Saturday, October 30, 2010

Queens Bench, Courtroom Seven

QB VII was not the first television miniseries—it appears THE BLUE KNIGHT, a four-hour telling of Joseph Wambaugh’s cop novel starring William Holden as Bumper Morgan, was—but it was the first under ABC’s NOVELS FOR TELEVISION banner and the most prestigious at the time. The six-and-a-half-hour QB VII, aired over two consecutive April nights in 1974, was nominated for thirteen Emmy Awards, winning six, and was so popular that it influenced the networks to adapt other highbrow literary works for the small screen, among them HOLOCAUST, ROOTS, and RICH MAN, POOR MAN.

Director Tom Gries (HELTER SKELTER) and screenwriter Edward Anhalt (BECKET) saw a juicy courtroom drama in Leon Uris’ 1970 semi-autobiographical novel about a libel trial between former Nazi concentration camp doctor Adam Kelno (Anthony Hopkins essaying the Polish physician) and Abraham Cady (Ben Gazzara), the journalist he accuses of smearing him in a novel. As had happened to Uris for a one-line mention in his 1960 novel EXODUS, Cady is sued in British court (Queen’s Bench Courtroom Seven, to be exact) for a throwaway line in his book that Kelno had conducted unethical experiments on prisoners in the concentration camps.

Anhalt squeezes Uris’ four-part structure into three. The first two follow the parallel lives of Cady and Kelno from the end of World War II until their meeting in QB VII in 1973. Part Three is the libel trial itself, which provides plenty of scenery-chewing opportunities for both Hopkins and Gazzara, as well as Robert Stephens and Anthony Quayle (who won an Emmy), who argue the case before Justice Gilroy (Jack Hawkins, already ravaged by the throat cancer that would kill him before QB VII aired and dubbed by Charles Gray).

With all the globe-trotting, movie stars in central roles, and chest-puffing score by Jerry Goldsmith providing glitz, what QB VII really boils down to is a simple conflict between two men that dredges up horrific memories many believe should stay buried. Almost unnoticed beneath the strong performances and literate teleplay is Gries’ direction, which tells the powerful story in a straightforward manner and never lets interest flag, despite the lengthy running time.

Also with Juliet Mills, Lee Remick, Leslie Caron, Dan O’Herlihy, John Gielgud, Anthony Andrews, Sam Jaffe, Kristoffer Tabori, Signe Hasso, Lana Wood, Julian Glover, Alan Napier, Robert Hutton, and Milo O’Shea. Mark Lenard narrates. Filmed in England, Belgium, Israel, and the U.S. Can you imagine a television network of today assembling a cast like this and traveling around the work to shoot an important literary work about the Holocaust?

No comments: