“House of the Dragon” (Episode 2: “The Rogue Prince”)

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from Episode 2 of House of the Dragon.

Rhaenyra oversteps at the Small Council. Viserys is urged to secure the succession through marriage. Daemon announces his intentions. -Synopsis from HBO

The events of this ep (which involves diplomacy and matchmaking) take place 6 mos. after the pilot ep. Surprisingly, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), is still the royal cupbearer (though she was officially made the heir to the king). Wow, can y’all believe it- a death in this world from old age!? The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Ser Ryam Redwyne, recently passed away peacefully in his sleep. Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) bursts into the Small Council w/ news of his recent losses at the hands of the Triarchy. This is a group under the leadership of the Crabfeeder, who lets crabs feed upon the flesh of his victims (yikes)! When Rhaenyra offers her opinion on the matter, she’s quickly shut down by the Hand, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans).

Rhaenyra is sent off to help choose a new member of the Kingsguard; this knight will be protecting her also. Ser Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish) starts presenting the handful of candidates to her. Rhaenyra learns that ONLY one of these knights has experience in battle- Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). When she chooses him, Otto pulls her aside and explains that the other knights come from important houses (so it’d be politically advantageous to pick one of them). Rhaenyra sticks to her decision, as she wants the best fighter to protect her father. I never considered that choosing a bodyguard could be political; I don’t think I’d last a day in King’s Landing- LOL!

In the sept, we have a touching/emotional scene btwn Alicent (Emily Carey), who seems to be more religious, and Rhaenyra (unsure of how to pray). Rhaenyra and her father have NOT been communicating much lately. Both girls are missing their mothers; Rhaenyra even cries a BIT. They kneel before a statue and light votive candles. This statue is The Mother, who represents one aspect of in the Faith of the Seven. Of course, Rhaenyra has NO idea that Alicent and her father have been meeting and growing closer.

Corlys: To elude a storm, you can either sail into it or around it. But you must never await its coming.

King Viserys (Paddy Considine) meets w/ Corlys and Rhaenys (Eve Best) in the royal garden; they propose that the he marry their daughter, Laena. Toussaint and Best have great chemistry; you can believe that these characters been married a long time. When the king discusses this w/ Ser Otto and Maester Mellos, they exchange some (scheming) looks. Otto’s comments reveal that the king should take more time to grieve. Notice that one of Viserys’ pinky fingers is infected; he puts his hand into a bowl filled w/ maggots- yuck! Later that night, Viserys meets w/ Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), in the Small Council chamber re: his remarriage. Strong thinks that his marrying Laena (though she is V young) is a good idea.

Rhaenys: Here is the hard truth, which no one else has the heart to tell you. Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.

We have perhaps the MOST cringe-worthy scene (of this show) when Viserys takes a walk w/ Laena (12 y.o.) in the garden. He’s NOT comfortable w/ this at all. Being a kid, Laena’s interested in dragons. FYI: Viserys was a dragon rider; he was the last Targaryen to ride Balerion (AKA The Black Dread). Balerion (who died of old age after living 200 yrs) was ridden by Aegon The Conqueror during the Targaryen conquest of Westeros. In a balcony high above the garden, Rhaenyra and Rhaenys have a serious convo re: women and leadership. Y’all, it’s TOO real (though this is fantasy show)!

Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) sends a letter to the king, saying that he’s getting married and going to have a child. We also learn from one of the keepers that Daemon snuck into the dragon pits and stole an egg- wow! Now, this was the same dragon egg that lay in the cradle of Viserys’ dead baby son. Viserys declares that he will face Daemon and get that egg back, BUT Otto stops him (saying it’s TOO dangerous). Daemon was banished by Viserys from court in the 1st ep; he has taken over Dragonstone (protected by 2,000 men formerly of the City Watch). Instead of going back to his wife, he’s living w/ his foreign-born mistress, Mysaria (Sonoyo Mizuno).

Otto (wearing armor), Ser Criston, and a group of soldiers travel by ship to Dragonstone; they face Daemon and his Gold Cloaks on a high bridge near the castle. Suddenly, Rhaenyra flies up on her dragon (Syrax), and gracefully lands on the bridge behind her father’s men! Otto is stunned for a moment, then tells Ser Criston to take her to safety. Rhaenyra is NOT deterred; she talks to Daemon (in High Valerian). She dares him to kill her now, BUT (of course) he wouldn’t hurt his niece. Daemon tosses the dragon egg back to Rhaenyra, like it’s NO big deal- LOL! Rhaenyra can get stuff done, though she is young/impulsive!

Inside the castle, in the same room where Stannis and Melisandre plotted on GoT, we get a look into Daemon’s relationship w/ Mysaria. I’m NOT a fan of the (odd) accent chosen for Mysaria; it sounds like a mix of Chinese and French (to my ears). Some other viewers said it sounded Jamaican and French. Mysaria has a sense of mystery about her; I loved her dress/cape here. The wedding and baby were made-up by Daemon; he wants his brother’s attention and love! Mysaria is (obviously) angry, as his lies could put her life in danger. She doesn’t come from privilege like him; she was taken from her homeland and bought/sold many times. Also, Mysaria made sure that she can’t get pregnant (as Daemon assumed would eventually happen).

Back in King’s Landing, Viserys gathers his Small Council and takes a few moments to ready himself for his big decision. Aside from the usual men and Rhaenyra, we see that Alicent is also present. The king announces that he will marry… Alicent! Otto looks pleased beyond words; he’d urged his daughter to spend time w/ the king. Corlys is shocked/angry; he protests and then storms out of the room. Rhaenyra has a V hurt expression on her face, while Alicent looks apologetic. Before Viserys can say anything to her, Rhaenyra nearly runs out of the room, too.

Corlys: If those shipping lanes fall, my house will be crippled. And I will not have Driftmark beggared while our King idles himself with feasts, and balls, and tourneys.

Daemon: I will speak of my brother as I wish. You will not.

I liked how the tension/mystery was built up in the scene btwn Corlys and Daemon. They meet in Corlys’ castle (Driftmark) and discuss going to fight in the Stepstones; by going around the king, this would be called treasonous! When Corlys insults Viserys, Daemon shuts him down (as he’s the ONLY one who can cut down his brother). Yeah, he’s a fascinating guy!

“Berlin Express” (1948) starring Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, Charles Corvin, & Paul Lukas

Trapped on a Train of Terror! -A tagline (on the movie poster)

In a divided Germany (shortly after WWII), passengers from several nations are on a train heading to an international conference. Lucienne (Merle Oberon) is a French secretary who catches the eye of almost every man on the train. Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas) is Lucienne’s German employer. Robert Lindley (Robert Ryan) is an American working for the Dept. of Agriculture. Perrot (Charles Corvin) is a French businessman. Sterling (Robert Coote) is an Englishman. Lt. Maxim Kirosilov is young Soviet soldier. When one of these passengers (working for peace) is kidnapped in Berlin, the others set aside their differences/work together to find him. Would you risk your life to help a stranger, IF it was for the good of the world?

Narrator: [voiceover] That’s right – the dove of peace was a pigeon. A dead pigeon.

The director, Jacques Tourneur, also directed the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947). The cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, was married to Oberon; he came up w/ a lighting technique which hid the scars on Oberon’s face. Cary Grant and John Garfield were considered for roles in this film. This is the 1st Hollywood production in Germany after WWII. The crew was the 1st to receive permission to film in Berlin’s Soviet zone. At the time of production, Berlin was divided into 4 separate sectors, controlled by the English, French, Soviet (now Russian), and American armed forces. American soldiers stationed at the I. G. Farben munitions building in Salzburg, left untouched during bombing raids (so the U.S. could use it as an occupation HQ), appeared in the film as extras.

Perrot: What chance has a European got with an American around?

Lindley: I’m afraid you overestimate us.

Perrot: Huh, not at all. How can we compete with your American charm, your chocolate…

Sterling: Your soap?

Perrot: Your cigarettes?

Lindley: Well, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Berlin Express is categorized as a crime drama, film noir, and thriller. It’s an unusual movie for its time; it has an international cast (before that became common) and was filmed on location (in rare/unexpected places). I rarely guessed what was going to happen next! I esp. liked the friendly banter between the 3 men (Lindley, Perrot, and Sterling) who seek the attention of Lucienne (who is NOT easily impressed). Each man has a different personality; it’s refreshing that they behave like gentlemen (instead of pushy jerks). Ryan is looking youngish/handsome and gets to show his charm/confidence in a (rare) good guy role. I’m NOT going to say much more; check this movie out! You can rent it on YouTube.

[1] Tourneur did a grand job in making use of the bombed out locations in Frankfurt where most of the story takes place. It certainly gives authenticity to the story.

[2] Filmed in the rubble of German cities in 1946 this film, basically is a very good and constantly weaving espionage drama; and not unlike NORTH BY NORTHWEST in deception, missing persons, terrific set pieces in ruins and epic visuals of genuine locations. Robert Ryan as the US everyman, all casual but tough, Merle Oberon gives ze Fronnch occent a good go, and a solid cast enjoying a provocative script.

[3] Some of the lines seemed stilted and staged, particularly toward the end, but given the time period when the movie was filmed, not at all surprising. There was a good mix of characters, but the real star of the film is the location: there are wonderful shots of Berlin and Frankfurt right after the war, and the devastation around the characters adds a powerful unspoken dimension to the film.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Born to Kill” starring Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, & Walter Slezak

THE COLDEST KILLER A WOMAN EVER LOVED! -A tagline from the original poster

In Reno, Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney) kills Laury Palmer (Isabel Jewell), a young woman he’d recently dated and her L/T bf, Danny (Tony Barrett). It may NOT be the 1st time that he has murdered- yikes! Sam’s friend/roomie- Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.)- chides him for his hasty behavior; he also reveals that last Sam had a “crack-up” last Summer. Helen Brent (Claire Trevor), a woman whose divorce has just come through, finds the dead bodies. She decides NOT to call the cops and become involved. The next day, Sam and Helen meet on the train to San Fran, unaware of the (deadly) link btwn them.

Marty [to Sam]: You can’t just go around killin’ people whenever the notion strikes you. It’s not feasible.

This film noir (considered one of the MOST brutal of the genre) resulted in a loss of $243,000 (over $2.78M in 2020) for RKO Studios. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tallulah Bankhead was 1st considered for the role of Helen that went to Trevor. French film maker, Jean-Pierre Melville, late said that he was influenced by this movie. The story starts out slow, as we meet Helen, Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard- playing a boozy/older landlady), and Laury (a talkative young woman who lives next door). Mrs. Kraft (who is a widow) delights in the stories Laury tells re: her dating life.

Laury [describing the man she recently met]: Well, this big across the shoulders. He moved my trunk around the other day like it was a cracker box. He’s the quiet sort. And yet you get the feeling if you stepped out of line he’d kick your teeth down your throat.

Mrs. Kraft: Why, ain’t that wonderful?

Laury: Sure is.

As Eddie Muller commented, this movie has some great supporting characters. Mrs. Kraft can be funny, though she is also a brave/loyal friend to Laury (even after she is gone). Marty will do anything to help Sam, though he projects a humble/harmless persona. Mr. Arnett (Victor Slezak), the private detective hired by Mrs. Kraft, is BOTH jovial and a shameless opportunist.

Delivery Boy: My, that coffee smells good. Ain’t it funny how coffee never tastes as good as it smells.

Mr. Arnett: As you grow older, you’ll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is always better than the actuality. May that be your thought for the day.

“This is the rare film noir that has a femme fatale and a homme fatale,” Muller noted. Trevor (already an Oscar winner) is compelling as a graceful, worldly, and (above all) cold-hearted woman. Helen wants money, as her adopted/younger sister- Georgia (Audrey Long)- is the one who inherited everything from their father. Of course, Georgia is happy to share, BUT Helen isn’t satisfied w/ her paying the bills. Though Helen is engaged to a wealthy man from her social circle, Fred (Phillip Terry), she is V attracted to Sam. Even after she learns he is a killer, Helen still wants to be w/ Sam- yikes!

Helen: [to Sam] You’re strength, excitement, and depravity!

Muller explained that Tierney (6’1″tall w/ a square jaw, intense eyes, and deep voice) was “a real-life tough guy” who was known for his drinking and public brawling. Yup, he was arrested several times! Tierney’s younger brother also became an actor; Scott Brady (V conventionally handsome) changed his last name when he got to Hollywood. Tierney and Cook, Jr. were best pals IRL, too (as in this movie). Some viewers commented that Sam doesn’t have the charm (which is usually expected from a leading man). There is NO doubt that Tierney has something that one can’t teach- screen presence. Somehow, he managed to have a long career; he appeared in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Muller (who met Tierney in this later years) said that “he’s NOT acting” in this role- LOL!

[1] Tierney’s intense character, his hot temper and insane paranoid jealousy are, well, fun to watch once you get to like this actor and his tough-guy roles. Tierney, in this film, would kill over the slightest thing that would suggest to him that he might be getting double crossed. Talk about a guy with mental problems!

Trevor was effective as the immoral woman who cared for money first, and everything else a distant second.

[2] Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook Jr.) has a strange friendship with Sam and the fact that they share a double bed in the low-budget hotel may give a hint that they have a homosexual relationship.

[3] It isn’t a surprise that a good script and some talented actors are put together with such smart, fast panache by a young Robert Wise, more famous for West Side Story and Sound of Music. It ends up taking some astonishing twists, and some liberties with location shooting that are fabulous for 1947.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Persuasion” (2022) starring Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, & Henry Golding

Anne Elliot [lamenting her status w/ Frederick]: Now we’re worse than strangers, we’re exes.

To put it succinctly: this movie (streaming on Netflix) is a hot mess! Y’all MUST have seen/heard some of the horrible to “meh” reviews, as it has been out since July 15. I’m NOT going to recount the plot here, as I’m sure MOST of my regular readers know it. To start, this movie (which often breaks the 4th wall) is confused; it doesn’t know which audience it wants to aim at- Gen Z or Millennials (particularly “wine moms”). It’s certainly NOT geared toward mature/long-time Jane Austen fans (AKA Austenites)! One young woman in a JA Facebook group asked: “Was Anne Elliot supposed to be an alcoholic in the book?” LOL! It would be funny, IF it wasn’t so sad (or disappointing).

Mrs. Clay [commenting re: beauty standards]: They say if you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath.

Even before the movie was out, MANY viewers/critics were appalled by the trailer. I decided to be chill and give it a chance- ugh, curse my (slightly) optimistic personality! While watching, I don’t think I found it funny, emotional, or even slightly interesting. OK, the scenery was nice- that’s about it! There more telling instead of showing, which is a no-no (as reviewers involved in filmmaking commented). There are zero funny moments (IMO), unless you find cringe-y lines humorous. Anyways, this tale is NOT supposed to be light-hearted.

The filmmakers here have characterized Anne all wrong; she’s a mix of Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) and Emma Woodhouse (Emma). No longer is Anne introverted, observant, and self-sacrificing, she blabs her opinions, jokes around (incl. w/ men who are strangers), and drinks (red wine) often! This is the main problem book fans had, I’ve noticed. Dakota Johnson is probably NOT a bad actress (I haven’t yet seen much of her work), BUT she is wrong for this role. As some astute viewers commented: “She has a face that has definitely seen a cell phone.” Even some of the costumes are confusing; one glaring example a costume designer pointed out was Anne wearing black/fishnet gloves in the concert scene.

Sir Walter Elliot: What use is a title if you have to earn it? What use is anything if you have to earn it?

What about the supporting cast? They don’t fare much better than Johnson, sad to say. There is TOO much talking going on btwn Anne and Capt. Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis); notice all the chatting on the beach at Lyme. Jarvis (haven’t seen his work either) looks uneasy in his costumes and his face often has the same (pained) expression. His line delivery sounds awkward, BUT then so was much of his dialogue. As Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot (Richard E. Grant- a veteran character actor), provides a BIT of humor. Anne’s scheming cousin, Mr. Elliot (Henry Golding), is also a ray of light- though he doesn’t have much to do. The Crofts get V little to do also; that’s disappointing since they are such a LT/compatible couple. The MOST cringe-y moment (IMO) involves Anne and her older/widowed neighbor, Lady Russell (Nikki-Amuka Bird), as they have a picnic outdoors. Anne asks Lady Russell: “But do you ever miss company?” (meaning the company of men- or sex)! Oy vey…

Unlike most JA adaptations you MAY have seen in the past, this movie has “color conscious casting.” “Color-blind casting” is the practice of casting actors w/o considering factors such as ethnicity, skin color, body shape, sex, or gender. However, color-conscious casting is the practice of casting actors where these features are considered. Anne’s younger sis, Mary Musgrove (Mia McKenna-Bruce), has a husband (Charles) who is played by a Black actor; their (adorable) young sons are thus biracial. Charles’ younger sisters are played by 2 biracial actresses: Nia Towle (Louisa) and Izuka Hoyle (Henrietta). Though Louisa was trying to get Anne and Wentworth together for a time (all wrong from the book), I thought Towle was a fine actress (as did many other viewers). You can see this version and judge for yourself, BUT I recommend the 1995 movie (starring Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root) or the 2007 miniseries (starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones) instead!

“Yellow Sky” (1948) starring Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, & Richard Widmark

In 1867 in the West, a band of bank robbers flee from the U.S. Cavalry into the desert on horseback. These men are: James Dawson AKA Stretch (Gregory Peck- one of Hollywood’s top leading men), Dude (Richard Widmark- a film noir darling/respected character actor), Lengthy (John Russell- a tall/darkly handsome actor who later became a lead on TV), Bull Run (Robert Arthur), Half Pint (Harry Morgan- long before fame on M*A*S*H), and Walrus (Charles Kemper). Near death from lack of water, all (except Walrus), stumble into what appears to be a ghost town (Yellow Sky). However, they soon discover a prospector, Grandpa (James Burton), and his “tomboy” granddaughter, Constance Mae AKA Mike (Anne Baxter- already an Oscar winner for her supporting role in All About Eve). After Dude discovers that this old man has been mining gold, the gang plan to steal from his claim.

James (Stretch) Dawson: Quite a punch you got there, ma’am. Come in mighty handy when you get married.

I learned that Widmark acted in a few Westerns, thanks to another classic movie fan (via Twitter). Yellow Sky is categorized as a noir Western. The director’s name may be familiar; William Wellman directed the original version of A Star is Born (1937). The story was by W.R. Burnett (one of the most influential writers in film history); the screenplay was by Lamar Trotti. The music was composed by one of the best in the field, Alfred Newman; he created the 20th Century Fox logo theme (which is still used today). In 1940, Newman was nominated for 4 Oscars for 4 different films- wow!

Shakespeare’s The Tempest influenced the plot/characters; I learned this from the review that indie director John Sayles did. However, Wellman said in the book, The Men Who Made the Movies, that he had no idea of the connection. In the fight between Lengthy and Mike at the spring, Baxter’s stunt double- Martha Crawford- was used. Peck broke his ankle in 3 places after falling from his horse in one scene, so the man wrestling w/ Baxter in the hay was his stunt double, Jock Mahoney. Wellman noted that Baxter hated working w/ Peck, BUT never gave a reason why. Hmmm… I found this surprising, b/c I’ve never heard of Peck’s co-stars having serious issues w/ him!

I’m NOT yet V familar w/ the Western genre, though I mostly grew up in the desert (Tucson, AZ). This movie is visually stunning w/ stark black and white photography of the natural landscapes. The filmmakers received permission to shoot in Death Valley, which had the dangers of extreme heat, scorpions, and tarantulas- yikes! Peck and Widmark make believable frenemies; they’re NOT only opposites physically, BUT also have different personalities. Each of the 6 men has his own style of speech, unique costume, and scene in which to reveal his character. The romance develops over a few scenes, as Mike learns that Stretch is NOT a bad man (deep down). The last scene looks tacked on (by Hollywood studio execs), as Sayles commented. This movie was re-made in South Africa as The Jackals (1967) starring Vincent Price.

[1] Gregory Peck plays the leader Stretch, an actor normally associated with a straight-laced gait, here he is is weather worn and tired, his portrayal of Stretch as convincing as a role I have seen him tackle. Richard Widmark, in what I believe to be his first Western entry, is truly magnetic, a smirking, snarling Dude that you just know you couldn’t trust if your life depended on it. Anne Baxter plays the sole female character of the piece (Mike), and she is pivotal to the whole film’s strength, tough and full of spunk, her grasping of the situation in amongst these ragged men gives the piece it’s time bomb ethic, and boy does Baxter do well with it.

[2] Performances are superb from all concerned. Peck gives one of his usual stalwart portrayals. Richard Widmark, in his first western is superb as the slimy, crafty double crosser. Also excellent is John Russell as the womanizing gang member (“Now ma’am, you wouldn’t shoot a fine young handsome fella like me, would ye?”)

[3] The main thing you might not catch is that this is an adaptation of “The Tempest,” by Shakespeare. Here, the band of travelers crosses a metaphoric sea (the desert) and reaches a “New World” where they sort out what matters between them. The set was built (and deliberately destroyed) from an old silent film set that was left over.

William Wellman was one of those consistently excellent directors who never really made a bad film, but didn’t always make exceptional ones, and this one is right in his usual mix of strong visuals, tight editing, fairly simple dramatic plots, and a key actor or two to identify with.

-Excerpts from IMDb movies