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Winds of War

Paramount // Unrated // May 25, 2004
List Price: $79.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Shannon Nutt | posted June 5, 2004 | E-mail the Author

Once upon a time, the major networks used to invest a lot of time and money into multi-part movies for television. These were not mere two-parters, but long, epic adventures with big Hollywood budgets that spanned a week or more of television time each evening.

In the 1980's, nobody did the mini-series better than ABC. Their "Novels For Television" were grand affairs and gave us the likes of The Thorn Birds, North and South, and Amerika. But the grandest of all may have been The Winds of War, which many consider to be the best mini-series ever made for television.

Set in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor, The Winds of War follows the trials and tribulations of the fictional Henry family and chronicles the real-life events that led to America becoming a participant in World War II.

Here's a brief synopsis of what viewers will get to see in each of the seven episodes (Warning: Moderate spoilers ahead!):

Part 1 - "The Winds Rise"
In Part One, we are introduced to the Henry family, led by Naval Commander "Pug" Henry (Robert Mitchum) who finds himself and his wife (Polly Bergen) assigned to the American Embassy in Berlin as the episode opens. Meanwhile, one of his sons, Byron (Jan-Michael Vincent) takes up a job with Jewish historian Aaron Jastrow (John Houseman) and slowly starts to fall in love with his niece, Natalie (Ali MacGraw). As all this is happening, Adolf Hitler (Gunter Meisner) is preparing to launch his invasion of Poland…which happens shortly after Byron and Natalie have arrived there.

Part 2 - "The Storm Breaks"
Hitler has launched his invasion of Poland, and Byron and Natalie fight to find a way out of the country. Pug has a meeting with President Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy) back in Washington and is ordered to return to Berlin and report back what he can about Germany and the people living there. Having made their way back to the home of Aaron Jastrow, Byron and Natalie finally admit their feelings for one another.

Part 3 - "Cataclysm"
As 1939 closes out, Pug is called into separate secret meetings with both Mussolini (Enzo G. Castellari) and Hitler in an attempt to work out a peace conference between the two Axis powers and the United States. In May, 1940, Germany all but rolls over the French Army – leaving newly-elected British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Howard Lang) the decision of just how much of the British forces he wishes to risk in an attempt to save the complete takeover of France. Back in the States, Pug's son Warren (Ben Murphy) ties the knot, all while Byron is still trying to work out his relationship with Natalie.

Part 4 - "Defiance"
While Byron heads off to submarine duty in the Navy and Natalie returns to Italy in an attempt to get her uncle to leave the country, Pug gets sent to London by President Roosevelt. While there, he meets up with young Pamela Tudsbury (Victoria Tennant), the daughter of a British diplomat and an old acquaintance from his days in Berlin. Churchill asks Pug to join a British crew of pilots as they launch a daring late night bombing of Berlin.

Part 5 - "Of Love And War"
Pug has returned safely from the raid and is reunited with Pamela in London…only to find out that he has to return to Berlin. Byron and Natalie decide to get married, and Pug's wife ponders whether her marriage can continue much longer. President Roosevelt decides that the United States will aid Britain by "lending" it military equipment, while Hitler decides that his real enemy may lie to the east.

Part 6 - "The Changing Of The Guard"
Pug is asked by the President to escort British vessels safely to England, but runs into trouble when they meet up with a German U-Boat. Byron find out that Natalie is pregnant, but she's still having trouble getting her uncle and herself safely out of Italy. President Roosevelt assigns Pug to go to Russia, where he meets back up with Pamela. Meanwhile, the Henry siblings have found themselves stationed in beautiful Hawaii…Pearl Harbor, to be precise.

Part 7 - "Into The Maelstrom"
Still in Russia, Pug meets up with Stalin (Anatoly Chaguinian), visits the war front and admits to Pamela his true feelings about her. In Italy, Natalie and her uncle make one last ditch effort to leave before it is too late. Pug is assigned command of the U.S.S. California, stationed in Pearl Harbor – but the Japanese strike before he can take command. A few days after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, both Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. The die is now cast, and for the Henry family there is only one thing left to do…win the war.


The episodes are presented in their original full-frame format, and are showing their age quite a bit for a 1983 presentation. There is a lot of dirt and grain evident on the print, and the color seems to have faded just a bit over time. While owning the DVD versions of the episodes will certainly be an improvement over owning VHS copies, it's somewhat disappointing that Paramount didn't see fit to try and clean up the picture a bit more for this transfer.

The audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby, and holds up pretty well. The dialogue is clear, and without any evidence of "popping" or drop-outs that we often find on older material. The 2.0 Dolby track is the only audio available on these DVDs, although there is an English subtitle option for the hearing impaired.

This six-DVD set contains about 75-minutes worth of bonus material, which is divided up into four separate featurettes – all of which are located on Disc Four. All the featurettes are brand-new for this DVD release, and presented in the full-frame format with 2.0 Dolby audio.

Making The Winds of War is a 23-minute featurette that gives an overview of the mini-series. Included are new interviews with director/producer Dan Curtis, associate producers Barbara Steele and Branko Lustig, former president of ABC Brandon Stoddard, and cast members Ali MacGraw, Victoria Tennant, Polly Bergen and Peter Graves.

A Novel For Television also runs approximately 23 minutes and tells how ABC convinced writer Herman Wouk that making his book into a mini-series was a good idea. The featurette also includes premiere footage that ran on Entertainment Tonight, plus comments from Dan Curtis, Herman Wouk, Brandon Stoddard, Peter Graves, Victoria Tennant and Jeremy Kemp.

Cast And Characters is 14 minutes long and takes a look at how the main roles in the mini-series were cast. There's some interesting behind the scenes footage here, plus more new interview material from Dan Curtis, Ali MacGraw, Herman Wouk, Ben Murphy, Polly Bergen and Victoria Tennant.

Wrapping up the bonus material is On Location, a 17-minute featurette that chronicles the cast and crew shooting on location in Yugoslavia. There's plenty of on the set footage here, plus some neat film footage that shows Ali MacGraw out and about with the people of Yugoslavia during her non-working hours. Those contributing comments include Dan Curtis, Ali MacGraw, publicist James Butler, Barbara Steele, Branko Lustig and Victoria Tennant.


When The Winds Of War first aired on ABC, it was averaging a 54 share with about 80 million viewers per night, and after watching it again it's easy to see why it was so popular. With well-developed characters that you grow to care about and set against the riveting backdrop of World War II, this mini-series not only has held up over time, but it's still much better than most of what we see from the networks these days. Highly recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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