Acorn Media // 1977 // 287 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // January 16th, 2013
To protect ourselves and others, we permit evil to grow, and make no attempt to halt it.
I have made my problems with the television mini-series very clear, both on this site and elsewhere, but I didn't think the form could go lower than I'd already experienced. Now, I would think the same thing after watching Testimony of Two Men, a Universal-produced, three-episode travesty based on a book by Taylor Caldwell that aired in syndication in 1977, but that would likely just set me up for an even greater disappointment later down the line. So, instead, I'll just reiterate how much I dislike this format before getting down to the business of describing it.
In the years following the Civil War, a young, idealistic, well-to-do man named Jon Ferrier (David Birney, Oh God! Book II) finishes his medical degree and starts his own practice. His determination to improve the surgical practices and sanitation that killed so many during the war infuriates the old guard of surgeons who have built their careers on their ancient practices, and they do everything they can to tear him down. This is made easier by his philandering brother (David Huffman, Firefox) and adulterous wife (Linda Purl, Visiting Hours), plus the powers in government who want desperately for him to keep his mouth shut.
Having not read Caldwell's book, I can only assume that it's considerably more interesting than this television adaptation. I can see a story about the conflict between new and old medicine holding some interest, and the three decade arc has the potential to deliver a lot toward that. The trouble is that, while the medical stuff is indeed the framing story of the miniseries, it is ancillary to the overriding romances and interpersonal relationships that dominate the production. Instead of a compelling medical drama, this is a costume soap opera in which six years of that soap is condensed down into three two hour specials.
As a result, there is only opportunity to develop very few characters, with the rest left as cartoonish caricatures of actual people. Really, only Jon gets the full treatment, while a couple others have enough screen time to actually make their personalities known, and the rest, in general are dead before anything beyond absolute surface information is understood.
I don't know that it would have really helped much anyway, because the story is so convoluted and poorly told. It moves so fast through the decades that it's hard to get a handle on anything except for the fact that everybody pretty much hates Jon Ferrier and wants to break him. Why? Apparently, for being a good doctor, though I'm sure there are a few more reasons in the text that are left unexplored in the series. Ultimately, everything happens the same way over and over. An episode starts, Jon gets in trouble somehow, some bluster about modern medicine, somebody dies, and then it resets. It's a slow, predictable, and altogether poor production.
If there's one positive thing to take away from Testimony of Two Men, it's the hilariously eclectic cast. From '70s television luminaries like William Shatner (Incubus), Joan Van Ark (Knots Landing), and Tom Bosley (Happy Days, who is also the show's esteemed narrator) to older stars like Cameron Mitchell (Blood and Black Lace) and Ray Milland (Dial M for Murder), the place is lousy with recognizable names and faces. Unfortunately, that bit of comedic value doesn't come anywhere near making the miniseries watchable, and takes it barely into the realm of a curiosity. For my part, I'm just glad it's over.
Testimony of Two Men arrives on DVD from Acorn in a three-disc collection. Each episode is on its own disc for some wasteful reason, especially since the episodes look so poor. The label provides a disclaimer detailing how this is the first ever release of the series on any format, and they hope it doesn't mar our enjoyment of the program (not to worry, the content of the program does that all by itself), but it's clear there was very little restoration done here. The grain is distractingly heavy and there's plenty of damage to go around. The detail is pretty poor, but there isn't much in the way of transfer errors, so that's something. The mono sound is nothing to write home about, either. There's a little bit of background noise, though it's not terrible, and the dialog isn't nearly as crisp as it could be. The only extra is a pair of short promos and a recap of the first two episodes.
Testimony of Two Men is an utterly lifeless experience that sweeps through decades giving little in the way of compelling plot or characters. If, however, you're a Tom Bosley or Joan Van Ark completist, then this is the movie for you, because not only does he narrate the thing, he's one of the few to survive the whole thing. Outside of that, a poor cast and dull writing do not make for a fast moving six hours.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 287 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Not Rated