War and Remembrance
DIRECTOR: Dan Curtis
Robert Mitchum, Jane Seymour, Sir John Gielgud, Hart Bochner, Polly Bergen, Victoria Tennant, David Dukes, Michael Woods, Sharon Stone, Robert Morley, Barry Bostwick, Sami Frey, Topol, John Rhys-Davies, Ian McShane, Jeremy Kemp, Steven Berkoff, Ralph Bellamy, Robert Hardy, William Schallert, Bill Wallis, Peter Graves, E. G. Marshall, Hardy Krüger, Günther-Maria Halmer, Barry Morse, Sky Dumont, G. D. Spradlin, Wolfgang Preiss, Joachim Hansen, Rainer Penkert, Pat Hingle, Eddie Albert, Karl-Otto Alberty, Robert Stephens, Brian Blessed, William R. Moses, J. Kenneth Campbell, Mike Connors, Kenneth Colley, John Dehner, Larry Dobkin, Leo Gordon, Howard Duff, Richard Dysart, Walker Edmiston, Nina Foch, Earl Hindman, Leslie Hope, Milton Johns, Michael Wolf, Dieter Wagner, John Malcolm, Wolf Kähler,
Michael Madsen, Charles Napier, Derek Newark, Lee Patterson, Immy Schell,
Kin Shriner, Peter Vaughan, Geoffrey Whitehead
War and Remembrance, a television adaptation of the same-named 1978 novel by Herman Wouk and a follow-up to 1983’s The Winds of War, was an even more massive production, filmed from January 1986-September 1987, shot from a 1,492 page script containing 2,070 scenes picking up in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and continuing until shortly after the end of the war. There were 757 sets involved in the filming- 494 in Europe, including France, Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, West Germany, England, and Poland, and 263 in the United States, Hawaii, and Canada. 358 speaking parts were included in the script, 30,310 extras were employed in Europe and 11,410 in the United States. It was the first film production granted permission to film inside Auschwitz concentration camp. Scenes set in Russia were filmed in Montreal in temperatures reaching 40 degrees below zero. Pacific scenes were shot three miles off the coast of Hawaii. ABC Circle Films’ research department provided director Dan Curtis with books, magazines, newspaper clippings, and newsreels while Herman Wouk scripted his novel’s historical segments, including Hitler’s military conferences and the meetings of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. Dan Curtis and Herman Wouk insisted on a completely uncensored depiction of the Holocaust, resulting in undoubtedly the most graphic images ever shown on network television, and certainly some of the most graphic Holocaust imagery ever filmed period. The love stories continue where they left off, but there are some very strong sequences to balance them out- the unflinching portrayal of the Holocaust, the submarine campaigns of Byron Henry (now played by Hart Bochner), a lengthy, detailed depiction of the Battle of Midway, and significant focus on the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler (now played, with the fury of a mad dog, by Steven Berkoff). The result is in many ways better than The Winds of War- Pamela is still fairly unbelievably and pretty boringly head-over-heels for stiff old Pug, but the submarine scenes, the Battle of Midway, the assassination attempt on Hitler, and all of the scenes involving the Holocaust are very well-done.
One of the problems with War and Remembrance is that only about half of the original cast returned in their original roles, principally Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, Victoria Tennant, David Dukes, Topol, Jeremy Kemp, Peter Graves, Ralph Bellamy, Joachim Hansen, and Wolfgang Preiss. A few others switched roles, such as Rainer Penkert going from Admiral Raeder to Field Marshal von Manstein. Barry Morse and Sky Dumont, who appeared in The Winds of War as German banker Wolf Stoller and Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano, appear here as General Halder and Claus von Stauffenberg. Jane Seymour, with her aristocratic British manner, seems like a different but better character from Ali MacGraw, and Hart Bochner seems somewhat more mellow than Jan-Michael Vincent, but provides a worthy performance in his own right and eventually the audience grows accustomed to them. As Aaron, Sir John Gielgud is even better than John Houseman, more aristocratic yet also warmer and gentler. This is a fine performance by Gielgud, probably the best in the miniseries, and he deserved the Golden Globe he received for it. Sami Frey, Barry Bostwick, and Brian Blessed take over as Jewish rebel Avram Rabinowitz, Byron’s commander Lt. Aster, and Russian General Yevlenko, characters who appeared in The Winds of War but made little impression, and are more fully fleshed-out here. Blessed is exceptionallly fine, and as in The Winds of War, the Russian scenes are particularly well-done and pay tribute to the brutalized but ultimately triumphant Russian people. Robert Morley turns in a somewhat different characterization as Pamela’s father Alistair, but he has the same roly-poly jovial manner, and is not overly hard to get used to. Robert Hardy is slightly inferior to Howard Lang as Churchill, not seeming to imitate the distinctive voice quite as accurately, but both he and his predecessor have a couple of fun scenes chomping on their cigars and playing Churchill as both a stalwart wartime leader and a shrewd and manipulative politico. Al Ruscio also bears much less resemblance to Stalin than the original Anatoly Chaguinian, but he only appears very briefly and has no dialogue. Karl-Otto Alberty, credited only as “white-haired Gestapo official” in The Winds of War, has a slightly larger but equally sinister role here as Rudolf Haindl, one of the SS officers in charge of the Thereisenstadt Ghetto. By the way, Thereisenstadt itself is rather bizarrely fascinating- governed and run by Jews themselves, it boasted concerts, lectures, plays, and special facilities. Behind the facade, however, the prisoners were dying of starvation and disease, terrorized by sadistic guards such as Haindl, and the so-called “Paradise Ghetto” was only a propaganda showpiece orchestrated by Hitler and Goebbels to dispel rumors of Nazi atrocities, and War and Remembrance does an excellent job in showing the great effort the Nazis went to to keep up the charade, even as the Allies were closing in. War and Remembrance also has a broader scope, not focusing as strictly on either the Henrys or Hitler. Berel Jastrow and Armin von Roon have more character than in the previous installment, and a large cast of historical figures pop up throughout the miniseries, many only fleetingly, but a few receive a little more attention.
We pick up exactly where The Winds of War left off, with the battered Navy reorganizing at Pearl Harbor, Byron taking command of a submarine and Pug a battleship, and Natalie and Aaron trapped in Italy. Lonely and worried about Natalie, Byron engages in a few kisses and amorous glances with brother Warren’s wife Janice (Sharon Stone) but it never comes to anything and seems just thrown in there to keep the flames of love burning brightly. Fortunately, unlike some other characters, Byron does have other much more interesting scenes detailing his service onboard a submarine under gung-ho Lt. Aster (Barry Bostwick). The submarine scenes are very convincing and well-acted and provide some of the most genuinely exciting moments in the miniseries, and probably could have been a fine film all on their own. Pug and Rhoda are attempting to salvage their marriage, but a series of coincidental encounters with Pamela and her father (the delightfully prim Robert Morley) threatens to overwhelm their efforts. Rhoda, meanwhile, is continuing with non-committal involvements first with Palmer Kirby (Peter Graves) and then Colonel Hack Peters (Mike Connors). This is easily the most utterly irrelevant portion of the entire miniseries; Polly Bergen plays the character well enough but it is a shallow and obnoxious character and her scenes can easily be simply skipped over without missing anything of importance. Warren (now played fairly well by Michael Woods) is sailing alongside Pug as a fighter pilot, and in one of the most interesting subplots, Leslie Slote (David Dukes) is pressuring the State Department (predominantly represented by an oily Eddie Albert) both to resolve Natalie and Aaron’s problems in entering the United States, and to take more notice of reports of Nazi atrocities against Jews in occupied countries. Dukes gives a fine performance, as in the previous installment, and as we see the State Department’s inexcusable sluggishness and at times blatant reluctance to raise a finger to help Jewish refugees, his increasing frustration and desperation comes across quite convincingly. Pamela is tagging along behind her father as he broadcasts from war capitals around the world, from besieged Singapore to El Alamein, accompanied part of the way by an ex-flame, alcoholic womanizing British journalist Philip Rule (Ian McShane), another pointless character who seems to raise the question of a love triangle between he, Pamela, and Pug, but if this was ever a possibility it is never developed. As in The Winds of War, the action also switches on a fairly regular basis to Hitler’s often temperamental conferences with his apprehensive but somewhat ineffectual General Staff, with the fictional von Roon (Jeremy Kemp,one of the miniseries' standouts) again hanging on as silent observer, although von Roon becomes a little more involved this time. He is friendly with General Halder (Barry Morse, just as good as Werner Kreindl in The Winds of War) and Field Marshal Rommel (Hardy Krüger), and as this circle of apolitical military men grow increasingly disenchanted with their Führer, Kemp gives a low-key, subtle, but excellent portrayal of a conflicted soldier who is upset by his leader's madness but just never quite finds the extra ounce of moral courage to rouse himself into action.
Ralph Bellamy returns as President Roosevelt, and at first he seems too old; Bellamy is obviously rather elderly here, and his resemblance to FDR isn’t quite as good, but his scenes continue to be exceptionally well-done and Bellamy soon reassured me that he still “had it”, making FDR a savvy and charismatic figure. Particularly of note is a visit from his doctor when he grudgingly agrees to end his chain-smoking and then is lighting up before the door closes, and a much later scene where he remarks with a poignant, foreshadowing weariness, "a sea voyage doesn't make me snap back the way it used to." As in The Winds of War, the other historical character to receive the most attention besides President Roosevelt is Adolf Hitler, who is now played by British- and somewhat ironically Jewish- character actor Steven Berkoff. Berkoff is an improvement over the badly miscast Günter Meisner, but not by as wide a margin as one may have hoped, giving an undeniably, ahem, energetic performance and seeming to be having plenty of fun approaching the role with scenery-chewing abandon but not supplying much in the way of depth and remaining pretty one-dimensional the whole miniseries. Berkoff does better with all the Hitlerian gestures than the stiff Meisner, and looks a bit more like him too, but his performance is sometimes ridiculously over-the-top. Obviously given free rein by the filmmakers (Curtis reveals on a making of featurette included with the DVD that he actually encouraged Berkoff to overact) the actor mugs and screams and gestures with wild unrestraint whenever a scene centers on him, but in an odd duality, comes across much better when he is not the center of attention. A scene detailing a visit to Berchtesgaden by Claus von Stauffenberg (tensely played by Sky Dumont) who is planning to assassinate Hitler focuses on von Stauffenberg, with Hitler kept in the background. Berkoff appears to be toned down a notch, and the result is surprisingly convincing. A pity he could not have exercised the same modicum of restraint in his entire performance.
War and Remembrance was the only film production ever granted permission to film inside Auschwitz, and the filmmakers take good advantage of his special privilege, displaying the infamous concentration camp very prominently in the storyline. The filmmakers depict the processes of extermination and cremation in intricate detail, and be warned that these sequences are brutally honest and completely unflinching; we hear an SS officer explain that one furnace can burn two or three adults at a time, and four or five children, as casually as if he is boasting of how many cars his factory turns out in a day. Günther-Maria Halmer is excellent as its loyal, efficient, eager to please Kommandant Rudolf Höss- a man who comments on mass shootings in Russia, remarks that Auschwitz's execution methods are more humane and genuinely believes it- and Dieter Wagner reprises his role as Heinrich Himmler in a very long and disturbing sequence in which he tours the entire facility, culminating in a viewing of an entire gassing procedure, complete with full nudity. Both Halmer and Wagner, and all of the many extras used in this scene, play their parts very well, and it is all the more effective for the reason that the horrors are not exaggerated, and the Nazis are not stereotyped. Höss is not a bloodthirsty fanatic; he obviously does not enjoy his job,yet he is devoted to fulfilling it to the best of his ability out of unquestioning loyalty, and even the inscrutable Himmler seems briefly shocked when he ventures a peek through the window of the gas chamber door. As troubling as this scene is, with the close-up on Himmler’s eyes as he listens to the screams of the dying prisoners, it pales in comparison to a much later one in which the camera actually takes us into the gas chamber and shows us an entire gassing from inside. I am not someone who is necessarily easily moved by films, but this later scene is truly horrifying and afterwards I was literally numb. Don’t get me wrong, none of this, neither the full nudity or the graphic violence, is portrayed gratuitously. Quite the contrary; the filmmakers show us as much of the horror as any audience could take in a methodical, almost detached manner. Needless to say, this gut-wrenching subplot only makes the melodramatic love stories seem even more pointless than they already did, and this makes War and Remembrance one of the most mixed bags I have ever attempted to review...the peerlessly brilliant alongside the utterly mundane.
In The Winds of War, Pug was the central glue which held the story together, but here he is no longer the center of attention, and is often relegated to the background. This is just as well, since while Pug is not the most boring character (that honor must go to his wife), he's also not the most engaging. Here the backbone of the miniseries is the long, detailed journey of Natalie and Aaron, trapped in German-occupied Europe and struggling to escape before they are arrested as alien Jews by the Nazis. This is appropriately given the most serious attention, as their odyssey achieves the most truly epic scope, dramatic power, and consistent interest of any of the main storylines. Jane Seymour is good as Natalie, never hitting any of Ali MacGraw's weak points, but it is the late Sir John Gielgud who really shines here, especially when their ordeal leads the atheistic Aaron to discover a new sense of first acceptance, and then pride in his Jewish heritage. When he rises from his seat to sing traditional Jewish songs with a group of other endangered Jews, it is a triumphant moment in the midst of darkness, the Jewish spirit shining in the face of those who are determined to annihilate it. You have to actually watch the scene, as played by Gielgud it is genuinely beautiful and emotionally powerful. Also figuring prominently in this subplot is Scottish actor Bill Wallis, here playing fictional German Foreign Ministry official Dr. Werner Beck, who attempts to persuade Aaron to stay in Italy under his protection. While Beck is not as clear-cut a villain as Eichmann and the like, Wallis plays him with an oily, unsettling manner which implies that he may not be as benign as he seems. This subplot is closely matched by that of Berel Jastrow (Topol) and Sammy Mutterperl (John Rhys-Davies) who become forced laborers in Auschwitz and begin to plot an escape. Topol, thin and emaciated-looking, gives us a human face for the common Jewish civilian who was rounded up in the Nazis' mad drive to rid the world of Jews, and a portrait of a simple man who clings fixedly to his Jewish faith because it his only source of solace as he descends into his living hell. The more defiant Sammy is a particularly important character who stands for the Jews who resisted their fate instead of seeming to just accept it.
Besides Roosevelt and Hitler, the historical characters are mostly portrayed fairly briefly but the actors do what they can. Hardy Krüger makes the most of limited screentime, playing Erwin Rommel as a simple soldier disgusted by Hitler's treatment of the Jews and his military bungling. G.D. Spradlin is even better, bringing stoic authority to his portrayal of Admiral Spruance, especially during the long Battle of Midway sequence, blending archive footage with models and real planes and ships while the narrator explains each twist and turn of the battle. It is a tribute to the filmmakers that this very long scene does not become boring. Kenneth Colley is excellent in a small role as the chilly SS Colonel Blobel, who complains that he will never receive due credit for implementing the idea of searching Jewish corpses for valuables; watch the the scene between he and Rudolf Höss as Blobel switches from drinking buddy to subtly threatening rival and back again. William Schallert is adequate as Roosevelt’s devoted, smooth-talking advisor Harry Hopkins, although he looks and acts too healthy for the sickly Hopkins, who succumbed to a long illness only a few months after the war's end. The original Roy Poole had a more appropriately frail appearance. Richard Dysart is acceptable in his cameo as Truman, but E.G. Marshall is hard to take in his extended cameo as General Eisenhower. Aside from being physically wrong for the part- much too short and stocky- his acting seems pretty bland as well; the only part in which he made any impression on me was on D-Day when he learns that the 101st Airborne has achieved its objectives with fewer casualties than expected, and his voice briefly shakes with relief (although the fact that we never really see the paratroopers means it doesn't really hit home too much). Wolfgang Preiss reprises his role in a few scenes as one of Hitler's main sounding boards, the long-suffering General von Brauchitsch, as does Joachim Hansen as Hitler's top military lackey, General Jodl. Hansen and John Malcolm as Hitler's other chief military advisor, Field Marshal Keitel, are almost comically spineless as they fawn over Hitler at military conferences and especially in a scene on board Hitler's train where they bicker over who has to take an unpleasant report to the Führer, finally dumping the task on von Roon. Barry Morse is good as the less pliant General Halder, especially when his frustration over Hitler's obsession with Stalingrad leads to an explosive confrontation. Peter Vaughan has a couple of good scenes as General Kurt Zeitzler, whose urging to withdraw the Sixth Army from Stalingrad before it is too late goes unheeded. Michael Wolf is OK as Hermann Goering, but he comes a little too close to the fat buffoon Goering is too often caricatured as; I preferred Reinhard Kolldehoff in the first miniseries. Like Hitler and General Jodl, Goering had a darker, more sinister edge in The Winds of War and is more of a caricature here. Robert Stephens isn't very convincing as Rahm, the Kommandant of Thereisenstadt, partly because he seems to be speaking with an odd German accent and speaks with it so thickly that he is hard to understand, and partly because he is terribly hammy. With his silly exaggerated facial expressions and scenery-chewing, he almost makes Steven Berkoff look like a model of restraint. Pat Hingle, Rainer Penkert, Larry Dobkin, Walker Edmiston, and Geoffrey Whitehead have mediocre cameos as Admiral Halsey, Field Marshal von Manstein, Patton, MacArthur, and Albert Speer. Wolf Kähler has a cameo as a brutal SS officer, and Maximilian Schell’s sister Immy Schell appears briefly as Rudolf Höss’ wife. Worthy of special mention is Milton Johns as the infamous SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann, who makes a strong impression with his icy portrayal even with only a couple of scenes. Despite his small screen time, Johns is chillingly believable as a man fully capable of overseeing the deaths of millions. Along with The Winds of War, War and Remembrance gives a comprehensive overview of the war, although by necessity most events are not examined in extreme depth. The scenes of the Germans leading up to the disaster at Stalingrad are particularly well-done, even with the excessively hyper Berkoff, as are the scenes surrounding D-Day alternating between the reactions of Eisenhower, Rommel, Roosevelt, and the frustration of General von Roon as Hitler and top yes-men Jodl and Keitel practically ignore the invasion, quite nicely played by all around and one of Kemp's and Berkoff's best scenes. The assassination attempt on Hitler, prologued by the excitingly staged strafing of Rommel's car, is a very lengthy and detailed sequence, and both Sky Dumont as von Stauffenberg and Rupert Frazer as his faithful young aid and co-conspirator Werner von Haeften give tight, tense, believable performances. It is a genuine pity that Wouk and the filmmakers felt the need to pad down the war drama with so much extraneous soap opera, and that the entire miniseries is not up to the standards of these and other finely crafted scenes. As in The Winds of War, the production values are impressive, with only war-ravaged Berlin looking a little too much like a movie set. In addition to Auschwitz, scenes set at Hitler's mountrain retreat in Berchtesgaden were also filmed on location, lending an additional feel of authenticity. Changes from Herman Wouk's novel are minor; von Roon is more sympathetic to the conspiracy against Hitler, and the historical figures are featured more prominently.
Like The Winds of War, War and Remembrance is a mixed bag, but it is worth watching if for nothing else, then for the power and realism of the Holocaust sequences. In a sense, it is almost three separate miniseries- the love stories are largely melodramatic soap opera, the historical sequences range from fair to good, and the plight of the Jews is shown with unforgettable power. For these scenes, if for nothing else, it should be seen.