Friday, May 21, 2010

A Real Artichoke--About as complex as a Ziegfeld show?

As the title suggests, this time around I decided to make artichokes, a vegetable that I've found few people I know have ever eaten whole.  Most people I know have only encountered the heart of the vegetable, and usually only as a topping on pizza or as a dip ingredient.  But artichokes on their own are delicious, and while slightly labor intensive, not impossible for the average person to make.  And it's not just because I'm Italian, both my dinner guests enjoyed them too.  Even if you think you don't like artichokes, eating them this way makes them taste very different.  So try it!

How to Prep an Artichoke:

There are numerous videos on this, just google how to prepare an artichoke if you're still unsure.  Here's how I do it, as taught by my grandmother.  I'm using miniature artichokes here, this may be easier your first time around.

You'll Need:
Sharp knife
Melon baller/or spoon equivalent

Rinse off the artichoke and use the scissors to trim the stems.
Using the scissors, trim the tops of the leaves until you reach the final leaves in the center.
Place the artichoke sideways on a cutting board and slice off the top.

Use your fingers to stretch and separate the leaves until the center is more open. Watch out for the "choke," the spiky center leaves can hurt if you're not paying attention.
Using the melon baller or its equivalent, scoop out all the purple stuff in the center.  Again, watch your hands.

Where to go from here...
Apparently the French steam the artichokes upside down, without first digging out the purple center and opening the leaves.  They eat them dipped in melted butter as well, which is how I first had an artichoke.  But my grandmother's recipe involves stuffing them with homemade bread crumbs and I highly recommend this.

To make the bread crumbs you'll need:
About a loaf of fresh white bread (Ciabatta, Italian, baguette, etc)
3-4 large cloves of garlic (more depending on taste)
1/2-1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsps olive oil
  1. Boil about1 1/2 inches of water in a large stockpot.
  2. Rip up the bread into small pieces into a medium sized bowl.
  3. Chop or press the garlic into small pieces and add it to the bread along with the olive oil and the cheese.  Toss everything together.
  4. Stuff the bread crumbs into the artichoke's center and in between the leaves, filling as much as you can.
  5. Place the artichoke stem side down in the pot, leaning again the side.
  6. Cover the pot and let steam for at least 30 minutes, until the leaves are tender and dark green.

Last, but not least, is my section on how to eat an artichoke. Read carefully.
Pull one of the leaves out (it should easily break away if it is cooked right) and bite down on the end with the "meat."  This is the white fleshy part near the stem.  Hold onto the leaf and grip it using your teeth, before pulling the leaf back out of your mouth.  DO NOT EAT THE LEAF.  Apparently some people do, but you're really not supposed to.  It is gross and will seriously discompose your digestive system.  You want the white, meaty part of the artichoke.  You should be able to use your teeth to scrape off the white part.
 When you finish the artichoke, the center contains the "heart" probably the part you're most familiar with.  You can eat that, and it should taste all cheese-bread-garlic yummyness.  I also enjoy dipping the leaves in butter before eating  the white part.  Yet another example of how cheese and butter can make anything good.
    If you're still confused, here is a helpful video on how to eat artichokes.  But again, don't eat the leaf.  According to family legend, my step-grandfather once went out to dinner with a co-worker he disliked.  They ordered artichokes, and the co-worker popped the leaves in his mouth, chewing and swallowing them.  "Hey, these are pretty tough!" he said.  And my grandfather didn't say anything, just gleefully laughed on the inside.  Don't make his mistake!
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    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    The Great Ziegfeld

    "Do you realize you gave me five pounds?"
    "Yes, I'm trying to lose weight."
    --Hotel Doorman to Florenz Ziegfeld Jr, The Great Ziegfeld

    Better than I expected, but considering my expectations were somewhat low, I don't necessarily know if that's a good thing.  This film is a biopic about famed Broadway producer, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.  While it is entertaining, and Luise Rainer manages to completely steal the show, this film is way too long with its slavish devotion to replicating Ziegfeld's famed "Follies" sets.  From a historic perspective, it is great to see people like Fanny Brice and Ray Bolger, and to get a chance to see what going to "Ziegfeld's Follies" in the 1920s would have been like.  From a cinematic perspective, eh, not so much.

    The Plot
    Ziegfeld with Sandow, the strong-man
    Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., played by William Powell, is the son of a respected music professor in Chicago.  While he is charming and intelligent, his strong-man show at the World's Fair struggles with its competition, Jack Billings's (played by Frank Morgan) "Little Egypt" show until he realizes that allowing women to feel the strong man's muscles will increase his attendance.  Suddenly the strong-man, Sandow, is famous and Ziegfeld is rich.  Ziegfeld, however, has a tendency to spend more than he has, and after he gambles away all his money, he follows Billings to London to book a new star, Anna Held, played by Luise Rainer.  Though Billings has almost signed her, Ziegfeld charms Anna into accompanying him to America though he hasn't a cent.  Anna is a highly strung, emotional French actress, but she soon begins to adore "Flo."

    Luise Rainer as Anna Held
    Anna's entrance onto the American stage is rocky, but with Ziegfeld's savy PR skills, he makes her into a star, as well as his wife.  Anna is passionately devoted to him, but while he showers her with diamonds, his attention begins to move elsewhere.  He decides to throw all of his money into a new show, one replete with beautiful girls, elaborate costumes, and complicated dance numbers.  He calls it "Ziegfeld's Follies," and while at first he is broke, he later makes his "Follies" the most popular show on Broadway.  This trend continues, but his passion for beautiful things makes his life difficult.  His beautiful mistress upsets his beautiful wife, while his taste for beautiful objects continually causes him to be broke.  Anna finally divorces him in an attempt to get his attention and reel him back while his mistress, who has devolved into a drunk, leaves him and his shows.  It is then that he meets Billie Burke, played by Myrna Loy.

    Anna and her new jewelry while Zeigfeld's mistress Audrey looks on 
    Billie Burke, a famous new starlet, arrives at a party on the arm of Billings, but Ziegfeld snatches her away.  She refuses to fall for his consider charm, and this makes him fall even harder for her.  He confesses his love, and they marry.  Anna's plan has backfired spectacularly, but even though her heart is broken, she graciously calls and congratulates him on his marriage in a scene that would later win her an Oscar.

    Billie Burke and Ziegfeld have a daughter, Patricia, but Ziegfeld's shows are having trouble competing with the emerging popularity of motion pictures and a shift in entertainment tastes.  He is broke again, but while he is in a barber shop, he overhears strangers discussing how he has lost his edge.  In a rage he leaves and swears he will have four hits on Broadway--all at once.  His wife volunteers all her jewelry and money and professes her faith in him.  Ziegfeld ends up having four hits at once, and invites these men to see them all.  In his moment of triumph, Ziegfeld calls to check on the stocks he has bought with all his profits.  But the stock market has crashed and Ziegfeld is again broke.  The shows close and Ziegfeld falls deathly ill.

    Ziegfeld and Billie Burke
    Billie must go back to work as an actress, but she calls to check in with her beloved husband.  Billings goes to visit Ziegfeld and inspires him to rise up, and make his next show.  Ziegfeld is seized with enthusiastic vigor, and pushes open his curtains to see his theater.  Back in his chair he visualizes his elaborate sets and wants stairs that are higher, grander, better...until he slumps, his eyes go glassy, and he dies all alone.

    Elaborate set of "Ziegfeld's Follies"
    The History
    This film was made a mere three years after Florenz Ziegfeld's death in 1932.  Universal originally bought the rights to the film from Ziegfeld's widow, who had returned to acting to pay off her husband's substantial debts.  William Powell was engaged to play Ziegfeld, and Burke would play herself.  Fanny Brice, Judy Garland, Eddie Cantor and Ray Bolger were all hired to play themselves, as all had previously been in a Ziegfeld show.  But the picture was proving expensive, so Universal sold it to MGM and decided to make Show Boat instead.  Only Powell, Brice, and Bolger made it to the final film.  The longest musical sequence, "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," pictured above, took $220,000, 180 performers, 4,300 yards of rayon silk, and several weeks to reach its final cut.  The film would eventually cost MGM $2 million dollars, but would make over $40 million.

    Burke in real life (left), Myrna Loy as Burke (right)
    Though Burke was instrumental in writing the script and preserving her husband's good name (note the noticeable pairing down of his infidelities), she was not a huge fan of the final film.  While the film is considered to give a good, overall view of his life, there are many inaccuracies.  It did, however, win Academy Awards for "Best Picture," "Best Actress," and "Best Dance Direction."  It was nominated for awards in directing, art direction, film editing, and original screenplay.  On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has received only a 60% fresh rating, and it is considered today to be largely dated and forgotten.  But even in 1936, the picture's win raised eyebrows and a Hollywood Citizen-News journalist wrote"an atrocious production...a picture false in biography, a glittering avalanche of legs and tinsel...a truer demonstration of the stupidity and rank barbarism of these times had never been more ably given."  Louis B. Mayer's response? He threw a party for the film weeks later, where women came out of a cake dressed as "Follies" girls, Billie Burke got a new brooch, and everyone got miniature Oscar replicas.  Florenz Ziegfeld would have been proud.
    Irving G. Thalberg Award
    The animosity towards the Academy was dying down, and Frank Capra decided to keep the ball rolling.  As Academy President that year, he revamped the voting procedures and added new categories, including "Best Supporting Actor" and "Best Supporting Actress."  He also upped the ticket prices to augment the Academy's dwindling funds: tickets were $5 for members, $10 for guests, and $25 for everyone else.  People complained, but all 1,150 seats for dinner sold out.  Most importantly, however, that year marked the sudden and unexpected death of "Boy Wonder" producer, Irving Thalberg, from pneumonia at age 37.  Responsible for nearly all of MGM's hit films to date, many Award winning, his death was a major blow to both Hollywood and his young wife, Norma Shearer.  In his honor, Capra created the Irving G. Thalberg Award, given to the producer with the most distinguished body of work in that year.  "It is to encourage," Capra claimed, "the pride, the fortitude, the good taste and tolerance that Thalberg put into pictures."

    The Verdict?
    I've decided that overall, I liked this movie, although I think I'd place my emotions at lukewarm.  This movie is most interesting for its ability to show historical evidence of what "Ziegfeld's Follies" would have been like.  The film was made just a few years after his death, and the height of popularity for "Ziegfeld's Follies" would have been only a decade previous.  That means that while not completely accurate, this film manages to portray just what it would have been like to attend a show in that era.  In addition, the film also includes several leading performers who actually were once in  "Ziegfeld's Follies."  Fannie Brice, better known as the person the movie Funny Girl is based on, is actually in the film as herself.  This film is a fascinating historical look into 1920s American theater.  If that is where your interest lies, I highly suggest this film.

    Ziegfeld gives Fanny Brice a mink coat
    Otherwise, my advise would be to skip it.  An important point to make before reaching An American in Paris:  most musicals made between 1930-1970 have at least one gratuitous musical sequence.  Singing in the Rain, Oklahoma, Anchors Away, and White Christmas are only a few of 100s of musicals that have at least one of these scenes.  Usually they begin as a dream sequence, a rehearsal, or even a show within a show, as in The Great Ziegfeld.  They have no real reference to the plot and sometimes go on for as long as eighteen minutes, as is the case with An American in Paris.  Usually theses scenes are to showcase the singing and dancing abilities of a certain star (Gene Kelly) but are only interesting as artistic pieces.  For The Great Ziegfeld, these scenes were interspersed between the plot, the longest and most lavish being the "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" sequence.  It's an incredible scene, but also ever so slightly boring.  The film is three hours long.  The whole plot is probably a little less than two hours of the film.  Next time, a little less show = a lot more entertaining. The best part of the movie?  Luise Rainer's performance as Anna Held.  Watch the video, you can't take your eyes away from her.

    Ziegfeld removes Anna's stocking
    On a completely unrelated note, I'd like to briefly point out the strange connections this film has to The Wizard of Oz.  Frank Morgan would go on to play the Wizard; Ray Bolger would be later cast as the Scarecrow.  Ray Bolger's dance scene looked familiar in The Great Ziegfeld, I later realized it was almost identical to the Scarecrow's opening number.  Billie Burke and Judy Garland, both original cast members for the movie, would later go on to play Glinda and Dorothy, respectively.  No idea why...weird coincidence?
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    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Mutiny with Bananas

    Well, it was destined to happen eventually.  Complete and abject failure.  Because Mutiny on the Bounty takes place in Tahiti, I thought it would be a nice idea to try something Tahitian.  I thought first to do something with breadfruit, as that plant figures so prominently in the film, but do you have any idea how difficult it is to find breadfruit in Boston?  After giving up that route, I found a recipe called a Po'e, a traditional Tahitian bread pudding.  The instructions were pretty easy, and I happily put my pudding in the oven, expecting exotic results.  I'll provide the instructions, should you feel intrepid.

    Tahitians presumably making Po'e in Mutiny on the Bounty
    Traditional Po'e

    You'll need:
    Ripe bananas, peeled and cut into chunks, 6-8
    1 papaya
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 cup cornstarch
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 cup coconut cream
    1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Puree the bananas and papaya in a blender or food processor. There should be enough puree to make 4 cups.
    2. Mix together the brown sugar and cornstarch. Add this mixture and the vanilla to the bananas and process well. There should not be any lumps of starch. Adjust sugar to taste.
    3. Butter a 2-quart baking dish and pour in the puree. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the pudding is firm and bubbling. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled.
    4. Cut into cubes and place into a large serving bowl or in individual bowls. Top with a dollop of coconut cream, a little more brown sugar and serve.
    Po'e don't want to see the after...

    What resulted was a kind of brown rubber hockey puck, vaguely tasting of bananas and glue.  I think I might have added too much cornstarch.  Picture a bananay cake thing that looks and tastes like an the inside of an old Fig Newton.  Fail.  I take it it does not taste this way when Tahitians bake it in banana leaves.  So much for being exotic.

    So after throwing a temper tantrum, I made my own pudding dessert.  Screw the Tahitians.  But I added bananas because, well, at least it's a little tropical.

    My Improvised Far-Cooler-Than-The-Po'e Pudding Pie
    You'll Need:
    1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
    2 tbsps sugar
    1 ready-made graham cracker crust, or Pillsbury regular crust
    1 packages of instant chocolate pudding, pie filler
    2 cups milk
    Some graham crackers
    A few bananas
    A bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

    1. If you are using a Pillsbury crust, like I did, put the crust in a pie tin and bake for approximately 10 minutes.  Cool completely.
    2. Follow the instructions on the pudding box and make it using the milk.
    3. Usually some kind of electric mixer, whisk the heavy cream and sugar until it forms stiff peaks, making whipped cream.
    4. Mix some of the whipped cream with the pudding to make it more mousse-like, about 1/2-1 cup.
    5. Pour the pudding mixture into the crust.
    6. Cover the top with the rest of the whipped cream.
    7. Crush up some graham crackers and sprinkle them over the top.  Slice up the bananas and add them as well.
    8. Melt the chocolate chips and drizzle that over the pie as desired.  Refrigerate at least an hour, until firm.
    This recipe, or some variation of it, is my go-to dessert if I'm ever in a pinch.  It is easy, cheap, and quick to make.  Often, if I'm trying a new dessert for a party, I'll have a back-up dessert handy (like this one).  More than once, I've slaved all day making some extremely complicated torte or souffle, only to have it fall or crumble.  This is why it's always good to have a back-up dessert that is easy, quick and that everyone loves.  Who doesn't like chocolate pudding pie?  No one.  This way, you can still say you worked hard and made a dessert from scratch (kind of).  So once again, my pudding pie has saved the day.  Take that, Tahitians.

     PS-  If you're wondering why there are only bananas on half the pie, it's not because I'm trying some advanced pie aesthetic, it's because my roommate hates bananas and I didn't want to eat the whole thing myself. :-)
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    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Mutiny on the Bounty

     "When you're back in England with the fleet again, you'll hear the hue and cry against me. From now on they'll spell mutiny with my name." -Fletcher Christian to Byam, Mutiny on the Bounty
    Okay, at the risk of completely destroying my credibility as a serious blogger and alienating my male readers (if any)--Clark Gable as a shirtless buccaneer = yum.  That's it, I swear, at least until Gone With the Wind.  I should get credit for holding back in my last movie post.  What was I writing about again...right!  Adventure, intrigue, foreign lands, high seas, dastardly villains, tragic heroes, romance and of course...ahem...Clark Gable...

    The Plot
    Fletcher Christian, played by Clark Gable, is first mate on a ship called The Bounty, headed to Tahiti for a two year journey to bring back breadfruit trees.  He rounds up sailors by both jails and impressment, forcing in particular a young man who does not wish to leave his wife and son.  Ensign Byam, played by Franchot Tone, coming from a long line of wealthy and power naval officers, naively heads to the ship as well in his first naval posting as midshipman.  He has been given his post by a Sir Joseph Banks, a wealthy family friend with great connections who has charged Byam with writing a Tahitian dictionary.  Captain Bligh, played by Charles Laughton, prepares to launch the ship by first flogging a man who has given offense.  Just before the flogging begins, the man is pronounced dead.  This does not deter Bligh who insists the flogging be carried out anyway.
    Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh
    This incident sets the tone for a long voyage of cruelty and suffering for the crew.  Not even the officers are exempt, and Bligh takes particular delight in the fact that because they sail in wartime (though they are not actually fighting) he has the power to reprimand anyone for any offense.  He skimps on food and pockets the funds, demands insane amounts of work, and comes up with terrible punishments for the least offense.  Christian, clearly a man of good principle and experience, is forced to stand by and hold on to his temper as Bligh makes everyone miserable.  Bligh is pronounced one of the best sailors Christian has ever worked for, but the worst captain.
    Fletcher Christian refuses to sign the log
    When Bligh asks Christian to sign the ship's log documenting falsified rations, Christian refuses.  Bligh calls the whole ship and is about to reprimand him, when they finally sight land.  The Tahitians row out to meet them, and Bligh greets the Tahitian chief, Hitihiti, whom he has met before.  They exchange gifts, and Byam, who has proven himself to be an honest, innocent young man and a friend of Christian's, is invited to live with the chief for the few months they intend to stay, in order to write his dictionary.  While some of the sailors are granted brief periods of leave, Bligh takes great pleasure in denying Christian his.  Only with the interference of Hitihiti does Christian finally get shore leave.
    Christian and Byam on Tahiti

    Byam has enjoyed his time on an island portrayed as a primitive paradise, in direct opposition to the horrors of the ship.  He works on his dictionary, flirts with an island woman, Tehani, and carouses with Hitihiti.  When Christian finally joins him, he connects with life on the island and falls deeply in love with Hitihiti's beautiful granddaughter, Maimiti.  When Byam and Christian finally leave, Christian swears to her he will return, much to Byam's chagrin.
    Maimiti and Fletcher Christian

    Meanwhile, on the ship, Bligh has thrown several crew members in irons for sneaking off to see the island.  He has also secretly decided to cut the crew's water rations in half in order to better take care of the breadfruit plants.  He even causes the death of the crew's beloved old drunken medic, by forcing him to come on deck while he is sick and then flogging him.  Bligh snatches away Maimiti's present to Christian (some pearls) on a slim pretext and then beats and starves those he had put into irons, including the young man Christian had forced to sail away from his family before then promising to protect him.  This finally causes Christian to snap.  He frees the prisoners, grabs up some guns, and subdues Bligh and his few loyal crewmen.  He does not allow the crew their revenge but puts Bligh and his men in a lifeboat with basic supplies and pushes them out to sea.  Byam tries to fight back, by Christian knocks him out.  He and a few others cannot fit in Bligh's boat, and are therefore forced to stay with the mutineers as they head back to Tahiti.  Bligh and the others nearly die, but because of Bligh's incredible seamanship, manage to make it to safety after a grueling 47 day voyage.  Bligh vows vengeance.

    The Bounty
    It is several years later and everyone is living in paradise on Tahiti.  Both Byam and Christian have married their women, and Christian now has a son.  Everything is fine until a British ship is sighted.  Christian takes nearly all of the mutineers and departs on The Bounty for safer shores.  The few loyalists, including Byam, along with a mutineer, the young man with a family, board the British ship, only to discover Bligh, who has decided they are all mutineers in league with Christian.  Bligh puts them in irons and pursues Christian doggedly.  He is forced to give it up only when his new ship, The Pandora, capsizes and he must row to safety.  Bligh does manage the get the few man he found court-martialed, and enjoys presenting an edited view of the mutiny and voyage to the naval court back in England.  The men's pleas of innocence and Byam's impassioned speech falls on deaf ears; they are all sentenced to hang.  The naval judges, while respecting Bligh's skill, refuse to shake his hand.  Byam is finally saved through the influence of Sir Joseph and Byam's own family, who convince the King to grant him a pardon.  Though the other men hang, Byam starts off on his next journey and to what will be a great naval career.

    Bligh is subdued by his crew

    Christian brings the mutineers, their families, and various Tahitians on a long voyage, and just as they start to complain and turn violent, he sights Pitcairn, their new island home.  He describes the new utopia they will build, and then they take to the life boats before dashing The Bounty on Pitcairn's treacherous rocks so that they will never be found again.

    Christian contemplates his mutiny
    The History
    Mutiny on the Bounty is based on the novel that is based on the real life story of the mutiny that occurred on the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on the 28th of April in 1789.  The novel, Mutiny on the Bounty, is the first of a three-part series written by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall in 1932.  Because of this, the movie isn't 100% historically accurate, though it does manage to stick to the main facts.  Byam is a character based on actual crew member Peter Heywood, and accounts of Bligh's cruelty and Christian's heroics are somewhat exaggerated.  It is now believed that Bligh was more lenient than most navy captains of the time, while Christian was described as "strange" and "brooding."  Bligh's reputation today is most likely due to a slander campaign started by the families of both Christian and Heywood after Bligh returned to the sea.  The mutineers did end up on Pitcairn, and almost all of the 50 people on that island today are descended from the Tahitians and mutineers that first inhabited it. After Christian settled the island, however, the place descended into lawlessness and all except for two of the mutineers brutally murdered each other.  It is unclear even today how Fletcher Christian met his end; while some believe Christian was murdered, others claim he committed suicide.
    Captain Bligh and crew members

    Largely because of production setbacks and location shooting in Tahiti (including replicas of both The Pandora and The Bounty), this picture cost MGM nearly $2 million to make, the most they had spent on a film since 1926's Ben-Hur.  Though Gable initially didn't like Tone, because of a bitter rivalry for the affections of Joan Crawford, they ended up as good friends by the end of the picture.  But Gable and Laughton fared far worse, as Gable did not approve of Laughton's homosexual lifestyle (a fact producer Irving Thalberg was counting on to create further enmity between the characters). Mayer didn't understand how the film would make a profit, especially as it had no female leads.  Irving Thalberg had no such qualms, saying "people are fascinated by cruelty, and that's why Mutiny will have appeal."  He was right; Mutiny would go on to be an instant hit with both critics and audiences while winning the Academy Award for "Best Picture."  It would be the last film to win "Best Picture" without winning anything else, but it received nominations for directing, writing, score, and film editing and is the only film in history to have 3 Oscar nods for "Best Actor."  Though there have since been many remakes, this film is largely considered the best of the Bounty films.  Clark Gable would later say this was the best movie he was ever in, while Charles Laughton claimed "It's got so that every time I walk into a restaurant I get not only soup but an impersonation of Captain Bligh."  It is #86 on AFI's 2008 list of 100 Years...100 Movies and Captain Bligh is #19 on their list of 100 Years...100 Villains.
    Christian subdues Byam during the mutiny

    Frank Capra, as the new Academy president, had to pull serious strings to get anyone to come to the Awards that year in 1935.  The Screen Director's Guild was created, and its members were encouraged not to attend the Awards.  Everyone, even the studio bosses, were fed up with the Academy's inability to solve labor disputes, and the Director's Guild published a newsletter claiming that, "the sooner it is destroyed and forgotten, the better for the industry."  Dorothy Parker of the Screen Writer's Guild claimed "Looking to the Academy for representation was like trying to get laid in your mother's house.  Somebody was always in the parlor watching."  Without studio backing, Academy execs had to use their own money for the banquet and statuettes.  Capra hired "Price, Waterhouse," to prevent last year's Bette Davis disaster and then decided to give D.W. Griffith an honorary Oscar for being "the father of American cinema."  Griffith's tribute was a brilliant move; though less famous faces appeared than the year before, Hollywood still came and honored Griffith with the first ever Academy Award standing ovation.  But the tough times weren't over for the Academy and "Best Adapted Screenplay" winner Dudley Nichols refused his Oscar and mailed it back to Capra, despite Capra's protests that the awards themselves were non-political.  Capra would have to come up with even better ideas for next year...

    The Verdict?

    Like Cavalcade a few years before, Frank Lloyd managed to produce another sweeping epic in Mutiny on the Bounty.  From the scenery to the costumes to the acting, it is impossible not to notice that this film is an epic built on a grand scale.  I think that perhaps this is Lloyd's style, and he is pioneering the genre of epic for decades to come.  It is hard to imagine that a film like, say, Gladiator could have been made without first a Cavalcade or a Mutiny on the Bounty.  This film set the tone for the epic genre, and for that alone should be lauded.

    I find myself, strangely enough, comparing this film to The Great Gatsby (perhaps as a former English major I can't help it).  Byam is a kind of Nick Carraway character, the narrator through whose eyes we see the story.  Byam, like Nick, is straddling the two worlds of Christian and Laughton, much to his own discomfort.  His is a coming of age story, from innocence to manhood.  Byam is not the hero, though he possesses some heroic qualities that show up mainly in the end.  And if Byam is Nick, then conversely Fletcher Christian is Gatsby.  Enigmatic, brave, and very definitely heroic, Christian walks the line between right and wrong, just as Gatsby often does.  More than that, however, is the sense that both these characters are leading lives that are larger than they are.  Gatsby and Christian are not real men, they are both too heroic, and too tragic.  They are colored by our narrator's hero worship, but more importantly by the actions they take.  Christian is unimportant without his mutiny, just as Gatsby is unimportant without his lifestyle and pursuit of Daisy.  Like men that are larger than life, we never get inside their heads.  We are human, like Byam, and as such only get to watch as the hero plays his part.  Gable is quite good at the level of bravado this takes, he is almost a cliched hero in his strong moral stance.

    Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh
    And then, finally, there is Captain Bligh.  Compare him to Tom Buchanon if you will, surely both are hypocritical, pompous assholes who view their underlings, including our hero, as unimportant non-humans.  But even on his best day, Tom Buchanon doesn't even come close to being as gut-wrenchingly evil as Laughton's Captain Bligh.  Let my metaphor fail me here; I don't care.  There is nothing more fun than finding a truly great villain.  Don't underestimate the power of a villain; without Charles Laughton, this movie is about a cruise ship to Tahiti.  With a self-professed "face like the behind of an elephant," Laughton sneers his way through the role so thoroughly that he is barely onscreen for five seconds before you categorically hate him.  And yet, I couldn't tear my eyes away from him.  How far will he go? What will he do?  As an audience, we love to hate him, and therefore love it as he gives us plenty of opportunities to do so.  Laughton manages to brilliantly make him despicable, and yet still show the cracks in his armor.  He doesn't twist his mustache; he doesn't cackle in glee.  He just exudes evil from every pour while still showing us peeks at how scared he is on the inside.  One imagines he was a loser as a child.  Not enough, of course, to make us not hate him.  But certainly enough to steal every scene.

    As much as I love a shirtless Clark Gable (and believe me, I do), Laughton is the heart and soul of this movie.  Watch it for the swashbuckling and the history and the scenery.  But more importantly, watch it for the joy of watching Captain Bligh, who can make you flinch just with a single look.

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