The Winds of War Dan Curtis

Now more than 20 years later, The Winds of War seems like a giant anomaly from the days of TV history past — a time when a network would finance and air nearly 18 hours of an ongoing mini-series on seven nights over a two-week span that would garner immense ratings and become the television event of the year. And that's while only telling half the story! In 1983, Herman Wouk's novel The Winds of War became the hottest property in Hollywood after the success of novel-to-television epics like Roots. It follows the Henry family: patriarch Pug (Robert Mitchum), who is the American naval attaché to Berlin when the action begins in the mid-'30s; his wife (Polly Bergen) and son (Jan-Michael Vincent) and their various paramours (Ali MacGraw, Victoria Tennant, Peter Graves). Pug Henry spends the period from the mid-'30s until Pearl Harbour (when this chapter ends) hobnobbing with world leaders (Hitler, FDR) and assisting in important policy decisions that help keep the U.S. out of the European war. Meanwhile, son Byron (Vincent) is desperate to get his new wife (MacGraw) and her father (John Houseman) out of Europe before they are arrested as Jewish refugees. As soapy as the bed-hopping political intrigue could have become, The Winds of War is very much a product of its time — high-minded, sophisticated, and more likely to include an endless discussion on fidelity than engaging in much titillating infidelity on-screen. Love must be the guiding force in any illicit behaviour, and thus a large segment of the middle of this epic tale is full of some gooey sentimentality and soft-headed patriotism. Perhaps The Winds of War suffers most from the unflinching portrayals of the period that have come since (Band of Brothers, etc.). What was surely an unheard of risk paid off at the time, in TV ratings, but its success on DVD will depend almost entirely on those who hold nostalgic memories of the show's original broadcast. To that end, Paramount has done a fair disservice — this is a crappy-ass DVD transfer, grainy, blurry and unworthy of its format. Featurettes, like the "making of" and the struggles to adapt the novel, focus primarily on the scale of the project — as if merely getting it done is accomplishment enough. Maybe in 1982 it was. (Paramount)