The Bounty Trilogy – A Book Review – Part 2 – “Men Against the Sea” & “Pitcairn’s Island”

In this second part of this book review of the Bounty Trilogy I’ll include both of the remaining stories.  I think this is reasonable because neither of these later “books” has the same narrative clout as “Mutiny on the Bounty.”  Although each story has remarkable human interest and involves harrowing danger and human suffering neither is as dynamic as the tale in Mutiny.  And for this reason, I think I can do justice to both in this single review.

 

Men Against the Sea

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Men Against the Sea is the narrative of Captain Bligh’s Sea voyage.  I’ll let the narrator Thomas Ledward, the Bounty’s Acting Surgeon summarize the voyage, “Never, perhaps, in the history of the sea has a captain performed a feat more remarkable than Mr. Bligh’s, in navigating a small, open, and unarmed boat–but twenty-three feet long, and so heavily laden that she was in constant danger of foundering–from the Friendly Islands to Timor, a distance of three thousand, six hundred miles, through groups of islands inhabited by ferocious savages, and across a vast uncharted ocean. Eighteen of us were huddled on the thwarts as we ran for forty-one days before strong easterly gales, bailing almost continually to keep afloat, and exposed to torrential rains by day and by night.

And that description gives us the gist of the book.  But as remarkable as that voyage was what’s it like as a story?  I would say that the story is passably interesting and we do get a flavor of each of the passengers and especially Bligh but the circumstances of the story are on the whole too static to make the adventure come fully to life.  For this I don’t fully fault the authors.  I’m not sure anyone could figure out a way to fully document the voyage and still give the story a dynamic feel.  Instead, the book faithfully portrays the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere that eighteen men trapped on a twenty-three-foot boat for forty-one days must have been like.

Pitcairn’s Island

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Pitcairn’s Island is the story of the Bounty mutineers along with some women and men from Tahiti establishing a colony on a small, secluded and almost unknown island in the South Pacific in order to escape from the British Navy that would be searching for them over the mutiny.  This is a very strange story of how these Englishmen took what was potentially a tropical paradise and turned it into a private hell.  All of the human foibles are on display.  Greed, sloth, lust, intolerance, drunkenness and wrath play a role in destroying the colony.  By the end of the story only the women and children remain except for one mutineer who assumed the role of father figure for the children.

The story is an exciting one full of conflict and human tragedy.  And the pace of the story is much more engaging than Men Against the Sea.  But at points the dialog does seem to be a little stilted.  But this book is much more readable than the previous story.

 

Final Comments

“Men Against the Sea” and “Pitcairn’s Island” aren’t as engaging or have plots that are as well rounded as “Mutiny on the Bounty.”  But I would guess that nine out of ten readers of Mutiny will at least try to read these later stories.  Personally, neither of these later stories was as satisfying as Mutiny but I recommend that anyone who read Mutiny on the Bounty should at least give them a try.

The Bounty Trilogy – A Book Review – Part 1 – Mutiny on the Bounty

I’ve just finished the first part of the trilogy, Mutiny on the Bounty, and I’m so enthused about that book that I decided not to wait until I have finished all three books to start writing the review.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

I have seen a couple of the film adaptations of Mutiny on the Bounty previously and always enjoyed the story.  So I was impelled recently to hunt out the book to see what I thought of the more detailed treatment in the book and to discover just how closely the movies kept to the original text.

The story of the Bounty is the collision of a melancholy and headstrong Englishman, Fletcher Christian, with a brilliant naval officer, William Bligh, who was at the same time a venal, cruel and boorish man who inflicted brutal floggings on his crew for situations that he himself caused.  He starved his men for the sake of pocketing the savings he made on provisioning the ship and he belittled and accused his officers of petty offenses that he dwelt upon because of his obsessive nature.

The story is told from the point of view of one of the midshipmen, Roger Byam, a young gentleman whom Bligh convinced to join the journey in order to create a dictionary and grammar of the Tahitian language for a mutual friend of theirs Sir Joseph Banks who was the President of the Royal Society.  The mission of the Bounty was to sail to Tahiti and collect hundreds of saplings of the breadfruit tree and then transport the plants to the British West Indies where they might become a cheap food source for the slaves on the sugar plantations there.

The story chronicles the outward voyage to Tahiti and the mission on the island.  We meet all of the more notable members of the crew and several of the Tahitians who are important to the personal stories of the main characters.  Christian, Byam and several other characters become intimately involved with women on the island and this adds to the unhappiness when the return voyage begins.

Bligh and his minions in the crew confiscate the food and other material souvenirs from the men and officers, ostensibly for equal sharing but in reality, for Bligh’s benefit.  And when some of this plunder, a few cocoanuts, are stolen one night by one of the younger crewmen, Bligh accuses Christian of the theft.  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  At daybreak Christian enlists some of the seamen who had been most afflicted by Bligh’s punishments and they seized muskets from the weapons locker, took Bligh prisoner and took possession of the ship.

Christian and his mutineers formulated a plan.  Bligh and the officers and anyone who wanted to remain loyal to him would be set adrift in the ship’s launch.  The Bounty would be commandeered to take the mutineers to an island where they hoped to avoid discovery by the British Navy.  But in the event, it turned out that there were too many loyalists to fit in the launch.  The excess loyalists, including Byam had to remain with the Bounty and Christian finally decided to make a trip to Tahiti to drop off the loyalists, purchase provisions and convince some Tahitian women and men to join the mutineers in their new home.

Once the Bounty leaves Tahiti the story revolves around the fate of the Byam and his comrades both on Tahiti and later on when a British Navy vessel comes looking for the Bounty.  Contrary to all expectations, Bligh was able to navigate his tiny craft 4,200 miles to Timor in the East Indies.  On finally reaching England he alerted the authorities of the mutiny and a man of war, the Pandora, was sent to the South Sea to find and recover the Bounty and bring the mutineers back for trial.  The loyalists left on Tahiti and some mutineers who decided to stay on Tahiti were all rounded up by the captain of the Pandora and the ship searched among the islands of the south Seas looking, unsuccessfully for the Bounty.  But when the Pandora struck a reef in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, the surviving crew and prisoners were in a similar situation to what Bligh suffered in travelling thousands of miles in lifeboats to reach port.

Finally, the story reaches its climax in the court martial trial of Byam and his companions.  And here we see circumstances conspiring to paint Byam as a mutineer.  Bligh misunderstood an innocent conversation between Byam and Christian the night before the mutiny and reported it as proof that Byam was part of the mutiny.  But the only one who had heard the whole conversation had disappeared in a ship wreck before the trial.  And so Byam is convicted and sentenced to hang.  By a miraculous coincidence the missing crewman is rescued and gives testimony of Byam’s innocence just a few days before his execution would have occurred.  After the trial Byam returns to naval duty and has a long and illustrious career.  But an epilogue has him return to Tahiti where the paradise that he had experienced there had been destroyed by exposure to the conflicting pressures that European lifestyle put on the natives.  Almost all of his friends were dead of disease or war and the population was reduced to a miserable and sparse remnant of what he remembered.

Mutiny on the Bounty is a fictionalized version of the actual Bounty story.  Although the characters are all based on actual people, I’m sure the authors have injected their own details and personality traits to give the story the desired tone.  It is not a history.  And for that reason, I will rate it as a work of fiction.  I consider it an excellent adventure story.  Being based on actual events the authors strove to convey the extraordinary hardships that the characters suffered while trying to survive the almost impossible conditions of their grueling sea voyages.  And the description of the idyllic world of the Tahitians in this early stage of their introduction to Europeans is remarkably effective in conveying a sense of sheer happiness.  It literally sounds like heaven on earth.  I haven’t read the other two installments of the Bounty Trilogy but I highly recommend the Mutiny on the Bounty story to anyone who enjoys adventure stories.

Galaxy’s Edge – Dark Victory – A Science Fiction Book Review

I’ve got to hand it to Anspach and Cole.  The world building they are doing in the Galaxy’s Edge franchise doesn’t seem like it will ever slow down.  They’re at least fifteen books into this universe and I keep running into newer and weirder twists and turns in the history of their galaxy.  And they’re always throwing in new characters and cross-connecting old characters and advancing new plot lines.  These boys are on their game.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

In this latest installment Aeson Ford (/Captain Keel/Wraith/Tyrus Rechs (imposter)) is working undercover for his old Legionnaire friend Chhun.  He gets mixed up with an investigation into Nether Ops interference into the chaotic political situation that has existed since the Legion put an end to the House of Reason.  Working with the Nether Ops agent “Honey” he infiltrates several bases of the nefarious spy agency leading up to the capture of vital intel.  Meanwhile Ford is also in search of information on his own forgotten origins in the Kill Team Ice that stretches back to the Savage Wars by means of cryosleep.

Meanwhile we discover that his crewmate Leenah was not killed when the Indelible VI was attacked by bounty hunters in the last book.  We learn how her ship was all but destroyed just as she made the jump to light speed.  The jump saved her life but left her stranded in the middle of nowhere with almost no air and no way to get help.  Through her mechanical ingenuity she rigs a signal and waits with time running out.  Meanwhile Ford’s other crewmate Garret is Lenah working with Nilo’s Black Leaf mercenaries and because he hasn’t given up on Leenah’s life, he locates her signal and convinces Nilo to go on a rescue mission.

When they get to the beacon Leenah and the ship is gone and Nilo figures out that Leenah has been captured by Gomarii slavers and they go on a mission to save her and take down the Gomarii.  During the rescue Nilo and Garret discover that the Gomarii vessel is actually a Savage hulk that contains information in its memory banks crucial to the upcoming resumption of the Savage threat to the galaxy.

Aeson Ford fabricates a plot to capture a rogue Naval Commander who has been doing the Nether Ops dirty work.  During the action Honey betrays him with her former colleagues in Nether Ops and she is killed along with the rest of the agents that Ford defeats.  When he returns to the Legion base, he learns that his old comrade Masters is in dire straits.  Instead of returning to Garret and Nilo he heads off with the legionnaires to save Masters.  But at the end of the book, we find that Nilo also has business on that same dangerous planet.

Dark Victory winds two plots together and both are done well.  The rescue of Leenah from the salvers is the more dynamic and satisfying of the subplots but taking Ford out of the action allows the secondary characters like Leenah and Garret to get their moments in the sun.  Plus, it allows Nilo and Garret to advance the information on the Savage Wars back story which will tie in with other characters that don’t figure in this book but will return soon.  Let’s face it, once you’re into the series this deep all you want to know is whether it’s still a good read.  It is.

The Batman (2022) – A Science Fiction – Fantasy Movie Review

Last night I went to go see the “The Batman” with my two older grandsons.  We hadn’t gone to the movies since before the whole COVID mess and I figured with them on Easter vacation from school it was now or never.  They’d heard good things about the movie.  I was skeptical about it because Batman was being played by Robert Pattinson.  And I remember he’d been the actor in those lame Twilight vampire movies that teenage girls were so excited about a while ago.  But I figured it would still be fun hanging out with these descendants of mine.

So, we met up after their work hours.  These two guys are working on their holiday and doing nine hours a day of manual labor.  I told them I was embarrassed that I never had the work ethic they have at that age.  I drove to the nearest cineplex for the last night of the movie’s run.  But I wasn’t familiar with the town or mall it was in, so I was amazed to see that the mall was almost completely empty.  All the biggest chain stores like Macy’s and Target were vacated and even most of the smaller stores were boarded up.  It felt like we were walking onto the set of a zombie movie.  There were barely a dozen people walking around in the mall at 6:45 at night.  The theater was empty except for the ticket seller, popcorn girl and the ticket taker.  It was pretty creepy.  But they still got their popcorn and drinks.

The plot of the movie revolves around the familiar scenario of Bruce Wayne acting as an avenging angel stalking the streets of Gotham City fighting against organized (and disorganized) crime as the caped crusader.  In this iteration James Gordon is a police lieutenant who has teamed up with Batman to allow the city to benefit from Batman’s vigilante activities.  The current crime spree is a series of high-level city government officials being murdered by the Riddler.  The mayor, police commissioner and district attorney are murdered gruesomely and their killings are videotaped by the Riddler and shared with the public on-line.  The Riddler highlights the corrupt activities of the men he’s murdered and announces that he will be “unmasking” the full depths of the partnership between organized crime and the present city administration.

Batman starts following clues that the Riddler provides specifically for him.  And in the investigation, he meets up with Selena who has her own secret identity as the Catwoman.  They become romantically involved, sort of, and together they discover the link between Batman’s father and the crime boss Carmine Falcone (played ably by John Turturro).  We find out that Falcone is also Selena’s father.   Mixed up in Falcone’s vice trades like drugs and prostitution is Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot also known as the Penguin.  The Penguin ends up shedding light on the origins of Falcone’s control of City Hall.  The details of this old history illuminate the basis for the Riddler’s campaign of vengeance against the city’s power brokers including Bruce Wayne.  By the end of the movie, it’s clear what the Riddler was up to but it isn’t in time to prevent a plot to blow up the sea wall that keeps the river out of Gotham’s downtown.  And it also barely allows the foiling of a massacre at a political rally being held for the reform candidate running for mayor.

Of course, Batman must almost single-handedly prevent thirty, gun wielding acolytes of the Riddler from shooting Gotham’s citizens like they were literally fish in a barrel.  But in doing so he learns that his negative role as a vigilante seeking vengeance is too limited to help save Gotham City.  And that he must become also a positive force to help people survive the mayhem all around them.

So, what did I think?  Well first of all, this movie is almost three hours long.  That’s really long.  And the movie is unrelentingly bleak.  Bruce Wayne in the few scenes when he is not Batman looks almost suicidal.  There are no lighter moments in this movie at all.  There is a grittier and uglier feel to this movie than, for instance, in Nolan’s Dark Knight movies.   On the other hand, the action scenes are very well done.  This Batman apparently has a much more capable armor than the Dark Knight had.  He is blasted by machine guns and even a shot gun and not only survives but doesn’t even show any damage to his suit.  And a chase scene on a crowded expressway is pretty spectacular, even if absurdly unrealistic.  On the negative side, Selena does utter the phrase “white privilege” at one point which annoyed me mightily.  But on the whole the movie is an effective and enjoyable Batman movie.  I recommend it to fans of the genre.

Leaving the theater, we were the only people in the huge mall except for a guard who escorted us to the only door still open in the building.  Our car was the only vehicle in this enormous parking lot and as we walked through the eerily empty space, we reflected on its resemblance to some of the darker corners of Gotham City that we had recently visited.  We spent the long ride home discussing the pros and cons of the film and all decided that it had been a worthwhile expedition.  I got them home an hour later than I had estimated and their parents told me of the unbelievably early hour they had to get up for work the next morning.  I felt awful getting them home so late but the boys still claimed it was worth it.  Score one for nonconsecutive generational male bonding.  Now, bring on the great grandsons.

The Master of Ballantrae (1953) – A Movie Review

Here’s a later installment in Errol Flynn’s catalog of swashbuckling movie roles.  The story is loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel of the same name.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The story is a wild tale with Errol Flynn playing the title role as Jamie Durie, a Scottish noble in the 18th century who goes to war to bring Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne of Britain.  But when the Stuart pretender is defeated, Durie and an Irish comrade have to flee Scotland leaving Durie’s brother to inherit Ballantrae and possibly Jamie’s fiancée.  During his exile he is hijacked by a treacherous sea captain, captured by pirates and then turns pirate himself before returning to Scotland with a fortune to claim his bride from his supposedly duplicitous brother.  But when his brother saves him from an English hangman’s noose they are reconciled and his fiancée escapes with him for a life of adventure.

This was Flynn’s last feature with Warner Bros. but the story moves along very smartly and he can still swashbuckle with the best of them.  The script was good enough.  I especially liked the pirate sequence.  All of the colorful character actors were way over the top but I think they provided just the right atmosphere for a light-hearted romp of an adventure story.  If you’re looking for an old-fashioned adventure story, this is it.  Errol Flynn makes it work one last time.

Out of the Past (1947) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is one of the quintessential film noirs.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Robert Mitchum is Jeff Bailey, an auto repair shop owner living in a small town.  He has a girl, Ann Miller who is in love with him and a deaf-mute boy who helps him with his shop.  But he is hiding from his past.  He was Jeff Markham, a private detective that was sent on an assignment by underworld boss Whit Sterling (played with good natured panache by Kirk Douglas) to find a girl who stole $40,000 from Whit and shot him for good measure.  The girl, Kathie Moffat is hiding out in Mexico and while staking her out Jeff falls entirely in love with her and the two run away to live their lives far from Whit Sterling.

But Jeff’s partner Jack Fisher, hunts them down and demands the $40,000 to keep from telling Sterling about their double cross.  During a fistfight between Jeff and Fisher Kathie shoots Fisher dead.  While Jeff buries Fisher’s body Kathie skips out on him.  Jeff decides to take on the new identity as Jeff Bailey and settles in the small town of Bridgeport, California.

But now one of Whit Sterling’s men arrives in Bridgeport and recognizes Jeff.  He summons Jeff to Whit’s summer house on Lake Tahoe.  When Jeff gets there, he finds Kathie has reconciled with Whit and now it’s Jeff’s turn to square accounts with the underworld boss.  There is a complicated scenario where Jeff is supposed to recover some tax documents that Whit’s accountant is using to blackmail him.  But it’s really a set-up whereby Jeff will be the fall guy for the accountant’s murder.  And, of course, Kathie is part of the double cross too.  There are a number of reversals but finally Jeff arranges a deal with Sterling such that Kathie will be on the hook for Fisher’s murder and Jeff will be cleared of all the various crimes he’s been framed for in return for the return of the tax documents.

But Kathie decides to upend the deal by murdering Sterling.  Now she and Jeff are on the run for the various murders that have been committed and Jeff realizes that he’ll never have that small town life he tried to escape to.  He and Kathie die in a hail of bullets as he drives their car into a police ambush.

Interspersed between the action scenes we have the love story between Jeff and Ann.  She’s a gentle woman who believes that Jeff has a good side that exists beneath the tough persona that he projects to the world.  And her belief in him propels him to try and escape from the criminal existence that Kathie has drawn him into.  But fate eventually claims his life and leaves Ann to mourn him.

As with all good film noir, the plot is an awful mess.  All of their terrible choices propel the protagonists to their bleak fates.  But the movie is a pleasure to watch.  Mitchum is at the top of his game with a tightly knit plot and lots of great lines to toss off.  Kirk Douglas is an affable crime boss and adds a lot to the film.  Kathie is a wonderfully dishonest femme fatale and is constantly double-crossing everyone in sight.  And the rest of the supporting cast is fine too.  I highly recommend this movie for film noir devotees and basically anyone who likes a good story.

The Big House (1930) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Other than Wallace Beery who starred and Lewis Stone as the Warden I don’t remember ever having seen any of the other cast.  This is a very early “talkie” and so the acting is a bit broad.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

An upper-class young man, Kent, is sentenced to ten years in prison for killing a man in an automobile accident while driving drunk.  He is put in a crowded cell with the two toughest prisoners.  Wallace Beery is “Machine Gun Butch” and the other prisoner is a master thief named Morgan.

Kent gets into conflicts with most of the prisoners because of his soft upbringing so he joins up with one of the prison rats and agrees to give information to the guards in return for lightening his sentence.  Kent has a beautiful sister Anne.  Morgan sees her when she comes to visit her brother and falls in love with her.  Because of a frame up by Kent, Morgan loses his imminent parole chance.  When an opportunity occurs Morgan escapes from the prison and goes to see Anne.  She figures out that he is an escapee but helps him escape pursuit.  Somehow or other they strike up a romance and he even comes home to visit her parents!

But eventually he is recaptured and arrives back in prison just as Butch is plotting a major jail break.  But Kent rats them out and the escape becomes a riot with Butch and his men holding the guards as hostages and both sides blazing away at each other with machine guns.  Finally Butch declares that he will kill all the guards one by one if his men aren’t allowed to escape.  When Butch kills the head guard, the Warden calls for the Army to bring in tanks to break up the riot.

Morgan decides to save the guards by locking them in a cell with a solid steel door and throwing away the key.  Butch decides that Morgan is the rat and goes gunning for him.  In the melee Kent is killed in the crossfire and butch and Morgan wound each other in a gunfight.  When Butch discovers that it was Kent who sold him out, he and Morgan reconcile with Butch dying of his wounds.  The tanks overcome the prisoners’ resistance and order is restored.  Afterward Morgan is hailed as a hero for saving the guards’ lives.  He is pardoned and upon getting out he is welcomed out by his fiancée Anne.

This movie is a parody of prison.  Butch and most of the other prisoners and guards are caricatures of the stereotypes that we would come to expect in movies about prison.  But I found myself enjoying the movie mostly because Wallace Beery is an enjoyable comic actor in most of the movies I’ve seen him in.  And how can you dislike a movie that features the prisoners setting up and betting on and cheering for their favorites in a cockroach race.  Especially when we find out that the race was fixed by the favorite being glued to the ground with bubble gum!  I don’t think I can recommend this movie for anyone in particular except for fans of Wallace Beery.  Good old Long John Silver.

Dune, Part 1; A Very Short Discussion of the Movie – A Science Fiction Movie Review

 

In November of 2021 Neil Dunn wrote an excellent review of Dune part 1.  Now that I’ve finally seen the movie, I can definitively say that his review was wholly accurate.  Let me qualify my comments by stating up front that I have inexplicably avoided reading the Dune books most of my life.  And now I am ready to amend that situation.

As I said this will be short.  The movie is a stylish and well-made science fiction film that uses the current state of the art in computer-generated imagery to great effect.  The battle scenes, the space ships and the creatures such as the sand worms are all impressively realistic.

The actors are very good.  With only a couple of familiar faces I was still highly impressed by the cast.  The plot was kept moving and the tension between the family dynamics and the political struggle was well done.

Read Neil’s review for a more in-depth and authoritative look at the story.   But as a new comer to the Dune universe I will gladly recommend this film to all fans of science fiction and more generally, to anyone who likes a good adventure film.

How the West Was Won (1962) – A Movie Review

“How the West Was Won” is a Western extravaganza with enough Hollywood stars for five films.  It consists of five vignettes that are strung together out of the fortunes of a family from the East caught up in the settling of the western frontier.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Karl Malden is Zebulon Prescott, a farmer in New York State who becomes disgusted with his rocky unproductive land and sells it to go west with his wife Rebecca, (Agnes Moorehead) and two daughters Eve (Caroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds).  Along the way they meet fur trapper Linus Rawlings (Jimmy Stewart) who saves them from some nefarious river pirates led by Col. Jeb Hawkins (Walter Brennan) but finally Zebulon and Rebecca are killed going over the rapids on their raft and Rawlings reluctantly gives up his wandering ways to marry Eve and start a farm by the river.

In the next vignette, Lilith has become a show girl and does a song and dance act in St. Louis.  A messenger informs her that a former admirer has left her a gold mine in California.  She joins another woman Agatha Clegg (Thelma Ritter) in a wagon train headed west.

When gambler/fortune hunter Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) overhears her good fortune, he follows her to California.  At first reluctantly and then gratefully, after he saves her life during an Indian attack, Lilith partners with Cleve.

But when they get to California, they discover that Lilith’s gold mine is played out.  Cleve leaves Lilith in the lurch to pursue his gambler’s life.  She receives a proposal of marriage from wealthy rancher Roger Morgan (Robert Preston) but rejects him because she doesn’t want a conventional life as a wife and mother.  But when Cleve overhears Lilith singing on a river boat, he realizes that they will both be happiest if they marry and combine their two adventurous lives together into a partnership.  And they do.

In the next story the Civil War has begun.  To dramatize this we even have a brief look at Raymond Massey portraying Abraham Lincoln.  Eve’s son, Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard) wants to follow his father into battle on the side of the Union.  Eve tearfully says goodbye and Zeb is swept along by the tides of war.

During this episode he manages to save General Grant (Harry Morgan) and General Sherman (John Wayne) from a Confederate soldier who was trying to convince Zeb to desert.  After the war Zeb returns home to find that both his parents are dead.  He leaves the farm to his brother and heads west as a cavalry soldier.

In the next vignette Zeb is a cavalry officer tasked with helping the Union Pacific Railroad cross the Great Plains.  The ruthless railroad boss Mike King (Richard Widmark) is angering the Indian tribes by laying down the track through the Indian hunting grounds.  Zeb has help from buffalo hunter Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda), an old friend of his father.

They convince the Indians to accept the latest route but finally when settlers start filling up the area the Indians revolt and we watch as they stampede a herd of buffalo through the railroad worksite.  Disgusted with the railroad’ treachery, Zeb and Jethro leave for happier circumstances farther west.

In the last episode, we see Lilith as an old woman in San Francisco.  Cleve has died and an auction is proceeding to liquidate their estate to pay off debts.  All that will remain will be a ranch in Arizona that she hopes to retire to with her nephew Zeb Rawlings and his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) and children.

Zeb was a sheriff and while meeting his aunt at the train in Arizona he catches sight of an outlaw Charlie Grant (Eli Wallach) that Zeb put in prison years ago.  He figures out that Grant means to rob the train when the next gold shipment is aboard.  Zeb recruits his old friend Marshal Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb) to go with him to guard the train.

The train robbery scene involves Grant and eight or ten of his men boarding the train and battling Zeb and Lou as they fight them off with rifles and hand guns.  In the ensuing violence the train is battered to pieces and finally derails in catastrophic fashion but Zeb puts a final bullet in Charlie Grant.  Then he returns to take up a peaceful life as rancher with his family.

The movie ends with a panoramic view of California including Los Angeles freeways and the golden Gate Bridge with a stirring speech by the narrator (Spencer Tracy) about the epic adventure that was the taming of the west.

So, you get the picture.  This is an extravaganza.  They put every actor they had into it.  I’ve even left out a few other for the sake of brevity.  So, what do I think?  As far as spectacle, the scene of the raft on the rapids and the buffalo stampede are exciting and in the wide screen of a theater must have been fun for the audience.  Some of the landscapes are truly beautiful.  The plot is very straightforward.  It covers the various stages of the westward expansion of the United States with a personal story.  The performances vary from competent to perfunctory.  This isn’t high drama.  I would restrict my recommendation to saying if you’re in the mood for an epic western movie (and you have three hours to spare) this movie would be fine.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Okay this one is an oddball.  What we have here is a sort of morality play mixed into a fantasy.  In the first half of the nineteenth century in the southwest corner of New Hampshire there lived a farmer named Jabez Stone.  He has a wife and a widowed mother and not much else.  Bad luck follows him and prevents him from ever catching up on his debts.  One day when disaster strikes, again, he cries out that he’d sell his soul for some good luck.  And the Devil (played amusingly by Walter Huston) shows up and talks him into the deal.  He provides him with a pot of “Hessian” gold and seven years of guaranteed good luck for the price of his soul.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

And indeed, Jabez gets all the good luck for which he could ask.  When his neighbors’ crops are destroyed by hail, his are spared.  He loans money to his neighbors and when they can’t pay him back, he makes them sharecroppers working his fields.  He builds a huge mansion on the hill and alienates his wife and mother and all his old friends.

Jabez’s wife Mary is a good friend of the famous American statesman, Daniel Webster (played by Edward Arnold) and she finally calls Webster in when she decides that something terrible has happened to her husband.  Jabez has changed from an honest friendly religious man into a greedy, hateful sinner.  He’s driven away all of their friends and taken up with a Jezebel named “Belle” whom the Devil has sent to keep Jabez from repenting.

On the seventh anniversary of his contract Old Scratch (as the Devil is called in that neighborhood of New England) comes to claim Jabez Stone’s soul.  By this point Jabez realizes the wrong he’s committed and is repentant but he knows his contract is binding.  But at this point Daniel Webster confronts the Devil and demands a jury trial.  Webster will represent the defense and the Devil gets to pick the judge, and jury.  The jury is made up of notorious criminals of the early American era including Gen. Benedict Arnold the infamous traitor of the Revolutionary War.  But the Devil stipulates that if Jabez is found guilty Daniel Webster’s soul will also be collected.

Webster uses all his gifts as an orator and appeals to the jury’s remorse for not fulfilling their birthrights as free Americans and lovers of life.  He reminds them of the simple joys of living a virtuous life and how each of them regrets the road he has taken.

Finally, the jury asks the Devil to see the contract and when he hands it over Benedict Arnold tears it up and throws it away.  The judge and jury disappear into smoke and Daniel Webster gives the Devil the bum’s rush out of Jabez’s barn.  The two victors return to the farmhouse in time to enjoy a homecooked breakfast with Jabez’s wife and mother and young son.

His neighbors arrive to alert Jabez to the fact that his mansion on the hill is in flames.  He smiles at them and tells them he’s glad and that all their debts to him are cancelled and to prove it he tears up his promissory notes and invites them to breakfast.  The movie ends on a comical note with Old Scratch sitting on a country fence, finishing up a pie he stole from Ma Stone and looking into his little book of prospects and then peering out into the audience and smiling and pointing at you!

As I said this is an oddball film.  The bulk of the film is a melodrama about a good man going bad through greed and pride.  I suppose the supernatural story is meant to be a metaphor for how circumstances can make even good people lose perspective on the what’s really valuable in life and let the pursuit of money destroy the good things they have.  I don’t know if I can recommend this movie unless I compare it to something like the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  That movie also shares a supernatural framing of the dangers of losing perspective on what makes life worth living.  If you didn’t like that better movie then you probably won’t like this lesser tale.  That won’t guarantee you’ll like this one but it gives you an idea of what kind of movie this is.