The “North and South” novels of John Jakes came out in 1982, 1984 and 1987. Miniseries of Books 1 and 2 had both aired by mid-1986. Why not Book 3? There are differing answers on that one (Kristie’s character was killed near the end of Book 2 and Patrick was well into movie superstardom to return to TV), but timing and Jakes’ writing no doubt were factors.
However, as I see it, Book 3 is a desperate grasp as a miniseries. By 1994, when it aired, the American network miniseries was moribund. I’ve already noted in these pages that I consider “Scarlett,” airing in 1995, the true end of the movement, so by 1994, certainly the networks knew they had just a few gasps left.
So, what could they do to go out with a bang? Well, they could have gone the route of “Scarlett” and used recent novels, as the Krantz and Steel factories churned out books faster than anyone could read them. They could have gone for a real-life or true crime story (which they did). They could also keep trying Stephen King books.
Or, they could dredge up past glories for a can’t-lose movie, a last attempt to breathe life into a clearly dead genre. There was a “missing years” “Thorn Birds” miniseries that was dismal, Clavell would have been way too expensive, to say nothing of Wouk. Ah, but the “North and South” books of John Jakes (who already had a trilogy made into a miniseries in the golden days a decade and a half previously) had a dangling finale that was not filmed. Both “North and South” miniseries in the 80s were critically hailed and gigantic hits with audiences. Bingo, let’s do it for the money.
Only, doing it for the money is a lousy reason to make a miniseries and it was bound to fail. One only need to look at “Lace II” for proof. Book 3 has a stale feel, a sad aroma of decay to it. A lot of the same actors are back, but you would hardly notice. Philip Casnoff is given one of the worst parts of his career, Leslie-Anne Down is turned into Scarlett-after-the-war, Terri Garber has very little to do and even the magnificent James Read looks totally bored. Thus, assuming money-grubbing decisions, I add “Heaven and Hell: North and South, Book 3″ to the sequel pile along with “Lace II” and the equally unwatchable “Rage of Angels” sequel.
To be fair, “Heaven and Hell: North and South Book 3″ is not a disaster like the two mentioned above. It is harmlessly impotent and dull, that’s all.
Uh oh. The miniseries starts with a bit of narration by John Jakes. Who does he think he is, Judith Krantz? It’s only a review, but it ends with Jakes telling us that somehow Philip Casnoff is still alive through some “quirk of fate.” Oh, come on! He could have figured out a way to say that far better, but perhaps he was under torture to speak the line exactly as written.
Philip and his beloved Terri Garber, already overdoing it in her first lines, have come to extort money from the character once played by Patrick Swayze, but in this case an obvious double used in a nighttime scene. Terri trots off to have it out with Lesley-Anne Down, making a crack about “uppity” former slaves and Lesley-Anne’s minuscule black heritage. Philip, drowning in dry ice haze, follows the man with the cane, stabs him and then relays a bit more plot review. At exactly the same time, Terri informs Lesley-Anne that she’s going to take “everything you have…so enjoy it while you can” and flounces out the door.
When Terri makes her way through the fog and unlit streets exactly to the empty place where Philip has just killed her brother, she’s horrified. She thought Philip was going to extort money. ”What about me?” she asks. ”I don’t need you for what I’m going to do,” he callously warns her. Hey, Ter, you lie down with dogs…
Enraged, Terri screams and runs in slow motion, pushing Philip off a bridge and one supposes he drowns, but of course one supposed the last time he was killed he actually was dead, so we’ll wait and see if he’s that lucky again.
Naturally, James Read is upset at his friend’s death. ”He survived it all only to have some coward knife him in the back?” he growls to his patient wife Wendy Kilbourne as he fishes out his half of the $10 bill that he’s kept since early in Book 1. It’s Wendy who tells him to go help Lesley-Anne. Probably not wise advice on any level.
The character of dead Patrick Swayze’s brother, now being played by Kyle Chandler, meets Rya Kihlstedt, a penniless but pretty actress who declares he “will hear of” her, despite his knowledge of theater being limited to Edwin Booth (nothing can top the plight of 19th Century actors like “Centennial”). He’s also in the military under an assumed name, though a squawking officer thinks he should be fired since he was part of the South.
Rya, as noted, is an actress, and wants to work with a troupe headed by a truly bizarre slumming vet. Not Liz Taylor from Book 1, not Wayne Newton from Book 2, but one of the least likely slummers in all of show business, Peter O’Toole. He isn’t interested in her acting, he just wants someone to manage his books and “keep him sober,” a delicious in-joke. ”Everyone thinks they can act,” Peter tells her, not having seen the rest of this movie, and tough Rya holds out for lead parts in exchange for taking care of him.
Another relative swoops down into the story, Robert Wagner, playing the deed owner of the once great family estate. A rather dour sort, he tells Lesley-Anne that if she fails to make any mortgage payments culled from her little vegetable garden run with the help of paid former slaves, he’ll boot her out. Hearing that Lesley-Anne is educating her former slaves, he is invited to join the KKK, but declines, only to be reminded, “the war may be lost, but the cause ain’t.”
Mariette Hartley is hired as the plantation’s teacher. She tells Lesley-Anne she was an abolitionist, as if that matters now (or in light of Lesley-Anne’s efforts to help runaway slaves). A desk and windows are promised her as the school is being built, and she takes the job, “with enthusiasm,” though it looks more like complete boredom. However, she shows spark soon after, when Lesley-Anne is turned away from church because of her racial history. ”There is no blessing on this house of abomination,” Mariette snaps to all, including Robert, who is uncomfortably in the middle of the ado. He again refuses to join the clan, but doesn’t leave with Lesley-Anne either.
Into all of this, like a gallant knight, comes James, apparently not planning to stay more than a five minutes because he rides to the ruined plantation just on a horse, nothing else. He inquires about her husband’s killer and is told no law and order actually exists in the South now.
Cue Richmond and the insane asylum where a raving lunatic holds court. Yup, once again, Philip Casnoff has cheated death! Tied to the bed, he remembers his rank, “the great sovereign state of Georgia” and a whole bunch of other things, but not his name. The doctor thinks he’s perfectly sane and has him released.
Ever the pragmatic entrepreneur, James offers Lesley-Anne a business partnership in order to build a sawmill, which will only help her meager efforts. She keeps declining until he, of course, brings up that ripped $10 bill. ”I do believe we have ourselves a deal,” Lesley-Anne gushes.
Philip, walking no doubt to some magnetic dream of retaliation, stops, pulls out his knife and writes his character’s name in the dirt. Has he remembered something? No time to dwell, we have new lovers to visit: Rya and Kyle, who has attended her performances and actually stayed awake. He wants to go out West, and though Rya assumes it’s to “fight Indians,” his kiss cancels out all worries, but they can’t have sex in that little outdoor patch, “not for my first time with you,” she notes (thats a rarity–a woman in an historical miniseries who openly admits she’s not a virgin), so we take the act inside with glowing candles, sexy bodies and acres of violins and drums. Considering Kyle Chandler is the most handsome man in all three “North and South” miniseries, it’s nice to look at, though stereotypically handled. After being insulted by a superior officer in a restaurant while with Rya, Kyle decided to pay a visit to his fie-year old son, explaining the story of his birth and his fiancée’s death and promising a return to his new love.
Out in Santa Fe of all places, Terri has become perhaps the crankiest hooker in all that dry heat, until a piano salesman comes to spend the night, a shy retiring type who offers to help her get her home back (that pile of charred rubble, as we remember). She coos that the last man who tried to help her was killed. This guy doesn’t even flinch hearing that. Said man is riding on the back of a wagon singing and crazy.
Kyle is set upon by his hateful superior and three others, beaten badly before Rip Torn shows up garbed as an Indian to chase them away. Sillier is Terri’s plan to start actually making pianos with her regular john, using the madam’s gold, hidden in a hole under the desk. ”I don’t have a gun,” says Tom Noonan. ”Well get one!” Terri bleats in exasperation. Silly and pathetic is Philip’s plan, under an assumed name, taking a job in a railway station in order to bide time until James returns from his goodwill tour of Lesley-Anne’s south.
With Reconstruction not even a possibility for such fluff, the movie lurches from one inane attempt of mid-1860s history to another. Rip Torn is, as you may have guessed, not an Indian, but rather a fur trapper with a “slightly touched” nephew who needs a partner good with a gun, since the last one was carved up by Indians. Forgetting his son and Rya, Kyle agrees to go into partnership with Rip and they continue on their westward journey. ”I’m gonna learn you good about the Cheyenne…gonna learn you good so you can keep your head of hair,” Rip, pure comic relief tells his new partner.
After a howler scene where Peter O’Toole was clearly not acting drunk as much as living it, Rya makes it her life’s work to find Kyle and prove he’s no deserted.
The sawmill is built on Lesley-Anne’s land lickety split, and it seems Lesley-Anne is falling for her dead husband’s best friend, who is feeling the same, but doesn’t realize it. There are few worse acting mistakes than trying to out-ham one of the greatest hams of all, and Terri Garber, laying it on thick through three movies here, seems to think she can get away with the histrionics of Peter O’Toole. Not in a million years, sweetie. Even Peter O’Toole has no idea how to do it. Terri and Tom go to steal the bordello gold, though Tom has a conscience about it. She even has to kill making an escape.
There is a great deal of tension when Rip and company get to the Cheyenne settlement and warriors show up to do bate. They run into a “medicine tent,” comparing it to a church, a sanctuary in which no blood will be spilled. The chief frees them, but the Indian who caused the flare-up is definitely not finished. In one of the other main plots about racism, Robert Wagner is unsure of whether to join the Klan or not. He doesn’t feel he needs a hood, but their propaganda is strong and they give him the honor of lighting a cross. The Klan comes to Lesley-Anne’s and former slave Stan Shaw sees them first, telling his fiancee to fetch the lady of the house. Lesley-Anne is brave in front of the hooded Klan, telling them to go ahead and burn the school in defiance, recognizing even RJ’s voice, and they do torch Mariette’s one-room schoolhouse.
The bad guys far outnumber the good ones, so while Wendy is waiting for her husband’s train to bring him home, crippled and savagely bent on revenge, sneaks into her house. He rambles with a knife to her neck until James’ horses can be heard and then stabs her. After finding his wife dead, he sees that Philip has written his name on the mirror in blood. ”You bastard, I’ll kill you. By God, I’ll kill you,” he avows with thunder crashing to heighten the effect. That’s a natural way to end the first part.
“Heaven and Hell” is, so far, not any worse than any other miniseries of its time (admittedly faint praise), but it’s not in a league with Books 1 and 2 because they had a centralized tension that was a part of every plot line. Yes, it was an overly familiar one: separation of family and friends across the divide of the Civil War. However, it had potency and believability, plus a whole lot of soapy plots as a distraction. What this one lacks is that centralized tension. Everybody is the same and feels the same. There are bad people, but only in a cardboard sense. When James Read and Patrick Swayze tangled over their opinions, it was painful to both of them because they knew they would be torn apart by them. Here? Well, Terri is a hooker stealing gold, Kyle gets mixed up with a shady fur trader, Lesley-Anne is so good to everyone that the Klan has to step in. So far, it’s just a series of vignette plots adding up to…well, not much.
Stan and his cohorts vow to rebuild the school on the same site and defend it as well. Miniseries rules declare that when everyone smiles and makes promises, deus ex machine, a house falls on their metaphorical heads. A telegram of Wendy’s death sends Lesley-Anne scurrying go meet George, whom she fears will never forgive himself for spending extra time with her and the school, though she does admit that Philip is a wicked man who…pause…pause…killed her husband! Mariette, the very prototype butch schoolmarm, convinces Lesley-Anne to stay put so the sawmill can be run and James’ letter told her to stay away since Philip is on the loose.
We are re-introduced to Jonathan Frakes, James’ brother with the shrewish wife, now played by Deborah Rush. Deborah wants Jonathan to run for the Senate and uses he funeral as a social gathering to push her agenda, even with General Grant. Deborah even has a scheme to use Jonathan’s place at the Freedman’s Bureau to go down south and buy cheap land, though he warns her against it. James says he’s in no state of mind to decide anything, leaving decisions in his foreman’s hands so Deborah doesn’t do anything stupid and then hires a Pinkerton detective to find Philip (who is standing in front of a mirror trying on Wendy’s earrings).
Hold in your laughter for the worst political gathering in miniseries history. The Republicans come to town to whip the former slaves into becoming loyal party members with the slogan “Liberty, Lincoln, Lee” and then reminding everyone that there are still potential slaves because there are still potential masters. Shameless huckstering is stopped by Stan, who gives a violin-laden speech about how even if they have not been paid yet, they are doing what they are going “because we want to…we is free now, and free men choose. What’s the point of being free if you can’t choose?” That stumps the politico and silences the room until the politico proposes Stan be the first delegate or the upcoming Charleston convention.
Terri and Tom are now in Chicago making pianos, and the first one is just about ready. Her plan to put one in every “cathouse” in the country seems to be foolproof. Except it has enough plot holes and idiocy to it to sink a fleet of ships. The soon-to-be husband and wife do not get along because he knows she’s “vicious and greedy and vain” and the threats fly back and forth.
Covering a wanted sign of his mug, Philip goes to a war office to find out about Kyle, and is given an address of a man who corresponds regularly with him, though not currently since “sixth tree from the fourth hill in Indian territory” is not easily located by the Pony Express. Speaking of, Indians attack our threesome, killing Rip and the “touched” boy, leaving Kyle to bury them and continue on alone.
While Stan is celebrating his wedding with dancing and song, Lesley-Anne decides to go back to the house to tend to her child. Two Klan members want to lock the door and burn the revelers alive. Just as they are about to rape Leslie, a man arrives to chase them off, the geologist RJ hired to find out what is really on the land Lesley-Anne owns.
The snakes are assembling, which means Deborah pays a visit to RJ, flirting her way into finding out what she needs to know about the phosphates found on the land. Deborah has everything worked out to fine detail. She will give him the money he needs, he will have to worry about buying out Lesley-Anne and because of the “problem of labor,” they will fund a general store where everyone works on credit, thus giving the owners “complete control.” RJ tells Lesley-Anne of his plans, but the land isn’t his until she defaults on payments, which is a distinct possibility given that the Klan busted the sawmill
Kyle’s homecoming does not go as planned. Shabby, bearded and dirty, his son is afraid of him and Rya is angry. But, he cleans up, finds out about Philip and tries to dump Rya. She halts that by inviting him up to her room to “hold each other.” He has a serious miniseries illness–the one that happens when you leave polite society for a time and have trouble readjusting when you return. Luckily, Kyle is still sexy to Rya, so some sex seems to be the cure. Well, to some degree, because he still takes a civilian scouting position, hoping also to hunt down Philip.
“I am regaining what you and others tried to take away from me…pride!” bellows Robert when Lesley-Anne begs him to drop the issue of credit that will lead to a new form of slavery for her friends and coworkers.
At a family dinner, James’ sister-in-law Genie Francis returns and she’s frightened because James has become so obsessed with Philip. Cue the Pinkerton, to say there is a woman out west whom Philip raped, but luckily she’s alive, “but barely” and can hopefully provide details. He fears Kyle is Philip’s next target. In an army camp, Kyle meets intelligent trickster Steve Harris and they become fast friends.
The Convention of Colored Men opens with Billy Dee Williams giving a rousing speech, eventually followed by everyone’s favorite, Stan. As expected, his speech is beautiful and full of basic human heart and tears. Even the inevitable violins don’t go too far into overdrive since this is one of those shoot-for-an-Emmy speeches (thought well done and not cynical). Stan is overwhelmed by the positive response, but when Billy Dee calls him “Mr.,” he’s happier than ever. ”It ain’t never been done before,” he says, crying.
And, my miniseries minions, you don’t need even two guesses to figure out what happens next, because we all know that when people are overwhelmingly happy in a miniseries, the worst is about to happen. Indeed, the Klan comes out of hiding to ambush him, sending his horse away (it makes it to the house where the women grab guns and form their own pose). Stan is lynched. Lesley-Anne chases them off.
Steve, doing well rising in the ranks, informs Kyle that his men want to see a play, so he goes to the theater in Leavenworth where initially no one will sell tickets to black men, but it’s Rya who insists they sell the tickets or the company will not play in that theater. Their reunion is awkward, but even worse is Rya going all-out doing “King Lear.” It’s not the greatest rendition, but the again, Shakespeare wasn’t always a guaranteed hit in Kansas. This time is different, though Peter carps during curtain calls to Rya that she changed lines and his staging. ”I had something to say,” she says. ”And you said it,” Peter-as-Shylock replies.
The month comes when Lesley-Anne cannot pay the mortgage and Mariette begs Lesley-Anne to go directly to James for help. She initially refuses, but Mariette spits out a sentence full of alliterative S sounds that convince Lesley-Anne. James wants to help, but he also wants Lesley-Anne, who feels the same way. When did these feelings arise? Certainly not until Book 3, because after all those cape-and-church clandestine meetings in Books 1 and 2, she and Patrick had eyes for no one but each other.
Finally, Kyle comes across the Indian who killed Rip when the Indians attack a wagon train of settlers. The wagons circle and from inside spring soldiers. The whole thing was a trap, but when Kyle, Steve and Steve’s men rushed the area to help, they infuriate a commander who remembers Kyle, calling him a traitor and hoping he’ll be hung. ”You can go to hell,” Kyle says and rides off.
Philip, in a new guise that has him looking like a Shakespearean Moor, kidnaps Kyle’s son and writes his name in flour on the kitchen counter where bread was being made. As for Kyle, he’s gone to the Cheyenne to ask for permission to kill the man who killed Rip and to warn them that soldiers are coming. No sooner does that sentence escape his mouth than the commander with the attitude starts howling again about how “they breed like rabbits” and “red devils” seem to be his preferred moniker for the gang. A slow motion montage shows a complete slaughter of the Indians. Kyle aims for the commander, but decides not to kill him. At least not yet. As the commander reaches for his gun, Steve steps him and stops it from happening. Kyle leaves and only the Indian he has been chasing is still alive to exact revenge in a war that would last far longer than the Civil War. So ends the second part of the movie.
In the miniseries least interesting plot, Kyle and his Indian nemesis (Gregory Zaragoza) meet alone in a field. The fight lasts about 8.2 seconds and Kyle doesn’t even break a sweat besting Gregory. However, he doesn’t kill him. He harms him and then tends to his wounds. Awwww, new friends.
On Capitol Hill, James visits his brother Jonathan Frakes, who, in one scene, attempts to dethrone fellow overactors Terri and Rip Torn, and even makes headway besting Peter O’Toole. Jonathan pretends to be shocked when James tells him of the scams down south, but says “we have no jurisdiction there.” He has no idea of the fact that his wife Deborah is behind it all while he works at the Freeman’s Bureau and forced her to sell her interest in her company to James for $1. Jonathan throws his wife out of their house, telling her, “I never want to see your face again!”
Also unhappy is Deborah’s business partner, Robert Wagner, who agrees to work with them since the other option was to bought out. But, James is in his element with a new project to keep him busy. He has a list of demands for the foreman, undoing all of the evil at the plantation and general store. He also gets closer to Lesley-Anne, who packs him baskets full of food for picnics. When Philip’s name comes up, James says over and over, “I’ll get him.” And he probably will, since miniseries heroes always get their man, but most of the time because of an accident so no one has to be hauled into court.
Unable to sleep, James sits outside where Lesley-Anne pop over and finally they can confess their love for each other. Their sex scene is notably awkward, at times just plain creepy!
Pure happiness in a miniseries is an oxymoron, because James received a telegram saying Philip has kidnapped Kyle’s son, so he’s dashing to St. Louis to take care of the situation. Lesley-Anne begs him not to go and he says he’s only doing it for the family, promising to return.
Terri and Tom buy the most expensive house in DC and manages to get a list of all the most influential people, throwing a party and doing Scarlett O’Hara again. Tom is not at all thrilled at her behavior, asking what he can do to make her even happier and she says the only thing is her family plantation.
Detective James visits Rya, promising to bring Kyle back. He then enlists Kyle’s army pal, the magic-loving Steve sends him Abilene, where Kyle has become the town drunk. He is passed out and Philips finds him in the drunk tank, teasing with the viewer by giving Kyle a shave. But, he doesn’t kill him. When James and is ever-increasing band of merry men find Kyle, they also find a map on the way that Philip left for them. There has to be something bad afoot, because that would be too easy an stupid.
As if the kid understands, Philip tells him his entire plan for killing everyone left in the story. Most baffling is that he decides to go into Indian Territory to create his own kingdom where he can kill whoever he wants. As the good guys plan to capture Philip and get Kyle’s son back, Robert Wagner, who is wearing a false beard so ungainly even his acting style which is to barely twitch a muscle, is in danger of knocking it off, is with his KKK buddies. He has more important things to do than hunt ex-slaves. He wants to destroy everything James has.
Slowly, James, Kyle and Steve track Philip across the whole Indian Territory (which seems to be about 10 square feet because they keep passing the same trees over and over again. What Philip doesn’t know is that Kyle’s son is dropping rocks like breadcrumbs of children’s stories. A woman whose husband is trafficking buffalo gives Philip and the boy, “not right in the head” as per Philip, feeds them, but doesn’t believe Philip’s story and pulls a gun on him. Philip then kills a man for absolutely no reason and has the man’s Indian lady friend bury him.
Who brings this news of having seen the boy to our trio of heroes? Kyle’s Indian friend, who says he will help and then that’s it as “I won’t owe you anything.”
Just as RJ is making a deal, Terri comes flouncing in, agenda as obviously as her cleavage. Terri has the money to buy it, but RJ reminds her that Lesley-Anne is there and making the payments. Terri has a plan for that too.
Kyle’s Indian pal locates the kid and offers to take the guys there. Both he and Steve, neither of whom have a real stake in finding the boy, want to help. Steve pretends to be in need of a place to rest, dragging out the story to give Kyle and James an opportunity to get into position, while Philip tells Steve the Indian woman “is for sale too. $3 a whack.” The kid sees his father, which means everyone has to jump into a kerfuffle, killing the Indian woman, but getting the kid. James rips his dead wife’s earring off Philip’s ear and in the middle of Philip’s defiant speech, he’s lynched.
That leaves just Lesley-Anne’s plot to wrap up. RJ and his cohorts plan to kill her and take what they feel is theirs. RJ’s wife hears the conversation, begging him not to be a part of it, but he roughly makes it clear this is not a woman’s business and she best not say anything. However, the wife slips away and informs Lesley-Anne of the plans. James and Kyle rush to protect Lesley-Anne and fight the clan. Rya is upset that Kyle is leaving again and tells him she may not be there when he returns, so he gets about 10 steps and decides to choose his lady friend over helping Lesley-Anne, but wouldn’t you know, Rya reminds him that “you always keep your word,” so she is confident enough in his word, she tells him to go.
A gloating Terri shows up at her plantation to inform Lesley-Anne that she bought the deed from RJ and wants Lesley-Anne gone. They two are in the middle of an escalating fight when Tom shows up, telling Terri he never transferred the money from one account to another, so she doesn’t own the property. Terri sees that the only part of her ancestral home is that pile of columns and her version of fiddle-dee-dee is “you know, I didn’t want it anyway.”
Terri’s plot has come to the end, but the Klan is still planning an attack. Everyone at the plantation works together to erect barricades (which don’t look very scary), they test their guns (very old) and anticipate the coming of the Klan, now singing around a burning cross. Can the train carrying James and Kyle make it in time?
Lesley-Anne gets to comfort everyone: former slaves who have never fought, the overseer, who wants to kill RJ and a hysterical Mariette. When the Klan approaches, it’s the ragtag bunch who fire the first shots. They have the dynamite, which helps them, but the Klan is losing this one. ”I will never surrender,” one howls…and then gets shot to death. Robert grabs Lesley-Anne and rides off with her though followed closely by James and Kyle. RJ has the opportunity to kill James and Lesley-Anne, but hesitates and a fellow Klan member kills him only to be shot dead himself by James.
James and Lesley-Anne end up in a clinch among the ruins of the plantation, wondering whether to rebuild or not.
And now, we are officially done with “North and South.” Two out of three ain’t bad!
Categories: Billy Dee Williams, Genie Francis, James Read, John Jakes, Jonathan Frakes, Kyle Chandler, Lesley-Anne Down, Mariette Hartley, Peter O'Toole, philip casnoff, Rip Torn, Robert Wagner, Terri Garber
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