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The Winds of War was, first, a novel by Herman Wouk, published in 1971. Wouk wrote the screenplay for the TV miniseries that aired in 1983 on ABC. I was in college, then, and didn’t have the time to devote to watching TV for multiple nights.
Given that I’ve been thinking about World War II and how it gets presented in modern media, I wanted to rectify that missed cultural experience. We watched the whole series recently using DVDs from Netflix.
Since we’re celebrating Independence Day this weekend in the US, I thought I’d sneak a mostly American story into the British Isles Friday stream. Of course, there are many ways that the American and British stories intersect prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor — so, I’ll highlight those.
The Winds of War focuses on Victor “Pug” Henry, a naval officer, and his wife and three adult children. Between them, they manage to go all over the world in the years preceding World War II — Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, and the Philippines. In the US, we see them in New York, Florida, and Hawaii. In Washington DC, several family members dine with the Roosevelts on one memorable evening.
Winston Churchill makes a couple of appearances in the London scenes, including one where he challenges Pug to engage in some daredevilry. Both men should have been old enough to know better, something that one of the female characters quickly points out.
That female character, Pamela Tudsbury, has a war job in England, but spends a fair amount of her screen time in the series fretting over the safety of Victor Henry, even though he’s married, and she’s engaged to an RAF pilot who has gone missing, presumed dead.
The Blitz provides a scary and destructive backdrop to the scenes set in London.
The cast list reads like a Who’s Who list of actors from the 1970s and 80s.
Robert Mitchum and Polly Bergen play the patriarch and matriarch of the family.
The British actress Victoria Tennant plays Pamela Tudsbury, the illicit love interest for Pug. Pug’s wife gets a story line about an illicit love interest, too — her beau is played by Peter Graves (Mission Impossible and Airplane!).
Heart-throb Jan-Michael Vincent plays the younger, more troubled and troublesome, son. His love interest is played by Ali MacGraw, who most will remember as the love interest in Love Story. Topol (Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof) plays a Polish Jew who is involved in the escapades of those two characters during Germany’s invasion of Poland.
Our favorite performance was by John Houseman who plays a Jewish author in Italy. Aaron Jastrow is disinclined to leave his lovely, quiet Italian villa to return to America, even after it becomes clear that Italy isn’t a safe place for him to be.
Do you remember the original showing of The Winds of War? Would you watch it again? I’ll admit that there were dated elements, but we did stay engaged through the whole series.
Several Hollywood-watching news outlets reported in August 2020 that Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy and American Dad) plans to do a remake of The Winds of War — including this article from Variety. MacFarlane has taken on several other projects since then, but most reports still mention The Winds of War in the list.
After watching The Winds of War, we were curious enough about the events to watch a documentary. The Road to World War II was originally broadcast on PBS in 1978 (according to this review on HistoryNet) as a mini-series. This 2-disk DVD set contains all seven hours.
The series was hosted by Eric Sevareid who occasionally uses his “I” voice since he covered some of the events as one of Murrow’s Boys. The documentary is less slick than we expect in modern shows but we kind of liked this nostalgic visit to documentaries from our younger years. We learned a lot about some lesser-known events between the two World Wars — including The First Salt Talks and the Italian-Ethiopian War.
There was also a through-line in this documentary about the role that American racism played in exacerbating hard feelings around the world. I was impressed because I associate that awareness with newer thinking about race from books like Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
This documentary, like the film, covers the many ways where American and British interests conflict or intersect as the world gets closer to war. We checked out this DVD set from our local library.