Rich Man, Poor Man-Book One: Chapters 1-12 (1976)

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Released 31-Mar-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category TV Series None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 560:14 (Case: 527)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Bill Bixby
David Greene
Boris Sagal

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Peter Strauss
Nick Nolte
Susan Blakely
Van Johnson
Norman Fell
Kay Lenz
Bill Bixby
Edward Asner
Ray Milland
Talia Shire
Dorothy McGuire
Robert Reed
William Smith
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual
RPI $49.95 Music Alex North

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, Mild social.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

A television event occurred in 1976, after which the medium has never been the same. That event was the broadcasting of the very first miniseries, the twelve part Rich Man, Poor Man. This ground-breaking twelve part event had millions world-wide glued to their tubes each week, totally engrossed in the continuing unfolding human drama. The success of the original series led to an almost immediate sequel with most of the original cast. At last the initial series, with the tag Book One, is available on DVD, and today's audiences have the chance to experience this towering saga for themselves.

Based on Irwin Shaw's (The Young Lions) best selling 1970 novel of the same name, the story begins in Port Phillip, New York, on VE night 1945, with fireworks lighting the sky in celebration of the end of World War II. We meet the Jordache family, immigrant Germans who run the local bakery. The father is Axel (Ed Asner) burly and gruff, and the mother Mary (Dorothy McGuire), her long-suffering feminine fragility concealing a more selfish core. Their two sons are in high school, the elder Rudy (Peter Strauss) and the younger Tom (Nick Nolte). Rudy is conservative and proper, the "good" son, while Tom is rebellious straining at the restraints of society. Rudy's high school sweetheart is Julie Prescott (Susan Blakely), a long-legged budding beauty full of wide-eyed longing for what life has to offer. These are the three characters on whom the screenplay focuses, and we follow them through the next twenty years of their lives, coming to our "end" in 1965.The great strength of the narrative of this excellent teleplay by Dean Riesner is that we never loose focus on these three central characters. The canvas is wide, from Port Phillip to Marseilles, and is populated by twenty or thirty interesting characters, but the focus is always on at least one of these three. It is a gripping and moving tale, and to divulge any of the plot developments would be to spoil anyone's initial pleasure of the series. Instead, let's look at just some of the characters who come into that trio's lives.

In Rudy's climb to the top we meet department store owner Duncan Alderwood (an excellent Ray Milland), and his daughter Virginia (Kim Darby), who is obsessed with the reluctant Rudy. Later, with Rudy venturing into politics, there is Marsh Goodwin (Van Johnson), his wife Irene (Dorothy Malone twenty years after The Tarnished Angels) and Sid Gossett (Murray Hamilton). Tom's expulsion from the family and his "fall" introduces us in Chapter 3 to Clothilde (Fionnula Flanagan), the servant of his garage owning uncle. This is a deeply moving section of the tale, with a superb performance by the Irish actress, complemented by Nolte who works beautifully with her. Later we follow Tom into marriage with the manipulating Teresa (Talia Shire) and a short boxing career, with trainer Smitty (Norman Fell) and opponent Joey Quales (George Maharis), who is indirectly responsible for Tom finding himself on the Mafia hit-list. Escaping as a merchant seaman Tom encounters the sinister Falconetti (William Smith) and finds a buddy in fellow seaman Roy Dwyer (Herb Jefferson Jr) and a cook for their charter business venture in Kate (Kay Lenz).

Julie and her mother Sue (Gloria Grahame) leave Port Phillip after Julie has been involved with wealthy older Teddy Boylan (Robert Reed), Julie having aspirations to be a Broadway actress. She meets and eventually marries would-be playwright Willie Abbott (Bill Bixby), impresses magazine publisher Asher Berg (Craig Stevens) with her photography and finds Rudy winding in and out of her life.

To give away any more of the plot would be to spoil a great tale. But it is not just the story here that impresses. The casting is impeccable, not only of the huge list of supporting players, only a few of whom have been mentioned above, but most especially of the principals. Milland, Asner, McGuire, in what is probably the best role of her later career, Johnson and Reed are outstandingly good. It is, however, the three major performances that give this series its enduring greatness. Three emerging talents, ages ranging from twenty-eight to, in Nolte's case, thirty-four were cast - too old for the teenagers and too young for the later, more mature chapters. This trio pull it off magnificently. Perhaps both Strauss and Nolte look a little mature to be high school students, but they act it perfectly, making us totally believe in them. Nolte dancing down the street almost bursts off the screen with teenage exuberance and energy. Then later, as the down but not out ex-boxer, his physicality is totally changed. No wonder this series made a major star of the actor. Likewise, Peter Strauss is excellent, his characterization growing as the tale unfolds. His last scenes are powerful and poignant.

Despite the undoubted excellence of the two young males, it is Susan Blakely as Julie who is the astonishment of this series. Moving from a lanky, moist-eyed teenager, through young adulthood, gaining assurance as a woman, into disillusioned maturity, seeking solace and reassurance from the bottle, this is a great performance, one which deservedly won her an Emmy.

Direction by David Greene and Boris Sagal is impeccable throughout, and the Technicolor photography by Russell L. Metty excellent. (If you think at times this feels like a Douglas Sirk movie the reason may be that Metty photographed Written on the Wind.) Also outstanding is the Art Direction by William N. Hiney, the costumes, cars, sets, and props all having the ring of authenticity, from the 78 spinning madly on a turntable in 1945 to the LP covers displayed in the department store in the 50s. Never do we feel that we are looking at a museum piece representation. It all looks real. Great care had also been taken with the period stock film inserts , all matching, or at least close to, the quality of the rest of the footage. Planes land, traffic fills the streets and there is even a coloured shot of 1950-51 Broadway with a marquee showing Ethel Merman starring in Call Me Madam! The music of each period is also nicely woven through the action on the screen, including Peter Strauss whistling Stardust in an early scene and then his trumpet-playing reprise late in the story. Added to this we have the excellent original score written by the great Alex North, who had fourteen Oscar nominations but no wins, finally getting an "honorary" award in 1986. That final shot of Dorothy McGuire, the image coupled with North's music, is unforgettable.

Above all Rich Man, Poor Man is fantastic entertainment. This is a great human story, dramatic and real, that touches the heart and stirs the emotions.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


The video transfer is very pleasing.

The transfer is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. There is no enhancement, of course.
The entire running time of over nine hours in extremely sharp and clear. Full face close-ups are frequently used and these are quite stunning in their clarity.
Shadow detail is extremely good, with the frequently darkly lit interior shots looking excellent.
There is no low level noise.
The Technicolor image is most attractive, with very little grain and a darker palette than seen in most of today's TV product. Skin tones are a little florid at times, but generally the colour is excellent. There is amazing consistency considering the size of the project.
The occasional stock film insert is not always up to the quality of the rest of the footage, generally exhibiting more grain.
The only film-to-video artefact noted was moderate aliasing throughout. This is not a major problem.
Film artefacts were limited to slight white flecking, not always present, and maybe two instances of negative damage. One such white "flash" occurs in Chapter 8 (41:13) - but don't blink or you'll miss it. Generally, the entire mini-series is in top-notch shape.
There are no subtitles.
The three discs are dual layer, with two chapters to each layer.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The audio is original mono, but of very good quality.
There is one audio track, English in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 224 Kbps.
The dialogue was always clear and easy to understand.
There is a not a crackle, pop or dropout.
Generally there was no problem with audio sync, but there were a few scenes where the post-dubbing or looping was obvious, in particular an early scene where Peter Strauss and Susan Blakely are in Robert Reed's car. This is however maybe three minutes out of a nine-and-a-half-hours of film, so hardly warrants mentioning.
Basically the mono soundtrack is in excellent shape, reproducing everything dramatically and dynamically. This is particularly true of Alex North's tremendous and varied score, superbly played and beautifully recorded.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


The only "extra" on each disc is the menu.


The Main Menu on each disc is presented with a collection of portraits of the characters, and an insert montage from those episodes. The main theme provides the audio.
There are two options : Play All Chapters or Select Chapters.
The Select Chapters option leads to a screen with a collage of stills, no sound, and the chapters on that disc listed.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

There is no current Region 1 release of this title.
Rich Man, Poor Man : Book One is available in Region 2, also in a three disc set. Oddly the cover states :"Chapters 1 - 11".)
Rich Man, Poor Man : Book Two is available in Region 2 as a six disc set.


Rich Man, Poor Man was the first television mini-series, and is still regarded by many as being unsurpassed. With production values rivalling a major feature, a superb trio of young stars, an excellent supporting cast and a great moving, human story, this will fill ten hours far too quickly. Buy it - you'll watch it more than once! More good news is that Umbrella have announced the August 30 release of Book Two!

Ratings (out of 5)


© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Monday, June 23, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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