Saturday, May 28, 2016

"X-MEN" Movies Ranking


With the release of the new X-MEN movie, “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE”, I decided to list my ranking of the previous films in the franchise. Warning: many may not agree with it


x2 - x-men 2

1. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) - Bryan Singer directed this film about Army colonel William Stryker’s plans to use Professor Charles Xavier to destroy the world’s mutant population once and for all. As you can see, my favorite in the franchise.


3. “X-Men: First-Class” (2011) - Matthew Vaughn directed this tale set in 1962 about the first meeting between Charles Xavier “Professor X” and Erik Lensherr “Magneto”, their creation of the X-Men and their efforts to prevent mutant villain Sebastian Shaw from using the Cuban Missile Crisis to acquire world domination. Despite the questionable costumes and a few plot holes, this was a big favorite of mine.

x-men 3 the last stand

3. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) - Brett Ratner directed this tale about the X-Men overcoming tragedy to deal with the resurrected and more powerful Jean Grey and Magneto’s continuing war on non-mutant humans. Many fans hated this film. I enjoyed it, although I found the pacing a bit too rushed. Enough said.


4. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009) - Gavin Hood directed this movie about the origins of James Howlett aka the Wolverine and his relationship with his murderous half-brother Victor Creed aka Sabertooth and his first class with William Stryker in the 1970s. Another movie hated by the fans. And again, I enjoyed it, although I consider it lesser than the 2006 movie.


5. “X-Men: Days of Future Days” (2014) - Directed by Bryan Singer, this movie is a time-travel adventure for Wolverine, who must convince a younger Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr to prevent Mystique from murdering a anti-mutant scientist, whose work will prove deadly for mutants within a half century. Great premise, but shaky execution. Too many plot holes, but still enjoyable.

the wolverine

6. “The Wolverine” (2013) - James Mangold directed this atmospheric tale about Wolverine, still grieving over a recent tragedy, traveling to Japan to meet the Wolverine heading to Japan for a reunion with a soldier named IchirĊ Yashida whose life he saved during the Nagasaki bombing at the end of World War II. He ends up defending Yashida’s granddaughter from the Yakuza and her avaricious father. Great Japanese atmosphere and interesting beginning, but it nearly fell to pieces in the last half hour.


7. “X-Men” (2000) - Bryan Singer directed this first movie in the franchise about Wolverine and a young Marie aka “Rogue”’s introduction to the X-Men and their efforts to defeat Magneto’s plans to transform the entire population into mutants against their will. Enjoyable, but it felt like a B-movie trying to disguise itself as an A-lister. Also, too many plot holes.


8. "Deadpool" (2016) - Ryan Reynolds starred in this reboot of the Deadpool character about the comic book hero's origins and his hunt for the man who gave him an accelerated healing factor, but also a scarred physical appearance. Despite the sharp humor and fourth wall cinematic device, the narrative struck me as sloppily written and mediocre.


Friday, May 27, 2016

"TURN: WASHINGTON'S SPIES" Season One (2014) Photo Gallery

Below are images from "TURN: WASHINGTON'S SPIES", the AMC series' adaptation of Alexander Rose's 2007 book called "Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring". Created by Craig Silverstein, the series stars Jamie Bell: 












Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Eight

The following is Chapter Eight of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849: 

Chapter Eight – New Franklin, Missouri

April 23, 1849
Two weeks have passed since our departure from St. Louis. Five days have passed since our encounter with the slave catchers. Despite failing to find a fugitive slave, Mr. Whiskers continued to follow our wagon company. I am beginning to realize that he might be a very stubborn and determined man.

“Ignore him,” Alice advised. “He is only trying to rattle us. He has failed to find his prisoner and needs something to bolster his self-esteem.” Deep contempt rang in her voice.

I wish that I possessed her nerve. But a running fear continued to nag at the back of my mind that sooner or later, the fugitive will appear. And our bewhiskered lurker will have an excuse to toss us – especially Alice and myself – into the nearest county jail. We nearly met that fate upon our arrival in New Franklin.

According to Mr. James, the old Franklin used to be the first jump-off site of the Santa Fe Trail, the first of many overland roads that led west of the Mississippi River. This lasted from 1821 – when a freight driver from Virginia named William Becknell led the first wagon caravan to Santa Fe – to 1828, when the flooding Missouri River finally engulfed it in 1828. The residents resettled their town on higher ground and renamed it New Franklin. I must say that the latter is a very pleasant community with numerous schools, churches and even an attorney’s office.

Alice, myself, Mr. James, the Robbinses and our two Pennsylvania families did not have much time to enjoy New Franklin. No sooner had we arrived, the law appeared with Mr. Whiskers in tow. They demanded to search our wagons. By now, I began to suspect that Alice had been right. Mr. Whiskers' failure to find his fugitive slave had turned into harassment against our wagon company. Mr. James and Mr. Robbins insisted that we were not harboring a fugitive slave. But the lawmen insisted – backed by a show of force – upon searching our wagons. Again, we had no choice but to comply. And like before, no fugitive slave was found.

Our wagon company had intended to linger in New Franklin and purchase a few supplies. But the ladies, led by Mrs. Robbins, felt affronted by the community’s greeting and demanded that we continue our journey. Understanding how the women felt, the rest of us agreed and the company quietly left New Franklin.

May 2, 1849
Tonight is our last night before our arrival at Independence, tomorrow. Finally! I have had enough of Missouri to last me a lifetime. It is a beautiful state. But I would have enjoyed it more if did not have slavery within its borders.

Mr. Whiskers had continued to trail us, following our departure from New Franklin. Then two days later, he suddenly disappeared. Perhaps he had finally realized the futility of the chase.

Mr. James informed us that many wagon trains should be organizing in Independence by now. Surprisingly, Independence was not the only jump-off spot for the western trails. Rival sites had form in both nearby St. Joseph and Council Bluffs in Iowa. Both towns were easily approachable by a Missouri River steamboat. And an emigrant would save four days on the trail by departing from either town, since both were north of Independence. Despite all of this, our company voted to head for Independence.

Our little caravan has just received a late night visitor. His name is Elias Wendell, formerly of Baltimore, Maryland. He is on his way to Westport. And he is also a fellow Negro. At first, I wonder if he was the fugitive slave that half of Missouri had been searching for. In the end, I dismissed the idea for Mr. James seemed quite familiar with him. And yet . . . this Mr. Wendell happened to be wearing Mr. Whiskers' royal blue waistcoat. Or something similar. Interesting. 

Since he happened to be Mr. James' old friend, our party welcomed him into our camp. I noticed that Alice exerted good deal of energy to prepare a plate of beans, roast quail and cornbread for our guest. Elias Wendell had been the apprentice of one of Mr. James’ old colleagues – one Thomas Ford. The name struck a familiar note. 

Minutes passed before I realized that Mr. Whitman had once mentioned this Ford fellow. Apparently, the latter had been killed in a barroom brawl in St. Charles, a year ago. Since then, Elias had been roaming the state, working at odd jobs. When he had learned about the gold found in California, he decided to try his luck and get himself hired to a wagon company.

His story seemed above board. Yet . . . why was Mr. Wendell wearing a waistcoat similar to the one worn by Mr. Whiskers? I decided to remain silent. Why create any suspicions that he might be the runaway Mr. Whiskers had been searching for? I had no desire to bring trouble upon his head. Apparently, neither did anyone else. After all, if I had noticed his waistcoat, surely some of the others had.

End of Chapter Eight

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"THE FIRM" (1993) Review

"THE FIRM" (1993) Review

To this day, I am surprised that film critics and historians have not looked back on the 1990s as the "Age of Grisham". I am referring to attorney-novelist, John Grisham, who wrote many bestsellers - especially his legal thrillers that were released between 1989 and 2000. In fact, the decade also saw several adaptations of Grisham's bestsellers - including 1993's"THE FIRM"

Based upon Grisham's 1991 novel, "THE FIRM" told the story of a recent Harvard Law graduate named Mitchell "Mitch" McDeere, who is seduced with perks that include a new house and car by Bendini, Lambert & Locke to join its small and prestigious law firm in Memphis. He is there to specialize in accounting and tax law. After he and his wife, Abigail "Abby" move to Memphis, Mitch acquires a mentor named Avery Tolar, one of the firm's senior partners, to teach him the firm's professional culture, which includes complete loyalty, strict confidentiality, and a willingness to charge exceptional fees for their services. However, the recent deaths of two BL&L attorneys in the Cayman Islands and an encounter with a pair of F.B.I. agents named Wayne Tarrance and Thomas Ritchie lead Mitch to seek advice from his convict brother Ray and the latter's friend, a Little Rock private detective named Eddie Lomax. Unfortunately, Lomax's murder at the hands of the firm's thugs, his one-night stand with a strange woman during his trip to the Caymans with Avery, and the FBI's revelation that BL&L is a front for laundering money for a Chicago mob family makes Mitch feel that he has no choice but to cooperate with the FBI - even if it meant being disbarred.

To this day, I regret that I had never seen "THE FIRM" at a movie theater. Come to think of it, I have only seen one Grisham movie adaptation in the theaters - 1994's "THE CLIENT". Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed "THE CLIENT". But if I had to choose between that and "THE FIRM" to see at a movie theater, I would choose the latter. "THE FIRM" is a first-rate legal thriller that was released during the summer of 1993. Which I found unusual, considering it is not the type of movie that is usually released during that particular season. Perhaps that was the reason why I had ignored it when it was first released. Dummy me.

What can I say about "THE FIRM"? It is a well written mixture of legal, romantic and criminal drama, along with some well-paced tension. The movie even featured action scenes that kept me on my toes. Foremost of all, "THE FIRM" is about the corruption . . . or attempted corruption of one Mitchell McDeere. He must have seen like the perfect candidate in the eyes of Bendini, Lambert & Locke's senior partners. Mitch was among the top five graduates in his class. He pretty much made his ambition clear during his job interview near the film's beginning. And I noticed during his and wife Abby's initial trip to Memphis, he literally seemed thrilled by the attention given to him by the firm's employees . . . along with the high salary they were willing to pay him. Knowing that he came from a working-class background, it seemed obvious that one of the senior partners, Oliver Lambert, knew how to manipulate Mitch by utilizing a "We're more of a family" speech during this trip. And after he had revealed his first encounter with the FBI, during seminar trip to Washington D.C., the firm went out of its way to ensure that Mitch would be fully corrupted and trapped by setting him up with a prostitute during his trip to the Cayman Islands with his mentor, Avery Tolar.

But you know . . . the firm could not have corrupted Mitch on its own. Its partners had helped . . . from Mitch himself. There is nothing wrong with ambition. But it seemed obvious that Mitch was so hindered by his insecurity over his working-class background that he made it almost easy for the firm to corrupt him. I noticed during his and Abby's initial trip to Memphis, Mitch became so caught up in the idea of being part of the Bendini, Lambert & Locke "family" (which included a new house and car) that he tuned out Abby's observations about the rigid nature of the firm's employment standards. Even worse, Mitch's class insecurities led to that fight with Abby before his trip to the Caymans and into the arms of that prostitute. The firm may have arranged his encounter with her, but Mitch made the choice to cheat on Abby that night. His encounter with F.B.I. Director F. Denton Voyles in Washington D.C. finally opened Mitch's eyes to the true and corrupt nature of the firm . . . along with his own precarious situation. 

Although the F.B.I. led Mitch to finally see the light, I must admit that I found their idea of what constituted justice rather alarming. In the agency's fervent attempt to bring down Bendini, Lambert & Locke, Director Voyles and Agent Tarrance had no qualms about coercing Mitch into cooperating with them. They offered him two choices - steal and expose the firm's files . . . or eventually face prosecution with the firm's other attorneys and partners. I other words, the F.B.I. gave Mitch the options of disbarment or prison. And both would spell the end of his brief career as an attorney. The Little Rock private detective, Eddie Lomax, had been right to warn Mitch that the F.B.I. could not care less about him, despite the fact that Mitch knew nothing about the firm's criminal ties. I am sorry, but this is not my idea of justice.

"THE FIRM" had made changes to John Grisham's original plot. In the movie, Mitch received a Mercedes-Benz, instead of a BMW for joining the firm. In the novel, Avery Tolar was Avery Tolleson and in the latter, he was not portrayed with any sympathy . . . just another villain like the other partners. Mitch had confessed to Abby about his one night of infidelity in the movie. No such thing happened in the novel. There were other differences between the movie and the novel. But the biggest one proved to be the ending. Many Grisham fans have expressed displeasure at the decision of director Sydney Pollack and screenwriters David Rabe, Robert Towne and David Rayfiel to change Mitch and Abby's fates. The novel ended with Mitch scamming $10 million from the firm and finally turning over their files to the F.B.I. This act led him, Abby and his brother Ray to make their escape to the Caribbean, continuously sailing from one end of the Caribbean to the other in fear for their lives. Pollack and the screenwriters decided to change this by having Mitch come up with a way to get the firm's attorneys prosecuted (thanks to a disgruntled client) by exposing its systematic overbilling scheme. This would bring down the firm, force the Morolto Brothers to find another firm willing to accept them as clients in time to avoid charges for non-lodgment of tax returns. Due to Mitch's new scheme, he is able to retain his law license, maintain his life in Boston and save his marriage. 

How do I feel about the ending? I loved it. I much preferred it over Grisham's ending. I found it original and very clever. Bendini, Lambert & Locke still ended up destroyed, thanks to Mitch's exposure of its overbilling scheme. I also enjoyed the fact that Mitch not only managed to get $750,000 from the F.B.I. for Ray to enjoy, but also force the agency to work in bringing down the firm. When Mitch had his final confrontations with both the Morolto brothers inside their hotel room and Agent Tarrance, I could not help but express my pleasure of this turnout with a wide smile.

There were other aspects of the "THE FIRM"'s plot that I really enjoyed. The movie also proved to be a real thriller. This was especially apparent in scenes that featured Mitch's attempts to evade the firm's murderous goons; along with Abby and the late Eddie Lomax's secretary, Tammy Hemphill's attempts to distract the pleasure seeking Avery and copy the firm's more important files in the Caymans. But the movie also featured some outstanding dramatic scenes. The ones that usually came to mind are F.B.I. Director Voyles' revelation of the firm's true nature; Mitch and Avery's meeting with one of the latter's clients in the Caymans; Mitch reveals the firm's true nature to Abby; Eddie Lomax's confrontation with two of the firm's goons; Mitch and Abby's confrontation over his brief affair in the Caymans; Mitch's meeting with with Morolto brothers (which I found very satisfying) and the McDeeres' reconciliation near the movie's end. 

But it is not just the plot and especially its ending that gave me pleasure. I thought John Seale's photography for the movie was top notch. I was especially impressed by his photography in Memphis, Tennessee; Washington, D.C.; and the Cayman Islands. I also thought Fredric and Wiliams Steinkamp's editing was impressive, as well. I was especially impressed with their work in one minor and one major sequence - Mitch's revelation about the firm's true nature to Abby and Mitch being chased all over downtown Memphis by the firm's goons. But if there is one technical aspect about the"THE FIRM" that really impressed me, it was Dave Grusin's score. I thought it was outstanding. It is one of the few scores that seemed to blend perfectly with a movie's plot and setting. Grusin earned an Academy Award nomination for his work, but lost to John Williams' score for "SCHINDLER'S LIST". A part of me wishes that Grusin and Williams had shared that Best Original Score Oscar . . . or Grusin had walked away with the award.

"THE FIRM" also had the good luck to possess a superb cast. All of the performers went far and beyond to give first-class performances. Some of the supporting performances that I found memorable came from Tobin Bell and Dean Norris, who portrayed two of the firm's hitmen; Terry Kinney as Lamar Quinn, one of the firm's younger attorneys; Barbara Garrick as Lamar's wife, Kay; Jerry Hardin as Royce McKnight, one of the firm's senior partners; Sullivan Walker, who portrayed a Cayman scuba diving businessman and one of Mitch's allies; talent agent/promoter Jerry Weintraub as questionable businessman Sonny Capps; Karina Lombard, who portrayed the young prostitute that seduces Mitch; Lou Walker as Mitch's disgruntled client Frank Mulholland; and Margo Martindale as Mitch's secretary Nina Huff.

The movie also featured some really memorable performances from the likes of Hal Holbrook, who gave a subtle performance as the firm's soft-spoken senior partner, Oliver Lambert; Ed Harris, who I thought was entertaining as the rambunctious F.B.I. Agent Wayne Tarrance; Steven Hill, who struck me as rather intimidating as the F.B.I. Director F. Denton Voyles; a very entertaining Gary Busey as Little Rock private detective Eddie Lomax; David Strathairn, who skillfully projected a mixture of charm and borderline despair in his portrayal of Ray McDeere, Mitch's convict brother; and Wilford Brimley, whose portrayal of Bill Devasher, the firm's leading thug, struck me as a very interesting mixture of homespun wisdom and insidious thuggery. Of course, there was Holly Hunter, who gave a very charismatic and Oscar nominated performance as Tammy Hemphill, Eddie's secretary and Mitch's ally. 

However, for me, the heart and soul of "THE FIRM" were its three leads - Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Gene Hackman. Well, the movie's real lead was Cruise, who gave a mesmerizing performance as Mitch McDeere, the young attorney, who found himself at the center of a struggle between the F.B.I. and Bendini, Lambert & Locke. I almost found myself saying that Cruise's performance was an early sign of his long-lasting fame as an actor . . . until I remembered that he had already been successful for a decade by the time he starred in "THE FIRM". For an actor that was barely thirty at the time, he more than held his own with a group of older and very talented actors. He also did a great job in carrying the movie on his shoulders. I must be honest . . . I have not seen Jeanne Tripplehorn in many movies. In fact, I have only seen her in less than four. But I was very impressed by her quiet, yet strong and elegant performance as Abby McDeere, Mitch's well-born wife who was the first to sense something odd about the firm. What I especially liked about Tripplehorn's performance is that she was not merely reduced to be Cruise's side ornament. She portrayed Abby as a fully realized character with her own character arc. If I had to give an award for the best performance in "THE FIRM", I would hand it over to Gene Hackman, who portrayed Mitch's alcoholic mentor and one of the firm's senior partners, Avery Tolar. I am surprised that Hackman was never given an Oscar nomination for his performance, for he truly deserved it. I thought he was excellent as the sardonic Avery, who used wit and an easy-going manner to hide a world-weary demeanor and corruption that had more or less crushed his spirit. It was a very fascinating performance to watch.

One would notice that I have yet to say one thing negative about "THE FIRM". Well, I do have one complaint. Ironically, that complaint centered around the film's performances. Wait . . . did I not just praise nearly all of the performances to the sky? Yes, I did. And the cast was fantastic. But . . . there were moments in the film in which most of the major cast members have this penchant of making mind-blowing comments with an offhand casualness that struck me as forced. False. And if most of the cast were making this mistake, I have only one person to blame . . . director Sydney Pollack. I really wish he had not clung to this forced casual style of acting. I usually find it in a Steven Spielberg movie and quite frankly, I do not like it. I have never liked it in any of the Spielberg movies I have seen . . . and I did not like it in this film.

Aside from that one complaint, I found "THE FIRM" very satisfying. Who am I kidding? I love "THE FIRM". It is my favorite adaptation of a Grisham novel. It is also one of my favorite movies from the 1990s and after two decades, it has managed to hold up very well. And one has to thank John Grisham's excellent novel; David Rabe, Robert Towne and David Rayfiel's adaptation; and a superb cast led by the always talented Tom Cruise.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"A Family Scandal in the 'NORTH AND SOUTH' Trilogy"


I love John Jakes' "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy. Honestly, I do. I love it so much that I have copies of the novels published between 1982 and 1987 that make up the trilogy. I love it so much that I have also copies of the television adaptations (1985-1986; 1994) of the novels, produced by Wolper Productions. Unfortunately, the trilogy has a few narrative problems. And I feel that one of its biggest problems centered around a particular painting. 

I am referring to a certain painting that hung inside an expensive New Orleans. This particular painting depicted a beautiful young woman, who also happened to be one of the prostitutes that worked there. This particular prostitute was favored by the bordello's owner. More importantly, she left the bordello and her profession in order to marry one of her customers. Despite her European ancestry, this woman was the granddaughter of an African-born slave. She also happened to be the mother of one of the "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy's main characters - Madeline Fabray. And she eventually became the mother-in-law of three other main characters. 

Before I continued, I want to say a few words about the painting of Madeline Fabray's mother that was created for the first two miniseries, 1985's "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" and 1986's "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II". I did not find it impressive. Look at that dress worn by the painting's subject. It looks cheap and tacky. Not even a high-priced prostitute like Madeline's mother would wear such a dress. Even worse, the dress and hairstyle worn by the subject failed to reflect the right decade. Madeline Fabray had been born in the mid-1820s. This meant that her mother must have been a prostitute between the late 1810s and early 1820s. The hairstyle and dress worn by Madeline's mother seemed to reflect that the painting had been created between in the mid-1840s and early 1850s - at least two to three decades after Mrs. Fabray's death. Wolper Productions really made a mistake in allowing this painting to serve as an image of the late Mrs. Fabray. But the story that surrounded both the character and the painting struck me as a lot more problematic. And the trouble began in John Jakes' 1982 novel, "North and South".

In 1846, two years after her marriage to South Carolina rice planter Justin LaMotte, Madeline Fabray LaMotte had traveled back to her hometown of New Orleans to care for her dying father. Before he finally passed away, Nicholas Fabray informed his daughter that both she and her mother were of mixed blood. One of Madeline's ancestresses was an African-born slave, which meant the late Mrs. Fabray was one-fourth black and Madeline, one-eighth. Shocked by this revelation, Madeline kept this secret to herself for years, until she finally confessed it to her lover and husband's neighbor Orry Main - one of the novel's two main characters - after she left her brutish husband in the late winter of 1861. Despite his initial shock, Orry took the news rather well and eventually married Madeline, following Justin's death during the early months of the Civil War.

Unbeknownst to Madeline and Orry, an Army officer named Elkhannah Bent had already learned about her mother's background . . . former profession. Bent first met Orry during their years at West Point. Orry, along with his best friend, Pennsylvania-born George Hazard, became Bent's enemies. When they nearly caused his expulsion from West Point, he vowed to get his revenge. He nearly got Orry killed at the Battle of Churubusco, during the Mexican-American War. Neither the Hazards nor the Mains had heard about Bent for years, until they learned he was the immediate commanding officer of Charles Main, Orry's younger cousin, in Texas during the late 1850s. Either in 1858 or 1859, Bent visited Charles' quarters for a talk and spotted a photograph taken at a picnic held at the Main family's estate, Mont Royal. Among the subjects in the photograph were Madeline and Justin LaMotte. Bent seemed taken by Madeline's looks. In January 1861, Bent was recalled back to the War Department in Washington D.C. During his journey from Texas to the East Coast, Ben visited an expensive bordello in New Orleans - the same one where Mrs. Fabray had worked some decades ago. There, he spotted the infamous painting inside the office of Madam Conti, the bordello's owner. Bent learned from Madam Conti that the painting's subject was not only of mixed blood, but also a former prostitute who had married well. Noticing the physical similarities between Madeline LaMotte and the painting's subject, Bent ascertained that the two women were related. For reasons that still amaze me, he decided that this bit of knowledge could serve as a weapon against Orry Main. 

In the 1984 novel, "Love and War", Bent returned to New Orleans about a year-and-a-half later, during the second year of the Civil War, and stole the painting, jeopardizing his Army career. Realizing that he no longer had a military career, Bent deserted from the Union Army and journeyed toward Richmond, Virginia – the capital of the Confederacy. Nearly two years later, he managed to find and acquaint himself with one of Orry’s younger sisters, Ashton Main Huntoon. Bent had chosen well. Orry’s vain and unpleasant sister had estranged herself from the Main family, following her attempt to arrange the murder of her brother-in-law, Billy Hazard, for rejecting her years earlier for younger sister Brett. Once Bent had revealed the infamous painting, along with Madeline’s family history, to Ashton; the latter revealed everything to guests at a private reception that included Confederate Senator Judah Benjaminof Louisiana and Christopher Memminger, a South Carolinian resident who was serving as a Secretary of the Treasury for the Confederate States. Orry’s superior, General John H. Winder had "requested" that he send Madeline away from Richmond. Orry sent Madeline to the Hazards’ home in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania and resigned his position at the War Department before assuming a field command toward the end of the Overland Campaign in June 1864.

The adaptations of the 1982 and 1984 novels - 1985's "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" and 1986's "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" - took a different spin on the tale. One, Madeline did not learn the truth about her mother from her father until 1854, ten years following her marriage to Justin LaMotte. She told Orry about her secret some three months later, leading him to insist that she leave Justin and accompany him to the North. However, events involving Madeline and a secret abortion for a pregnant and still single Ashton Main led to the end of Orry's plans. Madeline more or less became a prisoner of her husband for nearly six-and-a-half years. Justin LaMotte died during the summer of 1861 and a few months later, Madeline and Orry became husband and wife.

As for Elkhannah Bent, his discovery of the painting also unfolded differently. In the television version, Bent (who was an amalgamation of the literary Bent and a character named Lamar Powell), was visiting New Orleans in 1856 or 1857, when he met Ashton's new husband, James Huntoon. He was in New Orleans to give a pro-secession speech. The pair, along with two other men, proceeded to Madam Conti's bordello. When James removed his wallet from his jacket, a photograph of his and Ashton's wedding reception fell from his wallet. The photograph contained the bridal pair, the Main family and a few guests that included Justin and Madeline La Motte. Apparently, this was not Bent's first visit to the bordello. While waiting for one of the madam's prostitutes to finish with a customer, Bent and Madam Conti had refreshments in her private office that contained the painting of Mrs. Fabray. While the madam told Bent about the painting's subject, he quickly surmised that Mrs. Fabray and the Mains' neighbor were blood related. Some four years later - between the end of "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" and "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" - Bent managed to acquire the painting. Only neither miniseries revealed how he did it. I can only make the assumption that he had purchased it from Madam Conti. In Episode 2, Bent revealed the painting to Ashton, who had become his lover. Instead of revealing Madeline's secret to Richmond society, Ashton used her knowledge of the painting and Mrs. Fabray's past to blackmail Madeline into leaving Orry and Mont Royal for good. Two years later, days after the war ended, Madeline and Orry reconciled in Charleston.

Superficially, there seemed to be nothing wrong with the narrative regarding Madeline's mother and the painting in both Jakes' novels and the television miniseries. Superficially. However, both the novels and the miniseries revealed a major blooper. Why on earth did Elkhannah Bent went out of his way to get his hands on that painting? Why? In both the 1982 novel and the 1985 miniseries, Madeline was revealed to Bent as the wife of a neighboring planter. Neither Charles Main in the novel or James Huntoon in the miniseries knew about Madeline's romantic connection to Orry. Which meant that Bent was not aware of this relationship, as well. In both the novels and the miniseries, Bent did not find out about Madeline and Orry's relationship until after he got his hands on the painting. so, Why would Bent risk his professional career in "Love and War" to steal the painting featuring Madeline's mother, if he was unaware of Orry's emotional connection to her daughter? Or pay good money to purchase the painting (which is my theory, by the way) in the television adaptations?

I wish I could say that matters got better in the third act of Jakes' trilogy. But it did not. Another mystery regarding the painting manifested. In both the third novel, 1987's "Heaven and Hell" and the third miniseries, 1994's "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III", the locals who lived in the same neighborhood as the Mains seemed aware of Madeline's African ancestry and the profession of her mother. My question is . . . how? How did locals like her first husband's cousin, Gettys La Motte discover her family secret in the first place? Who had spilled the beans?

In "Love and War", Jakes had made a point of both Judah Benjamin and Christopher Memminger attending the reception where Ashton had revealed Madeline's secret. However, Benjamin moved to Great Britain after the war and Memminger ended up in North Carolina, following his resignation as Secretary of the Treasurer in July 1864. Ashton, her husband James, and her lover Lamar Powell were forced to flee Richmond for the New Mexico Territory after Orry exposed their plot to assassinate the Confederacy's president, Jefferson Davis. Lamar Powell killed James Huntoon before being killed by an Apache warrior upon their arrival in the Southwest. Ashton arrived in Santa Fe a few days later, stranded and without any funds. It took her at least four years to return to South Carolina. So none of the above could have revealed Madeline's secret to the Mains' neighbors. More importantly, Jakes never bothered to reveal how the news reached the South Caroline low country.

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" told a slightly different tale. A year after Bent had exposed Madeline's secret to Ashton, she used the knowledge to blackmail her sister-in-law into leaving Mont Royal for good. However, neither Ashton or Bent ever told another soul. The only other people who knew about Madeline's mother were her former maid, Maum Sally, who was killed by Justin LaMotte back in 1856, during the debacle regarding Ashton's unwanted pregnancy; Orry; and his mother, Clarissa Main. And none of these people told a soul. Not even Ashton or Bent, which I find surprising. Like Jakes, the screenwriters for the second and third miniseries never made the effort to set up, let alone reveal how the Mains' neighbors learned about Madeline's secret.

It is a pity that the storyline regarding Madeline and her mother was marred by sloppy writing. It had the potential to be one of the most interesting arcs in the entire saga, especially since it focused upon attitudes regarding miscegenation in the United States . . . attitudes that lasted for another century following the saga's setting and still linger to this day. Oh well. There is nothing I can do about it. I suppose I can only regard it as a blooper and move on.