The Winds of War (1983– )
User ReviewsAdd a Review
Filled with many other recognizable faces from TV and films of the past, the cast keeps you interested even when the script doesn't. The script is reasonably well done, though, so that isn't much of a problem. Those interested in the vagaries of the international diplomacy leading up to the European theater of WWII will find much to chew on here. The performances are adequate for the most part, although the actors playing Hitler and Churchill are a bit over the top. At around 14 hours and 45 minutes, this is quite an undertaking, but I had always wanted to see it, and I watch anything with Mitchum in it at least once.
There is one factual error that has always puzzled me. In the conversation between Pug Henry and Bryon Henry just before dinner with the Roosevelts, Pug refers to the German battleship BISMARCK as if it were a pocket battleship. The BISMARCK was NOT a pocket battleship. In point of fact, it was the biggest battleship afloat at that time. Herman Wouk was an American naval officer in World War II. How did that error slip past him?
This is an epic TV miniseries. The cast is headed by the great Robert Mitchum. Some may dismiss Jan-Michael Vincent's acting skills and the elderly Ali MacGraw. Vicent was 80s hot and MacGraw still had her charms. The story covers most of the major historical aspects. It may be too convenient in sending its major characters to the various hot spots. However it's done very well for an 80s TV miniseries. That also includes the action considering it's pre-CGI. There are plenty of extras and the sets are big for TV. Overall, it's a vast sprawling epic hitting all the important points of history.
Ali MacGraw on the other hand plays Nathalie to the point, in fact her performance led me to buy the books and read the whole story through. I think it is a pity they did not let her play the part in the second series too.
Many reviewers pointed out many other casting problems but overall the series clinks to the book as best as they can and this is very relieving. I had to order the DVDs again, first I had a German version but it turned out that it was severely shortened it ran only 5 episodes instead of 7! They had most of Hitler and the German officers scenes edited out!! I watched it now in English only DVDs.
The casting of the actors is almost perfect. Robert Mitchum IS Pug Henry. The same goes for Jan-Michael Vincent. He IS Byron Henry. And on and on you can go down the line. The whole cast is absolutely fantastic, delivering some of the best performances these actors ever gave. Many actors have later agreed on this. The filming of this enormous production was nothing short of an adventure.
Winds of War is everything rolled in to one. Drama, suspense, angst, comedy, humor, terror, love, hope en all other things that makes life such a roller coaster ride. And everything is covered by the sweeping musical score which binds the story together and delivers a listening experience unparalleled in film land.
Mitchum and his family are our eyes and ears as things heat up overseas and in the White House. As a favorite of President Roosevelt, Victor "Pug" Henry gets to meet just about everyone of importance. I mean, he chats over breakfast with Roosevelt; he gets drunk with Stalin.
Throughout it all, he's a man of genuine principle and something of a bore. He only insults people twice -- once when someone suggests a double date with a woman not his wife, and another when a German bureaucrat offers him a bribe. Otherwise, he sits and listens, intently and politely, something Mitchum was very good at doing.
His wife, Rhoda, played by Polly Bergen, is a chatterbox and an airhead, easily impressed by pomp. She was the same character in Wouk's novel, which is at least as interesting as history as it is a story about characters.
However, like "War and Remembrance", it sprawls all over the place like a fly on the wall with hundreds of lenses in its eyes. The story follows Mitchum's extended family and certain political notables all over Europe. Some, like Churchill and Von Roon, are rendered well. Hitler is a made-up stereotype, a cartoonish figure who lacks the charisma he had in the novel. Poor Gunter Meisner, who is saddled with the role, has had make up turn him into Frankenstein's monster as if, without the hint, we wouldn't understand that he's a bad guy.
Wouk was a naval officer in World War II and served aboard several minesweepers in the Pacific theater. I love his "The Caine Mutiny" and re-read it every few years. It's focused on the character arc of one person, Willie Keith, and has practically no political overtones, although it has enough action and insight to satisfy whoever sits on the Pulitzer Prize committee.
Willie Keith's romance is neatly sketched in and parallels his development as a man. Here, the romance is all over the place, compounded with pregnancy and allegiances that form cross currents. Rhoda has an affair with a peregrinating scientist. Pug is attracted to a much younger woman. Ali McGraw once loved Sloat but now she loves Byron, and she's a Jew and he's some kind of high-church Protestant. Gosh. Will it all work out? Mitchum is fine as Captain Henry. He has little to do except sit there with no expression on his face while someone voices an opinion. Wouk had one problem, here and elsewhere, that he seems unable to overcome. He simply CANNOT get inside the heads of any enlisted men. I don't know what the author's background was. He sounds working class when he speaks, yet he's a graduate of Columbia. But he seems far more comfortable with the upper echelon. I speak to you as an ex radioman second class.
Whatever its flaws, it's an ambitious story and reflects an awesome amount of research, as well as some twisting of history for dramatic purposes.
There were some films in which Ali was very good. But those were her first films: Goodbye, Columbus and Love Story, for example. Did you know she won a Golden Globe award in the year of Love Story, as the "Most Promising Newcomer"? I just saw that on IMDb. A broken promise, IMHO.
I think the reason she is so bad in this series is that the script had major problems and the director was not resourceful enough to talk Ali through it. Major story developments of the first half of the film depend mainly on arbitrary, unmotivated and totally absurd choices made by Natalie Jastrow. For a single example: she would leave her dear uncle alone in Italy and go off to a Jewish wedding in Poland knowing that Hitler was about to attack? Perhaps a more skilled actress could have made us accept Natalie being just a flighty impulsive creature--a tragic flaw. Perhaps she inherited it from her uncle--but John Houseman at least made me believe that a scholar of history could be so dismissive of current events. But as enacted by Ali, all I saw was a willful haughty imbecile, making me wonder what Briney ever saw in her.
I also thought the "romance" in this series was disposable, or worse. The various triangles were boring, and unnecessarily time-consuming. The series was at its best when it kept close to actual historic events. It is, of course, completely improbable and nearly impossible that approximately six to eight of the characters should be on-hand for most of the noteworthy events in the pre-WW2 years, rubbing elbows with all of the major players.
If you think that Ali MacGraw is a terrific actress, then add two stars to my rating. If she makes you cringe (as I did), I still think the miniseries is worth watching. It is true that many cast members were playing characters at least fifteen years younger. I was willing to suspend my disbelief. Except about Ali. And there, it was not her age that troubled me.
In the meantime Mitchum is assigned as the naval liaison to the Berlin embassy where he sees and observes what is going on at the highest levels of government. He writes a report predicting the Hitler-Stalin pact which impresses one Franklin D. Roosevelt. They have history going back to the first World War when Mitchum was just a lieutenant. FDR himself asks for Mitchum to write him privately.
That part of history is absolutely the case. Roosevelt distrusted official diplomatic channels in the State Department and always relied on a variety of sources for information. Returning as FDR after his critical and popular success in Sunrise At Campobello is Ralph Bellamy. He's just as good here.
The history part one can read in all the books, but author Herman Wouk gave us soap opera as well. Mitchum is married to Polly Bergen and has three kids in descending order, Ben Murphy, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Lisa Eilbacher. All of them have their stories as well, mostly Vincent and his involvement and marriage to an older and Jewish woman Ali McGraw.
That's a good part of the story, McGraw meets up with Vincent in Italy where he's leading a Bohemian type life and she is visiting her scholarly uncle John Houseman. McGraw and Vincent marry and have a child. But time and circumstances leave McGraw, Houseman, and the baby behind enemy lines while Vincent activates his naval reserve status and goes to war. A big part of the plot is his efforts to get back to his new family.
Mitchum and Bergen are coming apart. Bergen had the best role in the series in my opinion. She was bored with her life and something of an airhead. She drifts into an affair with scientist Peter Graves. And Mitchum starts falling for Victoria Tennant, the daughter of a British diplomat.
According to Lee Server's insightful biography or Mitchum, the original thought was to cast Ed Asner in the lead because in the novel Pug Henry is given that name because he has a bulldog like appearance. But some box office was needed so Mitchum who I guess is closest to being bulldog like of classic Hollywood leading men was hired. He carried the role well of a man who thinks life might just be passing him by in the career he has chosen.
Wouk did his research well and the mini-series was just the format to present all the subtleties of his epic novel. The Henry family stories are nicely integrated into the real story of America going into World War II.
This is epic television of the best kind.
So many "fluff and stuff" scenes ... that drag on for what seems like hours.
Mitchum carries it. MacGraw, Graves, Bergen, and Vincent are horrible; when they hit the screen, the show slows to a crawl. Tennant and Dukes deliver respectable performances as do everyone of the "baddies".
The character portrayed by MacGraw ... nobody is that stupid.
And why introduce the second son ... maybe to create the suspense that eventually he'd play into the plot?
The ending is anticlimactic.
I'd like to see it remade.
It does not, however, have much in the way of special effects or the kind of spectacle that we're generally used to seeing in big war movies. We see the bombing of Warsaw, for example, by watching two characters sitting on a couch with some plaster falling from the ceiling while the sound track plays booming noises. Completely inadequate.
The worst weaknesses are in the acting. (I do wonder, though, whether maybe the bad acting had something to do with weaknesses in the script, as Wouk was not exactly a Shakespeare.) In any case, two of the main females, Ali McGraw and Polly Bergen, are immensely irritating. While McGraw is the chief love interest, she does not manage to make herself in the least bit attractive. In order to make her character appear spoiled and willful, McGraw makes far too much of a very annoying self-satisfied smirk and a way of flouncing around that made me want to scream "Stop!" Polly Bergen plays an older woman, wife of the protagonist, Robert Mitchum, who in the middle of very serious political situations is concerned only with the surface of things. She could have made the character someone you felt a little sorry for because of her shallowness, her pathetic failure to grasp the world around her, but in Bergen's characterization she becomes someone for whom I felt only anger and contempt. Mitchum has always had more screen presence than acting ability; in The Winds of War he makes very little use of what acting ability he does have, most of the time merely looking like Robert Mitchum. Jan-Michael Vincent, playing one of McGraw's love interests, seems only capable of looking handsome and occasionally raising an eyebrow as a mark of insubordination. John Houseman's elderly scholar speaks. like. THIS. pronouncing. each. word. SEPARATELY. and. EMPHASIZING. about. every. THIRD. word. in. a. MOST. annoying. WAY. The director thought that the right way to depict David Dukes as a career diplomat who might not be quite as manly as the big, brave soldiers around him was to have him carry a pipe absolutely every second of his life. All this bad acting seriously undercuts the tone of the film.
As long as I am listing annoyances, I must mention the music whenever the U.S. president is about to come on stage, or even when Mitchum picks up a letter from the president. The music is heavenly, prayerful, worshipful in an offputting, even disgusting way--not so very different, in fact, from the kind of musical accompaniment you might get in a North Korean propaganda film about Great Leader Kim Il Sung. Horrid moments.
All in all, the movie is worth watching because it includes so much historical background and for the variety of scenes. For me, though, the enjoyment came at a significant cost.
Top billing stars like Ali, just not believable or memorable. Mitchum, Houseman and the supporting cast such as Kemp and Topol (minor parts) performed exceptionally and made the movie. Characters like the Jewish businessman who rented his home to Pug...now that was acting...powerful. You look for those memorable moments in a movie that make you want to watch a second, third or more times. This one is a toss up for me and unfortunately not a first pick for as a "watch over".
Reference is made to a British RADAR technology with the incorrect abbreviation of "RDF". "RDF" stands for Radio Direction Finding and has nothing to do with RADAR. The correct term is "IFF" - Identification Friend or Foe, a RADAR technology that allows ground-base RADAR to distinguish between British aircraft and German ones through the use of a transceiver device in each Allied plane.
The technology is still in use today in civil aviation. Frankly I am a bit surprised this mistake was not caught by the many experts who worked on the script.
Both tell the story of two families (in Winds of War we have the Jastrows and the Henrys, in War and Peace we have the Bolkonskis and the Rostovs) and their friends swept up in the events just prior and during epic wars. The destinies and stories of the fictional members of those families are intertwined with those of historical figures. In each of the novels there is one character who gives a historical overview in long dissertive essays. In War and Peace there is the unflappable general Kutuzov. In War and Remembrance there is the stolid German soldier, Von Roon.
The problem of adapting both authors to the screen is one of scope and length. Do you remember Snoopy's epic adaptation of War and Peace with sock puppets in Charlie Brown? Well, Dan Curtis did a credible job of bringing Wouk's vision to the screen. He replaces Von Roon's larger post-war essays from the novel by the third-person narrator. Had he still been alive at the time I could see Curtis choosing Lorne Greene (the so-called "voice of doom" from those old WWII propaganda documentaries).
Aside from the endless redundancy of Nathalie and Aaron Jastrow's trying to get out of Europe and the equally repetitive and saccharine love story between Pug and Pamela, the story goes along pretty well.
The portrayal of Hitler has been widely criticized, but needs to be placed in the proper perspective. Hitler is seen through the eyes of the very aristocratic Prussian Von Roon. He would be perceived as a buffoon.
As far as historical narratives go, this production gives the next generation a good overall impression of why and how World War II came about. War and Remembrance was more problematic in that it relied a great deal on stock footage and footage purchased from other movies (in particular from Tora! Tora! Tora!) to show the big battles of World War II.
In fact, I am more impressed with the women in "Winds" than with the men. Polly Bergen is another one that I find myself losing patience with and wishing that her husband would kick her out of the house. Her character of Rhoda Henry, the mother of Byron and wife of her naval officer husband, is another unlikeable character. Rhoda is an unfaithful wife who is social conscious and a lush who revels in the moments of partying, and whines and complains when the attention is not on her. Polly Bergen plays the role so well that it is difficult not to think of her as being an unlikeable person as well.
Then there is Victoria Tennant. WOW! Every time I watch the DVD's of this movie I find myself fast forwarding to those scenes in which she appears, and then backing up to watch them again. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, in life or on the screen, and her character of Pamela Tudsbury is just as sweet, kind, soft and feminine as I imagine Victoria Tennant must be, as I hope she is. I do find it odd that she (Pamela) is attracted to a man as old and paunchy as Robert Mitchum's character, but hey, it's only a movie, and I just know that in real life Victoria would much prefer a man of younger years.
My last kudos go to Deborah Winters who plays the role of Janice Henry, the new bride of Warren Henry, the oldest son of Rhoda and "Pug" Henry, and brother of Byron. Deborah, as Janice Henry, is the perfect Navy wife. I get the feeling when watching her that she must surely have been married to a Navy aviator on Dec. 7, 1941. I spent twenty years in the Navy after going to sea in the Merchant Marine as a sixteen year old and am familiar with who is a good "Navy wife," and she plays the role convincingly, and she is so attractive in it that I am amazed that we didn't see much more of her subsequent to making this movie. I looked forward to seeing her in "Remembrance," but for some insane reason they replaced her with Sharon Stone and remade her character into a promiscuous character typical of the slutty roles that we are used to seeing Sharon in.
The movie is a perfect representation of those years preceding WWll. I grew up during that period, having been born in 1927, and remember sitting around the radio after supper through the thirties, with Mom and Dad talking about Hitler and the rumors of atrocities against the Jews, and wondering what it was all about. Watching this movie is like going back in time and reliving it all. If anyone has an opportunity to see it they should not pass it by. It is amazing.
Anyway, if you was a Jan Michael fan, this is a MUST SEE! He gets a lot of screen time (until the last 2 episodes), and his story with Ali McGraw is really the focus of the show.