Sunday, 20 March 2016

358 Holocaust

First  viewed :  4  September  1978

A  bit  of  a  switch  in  tone  here  as  we  consider  the  first  US  mini-series  to  feature  here.  Holocaust  was   directed  by  Marvin  J  Chomsky, fresh  from  the  success  of  Roots  and  had  an  original  screenplay  by  Gerald  Green  though  he  later  novelised  it.

 It  centered  on  three  families,  the  Weiss's  , a  Jewish  family  headed  by  a  doctor  and  about  to  be  shredded , the  Helms's,  a  well to  do   German  family  connected  to  them  by  marriage  but  indifferent  to  their  fate  and  the  Dorfs, a  lower  middle  class  German  family  whose  fortunes  rise  with  the  Nazis . They  are  all  fictional  but  the  anti-hero  Erik  Dorf  ( Michael  Moriarty )  hob-nobs  with  historical  figures  such  as   Eichmann , Hoss  and  Himmler  as  he  becomes  an  important  cog  in  the  killing  machine.  The  series  begins  in  the  mid-thirties  with  the  Nazi  regime  slowly  turning  the  screw  on  the  German  Jewish  population   while  Dorf  an  unemployed  young  lawyer  with  a  fiercely  ambitious  wife  ( Deborah  Norton )  gets  taken  on  by  the  most  scary  Nazi  of  all  , Heydrich  ( David  Warner ).

The  series  had  an  impressive  cast. James  Woods  played  the  Weiss's  eldest  son  Karl  who  marries  Inga  Helms  ( Meryl  Streep  just  as  she  was  about  to  go  stellar ). Fritz  Weaver  played  the  Weiss  patriarch  Josef  while  Rosemary  Harris  played  his  wife  Berta  whose  refusal  to  believe  the  worst  costs  the  family  dear. Apart  from  Moriarty,  all  the  Nazis  are  played  by  top  British  actors  and  are  uniformly  excellent  as  well  as  historically  accurate   from  Warner  as  the  self-loathing  Heydrich,  to  Ian  Holm  as  the  absurdly  fastidious  Himmler, David  Daker  as  the  obscenely  efficient  Hoss  and  Tom  Bell  as  the slimy  Eichmann.

Taken  as  a  whole  it  was  pretty  gripping  with  the  star  performance  coming  from  Moriarty  in  a  startling  transformation  from  the  self-pitying  loser  at  the  beginning  to  a  dead-eyed  fanatic  who  comes  to  believe  his  own  euphemistic  justifications  for  the  slaughter. His  high  forehead, weak  chin  and  bloodless  voice  made  him  a  perfect  fit  for  the  sort  of  creep  who  rose  to  power  in  Hitler's   Germany. He  won  an  Emmy  for  it  and  continues   to  act  to  this  day  but, partly  through  drink, never  quite  hit  the  heights  in  his  subsequent  career.

There  were  weaknesses  though. I  never  quite  believed  in  Joseph  Bottoms  as  the  youngest   Weiss   son  Rudi  who  becomes  a  partisan  wandering  around  Europe  at  will   and  his  presence  at  both  the  Babi  Yar  massacre  and  the  Sobibor  breakout  seemed  a  contrivance. His  romance  with  a  young  Czech  Jew ( Tovah  Feldshuh )  was  both  incredible  and  inappropriate. While  Streep's  acting  was  top  notch   it  was  hard  to  have  much  sympathy  for  her  character   particularly  after  a  nonsensical  plot  line  where  she  engineers  being  placed  in  the  same  prison  camp  as  Karl. Another  Brit  who  did  well  was  Tony  Haygarth  as  the  low-ranking  Nazi  who  exploits  her  situation  but  his  eventual  fate  was  left  undisclosed . It  also  seemed  very  rushed  at  the  end  with  Germany's  collapse  seemingly  happening  overnight.          

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