Gotta Do Crazy Things to Protect American History

National Treasure

I love these movies for the history.  They also feature an all-star cast.  Nicholas Cage leads as Benjamin Franklin Gates, Diane Kruger (you may recognize her as Helen from Troy) is Abigail Chase.  Jon Voight is Ben’s father, Patrick Gates.  The ever diabolical Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Patriot Games, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones) is Ian Howe.  Christopher Plummer (we sadly lost him recently, but he will forever be Captain Von Trapp) is the grandfather, John Adams Gates.  And if some of the FBI guys look familiar: Sandusky is Harvey Keitel (Sister Act, the bad guy) and Agent Johnson is Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer in Supernatural).  And that is David Dayan Fisher (Trent Kort, not a very good guy in NCIS, and he’ll appear briefly as another baddie in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear) as Shaw. 

Helen Mirren joins the party for Book of Secrets, as does Ed Harris (funny note; he played Beethoven in Copying Beethoven along with Diane Kruger) as Mitch Wilkinson.  Agent Spellman is played by Alicia Coppola (who has been in several television series, including JAG, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Castle, and MacGyver).  Yes, that is Bruce Greenwood (Admiral Pike in the newer Star Trek movies) as the President, and William Brent (or Billy Unger, he was my favorite character, Chase in Lab Rats) as the young Charles Gates.

Grandfather John Adams Gates tells young Benjamin Franklin Gates about their family history; in 1832, the last signer of the Declaration of Independence was dying.  He had his driver, Thomas Gates, take him to the White House to see President Andrew Jackson, so he could pass along important information.  But the President was out.  So he whispered it to young Thomas instead.  There is a treasure beyond all imagination, collected over the centuries, hidden in America.  The Knights Templar discovered it in vaults beneath Solomon’s Temple and smuggled it out.  They eventually became the Freemasons and members included prominent Founding Fathers, such as Paul Revere, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.  The old man’s dying words to Thomas were “the secret lies with Charlotte.”  Sadly, he had no clue what that meant, but the Gates men pass it down through the years.  Patrick interrupts story time, but John “knights” Ben before he leaves.

Fast forward to a more present day expedition in the Arctic Circle.  Ben’s theory is proven correct, Charlotte refers to a ship.  Ian is his investor and accompanies him below deck once they uncover the ship.  The skeletal captain is guarding one barrel in particular; Ben digs out a package, revealing a carved pipe.  Ben rubs blood over the carvings and rolls the pipe, revealing the next clue.  He works out the phrasing and figures out that there is an invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence.  Ian speaks up that he has a grey past and he can arrange to steal the Declaration.  Ben opposes the idea, so Ian has Shaw threaten to shoot him.  Well, Ben lights a flare in a room full of gunpowder, then dives for cover with Riley.  (Great guys, you just destroyed a historical artifact.) 

Now, Ben and Riley have to stop Ian.  They try to leave a tip with the FBI, but they’re dismissed.  Ben figures they need someone passionate about historical documents, so he heads to the National Archives and meets Abigail Chase [fun fact, she is part German like her character].  They bond briefly over her collection of Washington campaign buttons, but she still does not believe “Mr. Brown” (the name Gates has poor standing in the academic community).  Ben is then inspired by a line from the Declaration that means if one has the ability, they have the responsibility to take action against something wrong.  So, the only way they can protect the Declaration from Ian is to steal it.  Riley takes Ben to the Library of Congress to prove that Ben cannot, but Ben knows of a way they can.  If they use the upcoming Archives Gala as a distraction, raise the heat sensors in the casing so the document is in the preservation room, it will be far easier to sneak the document out.

Riley sets up his equipment, Ben sends Abigail the remaining campaign button she requires (dipped in a solution that will dye keys).  Ben sneaks into the event as maintenance, but switches to a tux so he can give a glass of champagne to Abigail, so he can retrieve her fingerprint.  Meanwhile, Ian and his crew use explosives and such to sneak into the lower levels.  So far, Ben’s plan is working, until he runs into Ian.  Ian starts shooting.  Ben takes a slight detour through the gift shop where there are reproductions of the Declaration for sale.  Ian’s entrance is discovered and security is alerted.  Abigail begins to suspect “Mr. Brown” and follows him outside.  Ben tries to get away, but now has to chase after Ian, who has grabbed Abigail.

Ian ends up with the reproduction, but Ben had to use a credit card to pay for it, so he can’t return to his house.  He heads for his father’s, letting Abigail know he is actually Gates, not Brown.  And the FBI start investigating, Sandusky as lead.  They had received a tip about the Declaration being stolen, but it wasn’t deemed credible, so no file was open.  Patrick Gates is not thrilled with Ben showing up at his house and still does not believe in the treasure.  He thinks it was a myth to distract the British.  But Ben carries on and Abigail helps him rub lemon juice onto the back of the Declaration.  Ink is revealed.  There are sets of numbers, creating a cipher.  Ben asks his dad for the Silence Dogood letters; written by Benjamin Franklin at fifteen under a pseudonym.  They used to have the letters, hidden in a desk, but Patrick has now donated them to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  Ian has also figured this out.

While Ben and Abigail change out of their party clothes, Riley hires a boy on a field trip to retrieve the letters from the cipher. Ian eventually notices the boy, but doesn’t catch Riley.  The clue leads to the Liberty Bell and its original housing, at Independence Hall.  They need to be standing at the right spot at the right time to find the next clue.  (I love seeing the singing room…it reminds me of 1776 [because no doubt they filmed there])  Ben retrieves a pair of spectacles, invented by Franklin.  “Heere at the Wall” with a Celtic cross is revealed.  And they catch sight of Ian’s goons.  They split up and split their pieces up; Ben has the glasses, Riley and Abigail have the document.  A chase begins in Philadelphia and Abigail almost gets hit by a truck, and loses the document to Ian.

The FBI intercepts Ben at his car, though Riley and Abigail get away.  Abigail has an idea to get Ben out of custody, though it means working with Ian.  Ben is to meet Shaw at the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York, then jumps over the side so he can meet with Ian at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, at Trinity Church.  The glasses have different colored lenses that can be combined to read different parts of the map. 

Now, they venture into the crypts beneath the church, joined by Patrick, who was captured by Ian’s men.  There is an ancient shaft they discover, leading lower.  But the years have rotted the structure and it falls apart on them.  Shaw plunges to his death and Ben and Abigail almost join him.  Ben had to drop Abigail so he could save the Declaration, but there was a landing below her; and she would have done the same thing.  Riley would have dropped both crazy people.  Ian insists they continue.  They find another chamber, but it is small and empty.  Patrick makes up a clue regarding the lanterns and sends Ian and his goon to the Old North Church in Boston.  That was just to buy him and his son time.  Ben finds another door to another chamber, but it is still empty.  Ben despairs.  He really thought he was going to find it.  Patrick points out that Ben has followed all the clues; they’ve led this far, they’ve worked, which means the treasure was real.  Ben ponders that there has to be another way out, in case of cave in.  The pipe comes in handy again and turns another door leading to a larger chamber.  A torch lights a line of oil revealing the treasure [the music almost sounds like Pirates of the Caribbean for a moment, considering Brukheimer was producer on both].  There are scrolls from the Library at Alexandria (drool), Roman and Egyptian artifacts.  And oh look, stairs!  (Riley cries).

Back topside, they call the FBI and Ben hands the Declaration over to Sandusky.  It is not a bargaining chip.  He would really like to not go to prison; maybe Sandusky will take a bribe.  How ’bout ten billion dollars?  Sandusky points out Masonic teaching states that it should not all go to one man; he is sympathetic to Ben.  Ben agrees, it should be split between various museums; it belongs to the people and the world should see it.  Credit goes to the Gates family, along with Abigail Chase and Riley Poole.  And if you really want to arrest someone, he knows someone who is breaking into Old North Church.  [So Sean Bean doesn’t die in this movie, but he does go to prison].

Riley spends his minuscule percentage on a Ferarri, while Ben buys a historical house; and starts a relationship with Abigail.

Book of Secrets starts on April 14th, 1865 in Washington D.C., five days after the end of the Civil War [which puts this prologue close to the prologue of Sahara].  Thomas Gates is hired to decode a message, at the same time that John Wilkes Booth shoots President Lincoln.  Thomas hears the commotion and realizes who has asked him to find the lost city of gold.  He attempts to burn the page, but is shot for his trouble.  His son, Charles is watching, but spared.  Thomas is able to pass the phrase “the debt that all men pay” to his son.  Another time jump to Ben giving a lecture on this event.  A man in the audience comes forward with the missing page from the Booth diary, and claiming that Thomas Gates was a co-conspirator in the assassination since his name was listed in the diary.  Ben is now determined to clear his ancestor’s good name. 

Except, he and Abigail are split at the moment so he tries to sneak in to gain access to the page.  She allows him to run scans on the page (they negotiate furniture) and they discover residual ink from the opposing page.  The FBI agents are thrilled that Gates is in hot water, but Sandusky points out that they need to know why Wilkinson has come forward with the page now.

The residual ink shows some of Thomas’s work and Patrick recalls “the debt that all men pay,” that was passed down from his grandfather Charles.  This breaks the cipher to Laboule Lady; referring to the man who created the Statue of Liberty.  There is a smaller version in Paris that he referred to as his lady.  Riley uses a drone to capture an inscription on the flame and Ben charms French security to translate the message.  This leads them to the Resolute desks and Ben heads to Buckingham Palace.

Wilkinson attacked Patrick at night so he could clone his phone so he can keep abreast of the search.  Abigail has also shown up at Buckingham Palace and will unknowingly put a wrench into Ben’s plan, so he stages an argument with her so they are escorted to lockup.  This leads them to a service elevator so they can see the desk in the queen’s apartments [the desks are not actually identical and the queen does not actually use the Resolute desk, but it’s cool for the movie].  The desks are actually puzzles and are hiding a carved plank.  Ben gets the plank out of the palace, but they’re pursued by Wilkinson.  Ben tosses the plank after he gets a picture of it.

Now, they need it deciphered.  And his mother happens to be an expert on that language, though estranged from his father.  She teaches at the University of Maryland.  She is pleased to see Ben and Abigail, but snips at Patrick.  They think one of the symbols means Cibola, the City of Gold.  A more accurate translation is simply the Center of the World, or Sacred Temple.  And they’re missing half of the plank anyways.  Which means, Ben has to break into the Oval Office to look at that Resolute desk.  Abigail’s new boyfriend is their ticket in and she stages a kissing session with him so Ben can find the plank.  Except it’s not there, just a stamp.

Riley knows what that stamp means; he wrote a book on it (which doesn’t sell well and his friends haven’t read it yet).  It’s the President’s secret book; written by Presidents, for Presidents only and filled with every conspiracy America has.  Sandusky can tell Ben, outside of the FBI office, that the book does in fact exist, but only the sitting President knows where it is.  And, you guessed it, Ben has to talk to the President.  But away from everyone.  So he manages to get the President’s birthday party moved to Mount Vernon where Ben know there are secret passages.  One of these days, he’ll wear his tux to a party he is actually invited to.  But he does get the President interested in his map written by George Washington.  The door shuts on the passage, sealing the President away from Secret Service.  Ben will show him the way out regardless, but does ask about the book.  Once they’re outside, the President gives Ben the clues he needs to find the book, but he has to hurry, Ben is now the target of a federal manhunt for kidnapping the President.  Oh, and if he has a moment, check out something on page forty-seven.

Ben meets Riley and Abigail at the Library of Congress and they head for the special collections.  The call number is the combination to reveal the book.  He gets a picture of what he needs, sending Riley and Abigail ahead when the FBI shows up.  There’s a brief car chase where Ben has to get into Abigail’s car.  But they have what they need. 

Wilkinson has been following Ben’s progress and goes to his mother first to threaten her; she cannot reveal the true translation to Ben, only to Wilkinson, who has further information.  She drops a hint to Patrick and Ben meets up with them at Mount Rushmore.  Wilkinson wants credit for finding the treasure and Ben hints that Wilkinson may also need the money.  Rocks in the lake behind the mountain lead to an underground temple.  They all get trapped and must find their way through.  Lots of traps lay in wait, like balancing on a board on top a pillar. They do find the golden temple, after water drains away.  Sadly, the water begins to rush back in and they’re almost trapped again.  Ben is willing to sacrifice himself to save his parents, Riley, and Abigail, but Wilkinson ends up drowning instead.  His final request is that credit goes to his family.

Ben meets with the President, who clears him of charges. Ben instructs that credit is to be shared with Wilkinson.  And there is another sequel hook that hasn’t come to fruition, when the President asks Ben about page forty-seven.  The film ends happily, Riley meets a girl, Abigail and Ben get back together, and even his parents may be on better terms now.

I do wonder how there is a connection between “pre-Columbian” culture and the Sioux of North Dakota; there is a lot of land between something that is reminiscent of Aztec or Inca and the Black Hills, and a lot of different people in between.

The action and adventure portions keep the suspense going; though I do wonder how these cultures created the booby traps.  Sure, they make sense trying to find the treasure, but how did they work creating them and how did they decide on those clues and such?  Probably a result of watching so many of these kind of movies.  Still like them; just have to suspend disbelief for a little bit.  And of course, the history!  If  these movies get more people interested in history, great!

Riley is comedic relief, though a bit whiny in the second film.  I think Nicholas Cage was a good leading man; he delivered a believable performance.  And I like Abigail; she’s intelligent, but not afraid to handle things on her own if need be.  And I really wished they had made the third movie, because I still wonder, what was the President looking for on page forty-seven?

Up Next: More history conspiracies with Da Vinci Code and Angles and Demons

They Did a Panama

Sahara

Based on a Clive Cussler novel [I have not read this particular volume, but I have read his first in the Dirk Pitt series, The Mediterranean Caper; it was quite good, I’d readily read more…and we have a whole collection in the house].  It’s an action-adventure film that I categorize as a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond.  Familiar faces abound; Matthew McConaughey stars as Dirk Pitt.  William H. Macy (a pilot in Air Force One) is Admiral Sandecker, Penélope Cruz is Eva Rojas, Steve Zahn is Al Giordino, and Lambert Wilson (he’s appeared in The Matrix franchise, and was Charles, the King of France in The Hollow Crown’s Henry V) is Yves Massarde.

The backstory of the movie is the last ironclad ship of the Civil War, the Texas runs the Union blockade, carrying gold coins from the Confederacy.  Fast forward a bit and we’re introduced to NUMA through newspaper clips, photos, and memorabilia.  Our main character, who hasn’t actually appeared on screen yet, was part of the Navy SEALS, then became a salvager through NUMA.  And another plot point is introduced, W.H.O. doctors are in Nigeria, tracking a disease that is spreading out of Mali.  Eva really wants to find the source of the disease, but is blocked by red tape.  She is attacked while tracking down a patient and rescued by a diver in the water; Dirk.  She wakes up aboard a ship and is briefly introduced to Al Giordino, Admiral Sandecker, and Rudi before Dirk makes another appearance, bringing up salvage from the ocean.  NUMA is presenting the sarcophagus at the museum that evening, which means Eva can pitch her plea to businessman Yves Massarde.  She gets her trip to Mali.

What we then find out is that Yves is actually in partnership with the local dictator who is making it dangerous to travel to Mali.  Dirk is also pursuing a lead on the Texas; he has a theory and a few supporting documents that the ironclad ship got caught up in a major storm and ended up in the Niger river.  He just has to find concrete evidence.  So he wheedles the use of Sandecker’s boat and agrees to take Eva up river.  They part, though agree to hook up again in Monte Ray.  Dirk finds evidence of the storm.  Eva and her partner are attacked again, though Eva hides in the well she is gathering evidence from.  Her partner is killed and by untying the rope and hiding her glow stick, she is not discovered. 

Dirk, Al, and Rudi run into local trouble on the water; bad guys are searching for the doctors.  They evade the bad guys, with Sandecker on the phone, asking about his boat.  Well, they “pull a Panama” [one of my favorite parts of the whole film] and the boat gets blown up.  Al and Dirk will go after Eva, Rudi is to report to Sandecker.  They’ve got some red algae that needs tested.  Al and Dirk make it in time to help rescue Eva, though she does quite fine climbing out of the well and shooting a bad guy.  They’re waylaid from getting out of the country by the local rebel group.  Eva finally figures out that the “plague” is a toxin.  Something is poisoning the water system, but far apart from each other.

Al finds the puzzle piece playing with the kids; when he has to retrieve a ball, there is a drawing of Dirk’s ironclad ship.  Years ago, what was desert was water, letting the ship ride upriver.  Then it dries out, burying the ship.  Which is how the toxin is spreading, through the underground river.  They find the Texas, they find the river, and they’ll find the source of the toxin.

Meanwhile, Sandecker is trying to wrangle up help to get “his boys” out of Mali, including going to an old CIA contact.  And Rudi runs his chemistry, discovering the toxin as well.  Which, if it hits the ocean, the whole world is in trouble.  But the U.S. Embassy guy doesn’t do anything, so it’s up to NUMA.

Al, Dirk, and Eva discover Yves solar power plant.  It has the side effect of storing some toxic barrels underground, which leaches into the water supply.  Yves finds them meddling and takes Eva hostage and dumps Dirk and Al in the desert.  The two buddies rescue themselves and fix up an airplane wreck into a ride (to the awesome tune of Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf.  Sweet Home Alabama played earlier).  Dirk calls Sandecker and works out a plan.  He and Al head back to the power plant to rescue Eva, but she has told Yves what his plant is causing.  So he decides to cut his losses.  (Here comes the Bond element) he’ll plant a bomb to blow up the plant, while he gets away in his helicopter.  Al goes after the bomb, Dirk goes after Eva.  He faces off with a bad guy on the top of the solar tower, and Eva jumps out of the helicopter.  Plant does not explode, but Yves still high-tails it out of there.

Now our heroes have to deal with the local warlord, Kazeem.  They hide in the ruins they find and discover the Texas while blowing up a sand dune.  They could hide out in the tough old ship, except Kazeem has armor-piercing bullets.  So they shoot an old cannon ball at him, blowing up his helicopter.  The rebels swoop in to intimidate the rest of Kazeem’s army.  Oh, and the Texas is full of Confederacy gold.  Which Sandecker reports to the Embassy guy, there is no gold belonging to the United States aboard the ship.  But he will consider to work for the U.S. government on a project-by-project basis in exchange for a new boat.  And of course, Dirk gets the girl.  And the fancy car.

To me, Sahara is a fun action movie that shows that history can be very interesting at times.  Who would have thought that a Confederate iron clad ship could end up in Africa?  History always ties to the present and there are several novel series out there that hit on that.  And it is really cool that an old cannon can blow up a helicopter! And kind of want to know what actually happened in Panama, and why did it involve blowing up a boat?

Up Next: More history in National Treasure

I Probably Share Qualities with Jo

Little Women

This will primarily focus on the 1994 film. I’m aware there are older versions and there is a wonderful new version out (unfortunately, not on DVD yet so I can do a closer watching), but I will insert little quips from what I can remember from the theatre. In grade school, Little Women was my best friend’s favorite book; I did finally read it and it is on my shelf. I remember it being well written and the characters fully realized. But what truly drew me to the 1994 film was the fact that Christian Bale (Batman in Christopher Nolan’s universe, we’ll see a young version in Newsies once we get to musicals, he was also the voice of Thomas in Pocahontas, and has won awards for some of his other roles) as Laurie. Winona Ryder (star of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula [refuse to see either of the first and I’ve only caught bits of the last]; she also made a brief appearance in 2009’s Star Trek as Amanda Grayson, Spock’s mother) stars as Jo March, a character very much based on author Louis May Alcott. Claire Danes (we saw her in Stardust) is Beth March and Kirsten Dunst (same age that she was in Interview with a Vampire [another film I have not seen]) is young Amy March. Susan Sarandon plays their mother, Marmee. Mary Wickles (the housekeeper in White Christmas, and Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act, amongst other roles) pops in as Aunt March, and Gabriel Byrne (D’Artagnan in The Man in the Iron Mask; he also introduced a concert between Irish groups the Coors and the Chieftains [he is Irish…though it was a bit of a shock to be watching a video on YouTube and pondering “where have I seen that guy?” and realize]) as Professor Friedrich Bhaer.

march women
The March women: Jo, Meg, young Amy mother Marmee, and Beth

Little Women is set in New England, specifically Concord, Massachusetts during the Civil War. The March’s father is away, leaving the women to make do. This film opens on Christmas, narrated by Jo. We see early on that Jo is an avid writer. The four girls make their lives a merry one when possible. Meg still yearns for nice things, like they had before the war. Amy desires to marry well. Beth is shy, but loves the piano. And Jo is fiery. Led by the example of their mother, they donate their Christmas breakfast to a less fortunate family. They catch a glimpse of their next door neighbor, Theodore Lawrence and his grandfather. At a dance, Jo encounters Theodore hiding in another room; they quickly strike a mutual friendship. He gallantly comes to the rescue when Meg sprains her ankle at the dance.

Amy gets into trouble at school with a deal over limes; the girls trade them, but they’re against school rules, so the teacher strikes her. Jo is now in charge of her education. Jo also sits with her Aunt March as her companion, reading most of the time. But when the elderly lady dozes off, Jo rummages through her other books for subjects more to her amusement. The four sisters produce their own newspaper and imitate a gentlemen’s club. They put on Jo’s plays. And Jo soon wants to include “Laurie,” or “Teddy,” and Jo sometimes calls him. He is loved as a brother.

While the four sisters all love each other, tensions and anger have their place as well. Amy is upset that Meg and Jo get to go to the theatre and not her. She cannot persuade Jo to help, so yells as the older sisters leave, “you’ll be sorry, Jo March!” To extract her revenge, Amy burns her older sister’s recent manuscript. When Jo next goes to jot something down, she discovers is missing, then in the fire. She screams at her sister and they have to be separated. She refuses to forgive Amy. Later, Amy follows Jo and Laurie as they ice skate, but Jo ignores her calls and neglects to tell Amy of the thin ice. Amy falls through and Laurie and Jo rush to save her. Jo is now apologetic to her little sister and there is a cozy scene of all four little women curled together, working on re-writing Jo’s manuscript.

Meg attends Sally Moffat’s coming out. She has strong opinions on slavery and the silk industry, but allows the other ladies to dress her up. She flirts with the gentlemen in attendance and Laurie is displeased with what he sees; this is not the Meg he knows. And he tells her. Later, he apologizes and Meg apologizes for her own actions. Then Laurie is off to college and the March’s father is wounded. Jo can’t face going to Aunt March for money, so sells her own hair. At night, she cries a little for her loss. Beth, continuing their mother’s request to check on the poor Hummel family, catches scarlet fever. Amy must be sent to Aunt March so she doesn’t catch it and Teddy and his grandfather come to the rescue, along with his tutor Mr. Brooke. Teddy promises Amy that he will kiss her before she dies. Beth worsens and they are forced to recall Marmee, who had gone to care for her husband. Beth recovers in time for Christmas; the elder Mr. Lawrence gifts her a piano in memory of his own daughter who died young, and they are blessed by the return of Mr. March.

We jump four years to Meg and Mr. Brooke’s wedding (the hymn they are singing is For the Beauty of the Earth, which I have sung in church and is very easy to get stuck in your head). Teddy and Jo talk; Teddy proposes. Jo refuses; she does not love him that way. They both have tempers, they’d only quarrel. But Laurie wants her. She insists she can’t be a wife. Both are broken hearted after the encounter. Jo cheers slightly when Amy informs her sisters that Aunt March is going to Europe, but her spirits drop again when Amy points out that she is Aunt March’s companion now and will be the one going. Marmee arranges for Jo to board in New York City with a friend and teach the daughters. There, Jo encounters Professor Bhaer and other scholars. She even tries her hand at publishing. But she and Friedrich disagree over what material Jo should be writing. She goes for the sensational stories that newspaper editors tell her people want to read and they pay for. Friedrich believes she should write more from her soul. For a while, they manage as a couple, but they still disagree. Then Jo receives word that Beth has taken ill again and leaves for home.

In Europe, Amy encounters Laurie. She dislikes the changes in Laurie; he whiles away his time and money and does nothing productive. Meanwhile, she is being courted by Fred Vaughn, an old schoolmate of Laurie’s. Laurie begs her not to accept Fred. But he is determined to prove himself worthy of the March family. He receives word of Beth’s passing (which is utterly heartbreaking) from Jo and goes to comfort Amy. They must wait to journey back; Aunt March is ill as well. When she dies, they return home.

Aunt March left Jo her home, Plumfield. Marmee remarks that a home that large is only really good for a school. Jo begins thinking. She also starts writing about her family in memory of Beth. Meg has twins. Laurie finally returns home, with Amy as his wife. Jo is surprised at first, but gives the couple her blessing. Jo’s novel is published. She notes a card from Friedrich and inquires who left it. The housekeeper accidently sent him next door, with the news that Miss March had married Mr. Lawrence. Jo runs after her professor and clears up the confusion and they admit their love for each other.

The newest rendition, released on this past Christmas day, exactly twenty-five years after the 1994 version, stars Saoirse Ronan (she was Mary Stuart in the recent Mary Queen of Scots movie, which I tried to watch, then shut off because it just didn’t seem to jive) as Jo March, Emma Watson (famous as Hermoine Granger in Harry Potter and wonderful as Belle in the live action Beauty and the Beast) as eldest March sister Meg. Laura Dern leads as Marmee March and Aunt March this time is played by veteran Meryl Streep. I adored the film and eagerly await its release on DVD. There is a BBC miniseries of the book that I want to check out at some point.

The 2019 film jumps in time period when telling the story, so you need to be at least familiar with how the story is supposed to go. For instance, they play both times Beth is ill on top of each other. So we first get the happy recovery, then Jo wakes up again and our stomach drops when we realize that this time won’t be happy. I liked that elder Mr. Lawrence appears more in the new film and his character is further developed. Overall, I feel the 2019 film better showcased all the characters, not just Jo. We see a scene from the book involving Meg that was not included in the 1994 film, when she uses money they were saving for something else to buy a nice gown because she misses pretty things. We see faults in all the girls, as well as their triumphs.

jo and lauriePersonally, I have always liked the pairing of Laurie and Jo; they get along so well, it seems only natural. I can understand her hesitation, that being too similar will not work well as a marriage, but Laurie is such a charming lad. (This is why it makes a good Valentine’s film, well, Christian Bale’s portrayal a little more than Timothée Chalamet…oh, if a man would offer to take me to London and support my writing…[but alas, it hasn’t, so I make do with my books and my writing and my movies and shows]). But I utterly adore how Jo is portrayed as a writer in the 2019 film. I recognized so much of what I do in her. And her conversations with the publisher; I was set on seeing the film when Jo commented in one trailer that if she was to sell her characters and writer’s integrity, she would get some of the profits.

I like the ending scene of the 1994 rendition, between Jo and Friedrich; it is very touching and romantic. But I also like the take in the 2019 film *Warning: Spoiler* that Jo does not marry, very much like Louisa May Alcott herself. And Jo turning Plumfield into a school and all of her loved ones there was heartwarming.

Do you lot have a favorite version? What are some of your favorite romantic movies?

Up Next: Becoming Jane

“Well Fiddle-dee-dee”

Gone with the Wind

Based on the 1935 novel by Margaret Mitchell (no, I have not read it, though I know it is over 1,000 pages long [and those pages are thin; to put that in perspective, Outlander is 850 pages and Game of Thrones is about 800]), it takes place in Georgia during the Civil War. Adjusted for inflation, it is the highest-grossing movie of all time and won an Academy Award for Best Picture. AFI ranked it as the sixth greatest movie of all time; and it is one of my mother’s favorite films. I remember a friend of hers from when I was young who participated in Civil War re-enacting and wore gorgeous Southern belle gowns, quite possibly another influence in my interest in history (there also exists pictures of my brother and I as youngsters for Halloween dressed as a Confederate officer and a Southern belle [that dress lasted several years, we kept letting the pleats down]). We’d see her every year at local Victorian days celebrations…and it’s only years later that I have made the connection on why Civil War re-enactors were at a Victorian celebration…because they take place during the same time period. Though it’s understandable to miss the connection, the Victorian era spans sixty years and is also primarily thought in regards to European history, not American history.

Its cast is well known. Clark Gable is Rhett Butler. Olivia de Havilland (who we saw in The Adventures of Robin Hood alongside Errol Flynn [who was considered for the role of Rhett Butler]) is sweet Melanie Hamilton. Vivien Leigh became a star as Scarlett O’Hara, and won the Oscar for Best Actress. Of special note is Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy; she was the first African American to be nominated and win an Oscar, she won Best Supporting Actress, beating out co-star Olivia de Havilland.

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton-Fields called the Old South…there in the pretty world Gallantry took its last bow…Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave…Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A civilization gone with the wind,” the opening of the film explains. It is a very romantic view of the South. The plantation Tara is just as famous as its inhabitants. Scarlett is seated with her beaux, dismissing their talk of impending war. She’s upset to learn that the lad she fancies, Ashley Wilkes, of the neighboring Twelve Oaks plantation is due to announce his engagement to Melanie Hamilton. She schemes to try to win him, but he is in love with Melanie. Scarlett does not see that she is not a good match for Ashley, and she could have the pick of any man that hangs off of her. She quickly engages herself to Melanie’s brother, Charles, even though he is promised to another woman. Melanie is sweet and truly loves Ashley and wants to be friends with Scarlett. Scarlett also meets Rhett Butler at the Wilkes’ barbecue, a visitor from Charleston who already has a reputation. Talk continues of the war, which is declared and the young men whoop and holler and cheer and ride out to volunteer. The young one feels that the war will be quick, decisive, and they’ll whoop the Yankees. Ashley and Rhett have a little more of an idea on how things will turn out.

Scarlett’s husband dies soon into the war and she must go into mourning. But it’s not very fun. So her mother suggests she join Melanie in Atlanta; she may even get to see Ashley when he is home on leave. Scarlett runs into Rhett again in Atlanta; he’s making a name for himself as a blockade runner. Rhett is attracted to Scarlett; he recognizes another like-minded person; as he remarked to Scarlett back at Twelve Oaks, he is no gentleman and she is no lady. In a way, he wants to tame her. He declares he will not kiss her, but she should be kissed, often, and by someone who knows what they’re doing (i.e. him).

Then comes Gettysburg. And the South begins losing. Rhett remarks to Scarlett one day it is a result of the South living in the past. Luckily, Ashley comes home for Christmas. When he leaves, Melanie is not feeling well, so he has Scarlett promise to take care of her. Scarlett is still hoping to win Ashley from Melanie, but promises, as a sign of her devotion to Ashley. The ladies begin work as nurses, then Sherman’s attack comes to Atlanta. He bombards the city first, then the South burns their ammunitions before he can reach the city. Turns out, Melanie is pregnant. And they can’t get her out of the city because she’s in labor. (This is where the famous line “I don’t know nothin’ but birthin’ babies” comes, after the girl made a fuss about knowing everything). Scarlett helps deliver the baby and sends the black girl to fetch Rhett Butler (from a brothel) to help them out. They manage to escape just before the ammunition blows. [Fun fact: the burning scenes were the first shot and they burned old set pieces to make room on the lot.]

Rhett leaves Scarlett, Melanie, the baby boy, and the slave girl on the road to Tara, declaring he’ll join the army to make a last stand. The women press forward and find Twelve Oaks abandoned and destroyed. They carry on to Tara to luckily find it still standing (the Yankees had used it as a headquarters). And there are even a few people home; Mammy, and Scarlett’s father, her two sisters who are overcoming an illness. Sadly, her mother had just passed away; and Scarlett had wanted to leave Atlanta to return home to her mother. Her father is confused in his grief, so Scarlett takes over running the plantation. The first act ends with Scarlett vowing to never go hungry again.

This movie does has an intermission (and an overture and entr’acte. I kind of wish long movies now came with an intermission; better for bathroom breaks in theatres). We come back with the movie briefly summarizing Sherman’s march to the sea (yes, that actually happened. No, Sherman is not well remembered in the South) and the arrival of carpetbaggers (Northerners who moved to the South during the Reconstruction to take advantage of the building economy). Times were hard in the South, and at Tara. They start to take care of returning Confederates and Ashley returns. Melanie and Scarlett are thrilled. Then comes the news that a Northerner has jacked the taxes on Tara sky high. Scarlett is desperate to come up with the money to save her beloved home, though she throws the old foreman out (there’s bad blood there going back before the war, he got “white trash” [I’m assuming a prostitute] pregnant, finally has married her after all these years, but Mrs. O’Hara caught a sickness from the woman and that caused her death…so no, Scarlett is not going to listen kindly to this man). Her father tries to chase after him and falls jumping a horse, causing his own death.

Scarlett goes to Ashley for help, even asking him to take her away from Tara. But he thinks highly of her and won’t let her feel so defeated (he’s not helping her fall out of love with him…heck, they even kiss). Desperate, she thinks of Rhett Butler. She makes new gown out of old curtain [this later becomes a bit in a parody of the movie on the Carol Burnett Show; heck, Scarlett’s whole wardrobe is as legendary as the movie, everyone has a favorite dress]. She flounces in to visit Rhett and almost has him believing she’ll marry him out of love, but he figures out her angle. He can’t help, his money is all tied up overseas and he’s being held prisoner by the Yanks. That’s when Scarlett stumbles upon a new idea; her sister’s fiancé has managed to start earning money and Scarlett ends up marrying him herself so she can get the tax money for Tara. She even manages to talk Ashley out of moving to New York, gaining sympathy from Melanie, who still tries to explain her actions to everyone else. That woman is really the most kind-hearted person. Scarlett starts a lumber business so she’ll never have to worry about money again.

 

Trouble comes about again, endangering Scarlett, her new husband, Ashley, even Melanie and Rhett. Rhett helps save the day, but Scarlett’s husband is dead. She starts drinking after that and Rhett visits. He proposes, fully knowing what kind of woman Scarlett is. He’s thrilled to be able to shower her with presents and treat her properly. He agrees bring Tara back to grandeur and build a grand house in Atlanta as well. But Scarlett, in her desperate climb to the top, has not gotten a good name in high society. This comes along when she give birth to a baby girl, that Rhett is all too eager to spoil. Her proper name is Eugenia Victoria, but they call her “Bonnie Blue” for her blue eyes. Still vain, Scarlett wishes to regain her eighteen-and-a-half-inch waist line from her youth; Mammy points out that will never happen. So, Scarlett simply won’t become pregnant again. Rhett’s not terribly pleased, especially when she carries on about Ashley and has kept a picture of him all this time. But Rhett will give their daughter a place in higher society, and goes out of his way to be sweet to all the right people.

Ashley doesn’t help matters when he continues to meet with Scarlett, call her dear, wish for her happiness, and give her hugs. They’re caught by friends of Melanie. Scarlett tries to stay home from a party, but Rhett insists she show her face. And Melanie carries on as nothing is the matter. At home that evening, Rhett reveals that he knows Scarlett still drinks. He carries her to bed. Afterwards, Rhett suggests a divorce from Scarlett, though he’ll keep Bonnie. Scarlett refuses, insisting that her daughter will not leave her house. Rhett goes on an extended trip to London and indeed takes Bonnie with him. He butts head with the nanny when Bonnie wakes from a nightmare and Rhett tells the nanny off for leaving Bonnie. The nanny points out that Bonnie will always be afraid if she’s coddled. Rhett dismisses her. Bonnie asks after her mother, so Rhett returns home. Bonnie is thrilled to see her mother. Rhett intends to leave right away for London again, but Scarlett reveals she’s pregnant. They start arguing at the top of the stairs, Rhett jokes that maybe Scarlett will have an accident. She goes to hit him, but he steps out of the way, causing her to in fact, fall down the steps. Scarlett loses the baby and Rhett is worried about her, but is kept from her.

Later, Scarlett is recovering outside and Rhett asks forgiveness. He wants to make another try at their marriage. The two are watching Bonnie ride her pony; the young girl insists she can jump side saddle. Both parents warn that she can’t. She does so anyways and falls off her pony. The fall kills her. Rhett is distraught. Mammy calls for Melanie to help Rhett. Melanie talks him around, but faints afterwards (this may be due to her being pregnant again, which everyone figured she couldn’t or rather shouldn’t, considering how the birth of her son went). Rhett and Scarlett are present as Melanie worsens. Melanie calls for Scarlett and asks her to look after her son, and Ashley. Scarlett throws herself at Ashley when she comes out of the room, which leads to Rhett quietly leaving. Scarlett finally realizes that Ashley truly loved Melanie more than Scarlett, which she promptly blames her behavior on Ashley, for never telling her. Which makes her realize that she loves Rhett and run home to him. Rhett is leaving. Scarlett begs for him to stay; “where shall I go, what shall I do?” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” [AFI’s top movie quote of all time]. Scarlett falls to the stairs, sobbing. Then she remembers something her father told her, before the war. “Land is the only thing worth working for; worth fighting for; worth dying for. Because it’s the only thing that lasts.” There’s no getting away from love of the land if you’re Irish (Gerald O’Hara was born in Ireland). That’s what Scarlett will do; she’ll return home to Tara and think of some way to win Rhett back. But she’ll think on that tomorrow, “after all, tomorrow is another day.”

While this is one of my mother’s favorite films, it’s never been one of mine. I can’t rightly tell you why.  I watched long movies as a youngster; one of my favorites is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  This movie has gorgeous gowns and considering I went as a Southern belle for countless Halloweens, I should at least be interested in that.  The story does slow down a bit during Scarlett’s second husband…I actually forgot that part of the movie existed, but that’s not something I would have recognized as a youngster.

Nor am I sure that as a child I would have recognized that Scarlett is a vain, selfish character.  She gets better for a time.  I think she did come to care for Melanie, as much as she looked down on her at the beginning.  She wouldn’t leave Atlanta without her.  She made sure she recovered well.  I liked her character growth when she took over the running of Tara.  Then she dropped all of that when she married her sister’s beau.  And goes right back to being a priss once she marries Rhett.  He almost had a chance of curing her; he had the best chance of anyone.  I preferred his characterization once he married Scarlett and he was utterly thrilled when Bonnie was born; aside from wanting to spoil her rotten.  Ashley is a bit of a simpleton; he couldn’t have ended things a lot better with Scarlett if he had just laid it all out, firmly, when he announced his engagement.  I’m not sure I really understand why Scarlett wanted him in the first place; her main desire was she wanted to steal him from Melanie, but before the announcement was hinted, she was fine flirting with every other man.  Ashley let it carry on far too long.  But Melanie is the sweetest person I have ever witnessed.  She’s not dumb, just can’t see the worst in some people.  She sees good in Scarlett, which the young woman needs.

I loved lots of things my mom did, just not this.  Don’t know why.  Personally, I would not call this the best movie ever, but my heart has been won by other stories… Chronicles of NarniaLord of the RingsHow to Train Your Dragon, etc.  Nevertheless, it is well done.  Margaret Mitchell never wrote a sequel, in fact, this was the only novel she wrote.  Scarlett was written by Alexandra Ripley in 1991 (remember, the original book was written in 1935).   Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig acts as a prequel and was written in 2007.

What are your thoughts on Gone With the Wind?

Up Next: Back across the pond for Young Victoria

Bayonets!

Gettysburg

As already covered in last week’s post: based on the book Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Gettysburg sign
Sign to Gettysburg Park

and covers the most famous battle of the Civil War. My brother sat down and watched this movie when he came home from kindergarten one day. (Yes, my family is full of history buffs). I’ve also already mentioned that my parents took my brother and I on summer vacations to Gettysburg; it was a pleasure to return in high school and again during a college choir trip. I’m the dork that asks about the canons. I’m not entirely sure why my own high school class came to love parts of this movie, but they do bring back a fond memory or two. What I found helpful during our lessons on this were maps laid out of each day and major movements of each army. I still have that project…buried away somewhere. This is one way that the book is better than the movie; I still can’t keep everything straight. And I can’t rightly remember if our concert band played this theme or not for a concert; it is a stirring theme nevertheless.

A few casting changes: Martin Sheen portrays General Robert E. Lee, Stephen Lang now plays Major General George Pickett, Tom Berenger plays Lieutenant General James Longstreet, and Sam Elliott is Brigadier General John Buford. The film opens with pictures of the major players with the stars listed and transforms into pictures from the film, showing how close the hair and makeup department got with their work.

The two armies are circling around each other; Longstreet has a spy who scopes out the Union line, mainly since J.E.B. Stuart is nowhere to be found. Lee needs information and also begs his general to stop his habit of riding at the front of his men when they fight (Longstreet point out it’s hard to lead from the back; a popular criticism of that style of leadership in battle); this is a result of the death of Jackson; Lee cannot afford to lose Longstreet. It appears to be an accident that the armies found each other at Gettysburg, though the general consensus is, it’s good land, and it’s very hot and humid (which it is, especially in July). Buford is first to arrive at Seminary Ridge (yes, there is Seminary and Cemetery Ridge) and guesses what both Lee and Meade (new general of the Union forces) will do. Since he is there, he makes the decision to fight for the high ground. The Union retreats a bit on the first day and Longstreet wants to break away and make for Washington. Lee decides (stubbornly, in my opinion) to stay.

It is from “Buster” Kilrain we get the title of the book, remarking to Lawrence Chamberlain, “if men be angels, then they be killer angels.” He remarks that Chamberlain is an idealist; Kilrain is fighting to prove that he is better than the horrible men that do exist. On the other side of the battlefield, we meet more of the Confederate leaders, including Pickett and Freemantle, a British envoy to the South. He later remarks to Longstreet that Northern and Southern Americans have different dreams. Longstreet brings up England’s own civil war (yes, there was one, but fought differently. I believe it was mentioned in Gods and Generals that America is trying to mimic Europe’s bloody history). Longstreet also feels that the slaves should have been freed before the Confederacy ever fired on Fort Sumter. But, they’d rather lose the war than admit a mistake. And they like their leaders religious and a little mad.

A theme that echoes poignantly in this film and the books and was very true of the war; there were friends who fought each other on opposite sides. Longstreet knew Grant from the wars in Mexico. Another key friendship is between Confederate Armistead and Union Hancock, best friends from previous wars, now across the same battlefield. Hancock is not taken lightly by the Confederates; they know how well he fights and what he will do. Both men wish to visit each other, one last time, during a lull in the fighting. Longstreet even approves Armistead’s request, but they never have an opportunity.

Devil's Den
Devil’s Den, from my trip in 2009

Come the second day of battle, Confederate Hood is ordered to take the high ground around Devil’s Den, terribly rocky terrain. He tries his darndest, but ultimately fails. The 20th Maine becomes the flank of the Union army on Little Round Top and are ordered to hold the line. The Confederates move up the hill five or six times and Maine repels them, though they take hits and casualties. When they’re low on bullets, Chamberlain orders them to charge down with bayonets. This is the part that my class re-enacted when we visited Gettysburg. It is a rather amazing scene. At the end, the Confederates surrender and Maine has earned a little break.

Little Round Top
Little Round Top, also from 2009 trip

Stuart finally arrives and faces Lee. He tries to resign for the slight he has made to his own honor, but Lee won’t let him. He needs his best cavalry leader, but Stuart needs to do better in the future. In the morning, after Lee comments that they are a day away from Independence Day and they may well gain the South’s independence, he orders Longstreet to have Pickett’s men charge the center of the Union line, correctly figuring that the flanks will be reinforced. A big problem though, there is an artillery unit smack in the middle of the line, under the command of Hancock and the Union troops have managed to fortify the center; they are well entrenched and Longstreet realizes the danger Pickett’s men will be in. Lee feels it will work.

A slight deviation from historical facts has the 20th Maine moved to the center of the Union line, figuring it will be quiet. Lawrence Chamberlain and his younger brother Thomas (whom he always has to discipline to call him “sir,” not “Lawrence”) were there on that day, asking for supplies. They take cover when Longstreet’s artillery starts firing, hoping to break the line first, sadly after they find out that Kilrain has died from his injuries the previous day. Pickett’s men charge: realize, this is a mile of open terrain for the Confederates to cross, with no cover, right at canon fire. Pickett urges his men to victory for Virginia. What Longstreet feared (since this movie was made long after the actual battle, characters can have incredible insight) occurs. It’s a slaughter. Hancock is shot and refuses to be moved until the battle is decided. Armistead is shot leading his men to the line. Pickett, far back from the action, openly worries “what’s happening to my boys?” Thomas Chamberlain finds Armistead, who is desperate to see Hancock, only to find out that Hancock has been injured. He calls out for his friend: “not both of us!” At the end of the fighting, the Union soldiers chant “Fredericksburg!” in relation to the defeat they suffered under similar circumstances there.

Lee decides to fall back; tells his men to retreat and fight another day. He comes across Pickett, who stands in shocks and informs the general, “I have no division.” The film closes on the Chamberlain brothers hugging. Pictures play again, summarizing what happened to many of the main characters. Longstreet remained Lee’s most dependable solider. He died in 1904 at the age of 83. Stuart was mortally wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern and dies May 12, 1864. Pickett’s division was virtually destroyed. He survives the war to great glory, but broods on the loss to his dying day. Hancock survives his wound and runs in 1880 for president, only to lose to Garfield. The package that Armistead left with Longstreet to be delivered upon his death was his personal Bible for Myra Hancock, Winifred’s wife. Chamberlain received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Little Round Top. Lee served until the end of the war; he surrendered to Grant at Appomattox April 9, 1865. He died in 1870, “perhaps the most beloved general in American history.” (I completely agree with this).

Gettysburg is remembered as the turning point of the Civil War; it is the most North the Confederacy ever got. It is also the biggest and bloodiest battle on American soil; combined losses total over 53,000. And similar to Gods and Generals, Gettysburg was filmed on location at Gettysburg. A few scenes were filmed at a nearby farm, due to changes over the years. This is I think the only time Gettysburg allowed a movie to be filmed on location. They’re careful with re-enactors every year; the park is one of the best preserved in the country. It has set the bar for what I expect from battlefields, which is why I’ve been disappointed elsewhere.

I have traveled Virginia a little bit, but haven’t visited any of the other Civil War battlefields; it’s something I know my mother would like to do. We’d also like to visit Lee’s home in Arlington. Virginia is just chockfull of history and historical sites; it is the first colony (he he, we’ll cover that in 1776), thus a center of Colonial history and Civil War history.

As always, if you have any questions, let me know. If I can’t answer it, there’s a decent chance someone in my family can, ha ha.

Up Next: The epic, Gone with the Wind

They say war is horrible, but continue fighting anyway

Gods and Generals

One time period of American history that I know well is the Civil War, certainly influenced by the number of books my mother has on the subject and her own well developed interest in the topic. When I took a history course solely on the Civil War in college, and needed books for a project, I simply called her up and said I needed books on Robert E. Lee. That weekend, I was delivered about a dozen of the books she could readily find (we have more, somewhere). I also realize this topic has gotten more heated in recent years due to…we’ll say politics and recent events and I have no desire to tackle that. Thus, this run down may end a bit shorter than I originally envisioned.

Gods and Generals is the first book in a trilogy of historical novels about the Civil War. The first written was the middle book, Killer Angels, written by Michael Shaara; it focuses on the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg, eventually turned into the movie, Gettysburg. Gods and Generals was written about a decade later by his son, Jeff, as a prequel, dealing with the major battles of the beginning of the war and again, about a decade after the first film was made, the prequel was filmed. There is a third book, The Last Full Measure, which was originally supposed to have a film made of it as well, but the poor box office performance of Gods and Generals scrapped that idea. Jeff Shaara has also written numerous other novels dealing with other time periods of American history (and we have some of them scattered in the house). These are not movies to take viewing lightly; they’re four hours a piece (Endgame was only three).

During my sophomore year of high school, our curriculum focused a great deal on the American Civil War. We read Killer Angels in English class (and I got laughed at for reading in an Irish accent for an Irish character). We watched Gettysburg in history class and took a trip to the battlefield. I was already familiar with the place; my parents took my brother and I there a couple times for summer vacations. Pictures exist of the two of us climbing all over Devil’s Den. Our final project was a joint paper for English and History on the subject of the Civil War. (I chose Southern women on the home front). And me, being the little nerd that I am, after reading Killer Angels, I proceeded to read Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure…well, I can’t recall if I actually finished Last Full Measure, or if I gave up. The first two books are excellent, the third one was weird.

A bit like another trilogy of novels written on the Civil War that was turned into a mini-series, North and South. (Written by John Jakes, who has written other novels on American history, and not to be confused with the British show of a series of books written by Elizabeth Gaskell, which Richard Armitage stars in…if you’re still confused, let me know, and I will endeavor to clear up the confusion). After finishing the Shaara books, I read North and South, Love and War, and Heaven and Hell. The third book in that series was really weird. The premise of this series features two young men, Orry Main of South Carolina, and George Hazard [no, not the Dukes…and yes, I’m a fan {the original, not the stupid remake with Jessica Simpson, I refuse to watch that}] of Pennsylvania. They become friends at West Point and then all hell breaks loose in the country. The mini-series stars Patrick Swayze (of Dirty Dancing and Ghost fame) as Orry Main and James Read (the father from Charmed) as George Hazard. Kristie Alley also shows up.

Back to this movie: Stephen Lang stars as General “Stonewall” Jackson (he was Major General George Pickett in Gettysburg, was a bit weird watching them in reverse order and sitting there, thinking, “Pickett looks familiar….oh.”) Robert Duvall is General Robert E. Lee, Jeff Daniels is Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain [I do not remember how military ranks fall, though if you have a question, I will find out], and Kevin Conway is Sergeant “Buster” Kilrain. The film opens in April of 1861; Robert Lee is offered the command of the continental army, to quell the rebellion of the southern states, by force, for challenge the central government. Lee refuses; his home is in Virginia, his loyalty is to Virginia, he has no greater duty than that to his home, Virginia. He views, as a lot of people at that time, Lincoln as invading the country of Virginia and the South. We’ll get this argument out of the way early: the Civil War was fought for states’ rights; the South’s argument was they were sovereign states that should be ruled by their state governments, not a federal government. They did not want influenced by politicians in the North. This argument actually goes back to the creation of the United States (we’ll cover it in the musical 1776). Yes, many of the leading politicians of the South wanted the ability to keep slavery; which is horrible and morally and ethically wrong and should have never been started to begin with. However, most southerners did not own slaves. And honestly, the North didn’t have a lot of room to talk; their ports participated in the slave trade (pops up in 1776) and many factory workers were treated worse than slaves. Factory workers were expendable; there’s always more in line waiting for a job. Smart plantation owners treated their workers decently in order to retain good workers. Again, not arguing that slavery is right; it’s not. But, the view that the South was doomed from the start, the “Lost Cause,” is northern propaganda due to winning the war. Winners write the history.

Carrying on: the film turns next to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where Jackson is teaching. Historically, not the best teacher. He even remarks that his method is to lecture. If the concept is not grasped, he repeats the lecture word-for-word the next day. As a college-educated individual, not the best method. Outside, the youngsters are rebelling against the northern call to arms and take down the American flag. Next, the delegates of Virginia have decided to officially secede from the United States (again, feeling that Lincoln and the North are invaders and wish to impose their will through coercion) and have appointed Robert E. Lee as general of the Army of Virginia, following in the steps of his grandfather, Lighthorse Henry Lee (a general for George Washington in the American Revolution) [also related to signer of the Declaration, Richard Henry Lee; we’ll see him in 1776]. We stop briefly in Fredericksburg to see a family sending its men off to war. We also see several instances where “Stonewall” Jackson is a devout Christian, believing that anything that happens is God’s plan, and openly praying for help in the coming war.

They cover the march to Manassas, in July of 1861, one of the first battles of the Civil War. It appears here that Jackson earns his nickname “Stonewall:” “there is Jackson standing like a stone wall,” amidst canon fire. This is still the European style of fighting, where each side lines up and fires at each other. They do advance towards one another at times and the goal always is to gain the high ground (better firing position). Some of Jackson’s VMI cadets are over eager and charge the Union lines before ordered, their commander is forced to follow, breaking Jackson’s plans. He insists to his First Brigade that discipline will win the day; indeed it does. He unfortunately finds those cadets after the battle, dead, but does not cry. Again, God’s plan will out.

We pop up to Maine, where Lawrence Chamberlain is teaching at Bowdoin College. He decides to join the war effort and meets up with his younger brother, Thomas at training with the 20th Maine volunteers. He also gains his right hand man, Kilrain at training. Kilrain (not a true historical character) points out there are friends from Ireland on the southern side; he feels they are trading one tyranny for another.

December of 1862 rolls around and the Confederate and Union forces are circling Fredericksburg. The family we met earlier is trying to get out. The slave maid finally persuades her owner to flee with her children; she’ll stay behind and keep looters out of the house (she dresses her and her own children up in fancy clothes and claim the house as hers). The Union finally takes over the town and they indeed come to the house. She lets them use it as a hospital and tells them she hopes the Union wins; but her family are good folks. And they do seem to treat her well; but slavery is still morally wrong. You want a maid, fine, you pay them and don’t consider them property.

Hancock wants to cross the river sooner rather than later, but Burnside is in command and decides to hold for the pontoons to arrive. Hancock mentions the “wily Grey Fox [meaning General Lee] has outmaneuvered us again.” Hancock’s plan would have put the Union in a much better position. This is why the Union went through so many generals; they had Washington breathing down their necks and every time they made a mistake, they were simply replaced. Many of the better trained generals fought for the Confederacy, due to where their homes lay. The Union meets the Confederates on the field of battle head on, under heavy artillery fire. There is a stirring scene where the Northern Irish Brigade (a real thing; I’ve got a book about them) faces off against the Southern Irish Regiment. The South is well protected for the most part behind a stone wall and the North keeps taking hits. We hear uilleann pipes over top the scene and when the South has beaten the North back and a few of the men are crying for having to shoot kinsmen, they shout “Haroo!” (this is where the saying comes from). Even the Fredericksburg family mentions the Irish Brigade; they had sent help during the famine and some of the ones they helped save may have just died on the field. But Hancock sends another brigade to try to take the ground.

conf generals
Jackson is on the left and Lee is in the middle

Three days later, the Union finally retreats. Lee mentions “it is well that war is so terrible, for should we grow too fond of it.” At one point, the 20th Maine was forced to use dead soldiers as shields when they got stuck on the battlefield overnight. Lincoln sends word to the Union soldiers that though Fredericksburg was not a victory, neither was it an accident. And the casualties were not bad compared to what they could have been. Kilrain mutters, “compared to what? The Scots at Culloden? The English as Bunker Hill? The French at Waterloo?” Later, he listens as Chamberlain discusses he views on the war. Chamberlain cannot understand how a group of people can claim they are fighting for their freedom, when they hold another race in bondage.

Christmas of 1862 finds the Southern commanders at an estate not too far from Fredericksburg, hosted by the wealthy family. Jackson strikes up a darling relationship with the young daughter, practicing for when he finally sees his own daughter, born after the war started and whom he has not met yet. Billy Yank and Johnny Reb (slang nicknames for Union and Confederate soldiers, respectively; there is also a song entitled Johnny Reb by Johnny Horton, about the Confederate soldiers. Horton has done other historical songs, most notably The Battle of New Orleans.) meet in the middle of the river to trade coffee for a smoke; a modicum of peace. The Confederates are also entertained with a show from Texas.

A few months have passed and the southern army has not moved far. Jackson sadly gets word that the little girl he befriended has died of scarlet fever. At this time, he allows himself to mourn for all of those he has lost. But his wife and baby girl meet him shortly afterwards and his spirit is lifted. We have come to the Battle of the Wilderness in the beginning of May of 1863. Calvary leader, J.E.B. Stuart (whom my brother did his report on and dressed as a Confederate officer) informs Jackson and Lee that they have found the Union flank. Jackson wants a surprise attack and to keep pushing them. That night, he rides out beyond the Confederate line. When he tries to return, he is fired upon by his own men, who do not stop firing. He’s hit several times and ultimately loses his left arm. While he recovers, he develops pneumonia. The Union army has moved on and secured Chancellorsville. Lee feels while Jackson has lost his left arm, “I have lost my right.” Lee pleads to God to not take Jackson, for he still needs him. But Jackson does not recover. His funeral is held at VMI; he is buried in Lexington.

The film ends stating that Lee decides to take the fight to the North after the loss of Jackson. This directly leads to the Battle of Gettysburg. It is also noted that the movie was filmed on location in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.  I also discovered some, not-so-cheerful trivia: it is well known that a lot of the extras for both Gods and Generals and Gettysburg were re-enactors.  Well, due to when this movie was filmed, they lost some of the extras when they got recalled to the military after Spetember 11th.  And Martin Sheen originally wanted to reprise his role as Robert E. Lee, but he was currently filming The West Wing; if his contract had been approved, he would have been on a flight to LA on September 11th.

I’ve never been a battle historian. I have taken a military history course, as an overview course; but I do not understand tactics. Upon re-watching this film, I find that I enjoyed the book much more; I was able to connect with the characters better (even with a four hour runtime, things always get cut when transforming a book to film). For me, this movie drags. It’s good that they decided to frame it mainly around “Stonewall” Jackson, and focus on only a few other main characters; though they still forgot a lot. But, if you like the Civil War, this is definitely a film to watch. I’d love to go visit Virginia and tour some of the battlefields and study more of that specific history.

Next Time: Gettysburg