Saturday, February 14, 2015

REVIEWING LIBRARY MOVIES #1: "The Kent Chronicles,Vol. One: THE BASTARD" 1978

"The Kent Chronicles,Vol. One: THE BASTARD" Directed by Lee Katzin, 1978 [Universal DVD Collection]

Well... Since I don't have cable, but do have a DVD player, and since I love things that don't cost money, I have been checking out movies from the local library to watch. This one was a TV movie from 1978 that lasted 189 minutes! Yup, that's over 3 hours, so the cats and I were camped out on the couch for a good long while last night. The film was based, of course, on John Jakes' phenomenally successful first book in his series THE KENT FAMILY CHRONICLES, which was a very hot property at the time. [Those books sold SO WELL you still see them everywhere! Amazon literally sells used copies for a penny, but why would you even pay the shipping when every yard sale seems to have copies for a dime?!]

Now, make no mistake, a guy doesn't sell books the way Jakes did without real talent, and I still remember those books as intelligent and thoughtful historical fiction, just pulpy and lurid enough to be absolutely engrossing.
The first book, about the illegitimate son of a French actress and an English Lord who comes to America just in time for the Big Revolution, was a classic of sorts. The screenplay for the movie version is actually a good adaptation too, and is even somewhat clever in the way it condenses the plot, historical detail, and ideological concerns of its original source material.
Now for the review. This production, which looks like it cost some real money in places, is, however, very "TV" and very "70s"... and no, those are not compliments.

Still, I must say the 3 hours actually went by pretty fast, and even the cats didn't complain.

The title character was played by a guy named Andrew Stevens, who turns in the kind of lackluster yet un-objectionable performance you would expect from a "pretty boy" 70s idol.
Why was it entertaining? Well... The real fun is the supporting cast, and it is both huge and varied. I mean, there are actual GREAT actors... like Patricia Neal, Donald Pleasance and Keenan Wynn, ALL of them so excellent in their assigned roles it seems almost like a jarring mistake to have cast them against the other, run-of-the-mill performers.

Then there are sturdy performances by good folks like Buddy Ebsen, Olivia Hussy [yowza!], Cameron Mitchel, and Harry Morgan.

Then it gets a little wondrously weird: Tom Bosley of HAPPY DAYS is a strangely affecting Ben Franklin, and... let's just say if you haven't seen William Shatner [!] chew the scenery as a verbose Paul Revere [!] , well... you have really missed SOMETHING! Don Johnson and Kim Cattrall are both here, too... caught at the very beginnings of their [storied?] careers.

A word should also be said about the costume design, and that word is this: Whoever was in charge of it was convinced that the 1770s in Europe and America were an epoch where feminine pulchritude and much mighty cleavage ruled the landscape! [Sorry... It just had to be said!]

All in all I give THE BASTARD a thumbs up! [Hey, that was a funny sounding sentence!]

The cats, on the other hand, have not commented.

Mr. Shatner is about to speak... and he WILL have your attention...