Archives for posts with tag: jeremy kemp

MV5BMjE5MTEwNjIxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODk1NzYyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_Unsurprisingly, War and Remembrance the miniseries is the sequel to The Winds of War, as the novel is. The book is worse than Winds of War, but the miniseries is much, much better. It is no more faithful to the source material, but the screenwriting and acting are drastically improved.

Leading the charge here is the recasting of several major characters. Jane Seymour replaces Ali MacGraw as Natalie Jastrow and is so much better in the rôle it’s hard to believe. John Gielgud replaces John Houseman as Aaron Jastrow–this, too, is an improvement, though less marked (and is no real reflection on John Houseman). Finally, Hart Bochner takes over for Jan-Michael Vincent as Byron Henry, and he is better looking and more convincing.

The war is on, and Herman Wouk bows to statistical necessity and starts killing off major characters, although he still manages to pull some punches. The Henrys lose Warren (Michael Woods) on a bombing run in the Pacific, and his widow Janice (Sharon Stone! Sharon Stone!) starts messing around with Byron’s XO, even though Byron’s XO is terrible. Rhoda Henry (still Polly Bergen) takes this as an opportunity to have an attack of conscience about her infidelities and starts emotionally blackmailing Pug (still Robert Mitchum), so he, man-like, gets all guilty and Protestant. This makes poor Pamela Tudsbury (still Victoria Tennant) have feelings.

This is all largely to remind you that there’s a war in the Pacific and in Russia and sometimes in England, but the heart of the story is Natalie and Aaron Jastrow. It begins in their villa in Siena, and ends, via Marseilles, Geneva, and Theresienstadt, in Auschwitz. Avram Rabinowitz (Sami Frey) tries to get them to Palestine on a refugee ship, but under pressure of various kinds they decide against it, and a long, inexorable process is set in motion. In parallel with this, Byron moves heaven and earth in an attempt to find and rescue them. It is hideous to watch, but well done.

The production is overall more careful than the first installment, though there are inevitably bits on which they cheap out. The clothes are marginally better, although again we fall back on uniform and Natalie in rags. The main problem is that it is so, so long. Feature film length is a more palatable amount of the War. This is Wouk’s point, of course, so it’s not an accident.

Stray observations:

  • I suspect General Eisenhower is impossible to cast–his particular brand of funny looks is not common.  E. G. Marshall does not work for me. Ralph Bellamy as FDR and the recently late Robert Hardy as Churchill are better.
  • Obviously we have to deal with the Valkyrie plot. It’s not as good as the film, but Sky du Mont is an acceptable Stauffenberg.

Director: Dan Curtis
Rating: TV-MA
Length: 27 hours
Score: 4/5

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Herman Wouk’s novel about the last few years before the Second World War goes for coverage, both geographically and circumstantially. It smacks, rather, of a modern War & Peace, following several, sometimes overlapping threads. This works better in a book, but this series gives it the old college try.

MV5BMzY1NTEzODA4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzM0NzUyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR50,0,182,268_AL_Pug Henry (Robert Mitchum) is a career naval officer. His life ambition is to command a battleship. A cursory knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent naval history will indicate that this is an ambition unlikely to be realized. Luckily, Pug has a host of other qualifications, like a working knowledge of German and Russian and an uncanny ability to predict geopolitical developments (he alone of everyone in the world predicts the collapse of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, e.g.). He starts out as military liaison in Berlin and ends up a military observer of Lend-Lease efficacy in Moscow.

He has a lot of relatives, and they get into various scrapes. His wife, Rhoda (Polly Bergen), is dumb and shallow but has kept her figure, so that’s going to go badly. His daughter, Madeline (Lisa Eilbacher), is very young and goes into radio; she’s not interesting until later. His elder son, Warren (Ben Murphy), is a naval aviator in Hawai’i; his younger, Byron (Jan-Michael Vincent), is a Columbia grad and naval reservist who finds himself in Siena doing research for a famous author because he can’t settle to anything else.

This introduces the second thread, Aaron Jastrow (John Houseman) and his niece Natalie (Ali MacGraw). Dr. Jastrow is a Jewish author, which will allow the series to follow in detail the declining status of Jews in Europe, because he is stubborn and flighty, which means he refuses to leave when it is simple and then lacks the paperwork and wherewithal when it becomes difficult. Natalie is…an asshole. I had forgotten. She spends all her time keeping men on a leash and then being unpleasant when they venture to be concerned for her welfare. With a better actress in the rôle, it is broadly possible that Natalie would be captivating and impulsive, but…she’s just awful. Also, people keep looking at her askance because she’s so very Jewish-looking, and that is just insultingly silly.

Through Natalie we meet her distant cousin Berel Jastrow (Topol!), a Polish Jew who documents the early activities of the SS Einsatzgruppen. No one believes him, except Leslie Slote (David Dukes), who is a minor functionary in the US State Department and also manages to be in interesting dangerous places at interesting dangerous times. He’s very in love with Natalie and she treats him like dirt. I like Leslie, possibly the best of everyone, because all he ever does is try his best for people and get no credit. Leslie knows Pamela Tudsbury (Victoria Tennant), a young Englishwoman with a journalist father and an airman fiancé who globetrots around after her dad and incontinently falls in love with Pug. We come full circle!

Apparently no expense was spared in this production, and it was filmed on approximately nine thousand locations. This is a plus, but it doesn’t fix the problem: this was made in the early 80s, when subtlety was unknown and costumes only made a bare minimum of effort. In general, women’s dresses and hats are more or less in the style of the 40s, but in hideous fabrics, and no attempt for verisimilitude is made with respect to hairstyles. Men’s clothes, fortunately, escape disaster by retreating to uniform. The large cast, as usual, results in a quality of acting most generously described as uneven. This is not helped by Wouk’s limited talents as a screenwriter, which pale in comparison to his skills as a novelist.

At about twelve hours, it doesn’t save all that much time over reading the book, and is worse. But it is to be admired for its ambitions and its care.

Stray observations:

  • There is something inescapably 70s about Ali MacGraw, and she doesn’t even try to escape here. Also I think she might be a terrible actress. She’s definitely a terrible Natalie Jastrow.
  • The most affecting moment is FDR’s walk across the gangway to the Prince of Wales to accept Churchill’s invitation to church. Ralph Bellamy is generally excellent in the part.

Director: Dan Curtis
Rating: PGish
Length: 720 minutes
Score: 3/5