Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from the ABC series, "LAST RESORT", which starred Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman:
TOP FIVE FAVORITE "LAST RESORT" (2012-2013) Episodes
1. (1.05) "Skeleton Crew" - In this tense episode, the U.S. Secretary of Defense arrives on the island of Sainte Marine to negotiate with Captain Marcus Chaplin and Lieutenant Commander Sam Kendal, the U.S.S. Colorado's commander and Executive Officer. Meanwhile, part of the sonar array protecting the island fails, allowing vessels to approach undetected; and Lieutenant Grace Shepard is forced to pilot the submarine to repair the array with the help of U.S. Navy SEAL James King and NATO Communications Facility leader Sophie Girard.
2. (1.01) "Captain" - This episode starts the series off with a bang when Captain Marcus defies protocol and demands confirmation of an order to fire four nuclear missiles at Pakistan. When the U.S. Navy retaliate with violence, Marcus is forced to seek sanctuary for the submarine's crew by taking control of the island of Sainte Marina, location of a NATO Communications facility.
3. (1.10) "Blue Water" - Kendal and King leave Sainte Marina to search for and rescue Kendal's wife, Christine, after she had been kidnapped following the events regarding an incident dealing with the failed attempt of Pakistani commandos to take control of a freighter sending the crew's family members to the island. Meanwhile, a Chinese envoy named Zheng Min arrives on Sainte Marine to offer aid and supplies to the Colorado's crew and the island's inhabitants.
4. (1.03) "Eight Bells" - In another of one of the series' tense episodes, Sainte Marine's local criminal despot Julian Serat has kidnapped three members of Chaplin's crew and offers their release in exchange for their services - namely the retrieval of a special cargo from a ship outside the island's perimeter.
5. (1.06) "Another Fine Navy Day" - Serat works with unknown attackers to dose the island's water supply with a hallucinogen called BZ, which shortly renders most of the island's population and the sub's crew unconscious. Kendal and King learn that the attackers are after the Navy SEAL team that arrived with the Colorado's crew.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Below are images from "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN", the 2016 remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 movie, "SEVEN SAMURAI". Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the movie starred Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke:
"THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN" (2016) Photo Gallery
Saturday, November 26, 2016
"THE PUBLIC EYE" (1992) Review
Over twenty years ago, I came across a small period drama, while perusing my local video rental store. I never had any intention of watching this movie. In fact, I had never heard of it before . . . despite being a fan of the two leading stars.
I read somewhere that "THE PUBLIC EYE" was inspired by the career of New York Daily News photographer Arthur "Weegee" Fellig. In fact, some of the photographs featured in the film had been taken by Fellig, himself. But the movie is not a biopic. Instead, "THE PUBLIC EYE" told the story of one Leon "Bernzy" Bernstein, a freelance crime and street photographer for the New York City tabloids, whose work is known for its realistic depiction of the city and all of its citizens. Due to his realistic photography and willingness to resort to any means to snap graphic shots of crime scenes, he is known as "the Great Berzini".
Sometime during 1942, America's first year into World War II, Bernzy is summoned by a widowed Manhattan nightclub owner named Kay Levitz. One of local New York mobs is trying to muscle in on her business. Kay asks Bernzy to investigate an individual she considers troublesome. Generally unsuccessful with women, Bernzy agrees to help Kay, as he slowly begins to fall in love with her. Bernzy talks to a few of his contacts, including journalist Arthur Nabler, and tracks down Kay's troublesome man. Only the latter had been murdered. Bernzy's activities attract the attention of the New York police, the F.B.I. and two rival mob leaders. Through a connection to a local gangster named Sal, Bernzy discovers that Kay's husband had got involved with a mob turf war over illegal gas rationing and the Federal government.
"THE PUBLIC EYE" did not make much of an impact on the U.S. movie box office, when it hit the theaters during the fall of 1992. In fact, I do not believe that the studio that released it - Universal Studios - made any effort to publicize it. Worse, the movie eventually garnered mixed reviews. However, I had no idea of all of this until I saw the movie, years later. My first reaction to this lack of attention by Universal and the mixed reviews was surprised. My second reaction was . . . disappointment. Well, I was not that disappointed with the movie's mixed reviews. After all, I believe in the old adage "to each his own". But even to this day, I feel slightly disappointed that Universal Studios did very little to publicize this movie. Why? I thought "THE PUBLIC EYE" was a lot better than many assumed it to be - including the studio suits.
Was there anything about "THE PUBLIC EYE" that I disliked? Or found hard to swallow? To be honest . . . no. Let me correct myself - very little. After all, the movie was perfect. A part of me wishes it could have been a little longer than its 99 minute running time. And if I must be honest again, the mystery surrounding the death of Kay Levitz's tormentor did not last very long. Not much time had passed before the story had revealed the gas rationing scandal behind the tormentor's murder . . . or the identity of the movie's main antagonist. Personally, I saw no reason why screenwriter-director Howard Franklin tried to present this plot as some kind of mystery.
And yet . . . I really enjoyed "THE PUBLIC EYE". In fact, it is a personal favorite of mine. There seemed to be so much that I found enjoyable in this movie. Although Franklin's plot did not prove to be much of a mystery, I must admit that I enjoyed how the corruption tale provided a strong link to civilian life during America's early period in World War II. The plot also seemed to provide a strong historical background of life during this time in New York City's history. I enjoyed how Franklin's screenplay made such strong connections between the city's major criminals, the Federal government and the goods rationing that dominated the lives of American citizens during the war. But what I really enjoyed about this movie is its final action sequence that featured a gangland mass murder inside a local Italian restaurant photographed by the main protagonist. Franklin did a superb job in capturing this sequence on film that it still gives me goosebumps whenever I watch it.
Some film critic - I forgot his name - once complained that the "noir" atmosphere for "THE PUBLIC EYE" seemed superficial and not particularly engaging. Personally, I loved the movie's atmosphere. Not because I believe that it permeated with a sense of a "noir" film. I loved it because I thought it permeated with a sense of what life was for the many citizens of New York City during those early years of the war. The movie portrayed how different social groups based on class and ethnic differences are forced to live together in one metropolis during a difficult time in American history. Bernzy's own background as a Jewish immigrant from Russia and his profession were used against him on several occasions. This especially seemed to be the case with the elitist book publisher who seemed disturbed by the former's name and the realistic images he took; and Danny, the Irish-born doorman and snob who not only worked at Kay's nightclub, but also regarded Bernzy as beneath him. Even Kay's own background as a showgirl led people to regard her as some gold digger who had achieved some social status via marriage to a nightclub owner. This explained how two such diverse people managed to click on an emotional level throughout most of the movie.
Visually, "THE PUBLIC EYE" seemed like a treat. Watching it made me feel as if I had landed right in the middle of Manhattan, circa 1942, thanks to art directors Bo Johnson and Dina Lipton, set decorator Jan K. Bergstrom, and costume designer Jane Robinson, who had created some very interesting costumes for Barbara Hershey. I was especially impressed by the work of production designer, Marcia Hinds, who I believe more than anyone, contributed to the movie's early 1940s setting and atmosphere.
I had checked Howard Franklin's filmography and discovered that he had only directed three movies so far. Considering the first-rate performances featured in this film, it seemed a miracle that Franklin's lack of real experience did not hamper them. I do not know which role I would consider to be my favorite performed by Joe Pesci. But I do know that Leon "Bernzy" Bernstein is one of my top three favorite characters he has ever portrayed. I thought Pesci did a superb job in portraying a character who is not only driven by his ambition for his profession, but also racked with loneliness, due to how others tend to perceive him. Barbara Hershey gave a very subtle and skillfully ambiguous performance as the widowed nightclub owner, Kay Levitz. Hershey's Kay came off as a warm and compassionate woman who understood Bernzy, due to her own struggles over how others perceive her and at the same time, a reluctantly pragmatic woman who is forced, at times, to sacrifice her self-esteem for the sake of survival.
The movie also benefited from a collection of first-rate performance from major supporting cast members. One of those performances came from Jared Harris, who did an excellent job in conveying the snobbish aspect of his character, the Irish-born Danny, who worked at Kay's nightclub as a doorman. Stanley Tucci gave a terrific and subtle performance as a low-level mobster named Sal, who provides the final link to Bernzy's investigation into the gas ration scandal. Jerry Adler, whom I recall from the CBS series, "THE GOOD WIFE", gave an emotional and complex performance as one of Bernzy's few friends, a journalist named Arthur Nabler. Both Dominic Chianese and Richard Foronjy were excellent as the two mob warring bosses, Spoleto and Frank Farinelli. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Richard Riehle, Bob Gunton, Tim Gamble, Patricia Healy and Del Close.
I realize that many critics do not have a high opinion of "THE PUBLIC EYE". Why? Well, I never did bother to learn the reason behind their attitude. Perhaps I never really bothered is because I enjoyed the movie so much. In fact, I fell in love with it when I first saw it. And my feelings for "THE PUBLIC EYE" has not changed over the years, thanks to Howard Franklin's direction and script, along with a first-rate cast led by Joe Pesci and Barbara Hershey.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Below is a list of my favorite television episodes about the Thanksgiving holiday:
TOP TEN FAVORITE THANKSGIVING TELEVISION EPISODES
1. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - (4.08) "Pangs" - Vampire slayer Buffy Summers deal with a Native American vengeance spirit, the sudden appearance of her nemesis Spike and the preparation of a large holiday meal on Thanksgiving in this hilarious episode.
2. "Friends" - (6.09) "The One Where Ross Got High" - Live-in lovers Monica Geller and Chandler Bing invite her parents for their first Thanksgiving holiday and are shocked to discover that the latter does not like Chandler for reasons that have to do with Monica's brother Ross.
3. "WKRP in Cinncinati" - (1.07) "Turkeys Away" - In this classic episode of the 1970s/80s sitcom, radio station owner Arthur Carlson takes a more hands-on managerial approach by organizing the greatest Thanksgiving promotion in radio history by dropping live turkeys from a helicopter. Hilarious performance by Richard Sanders.
4. "Friends" - (5.08) "The One with All the Thanksgivings" - In this funny episode, the six friends recount their worst Thanksgivings.
5. "Mad Men" - (1.13) "The Wheel" - The marriage of Don and Betty Draper reach a new level following Betty's evaluation of their marriage during the Thanksgiving holiday. And secretary Peggy Olson experiences a professional high and a personal crisis.
6. "Friends" - (3.09) "The One With the Football" - Emotions run high on Thanksgiving when the gang have a game of touch football initiated by Monica and Ross' sibling rivalry, while Chandler and Joey compete over a Dutch model.
7. "How I Met Your Mother" - (3.09) "Slapsgiving" - Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin host their first Thanksgiving dinner as a married couple. Ted Mosby and Robin Scherbatsky are still dealing with the breakup of their relationship and Marshall terrorizes Barney Stinson with the threat of a third slap he is due, thanks to an old bet.
8. "The West Wing" - (3.08) "Shibboleth" - The Thanksgiving holiday draws a group of Chinese Christians claiming religious persecution to the White House. Also Chief of Staff Le McGarry is at loggerheads with his sister over the issue of school prayer.
9. "Seinfeld" - (6.08) "The Mom and Pop Store" - In this classic episode, George Constanza decides to buy a convertible once owned by "Jon Voight"; Cosmo Kramer tries to save a small shoe-repair business, much to Jerry Steinfeld's detriment; and Elaine Benes wins tickets for her boss to participate in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
10. "Will and Grace" - (7.10-7.11) "Queens For a Day" - Lovers Will Truman and Vince D'Angelo decide to allow their "families" meet for the Thanksgiving holiday at the D'Angelo home with disastrous results.
Monday, November 21, 2016
"POLDARK" SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES FIVE TO EIGHT
Last winter, I began watching the BBC's 1975-77 adaptation of Winston Graham's literary series about the life of a British Army officer and American Revolutionary War veteran, following his return to his home in Cornwall. The first four episodes proved to be adaptation of the first novel in Graham's series, 1945's "Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787". Episodes Five to Eight focused on the series' second novel, 1946's "Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790".
Episode Four ended with Ross Poldark, a Cornish landowner and mine owner, discovering that his young kitchen maid, the 17 year-old Demelza Carne, is pregnant with his child. Abandoning his plan to reunite with his former fiancée, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, who had married his cousin Francis Polark; Ross decides to marry Demelza and take responsibility for their unborn child. Episode Five opened up six to seven months later with the birth of their daughter, Julia Poldark. Ross and Demelza decide to hold two christenings - one for his upper-crust family and neighbors and one for her working-class family. Unfortunately, fate upsets their plans when Demelza's family crash the first christening. Episode Five also featured the introduction of new characters - a young doctor named Dwight Enys, who quickly befriends Ross; Keren Daniels, a young traveling actress who married a local miner named Mark Daniels; and George Warleggan, the scion of the Warleggan family, who became Ross' archenemy.
The four episodes that formed the adaptation of "Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall" pretty much focused on the first two years of Ross' marriage to Demelza. Their relationship seemed to thrive, despite the unromantic reasons why they got married in the first place. It was nice to see Ross and Demelza quickly settled into becoming an established couple. This was especially apparent in first christening for Ross and Demelza's newborn, Julia, attended by Ross' family and upper-class neighbors. However, this sequence also revealed that Ross and Demelza still had a long way to go, when Demelza's religious and fanatical father and stepmother crashed the first christening. I enjoyed the sequence very much, even if it ended on an irritating note - namely Demelza and Mr. Carne's shouting match that played merry hell on my ears. Although there were times when their relationship threatened to seem a bit too ideal, I have no other problems with it.
From a narrative point of view, the only hitch in Ross and Demelza's relationship - so far - proved to be Demelza's determination to help her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark's renew the latter's disastrous relationship with a Captain Andrew Blamey . . . behind Ross' back. Following Blamey and Francis' disastrous encounter in the second (or third) episode, Ross made it clear that he had no intention of helping Verity and Blamey's romantic situation. Demelza, being young, romantic and naive; decided to intervene and help them continue their courtship. Her efforts were almost sidetracked when Francis and Elizabeth's son, Geoffrey Charles, was stricken with Putrid Throat. Ross' new friend, Dr. Enys, had recruited Verity to nurse Geoffrey Charles, believing that Elizabeth was incapable of serving as her son's nurse. I must be honest . . . I found this plot line a bit contrived. One, it seemed like a theatrical way to inject tension into Verity's romance with Captain Blamey and their plans to elope. And two, Elizabeth has never struck me as the type of woman incapable of nursing her own son, let alone anyone else. Nevertheless, Demelza's efforts proved to be successful in the end when Verity and Captain Blamey finally eloped in Episode Seven.
Verity and Captain Blamey's elopement also produced an ugly reaction from her brother Francis, who had been against their relationship from the beginning. That ugly reaction formed into an emotional rant against his sister that not only spoiled his wife Elizabeth and son Geoffrey Charles' Christmas meal, but concluded with him succumbing to Putrid Throat. I will say this about Francis Poldark . . . his presence in Episodes Five to Eight proved to be a lot stronger than it was in the first four episodes. Viewers learned in the conclusion of Episode Six that he had betrayed the shareholder names of Ross' new Carnmore Copper Company, an smelting organization formed to break the Warleggans' monopoly on the mining industry in that part of Cornwall.
I am a little confused by why so many claim that Clive Francis had portrayed the character as less of a loser than Kyle Soller did in 2015. For example, in an article posted on the Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, the writer made this description of Francis in Episode Eight of the 1975 series - "I’ve come to realize that Francis is made considerably more appealing by Wheeler’s script: Graham’s Francis is witty, but his open self-berating and guilt are from Wheeler; also his generosity of spirit now and again.".
That was not the Francis Poldark I saw in Episode Eight. Come to think of it, that was NOT the Francis I saw between Episodes Three and Eight. Well . . . I do recall Francis engaging in self-pitying behavior. I also recall Francis being half-hearted in his attempt to reconcile with Elizabeth, his occasionally self-defensive attitude and anger at Verity for eloping. The only sign of wit I can recall was Francis' clumsy and slightly insulting reaction at the Warleggan ball to news of prostitute Margaret's recent wedding. And although I enjoyed Clive Francis' performance, there were moments when he was guilty of some really histrionic acting - especially in Episode Eight, when his character went into a rant against Verity's elopement during his family's Christmas dinner. Either these fans and critics had failed to notice how much of a loser Francis Poldark was in the 1975 series, they remembered the actor's performance in the episodes that followed Episode Eight, or they were blinded by nostalgia for the 1975 series. Clive Francis' portrayal of the character struck me as much of a loser than Soller's portrayal.
The renewal of Verity and Captain Blamey's romance was not the only relationship shrouded in secrecy. As I had earlier pointed a traveling actress named Keren had abandoned her tawdry profession life to remain in the area and marry local miner, Mark Daniels, after meeting him at the second christening for the newborn Julia Poldark. I admire how the production went out of its way to portray Keren's growing disenchantment with life as a miner's wife and her marriage to Mark. In doing so, screenwriter Mark Wheeler allowed audiences to sympathize with Keren's emotions and understand what led her to pursue an extramarital affair with the neighborhood's new physician, the quiet and charming Dr. Dwight Enys. Although this sequence featured solid performances from Richard Morant and Martin Fisk as Dwight Enys and Mark Daniels; the one performance that really impressed me came from Sheila White, who portrayed the unfortunate Keren Daniels. However, I was not particular thrilled by how the affair ended. Mark Daniels deliberately murdered Keren, when he discovered the affair. What really riled me was that both Ross and Demelza went out of their way to help Mark evade justice. Their actions seemed to justify and approve of Mark's violent action against his wife. The entire scenario smacked of another example of misogyny in this saga.
Episode Six of "POLDARK" not only introduced the character of George Warleggan, it also featured one of my favorite segments in the series, so far - the Warleggan ball. I thought Wheeler and Paul Annett did a solid job in this particular sequence. It was not perfect, but it proved to be an elegant affair, capped by a tense situation when Ross engaged in a gambling showdown with the Warleggans' cousin Matthew Sanson, before exposing the latter as a cheat. One aspect of the ball sequence that really impressed me were the costumes and the music provided by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts, which helped maintained the sequence's atmosphere. I also enjoyed both Robin Ellis and Milton Johns' performances as Ross Poldark and Matthew Sanson in the card game sequence. Both actors did a very good job of injecting more tension in what was already a high-wired situation. By the way, both actors, along with Clive Francis, had appeared in the 1971 adaptation of "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY".
There were other moments and sequences that I enjoyed. Aside from the Warleggan ball, I was very impressed by two other scenes. One featured Demelza's attempt to play matchmaker for Verity and Captain Blamey in Truro. Well, the sequence began with Demelza playing matchmaker before all three became swept into a food riot that led to a violent brawl between some very hungry townsmen and local military troops trying to prevent the men from breaking into Matthew Sanson's grain storehouse. I found the entire scene rather well shot by director Paul Annett. I was also impressed by Annett's work in Episode Seven that featured Ross' attempt to help Mark Daniels evade arrest for Keren's murder. I may not approved of what happened, but I was impressed by Annett's direction. But I feel that the director did his best work in Episode Eight, which featured the wreck of the Warleggans' ship on Poldark land. It began on a high note when the Paynters and other locals began pillaging the ship's cargo for much needed food, clothing and other materials. But it really got interesting when a riot broke out between the Poldark workers, miners from a nearby estate and the local troops who tried to stop them. Again, Annett really did a first-rate job in making the sequence very exciting, despite the fact that it was shot in the dark.
I noticed that Paul Wheeler, who wrote the transcripts for these four episodes and Episode Eleven, made several changes from Graham's novel. To be honest, I can only recall one major change that did not bother me one whit. In Episode Seven, young Geoffrey Charles Poldark was stricken with Putrid's Throat before Verity had the chance to elope with Captain Blamey. Once Verity and Elizabeth helped the boy recover, she finally took the opportunity to elope. Yes, I am aware that Verity had eloped before the Putrid fever outbreak, but I see that Wheeler was trying to create a little tension for her situation. When Francis was struck with Putrid's Throat on Christmas, Demelza arrived at Trenwith to help Elizabeth nurse him. The two women engaged in a warm and honest conversation that showcased both Jill Townsend and Angharad Rees as talented actresses they were. However, this conversation never occurred in the novel. In fact, the literary Elizabeth Poldark also came down with Putrid's Throat. But this change did not bother me, due to the excellent scene between Townsend and Rees.
Unfortunately, I had problems with some of Wheeler's other changes. One change originated back in Episode Four with the "Demelza gets knocked up" storyline that led to hers and Ross' shotgun wedding. I had assumed that the Trenwith Christmas party sequence, which followed Ross and Demelza's wedding, would appear in Episode Five. After all, it was one of my favorite sequences from the 1945 novel. But the sequence never appeared - not in Episode Four or Episode Five. Instead, the latter opened with Julia Poldark's birth and the christening. And I felt very disappointed.
Another change involved Ross' former employee, Jim Carter. Back in Episode Three, Jim was tried and convicted for poaching on another landowner's estate. In Episode Six, Ross received word that Jim was severely ill inside Bodmin Jail. With Dwight Enys' help, the pair break the younger man out. But instead of dying during Dwight's attempt to amputate an infected limb, Jim survived . . . until Episode Seven. This change allowed Ross to indulge in a speech on the inequities suffered by the poor and working-class in British. Personally, I had difficulty feeling sympathetic, considering that he had fired Jud and Prudie Paynter, earlier in the episode. Mind you, Jud had deserved to be fired for his drunken behavior and insults to Demelza. But Prudie did not. She tried to stop Jud and ended up fired by Ross (who found her guilty by matrimony to the perpetrator). And I ended up regarding Ross as nothing more than a first-rate hypocrite.
Because Jim Cater had survived Episode Six, Ross did not attend the Warleggan ball angry and in a drunken state. Instead, he remained a perfect and sober gentleman throughout the ball. Which was a pity . . . at least for me. Perhaps Wheeler had decided that Prudie's fate was sufficient enough to expose Ross' less pleasant side of his personality, I did not. The card game between Ross and Sanson provided some tension during the ball sequence. But it was not enough for me. I thought a good deal of the sequence's drama was deleted due to "our hero" not having an excuse to get drunk and surly. I suspect that Wheeler, along with producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn, wanted to - once again - maintain Ross' heroic image.
The Warleggan ball also featured another change. At the end of Episode Six, George Warleggan revealed to his father, Nicholas, that he knew the names of Ross' Carnmore Copper Company. The revelation left me feeling flabbergasted. In the novel, Francis had not exposed the shareholders' names to George until after Verity and Blamey's elopement. He had believed Ross was responsible for arranging it and betrayed the latter in retaliation. Since Francis had obviously betrayed Ross before Episode Six's final scene in the 1975 series, I found myself wondering why he had betrayed his cousin's company in the first place. Why did he do it? Someone had hinted that Francis felt jealous over Elizabeth's feelings for Ross. Yet, the relationship between those two had been particularly frosty since the revelation of Demelza's pregnancy back in Episode Four. If Francis had been experiencing jealousy, what happened before the end of Episode Six that led him to finally betray Ross and the Carnmore Copper Company shareholders? It could not have been for money. Although George Warleggan had paid back the money that his cousin had cheated from Francis and the other gamblers at the ball, he did not dismiss Francis' debt to the Warleggan Bank. If only Wheeler had followed Graham's novel and allowed Francis to betray Ross following Verity's elopement. This would have made more sense. Instead, the screenwriter never really made clear the reason behind the betrayal. Rather sloppy, if you ask me.
Overall, Episodes Five to Eight of "POLDARK" struck me as an interesting and very entertaining set of episodes. This is not surprising, considering that they were basically an adaptation of "Demelza - A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790". Director Paul Annett and Paul Wheeler did a very solid job in adapting Graham's novel. Yes, I had some quibbles with Wheeler's screenplay - especially his handling of the Francis Polark character. But overall, I believe the two men, along with the cast led by Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees did an first-rate job. On to Episode Nine and the adaptation of the next novel in Graham's series.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
The following is Chapter Nine of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Nine – Independence and Westport
May 2, 1849
Independence at last! After nearly six weeks on the road, Alice and I have finally completed the first stage of our journey to California. Only twenty-five years old, Independence had developed from a crude, frontier town into a rich metropolis filled with dry goods stores, barber shops, grog shops, harness shops, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and emporiums. Whatever an emigrant needed for the overland journey, Independence provided it.
Alice and I visited a livery stable that provided new stock to pull our wagon. Both Mr. James and Mr. Wendell had suggested we trade my horses for mules. We met a Negro named Hiram Young, who happened to be the best wagon maker in this part of the country. At least according to Mr. James. What supplies we could not find in Independence, we came upon in a meadow that stretched from the city to the little Missouri River port of Westport. Nearly every inch of that meadow was filled with tents, huts, sheds, and lean-tos. And from them, merchants, farmers and other workmen provided goods and services to the emigrants.
Traveling across that meadow, our little caravan seemed trapped by a sea of humanity, buildings and animals. Kanzas Landing, which was located at the edge of Westport, seemed no better. White, black, olive and bronze faces had assembled there. Mountain men of every color, the Mexican drivers for the Santa Fe Trail, soldiers, Indians,, merchants, river men and emigrants. Especially emigrants. There was a moment when I feared I would not be able to breathe.
We finally halted near the edge of a high bank that overlooked the Missouri’s brownish-gray waters. People, wagons and freight were disembarking from a two-deck sternwheeler. Our Pennsylvania companions finally bid the rest of us good-bye. It was time for them to search for an Oregon-bound wagon train. And not many of them were departing Western Missouri this year. Instead of searching for a wagon company bound for California, we decided to form our own company right there, with Mr. Robbins acting as president, Mr. James as our guide and Mr. Wendell as scout.
Two wagons joined us within three hours after the formation of the wagon company. Two brothers from Vermont – Richard and Warren Palmer – owned the first wagon. They were a gregarious lot who were talkative, inquisitive and always had a joke on their lips. Tall, burly and freckled, the sandy-haired Vermonters seemed quite a contrast to the staid image of New Englanders. The second wagon joined our little company at the end of the day. Unlike the Palmers, Horace Bryant and Joel Moore of Evansville, Indiana did not talk that much. I could almost say that they were not very social. During our first night at Westport, they remained inside their wagon, while the rest of us listened to Mr. James’ tall tales and the Palmers’ jokes.
Our newcomers had one thing in common – they possessed plenty of equipment for mining gold. They had picks, shovels, patent tents, some new-fangled machine for purifying gold (I do not have the foggiest idea what it was called) and believe it or not, mackintosh boats. A mackintosh boat in the gold fields? Whatever for? What the Palmers, Mr. Bryant and Mr. Moore lacked was food. In fact, they hardly had any room in their wagons for food. And both parties continued to use horses to pull their wagons. Mr. James announced his intentions to rectify their situation.
May 3, 1849
Two more wagons joined our company. The first wagon belonged to a Tennessee dry goods merchant named Ralph Goodwin and his twenty year-old son, Jonas. There were not exactly a friendly pair, but they seemed more approachable than the two friends from Evansville. The Goodwins seemed slightly uncomfortable by Alice’s presence and mine. Yet, they regarded Mr. Wendell with suspicious eyes. They had obviously heard about the runaway near Franklin. But since the town was clear across the state and the wagon company was scheduled to depart Westport tomorrow morning, they could do nothing.
The second wagon belonged to a family named Gibson from Western New York. Mr. James pointed out that this was rare for wagons heading for California this year. Most wagon parties with children were bound for Oregon. California may have been fine for families in the past. But with the Gold Rush, the former Mexican province seemed like the last destination for children, let alone women. I found myself wondering if I had been wise to bring Alice along on this journey.
End of Chapter Nine