[box cover]


Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

Starring Ben Gazzara, Anthony Hopkins, Lee Remick,
and Leslie Caron

Written by Edward Anhalt,
from the novel by Leon Uris

Directed by Tom Gries

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Review by D. K. Holm                    

Thank God for the fast-forward button. With a work such as QB VII, which is a five-hour TV mini-series, you can eliminate about 40-plus minutes of undue padding. Here's an example of the kind of material the viewer is likely to wish elided: a jetliner landing, and Ben Gazzara debarking, and then walking to a car, and then a cut to the car stopping at an apartment building and then Gazzara getting out of the car and walking into the building and taking the elevator and walking down a hallway and then knocking on a door — and so on until the actual substance of the scene begins proper. All of this footage can be seen in QB VII, and it takes up precious time in the life of both viewer and reviewer.

In fact, most of the scenes that often follow these bloated preludes of walking, driving, and door-knocking could have been cut, too. Based on Leon Uris's novel from 1970, this mini-series, broadcast on ABC over two nights in April of 1974, concerns the libel action taken by Polish Roman Catholic doctor Adam Kelno (Anthony Hopkins) against Jewish novelist Abe Cady (Gazzara), whose book The Holocaust makes a one-sentence passing reference to Kelno as the practitioner of particularly cruel medical experiments in the (fictional) German concentration camp of Jadwiga, imposed in occupied Poland. The events portrayed in Uris's novel are based loosely on an actual lawsuit brought against Uris in connection with his novel Exodus by a Dr. Wladislaw Dehring, over a similar reference to Dehring's wartime record in a Nazi camp.

In the mini-series, the life of Kelno is chronicled first, followed by the life of Cady, bringing each character up the present, when the trial takes place. Kelno goes from wartime refugee to successful evader of extradition back to Poland after the war, then to tireless helper of Kuwait Bedouins with his wife (Leslie Caron), then to knighted doctor helping the indigent in the East End of London. Cady, meanwhile, goes from injured flyer in WWII to barbed-tongued novelist married to the nurse (Juliet Mills) he met in the hospital, to successful screenwriter in Hollywood where he drinks too much and argues with his dad (Joseph Wiseman) and long-suffering wife, to his regeneration as a writer and as a man under the loving gaze of American aristocrat Lady Margaret Alexander Weidman (Lee Remick) and by the renewal of his faith after the death of his father in Israel. Cady goes from self-hating Jew to celebrator of the Jewish spirit, which culminates in his best-selling novel about Israel.

Almost all of these backstory scenes about Kelno and Cady could have been cut. All we are really interested in is the trial, anyway, and details about the participants' lives leading up to the trial were easily inserted into the witness examinations as it is. The trial is, of course, the raison d'etre of the piece, but we are also suppose to appreciate on a thematic level the parallels and contrasts between the lives of the two men — both involved in the war, both with one male child who adores them, both given to righteous anger, but one of them a committed family man and the other a lost soul until he finds a good cause. Yet there's also the psychological question as to why Kelmo sued Cady. Eventually, this motivation is explained, sort of, but because there is little doubt in the viewer's mind that Kelmo is indeed a war criminal, the psychological dimension is greater than the political, which is obvious. Like a modern Oscar Wilde, the man courted further infamy by initiating a case that could only serve to expose him (in the novel it is explained that Kelno developed a form of amnesia about his wartime activities).

In contrast to the rest of the film, the trial sequence is quite good at times, if only because of the superb acting of Robert Stephens as Kelno's representative, and Anthony Quayle as Cady's. Their questions and comments are well written. Except for some repetitious longeurs, the pace is much better in this half of the mini-series, the only bizarre aspect being the fact the Jack Hawkins (as the judge) had throat cancer, and his voice is very obviously dubbed (by actor Charles Gray).

*          *          *

QB VII (the title refers to the location of the trial, Queen's Bench number seven) launched the miniseries format on network television, and we are all of course deeply grateful for that. The film bears all the usual markings of the format, including a large, odd cast that also contains Milo O'Shea, an underused John Gielgud, and Judy Carne in a blink-and-you'll-miss-her cameo. Wiseman does his patented parody of a Yiddish theater father. Gazzara is playing an unpleasant person and doesn't inspire attention, while Hopkins indulges in his screen-time hogging pauses, unexpected line deliveries, and strange, fluttering, distracted gestures.

The mini-series was probably released on DVD (in May 2001) in the wake of Hannibal because of Hopkins' (time-consuming) performance. But in fact, the piece has some contemporary relevance, as it comes after the much-publicized libel suit brought by historian David Irving against American Holocaust specialist Deborah Lipstadt, who mentioned Irving in one of her books as a Holocaust denier, which Irving says damaged his ability to make a living. One rather doubts that there will be a mini-series on that trial, though there are two books about it, and more coming. Unfortunately, QB VII pads out dull characters at the expense of exploring ideas, which the film could have done in great detail, given the running time the filmmakers had at their disposal. Instead of exploring equally important ideas, the filmmakers chose to insert yet more exciting shots of cabs pulling up to buildings and people walking down long hallways. Director Tom Gries is something of a cult among buffs of neglected films thanks to his western Will Penny, but much of QB VII is terribly edited and staged.

This two-disc set from Columbia TriStar comes with an adequate, if rather pallid, transfer of the full-frame image. The audio, in Dolby Digital mono, is uneven, and at times atrocious, especially in the trial sequences, where the sound shreds at the higher registers. The soundtrack also comes in French, and there are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, with close captioning. Supplements consist of the "bonus" trailers for other "art" films, talent files, and production notes.

— D. K. Holm

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© 2001, The DVD Journal