’ hostility toward Betty hit an all time high, since ”Three Sundays” in this latest episode.

According to many hostile fans, Betty is guilty of the following in ”The Arrangement”:

*Her refusal to discuss with Gene his plans to distribute his late wife’s furs to herself and her sister-in-law, which many saw as a sign of her immaturity.

*A few fans had accused her of closing the door on Sally, after the police officer had arrived with news of Gene’s death. Of course, this was untrue.

*Her dismissal of Sally from the kitchen, after the latter ranted at the adult Drapers and Betty’s brother William, over their “failure” to grieve over Gene’s death.

*Her failure to comfort Sally over Gene’s death.

Betty’s refusal to discuss Gene’s plans to distribute his late wife’s furs upon his death drew a great deal of critical fire. Personally, I do not understand why. Her refusal to discuss such matters seemed reasonable to me. Why would any grown child want to discuss a parent’s impending death, like it was part of a business discussion? That strikes me as morbid and too emotional for anyone to bear. Especially if that particular person was in the last trimester of her pregnancy. In one of his more lucid moments, Gene could have written down his wishes regarding inheritance and other arrangements in a signed letter. Instead, he decided to openly discuss the matter with Betty, who obviously found the subject disturbing. And I have a question. Why on earth did he wait so long to distribute his late wife’s furs? She had been dead for over three years.

Many fans pointed out that Gene’s disappointment in Betty was a clear indication of her shallow and immature nature. His main complaints seemed to center around her failure to become a professional, like her mother used to be (Ruth Hofstadt had been an engineer back in the 1920s); and her marriage to Don. Now, this man knew what kind of parent his wife used to be. There has never been any previous hint in past episodes that Gene and Ruth Hofstadt had encouraged Betty to acquire a profession. When she became a professional model, Mrs. Hofstadt called her a whore. And judging from Gene’s story about his wife’s efforts to reduce Betty’s weight, I suspect that he left his daughter solely in Ruth’s hands. As for Betty’s marriage to Don, had Gene become aware that his son-in-law had stolen someone else’s identity? Or was he simply disappointed that Betty had married a man from a working-class background who did not have any family? If Gene knew that Don was a phony, why has he never exposed the latter? And if Gene’s problem with Don had more to do with the younger man’s social background, then it would only lead me to believe that he may have been just as shallow as his daughter and nearly every other major character in the series.

Some fans have accused Betty of shutting the front door in young Sally’s face after learning about Gene’s death. Well, I have an easy response. The cop who had delivered the news about Gene was the one who had closed the door in Sally’s face, preventing her from following him and Betty into the house. And since I do not recall him locking the door, Sally could have easily went ahead and followed them inside.

We finally come to the one scene that caused a great deal of hostility from the fans – namely Betty’s dismissal of Sally, following the latter’s outbreak over her grandfather’s death. Many fans expressed outrage over Betty’s action, claiming it as another example of her cold attitude toward her children. The interesting thing about their reaction is that they were only willing to view the scene from Sally’s point-of-view. No one was willing to view it from Betty’s point-of-view, or anyone else. Very few seemed unwilling to consider that both Betty and her brother, William, were devastated from their father’s death. As far as I know, one person - anonymous-sibyl - was able to understand both Betty and Sally’s point-of-views, due to her own personal experiences. William tried to hide his own grief through a mild joke and both Betty and Don had laughed. Sally, who had overheard the joke, had jumped to conclusions that none of them cared about Gene’s death. And because of this belief, she ranted against her parents and uncle. Upset and shaken by her daughter’s outburst, Betty ordered Sally to her room . . . before she began to cry. And instead of viewing the scene as another example of family conflict during a special occasion – a death in the family, in this case – many viewers saw this as another example of Betty Draper’s despicable nature. I even came across an article that failed to mention Betty’s grief over her father’s death.

What I cannot understand is why very few viewers failed to comment on Don’s actions. What exactly did he do? He laughed at William’s joke. He looked understandably stunned by Sally’s outburst. He mildly chastised Betty for eating one of the peaches found in Gene’s car, and she ignored him. Speaking of the peaches, many fans saw Betty’s consumption of one of them either as a sign of her immaturity . . . or some kind of malice toward Sally. Following William and Judy’s departure, Don comforted a grieving Betty inside their bedroom. And when she finally went to sleep, he peeked in on Sally. That is it. He hardly did anything to comfort Sally. And yet . . . I have not come across any criticism against him.

I wish I could explain why Betty has received the majority of criticism from the fans. She has become the Bobbie Barrett of Season Three – the female everyone loves to hate. Fans have yet to find this season’s Duck Phillips. But I suspect that it will not take them very long. Are fans so desperate to find a character to vilify every season that they are unwilling to examine the complexities of all characters? Why are they willing to excuse the flaws and mistakes of female characters like Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) and Joan Holloway Harris (Christina Hendricks) and dump all of their ire on the likes of Betty Draper? Is it because Peggy has managed to adhere to their ideals of the new feminist of the 1960s and 70? Or that they admire Joan’s sophistication, style and wit? Whatever.

Look . . . I realize that Betty Draper is not perfect. She is not the world’s greatest mother and at times, she can be rather immature and shallow. But you know what? None of the other characters are perfect. Don strikes me as an even worse parent than Betty. He seems obsessed with maintaining appearance. And he is a fraud. Despite her ambition and talent, Peggy strikes me as an immature woman who assumes facades and personas with more speed than her mentor. I still cannot fathom her reaction to that opening sequence of ”BYE-BYE BIRDIE”. Despite the strides he had gained during late Season Two, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) has shown that he has yet to overcome his desire for approval . . . and he still acts like a prat when things do not go his way. Paul (Michael Gladis) is another poseur who is ashamed of his past as a middle-class or working-class Jersey man; and of the fact that he had attended Princeton via a scholarship. And Joan . . . I really do not know what to think of her. Why on earth would an intelligent and experienced woman of the world marry a man who had raped her? Why? I have asked this question on several blogs, message boards and forums. And instead of giving me an answer, fans either make excuses for Joan’s choice or gloss over it by expressing their anticipation for the day when she finally leaves her husband.

I realize that I cannot force or coerce fans to even like Betty. But I am finding it difficult to accept or embrace their view. I am beginning to suspect that fans have allowed their emotions and prejudices to get in the way of any possibility of a rational discussion on the series and its characters. And considering that the comments regarding Betty’s role in ”The Arrangement” has managed to anger me, I realize I no longer can conduct a rational discussion, myself.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Second Power" [PG-13] - 7/8



The following day saw Olivia and Cole among the first to arrive at the McNeill manor for brunch. The former brought along two Quiche Lorraine pies that she had prepared in the early morning hours. She had decided to leave behind Cole's birthday present and give it to him later in the evening.

The McNeill family converged in the hallway to greet the newcomers. They welcomed Cole back like a long lost friend. Jack and Bruce McNeill slapped Cole on the back, declaring it was good to see him. Olivia's mother and grandmother welcomed him with warm hugs. And to Olivia's surprise, Harry and Cole merely exchanged knowing smiles, leaving her to wonder what had transpired between the pair.

"You're rather early," Elise McNeill commented. "The brunch probably won't start within another two hours, or so."

Olivia nodded. "I was busy preparing the Quiche, this morning," she replied, handing over the two pies to Bruce. "So Cole and I thought we would use the extra time for a few exercises."

Jack frowned. "So, is everything okay with you, Livy? Are you still having problems with your new power?"

Cole answered, "Actually, she's doing pretty good. I think that Olivia has finally learned to maintain basic control of it."

"That's marvelous!" Gweneth McNeill declared happily. "And you did it within a week. Congratulations, darling!" She planted a small kiss on her daughter's cheek. "It took me a lot longer to learn basic control my electrokinesis. At least over two weeks."

Olivia added, "It's not much, but it's a start. I probably won't use my power until I can really get a handle on it. Or at least that much."

Bruce asked, "So, do we get to see you use your new power?"

"I believe you did, last week. When I burned the ceiling," Olivia replied with a smirk.

Gweneth grabbed her oldest child's shoulders and steered him toward the hallway. "I'm sure that you'll get a demonstration, later. Right now, you need to help me and Davies in the kitchen. You too, Harry," she said to her youngest.

The two men groaned and followed their mother and Davies out of the foyer. Elise excused herself and headed upstairs. Looking somewhat sobered, Jack faced his daughter. "Listen Olivia, there's something I need to talk to you, about. It's very important."

"What is it?" Olivia asked.

Jack began, "Do you remember a story that your grandfather once . . ."

Gweneth reappeared in the foyer. "Jack darling, could you help Harry set up the buffet tables in the drawing-room?"

Irritation flitted across her husband's face. "Why can't you get Davies to help him?"

"Because he's helping me in the kitchen. Now, come along. Hop to it, pet. The other guests will be arriving soon." Gwen disappeared just as fast.

Jack grumbled, "I knew I should have hired more permanent servants for this house. Why didn't I?"

"Because maintaining a full permanent staff of servants is expensive," Olivia replied. "Even for us." She peered at her father, who seemed to be brooding. "Dad? About that talk?"

Nodding, Jack said, "Later. Meanwhile, don't you and Cole have something to do?" He disappeared into the hallway, calling Harry's name.

Olivia faced Cole. "Well? What did you have in mind for this morning?"

"How about a little meditation?" Cole gently grabbed Olivia's arm and led her toward the garden.

* * * *

The guests began arriving nearly two hours later. Among the first were the Halliwells. All of them. Paige noted the McNeills' surprise at her family's appearance. The Halliwells, on the other hand, welcomed Elise McNeill back from vacation.

Barbara Bowen and her father, Philip, arrived fifteen minutes later, carrying food in a Tupperware dish and a wrapped package. "Hey! We're not too late for the party, are we?" the blond woman greeted.

Bruce took the dish from Barbara's hand and they exchanged a light kiss. "Just in time, honey," he replied. He greeted his future father-in-law with a nod.

The Bowens warmly greeted the McNeill matriarch, before Barbara turned her attention to Paige. "So," she said, "have you considered my offer? Do you want the job?"

"What job?" Phoebe asked. Feeling slightly uncomfortable, Paige told her sister about Barbara's job offer. A frowning Phoebe added, "But I thought you were more interested in learning the Craft, full time. Isn't that why you quit your job at Social Services?"

Paige hesitated, aware of everyone's eyes upon her. "Uh, well . . . yeah."

"So, why are you suddenly interested in getting a new job?"

Harry interrupted, much to Paige's relief. "Hey! Barbara has offered you a job at her shop? That's great! No one understands potions the way she does. Right Bruce?" Before his brother could answer, he continued, "Barbara can teach you a lot. Different herbs and spices used for potions and spells." He turned to Barbara. "How much are you willing to pay?"

Barbara answered, "Eight-and-a-half dollars an hour. With Saturday afternoons and Sunday off."

Paige made her decision at that moment. "Okay, I'll take it," she said, ignoring her family's startled expressions.

Smiling, Barbara replied, "Great!" She and Bruce wandered toward the buffet table to join her father.

Phoebe, along with Piper, stared at Paige with almost accusatory eyes. "Why didn't you tell us about this job offer?" she demanded.

"I don't know," Paige replied with shrug. "To be honest, I had forgot." Liar, she mentally accused herself. She had been reluctant to tell her family, knowing their feelings about Barbara and the McNeills in particular. And considering Leo's recent anxiety over Olivia's new power, Paige had not wanted to add to the tension.

The look on her sisters' faces told the youngest Charmed One that they did not completely believe her. Heaving a sigh, Paige glanced out of the window. And at the garden, beyond. "Oh my God!" The words spilled out of her mouth before she could stop herself. "Wow! Would you look at that?"

"Look at what?" Phoebe demanded. She glanced out of the window and gasped.

The others joined the two sisters and reacted just as strongly. In the middle of the lawn sat Olivia and Cole, facing each other. A circle of fire surrounded the pair. Slowly, the flames grew higher, until they formed a wall. The tips rose even higher, creating intricate circles and other designs.

"Oh no!" Leo wailed. Sheer horror was stamped on his face. "Oh my God! What is he . . .? I've got to stop them!" He rushed toward the room's French doors.

Jack grabbed the whitelighter's arm. "No! Leo, stop! Leave them alone!"

"Are you crazy?" The whitelighter shook off the witch's grip. "Cole is doing something to Olivia! We've got to stop him!"

With surprising speed, Elise McNeill blocked Leo's path. "Leave them alone, Leo!" she sternly barked. "Don't you understand what's going on? They must be in the middle of some psychic connection! Or forming one."

"A . . . a what?" Realization filled Leo's eyes. "Oh my . . . oh no!" Before anyone could stop him, Leo orbed out of the drawing-room and onto the lawn, outside. Paige peered through the window, once more. She saw her brother-in-law rush toward the couple, waving his arms and crying, "Stop! Stop!"

* * * *

It began as a simple meditation session. Olivia and Cole had sat down on the grass, facing each other. They closed their eyes and allowed their bodies to relax. Olivia had become aware of every nuance in her body. She became aware of every breath she took and every sensation, due to her nerves. She then extended her realization outward, feeling the air that surrounded her.

Her breath had begun to slow down. Her heartbeat decreased. To Olivia's surprise, she became aware of another sensation - the touch of flesh. Flesh that was alien to her own. She relished in the taut skin and the fine hairs that brushed the surface. As she continued her meditation, Olivia's exploration ascended beyond the flesh. Olivia became aware of another subconscious. One that belonged to Cole. Even more surprising, she could sense him exploring her.

Not only had Olivia received glimpses of Cole's past - his father's murder, childhood in San Francisco, Dublin and the Source's Realm, those he had murdered, his time with Raynor and the Brotherhood of the Thorn, surprising acts of past kindness, and his relationship with Phoebe; but also his secrets, his fears and desires. One particular desire nearly took Olivia by surprise. Yet, before she could further explore it, the pair came together and began a journey down a long tunnel. Where a bright light illuminated the end. Before they could reach that end, Olivia heard a voice cry out, "Stop! Stop!"

Leo? Did she just hear Leo's . . .?

"Olivia! Stop! Olivia! Can you hear me?"

The tunnel disappeared. Olivia released a loud gasp and her eyes snapped open. Aware of what had just transpired between them, she and Cole stared at each other with shocked expressions.

Leo rushed toward the couple. "Olivia! Are you okay?" He offered his hand to the witch. Feeling dazed, Olivia allowed him to help her to her feet. "God, Olivia! What did he do to you?" Leo glared at Cole.

"Huh?" Olivia stared at the whitelighter, wondering what he was talking about. "Do what?"

"What the hell did you do to her?" Leo furiously turned on Cole. "What was it? Some kind of damn spell?" A speechless Cole merely stared at the whitelighter.

The McNeills, the Halliwells and the Bowens rushed forward. "Is everyone all right?" Olivia's father asked, looking concerned.

"I'm fine," Olivia insisted. "Just a little dazed. I guess . . . I guess we ended our meditation just a little too abruptly.

Leo's eyes continued to stab Cole. "If you can call it, meditation."

"It probably was," Elise McNeill stated calmly. "The same thing happened between Kenneth and me on several occasions. We had formed a psychic bond. Became each other's familiar. Just like Jack and Gwen. I believe the same has happened to Olivia and Cole."

Paige said, "I thought familiars were supposed to be animals. You know, like a pet."

Elise shook her head. "Not always. Two humans can be each other's familiar. It was that way with my husband. Actually, a witch does not really need a familiar. But it's nice to have one."

"And how do you explain all that fire?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "What did you expect? Olivia is a fire witch. And I'm certain that some of Cole's powers are based on the fire element." He faced the half-daemon. "Am I right?"

Cole nodded wordlessly.

"When Jack and I first bonded and became each other's familiars," Olivia's mother continued, "Other members of the family claimed they saw an intertwining ring of earth and fire. Really Leo! There's nothing to worry about."

Leo's face hardened. "Is there? What about the Staff of Aingeal?"

"Aingeal?" Harry frowned. "Now why does that sound familiar?"

Jack replied, "Because your grandfather once told you about it, when you were kids. Why don't we all go back inside and discuss this matter."

* * * *

Inside the drawing room, Paige sat on one of the chairs, next to Harry. Jack McNeill stood in front of the fireplace - center stage. And explained about the Staff of Aingeal.

"It's a staff made from ash," he explained. "The staff was first given to Duncan McNeill, Laird of Dunleith, in the 11th century by a powerful wizard named Niallghas."

Leo frowned. "A wizard? Why would this Duncan McNeill even consider accepting anything from a wizard?"

Gweneth heaved a sigh that hinted strained patience. "Dear Goddess! I keep forgetting about the whitelighters' mistrust of wizards. Everyone knows that most of the wizards had rejected the Elders' authority and more or less told them to bugger off! Anyone who doesn't follow the Elders' code is always considered a major threat." She added under her breath. "No wonder there aren't many wizards left."

"We had met a wizard nearly a year ago," Piper spoke up. "He was trying to get his hands on the Source's Grimoire. And he was definitely evil." Leo shot her a grateful smile.

"I didn't say that all wizards were good, pet. But they're not all evil."

Paige glanced at her oldest sister. The grimace on Piper's face told her that the latter did not care for Gwen McNeill's dismissive tone. Or being called "pet".

Olivia's father continued, "Actually, Duncan happened to be Niallghas' illegitimate son by a woman named Brianag McNeill, a powerful witch. Niallghas was eventually killed by a warlock named Ceallach Keir, who wanted his staff - Aingeal."

"Aingeal? What sort of name is that?" Paige asked, before she bit into an English muffin.

Jack replied, "It means fire in Gaelic. Well, fire is one of the word's meanings. The staff's tip is made from gold and shaped like a dragon. And in the center, where the eye should be, is a small red carnelian stone. The stone represents ambition, drive, positive courage and protects the user from all negative emotions. Duncan was the first fire witch in the McNeill family. He had inherited the power from his father. And like his parents, he was very powerful. He managed to stop his cousin, Ceallach McNeill from stealing the staff and bringing about an apocalypse."

"That must be one powerful staff," Bruce commented. He paused momentarily. "Hmmm, that didn't exactly come out right. Did it?"

His grandmother spoke up, "In the hands of a McNeill fire witch, the staff is extremely powerful. And it only works with a McNeill fire witch, by the way. First of all, a staff or a wand is considered to be a magical tool for the fire element; and two, the bearer of the staff must be a descendant of Niallghas. And both Duncan and Ceallach were his decendants."

"I've heard of it," Cole finally said. Everyone stared at him. "The Source . . . uh, the old Source had been trying to get his hands on it for centuries. Never succeeded, though."

Jack added, "He wouldn't have been able to use it. The Source's best bet would either to have the thing destroyed or convert a McNeill fire witch to evil. He tried to recruit one of my dad's distant cousin - a woman named Ruth McNeill Thompson, back in the late forties."

"She was Ken's fourth cousin, once removed," Elise commented. "She had been killed in a car accident in the mid-fifties . . . about a week before Keith's fire power manifested."

Phoebe asked, "Why would the Source be so interested in the staff? Is it that powerful?"

"Oh yes," Jack answered. "With that staff, a McNeill fire witch could vanquish the Source."

A brief silence filled the room, before Leo declared, "What?"

"That's not possible!" Piper protested. "Only the Power of Three could vanquish the Source. It was prophesized!"

"By the Elders, right?" Jack nodded. "I can understand why they would put their hopes on you. They knew that Keith or any other Keeper of the Aingeal Staff would never vanquish the Source, unless it was a matter of self-preservation. Nor would a McNeill witch bother to destroy the Grimoire. The family believed in maintaining a balance of good and evil within ourselves and in the universe. Keith knew that without the Grimoire, the Source's Realm would fall into chaos, and eventually the entire supernatural world. Both Niallghas and Brianag McNeill believed this. And this belief was passed to their descendants." Paige glance at Leo, whose eyes were bright with anger.

Phoebe stared at Olivia, who seemed to be distracted. Or in another world. "So, are you saying that Olivia is or will be as powerful as the three of us? Together?" she demanded. "Just as strong as the Power of Three?"

"If she becomes the staff's new bearer. That is not certain, yet. I realize that many of you find this hard to believe. But I assure you that the Elders can confirm this." Jack glanced at Leo, as he spoke the last words.

More silence filled the drawing-room. Everyone seemed to be contemplating Jack McNeill's astounding revelation. And what they had earlier witnessed. At least Paige was. Davies entered the room and broke the deep silence with a slight cough. "Excuse me," he said. "More visitors have arrived."

Seconds later, a cheerful Darryl Morris entered the room, with his wife and two sons in tow. "Hey everyone! Has the surprise birthday party started, already?"

"Surprise birthday party?" Cole's expression became blank momentarily. Until realization hit him. "Oh, wait a minute! Is this a birthday party for me?"

Harry groaned. "So much for the surprise."


Friday, October 23, 2009

"THE WIND AND THE LION" (1975) Photo Gallery

Below are photos from John Milius' 1975 adventure film called "THE WIND AND THE LION". Based upon the Ion Perdicaris Incident of 1904, the movie starred Sean Connery, Candice Bergen and Brian Keith as President Theodore Roosevelt:

"THE WIND AND THE LION" (1975) Photo Gallery