The showy, intrigue-filled miniseries Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers was the other Big Event of the 1976-77 television season. Producer Ross Hunter rounded up an impressive array of old-time movie stars and hungry newcomers for this tale of greed and corruption in the banking biz, which originally aired over four consecutive nights on NBC in December 1976. The fact that Roots came along just a month later and stole its thunder shouldn't dissuade vintage boob tube fans from checking out this potboiler, newly resuscitated on a two-DVD set from CBS and Paramount.
Unlike Roots, a groundbreaking show whose stature has grown since the '70s, Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers was entirely a product of its own time. Novelist Arthur Hailey was a big deal in the '70s, selling bucketloads of pulpy page-turners like Airport, Hotel and Wheels. Hailey's throbbing stories of industrial movers and shakers were a good match with the flamboyant sensibilities of producer Ross Hunter (Imitation of Life; 1973's floppo musical Lost Horizon). Collaborating with longtime partner Jacques Mapes, Hunter makes this project as luxurious as a TV-scaled budget would allow with a diverse all-star cast, plush settings like private jets and executive boardrooms, and a dynamic opening credits theme by Henry Mancini. While it's luxe and so very '70s (dig those airplane wing-sized lapels!), bland direction and overdone performances make The Moneychangers a lot more typical than the "miniseries" label implies.
The Moneychangers not-so-realistically delves into all aspects of a huge bank's dealings, from the executive offices to the bank itself (located on the ground floor of a modern skyscraper in downtown L.A.) to the nearby slums and criminal elements in the surrounding city. For all its shenanigans, it overwhelmingly feels like an Irwin Allen '70s disaster movie without the disaster. Each episode unspools with the lead actors' faces superimposed over images of coins and currency. In order, we have:
For nighttime soap fans, Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers can get pretty interesting since the miniseries shares a lot of DNA with later efforts like Dallas, Dynasty and Knots Landing. The closest thing I can compare it to is the earnest first season of Dynasty, before they decided to camp it up. The Moneychangers also deals with a wide range of people at different levels in society, although it flounders way too often whenever it focuses on the slum residents. It might be Arthur Hailey's non-grasp on the way lower classes live, but these segments often come across like a bad, torpid blaxploitation flick of the period (including groan-inducing lines like "To hell with the blacks, the browns, the yellows - we want the greens - the money!"). The terrible acting isn't restricted to the minor players, either. Although Christopher Plummer unaccountably received an Emmy award for his role as Roscoe Heyward, his scenery-chewing performance ultimately doesn't stand up as one of his finer moments. Patrick O'Neal and Timothy Bottoms also contribute some godawful acting, although they're somewhat redeemed by underrated Susan Flannery and seductive Joan Collins. The series starts off campy and lots of fun, but it gets more burdened as it goes along by its lethal combination of hokey screenwriting and melodramatic acting.
Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers has been rebroadcast with various edits over the years. The Paramount/CBS DVD edition lists the miniseries' running time at approximately five hours and 20 minutes - shorter than the 6-1/2 hours listed at the Internet Movie Database, yet more complete than the truncated four-hour version broadcast on cable TV in the '70s and '80s.
CBS/Paramount's DVD edition of Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers arrives on DVD as a two-disc set housed in a standard-width, clear plastic keep case. While the package design doesn't really convey the ultra-'70s feel of the series, it may be eye-catching enough to draw in younger people unfamiliar with the original airings.
The fuzzy, pockmarked 4:3 picture on The Moneychanger looks as if it's been rolled around in gravel, then dipped in a vat of oil. The filmed elements haven't held up too well (some scenes are seen in a flurry of white specks), and the tight mastering job gives the picture less clarity and a lot more pixelization. A more cleaned-up presentation would have been preferred - but for hokum like this, the visuals are adequate.
The mono soundtrack has a few moments of distortion (particularly during the opening credits), and the compressed dynamics make the dialogue muffled and hissy. Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are also provided.
The plush 1976 miniseries Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers hasn't held up all that well, but I was happy to see CBS/Paramount dig it out of mothballs for a DVD release. The multi-part opus serves up campy, overheated drama and a contemporary, wealth-obsessed backdrop that prefigures Dallas, Dynasty and Knots Landing. Fans of those iconic shows will find this worth a look. Rent It.