Directors: Bill Bixby, David Greene, Boris Sagal
Cast: Peter Strauss, Nick Nolte, Susan Blakely, Edward Asner, Dorothy McGuire, Robert Reed, Gloria Grahame, Kim Darby, Bill Bixby, Talia Shire, Fionnula Flanagan, Tim McIntire, Ray Milland, Lawrence Pressman,
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: A&E Home Video
DVD Release Date: September 28, 2010
Online Availability: Amazon for $45.99
Before there was Roots, there was Rich Man, Poor Man. In the mid-70s. Featuring an all-star cast (at least by today’s standards, though many were unknowns at the time), the story centers around the Jordache brothers, two German immigrants portrayed by Nick Nolte and Peter Strauss. As the title suggests, Strauss plays the rich man, while Nolte plays the poor one. The supporting cast is brilliant, with many famous and up and coming actors within it. Those who took part in this miniseries include Ed Asner, Ray Milland, Talia Shire, Herbert Jefferson Jr., Gloria Grahame, Tim McIntire, Van Johnson, Kim Darby, Steve Allen, Dorothy Malone, William Smith, Robert Reed, Murray Hamilton, Norman Fell, Kay Lenz, Bill Bixby, Craig Stevens, Lynda Day George, Dennis Dugan, Lawrence Pressman and Andrew Duggan.
The original series aired for 12 weeks, once a week, in one hour chunks. This helped to keep the series fresh and audiences watching. Rich Man, Poor Man was highly successful. Of course, the miniseries is not without its faults. First, it is incredibly dated. It was made during the 70s, and set even earlier. Passing off 70s dos’ as 40s and 50s haircuts seems almost silly today, especially in this world where we love to criticize every little detail and potential anachronism that serve to mess with the authenticity of a miniseries of this sort. Further, as good as these actors are, Ed Asner’s accent is hit or miss, and some of these younger cast members are still wet behind the ears.
Of course, this does not overshadow what Nick Nolte and Peter Strauss are able to do with the material. These two actors are phenomenal in their roles. It is nice to remember that despite all the crazy things Nick Nolte has done at present, the man really was a talented actor (when he was acting). The miniseries is based on the novel by Irwin Shaw, and spans nearly two decades from 1945 to the late 60s. Honestly, most book to film adaptations seem to work best when they are done in miniseries. Less has to be cut from what makes the story so spectacular in the first place. A single film can squash the intention the author had when writing the book. It was Rich Man, Poor Man that mad this so apparent, and despite its dated content, this miniseries is still fun to watch today.
The success of the original Rich Man, Poor Man miniseries, a twelve chapter saga, led to Rich Man, Poor Man Book II, which aired throughout 1976 and 1977. This 22-episode sequel is also included in Rich Man, Poor Man The Complete Collection. These were innovative, shocking stories for their time, and though little of what is here will shock a modern audience, when putting it in the perspective of the 1970s debut of this miniseries, its easy to see the mark these series’ have made by airing when they did.
The Rich Man, Poor Man: The Complete Collection Overview
The first series begins in Port Philip, New York, on VE Night of 1945. Rudy Jordache (Peter Strauss) is celebrating by playing America the Beautiful, at the local bonfire. Tom Jordache (Nick Nolte), on the other hand, heads into the local movie theater, where he gets into a fight with a veteran. Tom and Rudy are brothers and are as different as night and day. This is, no doubt, a response to how they were raised by Axel Jordache (Edward Asner), their father who never showed much emotion. Axel suffered through WWI, and as a German immigrant, he works in a bakery, a tiny one he rents, saving every penny he makes. His wife, Mary (Dorothy McGuire), is disappointed he is not rich, and he has caused her to leave the church. Axel is not very fond of her either.
Julie Prescott (Susan Blakely) is a young, purely innocent woman, who is both going to school and working at the local veteran’s hospital. She is trying to shed her good girl image by having sex with her boyfriend, Rudy. However, he is not very good at it. She is nearly seduced into having sex with a serviceman, Arnold Simms (Mike Evans), and she learns how great sex can be with Teddy Boylan (Robert Reed), who owns a factory in town, and pays her for her services. He keeps her mum on the world he is introducing her to, and the money he paid her. Julie takes the cash and heads to NYC to try her luck as an actress. Rudy heads off to college, at Teddy’s urging. Tom is run out of Port Philip, as well because he burned down Teddy’s greenhouse. The three must be on their own, as they face a time of uncertainty between the end of WWII and the start of the Vietnam War.
Rudy finds success, becoming a rich, millionaire businessman, after he becomes associated with department store magnet Duncan Calderwood (Ray Milland). He is pointed in the direction of politics thanks to Marsh Goodwin (Van Johnson). Julie gets pregnant and has a baby with Willie Abbott (Bill Bixby), a writer who is a bit of a loser. Willie fools around on her, and isn’t much of a man. Julie eventually becomes a photojournalist, but also becomes hooked on the hooch. Tom attempts to get by, making a meager earning as a boxer. He marries Teresa Santoro (Talia Shire), which is not the best of ideas, buys a boat, and moves to the South of France. The three must also deal with a major problem in their somehow, intertwined lives, and that is Arthur Falconetti (William Smith). Falconetti is not only dangerous he is also a murderer and a rapist. Basically, he’s bad news.
In Book II, the story finds a way to continue from where the first miniseries left off. Rudy, still a Senator, has split from his wife, and is working in the business arena, again. Duncan passes on his electronics firm to Rudy, and he brings his nephew, Wesley (Gregg Henry) and stepson, Billy (James Carroll Jordan), in to live with him, forming a new family. They have lost their parents, and it is hard for Rudy to win them over to the idea of forming a “new” family. Rudy offers to hire Wes to work in the electronics plant, and while there, the young man falls in love with Ramona (Penny Peyses). Her father is the head of the union, Scotty (John Anderson). Billy wants nothing to do with Rudy, who he believes is responsible for his father’s death. He decides to forge his own business path by working at the Phil Greenberg (Sorrell Booke) run record label, Greenway Records.
Something devastating happens to Julie in relation to Vietnam, which affects the aforementioned story with Rudy and Billy. Rudy discovers something is amiss when it comes to the Tricorp company, which is run by Charles Estep (Peter Haskell), a shady billionaire. Rudy faces political challenges and personal challenges, including the threat of death at the hands of Estep and his family’s nemesis, Arthur Falconetti. Wes and Billy fight over Ramona, who is a virgin and this causes more problems in Rudy’s household. Eventually, Falconetti and Estep work together to take out the Jordache family, as the Jordache family works to take out them.
The Video for the episodes presented in Rich Man, Poor Man The Complete Collection face the test of time. This mini-series was filmed over 35 years ago. As expected, each episode is presented at a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This is standard, especially for something of this age. While the picture is clear enough to see, especially considering the age of the source material, it is not like other vintage films that are able to have a full restoration. Still, it is hard to dispute how well the quality of Rich Man, Poor Man has held up.
The audio quality, is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Sound. Again, I am not surprised because this is both an older feature and a television miniseries. The Book II case says the music that is in this set may differ from the audio that was featured when Rich Man, Poor Man aired on television. Considering I was not born until 1978, I cannot attest to how different this music is, since I was not even born then. The overall sound quality is passable. The dialogue is easy to hear, but the track is not dynamic. It lacks that oomph that makes audio tracks truly good.
A miniseries this great should be celebrated with a plethora of features. Unfortunately, like many other A&E releases, this does not offer much of anything. There is one audio commentary that features Peter Strauss, which is on the first episode. This commentary is moderated by David Bianculli, a television historian. That’s all that this set has, and while it is nice that Strauss took the time to do this commentary, it is not one of the bes I have heard before.
Though there are, essentially, no bonus features provided in this Rich Man, Poor Man The Complete Collection set, that should not matter. This is the epitome of the miniseries, paving the way for other, famous adaptations of books. Other book to miniseries adaptations, such as Roots and North and South owe their success to Rich Man, Poor Man. This is a great story, featuring a great cast. If you like any of the actors in this, enjoy a good miniseries, or you enjoy anything with a decent storyline, then you owe it to yourself to check this out. Rich Man, Poor Man The Complete Collection comes highly recommended.