Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Movie version of John Jakes' "The Bastard" offers a dynamite classic cast

BRBTV likes to play this little game, when viewing a movie that is new to us, though it may be new, old, or older! We like to guess the year the movie was released based on fashions alone, and heck, we tend to get within a year or two, if we don't get it right on the button! (We are fashion mavens, after all -- just see BRB's My Mother's Clothing project!) John Jakes, however, throws us off a little, particularly with the movie adaptation of the first book in his Bicentennial series, "The Bastard." The costumes, of course, are period. Period!

Still, we just had to make a guess, as we lounged over it this past Sunday night (special thanks to BRBTV bud Tracy for the DVD!). We factored in the cherublike Andrew Stevens, the darker haired, pre-"Mannequin" Kim Catrall, the chunkiness of the production quality. We had to go with 1975 for this one, and really we hinged that mainly on William Shatner -- he seemed much more pre-"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" to us. Plus, we remember how big the country's 1976 Bicentennial was back then -- a hot-hot-hot topic for a juicy book series. We had to surmise this movie would be placed squarely in the midst of that heat.

But alas ... the year, it was ... 1978. And what a grand year it was for TV stars. Just as in Jakes' mid-'80s "North and South" miniseries, "The Bastard" makes no disappointment with its megawatt cast. Shatner, Catrall, Tom Bosley, Lorne Greene, Buddy Ebsen, Harry Morgan ... holy cow, is there anybody in there that's not a name, at least now if not then?! And most of all, the stars from the BRBTV shows are out in full force for this one.

Front and center is the aforementioned Stevens, a decade before he would take on J.R. Ewing's tutelage -- then rattle his cage a bit -- as Casey Denault on "Dallas." In this outing, he's oh-so young, so boyish and fluffy of hair, and he surely manages a certain degree of evenly progressing maturity through the four hours. We finished the 600-plus page book just days before watching the movie (see BRB's Amazon review), and Stevens filled the shoes of Phillipe Charboneau / Philip Kent believably and in keeping with Jakes' original prose, written just four years before the movie was released. You could even argue that Stevens resembles the artist's rendering of Philip on the original book cover above.

Joining Stevens is his fellow "Dallas" cast member Keenan Wynn as Johnny Malcolm, every bit as feisty as ole Digger Barnes was. Russell Johnson, also a "Dallas" refugee as Sheriff Mansfield, in addition to Roger Wainwright on "Santa Barbara" and Earl Thompson on "Dynasty," is Col. James Barrett, fighting valiantly for the rights of the American colonies. And how surprising to find Clint Ritchie -- known to us as Bud Morgan on "Dallas" but to the rest of the world as Clint Buchanan on "One Life to Live" -- as Dawes.

Herb Jefferson Jr., whom we remember fondly from "The Dukes of Hazzard," portrays Lucas, a man of color but not a slave -- he stands, gun in hand, as a free worker for a farm where the lead character takes refuge, and before that, he helps Philip dispatch some evil highwaymen. And omigoodness -- peeking out of a doorway in Colonial attire, that's Miss Peggy Rea, our beloved Lulu Hogg of "The Dukes"!

Added to all of that, we were enthralled by Ike Eisenmann of Disney's "Witch Mountain" movies -- his boyish, confident, privileged but right-thinking Gil, the Marquis, is captivating. And John De Lancie of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is delightfully dastardly as a Redcoat lieutenant.

We can't wait to move on to the movie adaptations of "The Rebels" and "The Seekers," the next two books in the series.

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