Take 3: Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Durango Review

Last year was the first time I participated in Legends of Western Cinema Week! For that event, I reviewed some episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and the movie, Forsaken. This year, I decided to review the 1999 Hallmark Hall of Fame film, Durango! One day, Hallmark Drama was airing several older titles from the Hallmark Hall of Fame collection, with Durango being one of them. Since I try to watch as many Hallmark Hall of Fame movies as realistically possible, I made sure to record this film on my DVR. This is not only my first time watching it, but this particular title was only sold on VHS. Hallmark has a history of selling some of their Hallmark Hall of Fame films for home entertainment. As I said in my review of the 1987 movie, Foxfire, some of them have been sold on DVD for $20 apiece. But there were some titles that were only given a VHS release. I don’t know what the original price of these VHS tapes were. But if the DVDs were $20, it makes me assume the VHS tapes might have been sold for a similar price. Would Durango be worth the price if it was re-sold on DVD? Keep reading my review if you want to find that answer out!

I really like the poster design for Durango, as it is reminiscent of posters from older western films. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

Things I liked about the film:

Patrick Bergin’s performance: In Durango, Patrick Bergin portrayed Fergus Mullaney, the father of the protagonist’s girlfriend, Annie. Out of the whole cast, Patrick is the one that, for me, stole the show! Whenever his character came on screen, he delivered his performance with a strong sense of emotion. Toward the beginning of the movie, Fergus is giving a threat to the movie’s protagonist. During this scene, he truly came across as intimidating. The look in Fergus’ eyes was fiery, revealing the anger within him. His tone of voice was loud and stern, indicating he is not someone to be messed with. I wish Patrick had more appearances in this movie, so he could have had more opportunities to show off his acting talents!

The scenery: Within my review of Chasing Leprechauns, I discussed how the film looked drab. This was because that film’s creative team didn’t take advantage of Ireland’s natural landscape. That was not the case for Durango, as the majority of the movie took place outdoors and there was a lot of greenery to be found! When the Mullaney family was taking a ride through the countryside, the rolling hills of Ireland were showcased in front of a clear blue sky. On the path, a small stone bridge was seen over a river. This river was surrounded by grassy, green fields. That type of landscape was consistently shown throughout the movie. However, it featured Ireland’s natural beauty, which could encourage someone to visit the country!

The music: In films like those from Hallmark Hall of Fame, orchestral tunes are commonly heard in the background. While that is the case for Durango, the music worked with what was happening on screen. During the protagonist’s journey, grand, sweeping orchestral music could be heard as cattle were traveling through the vast fields of Ireland. Because the scenery is so captivating, having this type of music playing makes sense, as the music represents the viewers’ awe for such a beautiful place. When Annie’s brothers were fighting in public, Mark, the film’s protagonist, tells Fergus what is going on. Even though orchestral music can still be heard, the music is reflective of one’s fear when facing an intimidating man like Fergus. Just like any component of a film, music can make or break a production. The music in Durango definitely worked!

Legends of Western Cinema Week banner created by Heidi from Along the Brandywine and Hamlette from Hamlette’s Soliloquy.

What I didn’t like the film:

Low stakes: A common staple in the western genre is including high stakes in the story. In the movie I reviewed last year, Forsaken, the future of the town was at stake. The fear of the unknown could be felt among the characters, with their dialogue and interactions elaborating this point. The major conflict in Durango was the transportation of cattle from one town to another in an effort to receive a fair price for them. But the stakes associated with this conflict were low, causing me not to feel like any of the characters or their cattle were in danger. This is because, nine times of ten, the characters’ plans work out perfectly. Come to think of it, these plans worked out too perfectly by the standards of the western genre. When a higher stake is introduced in the story, it doesn’t appear until the film’s last nineteen minutes. This stake feels like it was included simply for the script to shoehorn a subtle David and Goliath reference. What is frustrating about that creative decision is the movie’s creative team had the entire project to give us the aforementioned reference. Heck, Durango itself should have been a David and Goliath story.

Fergus Mullaney’s desire to protect his daughter: In a story where a young woman falls in love, it’s common for her father to be concerned for her well-being. This is no different for Durango, as Fergus Mullaney only wants to protect his youngest daughter, Annie. The way he went about protecting her is the issue, as it came across as possessive and bit over the top. Whenever Annie’s boyfriend, Mark, is expressing his love for her or seen interacting with her, Fergus becomes angry. It gets to the point where he threatens to physically harm Mark. If Durango were a comedy and Annie were a teenage girl going on her first date, maybe Fergus’ behavior would be justifiable. But because both Annie and Mark are adults and because this movie is more dramatic in tone, Fergus’ behavior felt out of place.

Matt Keeslar’s performance: I’m not really familiar with Matt Keeslar’s filmography. However, I wasn’t impressed with his portrayal of the protagonist, Mark Doran. He wasn’t as strong of a performer as other actors from Hallmark Hall of Fame productions. For most of the movie, Matt carried a “resting face”, making his face appear static. I could tell he was trying with the material he was given, as there were times where he expressed genuine emotion. But these emotions were, in my opinion, not delivered consistently. With everything I just said and the fact that Matt and Nancy St. Alban, the actress who portrayed Annie, didn’t have strong on-screen chemistry, I was not invested in Matt’s performance.

Irish heart image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/label”>Label vector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

In my introduction, I mentioned how Durango was only sold on VHS. After watching the film, I now have an understanding of why this could be the case. Durango is one of the few Hallmark Hall of Fame movies I would consider a dud. With a weak lead performance and many low stakes, I found it difficult to stay invested in the characters and overall story. I also think the way Fergus tried to protect his daughter, Annie, felt out of place in this particular film. According to IMDB, Durango is “the first western set in Ireland”, so the fact this movie was not good is disappointing. On paper, an Irish western is an interesting idea that could have worked with a strong creative team. Unfortunately, Durango had a weak execution. I’m glad Hallmark Drama chose to air this movie, as I can honestly say it is not worth purchasing a copy. Personally, I think Irish cinema, the western genre, and Hallmark Hall of Fame deserve better.

Overall score: 4.7 out of 10

Have you seen Durango? Are there any Hallmark Hall of Fame movies you’d like to see re-released on DVD? Please let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Word on the Street: Executive Leader, Michelle Vicary, Walks Away from Hallmark

Last January, I reported how Bill Abbott stepped down from his presidential and CEO position at Hallmark. Now, another business leader from the Gold Crown company has decided to walk away. On May 17th, Nellie Andreeva, from Deadline, published an article about the departure of Michelle Vicary, who was Hallmark’s executive for programming and production. The article states how Michelle will step down from her position “at the beginning of June”. While no replacements have been announced at this time, Randy Pope and Darren Melameth, the company’s SVPs for Programming, Development, and Content Strategy, will serve “as interim co-heads of the department”. The article does not mention why Michelle decided to leave the company. However, Nellie does write how Wonya Lucas, the current CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, “has led a major restructuring” and made diversity and inclusion “a top priority”.

Illustration of woman quitting her job created by stories at freepik.com. Office vector created by stories – www.freepik.com

2021 has, so far, left me wondering if Hallmark has less money than they let on to the public. While everything I’m about to say is pure speculation, I have noticed some things that lead me to believe Hallmark’s entertainment division might not be fiscally strong. Nellie states in the aforementioned article how Lucas’ restructuring of the company has “resulted in some layoffs this year”. Even though the number of layoffs is not mentioned, the news of layoffs is not a good sign for any business. As of mid-to-late May, there have been no announcements for upcoming movies in the Picture Perfect Mysteries series, the Ruby Herring Mysteries series, the Signed, Sealed, Delivered series, and Hallmark Hall of Fame. In fact, there were no new Hallmark Hall of Fame or Signed, Sealed, Delivered films released in 2020. This makes me believe Crown Media Family Networks may be quietly moving away from these series in order to cut costs. In March, it was reported that daytime talk show, Home & Family, would be ending on August 4th. No official reason has been given for the show’s cancellation. Now adding the news of Michelle’s departure, Hallmark appears to be experiencing a rough patch. Everything I said is pure speculation. But I think a tell-tale sign of financial troubles would be if Hallmark created less Christmas movies than they did last year.

What are your thought’s of Michelle’s departure from Hallmark? Do you like the direction the network is currently moving in? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Here are the links to the articles I referenced in this post:

Michelle Vicary Steps Down As Crown Media Family Networks’ EVP Programming Amid Continuing Overhaul At Hallmark Channel Parent

https://tvline.com/2021/03/23/home-and-family-cancelled-hallmark-channel-ending-final-episodes/

Word on the Street: President of Crown Media, Bill Abbott, leaving Hallmark

As I am trying to stick with my blogging schedule, I’ve been looking for movie news stories that aren’t Hallmark related. That’s because I want to show my readers and followers that 18 Cinema Lane is not limited to one area of film. However, this story was too big to pass up. This week, Bill Abbott, one of the business leaders of Hallmark, stepped down from his presidential and CEO position. An explanation for Bill’s departure or a new leader of the company was not revealed as of late January 2020. In response to this latest news, Hallmark Cards’ president and CEO, Mike Perry, stated, “In a time when there is immense competition among television networks and streaming services, it is more important than ever that we find relevant new ways to grow our business and continue to produce high quality programming that resonates with our growing audience”.

Vector collection of business people
Employee leaving job image created by rawpixel.com at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/business”>Business vector created by rawpixel.com – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

Multiple news outlets have covered this story and have tried connecting it to the commercial controversy that happened last December. However, in my opinion, I’m guessing this recent situation has more factors to it than that. Last year, both the “Miracles of Christmas” and “Countdown to Christmas” line-ups collectively received lower viewership numbers than the previous year. Most of Hallmark Channel’s movies adopt repetitive story-telling, giving projects a sense of predictability. In 2019, Hallmark experienced several scheduling snafus, which I talked about in an editorial last October. Despite the uncertainty this decision has caused, I’m personally hoping the man or woman to take Bill’s Abbott’s place not only puts the best interests of the customers and fans first when it comes to making business decisions, but also takes creative risks and thinks outside the box. It’s unclear how Mike Perry and the overall Hallmark company define “relevant new ways”, but I’m guessing these definitions will be presented to viewers in a matter of time.

 

What are your thoughts on this latest news? How do you think this will affect Hallmark’s entertainment projects? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

 

Here are the links to two of the many articles discussing this story, as well as the editorial I referenced in this Word on the Street post:

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/hallmark-exec-bill-abbott-1272125

https://www.streetinsider.com/dr/news.php?id=16360467

When Hallmark Made Their Fans Really Upset

 

What the Code Means to Me: Breen, Hallmark, and Me

Dumbo (2019). Men in Black International. Poms. Dark Phoenix. These are a few examples of movies that have, recently, lost their battles in the Cinematic Colosseum. When a film underperforms or doesn’t reach expectations, people always look for reasons why this happened. It is a way of providing a sense of closure to the situation. Some say that the reason why 2019 has seen more cinematic failures than successes is because of an absence of original and innovative ideas. Others say that the creative teams behind these projects put more emphasis on politics than the story itself. Another reason that has been discussed is having too many remakes, sequels, and franchise continuations competing against each other within a short amount of time. Whatever the reason, I think we can all agree that these films probably failed because, simply, movie-goers just weren’t interested in the overall product. This seems very different from the time-period of 1934 to 1954, when the Breen era not only existed, but also thrived. During this particular stretch of time, it feels like more films were both successful and memorable for the right reasons. Take 1939, for example. Within this year alone, movie-goers were given three films that cemented their place in cinematic history; Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Wizard of Oz. The fact that these very distinct films placed in the Top 10 at that year’s box office proves that during the Breen era, there was something for everyone at the cinema. With the Breen Code absent in today’s cinematic world, an interesting media company that, I feel, has embraced Joseph I. Breen’s way of thinking is Hallmark. The more I’ve thought about the Breen Code and its impact on film, the more I see the similarities within the kinds of movies that Hallmark creates. Even though these films are featured on either television or digital services, it proves that there is hope for the Breen Code to make a comeback.

What the Code Means to Me poster
What the Code Means to Me poster created by Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Image found at https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/what-the-code-means-to-me/.

Before discovering the blog, Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, I had never known about Joseph I. Breen and the Breen Code. In fact, I had always believed that the MPAA (the Motion Picture Association of America) was the “end all, be all” when it came to judging a film’s content. It wasn’t until I watched the video, “Why You Shouldn’t Listen to the MPAA (Podcast Excerpt)” from the Youtube channel, Rachel’s Reviews, that I started to change my views about this particular rating system. In this video, Rachel and her friend, Conrado, talk about why movie-goers should form their own self-censorship than solely rely on the MPAA. When I came across Pure Entertainment Preservation Society last October, while looking for upcoming blogathons to participate in, I was introduced to who Joseph I. Breen was as well as the Breen Code itself. In preparation for this article, I read as much as I could about Joseph and his Code. Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan, the creators of Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, have done a wonderful job at educating their readers and followers about the Breen Code and advocating its return to entertainment. Their articles are very informative and interesting to read. After learning all of this information, I feel that a newer and stronger code for judging a film’s content needs to be put in place. While having the MPAA is better than having nothing at all, its rules and guidelines seem to be more on the relaxed side. In the previously mentioned video, Rachel and Conrado discuss some of the ways that a film receives a particular rating. One example is the use of blood within the film’s context. Rachel brings up the example of The Hunger Games receiving a PG-13 rating due to the absence of blood while “contestants” are dying during the event within the story. She feels that because blood isn’t shown during these moments, the film is “dehumanizing the situation”. Had The Hunger Games been created during a time when something similar to the Breen Code existed, either this film would have never seen the light of day or the “contestants” would have died off-screen.

Easter Under Wraps poster
Easter Under Wraps poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Channel. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=142&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=302&ShowType=&ShowTitle=Easter%20Under%20Wraps&IsSeries=False.

The movies and shows from Hallmark make up a large percentage of the content on my blog. Sometimes, I review films from Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and Hallmark Hall of Fame. In some of my Word on the Street posts, I’ve talked about movie news related to upcoming Hallmark projects. I also conduct two re-cap series for When Calls the Heart and Chesapeake Shores. Hallmark has created a reputation as being a family-friendly company in both appearance and content. As I mentioned in the introduction, things within the Breen Code sound like the type of material that Hallmark creates and distributes on their networks. Within the Hallmark entertainment spectrum, there are three television networks that air movies; Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and Hallmark Drama. Each network has their own unique and consistent tone, while still maintaining the company’s created image. Hallmark Channel features films that primarily contain light-hearted, romance stories. However, the relationships featured in these movies are wholesome. In the Breen Code, it states that “pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing”. Typical Hallmark Channel films do not feature or talk about sex. The only two films that I can think of that either mention sex or imply that a couple was having sex are A Family Thanksgiving and Audrey’s Rain. Hallmark Movies & Mysteries has a darker tone than Hallmark Channel, as the majority of the network’s content is mystery related. The type of mystery that is common in these movies is the murder mystery. However, this aspect of the story is always handled in a very tasteful way. Not only is a small amount of violence shown, but a limited amount of blood is featured on-screen. The Breen Code contains a whole section about featuring murder in film. One of the points in this section says that “methods of crime should not be explicitly presented”. Sometimes, these films show how a victim is murdered. This is included to introduce the mystery and present the seriousness of the situation. Toward the end of the movie, the guilty party reveals how and why they committed the crime. But the guilty party is never “presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime”. Even though Hallmark Drama has only been around for two years, it has been a network where Hallmark’s more dramatic films can be seen. These types of films are either from Hallmark Hall of Fame or from Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries that haven’t be aired in recent years. Some of these projects were created before Hallmark embraced the image they have today, even before the Hallmark Channel was introduced back in 2001. One of these films is Ellen Foster, which is a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that was released in 1997. In this film, there is one scene where Ellen is being physically abused by her father. If this exact same movie were released by Hallmark today, that scene would never have been featured in the film. The subject of child abuse would have only been implied through the use of dialogue and subtle visual references. This suggestion would fit with the Breen Code and Hallmark’s current image, as the Code itself states that “excessive and inhuman acts of cruelty and brutality shall not be presented. This includes all detailed and protracted presentation of physical violence, torture, and abuse”. Despite this aforementioned detail, Hallmark Drama still features content that is family oriented.

Crossword Mysteries -- A Puzzle to Die For poster
Crossword Mysteries: A Puzzle to Die For poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=143&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=307&ShowType=&ShowTitle=Crossword+Mysteries+A+Puzzle+to+Die+For.

The previous paragraph contains some examples of how the Breen Code can be found within Hallmark’s movies. I could provide more examples, but that would mean this article would be longer than it already is. Hallmark’s commitment to providing family friendly content to their audience shows that the Breen Code, or some form of it, can return to the entertainment world. It will most likely happen in a process of events rather than a quick succession. However, this is proof that Joseph I. Breen’s intentions still have a place in our world. In the article, “The Production Code of 1930’s Impact on America” from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, it was said that “films are merely rated but not censored”. Since this is the case, we, the movie-goers, need to take the initiative to discover a film’s content, understand why a rating was given to a particular film, and form our own choice to view or not view a film. Until the day when Joseph I. Breen’s dream can come true again, this is the only option that movie-goers currently have.

Hallmark Hall of Fame's Love Takes Flight review
Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Love Takes Flight poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Channel. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=142&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=302&ShowType=&ShowTitle=Love+Takes+Flight.

For my two Breening Thursday suggestions, I would like to recommend Wild Oranges and The Trouble with Angels. Wild Oranges is a silent film from 1924 that I reviewed when I received 95 followers on my blog. The Trouble with Angels is one of the films that I reviewed during the Rosalind Russell blogathon earlier this month. It was released in 1966.

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

 

If you want to check out the references I mentioned in this editorial, you can type “Why You Shouldn’t Listen to the MPAA (Podcast Excerpt)”  into Youtube’s search bar or visit Rachel’s Youtube channel, Rachel’s Reviews. You can also visit these links:

https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/the-motion-picture-production-code-with-its-revisions/

https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/the-production-code-of-1930s-impact-on-america/