Kane & Abel (1985)

Credit my mother for “Kane & Abel.”  Okay, not the miniseries, not even the book upon which it’s based.  But, we can credit her with my love of Jeffrey Archer novels.  The infamous British convict/MP wrote a series of books in the 70s and 80s that may not been as popular as those written by Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon, the acmes of male trash novel writers, but he was a saga writer extraordinaire.  My mother has always had discerning reading taste and I’m thrilled that she turned me onto Jeffrey Archer as a child instead of, say, Judith Krantz (Robbins and Sheldon were must-reads).  When the miniseries of “Kane & Abel” was aired in 1985, it was probably the most excited I had ever been for a miniseries because I had actually read the book.  I remember that excitement all these years later.  Unfortunately, Jeffrey Archer’s output yielded precious little in the way of miniseries, whereas we couldn’t get rid of Judith Krantz for over a decade!  But thanks Mom, for the recommendations.  She was all over “Schindler’s List” and “Sophie’s Choice” from the moment they hit stores, so this is a lady who knows her stuff.


There was that Margaret Truman Daniels phase…

Anyway, rewatching “Kane & Abel” is somewhat disappointing.  It’s lacking any claw-like sense of humor, mainly because the two leads are such dour actors, but the miniseries is almost too faithful to the book, which is actually Archer’s fault.  Always more concerned with stories that favored financial deals, revenge and such, he lacks sex.  Sheldon and Robbins had sex a-plenty, and though it’s the lowest way to grip one’s attention, five hours without it can seem like an awfully long time.  There is only so much meat in watching two aging men battle over finances.  An hour chopped out of the proceedings wouldn’t hurt the story, but would help the pacing, which has a tendency to turn glacial when it could be a lot merrier and even a little campy.

Since this is a saga, the logical place to start is the beginning of the 20th Century, where many a saga begins.  “Kane & Abel” starts in Poland in 1901.  A young boy is walking through the forest when he hears blood-curdling screams, only to come upon a woman giving birth…right there up against a tree.  I’m not sure where the kid learned to figure out how a person is dead, but he pulls up one of her eyelids to be sure while a live baby wails.

Halfway around the world on the same day in Boston, another woman is giving birth, but she’s in a clean hospital, tended to by doctors and nurses.

The Polish baby is taken home to his finder’s family while the Boston baby goes home to a life of luxury, the Kane family, and a guaranteed spot at a top-notch private school.  Unfortunately for the Polish baby, it’s discovered that he has only one nipple, which causes Polish Papa to vent that’s “the child was given to its mother by a man with bad luck.”  Those of you who want to get all Biblical can question why the baby not born to the Kane family is the one with the disfiguring mark, but on your own time.

Both boys are baptized, the Boston baby in an opulent church in Boston and the Polish baby by the grace of Baron Christopher Cazenove, who looks rather upset to hear the baby, called “as ugly as a cabbage” by his adopted father, when he hears the baby has only one nipples.  Only minutes in, we can start putting pieces together.

Fast forward ten years.  Not you, the movie.  The Boston baby has grown into an educated son of wealthy Harry Groener, but the Polish baby is living in poverty.  However, since he’s so smart, Baron Christopher wants to take him home to his castle to help his dimwit son.  The boy refuses to go without his adopted sister, and Baron Christopher is willing to take her on as part of the kitchen staff.

So, the Polish kid ends up paired with a rather haughty Baron-in-training, walking through the castle looking at deceased relatives and deciding that “one day we will fight for Poland” (that’s not a good thing, since the Polish army was way beyond its winning days by then), while the Boston kid chimes in with the equation for figuring out how much a cargo boat weighs during one of his father’s banking meetings.  He’s so smart that when he comes down with measles, he wants a second opinion.  Dangnabit, those pesky measles mean that the Boston kid cannot sail home with his father, who is going on the most luxurious boat ever to sail the water.  Do you need to take a guess which boat that would be?  Second decade of the Twentieth Century, big, fast, unsinkable boat?  Okay, fine, it’s the Titanic.  “I don’t expect they’d let you steer the Titanic on its maiden voyage anyway,” Harry jokes with his son, who probably would have done a better job than Captain Smith and company.  A rather undue burden is put on the son when the ship goes down, as his mother asks him to be strong for her sake.  He’s only 10 years old (11 in a few days)!  He may be obnoxiously precocious, but he’s still just 10!

Baron Christopher spends meals with boys drilling them in history, though only the adopted kid can answer the questions.  The Baron thinks that if the coming war everyone is talking about happens, he knows Poland will be “a battlefield, but this time, God willing, we will emerge from it an independent country once again,” by fighting on the Russian side.  Tsar Nicholas II has promised Polish freedom if they help, but the adopted boy wonders aloud if the Tsar will keep his promise and Baron Christopher laughs.  History will prove that neither Baron Christopher nor Tsar Nicholas will have long to laugh.

World War I is on, but in Boston, it’s all just talk because the Americans are a long way from entering it.  Harry has been dead for a few years, and it’s about time the Kane matron, Lisa Banes, met a new man, David Dukes (who gets a lot further with Lisa than he does in 400 hours of the Wouk miniseries).  “He’s the most eligible bachelor to come to Boston in years,” a common friend tells them with introductions.

Poland, of course, is very much in the war.  In fact, Baron Christopher is so worried that he’s sending the boys off to safety, but they are taken by German soldiers and smacked by the butts of their guns.  Baron-no-longer-in-training is killed by the blow.  The adoptee has to tell Baron Christopher and his sister what happened, the only voice of reason telling them, with the best Polish accent in the movie, “we will survive.  We will survive!”

As soon as Lisa falls in love with David, the problems start.  He’s off to England to fight the war and her pissy little son resents his mere presence.

By some very strange magic, it’s still World War I, but the Polish adoptee has grown up completely to become Peter Strauss, playing yet another variation of “Rich Man, Poor Man.”  It’s not his fault that he enters the movie right as Baron Christopher, now in a big beard, is dying and croaking out a will leaving everything to his son, whom we knew was Peter all the way back from the nipple incident.  You can’t compete with that sort of ham acting.  “No!  No!” is about all Peter can do, with an accent, no less.  Once Baron Christopher breathes his last, Peter, playing a teenager, but very wrinkled, is now in charge of the cadre of Polish survivors in the basement of the mansion.  The Germans allow him to bury Baron Christopher, with the sound of bombs going off around them.  The end is near for them.

Just as surprising is the growth spurt in Boston, where our second hero has become Sam Neill, innocently playing ice hockey without a care in the world.  Oh, and even though he’s only a “teenager,” he gives financial advice to people that makes them rich and lends out his math notes.  “I’m sick, can’t you see I’m sick,” he tells his friend when asked why he’s not at his mother’s wedding (we’re still at the hockey rink).  Apparently David is now a war hero, but Sam doesn’t like him.  The moment his mother put him in charge of the family, her happiness with another man was doomed by her overly smart son.

“We will not die here!  That I promise you,” Peter tells his fellow captives, his wig barely fitting his head, as the Germans ride out of the castle, the Russians right behind them in chase.  The Russians are not ideal new captors because their revolution causes them to hate aristocrats and technically Peter is now a Count.  When the Russians try to rape Peter’s sister, he rushes them, but gets knocked out.  Since the two of them are unconscious, the Russians leave them and take everyone else as prisoners.  Since Peter has yet to experience any happiness in life, it makes sense that his sister dies right here.  The Russians hustle the Polish prisoners off to Siberia, and one of Peter’s fellow prisoners notices the silver bracelet he wears, the only thing Count Christopher had to give up upon death.  On the train, while everyone sleeps, the other prisoner attempts to strangle Peter with what looks like dental floss in order to get the bracelet.  Not only does the Russian guard with a gun do nothing, but none of Peter’s compatriots do either.  What is this, professional wrestling?  A fight ensues and Peter is forced to kill the man, stabbing him while everyone gapes.  As the guard finally raises his gun to shoot Peter, the latter comes up with this brilliant line: “Maybe you should ask your superiors how many slaves you are allowed to lose in one night.”  It may sound stupid, but hell, it works!  Remember that the next time someone has a gun pointed at you.

All is well in America.  Sam and his pal Reed Birney have to deal with Reed’s father, who owns a large bank in New York City.  Reed is something of a playboy, but Sam has his head on straight.  He has a long-term plan to merge the Birney bank with his father’s, to create “the biggest bank on the East Coast.”  “That’s quite a dream.  I hope you achieve it…I can’t think of anything that would please me more,” Reed’s father says.  Yes, we get it.  Both of our heroes are fatherless, always searching for a father figure.

It’s now 1921 and Peter is trudging across ice in Siberia, real ice, not the kind Sam plays hockey on.  Any prisoner who falls on the ice gets shot.  That’s hardly fair, considering they all have their arms tied behind their backs and bad shoes.  Also, there is a mean man in charge of them, spewing such morale-boosters as “anyone else want to die?  Do it now.  You will all die anyway.”  He has his eyes on Peter, whom he tells “you’ll be next” before knocking him to the ice.  What human misery has Peter NOT suffered?

Sam is still worried about David.  His lawyer tells him that David has no claim to any of his money, but he does have access to Mom’s $500K, which is about to come in handy as David has some scheme going that Sam doesn’t like.  Up against Peter’s life, this seems petty, but it also seems that David is cheating on his mother, who is pregnant.  When David professes his love to Lisa, she answers back, “do you?” since she’s just read an anonymous letter discussing his infidelity.  He’s smooth, pretending he doesn’t care about “anything but us,” including those papers she’s signed giving him the cash.  He suggests opening a bottle of wine and relaxing.  Sure, given the pregnant gal some vino!  Before they even get there, his mistress calls, which doesn’t thrill Lisa.

Peter is down to his natural hair now and looking very handsome, if still way too old.  He’s planned a big escape, but his partner is too afraid, so Peter has to do it alone (while maintaining an accent).  His friend gives him a coat with money and a map sewn inside that will get him to Turkey.  Peter tries to pay with his bracelet, but his friend notes, “I have no need for emblems of royalty here.”  Can I use this moment to pause and ask how the hell Peter still has the trinket?  After all he’s been through, living in a concentration camp, he still has a shiny silver bracelet?  If the Russians hadn’t taken it from him, wouldn’t a fellow prisoner have done it while he slept?  Does this not strike anyone else as odd?  The escape involves a kitchen truck, hiding under trains and generally avoiding all Russians with guns.  He manages to get on a train leaving Siberia, but he doesn’t have a ticket.  He’s also Polish on a train full of Russians, but this is a miniseries, so naturally everyone speaks Slavic-sounding English.  He meets a woman on the train who helps him out of the scrape.  Why does she help him?  “I had a nephew who was studying in the priesthood.  He died in one of the camps,” so she sympathizes with the lonely Polish ragamuffin.

Before you can say transfer in Moscow to Odessa and then to freedom, Peter is in Constantinople fondling an orange, but finds his Russia money is worthless in Turkey.  So, he simply steals the orange and runs.  About 12 merchants run after him, leaving their stalls open.  Couldn’t they now be robbed worse?  Another one of those details apparently only I notice.  The punishment for stealing is getting a hand chopped off by a big fat man in a fez.  Peter’s arm (the one with the bracelet) is tied to the chopping block, but a diplomat saves him and takes him to the Polish embassy.  The ambassador wants to send him to America, for reasons he doesn’t really explain, though Peter wants to go back to Poland and fight.  For what?  “Funny thing about us Poles.  Over the centuries, the barbarians tried to destroy us, but we know where home is,” the ambassador says, out of nowhere.  Peter vows to return to Poland someday, in that earnest way Peter Strauss does so well, and we know he means it.

In the boring plot, Sam, trying his best to maintain a Boston accent, has managed to make sure David can’t enter into the business deal that would have milked his mother dry, though he’s not yet 21 and has no direct control over any money.  He may look 40, but he’s not 21 yet.  His father’s business partner Richard Anderson is surprised at how well Sam can maneuver.  Lisa has done some checking up on her husband too, hiring a private detective to prove David is having an affair.  Lisa suffers an “episode” in the detective’s office and is rushed to the hospital.  The doctor’s face says it all: Lisa is dead.  “They’ve been trying to reach your stepfather, do you know where he is?” the doctor asks.  When David comes home, Sam is standing in the hallway with the grim news.  Sam is so angry he starts to strangle David, but he’s stopped by Reed.  Sam decrees that David leave the house and never come back.  If he does, Sam will investigate his business dealings.  That leaves David no choice but to hit the road.  “I’ll get even with you, little rich boy.  You just keep waiting and watching and see if I don’t,” David spits on the way out.  Sam doesn’t react well, threatening to kill him if he even tries.  Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of David.

On the boat to America, Peter can’t help but notice the pretty ladies crammed into third class with him.  His mate tells him to go after her, that there are five days left on the voyage and he intends to get himself some babes.  “What can you do with five women?” Peter asks.  Yup, he’s a virgin.  Well, to be fair, he hasn’t had time for women, what with being born in the forest, adopted by a Baron, hidden by Germans and then Russians.  Apparently, he bores the poor woman with his tales of woe and then won’t dance with her, either because he doesn’t know how or “because you’re a Baron,” she taunts.  He claims he made it all up to impress her, but she knows he’s royalty.  How?  “Because I’m a little bit afraid of you.”  I’m not sure I follow, but let’s play along and see where this goes.  Peter  is so innocent he doesn’t even understand when she’s making a play for him, but a kiss sends them to one of the covered lifeboats.  “Are you ashamed?” she asks him after the deed is done.  What kind of question is that?  The scene gets weirder when she professes her love for him and he for her.  Huh?  They just boffed, that’s all.  So far, said hussy doesn’t even have a name!  And she’s not going to get one either, because Peter’s friend Vyto Ruginis has decreed that they all have to take American names.

At Harvard, Sam and his pals approach his car to find a policeman writing a ticket.  Sam tries to flash his name, but the officer is unimpressed.  Then Ron Silver jumps in as a lawyer named Thaddeus Cohen, who spews all sorts of gibberish to confuse the cop while praising his Irish roots.  The officer finds it amusing, and tells Ron, “Cohen, you say?  It should be CoHAN with that line of blarney,” and lets Sam off without a ticket.  Ron and Sam don’t know each other officially, but it was Ron’s father who helped Sam get the dirt on David a few years back.  A lawyer and a friend are found, but still not a hint of an exciting plot.

Two years later, Peter is working as a restaurant manager at the Plaza Hotel.  One day he’s serving imperious Fred Gwynne and his obnoxious gal pal Sheree Wilson, who is peeved to be sitting near the bathroom on top of having a room without a view.  Fred knows Peter by name, much to his gal pal’s surprise, but Fred says, “you’d be surprised what I know.”  Peter, laying on the accent thick, calls his broker every time he hears good business tips in the restaurant.

Having just graduated from Harvard, Sam is celebrating at the Plaza with Reed, Reed’s father and sister (Jill Eikenberry) and faithful bank trustee Richard Anderson.  Richard officially invites Sam to be a bank director, on the path to chairman.  As Sam is accepting, Peter spills a bit of coffee and Sam remarks, “I didn’t know the Plaza required their waiters to wear manacles.”  Jill coos, “wouldn’t I like to have something like that!” since she’s been after him for ages.  But, it doesn’t work.

At the same lunch, Fred has been moved to a better table by Peter, who also has his suite moved.  Each knows about the other.  Fred has studied Peter’s history and Peter has learned that Fred owns a bunch of hotels that are losing money because, as Peter sees it, Fred is never there.  The manager of his Chicago hotel “up and left on me without so much as a tootle-ooh!” Fred says, though Peter knows that already.  A shrewd negotiator, Peter rebuffs Fred’s offer of a job and “$30 a week” with “$40 and 5% of the increase in profits after I’ve arrived.”  Fred screams that none of his managers get paid like that.  “I won’t tell them if you don’t,” Peter says, learning the American dream awfully fast.  Sheree quips, “I think you better take the Baron before his price goes up.”  Peter tells Vyto of his new position and notes that American hotels are “castles.”  He promises to send for Vyto when he’s a “hotel magnate.”  Oh, and the girl Peter did on the boat?  She happens to live in Chicago.

As Peter and Vyto are walking from the hotel, Sam and company are getting in their cars and the two tip their hats to each other.  Peter says he has no idea who Sam is, “but he’s just been made director of some bank…I’d say both of us had a very big day.”  Our heroes have intersected but once.  Where will they meet again?

Fred pays a visit to his Chicago hotel to find the staff hates Peter.  The manager wants to fire Peter, but Fred says, “I can clean up my own mess.”  Peter tells Fred what has been going on at the hotel, the amount of theft is staggering.  “Just what the blue blazes do you expect me to do about this?” Fred asks Peter, who says the top management should be fired.  Fred refuses to fire the pilfering manager because he’s just made Peter Head Manager and he can do it.

At Sam’s bank during the late 20s, Sam is suggesting the bank move its money around because something isn’t right.  They argue, but a big client needs to see Sam immediately.  Not the dowager widow he was expecting, it’s Veronica Hamel, having bewitched Sam very easily with her intelligence and knowledge, not to mention their obvious attraction.

Peter is running Fred’s hotel better than before, so efficient and “something of a miracle,” according to a lawyer, who suggests that Peter buy the stock of a family member who wants to unload it. The price is $100K and Peter is $70K short, which he asks the bank for.  This financial transaction makes Peter a partner.  He chooses to celebrate with Sheree and ends up getting her into bed with candle light and all the trappings.  But, after it’s over, she laughs at him, not believing the Baron crap and bemoaning his lack of experience.  Fred is not dismayed.  “Son, we’re going places,” he tells Peter.

But the places aren’t what anyone was expecting.  Panic hits Wall Street.  Sam had the sense to pull out of stocks, seeing what was about to happen and thus saves his fortune, and most of the family bank,  from ruin.  Things are worse for Fred, who has sold his hotels and other holdings for stock, which is now worthless.  “They are only good for hotel toilet paper,” Fred quips.  The banks that owns Fred’s empire is Sam’s bank.  Fred says that if he ever gets back on top, he’ll destroy Sam.  Now we’re finally starting to get some actual plotting!  Our heroes are on opposite sides of a situation, thinking the other is very much in the wrong.  Peter tries to head off the foreclosure of the hotels by appealing to Sam directly, but Sam refuses, saying he’ll only talk to Fred.  That won’t be an option since Fred has jumped from a window and killed himself.  Peter now owns 75% of the hotel chain, for what that’s worth.

Peter makes it his life’s work to find the bankers who caused Fred to jump.

Sam and Veronica have fallen in love.  Nothing brings two people together like a banker chasing a mortgagee.  Sam and Peter meet again.  Sam sees the bracelet and thinks they had met somewhere, but doesn’t know where.  Peter is there to beg for investments for the hotels rather than foreclosure.  The two are at loggerheads, but Peter needs a chance to prove he can turn around the hotels, but that would take someone wilth a few million dollars to support, but not Sam’s bank.  Peter storms out of the room telling him to “think about me because as long as I’m alive, I’m going to see that you and your stinking bank pay for that.  You go to hell!”

Chicago, 1930.  Peter’s hotel is on fire.  Who should be there with the insurance company looking to stick it to the bank that holds the mortgage?  David Dukes, of course!  The assessment reveals “a total loss,” and a man has confessed to torching the place because he had been fired.  David reveals who he is to Peter, though of course blaming Sam for “killing my wife and baby,” an interesting twist on the truth.  We have a partnership!  Since the bank won’t give Peter the money to rebuild, he takes a wacky risk, asking his main competitor (Paul Harding) for the money.  Paul laughs at that one, but Peter has a plan, saying “let your competition make money for you; better than letting me steal business at your expense.”  Peter has it all worked out, and though “the sheer audacity of your suggestion” interests Paul, he doesn’t actually say whether he’s going to help or not.  No matter, because on the way out, Peter bumps into his de-virginizer from the boat to America (Alberta Watson), working into Paul’s hotel.  She has a first name now and she’s very happy to see the Baron.  “So many times I forgot to call you, even in New York,” Paul says, thinking he’s being smooth.  “But you didn’t,” she chides.

The two discuss their history since seeing each other in their broken English (rather than speaking in perfect Polish).  Alberta has had it rough, having worked up to waitress while Peter is establishing an empire.  Proving the adage that you never forget the first, Peter is re-hooked on her.  Speaking of, Jill is still pining for Sam, who has eyes only for Veronica.

The money problem in Chicago is solved, but anonymously.  The deal is fantastic for Peter, who can’t lose no matter what happens, but the one caveat is that anonymity must be maintained, due to a potential “conflict of interest,” the very phrase that came up during Peter’s meeting with rival hotel owner Paul.  Naturally, Peter assumes it’s Paul, but if Peter tries to even search for the donor, the deal is off.  Peter has his Big Speech, and boy does he go for it.  Yelling and screaming in excitement and then almost crying when he thinks of Fred not being there, it’s the kind of thing he does very well.  He then calls Sam to rub it in his face, with David sitting in on the conversation.

We hit a pure cheese lowlight when Sam takes Veronica on vacation to England.  Lazing under the trees in the countryside, all Sam can talk about is business, though Veronica tries to focus him on her by literally uttering every sentence in a sarcastic tone or turning the answer to a question into a pun.  The two have zilch in the way of chemistry.  Anyway, the bright warm sun turns to rain in an instant (this is England) and the two are forced to seek refuge under a blanket next to the car.  “We’ve been in England for two weeks and this is the first time we’ve been under the same blanket,” vixen Veronica says.

At lunch, Peter shows Alberta his plans for the new hotel, but they are interrupted by the always-cheeky Sheree, who drawls that Peter should come down to Dallas and see the family home, but he declines, saying he doesn’t think his soon-to-be wife Alberta would like that (since he hasn’t proposed, that comes as a surprise to everyone there).  He also decides to chuck the old company name and call it “Baron Hotels.”  I’m sure Barron Hilton wasn’t on anyone’s mind thinking that up!  Then he has to actually propose marriage to Alberta, “since we traded our virginities on the boat,” but he pushes his business acumen over actual love in trying to convince her.

In England, Sam and Veronica have to get married because their car has broken down and there is only one room left at the local inn.  Even Veronica and her caustic sentence delivery find that one a bit much, and she also reminds unromantic Sam that “the Episcopal Church requires all sorts of documents and a waiting period,” but Sam “bets his entire banking career” that donating money for a new church roof will result in a “special dispensation.”  Good, now they can sleep in the same room.

“You will always be at home at a Baron Hotel and when you check in, tell them you were here on the day it all began and that you are a friend of…the Baron himself,” Peter says to an adoring crowd upon opening his Chicago hotel, praising David for a possible Congressional run and announcing his wife’s pregnancy.  In that order, mind you.  For a romance miniseries, the men are complete duds when it comes to the women in their lives!

Peter has a daughter, whom he names for his sister and Sam loses the Chairman position at the bank.  The reason he lost is not because of anything he did, but because Reed has become such a drunk and a fool that he’s a liability.  There is no treatment because alcoholism is only a cover for Hodgkin’s Disease and only three months to live.  He has told no one, not his father or even Sam.  I didn’t see that one coming.  I thought he was finally going to come out, since his performance has been getting gayer by the scene, but sadly, the truth is worse.  Sit down for some pathos, people, because Reed has it ready: “You’re lucky if you have one friend.  I have two,” he says to Sam and Veronica.  Something tells me his death is going to be very painful…for us!

By 1938, Peter is going to build a hotel in honor of his daughter in NYC, taking her, but leaving fur-clad Alberta to worry that, “I have a big rival for his affection.”  Vyto assumes it’s the daughter, but Alberta says, “it’s the hotels” and walks off glumly.  “Oh, hell,” Vyto moans.  Yes, I agree.  Here we go again, with a dumb plot about a wife ignored for a job considered more important.  Zzzzzzz

Sam and lawyer Ron Silver see that Peter and David have become friendly.  “The Congressman might be guilty of tax evasion,” Ron hints, and Sam is thrilled that he can nail David.  Veronica wants him to let it all go, and then the more immediate problem of dead Reed’s dying father.  Through heavy gasping breaths, he tells Sam he wants him to be chairman of the bank.  Sam tries to comfort Jill, who refuses any true tenderness, still angry at him for not marrying her.  Get over it!  Frankly, his life seems boring as hell, so you dodged a bullet.

Boring Wife Syndrome has certainly hit Alberta, who is forced to say some of the worst dialogue in the movie.  Saying they should separate, she has expected clunkers like, “how long since we have made love?” and “you are married to your hotels.”  She feels that she is “always failing” trying to play the glamorous wife of such an important man.  Peter plays the scene annoyed, but then again, he’s had to play this scene for a decade, going all the way back to Susan Blakely’s drunk-from-boredom scenes in “Rich Man, Poor Man.”  Alberta has made her mind up, and off Peter goes.  Neither of them seem that upset.  Peter could easily turn around and go back inside to Alberta, but he doesn’t.

Boring Banking Syndrome is now hitting me.  Sam makes a play to take over Reed’s father’s bank, just as the dying man wished, but the current Chairman isn’t giving up so easily, not to mention other board members who are sneaky New York bankers.  Sam has an emergency meeting called in order to nab the big seat on the board.  The main competitors each give a dull speech about why he should head the bank (not that banking is exciting, but the script makes it seem even less so).  The vote goes to Sam, as expected, since the other guy is so clearly a smarmy twit.  He has to move the family to…oh, right, we haven’t known until this very moments that Sam and Veronica have two kids, nice to meet you, kids…to New York City, where both kids are initially unhappy.  Sam trots out that old war horse line of “at least we’ll be together,” and it seems to work.  This, from a man even more dedicated to his job than Peter?

Peter’s New York hotel is a gigantic success in 1941, where he’s holding a benefit for Poland, trounced two years and three weeks previously.  David interrupts the affair to make sure Peter knows the merger of his banks will be approved by the government, and Peter is eager to grab some stock in order to blunt Sam’s plans.  David also asks for $30K to make some illegal payments to keep the hotels running smoothly.  Peter isn’t thrilled, but David will never change.

Pearl Harbor happens and then World War II ends.  Literally, that quickly.  I swear.  There is not even a small scene tucked between the raid in Hawaii and the Times Square announcement!  This is an interesting twist for a miniseries, isn’t it?  We’re skipping World War II entirely!  Peter doesn’t fly to Poland to become a grunt in the army just to protect his beloved homeland from being squashed by the Nazis.  Sam doesn’t make special trips to the White House to fund the governments war machine.  Those are things the miniseries movement has taught us to expect about beloved World War II, one of its favorite topics (to be fair, “Kane & Abel” also lacks a slumming Hollywood legend, so it’s not always predictable).

They pulled a fast one on us!  Both Sam and Peter come home war heroes, but without any fuss or any explanation of what they did in the war.  Apparently it’s enough to know they participated (they would have been 40 when America entered the war, so we can assume they weren’t belly down in a ditch).

Thank the Gods of Television for Jill Eikenberry.  She can always be counted on to add her special brand of campy finesse to any project.  This time around, she comes to tell Sam that she is selling her stock in the bank.  But, she’s a mess.  Pining for Sam has upset her, though she says she’s over it, and the stress of losing Sam to Veronica, her brother to disease and her father to death has her feeling like “I don’t give a damn about the bank anymore.  So, I sold my stock.”  “To whom?” Sam wants to know.  “What does it matter?  I had suitors lined up to buy it.  You should have called,” she replies.  Bravo, Jill, you just helped pull us out of quicksand with your little plot-twisting eye-bugging, hand-wringing scene.  Ron finds out for Sam that Peter has bought it and only 2% more stock will get him a seat on the board.  There is only one outside investor left, and we know it’s going to be a battle between Sam and Peter somewhere down the road.  For now, Peter is just trying to sabotage bank dealings whenever he can.

In the middle of one particularly hair-raising financial game, the bank suggests Sam play nice with Peter, who has his own problems.  David is bleeding him try and skimming lots of money from Peter, and he’s losing his patience.  Sam calls Peter to grovel, but Peter holds firm in his desire to “get enough of your bank’s stock so I can walk in there and throw you out myself!  Not today, not tomorrow.  I want you to have time to worry about what I’m going to do,” he says, accusing him of killing Fred Gwynne and Sam’s own mother.  “You want to talk?  Here is my answer,” Peter bellows and hangs up the phone.  No wonder we couldn’t show the men in World War II.  Their battle is going to be bigger!  Sam sends Ron on a mission to find out any dirt on Peter and David while Peter sends a scared flunky to Chicago to cover any tracks they may have left in their ascent.

By 1953, Peter is opening a hotel in Warsaw, a longtime dream of his, though he tells a reporter that the happiness of his daughter is always his most important project.  Really?  We’ve seen her less than five times since she was born (now she’s a grown woman, Kate McNeil).  Kate has a very good business sense.  She suggests that Peter take over the retail outlets in the hotels and brand them, which sounds good to Peter.  “Incidentally, what about men?” Peter asks on the trip to Poland.  “I like them,” Kate replies.  Papa Peter worries that, “they are a fast crowd, those Harvard men.”  A young woman of a new generation, she informs her father without hesitation that she’s still a virgin.  No doubt that’s only because there are no lifeboats around like her parents had.

The proceedings are interrupted by a “touring Paris” montage for Peter and Kate, complete with a French chanson.  The sights, the shopping, the food, it’s all here.  However, it’s more than a lot creepy because they look like lovers rather than father and daughter.  He even gives her jewelry in a bouquet of flowers standing outside Notre Dame.

As for Sam’s son (Thomas Byrd), he clearly does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.  “My fondest hope has always been that someday you’ll take over here,” Sam says to Thomas as a command rather than a wistful dream, especially since Thomas is not at all interested in banking.

In Poland, Peter keeps promising Kate “the most beautiful castle in the world,” but when they get to his childhood home, they find only a ruin.  It typically takes centuries for a place to get this ruined, but I guess two world wars and such have done it faster.  The graves of the Baron and his son are still there, even the ramshackle wooden crosses Peter made.  However, his sister’s cross has fallen apart and he searches frantically for the pieces.

Dejected from what he’s seen, Peter himself seems a shell, until a phone call comes that cheers him up amazingly: there’s been a plane crash and 17 people are dead!  That gets the old guy going again.  It’s the airline that Sam’s bank has been propping up and Peter owns a huge amount of stock in it.  So, he tells Vyto to sell the stock, which will make it worthless.  The run will give Sam “his own personal crash!” Peter triumphantly tells Vyto to end the second episode.

The final portion begins in 1953, only days after we last left the movie.  Peter has caused the panic at the bank he hoped, and once the bank has lost millions (and Sam personally) to prop it up, Peter starts to buy it back again, “making a killing.”  Thankfully, Ron is on hand to remind everyone that this is fraud, and they can’t wait to whack Peter over the head with it at an SEC hearing.

At the hearing, Peter blames Sam and the bank directly, not exactly admitting that he did it for revenge, but Ron certainly knows he did it.  Peter’s excuse to the SEC was to buy back the stock because he felt bad for the other investors.  “So, I used my own money, through Whitewood, that is a very small personal investment company, because I did not want to use Baron Hotels, because I did not want to endanger them any further,” he pleads, “and therefore, we were able to save Atlantic International from destruction.”

“He won, case closed,” Ron tells Sam after the proceedings.  Ron advises Sam to “call of the vendetta,” but Sam can’t.  “An eye for an eye,” he says to Ron, who finishes the sentence with, “until you both end up blind.”

By 1955, Thomas is still wishy-washy about what he wants to do.  He admits feeling sorry for his father.  “It’s almost as though he never had a choice.  Do not stop at jail, go directly to bank,” he says, which is an amusing line, but whitewashes his father’s backstory, considering the man focused his energies on the bank even as a child!  Mother Veronica’s answer is “maybe you need the strong hand of a good woman…I’ll start looking.”  Just who do you think that will be?

That who is a new graduate of Radcliffe going to work at Bloomingdale’s rather than taking a job with Peter immediately.  “I need to know what it’s like working on the floor dealing with customers,” she says, knowing that she will have that job dealing with the hotel retail chain when she’s ready.  Kate does get an apartment, though.  She’s not totally without her father’s influence.  David calls Peter, begging from a seedy hotel room for $10K, one last time.  “You were an embarrassment…even the party hacks couldn’t stomach you any longer,” Peter chides him, saying one more time that he’s way outlived his usefulness.  However, David isn’t quite finished yet, as he threatens Peter with a “three inch” book of all the deals they have made over the year.  “You have a book, donate it to library,” Peter snaps, since he knows David is too much of a coward to go down with him.

Kate is working at the glove counter at Bloomingdale’s under a fake name.  Thomas has come every day to the counter, but not for the hussy who runs it, rather for Kate.  He’s bought gloves for more women than he knows in the hopes of asking her out.  To get rid of him when the manager needs her, she agrees to meet him at The Blue Angel, an awfully peppy mixed-race club for 1955.  Chatterbox Thomas doesn’t stop talking long enough to realize that when he mentions his last name, Kate visibly shudders.  But, since he doesn’t want to be part of the family business, giving her the worst lines about how he’s a pirate planning a mutiny against going into the family business.  These two are so vapid that the late-in-the-game love plot creaks.  “There’s another man?” Thomas asks when Kate doesn’t invite him into the fake apartment she’s had the cab drop them off at so he doesn’t know she’s really rich.  “Kind of,” she says with irony he doesn’t question.  He goes to kiss her, and she allows it, though “no hands” are allowed.  She’s into him, of course, but there is that pesky family vendetta.

Thomas tries to nab Kate at work, but having just left, he follows her in a cab to her real apartment.  He’s angry that she’s lied to him for weeks about where she lives, so she has to confess her real name.  She gives him the “it just didn’t seem important” speech because she’s fallen in love with him and that’s all that really matters.  Coincidentally, that very night, he was planning on proposing and she was planning on telling him the truth.  Those twin admissions seem to right everything, and a kiss seals the deal.

Eating ice cream in bed later, they joke about how they will break the news to their fathers.  Thomas naively suggests that perhaps when the fathers see how in love the kiddies are, they won’t care.  “What astonishes me most is that you don’t see the unsuitability of this,” is Sam’s response.  Veronica plays witness to their fight because “I don’t want to clean up the blood later.”  Sam, though awfully calm, tells Thomas that if he marries Kate, he’s out of the family, out of the money.  “You don’t know what a relief that is to me, Dad,” Thomas chirps, determined to do what he wants.  He kisses Veronica goodbye and exits.

Then we have to do the same thing again, but with Kate and Peter.  Kate says she’s getting married first, to lower that boom, without telling Peter who the man actually is.  When she finally does get around to the guy’s name, Peter explodes.  This is a much better scene than the previous one because Peter goes for some fun overacting where Sam insisted on underplaying it.  “I want you to use your common sense,” Peter says, trying to sweet-talk his daughter, but then it turns violent when she admits to having slept with Thomas.  He slaps her and disowns her.  “I never want to see your face again,” he hisses.  “I love you, Papa,” Kate says before beating a retreat.  “Without her, what the hell is it all for?” Vyto asks Peter, not really needing an answer.

With an umbrella, two suitcases and a bit of money, the lovers go off to San Francisco.

The feud goes on, with Sam convinced that Peter is still trying to get a seat on his board and that the way to thwart it is to prove his connection to David’s shady deals.

In all of television history, I think “Kane & Abel” wins the award for the worst “I’m pregnant” line.  Kate and Thomas are standing in front of a building she wants to buy, but which they can’t afford, but she’s not worried.  “That’s your department,” she says.  “It’s just you and me, baby,” Thomas says delightedly.  “Oh, I forgot to mention…” Kate replies in a sing-song voice.  Are you kidding?  Playing it coy is one thing, but that’s just downright stupid.

The lovers are dire, but there is still the vendetta going, which isn’t all that interesting either.  Ron has located David and Sam intends to extort the secrets from David, ironic considering he was Sam’s first enemy.  But, as he tells Ron, as if it’s a surprise this late in the story, “I’m in a fight for my life!”

Kate’s dress shop is a huge success, even drawing her mother-in-law.  They actually get along.  She’s there on a peacemaking mission, but it seems neither father is willing to accept the marriage.  “You must never blame yourselves or each other,” Veronica says.  Neither kid has the brain power to be that deep!  The scene ends with someone off-camera calling, “Mrs. Kane” and Veronica turns around.  “No, I think she means me,” Kate says and Veronica gives one of the most insincere smiles of the decade.  I watched it a few times.  It’s priceless.

The years are very slowly ticking by.  We’re up to 1958 in some out-of-the-way dive with “Never on Sunday” playing in the background (who picked that of all songs?).  It’s here Ron tracks down gray-haired mess David.  David may be far gone, but he’s a negotiator still, turning down the initial $10K from Ron.

Then it’s suddenly 1960 and Peter is talking about Senator Kennedy, how the Irish and the Polish are very similar.  He’s angling for an Ambassador post.  In the middle of the conversation, Vyto flashes a picture of Peter’s grandson.  “Sometimes you are too smart for your own good,” he says, to which Vyto responds, “better than being too dumb.”  Good point!  He won’t see the kids and when Veronica tells Sam their son is in town, he talks only about his books.  He does ask about the baby.  “Can I tell them you’d like to see them?” Veronica asks him.  “I can’t,” he says.

Thomas and Kate are arguing in their second store in Beverly Hills, which is just starting.  Kate has a plan to open up stores all over the world, but Thomas is worried she is “trying to compete with” her father.  They are each jealous of each other, but still very much in love and full of annoyingly playful dialogue.

On a plane, a toothy Senator congratulates Peter on his upcoming Ambassadorship, which is not yet official, and asks an interesting question: when Peter is off in Warsaw, who will run his empire?  “I’m not sure,” he says honestly, but there will be no Ambassadorship.  Right off the plane, reporters are there with all of David’s information.  Seventeen counts of bribery in seventeen states.  David has made an immunity deal and Vyto finds out that Ron’s law firm was behind the deal.  Peter isn’t afraid yet, because he has two options.  The first is to get to David and tell him that the information he sold went to Sam, which David doesn’t know.  The other is to find a way to get 2% more of the bank stock so “I can throw him the hell out of there,” meaning Sam.  Peter also wants to know if Vyto has told Kate, and he says no, that Peter should be the one to do that.

Speaking of Kate, and I hate to do that, because whenever we go to her and company, they are so sleep-inducing.  While at lunch with her hubby and son, Thomas gives her a present of gloves (the cute way they met) with the key to their new NYC store in it.  A reporter interrupts their lunch to tell her of her father’s troubles, and she wants to run to him, but Thomas stops her.  “I don’t care what your father’s done…but if he needs you, he’s got to call and ask you,” he insists.  Wow, playing hard to get is so hot, Thomas.  And, like a good 60s wife, she actually listens.

Peter’s lawyer is dispatched to David in prison, where David still thinks Ron was acting on behalf of Peter.  He’s defiant, but the lawyer tells him the truth, that Ron was acting on Sam’s behalf.  It’s a great speech the lawyer gets, and David all but has a stroke hearing it, even lurching at the lawyer in horror.  Just as the trial against Peter is beginning, word comes that David has hung himself, so Peter ends up with probation and a fine.

Sam is listening to the television report when he gets a call…from Peter!  He’s calling to gloat that “I know own 8% of the bank’s stock!”  This gets him a seat on the board, “unless I hear that you have resigned.  You stole an Ambassadorship from me…I intend to take your bank!”  Peter is delivers this channeling any episode of “Dynasty” where Joan Collins raided any property of John Forsythe’s.

The shareholders have a meeting at the bank, where Sam tells the board of Peter’s threat.  Sam thinks he still has control of the room, but everyone’s body language says otherwise.  He’s then told by one of the younger board members that it’s “not your bank, Mr. Chairman” and that they are tired of supporting the ridiculous vendetta (a gold star goes to anyone who can remember what the hell started the vendetta by this late in the movie).  Basically, Sam is out, forced into retirement instead of facing the humiliation of a vote, which he would not win.  He signs the paper and walks from the room very slowly.

That can probably be attributed to the heart attack he’s in the middle of suffering.  He manages, clutching his chest, to walk all the way through the office until his secretary goes hysterical finding his crumpled body.  Her wild ranting get help and the doctor comes with pills.  Looking like death, he Veronica to get his son.  Peter’s only reaction is to tell the bank that he will sell them back their stock.  He does inquire about Sam’s heart, but without much excitement.

Though Sam looks terrible, he’s really only in his early 60s, because it’s now only 1962.  Kate is opening a new store in New York City and Vyto is on his way, but stops to invite Peter.  Vyto reels off a bitter speech, about the 14th he’s said with the same information.  However, Sam has agreed to see his son and daughter-in-law.  Being an invalid doesn’t give him much choice, and it also subjects him to a long scene with Veronica where they discuss their history.  Actually, Veronica is one of the better things about the miniseries, so she manages to make it work.

Veronica dashes off to Kate’s store, where “Mack the Knife” is being played at the gala opening.  Without Veronica knowing, Sam has slipped out of bed and taken a cab to the store, watching with pride across the street.  Guess who also had the same idea?  They finally spot each other, only feet away and look at each other.  Peter tips his hat and walks away.  That’s it?  For five hours, we’ve watched the two of them wage war, but when they meet for the last time, it’s just a hat tip?

Kate and Timothy close down the party to go see Sam.  Timothy introduces them without realizing what Kate knew the minute she walked in the room: Sam is dead.  He’s in his suit in a chair, so Veronica probably realizes what he did, but she keeps silent and then does that thing that only happens on TV: she closes his eyelids.

Sam’s death comes with a shock for Peter.  After all these years, he’s sent a letter telling him that the original $2M he received to start what would become his empire did not come from his competitor, but from Sam himself.  We all knew that, but after all these years, Peter had apparently never figured it out.  “He considered me a good investment,” the letter says, which has Peter laughing, “he’s a banker to the end!”  Of course then he breaks into sobs.  “We could even have been friends,” Peter says, though he’s still alive and still with a great head of hair.

At Sam’s huge church funeral, Sam and Vyto are there, sitting in the back, as we would expect by now.  As the family exits the church, Kate sees her father and calls to him, though he turns away…for a second!  Come on you didn’t think he was going to get away without a reconciliation scene.  An American miniseries would never allow it.  Remember, Sam WANTED to, but died.  Peter HAS to, if for no other reason than to wrap his grandson in his arms as the music swells.

That leaves only one detail for 1966: the opening of a hotel in Poland.  Peter is now dead, so Kate has to do it, with her son, who sports his grandfather’s bracelet.  Now, I give the movie credit for using stock footage of what looks to be a very Communist crowd, but the situation does seem off, no?  A big Western capitalist hotel chain in Warsaw?

Historial reality is the least of “Kane & Abel’s” problems.  What reads in paper as a pulse-racing tear through 50 years of two bitter but lavishly successful men is very two-dimensional on television.  Peter Strauss gives it all he has, but his role is the more exciting of the two anyway.  Sam Neill, usually a highlight of anything he does, falls into the background so much that the central vendetta of the story seems completely forgettable.  Toss in a bunch of supporting characters even more transparent and we are left with very little.

However, as I said, “Kane & Abel” got my beloved Jeffrey Archer to television, and for that, it will always retain a place in my heart.  A small one.  And if I watch it again, probably an even smaller one.

Categories: Romance Miniseries

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