Saturday, February 20, 2016
"CASHELMARA" (1974) Book Review
My experiences with novels by Susan Howatch are rather limited. If I must be honest, I have only finished three of her novels. I tried reading two other novels - "THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT" (1977) and the first novel in The Starbridge Series, "GLITTERING IMAGES" (1987). However, I could not maintain any interest in the last two novels. Neither focused upon the history of an upper-class British family, which happened to be my main interest when I was in my late teens and early twenties.
One of the three novels I did finish was 1974's "CASHELMARA", a saga that focused upon an Anglo-Irish family called the De Salis. The story began in 1859 when Edward Baron de Salis journeyed to antebellum New York City to visit his late wife's cousins, the Marriotts; and ends some 32 years later in 1891 with his grandson Edward, resorting to extraordinary means to regain control of the family's Irish estate called Cashelmara. During this 32 year journey, readers become acquainted with six main characters and a fascinating cast of supporting characters that add to Howatch's tale.
Before reading "CASHELMARA", one has to understand that it is one of three novels that are based upon one of the British Royal Family's royal houses - that of the Plantagenets. The 1971 novel, "PENMARRIC" focused on characters based upon the Plantagenet line that stretched from King Henry II to one of his younger sons, King John. However, Howatch skimped a generation and decided to continue her focus on the Plantagenet line with John's grandson, King Edward I and finished the novel with a character based upon the latter's grandson, King Edward III. "CASHELMARA" is divided into six segments. Those segments are narrated by the following characters:
*Edward, Baron de Salis - a middle-aged English aristocrat and owner of both Woodhammer Hall (in England) and Cashelmara (based upon King Edward I)
*Marguerite Marriott, Baroness de Salis - a 17-18 year-old adolescent from a wealthy New York family who becomes Edward's second wife (based upon Margaret of France, later Edward I's second consort)
*Patrick, Baron de Salis - Edward's only surviving son, who loses Woodhammer Hall ten years after his father's death via gambling debts (based upon King Edward II)
*Sarah Marriott, Baroness de Salis - Marguerite's oldest niece and Patrick's wife (based upon Isabella of France, later Edward II's consort)
*Maxwell Drummond - an Irish tenant farmer on the Cashelmara estate, who becomes Sarah's lover and Patrick's enemy (based upon Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, Isabella's lover)
*Edward "Ned", Baron de Salis - Patrick and Sarah's oldest son (based upon King Edward III)
Another aspect about "CASHELMARA" that Howatch fans might find fascinating is that "THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE"could be considered a direct sequel to the former novel. Remember . . . "CASHELMARA" ended with Ned as the novel's narrator. And Ned is supposed to be based upon Edward III. "THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE" began with Robert Goodwin, who is based upon Edward the Black Prince, Edward III's oldest son. Since Robert's father was still alive in the first half of the 1984 novel, this means that Howatch based two characters on Edward III - Ned de Salis and "Bobby" Goodwin. Really, one might as well view "THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE" as more of a direct sequel to "CASHELMARA" than"PENMARRIC". In fact, Bobby Goodwin's background story in the 1984 novel is practically a re-enactment of what happened between Ned and his parents, Patrick and Sarah in "CASHELMARA", but with a few changes.
How do I feel about "CASHELMARA"? I thought Howatch had created a very fascinating tale. On one level, she took a family saga and placed it within a setting that gave readers a look at how British Imperial policy worked in Ireland. And we saw this policy in motion via the viewpoint of an aristocratic family - except for the Maxwell Drummond character. And although there are many novels set within the British Empire - even in Ireland - "CASHELMARA" is probably the only one that I can recall that had been written by Howatch. More importantly, Howatch's description of the Cashelmara estate left a stark image in my mind that I found rather interesting. It was interesting that half of the major characters regarded the Irish estate with a negative view. The other three major characters seemed to have different views of Cashelmara. Edward de Salis seemed to have a mixed view of the estate. Cashelmara reminded him of the period he had enjoyed as a child. Yet at the same time, it stood as a reminder of his failure to offer genuine help to his tenants during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Ironically, the de Salis family and their tenants would find themselves facing another famine over thirty years later. Maxwell Drummond seemed to regard Cashelmara as a symbol of his ambition to become a landowner and a gentleman. And he would try to achieve these goals through Sarah with disastrous results. As far as Ned de Salis was concerned, Cashelmara was his home, and a family legacy that he would go through great lengths to regain. After all, his father Patrick had lost the family's English estate, Woodhammer Hall, sometime before his birth.
Most of the novel proved to be interesting in its own right. The first two segments - narrated by Edward de Salis and his second wife, Marguerite - also proved to be interesting. Howatch did an excellent job in painting a portrait of both antebellum New York City and mid-Victorian England at the end of the 1850s and into the 1860s. Readers got a peek into Edward's fascination with his future bride, along with his the disappointment he felt regarding his children. But I especially enjoyed Marguerite's narration. I found it interesting to read how this 18 year-old girl struggled to maintain a healthy and happy marriage with a man over thirty years her senior. Marguerite's narration also revealed the struggles that she had to endure as an American in a foreign country. Between others - including her husband - making assumptions about her American nationality, dealing with the British high society's reactions to the American Civil War, and struggling to act as a mediator between Edward and her stepchildren; the 1860s proved to be somewhat difficult for Marguerite. However, being a strong-willed young woman in her own right, she survived.
Also, I found "CASHELMARA" to be the most disturbing tale of the three family sagas written by the author. What made this novel so disturbing? It has to be the marriage between Patrick and Sarah de Salis. Howatch based their marriage on the lives of Edward II and his wife, Isabella. But from what I have read, the private lives of the Plantagenet monarch and his consort were not as disturbing as the marriage between Patrick and Sarah. The novel's third segment, told from Patrick's point-of-view, revealed their courtship and the first four years of their marriage. It also revealed how Sarah's spending and especially Patrick's gambling habits managed to dwindle away his fortune. Their financial problems had only added to the existing strain caused by Patrick's continuing friendship with his childhood friend, Derry Stranahan. But the segment narrated by Sarah also proved to be the novel's nadir in terms of what occurred and how low her marriage to Patrick had sunk. And for Sarah and Patrick, their marriage had sunk to alcoholism and loss of property for him; imprisonment and rape for her. Despite the ugliness that permeated Sarah's segment, the latter also proved to be one of the two most interesting in the novel.
Like "THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE", the novel's last segment proved to be the most difficult for me. Narrated by Sarah and Patrick's oldest child, Ned, I had some difficulty relating to the character. Perhaps Ned was simply too young. After all, he aged from thirteen to seventeen or eighteen years old during this last segment. But I recall that one of the segments of"THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE" had been narrated by a character named Christopher "Kester" Goodwin, who aged from nine to nineteen years old. I had no problems with the Kester character from "THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE", but I did with the Ned de Salis character. Why? Perhaps I did not find him that fascinating. Or perhaps I found his penchant to view his father as a hero, Maxwell Drummond as a villain and his mother as a stooge for Drummond a little too simple for me to stomach. I find it difficult to relate to characters who harbor one-dimensional views about life and other people. And because Howatch ensured that Ned never learned what his mother had endured at the hands of Patrick and the latter's lover/estate manager, Hugh McGowan, I found my ability to relate to him even more difficult.
I have read some reviews of "CASHELMARA' and discovered that a good number of readers managed to enjoy this family saga very much. Only a handful seemed to regard the characters as unsympathetic and not worthy of their interest. I believe that a first-rate author could create a sympathetic character with unpleasant traits, if he or she had a mind to do so. Susan Howatch certainly managed to create some very interesting characters - aside from one - for "CASHELMARA". She also created a first-rate family saga that still remains fresh after forty-one years.
Friday, February 12, 2016
Below are images from "THE HOUNDS OF THE BASKERVILLES", the 1939 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1902 novel. The movie starred Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce:
"THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES" (1939) Photo Gallery
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
THE MAJOR PROBLEMS OF “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994)
Any fan of the John Jakes’ NORTH AND SOUTH trilogy would be more than happy to tell you that the worst entry in the author’s saga about two American families in the mid 19th century was the last one, ”HEAVEN AND HELL: North and South Book III”. Those fans would be speaking of the 1994 television adaptation, not the novel itself. Unlike many of these fans, I do not share their low opinion of the three-part miniseries. But I will not deny that ”HEAVEN AND HELL” had its share of problems. Below is a list of I consider to be its major flaws.
*Use of Montages - The miniseries did not hesitate to use montages to indicate a passage of time. Most of these montages centered on the Charles Main character, portrayed by Kyle Chandler. The problem with these montages was that they had exposed a blooper regarding Charles’ rank with the post-war U.S. Army in the first episode.
During a montage that featured Charles’ early courtship of actress Willa Parker (Rya Kihlstedt), Charles either wore corporal or sergeant stripes on his jacket. It went like this – Charles first wore corporal stripes, a fringe jacket and then sergeant stripes. And after the montage, Charles wore corporal stripes again.
*Orry and Madeline Main’s Presence in Richmond - BOOK II ended with Orry and Madeline Main (Patrick Swayze and Lesley Anne Down) attending the funeral of family matriarch, Clarissa Main. However, ”HEAVEN AND HELL” began with Orry and Madeline staying at a friend’s home in Richmond, in order to raise funds to feed the defeated post-war South. What in the hell for? The pair had a burnt home, an estate and family to care. They had no form of income or cash. And yet, they left their devastated home to raise funds for a cause that would have been implausible for them to achieve.
I realize that screenwriters Suzanne Clauser and John Jakes wanted an excuse to get Orry in Richmond so that he would be murdered by his old nemesis, Elkhannah Bent (Philip Casnoff). This could have been achieved in simpler fashion. For example, Clauser and Jakes could have used a funeral for an old comrade as an excuse to get Orry and Madeline to Richmond. This seems simple enough to me.
*Augustus “Gus” Main’s Age - In an article I had written about ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”, I had pointed out that the screenwriters managed to foul up the age of Augustus Main, Charles Main’s (Kyle Chandler) only son by his first love, Augusta Main. Jakes and Clauser managed to repeat this mistake in their screenplay for ”HEAVEN AND HELL”. The third miniseries began with young Gus around the age of five. According to Charles, Gus had been born just before the war. Where did this come from? It was bad enough that Gus looked older than he should have in ”BOOK II”. Then they aged Gus even more, despite the fact that only a few months had passed between the second and third miniseries. Worse, Gus failed to age, as the story for ”HEAVEN AND HELL” progressed. Especially since the miniseries was obviously set between 1865 and 1868.
During my last viewing of ”HEAVEN AND HELL: North and South Book III”, I was surprised to discover that a good number of its so-called “bloopers” originated from writing mistakes that appeared in both ”NORTH AND SOUTH” and ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. Those “bloopers” include:
*Cooper Main - Prodigal Son - In John Jakes’ literary saga, South Carolina planter Tillet Main and his wife Clarissa had one nephew – Charles, and four children – Orry, Ashton, Brett and the oldest offspring, Cooper (Robert Wagner). However, Cooper was never featured in the first two miniseries. His appearance finally came in the third miniseries, ”HEAVEN AND HELL”. Those fans who had never read Jakes’ novels had accused the producers and screenwriters of creating the character for the miniseries. Personally, I never understood why the screenwriters of ”NORTH AND SOUTH” and ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” had failed to include Cooper. After all, his presence proved to be vital to the saga by the third novel.
My only problem with Cooper’s presence in this third miniseries is that Jakes and Clauser had failed to create a back story to explain his disappearance from the first two miniseries. This failure made his appearance in this third chapter rather incongruous.
*Charles Main and Elkhannah Bent in Texas - Another plotline that took the fans of Jakes’ saga by surprise was the revelation that Charles Main had served under Elkhannah Bent in Texas, during the late 1850s . . . before the Civil War. No such story arc had been present in the first miniseries, ”NORTH AND SOUTH”. However, this plotline was present in Jakes’ 1982 novel. The first miniseries did show Charles serving in the U.S. Army in 1850s Texas. It also revealed Bent as an Army officer, visiting New Orleans, Louisiana around the same period. And New Orleans had served as one the main terminals in and out of Texas, east of the Mississippi River during the early and mid 19th century.
Charles’ past with Elkhannah Bent proved to be one of the major storylines in third story. The screenwriters for the miniseries had no choice but to include it. Especially since Charles and Bent’s past history played a major role in Jakes’ story. Most fans would probably hate for me to say this, but I believe that the screenwriters and producers for ”BOOK I” made a major mistake in their failure to include Charles’ experiences in Texas in the miniseries. Especially, since it proved to become an important storyline.
*The Return of Stanley and Isobel Hazard - I am surprised that many fans of the saga were surprised to see Stanley and Isobel Hazard (Jonathan Frakes and Deborah Rush) footloose and fancy free in this third miniseries. After all, they were last seen in ”BOOK II” facing prosecution for war profiteering. As it turned out, the couple was never investigated or prosecuted for war profiteering in Jakes’ second NORTH AND SOUTH novel, ”LOVE AND WAR”. Also, ”HEAVEN AND HELL” portrayed Stanley pursuing a political career, something that never happened in the first two miniseries. Yet, the literary Stanley Hazard had began his political career as far back as the second half of the first novel, ”NORTH AND SOUTH”. Again, another so-called “blooper” in ”HEAVEN AND HELL” originated from the screenwriters’ failure to be faithful to the novels when it counted.
*Revelation of Madeline Main's Ancestry - In the first miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH", the character Madeline Fabray LaMotte Main learned from her father that her mother was a quadroon (one-quarter African descent) and that she was an octoroon (one-eighth African descent). She eventually revealed this information to her love, Orry Main. Her secret ended up being exposed to both Elkhannah Bent and her despised sister-in-law, Ashton Main Huntoon (Terri Garber) in the second miniseries, due to Bent's discovery of a painting of Madeline's mother in a New Orleans whorehouse. Somehow, the Mains' local neighbors - including the local Klan leader, Gettys LaMotte (Cliff DeYoung) - learned about her ancestry. I would love to know how they managed this, because Bent and Ashton never had the opportunity to expose Madeline's secret. In fact, the entire storyline regarding the exposure of Madeline's ancestry is riddled with a good number of bloopers that originated in Jakes' first novel, "NORTH AND SOUTH".
*Miscellaneous Characters - Characters last seen in ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” failed to make an appearance in the third miniseries:
-Semiramis – the Mont Royal house slave was last seen engaged to another one named Ezra. Both had been given land to farm by Clarissa Main in the last episode. A former slave named Jane (Sharon Washington) took Semiramis’ place in the third miniseries. However, Semiramis was only featured in the first novel. And Jane was featured in both the second and third novels.
-Ezra – Semiramis’ future husband and a character that had been created solely for the second miniseries and not featured in any of the novels.
-Hope Hazard – George and Constance Hazard’s (James Read and Wendy Kilbourne) had been a month before the Civil War broke out in the first miniseries and was seen in the second miniseries. However, she never existed in any of the novels. The literary George and Constance had two children – William and Patricia – in all three novels. And they were seen in ”HEAVEN AND HELL”.
-Virgilia Hazard – Portrayed by Kirstie Alley, George Hazard’s younger sister had been killed at the end of”BOOK II” - executed for the murder of a congressman. However . . . this never happened in the second novel. And her character played a major role in the third novel. Unfortunately, she did not appear in the third miniseries. Her presence was sorely missed by me.
”HEAVEN AND HELL” was not a perfect miniseries. Its production values did not strike me as impressive as the first two miniseries. And it had its share of flaws. However, I was surprised to discover that it was a lot more faithful to Jakes’ third novel, ”HEAVEN AND HELL” than ”BOOK II” was to the second novel, ”LOVE AND WAR”. More importantly, a good number of changes made by the screenwriters of the first two miniseries produced some of the “bloopers” found in ”HEAVEN AND HELL”. I could accuse Wolper Productions and the screenwriters of ”NORTH AND SOUTH” and ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” for failing to consult author John Jakes on how he would continue his saga in the third novel. But the problem is that Jakes also happened to be one of the screenwriters for all three miniseries. While co-writing the first two miniseries, he should have stood his ground and resisted some of the major changes made in them – especially in the second miniseries.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
”THE TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” (1991) Review
Seven years following the release of the 1984 movie, ”THE TERMINATOR”, James Cameron wrote, produced and directed the first of three sequels called ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY”. Like its predecessor, the film starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton. It also became one of the most highly critical and successful action films of the 1990s.
Although released in 1991, the movie is set in 1995 – eleven years after the first one. John Connor (Edward Furlong) is now ten years old and living in Los Angeles with foster parents. His mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) had been preparing him throughout his childhood for his future role as the leader of the human Resistance against Skynet. Unfortunately, was arrested after attempting to bomb a computer factory and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane under the supervision of Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), the psychiatrist who had examined time traveler Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) in the first film. Skynet sends a newly advanced Terminator, a T-1000 (Robert Patrick) that assumes the identity of a police officer, back in time to 1995 to kill John. Meanwhile, the future John Connor has sent back a reprogrammed Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), identical to the one that attacked Sarah, to protect his younger self.
Like the first film, ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” is a thrilling and tense action film that made breakthroughs in the area special effects in film. And like in the first film, Cameron and his co-writer, William Wisher Jr. (sans Gale Anne Hurd, who only served as a producer for this film), created a story that centered around a future cyborg sent back in time to prevent a certain John Connor from ever becoming the leader of the Human Resistance against the future self-aware computer system, Skynet. Perhaps I should have said one of the storylines. Thanks to information garnered by young John’s Terminator protector, the Connors learns that the man most directly responsible for Skynet's creation is Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton), a Cyberdyne Systems engineer working on a revolutionary new microprocessor that will form the basis for Skynet. This particular storyline lead to one of the film’s more interesting scenes that feature Dyson’s reaction to the consequences his work and a great performance by Joe Morton. Another favorite scene featured the Terminator’s first rescue of John Connor from the T-1000 that had been sent to kill the latter. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s interactions with Edward Furlong not only provided some laughs in these scenes, but also a great deal of poignancy, as the two quickly form an immediate bond.
If I have to name one sequence that struck me as the movie’s pièce de résistance, it had to be the one that featured John and the T-800’s attempt to rescue Sarah from the Pescadero State Hospital, during one of her escape attempts. The entire sequence began with John convincing his T-800 savior to rescue his mother from the mental hospital in case the T-1000 came after her. John’s decision came at a time when Sarah decided to make her own escape after Dr. Silberman had rejected her request to receive a visit from her son. This exciting sequence culminated in a bizarre moment that featured Sarah’s first terrified glimpse of the T-800 coming to her rescue. By this time, the T-1000 had arrived at the hospital, killing anyone who stood in its way. This is probably one of the finest action sequences I have ever seen on screen in the past decade or two. And it is not surprising that it is the one sequence that many recall when speaking of the movie.
The movie had received a great deal of accolades for its special effects. Did it deserve it? In regard to the Industrial Light & Magic’s design of the T-1000, I would say yes. As for Stan Winston’s effects, I thought he did a good job. But I could find nothing to get excited about.
The movie also featured some pretty solid performances from the cast. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a better performance in this film, considering that he was allowed to project more emotion than he did in the 1984 film. This is not surprising considering that the T-800 he portrayed in this film got to learn a great deal about human emotions from the 10 year-old John. Robert Patrick found himself in the same as Schwarzenegger was in the last film – portraying a remorseless and efficient killer with little emotion. And frankly, I found him just as scary. I had commented earlier on Joe Morton’s performance in a very important scene featuring his character, Myles Dyson. Not only do I stand by my comments, I would also like to add that I was impressed by his acting altogether. It was nice to see Earl Boen reprise his role as Dr. Silberman, the police psychiatrist who had examined Kyle Reese in the first film. My only gripe is that the movie never mentioned his first meeting with Sarah, back in 1984. Linda Hamilton had certainly wowed many fans of her transformation of the Sarah Connor character. In this movie, her Sarah is a tough and ruthless woman determined to ensure her son’s survival at any costs. And from the moment the camera first focuses upon her doing arm lifts inside her hospital cell, the audience gets a strong idea on how much Sarah had changed. But for me, the movie belonged to Edward Furlong, the first actor to portray future Human Resistance leader, John Connor. Furlong was around 13-14 years old at the time. And he did a superb job in combining the different aspects of the 10 year-old John’s personality – the child who had clung to his T-800 protector as a father figure, the bold and wayward delinquent that robbed from ATM machines and the tough street kid taught to survive by his high strung mother. It is not surprising that Furlong ended up winning both a Saturn Award and a MTV Movie Award for his performance.
Is ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” perfect? No. In fact I have more than a few “quibbles” about the movie. Let me start with my first problem with this film . . . Linda Hamilton. Yes, I realize that I had complimented her performance in the previous paragraph. There were some positive aspects to it. But it also annoyed me. I had read that it was Hamilton who suggested that Sarah Connor become psychotic in the intervening years after her encounter with the Terminator in 1984. Frankly, I wish to God that Cameron had NOT taken her advice. I realize that fans loved this new aspect of Sarah’s personality. I did not. I saw no reason to turn her into a borderline psychotic in order to make her seem tough. And the movie never really explained why after so many years, Sarah had mentally gone around the bend. My second problem with the movie centered on the T-1000. I had no problem with Robert Patrick’s performance. I did have a problem that the movie’s main villain managed to disappear from the screen for nearly an hour. After Sarah, John and the T-800 managed to evade him following Sarah’s escape from the mental hospital, he simply disappeared, while they a) headed south toward the U.S.-Mexico border and then b) returned to Malibu and met Myles Dyson; and c) helped Dyson steal the central processing unit(CPU) and arm of the 1984 Terminator.. At least 45-50 minutes had passed before the T-1000 appeared on the screen again. And my biggest problem with this film centered around the finale and the T-1000’s attempt to use Sarah to capture and kill John. Why do I have a problem with this entire sequence? It was TOO . . . DAMN . . . LONG!! It was too long. Why did Cameron forced the audience to watch the T-1000 chase down and attempt to kill John for nearly a half hour? It was not necessary. And why on earth did Sarah believe or even hope that following the destruction of the CPU, the old Terminator’s arm and the 1995 T-800’s sacrifice; Judgment Day may have been averted? She had proof standing next to her that it would happen – namely her son, John. If they had really averted Judgment Day, John would cease to exist. Without Judgment Day, Kyle Reese would never have a reason to travel back to 1984 and meet Sarah Connor.
Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” a lot. It was a first-rate continuation of the original movie’s plot that involved one time traveler trying to prevent John Connor from becoming the Humans’ resistance leader and another time traveler sent to act as a protector. And in this movie, the protagonists also try to prevent Judgment Day. But there were times when I felt that its reputation as one of the finest science-fiction films ever made is overrated. I did not care for the psychotic turn of Sarah Connor’s character. The T-1000 managed to disappear from the story longer than necessary. In fact, the showdown between the Connors, the T-800 and the T-1000 dragged the film’s last half hour. But I would still recommend this movie to anyone who asked about it.