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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