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In a role that will appeal to women more than to men, Christopher Reeve plays a gruff and wildly attractive Alan Pinkerton. Married, he is away on assignment when he meets Rose, whom he suspects of spying for the Confederates. He's way out of his league socially and emotionally, while Rose attempts to manipulate him as she has most of the influential bigwigs in town. Does Rose really know what the impact of her actions are, and is she ready to accept the consequences? Can Pinkerton tend to business as well as learn to dance? The sexual tension is up and Pinkerton's defenses are down. This film is notable also because two of its stars -- Reeve and Snodgress -- are no longer with us.
There are a certain bunch of actors and actresses whose fates will
always color our appreciation of their performances. When we watch Rock
Hudson in all his sex comedies with or without Doris Day, our knowledge
of his homosexuality and his death from the ravishes of A.I.D.S. will
always interfere with watching his work. Similarly, questions about the
suicide of Marilyn Monroe or the drowning of Natalie Wood will always
bother our pleasures at their films, as will thoughts about the
premature death of Jean Seaberg. Even if the actor leaves a tremendous
film heritage, like Leslie Howard, his death in a plane crash will make
us wonder what further glorious performances he would have given us (as
does that of his contemporary Carole Lombard).
Chris Reeve is in this bunch too. He was lucky to have fit early into a character part that identified him to his generation. As Basil Rathbone was Sherlock Holmes in the 1940s, and Sean Connery was James Bond in the 1960s and early 1970s, Reeve was Superman to the generation born from 1954 to 1972. It helped him that he had nearly the same name as George Reeves, the actor who had made the same part his own on the successful television series in the 1950s. But if one believes in curses, there must have been one attached to that part for actors with names spelled with "R", "E" "E" "V" and "E". Both men came to tragic fates. George either shot himself or was murdered (the verdict is still out). Chris may have had a worse fate - he was left permanently crippled after a horse riding accident, and became more involved with stem cell research and spinal surgery than he probably ever thought he would be when he was growing up. In a sense his mission in that last decade colored his entire career and remains his monument. It is a pity, for Chris Reeve was an above average actor and director (he even won an Emmy for his directing a remake of REAR WINDOW), and his entertainment career was really curtailed by the accident that ruined his spine.
Before his accident, he made this film for Ted Turner in 1990. Turner was producing a series of movies about the American Civil War for his cable network, and decided to deal with the Civil War careers of two famous spies. The northern one, played by Reeves, was the railroad detective Allan Pinkerton. The southern one, played by Madelyn Smith Osborne, was Rose O'Neill Greenhow.
Let me say this - the film is well acted and directed. Reeve manages to make us appreciate Pinkerton's abilities as a detective (who eventually founded the largest private detective firm in the world) quite early. The Scottish immigrant had gotten the attention of two men in Illinois when heading the railroad police for the Illinois Central Railroad. One was the line's attorney, Abraham Lincoln. The other was the line's President, George Brinton McClellan. When Lincoln was headed for Washington for his inauguration in 1861, it was Pinkerton whose operatives foiled the "Fernandina" plot in Baltimore to assassinate the President (see the Dick Powell film, "THE TALL TARGET" for a version of that story). After the inauguration Lincoln made Pinkerton head of the new Secret Service. McClellan, when Commander in Chief and head of the Army of the Potomac, would also use Pinkerton's services gathering information on Confederate strength.
In the film we are concentrating on the events of February to August 1861. In this period McClellan is not involved in events in Washington. But when Pinkerton gets Lincoln safely to the capital, he is appointed to head the Secret Service. He goes to one of the last dinners given at the White House by out-going President James Buchanan (Jeff Corey). Buchanan teases and laughs at Pinkerton and his activities, and so annoys the detective that the latter turns on the President and pointedly sneers, "Perhaps if you had been more concerned about intelligence gathering you would not be leaving this office now!" Buchanan does not answer that one.
Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a prominent boarding house owner in Washington, D.C., who was well connected to several leading southern politicians by family or marriage. She became a very effective spy for the south. The film does involve what may have been her supreme success in the war; she managed to get the battle plans of General Irwin McDowell, which enabled the Confederates to defeat him at the first battle of Bull Run. Traditionally it has been suggested that Ms Greenhow romanced the information out of the head of the Military Affairs Committee of the Senate, Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson (Kevin McCarthy here). Actually we are not fully sure, but the movie supports this particular theory.
We do know that after that military debacle, Mrs. Greenhow was traced by Pinkerton's operatives as a southern spy, and she was imprisoned. Here the film goes off the historical record, suggesting that Rose and Allan fell in love.
SPOILER AHEAD: The film also makes Allan fall so hard for Rose that he helps her escape prison before she was going to be shot. Actually, Rose was never in any danger of that. She had too many friends in high places (despite her politics) to allow that to happen. She got exchanged for a Union operative who was captured. Later in the war Rose went to Europe to try to get medical supplies for the Confederacy. When she returned to North Carolina, in the fall of 1864, her boat got swamped while trying to land and she was drowned.
The film was well produced and acted. A scene of Reeve riding a horse at high speed is a little hard to take nowadays, given what caused his accident. But otherwise the film is worth seeing, even if the "love affair" is just a myth.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie many years ago probably on a Turner network channel like TNT or TBS.What I was immediately struck by was the on screen chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Madolyn Smith.That is why the movie worked for me.I do not know how historically accurate the story is about the Pinkerton detective trying to find and outsmart a beautiful Confederate rose who was trying to outsmart him for her beloved south.The costumes and the location filming was excellent.I agree with another reviewer that this is one of Christopher Reeve's best parts that he played over the years.His presence on the screen is a lot like the handsome Cornel Wilde who played Bruce in "Forever Amber".I personally believe that Linda Darnell was wrong for the part of Amber St.Clare in the story of "Forever Amber".Getting back to "The Rose And The Jackal",check this one out.Excellent!I Have This Movie On DVD.
The relationship between Allan Pinkerton and Rose O'Neal Greenhow is brimful with documented and attended drama and should easily yield a tale worth telling through cinema. This particular essay is well-mounted, benefiting from a generous Turner Network budget, accounting largely for the above-normal production values of a film created for cable television viewing, but the screenplay serves up a completely fictional romantic bond between Pinkerton (Christopher Reeve) and Greenhow (Madolyn Smith-Osborne), thereon lowering the potential quality of the piece. The work opens in stirring fashion, depicting the occasion outside Baltimore in early 1861, whereby the detective and his associates frustrate an attempt by Confederate sympathizers to derail a train carrying President-Elect Lincoln, an event from which an entire feature could be shot, as it is replete with suspenseful and exciting incident. It is employed here merely as a quick springboard to Pinkerton's appointment by the President as head of a United States Secret Service, a new agency organized for purposes of counter-espionage during The War Between The States. The Union's Secretary of War assigns Allan to attend a dress ball by way of increasing his societal mingling and while there he and the hostess (and Confederate spy) Rose meet, with an apparent mutual physical attraction a result, especially for Pinkerton. Thereafter, the production is essentially febrile romantic melodrama, although circumstances surrounding the spy's role in the Confederate triumph at the first Battle of Bull Run are well-scripted, with the hope for a Southern victory in the War accurately shown, and as well, the suspension by Lincoln of the writ of habeas corpus is represented accurately during the investigator's efforts to force Greenhow into revealing her Northern contacts. Difficulties are present throughout relating to continuity and logic, perhaps most notably during a scene wherein Rose spends an ostensible final evening with her young daughter in Old Capitol Prison, shortly before her planned execution, while an outer prison yard is teeming with rampaging Confederates chanting, burning benches, etc., as protest of the spy's impending fate; however, they abruptly end their rioting (during which one would be hard-used to hear one's inner thoughts) in order to listen to Greenhow's rendition of a lullaby to her child from well inside her cell. Acting is unnoteworthy save for a brief but telling turn by Carrie Snodgrass as Pinkerton's wife, and unexpectedly by Reeve, a player of remarkably slight skills, but who gives here his best and most focused performance, including generally able simulation of a Scottish brogue; in truth, more successful with his assumed accent than Smith-Osborne with hers of the South, certainly not being Greenhow's native Maryland/Virginia Tidewater dialect, not locatable anywhere, actually, although it probably matters little, since it comes and goes freely. The work is filmed in Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah, Georgia, with the initial scenes of the attempted rail related Lincoln assassination attempt shot at Stone Mountain, where several splendid contemporary regimental bands are heard. Notice must be made of the extraordinary lighting and cinematographic talents of Dietrich Lohmann, accurate and lavish costumes from Jai Galati, and top-flight scenic design by Charles Bennett, all in the service of a work deserving of less due to its storyline's apocryphal point of view.
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