Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Rich Man, Poor Man
Based on Irwin Shaw’s popular novel, Rich Man, Poor Man is the story of what we now refer to as a dysfunctional family. It portrays the life of the Jordache family during the period from the end of World War II to the late 1960’s. It is fascinating to watch for those who lived through those years as well as younger audiences who can experience a time before they were born. Axel Jordache (Ed Asner) is a harsh man, a German immigrant who runs a bakery with his discontented American-born wife Mary (Dorothy McGuire) and two sons, Rudy (Peter Strauss) and Tom (Nick Nolte). Rudy is the golden boy, and Tom the black sheep of the family, a dynamic that affects the feelings of the brothers toward each other and sets the stage for lifelong conflict. This is essentially the story of the two brothers whose lives disconnect as very young men. Rudy takes the path of higher education and successful business, while Tom is a wanderer trying to find his way in a hard world. The parallel, though very different, lives of the brothers eventually converge in later years with painful consequences.
After the great success of Rich Man, Poor Man, a sequel was planned immediately after. Nolte refused to appear because he felt the story should not be altered to create a sequel. He had the right idea, because the sequel was a poor follow-up to the original story. Its popularity did not come anywhere near that of the original. It is fun, however, to watch it as part of the DVD set just to see where it takes the story. The DVD set also features commentary in Book One, Chapter One by star Peter Strauss and TV historian David Bianculli which is quite interesting.
Although my experience in watching Rich Man, Poor Man again after 34 years was unexpectedly disappointing overall, that may be because in my memory it had grown to greater proportions than it was able to deliver now. It is not a bad show nor is it a great one. I guess it is just “smaller than I remember.”