Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Adventures of Long John Silver: Dragon Slayer

Long John mopes at the Bull and Blunderbuss.

Plot synopsis: Long John and Purity have a fight and he moves out of the Cask & Anchor and refuses to allow his crew to patronize it. When Captain Redbeard shows up, he gets between them.


One would think that Long John and Purity would have had a
million fights by now considering the way each tries to
manipulate the other, and the impetus for their big break being Long John calling her "stupid" lacks credibility. One would think he would have called her far worse by now.

A lot of the story turns on Redbeard's machinations and
attempts to turn the rift between Purity and Long John to his advantage. The fact that Purity buys into his sweet talk isn't
too shocking considering how often she succumbs to Long John's blarney, though you'd think she'd have spent enough years around pirates that she'd know better.

The fact that Redbeard can't be trusted is something the audience is only too well aware of because he gives
conspiratorial looks to one of his lackeys. I have to give Redbeard credit for actually acting like one would expect a
pirate to act, but he's a little too laugh-happy. He broadly laughs at his own words far too often.

Redbeard (and his cohort with the accordion) hold Purity hostage.

Favorite moments:

The tavern that Long John goes to after a falling out with the Purity that has him moving out of the Cask & Anchor is called "The Bull and Blunderbuss." "Blunderbuss" is a great word.

Redbeard wears more eyeliner than most heavily-painted prostitutes.

Jim is more emotionally mature than either of his guardians, though slightly naive about attacking two full-grown pirates when they grab Purity.

Favorite quotes:

Ironhand to barmaid: "Long John aughtn't have called Miss Purity "stupid"."
Barmaid: "Up until then it was any other row between them, a pleasure to listen to."

Purity to Ironhand: "At long last, I have a tavern that caters to the respectable trade."
Ironhand: "So respectable, they all stays at home."

Redbeard to Long John: "From all I hear, you're in need of a shipment. A shipment that knows the way to the weaker sex."

Purity to Long John: "You tin horn dragon slayer."

Stray notions:

One of Long John's more dim-witted crew member sings like a bird at the prospect of a pork pie baked by Purity.

Long John gets angry when Ironhand reports that Purity
instructed Redbeard to use Long John's booth. I guess that might be some sort of weird middle-aged territorial mating issue.

Sailors always know how to play hand accordions.

Redbeard and Long John rendezvous at "Dead Man's Bay." That's a nice piratey name.

Mold to Gold Rating:

Any story line which involves Purity having a hissy fit is like a minefield. The story has to tread lightly around the more irritating aspects of her character in particular, and to not (further) emasculate Long John. The main problem with this story is that it turns more on Redbeard's devious nature and
not on Long John's. It's hard to believe that either Long John or Miss Purity would trust him. I give this props for being a good pirate adventure tale, but it lacked charm and made the two main characters look pretty gullible.

The Adventures of Long John Silver: Devil's Stew

Long John gambles away his ship with a 200 gold sovereigns note.

Plot synopsis: Long John gambles away his ship to a pirate with loaded dice and decides to take "Devil" Dixon up on a deal to do legitimate sailing.


This is a rare episode in that Long John does something very violent and in line with being a pirate when he stabs a pirate who is trying to cheat him in the hand. You'd think that would happen more often in a television series about a pirate with a bad reputation, but Long John is essentially neutered 99% of the time. He really doesn't work as a character with the premise of the show otherwise since no self-respecting pirate would hang out in a tavern allowing himself to be nagged all the time nor would he fret over a cabin boy's future.

Long John turned to Purity for the money, and quite in line with her character, she refuses. Long John losing his ship increases the chances that he'll join her working the Cask &
Anchor when he runs out of other options or follow the path of legitimate trade (hauling livestock) that she wants him to follow.

What follows is a little adventure story where Long John takes people who are trying to take him. It's what happens when a group of dishonest and devious people maintain their respective charade of being honest.

Long John shares some goat stew with Mendoza, the cream puff Spanish officer.

Favorite moments:

The episode opens with the town crier shouting "twelve
o'clock and all is well." It reminds me that this is a rare aural reminder of the era, and I like it.

Purity stands in her room holding her wedding dress. One has to wonder how many times she has found herself doing that
while waiting for Long John to do right by her. It was an old-fashioned idea, but it fits her character.

Dixon's lackey smacks a Spanish collaborator a few times and the Spaniard folds like a deck of cards. He was quite the Latin marshmallow.

Long John makes a stew out of one of the goats. I always enjoy seeing him playing cook.

Favorite quotes:
Long John to Ironhand: "Aargh, women, Ironhand, they be queer cattle.

Purity to Long John: "Are you suggesting that I, that I should set sail with a load of foul-smelling animals?" (given that he travels with pirates, there was undeniable irony in this

There aren't a lot of funny lines in this one, but the words "we all be honest men" or variations thereof are uttered with irony quite a few times.

Stray notions:

Bartholomew "Devil" Dixon's lackey is the oddest looking creature that I have ever seen. I'm not sure what he's supposed to be, but yellow face make-up, an earring, a straw hat and a diminished affect didn't offer me any clues. It was an abysmal make-up job.

Purity is just as devious and selfish as Long John when she sends Ironhand around to all of Long John's potential creditors and tells them not to loan money to him.

Purity and Long John both call each other "lover bird". One can't imagine these two ever kiss, hug or do the
nasty together.

The animals are kept on deck. There's no way they wouldn't be kept in a hold somewhere.

The actor who plays Devil Dixon has a nose Jaime Farr would envy.

Ironhand has one of the worst prosthetic hook make-up jobs I've ever seen.

Mold to Gold Rating:

I liked this from the start because I knew it was going to be all about pirates and ships. Even though I didn't like the set up (as I don't believe Long John would gamble away something as important as his ship), I liked the double-devious machinations going on with both Purity and Long John, and the fact that part of the episode took place on the ship. The creative way in which Long John negotiates a bribe with the Spaniard is quite a treat. This was a nice light-hearted little pirate tale.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Adventures of Long John Silver: Dead Reckoning

Long John greets Sir Harwood as they all dine together at the Captain's table.

Plot synopsis: A relative of Jim's threatens to take him away from Long John after a minor incident with the boy who is "practically royalty".


This episode trots out a concept that I dislike in television shows. That is one in which something is going to be taken away from someone for relatively arbitrary reasons in order to create drama. The reason this doesn't work is that we know that whatever it is (in this case Jim Hawkins) won't be taken away as it's always some essential element of the series. It must be rather inconvenient for writers because they have to choose something important enough for the viewer to care about the loss of it. If it were anything less, it would make more be more suspenseful, but no one would care.

In order to stop the governor from sending Jim away, Long John suggests that they send Jim to a school for "lads of quality" in "Bermuder". This paves the way for another story line which I don't like which is where a nice character is placed in a situation where he is mistreated and can't or won't fight back for various reasons.

I also was not keen on the old trope of the lad of quality, in this case, Algae Harwood, being a "little gentleman" on the outside and a little monster on the inside. You just know that he's going to set Jim up again and again to take the blame or look bad. To his credit, Jim initially doesn't just placidly take a kick from the thuggish mini-fop. He tells him he'll bash his head in if he kicks him again, as one might expect from a kid being raised by a pirate. Unfortunately, the backbone he shows at that moment is undermined by his playing servant to and taking orders from Algae once they reach the boarding school. In order to preserve the abuse Jim takes, the old idea that tattling is worse than anything is used as a thin excuse. Once he reaches the school, Jim is blamed for everything Algae does and punished for Algae's misdeeds.

This was far more annoying familiar story elements than I'm accustomed to in one episode and I'm not going to be as forgiving as I normally am based on the age of the series. I have to imagine that at least some of them were well-worn even in the 50's.

Finally held accountable for his bad acts, Algae rubs his sore behind after a caning as Jim sits on his bunk eating the bread and water he has been put on.

Favorite moments:

Purity actually locks Jim in his room. I guess she wasn't worried about a fire breaking out and trapping him.

Long John goes to dinner with the lord and lady whose little monster Jim is accused of nearly killing and sits down first. There's a pregnant pause as Purity stands back and waits for him to do the proper thing and allow her to sit first.

I always love the over-the-top snooty people when they encounter Purity. There are a lot of eyes cast askance for everything that Purity does from how she speaks to how she ladles soup.

Long John tucks his napkin in at the neck, as all gauche types do.

When the headmaster catches Algae having set up gunpowder under his desk, his overacting is classic and priceless.

Sir Percival Harwood calls Jim a "gutter snipe" and Purity calls Lady Harwood a "pop 'n jay." I loved the use of these old words to bandy about insults.

When Jim and Algae are found, they both look like ship-wreck survivors. It's beautifully too much.

Favorite quotes:

Purity to Jim: "You'll stay in your room with naught but bread and milk." (as a kid, that wouldn't have sounded so terrible to me as I loved both of these things).

Purity to Long John: "Like you, you swivel tongue swab, he lies to me."

Long John to Sir Percival Harwood: "They might grow up to be shipmates together. Put a little red blood in your pasty-faced young 'un."

The man who was coming to take Jim (missed his name) to Purity: "Your tears cannot swerve me one whit from my appointed task, madame."

Stray notions:

The man who wants to take Jim away is "Squire Trelawney". I couldn't help but think of the Star Trek episode, "The Squire of Gothos" and the character named "Trelane." It makes me wonder if the Trek writers remembered the name unconsciously and refashioned it for the show.

There's a part where Robert Newton narrates over a clip of The Faithful (Long' John's ship). Newton stumbled over a few words very briefly. In this day and age, that would certainly have been redone.

I love the look of the old-style chalkboard in the school as well as the desks and chairs.

Locking Jim in his room seems to be an obsession with the adults. Both Purity and the Rosé School headmaster lock him in. This time, someone actually does set a fire while Jim is locked in, though it doesn't really get rolling.

Mold to Gold Rating:

I had a genuine chuckle during this episode, and there were a lot of good moments leading up to Jim's arrival at the Rosé school for gentleman. The predictable nature of so many of the backbones of the story undermined things for me, but not enough to ruin the pleasure I took in the good moments. That being said, the second half is tedious for the most part. The little kid who plays Algae Harwood was also a bad actor. He seems to have gone to the cute/naughty/loud technique of acting that was inspired by old T.V. shows like "The Little Rascals." The various characters' 180 at the end lacks verisimilitude as well. Balancing things out, I'd give the good moments an 8 and the tedious ones a 3. I'm averaging that out for the rating.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Adventures of Long John Silver: Miss Purity's Birthday

Purity laments the fact that no one remembers her birthday anymore.

Plot synopsis: Purity's birthday comes around and Long John does not seem to have a clue.


I have trepidation about any episode focusing on Miss Purity because she's so bellicose and over the top. Fortunately, there were genuine moments showing her as a person with dimension and depth. It becomes a little clearer that her loud and sometimes angry nature is her acting out on a sense that her life is squandered and that no one sincerely cares about her.

This episode opens with a bait and switch shot of a huge multi-tiered cake. Since the episode title is "Miss Purity's Birthday", one might think that we were going to see her cutting the cake but it ends up being the governor's daughter's party. The governor in his wife are very respectful to Miss Purity despite her lowly station in life. It's a nice balance against the people of high status who look down on those who they view as being from a lower station.

The very concept of an episode like this seems very predictable from the opening minutes. Long John has clearly forgotten or does not care about Purity's birthday and she's going to sob, wail, and shout at him, but this turns into a deeper episode where Miss Purity learns to find another way to give meaning to her life and enjoy her birthday by assisting people who have genuine need. I think that we're meant to see that focusing on cakes, gifts, and attention is just as selfish as Long John's behavior. It's merely a different type of selfishness.

Favorite moments:

I love the two snooty magpies who speak disdainfully of Miss Purity as she sits next to them at the governor's daughter's birthday party (which Jim attends).

When Purity laments that there is nothing left for her in life as compared to her youth, you get a real sense of the mindset of a woman of her age, in any era.

I liked the touch of having Purity pour water into a basin in preparation for morning ablutions. It's a tip of the hat to the times.

The Reverend is very sweet when he gives Purity a bouquet of flowers and wishes her a happy birthday.

Favorite quotes:

Purity to Jim: "Such hopes as one has as a child, and now, as the years roll on and birthdays come, nobody cares."

Long John: "So, you've been out nobbin' with the gentry, 'ave yee?"
Purity: "Better than yee could do. Look at the cut of you in your greasy rags, wallowing like a pig in swill (as she gestures to mugs of rum)."

Long John: "Let a woman 'ave her way in a matter of business and she'll have you hog-tied."

Reverend to nervous expectant father: "Fathers are made every minute of the day, my son, and they generally survive."

Purity admires the hat Long John got her as a birthday gift.

Stray notions:

This episode had the same Jim Hawkin's narrated opening as in a previous episode, but it is extended to include talk about Purity also being Jim's guardian.

The kid's play "London Bridge is Falling Down" during the birthday party. I wonder if kids even know the song anymore, let alone play the game.

Ironhand, Purity's waiter and general lackey, tries to eavesdrop on Long John as he discusses his next journey, but Long John shoos him away as he knows he'll tell Purity everything.

Purity's birthday is March 16.

For some reason, I was struck more acutely that the set construction was very cheap as the Cask and Anchor was being approached by Purity and the Reverend on their carriage.

Miss Purity is a feisty wench who is ready to kick the asses of anyone who sneaked into her establishment. You can see a bit of why Long John is attracted to her.

Purity gets the same cake as the governor's daughter. It just has a few fewer tiers.

Long John gives Purity an extremely tacky hat as a gift, but she seems to love it.

Mold to Gold Rating:

I realize that the basic message of this episode is a pretty familiar one, and it may seem rather obvious, but as someone who is a sucker for oldies like this, I liked it. We can wallow in our misery over what we do not have or we can make something more of our lives. Just because the message is positive, and has been sent many times in other media, it doesn't make it bad. I liked this episode a lot for the way Purity's character is explored and given more colors. I only take a point off because of the predictable crying and shouting about not having her birthday recognized.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Adventures of Long John Silver: Turnabout

Long John and his new French captain dine together.

Plot synopsis: While returning from a profitable (and legitimate) journey, Long John's ship is grabbed by the French.


The way in which the French are portrayed doesn't appear to have varied much over the decades. They are always arrogant fops in whatever English show they appear in. They're also always slaves to their bellies. Long John manages to get his ship back largely by appealing to the gourmet wishes of the new captain and offering to serve as ship's cook. The notion that an occupying power would trust an enemy to prepare meals is a pretty absurd one, particularly without forcing the chef to taste the food first.

At one point, Long John is forced to tell how he makes his ragout and quite a few lines of dialog are spent detailing the cooking process. In a modern show, there is no chance that so much onscreen time would be spent discussing food preparation. In the end, it is allowing him access to kitchen utensils which allows him to take his ship back.

The carelessness of the French in allowing Long John to walk out of the kitchen with a good sharp knife is a little hard to believe, but no less so than Long John helping the French officer escape hanging at the end. Governor Strong's relationship with Long John would seem to be undermined seriously if he allowed a French prisoner to escape.

Long John gleefully puts a knife to the French occupier's back.

Favorite moments:

Long John's face when he puts a knife in the French officer's back is a classic Robert Newton Long John Silver look. He just looks utterly devious.

When the French officer is dressed like a woman to escape hanging, he sits on Long John's lap while a British soldier questions Long John. When the officer leaves, Long John pushes him onto the floor in a nice little comic moment.

Favorite quotes:

Long John to his Jim Hawkins (about the ship's name): "The Faithful...Ms. Purity has caused me nort but ridicule naming her that."

Long John to French officer (about the captain of the French ship): "I don't like to be rude, but he struck me as being a bit of a flap in the breeze."

Long John to French officer: "It reminds me of a dish I once had in Asia, but that was a monkey's brain."

Stray notions:

When Long John hears a cannonade from his cabin, he asks Jim to fetch his hat and coat. Is it really necessary to pause and dress properly before attending to cannon fire?

Long John is grateful to the French for "running off the pirates". This is strange considering he and his crew are pirates. You'd think they'd have some empathy for others who fly the Jolly Roger.

Long John smashes his plum duff in the face of the French officer who occupies his ship. I never heard of plum duff before this show, but there's a recipe for it on the BBC's web site here.

Mold to Gold Rating:

I liked a lot of things about this episode including the fact that so much of it took place at sea and that Long John did a turn as cook. That revealed a little about his past before he became a pirate captain. I also liked how Long John used the old trick of dressing up a person he wants to help escape as a woman in order to sneak him past the guards. Though this is pretty old hat by now, I like to think it was a little less stale as a bit when this series aired. The ending is also cute.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Adventures of Long John Silver: Sword of Vengeance

Sean O'Flaherty and his fiancee engage Long John in some obligatory chat at the end of the episode.

Plot synopsis: Near the end of an unproductive journey, Long John's ship comes across a Spanish ship full of dead men. Hoping to profit, he boards the ship and finds a surviving English prisoner who he assists in rescuing his girl and avenging his father.


There is a voiceover throughout the episode and a few minutes in which is narrated as if it were being offered by a crew member, but the voice is a pretty measured and literate one so it doesn't work very well in convincing the viewer of its origin. It was a bit of an odd start and a big change in tone from the previous episodes. Usually, the stories carry themselves, but this time it's as if the story was being told and illustrated by clips of what was happening on board Long John's ship. It had a real feel of being read from a novel.

The entire episode made me feel off-kilter because of the narration. It's like I was watching a different television series. In fact, one thing that I'm struck by at this point is that there is a lot of inconsistency in the tone of the show across the various episodes that I have seen and written posts about to this point. I'm not sure what it was shifting so much, but I'm guessing it had more to do with different writers rather than any intention to change the status quo.

By the end, I had a strong sense that the point of this episode was to act as a pilot for the rescued fellow, Sean O'Flaherty. The story belonged to him as much as it belonged to the pirates, possibly more. They were treated like a taxi service to deliver him to his lady. Most of the episode after he arrives on the island occupied by the Spanish is taken up by his sword fighting and miscellaneous swashbuckling activities.

Favorite moments:

The pirates fan their ailing prisoner as he recovers on the deck. This strikes me as comically solicitous behavior coming from pirates.

When fiancee and fiance are reunited, he leaps in the window and kisses his girlfriend square on the chin. I love the chaste way in which actors behaved in the 50s and 60s. Now, you see people practically eating each others faces when they snog.

Conseulla, an evil Spanish woman, is killed when stabbed through the door. Her death is pretty badly acted, and I liked the way they avoided someone obviously murdering a woman by employing the "through the door" killing.

The hero staggers out the door and greets the main character who has taken a back seat to him in this episode.

Favorite quotes:

Long John to his crew: "Quiet you swabs, his brain be wanderin'."

Sean O'Flaherty to pirates: "My father has been avenged". (I liked this because it reminded me so much of the classic line from the Princess Bride - "My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.")

Stray notions:

The surviving pirate on the Spanish ship that looks a lot like Viggo Mortenson at first glance, but less like him later when he's writhing in bed trying not to croak. Once he cleans up, he looks a bit like Errol Flynn. I believe this was intentional.

Things were not subtle in old television and movies for the most part. When a woman poisons her drink because she's being forced to marry a man she hates, "POISON" is written on the bottle in big letters. I guess they think a certain look in her eyes and the knowledge that she's pouring something into the glass from a strange bottle wasn't enough to cue the audience about what she was up to.

All of the Spanish tend to be overdressed, and speak in an overtly sinister fashion. The woman, Conseulla, was so shifty-eyed that I thought she might have some sort of ocular impairment.

Mold to Gold Rating:

I liked the fact that this episode shows the pirates prioritizing what pirates do, gold. I didn't like the fact that it quickly evolved into a sword fighting show and focused on a guest character. After it turned
into Sean O'Flaherty's sword fight adventure, I lost all interest. I give this points mainly because of the start of the show where Long John and crew find a ship of the dead and have a mystery on their hands for a little while. I take away most of those points because of the boring second half. I can easily see skipping this episode in the future when I watch episodes of the show again. Frankly, I felt like this episode was overtly manipulating the audience to like Sean O'Flaherty rather than to tell a tale.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Adventures of Long John Silver: Ship O' the Dead

Jim spies the ship of the dead from his little boat as he's out sailing.

Plot synopsis: Jim Hawkins sees a ship full of dead mean, The Rachel, and no one believes him, so he endeavors to prove he's telling the truth.


This episode has a lovely opening sequence which features an exchange between Purity and Long John where he reminisces about what it was like to be a boy and dream of living out the adventures of famous explorers. It not only provided a window into Long John's psyche and past, but also reminded me of what it was like when I was a kid growing up and used to "play" by role playing. With video games and television, I don't even know to what extent kids still engage in this sort of behavior, but I enjoyed the conversation between the two main characters and the warm feeling it brought back about childhood.

The driving force behind this story, a ghost ship, is a favorite in sailor lore and one that I like in nearly every execution I've experienced it in, from Monkey Island game to movies to T.V. shows. Even when you know the concept and expect that the ship is either empty or someone is tricking others, it's still fun to see how it plays out.

This is the first episode that I have re-watched that is offered largely from Jim's perspective. He is the central character and he gets some voice-over narration. It's interesting that the show only uses this sort of voice-over for Jim. My guess is that is because, as a child, he isn't allowed to expand as much on his thoughts as the adult characters because he doesn't have many same-age compatriots with which to exchange dialog.

Jim eyes his pocket knife and considers escaping before he's tossed into the sea and left to drown.

Favorite moments:

Both Long John and Purity scold Jim for returning late from a sojourn on his own small boat in a scene which shows their parental role in his life more clearly than most episodes.

The avaricious pirates reveling in their gold is a lovely bit of acting ham.

I like how Jim steals a gun from a sleeping pirate, but it's clear that the only reason he manages it is that the pirate is drunk as he nearly knocks over his bottle of booze.

Though it strains credibility, I like how Jim pretends to be an adult pirate and stuffs a gun in the back of the pirate at the helm to get him to return to Porto Bello and run the ship aground.

Favorite quotes:

Purity to Long John: "Men be no better than children. Where'd they be without women to anchor them to earth?"

Stray notions:

The idea that a boy can't become a man if his maternal figure holds him too near and dear is offered in this episode.

Kit Taylor, who plays Jim Hawkins, is a convincing child in distress when no one believes his story.

Jim gets grabbed an awful lot about by hostile pirates and locked in rooms.

Mold to Gold Rating:

I liked this episode a lot. There were moments of heart and sympathy as well as an interesting premise.
I liked the pacing, and the story being centered on Jim Hawkins. The only thing which I didn't like was the doubt Long John and Purity had of Jim's word. I think at least one of them should have had faith in his word.