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Tag Archives: 1930’s

Movie Review: “Papillon”

Based on the book by Henri Charriere.

Version: 1973; starring Steve McQueen; Duston Hoffman

Genre: adventure; survival; based on true story.

Plot Summary: In the 1930’s, two convicted criminals are sentenced to life imprisonment and arrive in the French penal colony of Guiana where they soon forge an enduring friendship through the many years, adventures, and tortures to follow.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

This was a story I did not know I needed to know about.  I had never heard of the book, or of the movie, and it was not until writing this review that I learned of a new remake starring Charlie Hunnam in McQueen’s role.  There’s always some room for tales of imprisonment and escape in my strange soul, so when I happened across this older movie it did not wait long on my watch list.

This is nearly a three hour film.  The pace is slow and mostly quiet, as to be expected when your hero spends 5+ years in solitary confinement.  Don’t worry, it’s not as painstaking to watch as it sounds!  Henri Charriere, wrongly accused (as far as we trust our main character’s POV) of murder spends all of his time from the very first minute scheming his way out of captivity.  We, the viewers, are right along with him each step of the way.  The time and detail it takes for these real life persons to plan an escape which their very life and sanity depend on is suspenseful and has us glued to the story instead of watching the clock.  Our emotions are invested into the very human characters we watch who try so hard to live.

If you’re looking for a clean flick, this isn’t going to be for you.  Death, starvation, and madness are the order of the day.  Men are killed as a matter of course, and sometimes there is quite grisly detail.  In an atmosphere such as this, it would be unrealistic for the script not to include swear words.  So of course, that factors liberally into the movie as well. One prison guard has a hankering after one of the prisoners and wants to sexually abuse him.  The prisoner appears to go along with it for a time, but only as a means of eventual escape.  It is common for the inmates to smuggle their belongings in places where the sun doesn’t shine.  If I remember correctly, there may have been a brief scene of backside (prison context) nudity.  What actually bothered me more than that was an island setting in which all the tribeswomen wore nothing at all and we see full frontal nudity.

Despite all of this, I came away doing a lot of thinking about this movie.  The thing that stood out the most to me was comparing the two main characters: Henry Charriere (or, “Papillon”) and his friend Louis Dega who was sent to Guiana for forgery.  Their friendship is begun for survival’s sake.  Papillon can easily handle himself in any situation, with quick wits to boot but not much clout among other prisoners or guards.  Dega on the other hand, is physically undersized with round glasses that couldn’t possibly get any thicker which produces a wrong-end-of-the-magnifying-glass-effect when we look at him.  However, his secret weapon is literally the stash of cash he sits on and he is able to bribe for opportunities.  In one of the most touching parts of the story, Papillon risks his life to protect Dega when he is being beaten.  This action lands him longlasting consequences.  It brings Dega to tears to think that an innocent man would be willing to put his life in jeopardy for him, who is justly convicted of his crime.  It made me think of Jesus, the innocent lamb who was slain for us, the real sinners.  It was an eloquent portrait of biblical truth.

Eventually, through many trials and hardships, the two men are brought together once again where they have to face a decision: remain in captivity, or attempt escape (quite possibly ending in death or worse, recapture).  It is rather pitiful the situation they are in, yet in some ways it could have been worse.  Will Papillon be content to live the remainder of his years on Devil’s Island where he could live in comparative peace?  Or will he convince Dega to risk the dangers of escape and perhaps be able to attain true freedom once again?

SPOILER ALERT:  Papillon never once abandons his idea of the pursuit of freedom.  I believe giving up his busy mind over this matter would have consigned him to insanity.  Dega on the other hand, was never strong of body or mind.  He found a little piece of joy right where he was and made it into his own.  He had nothing left to go back to.  Was one view right and the other wrong?  I don’t think so.  Two different temperaments, different personalities, with different limitations.   Each did what they could with what they had and what they were made for.  This, of course, is taking the question of guilt out of the equation.  END OF SPOILER.

I know this film will not be for everyone.  But I found some redeeming aspects of it that I encourage anyone so inclined to give it a try.  I am looking forward to seeing a newer version, but Steve McQueen was very good in his role, and Dustin Hoffman provided some comic relief.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “The Big Four”

Based on the book by Agatha Christie. [see my book review here]

Version: 2013; starring David Suchet.

Genre: mystery

Plot Summary: [from IMDb] As the threat of world war looms large, Poirot seeks the help of friends both old and new when he is pitted against a dangerous group of dissidents responsible for a series of violent murders.

My Review: When I read Agatha Christie’s The Big Four, it wasn’t the best mystery I’d read by her; but it wasn’t the worst either.  I guess I’d rate it around midling.  I think the thing that turned me off from rating it higher was probably the ending which did not seem very believable to me.  I didn’t really see how this story would be filmable.

When I watched the movie version starring David Suchet I could see where they took liberties with the story, and I didn’t really blame them.  It needed to be within the realms of the believable and not feel like a dated story line.  Many of the same characters were kept, but the motives and ending were changed.  I still can’t say it’s one of my favorites, though.

I don’t remember alarming content material here, however since it deals with murder and the regular mayhem I would say there is some moderate worries for children.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Father Brown stories – BBC Audio Drama

In the mood for some cozy mysteries?  I discovered Father Brown is playing on BBC Radio 4 and wanted to post a notice.  I haven’t listened to them yet, but I am hoping they are much more intellectually stimulating and truer to the books than the recent BBC tv series (I was disappointed with those).  These only play for a limited time, so make sure you act on it soon!  Ta-ta!

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2019 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Book Review: “Strong Poison,” by Dorothy L. Sayers

Genre: classic; mystery; 1930’s

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Lord Peter Wimsey is thoroughly engrossed in the case of accused murderess Harriet Vane.  He knows she didn’t do it– now he has to find the proof!  With a few well-placed friends at his disposal, he sets about proving the young woman’s innocence.  But time is ticking, and perhaps the murdered man committed suicide in order to take revenge out on his ex?  This makes the mystery even harder to solve.

My Book Review:  The Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries have been around for a great while.  I remember trying to read them on the recommendation of my Aunt E when I was teenager, but never could get a hang for the characters and their dialogue.  It does take a little bit of getting used to.  I think this was one of those rare cases where watching the movie first helped to read the book later.  I never knew I wanted to try any more Wimsey until I watched Dorothy L. Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey: Strong Poison [this BBC series was made into a trilogy, all featuring Harriet Vane].  Although the Wimsey mysteries are available in short stories and novels, and Strong Poison is the 6th novel in the series, it really can be read standalone as the beginning of a miniseries within the series—the trilogy surrounding Wimsey and Vane’s romance.  These are the only books I am currently interested in reading by Sayers.

As I remarked earlier, Sayer’s writing style is hard for me get used to, being that it is very old-fashioned British and upper class conversations with very little description and action.  It’s also why I prefer to watch Jeeves and Wooster over reading the books.  But once you get the swing of the spirit of the thing, it can be accessible.  It has its own flavor: dry and witty.

I think because this book is #6, I am not as well acquainted with the main character (Lord Wimsey) than I might be if having started at the beginning.  That was a drawback and hard to get to like him.  It felt unbelievable that he would so quickly fall head over heels for a woman practically on death row without any proof, and on top of that there is no explanation provided for his attraction to her.

I enjoyed the suspense and the treasure hunt-aspect of the plot.  It’s been a long time since I felt excited over such a mystery—probably since Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys!  And there are lots of different characters to make each chapter interesting.  It makes one feel that any normal person (with observational skills and a little guts) could be a sleuth!

If you’re looking for a bit of English fun and excitement, I think you’ll enjoy trying this one.  …And then go ahead and watch the BBC movies, starring Harriet Walters and Edward Petherbridge.  They are highly recommended and some of my favorites!

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I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”

Based on the book by Agatha Christie.

Version: 2017; starring Kenneth Branaugh; Johnny Depp; Derek Jacobi; Michelle Pfeiffer; Judi Dench

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama; mystery

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  When a murder occurs on the train he’s travelling on, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot is recruited to solve the case.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book. 

When I first saw the promo trailer for this, my first instinct was: “No.  That’s not Poirot, and nobody can tell me it is.” How can anybody possibly play that character better than David Suchet?  But there have been so many times when I have tried something (usually movies) that I thought I would hate, and it turned out I liked it much, much better than I thought I would, or benefited by it in some way.  So I did break down and give this a try.

Did it surpass the previous Orient Express I love starring Suchet, Barbara Hershey, and Toby Jones?  No.  Did Branaugh embody Chritie’s Poirot?  No.  Was it a terribly rotten movie?  Surprisingly, no.  Here’s why.

Try to get it out of your head that this is a remake.  Try to get it out of your head that this was a book first with a detective that appeared in a whole series of books previously.  Forget what Poirot looks like, and that Suchet perfectly imitated his mincing steps and egg shaped head.  Now, sit down and take this film as it is.  Take Branaugh’s Poirot completely as Branaugh presents him.  And you get a good, suspense-filled movie with a  “closed room mystery” and a cast full of colorful characters that make you think about life and justice, while giving you chills in the middle of an avalanche and a cold blooded murder scene.  This is what …Orient Express actually is.  And the film does an excellent job of that.

I still like BBC’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot version, for all of the above reasons, and because it feels more realistic.  It has it’s own sense of atmosphere and it doesn’t come off feeling so exaggerated.  But.  Branaugh’s film is to be recognized as being a good drama, too.  It really does not fail.  In fact, I was better able to follow the plot in this one, the motives behind the murder, and the big reveal at the end was far more dramatic than a huddled group in a narrow dining car.  The newer version works to create different change of scenes on a limited stage.  Overall, it took on an artistic, creative flair that was very interesting.

I’ll warn you: if there’s going to be a murder, you might as well expect blood, and there is lots of it.  So, cover your eyes Sally and Johnny and Grandma, too.  In fact, this may not be for you.  In a nutshell: if you crave realism and darkness, choose BBC’s Murder…  If you wish something with a bit more flair and composition, go for Branaugh’s.  Both are recommended.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Man from Sing Sing,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Genre: vintage classic

Plot Summary: Reuben Argels is a man with a past behind him and a future ahead of him.  Having been a part of Moran Chamber’s syndicate in America, he turned traitor and was largely responsible for putting that man in prison.  But there is no living the straight and narrow for Argel.  He promptly benefits from his treason and moves on to greener grass, this time to the financial fields of England.  But maybe his old enemy isn’t behind bars like Argels thinks.  And Chambers has many friends who are willing to exact revenge for the man who did him wrong.  What will become of Reuben Argels?  And is Violet– the sweet, sensible woman so ready to help him– really who she says she is?

My Book Review: Continuing making my way through the works of Oppenheim

To be honest, I prefer other EPO novels to this novel of crime syndicate members. The plot sounds intriguing enough, but I got lost among all the stock exchange jargon (dated, and foreign to me).  It did, as EPO stories go, keep me guessing as to the motives behind certain characters.  But it was hard to find sympathy for the main character, Reuben, since he was neither a goodie or a baddie.  He professes a love for Chamber’s lover Ambouyna (a name I still have no idea how to pronounce), but yet pursues Miss Violet Withers on the side.  In fact, while admitting to her that he doesn’t love her, he asks if she would fill in for him since he can’t have whom he really wants?  Sure, that’s the way to win any girl’s heart!

Actually, Violet Withers was my favorite character from the book. She easily balances a personality of modesty and mystery.  I loved a couple of quotes surrounding her sensibility:

“Lots of girls do things they don’t want to because they have to. I’m not one of them…. If I get to like you well enough, I shall certainly allow you to call me by my Christian name, and possibly to kiss me occasionally. If I don’t, I shan’t. Believe me,… I am much more worth kissing because I have such queer ideas.”

SPOILER ALERT: It’s painful to watch Argels slowly being dragged to the bottom all the way to the end of the book.  He’s sent over the edge, but at the last minute is saved by his enemy of all people– on purpose.  And then they shake hands and a check is written and all is honkey dorey.  I don’t know.  It just didn’t fit together right at the end.  There’s all this build up of suspense because of the hatred of these two enemies, neither of which you particularly want to side with, but then suddenly it all disappears and Chambers has a change of heart for no reason.  It just didn’t make sense and the story fell flat on its face for me. END OF SPOILER.

So if you like the idea of characters existing in a glamorous world of the 1930’s, full of crime and blackmail, you might have your next favorite novel (which you can read for free here). But if you’re more plot-oriented (like me), you might want to skip past this one.

If you liked this book, I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Big Four,” by Agatha Christie

Genre: classic; mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “Framed in the doorway of Poirot’s bedroom stood an uninvited guest, coated from head to foot in dust. The man’s gaunt face stared for a moment, then he swayed and fell. Who was he? Was he suffering from shock or just exhaustion? Above all, what was the significance of the figure 4, scribbled over and over again on a sheet of paper? Poirot finds himself plunged into a world of international intrigue, risking his life to uncover the truth about ‘Number Four’.”

My Book Review: This Poirot mystery was a lot different from any previous one I’ve read so far.  For one, murder isn’t so much the focal crime point as it is an international gang of power wranglers and terrorists.  This had my attention!  The way it read reminded me in a way of old Nancy Drew or other novels of mysterious intrigue that I used to read as a preteen.  I think I might have enjoyed it more back then.

It also reminded me a lot of one of Christie’s other mystery novels, The Secret Adversary.  But I was much more hooked on the bumbling Tommy and Tuppence-duo battling elusive criminals than I was on Poirot being duped over and over.

This is a short, easy read but with my then-schedule I dragged it out much longer than need be and had a hard time remembering details. It just felt like Poirot was bested one too many times, and too many lives were lost before Poirot won the day.  The last few chapters were exciting, but a little too unbelievable and made me glad I was finished with the book and on to something different.

I will enjoy watching the film, but I haven’t come across it yet. Loyal Poirot fans will want to complete the reading of the canon, I’m sure.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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