A&E | 1976-77 | 1637 mins. | NR
I think it’s safe to say that network television doesn’t make mini-series like Rich Man, Poor Man anymore. Book 1, aired on ABC in one-hour episodes at 10:00pm ET/PT on Monday night for twelve weeks, Book II aired from September 1976 through March 1977. Today, probably only a paid channel like HBO would undertake such a massive project. Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte play the dissimilar Jordache brothers, Tom (Nolte) and Rudy (Strauss), whose relationship sets in motion novelist Irwin Shaw’s sweeping story that comes to incorporate numerous other characters.
To understand the historical importance of Rich Man, Poor Man, consider this: the series averaged more than 40 percent of the viewing audience during its time slot. Further, it changed how television executives thought about programming and opened the floodgates for future mini-series, including Roots, Holocaust, Shogun and The Winds of War.
Port Phillip, New York on the eve of the Allies victory over Germany in May 1945: The Jordache brothers celebrate victory in dramatically different ways. Kind, ambitious Rudy blows America the Beautiful on his horn for the reverent teens at the local bonfire, while younger brother/trouble-maker Tom sits atop the football field goal post, sneering, “How corny can you get?” before he sneaks into a movie theatre and starts a vicious fight with a veteran.
The series extends until 1965. We watch as the brothers leave the home ruled with an iron hand by their father (Edward Asner), and begin adulthood. Rudy goes to college and becomes a successful businessman (Rich Man), while Tom, pursues a tougher road through life (Poor Man). Julie Prescott (Susan Blakely) is Rudy´s initial love interest and, over the course of the series, drifts away from him and then back. Her exploits as well as others, were considered “racy” at the time, but would seem tame even on daytime network TV today.
If you’re like me and love to watch anything with old time stars, Rich Man, Poor Man is a manna from heaven. Most of them appear in cameos; here’s a list of some of the names: Dorothy McGuire, Robert Reed, Gloria Grahame, Steve Allen, Kim Darby, Bill Bixby (also a director on the show), Ray Milland, Norman Fell, Dorothy Malone, Herbert Jefferson Jr., Van Johnson, Dick Sargent, Talia Shire, Sorrell Booke and Dick Butkus. (Butkus was on almost everything in the 1970’s).
While younger viewers may find this series tame, Rich Man, Poor Man netted twenty Emmy nominations, helped make Nick Nolte a star and remains tremendously popular today. A&E has released Rich Man, Poor Man and Book II as a 9-disc set. While both mini-series are enjoyable, they are very different. Rich Man, Poor Man boasts several impressive performances and a solid story born out of World War II. Book II has none of that, mire of a sudser, it’s fun junk television. Enjoy!
The episodes are presented in their 1.33:1 full screen broadcast ratios. The progressive transfers are mediocre, with significant combing and a generally soft image throughout. Many scenes look slightly washed out and the color palette is rather pale overall. The transfers are certainly good enough that viewers will enjoy them, but there was clearly no restoration done to these 30+ year old episodes.
The episodes are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. The dialogue is clearly mixed, but the music (Alex North´s Emmy-winning score) sounds tinny and dull at times.
The discs for Book II are accompanied with the warning “Music may differ from televised version” which I assume wouldn´t be included if it was just a matter of “may” differ. I couldn´t find out what the differences were though.
The only thing we get is a commentary track on the first episode by star Peter Strauss and TV historian David Bianculli. It’s rather rambling and not particularly interesting.
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