Pearl (1978)

My friends, it’s been a long time since we sifted our way through a World War II miniseries, and there are only about 407 more to get through, so let’s just jump right into “Pearl.”  As in the harbor.  As in you know exactly what is going to happen before we even start because we know how war miniseries work: toss a jumble of characters together with secrets and lies and them hit ’em with the war when they least expect it, unraveling all of those secrets and lies for the lucky characters who survive.

Oh, if this strikes you as at all familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same ado as “From Here to Eternity.”  “Pearl” predates the remake of the latter as a miniseries, but still steals generous helpings of it from at least the novel and the original film, both of which are classics.  “Pearl,” well, is not.

If you need the narration to tell you what happened at Pearl Harbor, stop reading this and pick up a book, any book.  However, the narrator is there as a reminder, but awfully overzealous and flowery.  “More than human life was lost that morning.  A special world died too, the world of American innocents,” he gravely intones.  It’s not untrue, but it’s been said better.  But, let’s not think of December 7 yet.  Let’s go back before that.

Our narrator almost loses his breath (seriously) while describing Oahu before the attack.  Not only does take great pains to list every nationality present on the island, but he insists all was utterly perfect as if the war in the rest of the world didn’t matter.  Well, that’s a bit of historical re-invention.  It was the base for a naval fleet, one that was growing and growing in anticipation of someone finally flipping the switch to enter the US into a war it would inevitably have to fight.  What was going on in “this honeyed land” was years in the making; it’s no coincidence that we were able to declare war the minute the Japanese bombed.

The story begins on December 4, with the Japanese fleet navigating through stormy waters somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and assembling its air force for readiness.  War councils are conducted in Japanese, but that’s way too boring, so we instead start to watch a bunch of flesh rumps doing the hula in extreme close-up.  It’s a class for the most bored and boring housewives on the island.

In comes their “social director” (named Midge), Angie Dickinson, with a mane of blonde hair.  She is easily the least appealing person for that role, immediately castigating the women for not bothering to ask  why they are in a hula class at 9am the day after all of them arrived on the island.  One brave but very stupid woman says it’s “keen to learn the hula” and she wants to “learn all the island customs.”  With that, Angie realizes it’s pointless to talk sense and gives them back over to the hula instructor.

Then aren’t a whole lot smarter, it seems, but at least they know why they are there (or think they do, at any rate).  It’s not to play handball, though that’s how we meet Lieutenant Gregg Henry and Captain Robert Wagner, the latter head to toe in white, but somehow not sweating.  Gregg is thinking of leaving the army.  Uh oh, that makes him instantly unlikeable because the American miniseries is insanely patriotic.  Of course, in ten minutes, we have yet to meet a character who is likable, which is strange.    We should be head over heels for SOMEONE by now!

The Japanese fleet is told that though Americans are “shallow…they could prove a formidable foe.”  Okay, two issues.  First, yes, Americans are shallow, but we should be taking personality lessons from the Japanese of 1941, trying to bludgeon the world because no one paid them any attention since we opened up their land against their will 100 years before?  Second, “could” be a formidable foe?  Okay, that’s giving the Japanese no credit at all.  Neither the Germans nor the Japanese were at all surprised by the sudden might of the war machine once it was decided to get the US involved.  The minute it happened, the talk in Europe switched from how to survive to what to do with the continent after the war was over!  Is there ANYONE this miniseries wants us to like or believe?

It’s sure as hell not ass-kissing Sgt. Brian Dennehy, the army’s most out-of-shape soldier, or Colonel Dennis Weaver, who talks while brandishing a whip just to discuss how unhappy he is with the driver RJ hired for him.  Dennis is also completely humorless over a dozen jokes about the driver’s name and is all pissy that his wife Angie has been making snarky remarks to the other officers’ wives.  She’s bitter, he assumes she’s drunk and they speak like they hate each other.  How about Private Christian Vance, the incompetent driver with the funny last name who Dennis accuses of not liking women, the true crux of his issue with Pvt. Finger (yes, that’s his funny name).  “Just look at him!” Dennis snaps, because the boy is too pretty to be straight, but RJ is there to defend him, 30 years pre-Stonewall and three drinks just to get through this bizarre scene, one that has the flow of an Escher painting.  By the end of the scene, well, I have not a clue what has happened.  I think the pretty private still has a job.

The Japanese are given the order to attack Pearl Harbor at 8am on Sunday and be prepared to “die for our Emperor.”

Awwwww.  However, when she offers to give away her car for free, I’m wondering if she’s not thinking of jumping off the nearest volcano.  Sixth grade health class, the second way of telling a person is about to off herself–giving away possessions.

There’s a ridiculous subplot going on about slot machines.  Apparently, Dennis is getting back at Company A for dumping the possibly queer kid on him by impounding Company A’s slot machines for his company.  I wish it took just one scene to waste this time, but no, it keeps going.  We have A LOT of time to kill before the Japanese arrive.  The capper is a conversation RJ and Brian have about grasping for drumsticks and always being second best that has no bearing on anything other than to prove that the two men are very different.  Yes, we understood that from their rank and from RJ’s perfect Southern manners as compared to meathead Brian is portraying.

You didn’t think we would escape more than 30 minutes without a mixed race romance, did you?  Oh, come on!  Our fated Romeo and Juliet here are Gregg, who grew up on the island in all of his blond splendor, and Tiana Alexander, the hospital worker/journalist Lesley Ann so unfairly slashed a few scenes ago.  They went to school together, though she can’t imagine how he would remember one native girl from all the others.  He helps her fix a tire and she drives him to the hotel where he’s both meeting his family and she’s covering a Chamber of Commerce meeting.  Cute, I know.  Can you stand it?  It’s a shame they have zip in the chemistry department or it could have been a fun little scene.

Gregg’s family, well, they also leave something to be desired.  Papa Richard Anderson is another career soldier and Mama Marion Ross seems a bit grouchy, not to mention the requisite annoying little sister, Mary Crosby.  Richard is already speaking like a haunted ghost because he has a desk job in the war he knows is coming.

Tiana gets to take in Dennis’ speech where he announces “the Japanese are using Hawaii as a stepping stone to world conquest,” and does so in glasses so we take her more seriously.  He feels this way about Hawaii before Japanese invasion, fearing that “American culture” is being “melted” by Japanese intrusion already, a “conspiracy” as Tiana challenges him and to which he agrees.  This sets him off on a tirade against in-breeding that makes him sound wowingly racist, even by the standards of 1940.  Sorry, but aren’t the Americans the ones who took Hawaii from Pacific Islanders?  Okay, maybe the Japanese too, but they are also Pacific Islanders.  The all-white audience doesn’t totally buy Dennis’ blather, but RJ has to run after Tiana to explain his commander.  “When you print the story, don’t be kind,” he quips.  There’s that Southern charm again.

“So, how you makin’ out with the new girls out here?” Mary asks Gregg.  “You know your brother is engaged!” Marion reminds her.  WOAH!  Gregg, who just arranged to meet Tiana at the fruit market at 6am is engaged?  That’s news to everyone but the family, apparently.  Gregg answers that by saying he’s resigning his commission, moving out on his own and, naturally, not marrying this faceless girl.  The conversation is WASP heaven, ending with “I’m the Scotch” from Marion when the waitress brings the beverages.

Dennis goes poking through Angie’s things (spraying her perfume on his hand is either wistful or creepy) and finds a wrapped up photo at the bottom of a drawer of her…no, I’m not going to say lover…daughter.  A cute little blonde kid.

Now, the story needs a nympho and obviously it has to be Angie Dickinson (Pepper Anderson notwithstanding, she did kind of make a career out of this role), who shows up to seduce Robert Wagner, which apparently she’s never been able to fully do.  He sidesteps her to do 50 laps in the pool (maybe Brian Dennehy isn’t the most out of shape man in this movie), but she merely walks into the pool fully clothed.  That’s the kind of ballsy dame she is!  After she kisses him, he tells her, “you don’t need a part-time lover…you need a full-time friend.”  “What Victorian novel did you get that out of?” she asks, stealing the words from right out of my mouth!  A few more cold pieces of banter and RJ resists her arms, sending her off to a hot bath with the butler.  I think we have our hero!  Doesn’t even sleep with the boss’ wife…well, not yet at least.  I don’t see Robert Wagner taking on any sexless roles, but let’s wait and see!

That night, there is, by Pearl Harbor standards, a gala movie affair.  They are showing “Gone With the Wind” and Angie is dressed for a red carpet that isn’t there.  “This man is new, isn’t he?” she asks Dennis as the poor maybe-gay driver looks right through her upon opening the car.  Wow, this minuscule plot line is already running out of steam, the poor kid.

After Dennis gives one of his usual foot-in-mouth speeches to introduce the film, he takes his seat next to Angie, who is sitting beside dry-as-dust Audra Lindley (yup, Mrs. Roper), who hopefully can’t help but provide some extra good entertainment.  They are rivals.  The more-than-half-empty theater is treated to some war footage first, about how well England is coping with the Battle of Britain (yeah, the foreshadowing is pretty obvious).  Lesley Ann bolts the theater and not only does her date run after her, but so does Robert.

The date seems unconcerned, but Robert follows her outside, noting her license plate.  He’s practicing for “Hart to Hart” already, I suppose.

It’s finally Friday, December 5.  We’re getting there, folks.  Slowly and totally unsurely, but getting there.    Dennis is up at the bugle, showing off some rather infantile pajamas, and Angie, in her separate bedroom, snaps “another day in the trenches.”  I have no idea what this dame sounds like not sarcastic since that’s the only way her lines have been delivered so far.  Dennis wonders aloud if he shouldn’t “do what Clark Gable did to Vivien Leigh,” in the previous night’s movie, but Angie heads him off there, finishing it with, “you wouldn’t leave me,” rather than letting him get any sexual ideas into his head.  Instead, she goes to her mirror and utters a fantastic line!  “I need four hens.  Two to get by with and two to hold back the lines.”  Someone write that down, I love it!  She is then uncharacteristically reduced to tears by the picture of the dead daughter left out by Dennis.

Poor Christian Vance is hassled with gay-themed pictures his fellow grunts have drawn and this starts a big fight.  Perhaps we’re inching away from micro-plotting.

We all know the reason we bothered to wake up so early was so Gregg and Tiana could meet at the market.  They have “only six hours” until they each have to be somewhere.  “I’ll shop fast,” Tania says before haggling with the  merchants, smile ablaze.  She makes the mistake of asking him about his family and he launches into a boring speech about wanting to leave the army and how it didn’t sit well with his folks.  Her incessant haggling gets annoying, but luckily both brought bathing suits, so we won’t spend six hours in the market.

It didn’t take Robert long to find Lesley Ann’s place, and he shows up with flowers, which should be even more bizarre since they’ve never met.  Indeed, good actress that Lesley Ann is (we’re lucky to have her here, that’s for sure), she is awfully perplexed, but RJ barrels his way in while she’s trying to puzzle it out.  Putting the flowers in water, he asks her out on a date, and somehow she agrees!  With a complete stranger who has tracked her down through her license plate.  This comatose woman agrees to a date for that night?

But wait, it gets better!  Better!

Robert leaves and Lesley Ann decides to down a bottle of pills.  She hesitates, looks at the waves, and goes to gulp when in bursts Robert.  Literally!  Kids, I can’t make this up, this happens for real in “Pearl.”  And freeze, commercial.

“You’re thinking, how did I know, huh?” he asks her.  She doesn’t answer, but I, for one, would love to know.  He then goes on to actually explain how he figured it out, with a straight face that somehow she shares.   If his Miss Marple routine doesn’t have you doubling in half, you are a lost cause, stick with “War and Remembrance.”  The corniness endures as he goes back to the Greeks to explain why suicide isn’t such a bad thing, which probably isn’t helpful, but naturally works in this Velveeta parade.

After a brief check-in with the Japanese, RJ and Lesley Ann have graduated to a beach horseback riding session as they get to know each other.  He rattles on and she’s not paying any attention.  He asks if she wants to hear more and she says no, but he continues.  Now the actors are as oblivious as the script?  She tries to escape his clutches, but he insists and orders her to stay at his house.  Smart Dr. Lesley Ann somehow goes along with his program all because he promises things will be better as “you got me.”  Not inspiring.

For the first time, Angie shows a little bit of sadness, moaning to pal Katherine Helmond that “when I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself anymore.”  That cliche line is from the same script as the Robert and Lesley Ann are in?  War does crazy things to a miniseries.  “You only come over here to complain, you don’t listen,” Katherine says, noting how Angie actually enjoys her battles with Dennis and will never leave him.  At least this scene explains what the hell is going on with Angie and Dennis, though through LONG exposition from bratty Katherine.

We pause for a bit of history on the radio that tells us…not what you think.  No, just that Washington has sent the Japanese ambassador a “ten point memorandum” about Japanese activities in the Far East and expects a reply.  A forgotten fact of US entry into World War II was that negotiations were going on in the nation’s capital that would have gotten us into the war at some point, but on terms far more favorable than a surprise attack that nearly clobbered the navy.

This is all going to make Gregg and Tiana’s romance even more awkward because she’s Japanese.  The fact that she announces to the born-in-Japan family that she has a date with a white man doesn’t go over any better with her family than it will with his.

That day passes very quickly because it’s already December 6 (which means this day is going to take FOREVER).  It starts badly, with RJ back in the swimming trunks.  But, Lesley Ann is all smiles in her one-piece, followed down the beach by the butler with drinks.  He offers her the entire weekend (oops), she assumes that means sex, gets pouty, but he explains it’s only for “affection and support.”  She glumly agrees.  First, though, he has to check in and headquarters and sees suspicious fire signals.  He and a g-man discuss it and decide the Japanese won’t make an attack (oops).  The g-man is more worried about “sabotage” from the local Japanese.  RJ decides to note it to Dennis anyway, but it’s not taken seriously (oops).  Dennis has a ball to throw that night and nothing is more important!  He’s doing Cole Porter proud, but it’s bad news for the navy.

Privates “Gayface” Christian and Adam Arkin go over to a brothel run by…surprise…Katherine Helmond!  She knows Adam well, has his usual girl ready and wants to please Christian very much, but he can’t find a girl he likes and wants to “look around on my own.”  Luckily, he’s not on driving duty because Audra and her general hubby are picking Dennis up.  Angie has just bolted the premises when they show up, so Dennis has to fumble for excuses before joining them.  Audra knows something is up, something more than just her eyebrow.  Anyway, the current plots collide when Angie passes by sad-looking Christian on the street and offers him a ride back to the base.  I guess she’s gotten over her fear of him from movie night.  She hasn’t forgotten him, actually, just her fear, because she cracks, “you drive my husband around, I drive him crazy” as a bonding tool.  Christian is so dim-witted that when Angie parks the car in a secluded spot, he wants to check a map to see where they are.  “I’d forgotten things could be beautiful,” she says melodramatically staring at him in the moonlight before kissing him.

“Please ma’am,” he says, pushing her off.
“Please do or please don’t?”

He worries about breaking the rules, as diddling an officer’s wife is “second only to treason.”  I’ve not seen that in the rules anywhere, but then again, I’ve never attempted to write a kitsch “From Here To Eternity” knock off.  She’s not giving up, so he gives in.  Hah!  Who is gay now?  You go, Christian, with a hundred violins, no less.  And, all before the Japanese can interrupt.

You know what Adam likes to do with the hookers?  Paint their portraits.  That’s disappointing!  So, the only people on the island getting it on are Angie and Christian?  That’s unexpected.  Making it worse, he’s a painter-philosopher and we have to listen to the mumbo jumbo that comes with the latter (aka, a time killer).  Good thing the gal he has for the night also likes to chat in that manner.

Lest we forget anything serious, Tiana brings Gregg in to meet her parents.  He brings gifts, is exceedingly polite, but is, as expected, ignored.  Also, as expected, he’s a good sport about it.  She delivers a resolute speech to her father that she respects her ancestry, but she is going out with this hunky white guy.  It even turns into a civics lesson, but Pops ain’t budging.

What wold a whorehouse be without a brawl?  Adam’s paintings come in for some jokes, so he thrashes everyone he can find.  Katherine doesn’t seem to mind.

The navy ball?  It’s a snooze.  Dennis, dancing with Audra, isn’t thrilled to see Gregg dancing with Asian Tiana, but he doesn’t recognize her from a few days ago because, “I have trouble telling one from another.”  I’ve been waiting hours for that line.  Though RJ promised he wouldn’t try to have sex with Lesley Ann, he does, she panics and bolts.  She finds comfort on a swing outside, going back and forth like a crazed woman as he professes his love for her.  Already?  When did he have time to fall in love?  Was it at the aborted pill swallowing or did the swings clinch it for him?  And the swings, now we’re borrowing from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Gregg tells Tiana more about his boring life, but she’s enough history and asks him point blank why he hasn’t made a move on her.  Well, he’s kind of used to Asian women being “confirmed virgins or karate experts.”  She lets that one pass because she’s damn horny and not ashamed of it.  She’s further turned on by his lack of experience with girls, and that’s when, uh oh, he mentions the discarded fiancee.  Nope, that doesn’t scare her either.  “Can we make love?” she asks.  “When?” he replies nervously and follows with another 20 questions before finally kissing her.  When a girl is that ready, what red-white-and-blue straight guy holds out so long?

Angie has no such problems.  She drops Christian off and is found by Brian Dennehy.  He wants money to keep it quiet, which she absolutely expected.  Frankly, she’s insulted at the low amount she wants so she grabs his gun and flattens his tire (the car tire, not his spare one), with a threat to kill him if he blabs.  At least this character has some surprises to her.  I was beginning to think the approaching Japanese were the only interesting people in the movie.

Speaking of, dawn has broken and it’s December 7.  Tiana greets the day at a Shinto shrine, with Gregg looking on proudly.  “I’m also a Methodist,” she informs him.  They hear the planes, but Gregg doesn’t think it could be anything important so early.  Saucy Angie has been out all night and returns to a smack in the face from Dennis, which we know is pleasing to her.  Robert is playing polo (polo?) when Lesley Ann comes to ask him to escort her to the boat off the island.  Katherine is taking the painted girl to church, with oodles of been-there advice.  In other words, no one is paying any attention to the skies above.  Tension should be building, but none of these people are fascinating enough to make that happen and we know that history can’t be put off forever.

It takes a nameless character to realize the planes dropping bombs are Japanese on the attack, but Lesley Ann is just getting to the reason she’s been so darn upset (dead boyfriend).  Take your pick, you can mute the sound because of the attack or the dialogue and you won’t miss much.

Finally, the alert goes out and everyone knows what those pesky planes are really doing up there.  Some are slower to react, such as Dennis, still howling at Angie as his naval base is bombed to ruins.  There is always time for a pointless argument, Angie still full of quips.  If you are still on mute, consider yourself fortunate.  A constantly ringing phone eventually ends this scene.  “We’re at war,” Dennis tells her.  “You and I have been at war for the last 18 years,” Angie clucks, still not getting it.

Some, like Gregg’s father Richard Anderson, are quick to mobilize, while others get the gabs, like Adam, who has an insanely long speech while the whole navy is running around him.  He even has time to answer some sex questions from Christian.  That’s just a blatant waste of time when we know we have tearful partings from couples like Gregg and Tiana (big kisses and he has to get to work).  Oh, and Robert says out loud that he’s happy for a war because it’s keeping Lesley Ann on the island.  That makes as much sense as anything else he’s said to her, so she doesn’t find it shocking.

Alas, the plot churns and so I must report the windings.  At first, everyone we’ve met so far survives, though in various states of hysteria (Mary Crosby is particularly ripe, worrying about being raped, but veteran scene-stealer Marion Ross out-does her).  Richard is the calming effect, telling his family, and thus us, that the Japanese can’t land on their particular island.  Maybe another, but not this one, so air raids are to be the worst of it.  It sounds convincing, I suppose.  “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say my father planned this thing to make sure I didn’t get out of the navy,” his son Gregg says to mates.  Just for that, the boat he’s on is bombed, sending him into the water, but alive.

Dennis is excited to put some plans into action, plans someone was careful enough to draw up in case something like this happened.  He mentions there will be censorship and even the bars will be closed.  “Not that bars, sir!” Robert sneers, as if he has some better plan just waiting to be unfurled.  Dennis warns him, “we must not take advantage of the awesome powers that are to be delegated to us,” which also gets a sarcastic rejoinder from his know-it-all inferior knocking Dennis down a few pegs.

The FBI makes a beeline for Tiana’s house, questioning her father’s need for so many pigeons and tossing around threats.  But, Tiana is understanding, agreeing that “you have to worry about such things now.”  Her father shows he’s no traitor by killing this pigeons.  One by one.  In real time.

Need we guess who is the first true hero?  It’s RJ, of course, the marquee star.  He not only saves a child from a burning house, but a Japanese child and stays around to worry about the other houses on the street while Dennis drives off to do his work.  Oh, don’t worry, the first time his hair gets singed, he’ll forget all about the kids, even the I’m-so-noble-I-save-the-children-of-potential-enemies part of him.

It’s the enlisted men who are smartest, giving their superiors great suggestions and even letting Japanese civilians help out (seems dubious, but okay).  Naturally, there is must use for Lesley Ann’s surgical skills, but there is a lack of help at the hospital, soon filled by…the hookers!  “My girls are cleaner” than anything on the island, Katherine demands and they are allowed to help.  War breaks down all barriers.

After weasel Brian Dennehy claims his jeep was hit by enemy fire (it was just Angie, remember?), Dennis is told of the mounting casualties.  “Murder!  Murder!  By God, now we’re taking control,” he finally decides.  A little late to the game, but still welcome.  He has so many hams around him that he’s stayed fairly muted, but it’s a miniseries and everyone wants an Emmy.  Not that anyone here stands a chance.

Our first big “uh oh” moment comes when Robert and Tiana see a bloodied and very wounded Gregg wheeled into the hospital.

(FYI, the battle scenes, which are impressive, are unused footage from “Tora! Tora! Tora!”)

A very confused Angie pays a lucky cab driver $100 to drive her around, first stopping at Katherine’s to hear that “a very special world around us is dying” (I’m assuming she means this is bad for her business) and then insisting on going to the naval base!  “I have to do something and I’m not afraid any longer,” Angie announces to Katherine, revealing what is apparently a long-dormant second personality, because we’ve not seen this Angie previously.

Back to the hospital.  Gregg is awake and asking for Tiana, though RJ insists the soap keep bubbling, demanding to know of Lesley Ann at this particular moment, in the middle of the hospital on this day, why a girl with such smarts would try suicide.  I like her reply.  “Leave me alone!”

There isn’t a scratch on Gregg, looking awfully fresh upon waking up and being cleaned off.  “My parents will love you.  I’m gonna tell them all about you,” he says to Tiana, who agrees.  We all know what happens to characters who promise the future in a miniseries.  They don’t usually live to see it.  Unaware of that law, Gregg proposes and Tiana accepts, then it’s off to surgery for Gregg.

Grinning and laughing, Brian is excited about the war and tells Private Christian it’s for two reasons.  First, the war guarantees that they need every man, so he, less than a year from retirement with his superiors trying to boot him, is safe.  If that isn’t enough, “you and the Colonel’s slut,” is his ace in the hole.  “I know you’re a lot bigger than I am, but I don’t care.  I’m not going to let you call the Colonel’s wife what you just did and get away with it,” Christian says after abruptly stopping the car.  I’m not sure which part he objects to really, but Brian says they will discuss it later, causing Christian to go on a free-wheeling car zoom that scares the hell out of Brian.  They go off the side of the road and Brian escapes before the car blows up, four or five explosions.  At that moment, Adam Arkin drives by and is pulled away from the wreckage like a horrified boyfriend.

And thus, we our first cast casualty, one that owed nothing to the Japanese directly, making it seem more than a trifle trite.

Gal-on-a-mission Angie forces her way onto the naval base, full of bluster and threats in her first serious speech of the piece (the soldier she humiliates in this scene gets to take out his aggression on a Japanese telegram delivery boy who has a coded message for the general, though he lets him through anyway).  Dennis is busy reading Brian the riot act for not getting to the printer on time, though Brian does have a good excuse.  “Has my car been damaged?” is Dennis’ first question.  Yup, and so has your driver.  “I told [Robert] that homo can’t drive!” Dennis replies, only THEN finding out that Private Christian is dead.  Brian is haunted by the episode, but Dennis has war fever and finds this all just a fiasco.  “I will not permit madness to infect my section!” he demands, oblivious, as always.  “It won’t happen again, sir” Brian replies, as stoically as possible with a lunatic for a superior.

Angie and her cab driver somehow get to the landing strip where the second wave of Japanese aircraft is devastating the planes by not only shooting them but crashing into them to create huge fires.  Angie is horrified at what she sees, but the cab driver seems more than happy to let her sit and watch.

Upset at losing his special friend, Adam tells his superior about the whole debacle and when asked if he’s okay, Adam loads on the heavy New York accent and avows, “nothin’s gonna kill me, not you, not this stinkin’ army!”  Perhaps not, but the storyline and bad acting might.

Thrilled now, Dennis loves barking orders and issuing commands.  RJ is there when he says any Japanese sympathizers can get the death penalty.  So, very slowly, Robert lays into him, defending the actions of all the brave Japanese people living on the island.  Dennis decides to counter this with “an old Hawaiian proverb,” and wait until you hear it: “the canoe is not swamped by the outside wave, but by the inside wave.”  WHAT?  What is an inside wave in a canoe?  That does not end the scene, alas.  Robert continues to argue, even asking for “an apology on our part, a sense of regret, not a sense of joy at the prospect, not elation.”  An apology to whom?  No one has been arrested yet.  Sure, the FBI looked at Tiana’s dad and his birds, but no one rounded him up.  “Are you accusing me of enjoying this tragic day?”  “I’m your exec, sir, not your accuser.”  “I’ll expect you to remember that at all times,” Dennis says, having gone far more bonkers with power than perhaps even Captain Kurtis.  The scene only concludes when Dennis orders Robert to inform all the bordellos that there is a curfew and anyone in violation could be shot.  Sure, kill off the last vestiges of pleasure left on the island, blame the hookers!  They’ve been busy wrapping bandages all day, if anyone cares to remember.  They will be too tired at night anyway.

So, off Robert dashes to Katherine Helmond’s establishment, apparently deciding she’s keenly interested in his rhetoric about “personal freedom” and some other rot that is obviously some writer’s personal passion yet doesn’t particularly belong here.  It works.  “Captain, after a speech like that, whatever brought you, the house is yours!” Katherine says, fluttering her eyelids at his Southern charm but no doubt hoping her next film role is better.  His new rules are that she operate in the daytime and install blackout curtains.  “The whole town will become a red light district,” Katherine portends.  You see, she’s not at all scared by the military, because she feels that making a ghetto of the neighborhood will cause more girls to come and soon she will have to “expand” to streets with “decent families.”  Never try to best a Madam, they will ALWAYS win.  “I suspect you’re right,” he tells her.  “I’m always right.  I wish to hell I weren’t.”  Why?  You’ve done pretty damn well for yourself, thriving business, big house on the beach.  It doesn’t seem so bad.

In case you’re wondering, Driving Miss Angie is still happening.  She finds her way to a meeting of the all the war wives, where Audra is yowling in a fury of patriotism, firing off false information.  “Why don’t you stop blowing it out!  For once in your life, why don’t you start dealing with the truth?” Angie demands to know of a character who has never been accused of lying.  He’ll she hasn’t had five lines total so far!  Audra thinks she’s protecting the women from the truth, but Angie, all bug eyed with reports from the naval base, tells them what she’s seen, the fires, the planes and ships gone.  “The days of hula lessons and bridge socials are over!  The Japanese just blew them away!” Angie shouts.  “If I were a man, I would knock your head off!  You are nothing but a disgusting tramp,” blares Mrs. Roper.  “We all know that you are a drunk and that I sleep around,” Angie agrees, still insisting that the wives deserve the truth.

Once the Americans take to the air things don’t instantly improve.  The Japanese are still on the offensive, trained and ready.  Planes from both sides are destroyed with guns blazing, but eventually, the Japanese disappear back to the Pacific and we’re left to pick up the pieces of the plot.

First, Lesley Ann has to deliver the news to Tiana that Gregg died on the operating table.  Tiana wants to see the body and Lesley Ann hugs her, slowly walking her to the body as a nurse with a pile of dog tags leads them to the body.  He looks just as hunky as ever, his face completely unharmed.  “Talk to me!” Tiana cries to the body, while Lesley Ann is feet away breaking down (again).  Once again, only because Lesley Ann Warren is such a capable actress does she come off as believable here, rather than just a victim of horribly bad characterization.

Gregg’s family doesn’t know yet.  Marion and Mary have barricaded themselves in their hotel room (much to the consternation of the maids, since they have left the “please make up room” sign on the door but deadbolted it from the inside).  Mary keeps howling in hysterics as Marion spins fanciful stories of what the Japanese might be doing to everyone (with the backdrop of palm trees and the beach behind her).  Robert does his best to comfort his wife, though it’s not particularly good news that he has gotten himself commissioned to Pearl Harbor.  He’s sending his family back to the mainland, but Marion refuses to go.  She won’t leave the island where Japanese servants are apparently poisoning hot chocolate?

And then the phone rings.  Mary and Marion guess the news before Robert even puts the headset down.

The hooker Adam has been painting (Char Fontaine) somehow is able to drive out to the beach where the grunts are waiting for Japanese ships, so she can talk to Adam.  The sarge in charge is baffled that the hookers are following them.  “We’ve always been camp followers, back to the Greeks and the Persians,” she schools him.  “Yeah, and look what happened to the Greeks and the Persians,” he replies, as if ladies of the night did in those empires.  Rome?  Maybe, but not the Greeks and the Persians.  He relents and Adam gets five minutes with Char, as the rest of the men hoot encouragingly.  She wants him to paint her again…at home, where she has to be, alone, at night.  She even gives him the key to her home.  He clearly does not get that she has a crush on the lug, but he agrees to go.  “Make it soon, okay?” she says, like a demure girlfriend (in her demure yellow dress buttoned up demurely to the neck).  I hope this is leading somewhere, because the crawling pace has returned to “Pearl” just when it’s time to wrap things up.

When Tiana shows up at Robert and Marion’s room, Marion is suddenly very welcoming and sweet to her.  Tiana explains the act of bravery Gregg committed that caused his death that brought down a Japanese bomber.  She explains how good the medical staff was to him and how hard they tried to save him.  Marion clings to her with a most motherly embrace.

True to the order, the Japanese are rounded up from monasteries and graveyards.  “Every dog on the island,” Dennis barks over the phone to someone questioning the orders.  Robert is not pleased to see Buddhist priests and “simple fisherman” treated in this manner.  He asks to be relieved of his duty to Dennis and wants combat duty because he can’t countenance what Dennis is doing.  Dennis turns it into a rambling discussion about Robert’s family money, dreaming up a notion that Robert’s family has a plantation with servants, like the Civil War just started, not World War II.  He clearly has an inferiority complex going.  Robert listens with all the zest of a stand-in as Dennis blows out the bile, demanding that Robert remain, refusing to ever let him go, promising, “I am going to break you.”

Pause for a sec.  Okay, this sort of plot revelation is actually interesting, because it gives Dennis’ character some depth, but unfortunately, it comes out of nowhere.  There has been absolutely no indication anywhere else in the saga so far that Dennis grew up poor resenting rich people, most particularly his aide.  They certainly have never liked each other, but the writers here should have made it clear, at least to us, a lot earlier what the stick up Dennis’ ass was all about.  At this point, he’s coming off as a raving racist nutcase when this could be a moment to show how a character’s whole life of pent-up jealousy and hatred is being taken out on innocent civilians just because of their race.  How can we be expected to have anything but utter competent for this character now?  He’s played the buffoon for the entire movie up to this point, and now suddenly he does everything but twirl his mustache to become the ultimate villain, the embodiment of every apologizing nobility this movie has wanted to display when it comes to race relations (remember, it’s 1978 when it was made, so this is not really about Asians and Caucasians, this is much larger in the context of the racial tensions of the 60s and 70s).

Unpause.  Robert reacts to this by rescinding his offer to resign his position, “because nothing is more important than this, this war between us.  I promise you, sir, if I just once find you stepping beyond the powers you now enjoy, just once, violating any law, any regulation, I shall use that against you on behalf of a country and an army I believe in, despite men like you,” Robert says slowly and methodically, mistaking pretend earnestness for good acting, but helped by the patriotic music played under the scene.

At the sink after surgery, a very impressed doctor tells Lesley Ann he wants her to stay on because she has been such a great help.  She’s, as usual, in a world of her own, turning to him with a big smile and saying, “I cried today!” with triumph before rushing out.  Very good, doctor!  How about tomorrow we learn our colors?  She then puts on her civvies, trying not to let the grief of everyone else at the hospital ruin her insta-happiness and hops in her car.

The Japanese aren’t exactly overwhelmed with glee themselves, feeling that though they sent out two very important runs that virtually decimated Battleship Row, it wasn’t honorably done (they hit first at 7:55 AM, five minutes before the declaration of war–maybe their watches were just fast, calm down already!).  The commander feels “we have succeeded only in awaking a sleeping giant.”  You didn’t think of that before?  Come on, let’s not be dishonest to history here, people.  As I said earlier, everyone on earth knew the US was mobilizing, it just needed an actual reason to get into the war and the Japanese were the part of the Axis who gave it to them.

“Last stop,” Angie finally tells her long-suffering driver.  “You’ve been a brave and cheerful companion, aloha,” Angie adds, as if the day has been all about getting to know a stranger.  She passes Brian on the way into see Dennis, baiting him a bit and then offering apologies to Robert.  “What’s happened to you?” Robert understandably asks after she delivers her speech.  “Pearl Harbor, I don’t know.”  Lady, we don’t know either.  Her second apology to him is in advance of what she’s going to say to Dennis, telling him everything.  She orders him to follow her and to bring Brian as well.  “What is this?” Robert asks.  “Pearl Harbor, my version.”  Angie’s two personalities are colliding and I’m afraid.  So is Robert, clearly.

Understandably, Dennis finds her visit a bother, but when Robert and Brian enter, he has no choice but to put the war on hold and deal with her.  And then comes the BIG speech.  She starts with the dead daughter and explains how she died, a story none of the other men knows (why should they know?).  She turns from zealous prosecuting attorney into crying lump.  Regaining her composure, she forges ahead.  The ramble makes very little sense at this point.  Sure, we need to finish Angie’s plot, but as with Dennis earlier, there have been very few clues, not enough to warrant this grandiose episode and the sheer amount of time it takes.  “I’m leaving you…just three little words,” she announces, continuing with another of her infamous animal metaphors, “we’re like two old horses, joined at the hip, side by side pulling at a junk wagon, just going along, day after day, year after year, picking up more junk and pretty soon, it’s not each other we feel, it’s the weight we’re pulling.  I’m unhitching us…”  She confesses to trying to seduce Robert and insists Brian tell what he saw.  Brian now gets his big acting chance, but Robert whips out his gun and offers to shoot Brian.  How about the director instead?  Leaving a grade A mess in her wake, Angie grabs her purse and says, “well, I’m going.  God forgive me how good I feel!” She brings back the “Gone With the Wind” parallel, exiting with Rhett’s final line and slamming the door.  This is the most insane scene yet, I suppose inevitable, but so badly handled.  I can’t even find anything else to say.  “Pearl” is its own worst enemy.

Dennis is left alone in his office with a stack of paperwork as he dissolves into a quaking crying mess himself.

That would leave just Lesley Ann, who managed to onto the base as the curfew is about to take effect.  Some grunt tries to get her to go, but it seems Angie’s grand exit wasn’t enough to end her character’s participation.  Leaving the building, she’s recognized by Lesley Ann and insists the soldier take her to see Robert.  Never mind, he’s coming out of the building at that moment anyway.  She gets to tell him the FULL story of her misery.  It’s rather anti-climactic, and more than a touch bonkers, but at least it’s acted well…or, in context, better.  “They asked me to stay at the hospital, but that depends on you.  Do you want me to stay?”  “Oh my God, yes!” Robert replies and his dirty body gets a hug and giant kiss.

Roosevelt’s declaration of war to Congress is played as all of the characters listen.  The narrator returns (I was hoping he wouldn’t, but whatcha gonna do?) to tell us “nothing was ever the same again.”

It’s just stupid!  Second-hand stupid.  “Pearl” has no reason to exist other than to copy “From Here to Eternity” and doesn’t even do it well.  The characters are a jumble of non-existent plots and horrendous acting and the script might have been better suited to more than five hours because there is so much going on, yet none of it at all important.  How one can actually manage to trivialize the events of December 7, 1941 is beyond me, but that is the only thing at which “Pearl” succeeds.

Categories: Adventure Miniseries, Historical Miniseries, Romance Miniseries

2 Comments to “Pearl (1978)”

  1. ladylavinia1932 14 August 2014 at 12:27 am #

    [” This is the most insane scene yet, I suppose inevitable, but so badly handled. I can’t even find anything else to say. “Pearl” is its own worst enemy.”]

    This is my favorite scene in what I feel is a pretty good mini series. But I guess in your eyes, they all have to be another “BAND OF BROTHERS” with hardly any melodrama, whatsoever.

    • Bj Kirschner 14 August 2014 at 1:17 am #

      “Band of Brothers” and “Pearl” share only subject matter. There are parts of “Band of Brothers” that are excruciating and preachy. “Pearl” is paint-by-numbers WWII, a stew of scenes from movies we’ve been seeing since the 1940s. But remember, the HBO miniseries are a completely different animal from the network miniseries, and that difference is crucial.


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