Review: Rich Man, Poor Man Complete Collection DVD

A&E | DIRECTOR: David Greene, Boris Sagal, others | CAST: Peter Strauss, Nick Nolte, Susan Blakely, Gregg Henry, James Carroll Jordan, Susan Sullivan, William Smith
RELEASE DATE: 9/28/10 | PRICE: DVD $79.95
BONUSES: commentary
SPECS: NR | 28 hrs. | Television miniseries | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1; DTS Surround Sound | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Rich Man, Poor Man was the TV mini-series of the 1970s, the one that started it all.

A sprawling, 12-hour-long television “event” produced in 1976 and based on Irwin Shaw’s 1970 bestseller, Rich Man, Poor Man follows the lives of the German immigrant Jordache brothers: the educated, ambitious Rudy (Peter Strauss) and the rebellious, angry Tom (Nick Nolte). Spanning some 20 years up to the late 1960s, the mini-series is filled with lots of supporting characters engaging in all manner of romance, triumph, tragedy and all that other stuff you’ve been seeing in mini-series since this one debuted.

And Rich Man Poor Man has a much livelier pace than you’d expect for a series of its breed and vintage, even by today’s hyper standards. That it ushered in a new era of long-form television entertainment goes without saying; without the success of Rich Man Poor Man, there probably wouldn’t have been a Roots or a Shogun or a whole lot of Herman Wouk (The Winds of War) and Larry McMurty (Lonesome Dove) adaptations.

The dawn of mini-series also ushered in the era of aging Hollywood actors getting respectable showcases for their talents on the small screen. In the case of Rich Man Poor Man, such stars as Gloria Grahame, Van Johnson, Dorothy Malone, Ray Milland and Dorothy Maguire appear in solid supporting roles. They’re balanced by a bunch of familiar TV faces of the era (Lynda Day George, Robert Reed, Ed Asner), some rock-solid character actors (Norman Fell, Murray Hamilton), the occasional anomaly (Dick Butkus?) and one of the nastiest villains in TV history: Falconetti, a hard-hitting merchant marine brought to bad-ass life by William Smith.

As for Rich Man, Poor Man Book 2, the inevitable follow-up that was produced less than a year later, all 22 episodes of that series are also included in this nine-disc set. An overlong tale primarily occupied with Rudy’s corporate, political and personal maneuverings, it pales in comparison to its predecessor in terms of story and performance. The saving graces are Strauss, a young Susan Sullivan as his lawyer/love interest and a cocky Gregg Henry as Nick Nolte’s grown-up son. In other words, stick to Book 1.

The primary special feature is a commentary track on Book 1’s first installment by TV historian David Bianculli and star Strauss, who announces that this is the first time he has watched the series in more than 30 years.

And judging by his incredulous reaction to some of his own line readings, we don’t think he’s lying.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.