Take 3: Plymouth Adventure Review

When I participated in the Fourth Van Johnson Blogathon last year, I reviewed the three episodes of Murder, She Wrote Van appeared in. For this year’s blogathon, I wanted to do something different by writing about one of his films. While looking through my Pinterest board of movie recommendations, I was reminded of the 1952 movie, Plymouth Adventure. This film was introduced to me by the Brannan sisters from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, when they reviewed the movie during my blogathon, ‘A Blogathon to be Thankful For’. The Mayflower journey is one of the most important events in U.S. history. However, it is rarely covered in cinema. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to check this film out! I also liked reading what the Brannan sisters had to say about Plymouth Adventure. Therefore, I was curious to see if my opinion was similar to theirs.

Plymouth Adventure poster created by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: The blogathon I am participating in celebrates the filmography of Van Johnson. So, talking about his performance first makes sense. What I liked about Van’s portrayal of a carpenter named John Alden was how his emotions represented the audience, expressing the thoughts and feelings we might experience if we were in his shoes. The moment John boards the Mayflower provides a perfect example. As he is walking around the deck, he is in awe of the ship’s magnitude. When he crosses paths with Spencer Tracy’s character, Captain Christopher Jones, John distinguishes himself from the other passengers as a carpenter, wanting to stand out for his skills and talents. Van’s on-screen personality highlights this distinction among the film’s ensemble!

My favorite character in Plymouth Adventure is Gilbert Winslow, portrayed by John Dehner. John carried his character with class and wisdom, like a true sophisticated gentleman. These characteristics are highlighted well in a scene between Gilbert and Christopher. In this scene, they are discussing the settlers’ reasons for partaking in the journey. Christopher feels they are foolish for throwing their lives away for the unknown. But Gilbert respectfully rebuts that argument by saying the settlers are brave because they sacrificed so much in order to achieve a better, more free life. Dawn Addams portrayed one of these settlers, a woman named Priscilla Mullins. While she was only in the movie for a limited amount of time, Priscilla brought a kind gentleness to the story. This presented a good counterpart to the harshness of the journey itself. I also liked seeing Dawn and Van perform together! They had nice on-screen chemistry and I was interested in seeing where Priscilla and John’s relationship would go. I was not expecting a romance in this film, so that was a pleasant surprise!

The use of color in the costumes: When I think about the 1600s, I think of articles of clothing that look plain and unimpressive. Outfits made for royal family members are an exception, as they were meant to stand-out among a sea of commoners. In Plymouth Adventure, I was happy to see pops of color in the film’s costumes! It was also interesting to see which colors were used. As I mentioned before, Gilbert Winslow is my favorite character in this movie. Throughout the story, he wore an outfit that was covered in an emerald green material. That creative decision not only helped John stand out among the ensemble cast, but the costume itself also complimented his dark hair. Noel Drayton’s costume also complimented his hair! Because his hair is a lighter hue, his costume was a nice burnt orange. Because of this creative choice, I can remember who Miles Standish, Noel Drayton’s character, was, as I am able to pick him out from the crowd. During the Mayflower journey, Priscilla can be seen wearing a simple, yet modest dress. This dress was pink and light yellow, a color combination I liked seeing. Dawn’s costume contrasted nicely against the dark waters from the ocean. It also highlights the character’s kind gentleness.

Showing the journey’s reality: When a movie portrays a historical event or period in time, the serious parts of that story can sometimes get glossed over or even omitted. With Plymouth Adventure, the creative team didn’t shy away from bringing up the harsher, sadder realities of that titular trip. During the journey, the Mayflower is caught in the middle of a storm. One of the settlers fears her son might have gone onto the deck. In an attempt to rescue him, William Bradford makes the selfless choice to find the settler’s son. I won’t spoil the movie, but I will say, at one point, I didn’t think William was going to survive his mission. That scene did a good job highlighting the fear that was constantly present on the Mayflower. History will tell you that the Mayflower journey was a harsh one, with sickness, hunger, and even death boarding the famous ship. So, I appreciate the creative team’s attempts at making the story feel as accurate as possible.

The Fifth Annual Van Johnson Blogathon banner created by Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood

What I didn’t like about the film:

Not enough character development: When a movie’s creative team contains an ensemble cast, it can be a challenge to give each actor or actress involved the recognition they deserve. But with Plymouth Adventure, the screen time each actor received felt inconsistent. This caused the story’s character development to be limited. When Gilbert was first introduced, I was excited to see what his role on the Mayflower would be. Even during his conversation with Christopher about the settlers, I knew Gilbert was important in some way. But as the film went on, he was reduced to being the story’s narrator. These narrations were presented as journal entries, as if he were recording the journey’s history. I’m not denying the importance of keeping historical records. However, I was expecting more for Gilbert Winslow.

How the settlers were referenced: At the beginning of the film, there was an on-screen message which stated Plymouth Adventure was dedicated to the adventurous settlers. As I was watching the movie, I questioned how honest that message was. The settlers in the story were referenced as “fools”. Their motives for taking the trip were constantly in question, even by the ship’s captain. Despite having supporters on their side, like Gilbert Winslow and William Brewster, the settlers faced more disrespect than I expected. Even Christopher Jones accused the settlers of running away in fear from their government, when, from what I remember, they were running to a place where they felt they could create a better government. I’m aware that the settlers probably did face criticism back when the Mayflower journey actually took place. But in the context of the movie and how the Mayflower journey actually played out, that aforementioned message kind of feels disingenuous.

Christopher and Dorothy’s relationship: Because the Mayflower journey was long and grueling, it makes sense for the film’s creative team to create subplots within the script. But out of everything that happened in this movie, Christopher and Dorothy’s relationship is my least favorite. There was one scene where, after a drunken escapade, Christopher approaches Dorothy in the middle of the night. I’m not going to lie, this exchange made me feel uncomfortable. As the story progresses, we learn that Christopher has fallen in love with Dorothy. However, Dorothy is married to William Bradford. Once again, I won’t spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. But, honestly, that subplot was scandalous for a Breen Code era film. I also wish some of that story time had been given to Priscilla and John, a couple who actually had potential to form a lasting, romantic relationship.

Paper Boats in the Sea image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/background-of-paper-boats-with-hand-drawn-waves_1189898.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Blogathons can be a great way to discover new films and share the ones you love. From my event, ‘A Blogathon to be Thankful For’, I discovered a movie that I had, honestly, never heard of before. With that same title being chosen for the Fifth Annual Van Johnshon Blogathon, it seems like things are coming full circle. When it comes to that title, Plymouth Adventure, I thought it was just ok. For the most part, it appears the movie’s creative team had good intentions for the project. However, I can think of period/historical films that are stronger than this one. I appreciate the creative team’s decision to show the harsher parts of this story, as it illustrates just how difficult the journey was. But there are areas of the script that could have been improved, such as giving Christopher and Dorothy a different subplot. As I finish writing this review, I now realize I need to search for another film to write about for Thanksgiving.

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

Take 3: Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Foxfire Review

Because yesterday was 4th of July, I wanted to review a movie that took place somewhere in the United States. While I wanted to publish this article on 4th of July, my day ended up being busier than expected. So, this review is published a day later than I had hoped. Recently, Hallmark Drama was airing several Hallmark Hall of Fame movies I had never seen before. One of these films was 1987’s Foxfire. Years ago, Hallmark’s stores sold select Hallmark Hall of Fame films on DVD for $20 apiece (yes, you read that price right), with Foxfire being one of the titles offered. Before recording it on my DVR, I didn’t know much about the movie. In fact, all I knew was that it was one of Hallmark Hall of Fame’s older titles. When I discovered the film took place in Appalachia, I thought it would be an interesting choice for this time of year. So, would I buy a DVD copy of Foxfire if I saw it at the store for $20? Before we head to the store’s checkout line, let’s start this review!

Like I’ve done in the past, I have taken a screenshot of Foxfire‘s poster that was featured on my TV. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: I’m not familiar with Jessica Tandy’s acting abilities. While I have seen The Birds, I don’t remember her performance in that movie. Despite this, I did like her portrayal of Annie Nations in Foxfire! It was very expressive, using a variety of expressions and emotions throughout the film. When Annie receives an art project from her grandchildren, she appears genuinely overjoyed to receive the gift. A big smile is on Annie’s face and her demeanor is pleasant. At her son’s, Dillard’s, concert, Annie looks truly concerned as he sings a song about a broken relationship. Worry is in her eyes and she never lets Dillard out of her sight. Another actor whose career I’m not familiar with is John Denver. I have heard of his songs, but I didn’t know who he was. In fact, I thought John portrayed one of the brothers on The Waltons. This is because of the mannerisms he carried in Foxfire. When his character, Dillard, was happy, there was a youthful spirit about him. It highlighted how you can take the Appalachian man out of the mountains, but you can’t take the Appalachian culture and heritage out of the man. One of John’s strongest scenes was when, in Annie’s home, Dillard is reminding his mother about her age and potential risks of living alone. As he is talking to her, his eyes look like they are desperately searching for answers to his problems. Even the tone of his voice sounds concerned. A character that is close to both Annie and Dillard is Holly. Portrayed by Harriet Hall, this character kind of reminded me of Baby from Dirty Dancing. This is because when Holly cares about someone, she cares about them with her whole heart. What makes Holly differ from Baby is how her personality was gentler. Because she is a teacher, she chooses to put her students first. When Holly is talking to Dillard about her students, her mannerisms and tone of voice seem motherly. This gives the audience the impression that she truly cares about them.

The scenery: I haven’t seen many films that take place in Appalachia. In fact, I didn’t know Foxfire took place in this location until I read the synopsis. To my pleasant surprise, the scenery was very nice to look at! The Nation family house was surrounded by forestry, with the tall trees providing cozy seclusion and privacy. When Dillard wakes up one morning, he is greeted by the sight of rolling hills on a bright sunny day. These rolling hills could also be seen on a car ride Annie took. When a real estate agent named Prince gives Annie a trip to the market, he takes a scenic route. The aforementioned rolling hills steal the show, but are accompanied by a lake at the bottom and surrounding colonial style vacation homes that can be seen from the road. The locations in Foxfire appeared quaint, similar to the small towns in most of Hallmark’s films.

John Denver’s music: Before watching Foxfire, I had heard a few of John Denver’s songs. Even though I don’t listen to country music much, the songs I have heard were nice to listen to. Within Foxfire, John performed four songs. Most of them were slower, more soulful pieces. This fit the overall tone of the film. As I mentioned earlier in this review, Dillard performs a song about a broken relationship. After his concert, he performs an acoustic version of the song. What I’ve gathered about some country music is how emotional it can be. In that acoustic version of Dillard’s song, his heart and spirit sounded wounded. This can be heard in his voice.

Children holding American flags during a sunset image created by rawpixel.com at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People photo created by rawpixel.com – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

A televised play: Hallmark Hall of Fame has a history of adapting stage plays into movies. One of these titles I really like is the 1996 film, The Boys Next Door. However, what sets the 1996 production apart from Foxfire is how the overall project was executed. Because The Boys Next Door contains more key characters and locations within the story, the way this adaptation was delivered to the audience looked and felt like a movie. Foxfire, on the other hand, contained a smaller cast and had a condensed story, as most of the film takes places at Annie’s house. Even some of the scenes were drawn-out and isolated, like a stage production. While the project was shot like a movie, it felt more like a televised play.

Re-created moments from the past: Throughout Foxfire, Annie brings up several memories from her and her family’s past. Instead of providing flashbacks, four scenes were dedicated to showing the characters re-creating some of these moments. For example, a current day Annie and her late husband, Hector, are reenacting when he first proposed to her. Watching grown adults act like teenagers was a bit jarring, as this prevented me from getting fully investing in these scenes. If anything, the scenes made it look like the film’s creative team didn’t have enough room in their budget to hire additional actors.

Inconsistent elements: At the beginning of the movie, Hector provides a voice-over, explaining the significance of his family and their land. Thinking Foxfire would be from his perspective, I thought this was an interesting way to tell the story. But this was the only time any voice-overs were provided. The end of the film showed Hector breaking the fourth wall for one scene. Not only was the inclusion of this element random, but it made me wonder why it wasn’t consistently woven into the movie.

Oranges in tree image created by Jose Luis Navarro at freeimages.com. “FreeImages.com/Jose Luis Navarro.”

My overall impression:

Whenever I watch and/or review a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, I always ask myself this: “if this movie were sold on DVD for $20, would it be worth my money”? When it comes to Foxfire, that answer would be no. At best, the movie was ok. I appreciate the film’s positive light that was shone on Appalachia. While I haven’t been there myself and while I personally don’t know anyone from there, I have heard of the hardships that the members of the community face. But despite the good will this film seemed to give, the biggest flaw was its overall execution. If I choose to watch a Hallmark Hall of Fame title, I expect to watch a movie. With Foxfire, it felt more like a televised play. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the re-created moments from the past. I couldn’t get past the adult characters acting younger than they were in the “current day”. Now that I’ve seen another Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, I can add it to my Tier Rank List! Last year, I created a tier rank list of every Hallmark Hall of Fame film I have seen so far. While I’d like to revisit this list, I will focus on adding more titles for now.

Overall score: 6.2 out of 10

Have you seen Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Foxfire? Are there any Hallmark Hall of Fame titles you’d like to see me review? Please let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: The Girl Who Spelled Freedom Review

Originally, I was going to publish a double feature review of Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and The Girl Who Spelled Freedom for the American Experience on Film Blogathon. However, I have also been working on another big project that required more time than I expected. Therefore, I was only able to watch one movie, which was The Girl Who Spelled Freedom. Don’t worry, though, because I will coordinate a double feature to celebrate the publication of 500 posts! The 1986 made-for-tv movie had been unknown to me until this year. I stumbled across The Girl Who Spelled Freedom when I was looking through an IMDB list about family-friendly films. After reading the synopsis, I was interested in watching the movie! There aren’t many cinematic stories that feature a spelling bee. In fact, the only one I can think of is Akeelah and the Bee from 2006. I also realize that Disney creates fewer “based on a true story” movies now than they did decades ago. Because a Disney project hasn’t been reviewed on my blog since last December, let’s begin talking about The Girl Who Spelled Freedom!

The Girl Who Spelled Freedom poster created by Buena Vista Home Video, American Broadcasting Company (ABC), ITC Entertainment Group, Knopf/Simons Productions, and Walt Disney Television. © Disney•Pixar. All rights reserved.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: As I have stated in the past, it takes a very talented young actor or actress to carry a film. For Jade Chinn, she did such a great job with the material she was given! What made her performance so memorable is how she utilized body language, emotions, and facial expressions to illustrate Linn’s limited use of English. However, these techniques helped address what the character was experiencing. When Linn was traveling on a plane for the first time, she curled up on the floor in fear. The way Linn was behaving showed the audience that cultural differences and language barriers can turn something as simple as a plane trip into a terrifying experience. Another stand-out performer was Mary Kay Place, who portrayed Prissy Thrash! One of her best scenes took place toward the beginning of the film. Prissy and her husband, George, were dealing with the news of how many members are in Linn’s family. Prissy is so overwhelmed, she suddenly bursts into tears. This moment alone displays the emotionality Mary was able to bring to her performance! A heartwarming scene was when George was teaching Linn and her sisters how to count. The performances from the actors in this scene, especially from Wayne Rogers, appeared so genuine. It was also nice to see the dynamic between these characters!

The cinematography: I was pleasantly surprised by some of the cinematography in The Girl Who Spelled Freedom! Even though this is a made-for-tv movie from the mid ‘80s, the cinematography looked like it came from a theatrical production. At the beginning of the film, Linn and her family are crossing a river. One shot is presented as if the viewer is in the water, watching the family moving through the river toward safety. When Linn and her family are staying with the Thrash family, they discover one of the sons is missing. As George and Prissy are searching their home, the camera follows them. This gives the idea the audience are looking for this child alongside the characters.

A balance of heartbreaking and heartwarming moments: With films that deal with emotional material, there are bound to be heartbreaking moments. In The Girl Who Spelled Freedom, there were certainly scenes that were sadder in nature. An example is when Prissy takes Linn and some of her siblings to the park. When the children see a giant statue of the Crucifix, they become scared, as they are instantly reminded of the trauma they experienced. Even though Prissy reminds them that the statue isn’t real, the children are still shaken up by the imagery. At the same time, the film contained light-hearted moments that were heartwarming. At the Thrash family home, Linn accidently walks in on Laura, Prissy and George’s daughter, curling her hair. In an effort to prevent Linn from feeling embarrassed, Laura decides to not only curl Linn’s hair, but also curl Linn’s sisters’ hair. The scene itself was very sweet and showed how a little bit of kindness can make a big difference.

The American Experience on Film Blogathon banner created by Debbie from Moon in Gemini

What I didn’t like about the film:

Missing context: The Girl Who Spelled Freedom has the same flaw The Crow did: there are areas of the story that needed context. One strong example is Linn giving sentimental value to a ring. At the beginning of the film, Linn can be seen looking for a ring in the mud. When she is escaping from a group of soldiers in Thailand, she gives the ring to one of the soldiers. In the United States, Prissy gives one of her rings to Linn. Later in the film, Linn is upset when she accidently drops the ring down the sink. The significance of this ring is never addressed in the film. Linn herself never explains why the ring is so valuable to her. If context had been provided to this part of the story, the audience could try to understand why the ring is important to Linn.

A limited presence of the spelling bee: Before watching this movie, I knew there would be a spelling bee featured in the overall story. However, I was expecting a build-up to the spelling bee, similar to Akeelah and the Bee. While we get to see a spelling bee in The Girl Who Spelled Freedom, it was only referenced a few times before the actual event began. Most of the story focused on Linn’s adjustment to life in the United States. Even though watching the spelling bee unfold was satisfying, I wish it had received a little more emphasis in the film.

A few characters receiving character development: In films that feature bigger casts, it is not easy providing character development to every character involved. But when only a few characters receive character development, it can be disappointing. This is what happened with The Girl Who Spelled Freedom. The only characters who are given character development are the members of the Thrash family and Linn. With Linn’s family, the audience becomes familiar with them, but doesn’t get the opportunity to get to know them. This can also be said about other characters, such as Henry Turner, who helped the Thrash family bring Linn and her family to the United States.

Winner’s medal image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/golden-awards-set-with-colors-details_844356.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/gold”>Gold vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

The American Experience is a tricky thing to sum up, as everyone’s experiences are going to be different. This is especially the case if someone is a refugee or immigrant. The Girl Who Spelled Freedom is a perfect example of how unique the American Experience can be. For most of the film, Linn and her family deal with “culture shock”, coming across things and situations that they feel are “unusual”. But over time, they start to create their own American Experience. Linn enters a local spelling bee in 1983. An activity that is typically seen as fun and harmless was seen by Linn as a fight for survival, a view that was shaped by her past experiences. Therefore, she was partially responsible for creating her own American Experience. For a television film from the mid ‘80s, I’d say this is one of the better presentations! While the film does have its flaws, it did feel like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie before the collection moved to Hallmark Channel. After the film, there was an interview with the real-life Thrash and Yann families. Because the audience was able to hear their sides of the story, it added to my enjoyment of the overall project! It’s a shame fewer networks have decided to create made-for-TV films. There are so many stories worth telling, so I hope they are able to get told someday.

Overall score: 7.6 out of 10

Have you seen The Girl Who Spelled Freedom? Are there any television films you’d like to see me review? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen