Originally airing in syndication more than 35 years ago (and based on the 1968 novel by Taylor Caldwell), Leo Penn & Larry Yust's Testimony of Two Men debuts on DVD courtesy of Acorn Media. Rarely shown since its original airing---and, in some cases, as a shortened two-hour version---this three-episode, six-hour production follows Drs. Martin Eaton (Steve Forrest) and Jonathan Ferrier (David Birney) through life, love and loss in and around post-Civil War Pennsylvania. Released when the American TV mini-series was still in its infancy, Testimony of Two Men is an ambitious yet flawed effort that may still find favor with die-hard fans of historical fiction. Unfortunately, I'm not a die-hard fan of historical fiction.
Caldwell's source novel clocks in at over 600 pages...and like many literary adaptations, this three-part production simultaneously feels too long and too short. Even with the potential benefits of a mini-series format, six hours just doesn't feel like enough time to maintain the weight of what's been presented here. Whether or not you've read the book, Testimony of Two Men flounders at several turns, piling up soapy revelations in unbearably rapid succession. Despite a few bright spots (story and performance-wise), the overall experience is tiresome; not due to length, but flat pacing. Since I've never seen the shortened two-hour version, which apparently aired several times during the 1990s, I can't really suggest that a more condensed approach would produce a better adaptation. A more entertaining movie? Perhaps.
I'll admit that a few of the performances stand out, including David Birney (as Dr. Ferrier), J.D. Cannon (as the villainous Kenton Campion) and others. Our diverse cast also features Ralph Bellamy, Joan Van Ark, William Shatner, Tom Bosley (who also narrates) and more, but "spot the familiar face" can't salvage the overall experience. Perhaps Testimony of Two Men felt exciting and different in 1977, but first-time viewers should proceed with extreme caution...and not just because of the main feature. Acorn Media's DVD release has its own share of weaknesses and a high price tag to boot. In all honesty, it's a package that will only appeal to those still clutching onto fading VHS copies taped several decades ago.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original TV-friendly 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Testimony of Two Men looks...well, not very impressive, even considering its age and budget. A pre-show disclaimer reminds us that this DVD release marks the mini-series' home video debut; restoration was apparently done but several minor elements (including a credits sequence) could not be located or digitally restored. Either way, there are plenty of nagging problems here, from an excessive amount of grain to periods of frequent interlacing. Colors vary quite a bit and often appear pink or washed-out. Image detail is lacking, dirt and debris can easily be spotted, black levels are inconsistent and shadow detail is almost entirely absent. Overall, this certainly isn't a strong effort, though many of the inherent problems may stem from the original source material.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is obviously thin and lacking in dynamic range, but at least it's more consistent in overall quality. Testimony of Two Men's dialogue is slightly muffled but still intelligible without regularly competing with the sparse background music, while only occasional amounts of hissing can be heard along the way. Luckily, optional English subtitles are included during the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the menu designs aren't very ambitious but they get the job done. This three-disc release arrives in a hinged keepcase with a matching slipcover and a promotional insert. It's Region 1 locked.
Nothing except for two original Promos
and a pair of Episode Recaps
. It would've been nice to hear from some of the surviving cast members, but Testimony of Two Men
is essentially a barebones release.
Though not without a few bright spots, Testimony of Two Men is a relatively flat effort that feels like every minute of its running time. Fans of the source material may get more out of it; though I definitely noticed a few fundamental flaws, the soapy subject matter and weak pacing hampered my enjoyment more than anything else. Acorn Media's three-disc release doesn't do it many favors either, pairing a lackluster A/V presentation with short promotional extras and an inflated sticker price. It's recommended (at least as a rental) for those who have already seen and enjoyed this mini-series, but most audiences under the age of 60 should be able to find much more compelling historical drama elsewhere. Skip It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.