ABC’s series’s on Herman Wouk’s World War II novels


I do recall being somewhat “swept” by the two big ABC miniseries on Herman Wouk’s massive novel duet, “The Winds of War” (1983) and “War and Remembrance” (1988)., giving a complete chronicle of World War II.  I even recall the majestic D Minor opening theme by Bob Cobert, and the montage of images from around the world subsumed by the War.

The first series aired in 1983, while I lived in Dallas.  It ran for 15 hours and was divided into seven episodes.  The first episode was titled “The Winds Rise”, and the second was “The Storm Breaks”.  The final was “Into the Maelstrom”.  The hero is commander Victor Henry (“Pug”), played by Robert Mitchum. He learns of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and travels the world meeting world leaders. His middle son, the idealistic Byron (Jan Michael Vincent) works for a member of the Jastrow family that will always be fleeing the Nazis. The series ends with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the way the 2001 movie by that name begins.

The second series started in late 1988, which I could watch shortly after I had moved back to Arlington VA from Dallas, with a downsized lifestyle.  Mitchum continues as Pug, but Vincent is replaced by Hart Bochner.  For Aaron Jastrow, John Houseman was replaced by John Gielgud.  I remember the entire series being rebroadcast in the mid 1990s, around 1996, when I was living in a larger place in Annandale and working on my first book.  The mood of the series often inspired me.  I would sometimes watch an episode before going out on a weekend evening (like to “Tracks”).  The series is much longer, with twelve episodes.  As it progresses, the plight of the Jastrow family gets increasing emphasis. There is a long sequence in the “Paradise Ghetto”, Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia, where Aaron participates as an elder running the artificial “colony”.  But eventually, starting one chilly afternoon in late October, all are transported by train to Auschwitz. The journey takes longer that it should according to geography, and encounters early snow.  When the prisoners arrive, the scenes resemble those of the 2016 Academy Award winner “Son of Saul”. The women’s hair is cut (and the men’s bodies may have been shaved).  The next to last episode ends in a gas chamber.

The series also dramatizes the assassination attempt on Hitler.

Wouk’s earlier novel, “The Caine Mutiny” (Edward Dmytryk, Columbia), became a long-running film in 1954, at the RKO Keith’s in downtown Washington. I remember “hating” Lt Commender Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) who takes over command of a ship and is tried for mutiny (a touch of “Billy Budd”).

(Published Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 3:30 PM)

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