19 March 2003 | petershelleyau
quest for passionate justice, Hazel
Jane Seymour and director James Keach executive produce the story of Hazel Brannon Smith, the first American woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Hazel is the editor of the Lexington Chronicle, a Mississippi newspaper that highlights the racism in the South in 1954 at a time when segregation was changing to integration. For her activism, Hazel is put out of business until she is asked to produce the Mississippi Free Press, with colored financial backing.
Seymour wears her hair shoulder-length and uses a Southern accent, and though she is adept at repartee, she doesn't provide any emotional depth to Hazel. Her first appearance is in a cloud of train steam, like Garbo's Anna Karenina, and her best moment is a catty one where she pulls the hair of a woman who has caused her social embarrassment, under the pretext of Hazel suggesting she wear her hair up.
The teleplay by Rama Laurie Stagner, based on a true story, includes a battery of comic one liners, mostly delivered by Hazel. The most notable are `My mouth's as dry as an old maid's kiss', `Don't go getting in a battle of wits with these women. They're not armed' and to `You made a fool of me' she replies `Well I couldn't have done it without your help'. Hazel's husband Billy (Lou Walker) also has his own share - to `She dresses to kill' he says `She cooks that way too', and about the townswomen `If they were fish, every one of them would be thrown back'. Hazel's opposition publish their own newspaper so it's a pity that we don't get the chance to see it's quality. That a newspaper could create such a stir is surprising, but perhaps this is supposed to demonstrate the level of sophistication of Lexington, a location that Hazel prefers to stay in rather than leave.
Director Keach makes Seymour's Hazel so animated that it's refreshing when he captures her in a still reaction shot, but the succession of acts against Hazel has the opposite effect intended, our empathy withers away, and the causes she fights for becomes an abstraction.