Ain’t We Just Big Damn Heroes

Firefly

Take my love, take my land

Take me where I cannot stand

I don’t care, I’m still free

You can’t take the sky from me.

Take me out to the black

Tell ’em I ain’t comin’ back

Burn the land and boil the sea

You can’t take the sky from me.

This has become a pop culture hit, Fox cancelled the series after only one season.  But it gained a following and Joss Whedon fought to bring it back as a feature film.  Now, I did not watch it when it originally aired; I came to it one evening at a friend’s apartment in college and saw the second season.  At the end, I asked about another season and found out there was only the one, but I did track down the movie.  It’s a mixture of Western and science-fiction; Whedon explains that humans left Earth, found another galaxy and terra-formed the planets to support life and America and China, being the two big superpowers, melded to form one culture.  So yes, you have space ships and laser pistols, but you also have horses and regular pistols.

The show follows the tales of the crew of the Firefly-class ship named Serenity.  Captained by Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion, a self-proclaimed geek who later starred in ABC’s Castle drama [it’s excellent, check it out and he even brought back his Browncoat costume in a Halloween episode]), he brings aboard his former cohort Zoë (Gina Torres; she’s actually appeared in the Matrix movies and has gone on to the series Suits and other television series, including a few voice acting roles like in Star Wars: Rebels) to be his first mate.  Piloting the ship is Hoban “Wash” Washburne (the ever-hilarious Alan Tudyk from Knight’s Tale and recently voicing secondary characters in Rogue One and Moana), who has married Zoë.  Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin; she’s appeared in V on ABC and is in both Deadpool films) is a registered Companion on board who uses Serenity to provide services to far-off clients.  Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin, no, he’s not one of the big-name Baldwin brothers, but he did show up in two episodes of Castle and even an episode of JAG and NCIS) is their onboard mercenary, good with a pistol, not so good with manners.  Kaywinnit Lee “Kaylee” Frye (Jewel Staite,  a lot of guest appearances, even on Castle and part of Stargate: Atlantis) is the cheerful and brilliant mechanic who keeps the ship in the sky.  Shepherd Derrial Book (Ron Glass; he sadly passed away in 2016, he has a filmography back to the seventies) joins as a passenger and occasionally disagrees with Captain Reynolds in regards to religion.  And Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher; he’s voiced Nightwing/Dick Grayson in several recent shows and movies) and his younger sister, River (Summer Glau, well known for Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles  [which I don’t intend to watch], she made an appearance on Castle as well, Hawaii Five-0 and Big Band Theory, and she was even in an Hallmark Christmas movie, Help for the Holidays [it’s adorable]) round out the crew.

Now, apparently, the show was aired out of order due to Fox executive meddling, but the DVD released them in the correct order.  We start the show off with a two-part opener: Serenity.  There was a civil war in this galaxy [Whedon was influenced by Jeff Shaara’s Killer Angels novel, also the basis for the film Gettysburg], between the Alliance and the Independents, or Browncoats.  Mal and Zoe fought for the Independents and it came to a head at the Battle of Serenity Valley.  The Independents are desperate for air support, but it never comes.  Orders come in for them to lay down arms.  It killed Mal’s sense of faith and nearly killed his spirit.  But six years later, he’s doing odd jobs to keep flying and keep out of the Alliance’s way, so sticking to the Rim worlds.  We catch up to the crew pulling an illegal salvage job; and Wash plays with dinosaurs: “We shall call it, this land.”  “I think we should call it your gave!”  “Ah, curse your sudden, but inevitable betrayal!”  “Now die!”  But he gets it in gear to put out a distraction to save his cohorts.  They make their way to Persephone to finish the deal, the captain remarking “there is no power in the ‘verse to keep Kaylee from being cheerful” [and why my friends remark I am most like Kaylee].  They meet with local “businessman” (use that term loosely) Badger (played by Mark Sheppard, who has been in several geeky shows, including Supernatural as Crowley, Doctor Who as Canton Everett Delaware III [he plays a Brit in an American show and an American in a British show], as well as X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, NCIS, Star Trek: Voyager, Charmed and many others) to complete the deal, but he weasels himself out.  The goods they stole are marked and that makes it difficult to unload.  So, they’ll try Patience on another planet, and hope she doesn’t shoot the captain again.  But, they need legitimate business as well and take on passengers, including Sheppard Book, Dr. Tam, and Dobson.

Makes things a bit interesting for the crew and Mal informs Zoe “if anyone gets nosy, just shoot them…politely.”  Shooting happens, but only after Mal has figured out one of their passengers hailed the Alliance.  He thinks it is Simon, but it’s actually Dobson, who shoots Kaylee when she surprises him.  Simon won’t treat Kaylee unless the ship runs; he does not want the Alliance onboard either.  Mal helps Simon, then opens his special box in the hold and discovers a young woman curled up inside.  This is River, Simon’s younger sister that he broke out of an Alliance facility because they were hurting her for her intelligence.  Captain has to continue with the job and isn’t dumb enough to not realize that Patience will set up an ambush.  There’s a shoot out, but he gets his money.  That’s how things are supposed to work; “I do the job and then I get paid.”  He comes back to the ship to discover Dobson is free and threatening River. Mal shoots the federal agent and tosses him off his ship.  They also have to run from Reavers, dangerous people on the verge of being creatures that has the whole universe terrified.  Wash pulls a Crazy Ivan [remember that term from Hunt for Red October?], turning quickly and blowing the engines into their pursuers (Kaylee is fixed up enough to help out).  Mal offers Simon and his sister a place on his ship; they’ll be safer on the run and the ship could use a doctor.  And assures Simon he’s not the kind of man to kill another in his sleep.  If he aims to kill you, you’ll be awake and armed.  At the end of the day, Serenity is still flying.  It’s not much, but it’s enough.

After a little trouble at a small bar, Mal and the rest of the crew are on their way to a new job.  Inara holds Kaylee enthralled in her shuttle, brushing her hair and having some girl time, which Mal has to interrupt.  While it is manly and impulsive, Inara’s request is that the captain does not march into her quarters.  But he needs his mechanic, Mal requests, the engine room looks like terrifying  space monkeys have been at it.  Niska has a certain reputation [and seems to be the quintessential Russian-type villain] and wants the crew to pull a train heist.  Easy enough it sounds.  Until they discover there is a squadron of Alliance guards onboard.  Just makes it more fun, Mal quips to Zoe.  They complete their end of the job and unload the goods, only to discover once an investigation begins that it was medicine they stole, sorely needed in the backwoods town.  Inara uses her respectability to get Mal and Zoe out of custody, but Mal now needs to plan how to return the medicine.  Deep down, Malcolm Reynolds is a good and honorable man.  Slight problem; Niska’s men have shown up.  Jayne gets a lucky shot and Mal explains that they’ll return the money to Niska to square things away, but they won’t be delivering the stolen medicine.  The first henchman disagrees and gets thrown through the engine.  The second man hastily agrees and Mal and the crew get to be heroes for a second, giving the medicine to the sheriff under the cover of night.

Serenity comes upon a drifting ship in Bushwacked and receive more trouble than they intended.  It looks deserted, which is a bit odd in the middle of space.  Until they discover one man.  Mal has him locked in the infirmary, surmising that the ship had been hit by Reavers.  Then they run into an Alliance ship, hide Simon and River, and are detained and questioned (Wash’s interview is funny).  The survivor begins to attack the Alliance crew and Mal finally gets the Alliance officer to help, even saving his life.

Shindig is one of my favorite episodes.  Inara plans to meet with a regular client, Atherton Wing (played by Edward Atterton.  He was much nicer as King Arthur in Mists of Avalon and then plays Mordaunt in Charmed and has a possible connection to Arthur.  He also appeared in Man in the Iron Mask as a relative good guy).  Mal meets up with Badger, who has another job for him; the sleaseball figures that Mal can cozy up to a potential client at a local party.  It does give the captain a chance to apologize for accidentally insulting Kaylee earlier; she gets to wear the poufy dress she saw in a shop earlier and accompany him to the party.  They run into Inara and while Kaylee gets surrounded by men to talk engines, Captain “Tightpants” dances with Inara, then gets in an argument with Atherton.  Atherton challenges Malcolm to a duel, with swords.  The client is impressed by Malcolm, but the captain has to survive first.  Inara, as a trained Companion, has some knowledge with swords and helps her friend out, despite some disagreements.  Mal has the bad habit of calling Inara a whore to her face, but took exception to Atherton’s mere implication.  Well, Atherton was insulting Inara as a person, Mal explains.  Atherton appears to have the upper hand, but Mal comes back after breaking his sword to beat Atherton; and Inara providing a distraction by appearing to take Atherton’s offer to exclusivity.  Mal leaves Atherton breathing, which will bring the man shame.  “Mercy is the mark of a great man,” and he stabs his opponent.  “Guess I’m just a good man,” another stab.  “Well, I’m alright.”  Atherton tries to threaten Inara, but she points out guild law; Atherton is the one who will be blacklisted.

Now, the crew intended to mount a daring rescue, but Badger sits onboard to keep an eye on them.  There is a humorous interaction between the man and River, who copies his accent.  Then she sweeps by her brother, remarking “call me if anyone interesting shows up.”  That would have worked as a distraction, but they missed their opportunity.  Inara and Mal show up before the second plan can go into effect.  And the cargo that the client wishes to offload?  Cattle.

We get some flashbacks to the Tam siblings (young Simon is played by a young Zac Efron) when they were younger in Safe.  The crew is unloading the cattle, after the captain warns Simon to keep his sister under control.  Kaylee continues to be interested in Simon, who is a bit oblivious and demeaning.  River wanders off and finds a wedding dance.  She shows a bit of the girl that remains under the weird dreams and sayings.  Then Simon is kidnapped.  Unfortunately, things do not go smooth with the cattle transfer and Sheppard Book is shot in the ensuing confrontation.  Serenity has to leave the Tams behind in order to save Book.  They’re desperate enough to go to the Alliance for help, but it’s not until the officers see Book’s ID card that they agree to help, which is a bit suspicious.  Back on the planet, Simon and River are taken to a hill village where Simon is to be the local doctor.  River understands what Simon has given up to rescue her; a promising career, safety, wealth; all to save her.  Simon unfortunately remembers their father essentially disinheriting him for attempting to rescue River.  Their parents never suspected anything was wrong with the government school and their father was more concerned with their image, than helping either of his children.  He bailed Simon out of trouble once, he vowed not to help again.  Then a local woman declares River a witch for knowing what people were thinking.  The town gets riled up and prepares to burn River at the stake.  Simon climbs up with her, the ever-protecting big brother.  Serenity appears in the sky and Mal and Zoe walk into town in the nick of time.  What does that make them?  Big damn heroes.  River is their witch, so cut her down, he instructs the leader.  He insists that they are part of the crew; it doesn’t matter if he necessarily likes them.

Mal dresses up as a woman to complete their next job in Our Mrs. Reynolds, telling their opponent, “I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.”  A celebration is thrown by the locals for their help and Jayne and Mal get pretty drunk.  So the next morning when Mal discovers a young woman onboard, he’s a bit confused as to how she got there.  And even more confused when she tells him they’re married.  Book looks up the customs, and yes, they are technically married.  He later warns Mal that if he takes advantage of Saffron, he will burn in the “special Hell, reserved for child molesters and those who talk at the theatre.”  Jayne even offers Mal his prized gun, Vera, in exchange for Saffron.  Mal firmly declines and shows himself to be a bit of a gentleman.  He is certain he will be a bad husband and will not take advantage of Saffron and even advises her to toughen up.  Turns out she didn’t need to toughen up; this was all a con to get the ship.  She attempts to seduce Wash, who is loyal to Zoe, so she has to knock him out after she’s knocked out Mal.  She gains control of the ship and steers it to salvagers before escaping.  She almost has Inara fooled, but the Companion recognizes the training and goes after Mal.  She passes out after kissing Mal’s lips.  Luckily, Jayne and Vera manage to shoot out the net intended to hold them and Mal eventually tracks Saffron down to knock her out.

Jaynestown turns out to be a place where the people worship Jayne as a Robin Hood-type hero.  He had pulled a job years back that resulted in him dumping the magistrate’s money into the town square.  The locals are poor and dirty and suppressed, but the actions they viewed as heroic gave them the courage to stand up for themselves.  Why, there’s even a ballad about “the hero of Canton/ the man they call Jayne!”  [Captain Stout will sing the ballad, complete with the hat, at faire for Tyme Travellers weekend.]  It does provide an excellent cover for the crew to steal what they need.  And meanwhile, onboard Serenity, Book and River differ over the Bible and then River hides from Book once she sees his hair unbound…it really is hilarious.  “Too much hair,” she moans to Zoe and almost doesn’t want to come out because “it’ll still be there, waiting.”  And the magistrate in question had hired Inara to make his son into a man.  Well, it worked.  He stood up to his father and made sure Serenity could escape.

Odd as it may sound, I like Out of Gas.  We get some back story on how the crew members ended up on Serenity.  Mal bought her, on purpose, though Zoe wonders.  Wash was brought on as a pilot and Zoe initially wonders at his mustache and they pinch Jayne from another gig, promising him better pay and his own rom.  Kaylee wasn’t the first mechanic brought aboard, but she fixed the other mechanic’s problem despite having sex with the guy.  But the main problem at present is an explosion in the engine.  Zoe knocks Kaylee out of the way, but she’s hurt.  And life support got knocked out.  Despite some disagreements, Mal gets Wash to send out a distress beacon, then orders the rest of the passengers to split into the two shuttles.  Mal will stay aboard incase their miracle comes.  Inara tries to convince Mal that this isn’t the ancient sea, the captain doesn’t have to go down with the ship.  And some stranger does come to the rescue, but they shoot Mal, obviously intending to take the ship as their own.  Mal won’t let that happen; he orders them off his ship, but leave the part they need.  He bleeds across the ship, putting the engine back to rights, then passing out right in front of the button Wash wired to bring the shuttles back.  He wakes up to discover his crew disobeyed his orders and returned for him; very lucky for him.  It’s just so sweet how they are all one big family.

Events almost come to a head on Ariel, a Central planet.  River is getting worse, but Simon doesn’t have all the tools he needs in order to treat her.  He comes to the crew with a job; sneak him and River into diagnostic room in the hospital.  In exchange, he’ll tell them what drugs to take that will bring the most on the black market.  And being a Central hospital, it will be re-stocked in a matter of hours, meaning no one should die from their theft.  Wash and Kaylee get an ambulance up and running; Jayne, Mal, and Zoe will be the crew.  They’ll take Simon and River in as corpses, then wake them up.  Jayne is in charge of the siblings while Mal and Zoe do the thieving.  Except, Jayne got stupid.  He alerted the feds and changed the plan.  They don’t show up for the pick-up.  Instead, Jayne gets taken with the siblings and River has to get them away before worse men come.  The “two by two, hands of blue,” men show up with blue gloves and sticks that resonate at a high frequency, causing blood to pour out of their victims.  Mal figures out what Jayne tried to pull and has a discussion with him through the back door as they’re lifting off.  Simon and River are part of Mal’s crew, so any betrayal against them is a betrayal against Mal.  Jayne is a bit repentant and Mal doesn’t end up killing him.  His final warning to Jayne is “if you want to stab me in the back, do it to my face.”

Niska returns in War Stories.  Wash is getting concerned that there is more to the relationship between his wife and the captain than simple Army buddies.  Wash and Zoe argue the fact while River and Kaylee chase each other like children in the cargo hold.  “Ah, the pitter patter of tiny feet in huge combat boots,” Mal remarks.  “Shut up!  One of you is gonna fall and die and I’m not cleanin’ it up!”  Wash claims that he can handle himself and decides to go on the drop with Mal instead of Zoe.  Well, things don’t go smooth again and their contacts are killed and Mal and Wash are captured.  Zoe, Jayne, and Book go to investigate when they’re late and Book proves he’s a strange Sheppard; he knows an awful lot about the Alliance and guns for a preacher.  Meanwhile, Wash discusses the issue of his wife with Mal; he figures they’ve never slept together which is causing sexual tension.  Mal points out one time that Zoe didn’t obey him; by marrying Wash.  All the while, Niska is electrocuting the pair.  Mal keeps Wash talking to keep him alert.  Zoe plans to offer Niska a deal, all the money the crew can put together in exchange for their captain and pilot.  Niska takes the money, but it’s only enough for one.  Zoe immediately chooses her husband.  Well, maybe more than one…Niska cuts off Mal’s ear.  One of the few times you hear Mal scream.  Wash insists they go back to rescue Mal.  Zoe agrees and the two arm themselves.  Jayne eventually agrees to come and even Book, Simon, and Kaylee gear up to save Mal.  Book will stick to shooting kneecaps, the Bible is fuzzy on that subject.

Too bad Niska’s killed him; this is not the age for heroic men.  He brings Mal back so he can prolong the torture.  The three most experience enter the compound first.  But Book and Simon have to soon follow them.  Kaylee can’t; she’s scared.  But men come towards the ship.  River picks up the dropped gun, takes one look, then turns away and shoots each man once.  “No power in the ‘verse can stop me.”  Kaylee had used that line earlier, playing with River.  Mal goes after Niska in all the commotion, but his henchman takes over.  Niska escapes and Mal continues fighting, but he won’t say no to some help.  Simon borrows a tool from Inara’s female counselor client in order to re-attach Mal’s ear.

Saffron pops back up in Trash, portraying the wife of an old friend’s of Mal.  Mal is wise to her antics, but is still tempted by a high paying gig she has lined up.  They’ll sneak in and steal the first laser pistol from a wealthy officer who certainly deserves to have the piece taken.  Not everyone is keen on following “Yosaffbrig’s” plan, particularly Inara.  But the crew gets the drop on Saffron.  Inara was their back-up for when Saffron double-crossed them.  She locks Saffron in the garbage bin for the feds to pick up.  And River also knows what Jayne tried to do on Ariel, so when Simon has to patch up the mercenary, he promises that the man will always be safe from Simon; they’re on the same crew, so they gotta trust each other.  Oh, and Saffron made Mal take off his clothes before leaving him stranded, so he gets to walk back on his ship proudly butt-naked.

The Message reunites Mal and Zoe with an old friend from their squadron, Tracey.  Except Tracey is dead and shipped himself to Mal and Zoe.  And Kaylee’s not speaking to Simon because he managed to put his foot in his mouth…again.  But Tracey’s dead body brings a whole mess of trouble to Serenity’s crew.  They need to know how the boy died.  Except when Simon goes to do an autopsy, Tracey wakes up.  He managed to fall in with the wrong crowd and tried to make big bucks carrying organs.  Then he tried to double-cross those people, who are now after him.  He just wants to make it home now, but he doesn’t trust the rest of the crew.  Mal has a plan, but before he can enact it, Tracey gets trigger-happy and Zoe puts a bullet in Tracey.  He manages to take Kaylee hostage, who has gotten sweet on him, but Jayne (who has gained a ‘cunning’ knitted cap from his mother) shoots him in a standoff.  If the boy had waited a minute, Mal could have explained that Book realized the feds chasing them were far out of their jurisdiction, meaning this whole deal was off the records.  But they do right by Tracey and take him to his parents for burial.

“Wash, tell me I’m pretty.” “If I were unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion.” “‘Cause I’m pretty?” “‘Cause you’re pretty.”

Inara’s friend, Nandi is in trouble in Heart of Gold. [And the above is my favorite quote.]  The local leader, Rance Burgess (played by Fredric Lehne, the father-in-law in Greatest Showman, appeared in an episode of Castle as well, and big bad Azazel of the early seasons of Supernatural and many other guest appearances) is trying to claim an unborn child from one of Nandi’s girls…she does run a legitimate whorehouse.  But Rance is cruel and could make a real difference in the town, but decides he likes to retain all the power. Mal agrees to meet the man, with Inara deigning to be on his arm, once he washes it.  And he does not like what he sees; Rance is determined he is right and will use any justification.  So Mal’s first plan is for everyone to run.  But Nandi refuses.  So, they’ll board up and fight.  At this point, Zoe brings up to Wash that she wants a baby.  Wash argues that it is a dangerous world to bring a helpless child into, but Zoe is adamant.  That evening, the pregnant girl goes into labor and Nandi spends time with Mal.  She finally kisses him and takes him to bed.  Inara discovers it the next morning and is seemingly fine with it.  With no puritanical view on sex, she doesn’t mind when her friends engage in it.  But we see her crying later.  And Nandi realizes what we all have been seeing for a while; Mal and Inara have feelings for each other, only they don’t recognize it. There’s no time to make up to each other; Rance and his men attack.  Thanks to a traitor in the girls’ midst, Rance is able to get to the newborn baby.  Inara holds a knife to his throat so he’ll give up the child, but he pushes her away, then shoots Nandi.  Mal goes after Rance and punches him.  The pregnant girl comes out with the baby and briefly introduces the boy to his father, then shoots Rance.  The crew stays for the funeral and afterwards, Inara talks to Mal.  Mal feels like he failed Nandi, but Inara comforts him.  We think they will finally admit the truth, but instead, Inara announces she’s leaving.

Objects in Space rounds out the series.  River walks about the ship and can’t help but hear everyone’s thoughts and be a bit disturbed by them.  Then she thinks she’s found a stick, but it’s really a gun.  Everyone freaks out, but Mal gets the gun off her.  Kaylee finally admits what River did when they rescued Mal from Niska.  Mal has his own theory; River is a Reader, a psychic.  Everyone eventually goes to be a bit disgruntled.  Then bounty hunter Jubal Early sneaks aboard Serenity.  He knocks out Mal and locks the crews’ quarters.  But Kaylee is in the engine room.  She at least picks up a wrench for defense when she hears something, but he threatens to rape her if she makes a sound.  (Oh yeah, he’s a creep and everyone pretty much hates him for making Kaylee cry).  She has to tell him where Simon and River are.  Jubal finds Book first and knocks him out, then finds Simon (shirtless), but no River.  The creep tries to be philosophical and even mistakes Simon’s question on the Alliance for asking if Jubal is a lion.  Simon puts up a bit of a fight, but Jubal threatens Kaylee again and forces Simon to help him look for River.  He hits Inara when she tries to talk him out of his search.

Then we hear River over the speakers.  She has become Serenity, because no one else wanted her.  Jubal questions Simon, who quips “I can’t keep track of her when she not incorporeally possessing a ship…we had a complicated childhood.”  Meanwhile, River comforts Kaylee and tells her she needs to be brave; then hatches a plan with Mal.  River starts to get to Jubal, telling him he’s a liar and despite his supposed code, he likes causing people pain.  Jubal finally figures out River is on his ship.  But River agrees to go with Jubal, to save everyone else.  Well, Simon’s not going to let his sister walk into danger, and tackles Jubal.  He gets shot in the leg for his trouble, but still goes after the bounty hunter.  Kaylee has managed to secretly unlock the dorms and Mal sneaks out.  He’s waiting for Jubal when he leaves Serenity and punches him into space.  Mal catches River on her way back and comments on her brother messing up their plan.  It all ends happy with River and Kaylee hanging out.

The Big Damn Movie, Serenity gives a bit more of the back story of how everyone came to be in space, but it’s actually a memory’s of River.  Well, not really; someone is watching a playback of how Simon broke River out.  The Operative will be hunting them down and is not afraid to get messy, speaking of how some ancient cultures threw themselves on their swords when they failed.  Serenity is still flying, though they may have an interesting landing, as in “oh god, oh god, we’re all gonna die.”  Mal insists that he takes River on a robbery job; she may warn them of trouble.  Simon is not pleased, but Mal is captain.  River indeed senses trouble: Reavers.  Our favorite crew escapes, but we also see that Mal has become a bit harsher in the time between the series and the film.  Simon punches Mal for endangering his sister and declares they will be getting off at the next port.  Kaylee is unhappy they’re leaving, but Mal has business to attend to.  River wanders into the bar and a commercial on the television makes her attack everyone.  She pulls a gun on Mal just as he pulls his pistol.  A phrase from Simon knocks her out and it’s Mal who carries her back to the ship, to handcuff her.  Simon finally reveals that he was warned this may happen and was given the safe phrase.  But Mal suggests there is something going on, something to do with the Alliance.  River had murmured “Miranda” before she went wild.  (Unfortunately, the Operative has seen the same footage).

Wash suggests they go to Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz, Bernard from the first two Santa Clause movies) for information.  The crew gets a little break, visiting Sheppard Book on Haven, then Mal has to go rescue Inara.  He knows he’s walking into a trap, but he does it anyway.  And the way he knows it’s a trap; he didn’t get into an argument with Inara.  Inara is pretty handy when Mal attempts to take on the Operative and her incense is actually an explosion, allowing her and Mal and escape.  Onboard Serenity, Jayne has let River out and she attacks him, then hits Simon.  But she has discovered that “Miranda” is a planet.  Unfortunately, Reaver territory lies between Haven and Miranda.  When they hit planetside again, the colony is in flames.  Mal gets one last conversation with Book before he dies.  All of their friends have been hit; the Operative admits he is a monster, but it’s not his place to question why the Alliance has sent him after River.  And now Mal’s mind is made up.  They’ll disguise his ship in order to sneak through Reaver territory. 

They make it through and discover the secret that River has been holding in her mind.  The Alliance had added an element to the air on Miranda to make it peaceful, to stamp out aggression.  A team investigated on why everyone had died.  Well, all aggression and fight was gone from them; they just laid down and died.  Barring one tenth of a percent of the population; it strengthened their aggression…turning them into Reavers.  Well, Mal and the crew need to get this information out; someone has to speak for these people.  Because one day, the powers that be will decide they can make people better.  “So no more runnin’; I aim to misbehave.”  They’ll go back to Mr. Universe.  Sadly, the Operative has beat them there and there is an Alliance blockade between Serenity and their goal.  Well, they’re ready for that and bring a whole Reaver contingent behind them.  So the Alliance has to fight them instead of our heroes.  Wash manages some fancy flying, “I’m a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar.”  And he lands, destroying bits of Serenity in the process.  Before we can cheer, he’s run through with a spear [Whedon is cruel!]. 

The rest of the crew will make their last stand to buy Mal time to get to the backup equipment.  Kaylee even picks up a gun because now she’s got something to live for; Simon regrets never being with her.  But Kaylee is injured, as is Zoe.  They retreat a bit and then Simon is shot.  River declares that he has always taken care of her, now it’s her turn.  She sprints into the other room, tosses his medical bag in, but the door closes before she can make it back through.  She’s now locked in a room full of Reavers.

The Operative has caught up to Mal and shot him, then tries to paralyze him so he can dispatch him with his sword.  But Mal had taken shrapnel there during the more and that nerve cluster was moved, so he disables the Operative instead and slides his sword down so he can’t move.  He inputs the message and sets it to broadcast.  Mal finds his crew and the doors finally open to reveal that River has dispatched all the Reavers.  The Alliance breaks in and asks for orders.  The Operative finally tells them to stand  down; “we’re finished.”  The Operative lets the crew go, after everyone pitches in to repair Serenity.  There is a memorial service for Mr. Universe, Book, and Wash.  Kaylee and Simon ever get their time together (with River watching).  The Operative cannot guarantee that the Alliance won’t eventually come after the crew; the regime may be weakened, but not gone, nor are they forgiving.  He will disappear.

Happy news, Inara decides she won’t leave.  Mal becomes the pilot and takes River as his copilot, nicknaming her “albatross.”  The first rule of flying?  Love.

I like Firefly; maybe not as much as some other series and movies, but it was fun to re-watch the series.  I adore the family dynamics; Mal is certainly the father of the group, keeping an eye on everyone, protecting them.  Zoe and Wash are adorable together; and Zoe is totally badass!  Kaylee is fun, as is River, when her mind is kind to her.  Summer Glau has a background as a ballerina, so she is naturally graceful, which is cool to watch in fight scenes and that’s how she’s able to do some interesting stunts.  And it’s heartwarming how much Simon cares about his sister.

Honestly, not as fond of the movie.  It’s filmed darker and doesn’t have the warmth visually in the shots that the series had.  It is a logical progression from the show, but totally wish Whedon hadn’t killed Wash!  I have heard there are comics that continue the story, but I have not read them. The encyclopedia is fairly interesting.  And I absolutely love the bloopers!  I will watch them over and over just for the laughs.  The sarcastic quips are another great element of the show.

Of course, I have discovered some fanfiction stories related to Firefly:

The first was actually a huge crossover with the anime Zoids (the only anime I ever watched, I think it was on Cartoon Network when I was in high school).  But totally check out Ancient Legacies by Dragon-Raptor.

And A.Windsor’s Pirate Children series can be a fun read (depends on the story, but warnings accompany the write-ups)

Up Next: We continue a little with the space theme and cover the new Star Trek movies.

“Cry God, for Harry, England, and St. George!”

Partaking in something that satisfies both the historian in me and the English major: Shakespeare.  Now, I believe I have mentioned before that I am not a dutiful English major; I don’t like Shakespeare, well, I don’t like reading Shakespeare.  It’s boring and most teachers pound it into our skulls by analyzing it to death.  I hate that.  But, BBC put together a phenomenal cast and put Shakespeare’s histories on screen (which I am aware has been done before, heck, I tried to watch a version of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart and couldn’t make it through it.  Now, there was a slightly modern version of Hamlet done with David Tennant that was fantastic).  They timed the first arc to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics; this arc included Richard II, Henry IV parts I and II, and Henry V.  Their second arc included Henry VI and Richard III in 2016.

Gut reactions?  Richard II was a bit odd.  Henry IV was wonderful to see and Henry V is utterly magnificent.  Henry VI is simply everyone changing sides and the start of the War of the Roses and is interesting to see from this perspective.  As for Richard III; I remember doing a segment on the historical accuracy of the play in a British history course in college and I can certainly see the Tudor propaganda in the play (oh, they all cut out and condense history, but then, these are plays, not true histories…actually, I’d like to see historical documentaries on these people), yet I now see what all the hype is about.

Above all, these are a veritable who’s who in British acting.

Richard II stars Ben Whishaw (Q in Craig’s James Bond and Michael Banks in Mary Poppins Returns) as the king.  Opposite him is Rory Kinnear (also appears with Whishaw in Skyfall, and Spectre as Bill Tanner, which he briefly played in Quantum of Solace as well) as Bolingbroke, who goes on to be crowned Henry IV.  The great Patrick Stewart appears as John of Gaunt.  If Thomas Mowbray, who argues with Bolingbroke, looks familiar, that’s because he’s played by James Purefoy, who portrays Colville aka Edward, the Black Prince of Wales in A Knight’s Tale [making this a bit funny to a historian, because Edward, the Black Prince of Wales was Richard II’s father: his father was King Edward III, but he died before his father did and so thus, his son inherited the throne].  David Morrissey appears as the Earl of Northumberland.  He’s also been the Duke of Norfolk in The Other Boleyn Girl [uncle to Anne], and has appeared in a 2008 episode of Doctor Who, “The Next Doctor”.  We briefly see David Bradley (Filch in Harry Potter and Walter Frey in Game of Thrones) as the gardener and Lindsay Duncan (also appeared in a 2009 episode of Doctor Who, “Water of Mars,” she was the mother in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a queen in two episodes of Merlin, and Lady Smallwood in several episodes of Sherlock) as the Duchess of York.

The very gifted Jeremy Irons (Scar in The Lion King [the animated classic], Tiberius in Kingdom of Heaven, Brom in Eragon, Aramis in The Man in the Iron Mask, and Alfred in several of DC’s newer Batman movies) takes over as the older Henry IV.  Tom Hiddleston (we love him as Loki in the MCU) shines as Prince Hal.  Julie Walters (Mrs. Wealsey in Harry Potter and Rosie in both Mamma Mia movies) is Mistress Quickly, Robert Pugh (he’s Craster in Game of Thrones, amongst other roles in Kingdom of Heaven, The White Queen [which also depicts the War of the Roses], and Master and Commander) is Owain Glyndŵr [that is the proper spelling, IMDB lists him as Owen Glendower; a real Welsh rebel that I’ve got a book on].  Oh hey, there’s Michelle Dockery (Mary in Downton Abbey) as Kate Percy, and Harry Lloyd (Baines in 2007’s Doctor Who “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood,” Will Scarlett in BBC’s Robin Hood, and insane Viserys Targaryen in Game of Thrones) is Mortimer, and Joe Armstrong (Allan a Dale in Robin Hood) is Hotspur.  His father, Alum Armstrong (he’s had roles in Van Helsing, Braveheart, and Patriot Games amongst others) plays Hotspur’s father Northumberland, and Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont in Game of Thrones, Sir Richard Carlisle in Downton Abbey, and 2010’s Doctor Who “The Time of Angels” and “Flash and Stone”) pops up as Warwick.

Of course, Prince Hal graduates to King Henry V in the next installment.  This was the bit that makes me almost like Shakespeare.  Tom Hiddleston delivers some of the best known speeches with such quiet passion.  “Once more unto the breach,” stirs my blood, and he got the role of Henry V with “St. Crispin’s day,” which includes that famous line: “we few/ we happy few/ we band of brothers.”  One almost cries.  And his wooing of Katherine…if a dashing man ever said those words to me, I’d be weak-kneed.  I remember rehearsals for faire, male cast members are encouraged to woo female patrons (worked on me when I was a patron), and so they practiced on female cast members; I was just happy some guy was saying nice words to me, I didn’t really care what he was saying.

If Corporal Nym [grrr, I hate his name’s “Nym,” because I want to use it for a headstrong female character in my saga] looks familiar, he’s Tom Brooke and he’s appeared briefly in a few Sherlock episodes.  And look, there’s Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursely in Harry Potter, King George in On Stranger Tides) as the Duke of Burgundy [this was one of his last roles].  The ever talented John Hurt (the dragon Kilgarah in Merlin, the War Doctor of Doctor Who, Ollivander in Harry Potter, Professor Oxley in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Montrose in Rob Roy, and other roles going back to the 60’s)  acts as the chorus [and he just passed away in 2017].  Some other familiar faces join us in Henry V; Anton Lesser (Qyburn in Game of Thrones, an episode of The Musketeers, Harold Warne in Miss Potter, and other roles) as Exeter [he’ll stay on through Henry VI and Richard III] and Owen Teale (part of some older Doctor Who episodes, The Last Legion, and the Headmaster in Tolkien, but I’m sure we recognize him as Thorne in Game of Thrones ) as Captain Fluellen.

Tom Sturridge takes up the mantle of Henry VI.  Sophie Okonedo (Liz Ten in “The Beast Below” and “The Pandorica Opens” in 2010’s Doctor Who) joins him as Margaret of Anjou, and Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley in Downton Abbey, Monuments Men, several episodes of Doctor Who as a pirate captain, he was even in Tomorrow Never Dies) is so encouraging as Gloucester.  Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Lord Charles Fox in Amazing Grace, and he’s even appeared in Doctor Who 2010’s “A Christmas Carol”) briefly appears as Mortimer.

In the second part, Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Sherlock, Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, amongst other roles) pops up as the Duke of York [called Plantagenet in Shakespeare as a claimant to the old royal dynasty]’s son Richard.  Phoebe Fox (the Duchess of Savoy in The Musketeers) is Anne Neville.  James Fleet as Hastings has been in several period pieces.  And say hello to the appearance of Andrew Scott (C in Spectre and Moriarty in Sherlock) as King Louis of France.  Somerset is played by Ben Miles (Peter Townsend in The Crown), and George, the Duke of Clarence is played by Sam Troughton (Much in BBC’s Robin Hood).

Benedict takes center stage in Richard III.  He is brilliant in the role.  I dislike the character of Richard, but Benedict delivers exquisitely.  Let me go on a little historical accuracy rant: historical evidence proves that Richard was not a hunchback; he may have had a slight difference in shoulder height, but is regarded to have been a tall, broad-shouldered man.  Nor was he the “Machiavellian villain” Shakespeare depicts him as, at least, no more than any other man of that time.  Shakespeare wrote him as a villain to please the Elizabethan court in order to paint her grandfather as a benevolent conqueror.  As another historian pointed out to me, if Richard had the princes of the tower in his custody, he could have produced them in order to throw suspicion off himself.  We also get the addition of Judi Dench as Richard’s mother, Cecily.

Historical note: there are several “Duke of Gloucester” throughout the plays and throughout history, because it is a title, typically a relative of the monarch.  Same as the Duke of York, and Mortimer is a title (which I got confused a bit, seeing a Mortimer in Henry IV and one in Henry VI.)  I swear, one needs a family tree to reference when watching these histories.  I’ll try to explain the central plot of the War of the Roses as best I can.  Edward III had several sons, the eldest of which was Edward, the Black Prince of Wales.  His third son (his second died young-ish) was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, his fourth son was Edmund, holding the title Duke of York, and his fifth son was Thomas, the Duke of Gloucester.  The Black Prince’s son was Richard II.  The way that Bolingbroke claimed the throne was that he had a right to it as the son of Edward’s third son (hence, Richard and Bolingbroke were cousins and until Bolingbroke’s exile, they were close).  Bolingbroke became Henry IV [Lancaster], who has at least four sons, the eldest of whom became Henry V.  Henry V died tragically young and his son, Henry VI, assumed the throne incredibly young, only nine months old.  England was ruled by the Lord Protector, his uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (one of Henry V’s brothers).

Then along comes Richard, Duke of York (the great-great-grandson of the Edward III’s second son by way of Lionel, Duke of Clarence’s daughter, then grandson, then great-granddaughter).  Just like Bolingbroke challenged Richard II for the throne due to ineptitude, the Duke of York [white rose] challenged Henry VI [followers wore a red rose].  The Duke of York’s son, Edward took the throne, becoming King Edward IV.  He had three children with Elizabeth Woodville; Elizabeth of York, Edward (briefly Edward V), and Richard (also holding the title Duke of York).   Edward IV has several younger brothers, including George, the Duke of Clarence, and Richard, the Duke of Gloucester.  Once Edward IV and George were dead, Richard declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville unlawful, making his offspring with her illegitimate.  He took the throne as Richard III.  There’s the York contingent.

But back with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, his second marriage produced several generations, to John Beaufort, the Earl of Somerset, then his son John, then his daughter Margaret Beaufort, who married Edmund Tudor, the Earl of Richmond, and then had Henry, who in Shakespeare was called Richmond, thus making him the Lancastrian claimant.  [Edmund Tudor was the son of Owen Tudor (a Welshman), who married the widowed Katherine (wife of Henry V)…as for Henry V’s claim of “I am Welsh, as you know,”…well, he was Prince of Wales and born there, but not actually Welsh by blood; I would guess it was a line Shakespeare inserted to play to Queen Elizabeth’s Welsh ancestry].  Henry Tudor became Henry VII and he married Elizabeth of York (remember, Edward IV’s eldest daughter) and uniting the Lancastrians and Yorkists and ending the War of the Roses  From here, we should know how things go from there for a bit.

This is the sort of stuff that fascinates me as a historian; how the different lines come together and play out.  And I understand Shakespeare’s language a bit better watching it performed, more of a dialogue rather than verse.

On a different note: I highly recommend Netflix’s Enola Holmes film.  Millie Bobby Brown is precisely the female heroine we need; smart and not afraid of action.  Henry Cavill is a calmer Sherlock Holmes, but I greatly desire to see more of these characters.  I may just check out the novels the film was based on.

“Jellicle cats come out tonight/ Jellicle cats come one, come all/ the Jellicle moon is shining bright/ Jellicles come to the Jellicle ball”

Cats

This was the first musical I ever saw on stage; my mother was a chaperone on my brother’s class field trip and I went with them.  Heck, I even remember what I wore that day because I was so excited.  And I distinctly remember listening to this soundtrack from a young age; we had the record [before vinyl came back ‘in’].  We named one of our cats “Tugger” after this show.  I know these recordings so well, that I can pick out the difference in sound between the London Cast and the Broadway Cast, and I am enough of a nerd that I have a preference [Broadway]; and it is another soundtrack that I know almost every word.  The show is based on T.S. Eliot’s poetry book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats; which I have a copy of (somewhere) and did dramatic readings from for speech club in high school.  It is the second-longest running musical in Broadway history, behind only Webber’s other famous musical Phantom of the Opera.  Note; I am basing this off of the 1998 staged production, which stars Elaine Page as Grizabella [she replaced Judi Dench when she was injured to star on the West End], filmed in London; NOT the recent film version.  I have heard too many poor reviews and the bits I have caught do not make me want to watch it.  My mother and I were very excited when it was first announced, but by the time we saw the trailer, we knew it was not what we wanted.  Quick note to those who created the recent movie: we are theatre people, we don’t mind seeing people dressed up like cats; no need for that CGI business.

Onwards!

The prologue are cat eyes falling into the background; and the center of the eyes are dancers posed.  Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats explains what Jellicle cats are, such as “are you mean like a minx/ are you lean like a linx?”  There is a beautiful chorale section in the middle, until they break apart again to dance.  But “there’s a man over there/ with a look of surprise…a man who’s not heard/ of a Jellicle cat.”  And they explain the Naming of Cats.  There are three names that a cat has; the “sensible, everyday” name that the family uses, then “a cat needs a name that’s particular/ a name that’s peculiar/ and more dignified,” one that has never belonged to more than one cat.  And finally a secret name that “no human research can discover,” and cats ponder it often “his ineffable, effable, effanineffable/ deep and inscrutable/singular name.”  [I remember having to look up was ‘ineffable’ meant when I was younger: too sacred to be spoken.]  Munkustrap explains that Jellicle cats congregate once a year for the Jellicle ball, when the Jellicle leader will make a choice on which cat ascends to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn.

rum tum tuggerDifferent cats get their own solo pieces, like Jennyanydots, The Old Gumbie Cat.  She’s known to “sits and sits and sits and sits/ and that’s what makes her a gumbie cat.”  “But, when the day’s hustle and bustle is done/ than the gumbie cat’s work is but hardly begun.”  She teaches mice skills and orders beetles about, and there’s a fun tap dance routine.  Then Rum Tum Tugger bursts onto stage [a favorite].  He’s a “curious cat,” quite contrary.  If you give him one thing, he wants another.  “For he will do as he do do/ and there’s no doing anything a-bow-wow-it,” and struts about like Mick Jagger.  Grizabella, The Glamour Cat skirts by and the rest of the cats shun her, pulling younger cats away.  She’s a fallen cat, a pale shadow to who she once was.  Things cheer up when the cats remark about Bustopher Jones, “who is not skin and bones/ in fact, he’s remarkably fat.”  Police sirens go and the cats worry about Macavity.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer sneak out; a pair of thieves that the family can’t always tell the difference between, “or could you have sworn/ that it might’n be both?”  “And there’s nothing at all/ to be done about that!”  The Jellicle leader, Old Deuteronomy comes out next.  “Well of all things/ can it be really/ yes oh a high a my eyes;” he “lived a long time/ he’s a cat that has lived/ many lives, in succession.”  All the cats, even Rum Tum Tugger respect him and Mr. Mistoffelees very fond of him.  Munkustrap entertains the gathered cats with the tale of the Peakes and Pollicles; actually various dogs that get into a fight, until the Great Rumpus Cat comes out and scares them away.  It’s rather humorous to see “cats” dress up as “dogs.”  The cats hide when they think Macavity is about, but emerge again to joyfully dance at the Jellicle Ball, reiterating that Jellicle cats are black and white, and rather small.  When they’re lazy, they “are reserving our terpsichorean [dancing] powers!’ and “resting and saving/ ourselves to be ripe/ for the Jellicle Moon/ and the Jellicle Ball!”  The dance is wonderfully choreographed.

Grizabella reappears and Old Deuteronomy notices how she is treated and how she tries to remember her old moves.  He remarks on the Moments of HappinessGus, the Theatre Cat is brought out; he’s old and frail and can just remember when he used to be a star.  Some stage productions will include Growltiger’s Last Stand here as one of his old roles; the recording did not.  Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat pounces in next; he is in charge “of the sleeping car express,” keeping everything in order.  But Macavity strikes again, stealing away Old Deuteronomy.  Two female cats remark on what they know of Macavity, the Napoleon of Crime (typically refers to Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes; note the similarity in names).  Whenever the police get to one of his crime scenes, he’s not there.  It looks like he returns Old Deuteronomy, but it’s really Macavity in disguise and he fights Munkustrap before he escapes, shutting down the lights.  Rum Tum Tugger cheers everyone up with Mr. Mistoffelees, “the original conjuring cat.”  “Oh well, a never was there/ ever a cat so clever as/ magical Mr. Mistoffelees!” (another of my favorite songs)  [It has been noted that his name is similar to Mephistopheles, another name for the devil, but note the different spelling, and Mistoffelees is a sweet cat]  His coat lights up and he brings back the lights on stage; and even Old Deuteronomy.

When Grizabella appears again, she finally sings all of Memory, recalling her days in the sun.  She waits for each new day, letting night pass away, and hoping that each day will get better.  “Touch me/ it’s so easy to leave me/ all alone with the memory/ of my days in the sun/ If you touch me/ you’ll understand what happiness is.”   Some of the younger cats finally get close to her and touch her, and the rest of the Jellicles accept her.  Munkustrap leads her to Old Deuteronomy and the leader takes her to a tire that rises to a descended stair.  She Journeys to the Heaviside Layer, “up, up, up past the Russell Hotel/ up, up, up, to the Heaviside layer/ Up, up, up, past the Jellicle Moon/  up, up, up, to the Heaviside layer.”  Old Deuteronomy sums up the evening on The Ad’dressing of Cats; remember, they are not a dog.  Treat them with respect.

This is another musical that I would dance around our living room too.  Rum Tum Tugger, Macavity, and Mr. Mistoffelees were my favorite.  As a singer, I’d love to perform Memory (which does not have a corresponding poem; Webber composed it for Sunset Blvd then repurposed it for Cats).

Next Time: 1776

“In sleep he sang to me/ in dreams he came/ that voice which calls to me/ and speaks my name”

The Phantom of the Opera

The longest running musical in history; it premiered in 1986 and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011, only one year after Les Mis.  The most well known Andrew Lloyd Webber production, it is based on a French novel which has undergone numerous other iterations, including a black and white film from the twenties.  Michael Crawford was the first Phantom, chosen by Webber, though he originally thought Webber meant him for Raoul (I know someone who insisted that Colm Wilkinson was the best Phantom; I say let Colm have Les Mis and allow Michael Phantom), and Sarah Brightman was the first Christine (and married to Webber at the time; the part was essentially written for her…considering she is one of the few women to hit those high notes).  I knew the music of this show long before I fully knew the show or saw a rendition of it.  My mother is a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and played them for my brother and I at a very young age.  I can recall hearing an instrumental version of Music of the Night playing in the background at the school library in fifth grade, and knowing it.  I did get the Original Cast recording, which includes a libretto and I learned the storyline that way.  In high school, my friend planned an impromptu party and took me to see the movie after a break-up.  It was actually perfect, since I already loved the show, though I have not seen it on stage.

A film was made of the famous stage show in 2004.  Gerard Butler was cast as the Phantom (not the best casting choice), Emmy Rossum (a child opera performer with the Metropolitan Opera) was Christine, Patrick Wilson was Raoul, Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter) was Madame Giry, Ciaran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore, Amazing Grace, and Macne Rayder in Game of Thrones) was Firmin, Simon Callow (the Duke of Sandringham in Outlander, Shakespeare in Love, Charles Dickens in Doctor Who, and would later appear in The Man Who Invented Christmas) was Andre, and Kevin McNally (Mr. Gibbs in Pirates of the Caribbean) was Buquet.

The opening of the film appears in black and white; an auction at an old Parisian opera house in 1919.  An old gentleman bids on a monkey music box.  Then lot 666 (rather ominous) is next, a repaired chandelier which featured into the famous “Phantom disaster;” a mystery never fully explained.  As the chandelier rises, the iconic organ blares and the film moves into color as lights flicker on.  We are taken back to the same opera house in Paris in 1870.  Everyone is preparing backstage at the opera house, rehearsing a production on Hannibal.  Carlotta is the star soprano.  Rehearsal stops for a moment when the two new owners are introduced; the previous owner is retiring.  They also have a Vicomte as their patron.  One of the ballet dancers recognizes the Victomte as her childhood friend, Raoul.  Carlotta is a true diva; she stops production again and threatens to leave when the owners take more notice of the dancers than her, including young Christine Daae, the orphaned daughter of a well-known violinist.  Her friend, Meg’s mother is Madame Giry, in charge of the dancers.  The owners quickly learn to grovel to Carlotta.  She will sing the aria Think of Me.  Then a backdrop nearly falls on her.  The cast blames the accident on the mysterious Phantom of the Opera.  This time, she’s leaving.  Madame Giry recommends Christine can perform the role; “let her sing for you, monsieur; she has been well taught.”  And she indeed has a lovely singing voice.  She is transformed from chorus girl to the star of the show.

The Vicomte now sees her and recognizes his friend; she certainly has changed. (I have always considered Think of Me as Christine singing to Raoul: “We never said/ our love was evergreen/ or as unchanging as the sea/ but please promise me/ that sometimes/ you will think of me.”)  Christine earns a standing ovation and a deep, unseen voice also congratulates her.  Meg looks for her later amongst the celebrations.  She finds her friend in the chapel and inquires where Christine learned to sing.  Christine calls him her Angel of Music, promised to her by her father.  Really, she believes that it is her father’s spirit, though she is a bit frightened by him.  Raoul visits later and wants to take Christine to dinner to celebrate, but her Angel is very strict.  A mysterious black-gloved hand locks her door.  Then she hears music and a figure in the mirror.  She is drawn forward.  Raoul hears the voice through the door, but cannot enter.

original phantomThus begins the titular Phantom of the Opera (and most famous track of the entire show).  The Phantom, Christine’s Angel of Music, draws her down below the opera house to an underground lake.  He poles a boat across to his quarters, where there is a shrine to Christine.  But she is still transfixed, the Phantom’s “power over you/ grows stronger yet.”  The Phantom asks Christine to sing and she progresses higher and higher (eventually hitting an E two octaves above middle C).  The Phantom further seduces Christine with his voice in the darkly romantic Music of the Night [my favorite piece].  As an adult, you realize how creepy the Phantom truly is, declaring that young Christine belongs to him.  “Close your eyes/ and surrender/ to your darkest dreams/ purge your thoughts/ of the life/ you knew before.”  He shows her a mannequin of herself, decked out in a wedding dress.  She faints and the Phantom lays her on his bed; reminder, she is in her undergarments and a robe.

Above ground, Meg looks for her friend and even finds the passage, but her mother stops her.  Madame Giry also stops Buquet from telling the cast a scary story about the magical lasso.  She warns to keep your hand at the level of your eye.  Christine does awake and takes the mask off the Phantom.  He keeps a hand over his face and yells at Christine; now she cannot ever be free.  This whole experience is Stranger Than You Dreamt It.  The Phantom feels he is a gargoyle who burns in hell, yet secretly yearns for heaven.  He urges Christine that fear can turn to love (yep, really creepy).  She returns the mask and the Phantom returns her.

The following morning, Firmin and Andre discuss the previous evening; Firmin is certain that any publicity is good and will earn them money, “gossip’s worth its’ weight in gold.”  Andre is more cautious.  And they both have notes from the mysterious Phantom, demanding a salary and giving critique on the performance.  Raoul enters with a note as well, telling him to stay away from Christine.  Carlotta enters as well with a note warning her against replacing Christine; she figures Raoul sent it, obviously Christine is sleeping with him.  Madame Giry reports that Christine is home, sleeping.  And another note; the Phantom instructs Christine to play the lead in the next production and Carlotta will play the silent role.  Carlotta is upset and the owners are wondering why they are constantly hearing about Christine now.  The characters all sing over each other, and the owners now have to grovel to the Prima Donna again, insisting that her public needs her.  Carlotta is the definition of a diva.  And everyone knows it.

The next performance features Carlotta in her lead and Christine as the secondary role.   During the show, Buquet spot the Phantom and goes to investigate.  The Phantom’s deep voice echoes throughout the entire theatre demanding that Box Five was to be kept open for him.  Christine on stage says she knows it’s the Phantom.  Carlotta snidely remarks “your part is silent, you little toad.”  That gives the Phantom an idea.  During their pick-up of Poor Fool Carlotta begins croaking (we did see her voice spray bottles switched earlier; in the show that does not happen; the Phantom has magical powers).  She runs off in terror and the owners declare Christine will take on the role after a short break.  For now, a distraction, the ballet from Act Three.  Buquet continues to chase the Phantom, until he is chased by the masked man.  A noose is wrapped around his neck and he drops to the stage, dead.  Girls scream and Christine finds Raoul, claiming the roof will be safe.  She is now truly frightened of the Phantom; he has proven he will kill.  Raoul vows to protect her.  All I Ask of You, Christine says, is for Raoul to love her.  “All I want is freedom/ a world with no more night/ and you, always beside me/ to hold me and to hide me.”  The couple kisses.  But the Phantom is hidden and overhears everything.  He is angry that Christine is refusing him and seeking another man.  He shouts, “you will curse the day you did not do/ all that the Phantom asked of you!”  In the show, we return to the stage and the Phantom drops the chandelier at Christine’s feet.  In the movie, the couple simply exit the roof.

masquerade pair (2)The second half of the performance begins with a Masquerade.  The cast celebrates several months of relief and peace from the Phantom.  In the movie they are dressed in black and white, though they are in colorful garb in the show.  Christine and Raoul have secretly gotten engaged.  But the Phantom appears to ruin their fun.  Why So Silent, did you think I had left for good?  He has written a new opera, Don Juan Triumphant, along with more notes.  Carlotta must be taught to act, Piangi must lose some weight, and Christine must return to him for further instruction.  He hisses to her that she belongs to him and steals her ring.  Raoul follows the Phantom through a trap door, armed with a sword, but disoriented by a ring of mirrors.  Madame Giry rescues Raoul and takes him to her room to reveal the truth of the Phantom.  Years ago, when she was studying to be a ballerina, there was a traveling fair.  One of their exhibits with the “Demon’s Child,” a young boy who usually wore a bag over his head in a cage.  Until he was beaten and the bag removed, showing a disfigured face.  Giry felt bad for the boy, so even after she sees him strangle his tormentor, she helps him escape and leads him underneath the opera house.  And that is where he has stayed.  She claims he is a genius.  Raoul argues it has turned to madness.

Raoul has taken to sleeping outside Christine’s door, but she sneaks past him to visit her father’s grave.  The driver is hit over the head and replaced, but he comes to in time to tell Raoul where the young woman has gone.  Christine pleads Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, desiring guidance from her father.  Then the doors of the mausoleum begin to open and a voice calls to her, “come to me angel of music.”  Raoul warns that is not her father.  The Phantom leaps out and duels Raoul with a sword [where did he learn to do that?].  The Phantom gets a strike in, but Raoul beats him back.  Christine stops him from killing the other man; “not like this.”  [Not the smartest idea; would save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you just let him.]  The Phantom curses, “now let it be war upon you both!”  (There’s a difference in order between the movie and the show and this part happens a little later in the show)

Raoul has a plan.  It involves using Christine as bait, but he will have the opera house filled with arm police and they will be armed.  They will apprehend the Phantom and all will be well.  Christine is frightened and does not want to do it; worried that the Phantom will take her and she will never be free.  Twisted Every Way, should she risk her life in order to win the chance to live?  Can she betray the man who did inspire her voice?  But she cannot refuse him now, even if she wants to.  Don Juan Triumphant begins, dark and syncopated.  The Phantom takes over Piangi’s role and sings to Christine.  She realizes who it is and signals Raoul with her eyes.  They’ve come Past the Point of No Return.  Christine plays along with the Phantom, rather convincingly because Raoul has tears in his eyes, fearing that his love has actually given into the villain.  The Phantom is certainly trying to seduce Christine, but she wakes up and tears off his mask [okay, in the movie, his disfigurement isn’t that bad; it’s most likely played up on stage].  The Phantom is furious and drops the chandelier into the stage, starting a fire while he makes off with Christine through a trap door, Down Once More.  Carlotta finds Piagni dead.  Raoul, followed by Madame Giry take off after the Phantom.  The rest of the cast bands together to Track Down This Murderer.

Madame Giry leads Raoul so far, but she cannot go further.  Her final advice is to keep his hand at the level of his eyes.  Raoul removes his coat and vest and continues.  He drops into a pool and bars begin to descend.  He manages to open the release valve and pushes forward.  Meanwhile, Christine has changed into the wedding gown for the Phantom and asks if he will enjoy the pleasure of the flesh now.  He agrees that he had been denied that all his live, along with most human compassion.  His face has poisoned her love, he declares.  She retorts the distortion lies in his soul, not his face.  Raoul is captured and demands the Phantom show compassion to Christine (note that the men’s costumes are very similar; the Phantom is most likely attempting to appeal to Christine by mimicking Raoul).  As he ties Raoul to the bars, the Phantom tells him he will not harm Christine; he loves her.  He offers Christine a deal; if Christine agrees to remain with the Phantom, he will let Raoul free.  If she denies him, Raoul dies.  Christine is angry now; any tears she had for the Phantom’s predicament have turned to hate.  The Phantom places a noose around Raoul’s neck.  Really, who does he expect her to choose?  The man who is closer to her age and a childhood friend?  Or the older guy who is very possessive, has murdered at least three people that we know of, has pretended to be her father and wants to sleep with her?  Christine finally comes forward and kisses the Phantom.  He cries.  Then lets Raoul go and orders them to leave; they can hear the mob approaching.  Christine does reappear to the Phantom for another moment to give him the engagement ring (which he stole from her, then gave back in order to marry her, so I’m not sure why she’s giving it to him, since Raoul bought it).  The Phantom smashes the mirrors; one of which reveals another secret passage.  A curtain drops to hide it once he’s gone.  Meg does find his mask; but no Phantom.

The film ends back in 1919 with Raoul placing the monkey music box on Christine’s grave; showing she died two years previous.  Also on the grave is a rose with a black ribbon and the ring.  A pop of color as the rose turns red.

This is another intense musical; it is primarily sung and since it features sopranos, there are several really high notes.  I am not fond of Gerard Butler as the Phantom, not after listening to Michael Crawford all my life.  Emmy is sweet, but doesn’t quite have the full quality in her voice that Sarah Brightman has.  Sarah can still pull off the airy tones, thirty years later.  Patrick Wilson as Raoul is very cute; good casting!  The church I grew up in has a magnificent pipe organ and I have wanted us to perform at least a concert of Phantom of the Opera for years; it would sound incredible!  And if I could have any role, I’d want Christine…aside from those high notes.  Think of Me is a sweet song, but few pieces can ever match the power of Phantom of the OperaMusic of the Night is seductive and Josh Groban performed it when Andrew Lloyd Webber was honored by the Kennedy Center…I simply melt.  I did help with a rehearsal of Prima Donna when the church did another cabaret presentation of Phantom of the Opera, as Carlotta, meaning I did manage to hit some of those high notes.  It was exhilarating.  I just have to be really warmed up.  For that performance, I did Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again; and I made people cry (in a good way!)  That was also wonderful to hear.  I love singing.  I love singing this music.  Which I can enjoy in the comfort of my car, or shower, or room (and if I miss a note, no one will know!)

All I Ask of You is a lovely duet and Masquerade is just plain fun.  I adore Christine’s and Raoul’s costumes in that scene.  As I’ve gotten older, I have new respect for the tone of Past the Point of No Return.

Up Next: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

 

“Even guys with two left feet, come out alright if the girl is sweet.”

White Christmas

Normally, I am the last person to encourage early Christmas movies; I have worked retail for seven years, the holiday falls decidedly after Thanksgiving and Halloween. But, I’m reviewing my favorite musicals and this certainly is one. We watch it every year, usually when we decorate the tree (one week prior to Christmas). I had a friend in college who was in a community production of the show, so it was interesting to see how the stage production differs from the film.

The film stars crooner Bing Crosby (famous for singing Irving Berlin’s White Christmas) as entertainer Bob Wallace, Danny Kaye as funnyman Phillip Davis (he reminds me of Donald O’Connor from Singin’ in the Rain…and Donald was actually cast in the role, until he got sick; and he had taken over from Fred Astaire), professional dancer Vera-Ellen as Judy Haynes, and Rosemary Clooney (aunt to George Clooney as well as a popular singer) as older sister Betty Haynes. As I’ve commented before, Mary Wickes (Sister Act, The Trouble with Angels, and Music Man) appears as Emma Allen, the housekeeper.

It opens on Christmas Eve, 1944, on the German war front. Wallace and Davis are putting on a little Christmas show for the troops and their commander, General Waverly stops by before he takes a new position. Bob finishes White Christmas (this is actually not the first film to feature the song or Bing singing it; first was Holiday Inn, which features songs [by Irving Berlin] and routines for all seasons) and has a slam-bang finish he wants to perform for Waverly. The general stands up and encourages his troops. To get off the stage, Bob starts We’ll Follow the Old Man (love the song). There is an attack and Phil saves Bob’s life, getting hurt in the process. Bob is grateful and Phil talks him into starting a two-man show with him once the war is over. They are incredibly popular and there’s a cute medley of tunes from that era, including Blue Skies and the duo eventually produce a musical.

But Phil would like some time away from work and tries to hook Bob up with a variety of women, but he’s not interested (someone please explain what “mutual, I’m sure,” means, because I’ve never gotten it). Those girls don’t want to settle down. Before they spend their holiday in New York City, they have promised an old pal in the Army that they’d check out his sisters’ act. Betty and Judy Haynes are surprised at the appearance of the famous duo, well, Betty more than Judy, for Judy actually wrote the performers, trying to get an edge in the industry. The men are pleasantly surprised by the Sisters (another favorite of mine) and immediately attracted. Phil arranges them “boy, girl, boy, girl,” at the table to discuss matters, then Judy sweeps him away, for The Best Things, Happen While You’re Dancing. Vera is an excellent dancer. Betty comes clean on the matter to Bob and they disagree a bit, but figure they won’t see each other again, so let it lie. Excepet the girls got into trouble with the last place they were staying, running a rug, and the gentlemen help them out. Phil gives the ladies his tickets for the train and talks Bob into a distraction to buy time. Thus, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis perform Sisters with the feathered fans (they enjoy themselves and turns out, it was Bing and Danny messing around, but the director liked it so much, he worked it into the film).

The men catch their train in the nick of time, but Phil doesn’t have the tickets, so they must purchase new ones and sit up all night. They bump into their drawing room, revealing the Haynes sisters. Bob is persuaded to stay on the train for Vermont, instead of getting off at New York. “Must be beautiful this time of year, all that snow.” The quartet extols the virtues of Snow (Vera’s vocals were dubbed). However, when they reach Vermont, it is sunny and the state hasn’t had snow since Thanksgiving (due to my family’s travels and my brother attending college in Vermont, there is sadly no Pine Tree, Vermont). A further surprise, Bob and Phil discover that the Columbia Inn (the set is reused from Holiday Inn), where the Haynes sisters are booked, is owned and operated by General Waverly. The inn is struggling with the unseasonable weather and the boys decide to help by bringing their show up to the inn. They’ll fill in with the Haynes sisters.

Minstrel Show segues into Mandy, all with glittering costumes and showcasing Judy’s dancing. Betty and Bob begin to get along and Judy attempts to set her sister up. Bob and Betty share a cozy time in the main lodge, discussing sandwiches (thrown in by Bing) and Count Your Blessings. Bob discovers that Waverly has been hoping to get back into the Army; he wants a command position, but has to read him the news that it won’t work out. He has another idea while Danny runs Choreography (how does Vera do that with her tap shoes?); he’ll get on the Ed Harrison show and get the men back together for the general. Emma listens in on the other line, but doesn’t hear the whole conversation, so she mistakenly believes that Bob is doing it as a plug for his show, which she tells Betty. Betty is now cool to Bob. Judy and Phil decide to stage an engagement between themselves, hoping Betty will stop mother-henning Judy and thus pursue her own relationship with Bob. At a cast party, Phil announces “I don’t know if the Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing, or if they just happen in Vermont;” he and Judy are engaged. Instead of bringing Bob and Betty together, Betty leaves for a solo act.

After the fast-paced Abraham dance, Judy discovers Betty’s letter and she and Phil tell Bob the truth, so he stops to see Betty on his way to the Ed Harrison show. Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me expresses Betty’s feelings; she had fallen for someone she thought was a knight on a white horse and was disappointed. Bob doesn’t have time to fully explain the situation and find out why Betty is mad at him. But she sees his spot on the show, What Can You Do with a General? and is pleased. Meanwhile in Vermont, Phil pretends to hurt his leg to keep the general away from the television.

gee army

The big night has arrived and there is a huge turnout of soldiers for General Waverly. He is forced to come down in his uniform and is stunned by the sight. The men repeat We’ll Follow the Old Man. Waverly is visibly touched. Bob and Phil start Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army and are pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Betty. They finish with White Christmas, topped with the news that is has begun to snow (I love the red gowns in the scene; and note, that girls that young now are not on pointe). Betty and Bob are back together and Judy and Phil are officially together. Just happy ending all around.

white christmas finale

I love basically all the songs in this show.  The Christmas season in my house is not complete without this film.  It’s a favorite of my father’s, and is a family feel-good film.  The characters do not instantly fall in love; there’s a bit of drama (but not too much), miscommunication and when you think everything is falling apart, it comes back together.

Up Next: Fiddler on the Roof

“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