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War and Remembrance (1988)
Great transfer from the book to TV
Sequels are always looked upon with mistrust. Too often when something good and successful gets prolonged it turned out that the producer just wanted to milk a worthy cow dry. In this case we can easily say that this follow-up to "The Winds of War" is as good as the book is following its predecessor. (And I read both books.)
Many but not all of the original cast repeated their roles. Most notable changes are the switch of Natalie Jastrow/Henry from Ali MacGraw to Jane Seymour and for Byron Henry played by Jan-Michael Vincent to Hart Bochner. While MacGraw and Vincent were arguably not the best choice in the first place, they both have strong personalities and this fits perfectly to the respective characters they played. In replacing them with Seymour and Bochner both lack the necessary headstrong appearance and consequently both performances seemed to be toned down.
The other replacements are John Gielgud for John Houseman as Aaron Jastrow, somehow an improvement I must say, Gielgud plays the author more convincingly. The inimitable Robert Morley replaced Michael Logan as Alistair Tudsbury and is perfectly cast in that role.
Another improvement is Steven Berkoff as Hitler. Berkoff is especially good and scary when he gets in one of Hitler's notorious fits! In The Winds of War" the German dubbed version shown on TV in German speaking counties and on the DVD for that market had Hitler almost completely eliminated because Günter Meissner made him appear like a cartoon character. These cuts and some others are quite obvious and so severe that this version of "The Winds of War" consists of only five instead of seven episodes! I suppose that the TV station who payed for the dubbing eliminated some of the anti-German scenes in order to make the series more acceptable to the German audience. When I realized this I bought the original DVDs to see the whole thing.
Sharon Stone came in to take over the role of Janice Henry but the role doesn't offer much for her.
Most actors who stayed on from The Winds of War" are great to see again and have been well chosen in the first place. Robert Mitchum does his best considering him being much too old for the role. But he has the right dignity and that makes him convincing. Except for his scenes with Victoria Tennant, who is great by the way, but one asks himself how she could fall in love with such an old and unromantic chap like Mitchum.
But for one there would definitely be no good replacement imaginable, and that is Polly Bergen as Rhoda! She is perfect in the role, fits very good as Mitchum's good-natured but silly wife and is also convincing when unfaithful. You can feel how much she is torn between her role of wife, mother and lover.
Overall WAR continues perfectly where WOW ended and as the story gets grimmer so does the series. Even compared with what is possible to show on TV nowadays the visual brutality and shocking images of the concentration camps is sometimes unbearable. How daring must theses scenes have been in the 80s? More than once I asked myself, how did they film this? I felt pity with the actors and extras for being in such gruesome scenes!
One of the most surprising things about both WOW and WAR is that every now and then familiar faces pop up but they all fit well into the story rather than distract you. Today many international TV productions are squeezing actors of different nationalities into one show to please the involved production companies. The result is almost always disaster. Mainly because US actors play Brits while Germans play Austrians and British actors do French roles and so on. Everything looks and sounds fake and that is exactly what it is. In WOW and in WAR Germans play Germans, Americans play Americans and British play British subjects, only now and than one might have to make an amendment (think of Jeremy Kemp as Von Roon), but most of the time the actors know whom they are to portray.
Of course many of the special effects in the battle scenes cannot deny their age, scenes involving ships and submarines do fare worse the aviation stuff. But the blending with obvious original material works very well and gives the whole series the necessary factual background.
Definitely worth watching!!!
Stahlnetz: Der fünfte Mann (1966)
At this point the distance between the shows is more and more increasing, it seems that there was not much interest anymore to prolong the series. Wolfgang Menge did not like to continue to write the stories since he complained that he did not like the glorifying of the police as such. Critical tones are definitely rare and often more jokes then seriously meant. But the extra time between the individual productions did them good, the last episodes belong definitely the best. They changed the way the stories are told like here where the focus is far more on the criminal on the run then on the police on his heels. In fact, the leading police officer at the end of this show is completely forgotten. Hellmut Lange in his third and last appearance in the show gives a brilliant performance as a tough and demanding police officer, but the real star is the Austrian actor Werner Pochath, who plays a very scary baby-face-type bank robber and killer.
Stahlnetz: Strandkorb 421 (1963)
Strandkorb 421" features the only undercover police officer in the whole series. Hellmut Lange, police officer in the very first episode returns to the series as an individual who's identity is not known till the very end. Kurt Jaggberg and a bunch of other regulars of the show are playing the officially investigating policemen. The majority of the action takes place on Norderney, a small island living mainly on tourism. This episode also has the by far longest pre-title sequence! In fact, one forgets completely that the usual Stahlnetz title card and music did not come up. But then, about 15 minutes into the show! there it is. Somehow weird! The story is quite engaging and definitely one of the best of the series. Hellmut Lange plays a kind of gentleman with a dubious past and there are many jokes about policemen trying to not be discovered as policemen.
Stahlnetz: Rehe (1964)
So far the toughest entry in the series, "Rehe" deals with the case of a kidnapped child. From the very beginning we know the kidnapper and the story follows him on the lookout for a child. He is a hardboiled guy who only needs the child to get money and he doesn't care who's child he takes. Even when things go wrong he is cold-blooded enough to go on. There are many heartbreaking and desperate moments.
The actor who plays the kidnapper is superb. Heinz Engelmann gives his usual commissioner no matter which name he carries today, but with less edge towards his colleagues and more empathy since the victim is a child. Very much straight foreword and definitely one of the best examples of Stahlnetz".
Stahlnetz: Spur 211 (1962)
Interesting, but too long
Episode Spur 211" had by far the longest running time in the series and had been broadcast in two parts. Heinz Engelmann once again investigates the crime or rather crimes, because it takes some false starts and there are a lot of loose ends in the first part of this episode till the connection between some cases become known and the story picks up. Until then a lot of unnecessary detailed scenes of misleading clues and interrogations, obviously inserted to justify a two-part showing have to be endured.
The only relief is the rather funny sidekick of the commissioner, who not only resembles Helmut Qualtinger but also talks like him. The second half suddenly focuses a lot on flashbacks since the criminals are known but it takes a confession to proof it. Hannelore Elstner in one of her earliest appearances is very convincing as a naive young girl dragged into a criminal partnership by her being born into a family of thieves and robbers.
An night to remember
In der Nacht auf Dienstag features Heinz Engelmann again as a tough but human high commissioner who has to find the connection of many different small and medium size offenses of one single night in order to find the murderer of a young woman. We get the feeling that hundreds of policemen are out each night to keep the country quiet.
Beside the regular quip about salary (What can you steal from a retired police officer? Nothing!) there is a funny scene with a secretary who complains about policemen not lifting their hat in front of a corpse. Another recurring theme are the unusual work hours of policemen but also pokes fun of officers who take it easy or can type only with two fingers and so on.
Although this episode runs only 73 minutes it appears to be much longer thanks to the tight packed storyline and the fast editing.
Stahlnetz: Saison (1961)
So far all episodes had a Northern Germany setting, in big or medium size cities. Now here is a case that takes place in a village in the mountains specialized on skiing. A literally little country policeman finds a body of a young woman and it turns out that only a few people, all living in the house, where the body was found, could have committed the murder. The story is clever, well balanced and paced and as a surprise it is not the investigators from the next city but the hen pecked country cop who outwits his colleagues at the end and finds out who did it.
The are no well known actors but Grit Boettcher, but well known voices due to the fact that many actors earned some extra money by doing dubbing work for foreign films. One thing no "Stahlnetz" episode can do without is the constant mentioning of the meager payments for policemen and the humble equipment they have to work with (in comparison to what movies tell you). Here it is the funny little police car that the country cop drives.
Stahlnetz: E 605 (1960)
Good insights why even successful crime does not work
The title of this episode is quite misleading, no case of poisoning or environmental pollution is the subject but a bank robbery and eventually a murder. Unusually long compared with all former episodes this one runs over 90 minutes and sometimes it drags on and you wonder why the did not stick to the 60 minutes as before. On the other hand there are many good insights into the minds of criminals after a successful heist and the mistrust that starts to creep up between them.
The case starts with telling us most of what is going on showing us the two main villains although spares one for later suspense. Heinz Engelmann again gives his Kommissar all the dignity and little ticks he needs to give him our sympathy. The criminals are as tough as today but you don't see all the violence that takes place. And it contains a well done chase sequence.
Stahlnetz: Verbrannte Spuren (1960)
Eddi Aren't pops up
One of the highlights in watching this old series is the surprises that pop up now and then. Mostly in the form of actors, either long forgotten ones or on the brink to fame. In this episode we have Eddi Aren't just before his breakthrough as comic relief in the Edgar Wallace series at the movies.
Here at Stahlnetz" he plays a police sergeant, something he would also do in some of his many Edgar Wallace outings. Only that his performance in Verbrannte Spuren" is a straight one, or at least as straight as Eddi could play it. He was definitely best when he could make fun of his character and he is doing a bit of it here already. Not that humor was absent from the series, but this is the first time an actor deliberately brings fun into his role and therefore counteracts the seriousness of the actual crime case attitude the show has. This will happen again in later shows.
On this episode forensic is the big star since we have got a burned barn with a corpse no one misses. While the big bonus of the series has been the realistic settings and actions here we feel as if this episode has been written not by life but by a screenwriter without any help of real events.
Enter Heinz Engelmann! He played a police officer in seven episodes, more then any other actor in the series. Confusingly he always played different characters, never the same. Although, beside the name there was not much difference in the way he played them. But he is most remembered because of his voice. He was a regular in the dubbing studios and he lend his voice to stars like John Wayne and William Holden. With his voice he gives the series an American touch. Another actor who already played a police detective in an earlier episode can here be seen as a sidekick to Engelmann.
This episode is better made than the last ones with quite a lot of action and off-leading trails. At one point I almost forgot what the original crime was that started the investigation.
Although WWII seems to be taboo at least we hear an interesting fact mentioned. When one police officer pities Engelmann for having another murder case on his hands in only one week, he answers that this is not as bad as things were after the war in 1945 and 1946, where there used to be one or two murders a day! I never heard this anywhere else.