Friday, February 15, 2019

ADORING ANGELA LANSBURY BLOGATHON, Murder, She Wrote: The Last Free Man (2001)

The Adoring Angela Lansbury Blogathon is hosted by Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews. Enjoy all of the tributes beginning HERE.

"There is something a little bit mysterious and interesting about her and that certainly appeals to me... Mystery is my business, as you know."
- Angela Lansbury speaking of her character in Mary Poppins Returns, 2019

Murder, She Wrote starring Tony winner and Oscar and Emmy-nominated actress Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher ran on CBS for 12 seasons from 1984 to 1996. The series was followed by 4 made-for-TV movies: South by Southwest in 1996, A Story to Die For in 2000, The Last Free Man in 2001, and The Celtic Riddle in 2003. Fans have not given up hope for another visit with J.B. Fletcher.

Angela Lansbury, Anthony Shaw

The Last Free Man is the only Murder, She Wrote script from producer and writer Matthew Sommer. All of the Murder, She Wrote TV movies and 68 episodes of the series were directed by Anthony Shaw who seems to know exactly how to handle his star Angela Lansbury without letting his mother Angela Lansbury get in the way.

"The truth. That is the most elusive of mysteries."
- Cassandra Hawkins (Phylicia Rashad)

Jessica Fletcher is in Virginia to look into the history of her family who came from Ireland and settled in the area in the 18th century. While attending a lecture by historian Dr. Cassandra Hawkins played by special guest star Phylicia Rashad, Jessica is made aware of a disturbing historical connection.

Dr. Hawkins is descended from a slave called Samuel Pickney who died prior to the beginning of the Civil War as the accused murderer of a landowner named Robert Mercer. Samuel Pickney was the property of Sarah McCullough, a distant aunt of Jessica Fletcher. Cassandra confirms the connection with a family heirloom; a silver watch engraved "To Samuel Pickney from S. McCullough."

David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Phylicia Rashad

Dr. Hawkins is investigating what she sees as questionable proofs in the murder case against her long ago grandfather, including the presence of two gravesites for the man, one in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania

Combining their forces, and using archival papers, including letters and Sarah McCullogh's journal, the ladies search for the truth. Their quest brings them into conflict with local historian Stanford Thornton played by David Ogden Stiers. His goal is to preserve the past as culture and fears an agenda on Cassandra's part. Her only agenda is to face uncomfortable truths. Will Thornton hinder their efforts or will he be challenged to assist in the inquiry?

Phylicia Rashad, Gloria Stuart, Angela Lansbury

Cassandra and Jessica are led in their research to Eliza Hoops, a woman past 100 years of age played by Gloria Stuart (91 at the time). Eliza has memories of her grandfather and the "magic train" with the passengers who were not to be disturbed. 

The Last Free Man is told in two equally riveting sections. The search for the truth in the contemporary day and the telling of the story of Samuel Pickney and Sarah McCullough in Antebellum Virginia. In the "story" sequence Angela Lansbury plays the role of Sarah opposite Michael Jace as Samuel. 

Robert Mercer played by Tim Dekay is murdered on the night of his wedding to the daughter of a wealthy slaveholder. A jealous ex-beau of the bride's, the overbearing father-in-law, and an opportunistic newspaper editor are among those in attendance when Sarah and Samuel arrive at the wedding. Samuel is subjected to abuse from the former beau, a Confederate officer played by Tim Abell. The officer quickly arouses feeling against Samuel following the murder.

Angela Lansbury, Keith Jefferson, Michael Jace, Taraji P. Henson

Sarah displays the characteristics that have been passed down to Jessica. She will not see an injustice without fighting it, and she will not see anyone in trouble without helping. Sarah's investigation debunks flimsy evidence and reveals a shocking secret between Samuel and the murdered Robert Mercer. Nonetheless, she is unable to prevent tragedy and is stopped at every turn from revealing a truth that is not accepted by her community. It will be a much future generation that will discover that healing truth and spread its word with the unexpected help of Stanford Thornton.

Angela Lansbury as Sarah McCullough

The compelling stories told in The Last Free Man are well presented and it is a special treat to see Angela Lansbury in the role of Sarah McCullough, with her soft southern accent and steely determination in the face of a patriarchal and bigoted society.


David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach
Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Lumiere
Beauty and the Beast

Angela Lansbury and David Ogden Stiers appeared together previously in 3 episodes of Murder, She Wrote, the TV Movie The First Olympics: 1896, and share a Grammy Award for the soundtrack album for Beauty and the Beast. Let's not forget Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth also pop up in the Beauty and the Beast sequels/spinoffs/games.

Gloria Stuart as Edna Jarvis
The Days Dwindle Down

Gloria Stuart guested on a popular season 3 Murder, She Wrote episode The Days Dwindle Down which acts as a sequel to the 1949 movie Strange Bargain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


The First Annual Valentine's Day Meet-Cute Blogathon is the brainchild of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Click HERE for all the wonderful movie moments.

The cliches of even the finest westerns lend themselves to kidding, and fans are always up for a laugh. Writer/director Burt Kennedy (Seven Men from Now) and writer William Bowers (The Gunfighter) are at the top of the pack in the subgenre due to their share dramatic westerns. They know of which they spoof.

James Garner plays Jason, a stranger passing through a lawless town in search of a lawman. An unexpected gold strike has left the suddenly rich town disorganized and unable to deal with the influx of people and the villainous Danby clan. Jason wants to get to Australia so he can be a pioneer. Pioneering takes money so he temporarily takes on the job of Sheriff. All of the sheriffs in this town have only held the job temporarily.

Romance will come to Jason in the form of Prudy Perkins played by the brilliant Joan Hackett (Will Penny, The Last of Sheila). Prudy is smitten with the new sheriff but getting together is going to be awkward. There are stages to Jason and Prudy's meet-cute as they are not formally introduced upon their first encounter. Their second and third encounters don't go too well either!

Prudy was in the process of crossing a wide, busy and very muddy roadway to get to the Perkins General Store. Two men having a fist fight to settle their differences as to the right of way of their wagons inadvertently shove Prudy into the mud. Prudy did not take this well, nor sitting down. The fight escalates with Prudy in the middle of it. She takes particular umbrage at a fellow combatant's grabbing her where he oughtn't.

James Garner, Joan Hackett

Prudy: "Watch where you're grabbing." She notices Jason observing the battle from the boardwalk. "What about you?"

Jason: "What about me?"

Prudy: "You wanna grab something?"

Jason: "Everything looks too slippery to me."

Prudy: "What does that mean?"

Jason: "Nothing."

Prudy: "You look too clean to suit me."

Mayor Perkins takes Jason to his home where the new sheriff will be provided room and board, and to introduce him to Prudy, who is a fine cook. Mayor Perkins is unaware that Prudy is at home in the midst of post-mud-fight ablutions. Down to her mud-caked skivvies and with a mop of wet hair, Prudy notices the handsome stranger coming down the street with her father. She keeps one step ahead of them by ducking into the hall closet, the dining room, and out the kitchen door where she climbs a handy tree. Jason is drawn to the sight of a girl in a tree.

Joan Hackett

Jason: "You're the strangest girl I ever met."

Prudy: "Go away."

Jason: "Do you always show this side of your nature or am I just lucky on my first day? I suppose you have some reason for sitting up there like that. Ordinarily, a girl doesn't get undressed, pour a bucket of water over her head then climb a tree."

Prudy: "I'm warning you..."

Kathleen Freeman, James Garner

Enter helpful neighbour Mrs. Danvers played by Kathleen Freeman who provides Jason with the information that this is indeed Prudy Perkins and she lives right in this house.

Joan Hackett

Dinner time presents the opportunity Prudy needs to reverse her previous first impressions. Lost in her daydreams, Prudy doesn't realize she has inadvertently powdered her face with flour, and proximity to the oven has put her skirt afire which Jason politely douses with water.

Prudy: "What are you..."

Mayor Perkins: "You was on fire, Prudy! You was on fire!"

Harry Morgan, Joan Hackett, James Garner

Prudy: "Fire? Oh, I'm sick and tired of these stupid things that have been happenin' to me. And somebody better do somethin' about it soon."

Jason: "That's quite a daughter you got."

Mayor Perkins: "I think she's crazy."

Jason: "What makes you think that? I know why I'd think..."

Mayor Perkins: "She had some shocks this year. She got wealthy overnight. It unhinged her. Then she was always big for her age and puberty hit her hard. That'll do it you know."

Jason and Prudy go through some more comic misunderstandings before the inevitable feelings of attachment are allowed to blossom. All this while dealing with the good-for-nothing Danby clan, a plethora of travelling gunfighters, gold mining, and a town that won't back up its sheriff. You know, and I know, and the whole town knows that this is how things will end up for Prudy and Jason.

James Garner, Joan Hackett, Harry Morgan, Henry Jones

Prudy: "What do you mean, your girl?"

Jason: "Come on, you've had that look in your eye since the first day I hit town." ... "Say, are you really one of the richest girls in this part of the country?"

Prudy: "The richest."

Jason: "That's nice. That's real nice."

By this western fan's reckoning, Support Your Sheriff! pokes genial fun at My Darling Clementine, Red River, Winchester '73, Rio Bravo, and High Noon with a tip of the Stetson to McLintock!. What have I missed?

Friday, February 1, 2019


It is time for the annual TCM 31 Days of Oscar lineup which always includes an eclectic mix of the renowned films in Hollywood history and some unexpected titles to pique our curiosity. This month we look at one of those unexpected titles.

Prior to the movie season which saw Columbia Studios and director Frank Capra send a young idealist to the capitol in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Republic Studios and director Joseph Kane released a similarly plotted picture called Under Western Stars.

The star of this picture had been mostly uncredited as a cowboy or singer in 11 previous pictures. Occasionally, he was billed under his real name of Len Slye while a musician appearing with the Sons of the Pioneers, and most recently had been trying out the screen name of Dick Weston. In this picture as Roy Rogers (actor and character), the 27-year-old became a star!

Under Western Stars had been slated for Gene Autry, but along with being a screen personality, composer/singer Gene was a businessman who knew he wasn't getting his share of the profits from Herbert Yates and Republic. Gene walked out on the picture in a contract dispute and "Roy" was promoted. Roy was supported in the film by Autry regulars Smiley Burnett and popular radio singing stars the Maple City Four. Joseph Kane, a musician turned prolific low-budget western director was in charge.

Under Western Stars is set in an unnamed western state suffering the effects of the dust bowl conditions during the 1930s. Guy Usher, another of those familiar yet often uncredited faces, plays John Fairbanks, the owner of the Western Water and Power Company. A dam under the company's control denies local ranchers access to much-needed water by charging usurious rates. After a spirited campaign, Roy Rogers, the son of a late Congressman is sent to Washington on the promise to get Federal control of the water.

Fairbanks' daughter Eleanor played by Carol Hughes (Three Men on a Horse, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe) takes a liking to the handsome, singing Rogers and assists the sometimes naive and often unorthodox Congressman. The real-life Mrs. Frank Faylen would be appear in four pictures with Gene and three with Roy.

The movie packs six songs into the politics, romance, riding and shooting and one of those songs, Dust by Johnny Marvin was nominated for Best Music, Original Song. It is the emotional core of the movie as Roy sings an impassioned plea to lawmakers to assist the ranchers.

The award that year was given to Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin for Thanks for the Memory from The Big Broadcast of 1938. Roy would reprise Dust with the Sons of the Pioneers ten years later in the movie Under California Stars. It is that clip that is available on YouTube and which is provided here.

Oscar nominee Johnny Marvin (1896-1944) was an entertainer and recording artist (singer, ukulele) of the 1920s who later collaborated on Autry soundtracks. He passed of dengue fever contracted while entertaining with the USO during World War 2. 

Gene Autry returned to the Republic fold and no one could ever accuse the producer/star and future owner of the California Angels of not knowing how to handle his money. Within five years Roy Rogers success was assured when he was crowned King of the Cowboys.

Under Western Stars airs on TCM during this year's 31 Days of Oscar salute during the wee hours (3 AM Eastern) of February 13th after an evening of David Lean epics. The fast-paced and entertaining programmer from 1938 runs just around an hour. There is a reason PBS NewsHour devoted nearly a half an hour of its programming to Roy Rogers upon his passing in 1998. Get to see the beginnings of the movie legend in Under Western Stars.


You may be interested in my article on Roy Rogers and Dale Evans for the 2013 Dynamic Duos in Classic Movies blogathon.

ADORING ANGELA LANSBURY BLOGATHON, Murder, She Wrote: The Last Free Man (2001)

The Adoring Angela Lansbury Blogathon is hosted by Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews . Enjoy all of the tributes beginning HERE . ...