Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Andrew Stevens takes to the battlefield in John Jakes' "The Rebels"

In our March 15 post, we told you about a pre-"Dallas" Andrew Stevens taking his star turn in the TV adaptation of the first novel in John Jakes Bicentennial series, "The Bastard." Well, BRBTV is blissfully making our way through all eight books of Jakes' fine series, along with the TV versions of the first three books, and we just plowed through the second of each, "The Rebels."

Reprising his role as Philip Kent, Stevens is gentle and distinguished in this 1979 small-screen version of the 1975 book. He does say "aye" a lot, which is annoying, but we can forgive him for that. He spends almost the entire story on the battlefield, fighting for his brand-new country. He's wiser than he was in the first movie, and at turns heartbroken and excited as prescribed by the writers of this screenplay. He has no problem in the role.

The disturbing thing, however, is that while the miniseries of Jakes' first book follows the printed page faithfully, this second TV adaptation takes the author's masterful plot and essentially tosses it out the window. Ugh. Missing in this mangling are a few key characters, along with too many events and twists to list here. Big among them is a different outcome for Philip's new wife Anne: We're not spoiling the miniseries by telling you she dies in childbirth early on. If you read the book, however, you'll be far more horrified at what Jakes does with her.

Plus, whereas the book presents the stories of the two leading men in a parallel but separate fashion until the very end of its 533 pages -- Philip Kent and the Virginia plantation son Judson Fletcher -- in the movie the two meet right away and remain fast friends (something like Jakes' "North and South" series portrayed the friendship of its own two leading men, we note). But this really spoils the fact that Jakes so handily pulls off the technique of making you wonder what the heck these guys have in common (or will have in common) until the very end of the book when he gracefully connects their lives. Still, though the miniseries disappoints anyone who has read the book, one redeeming fact is that both book and miniseries end up at the same place, so at least things are set up nicely and consistently for the third book.

We have to admit that after reading "The Rebels," we were very anxious to see who portrays Judson Fletcher in the miniseries. Judson steals the novel away from Philip, we feel, with his drinking, self-loathing, obnoxious-but-determined-to-do-better characterization. We couldn't get enough of the guy. So when we saw a pre-"Miami Vice" Don Johnson in the role, we were at least glad to see he played Judson's sober moments appropriately stern and self-assured. His character is smart and a bit arrogant despite his failings, and Johnson communicated that, though the direction the character was taken in just -- again -- so deviated from the book.

This second miniseries serves up the other classic TV stars, though not to the degree of the first. Tom Bosley of "Happy Days" returns as Benjamin Franklin. William Daniels, voice of K.I.T.T. in the original "Knight Rider," gets to show his face again as John Adams. And we were rather captivated by "Mission: Impossible"'s Peter Graves' portrayal of George Washington. We have never seen him look so much like his big bro James Arness (one of the hottest. Actors. EVER!!!!!!). He's tall and commanding, with such a similar voice and facial features below his powdery wig.

Country music star Tanya Tucker steps in as a frontierswoman who reluctantly takes in an ailing Philip. She's predictably atrocious, only redeemed a touch by the fact that she gets to sing a few lines from "Amazing Grace." And when her obligatorially sexy character throws herself at to Philip, you see how this poor girl was typecast, being the Lindsay Lohan of her generation and all. This character, which doesn't exist in the book, was clearly thrown in to amp up the sex quotient. Geesh.

All in all, if you take this TV miniseries, produced at a time when miniseries were far more valued than they are now, of course, independently of the book, then you'll be thoroughly entertained. Especially if you enjoy these classic TV stars (Anne Francis, Doug McClure, Kim Cattrall, Macdonald Carey also appear). And if you're curious, you can read BRB's review of the book on Amazon.

Coming up in a few days ... a look at the third movie, "The Seekers" ...

1 comment:

RosieP said...

Neither the novel or the miniseries is appealing to me.