Without the chronic scurvy, Judge Daryl Loomis could have been master of the seas.
I have long established for myself a healthy distaste for the television mini-series, at least those during their 1980s heyday, but I continue to watch them in some misguided hope that I'll find something to appreciate. I actually thought I had a winner for a while in The Manions of America, a three-part epic that aired on ABC in 1981. The first two episodes are detailed and compelling, but the third defies all common sense and completely sinks the production.
It tells the story of Rory O'Manion (Pierce Brosnan, Tomorrow Never Dies), an Irish laborer who only loves one thing more than his boss's daughter, Rachel (Kate Mulgrew, Star Trek: Voyager), and that's Ireland. Sadly, he must forsake both his loves when he is framed for a murder and must set sail for America to escape. He arrives in Philadelphia to meet some old Irish friends and slowly build a life for himself when, a few years later, Rachel arrives to live with her uncle and find Rory. As his gunpowder business starts to take off, they rekindle the flame and get married, but lies, infidelities, and a looming war threaten to ruin it all for them.
It's hard to argue with the way this decades-long saga begins. The early years of Rory O'Manion's life are told with good historical detail and, filmed entirely in Ireland, gorgeously lush countryside. The family struggles and romances are mixed well against the backdrop of the potato famine. As Rory watches his family suffer and starve, he also sees how well the British landowners live and can't stand it. His revolutionary leanings complicate his love for the British Rachel and, as the landlords become riled by his actions, he becomes an easy patsy for the murder charge. He's a strong character brought out nicely with a solid early performance from Brosnan.
The great detail extends through the second episode, which delivers Rory through his first years in America and his early successes. Rachel takes more of the center stage here and Kate Mulgrew holds her own really well. She and Bronson don't have a ton of chemistry together, but the writing is good enough to overcome the coolness of their relationship. The entire cast does well throughout the production and the scenery is always beautiful, but in the end, unfortunately, the story doesn't measure up to the rest.
Everything starts to fall apart with about fifteen minutes to go in the second episode and, moving into the final part, never recovers. The attention to detail that had been established goes away and the timeline shifts from a few years in the first three hours to over a decade in the final one, with major life changes happening off camera, brushed off as the story speeds to its conclusion. It feels like two episodes smashed together, but really it fails due to sloppy, lazy writing and editing. The cast still does well and, since I'd already spent this long with the characters, it wasn't difficult to follow them through to the end, but there were enough eye-rolling lapses in plotting to remind me why these epics don't fly with me.
From E1, The Manions of America arrives on two discs, with the first two episodes on the first and the third along with the extras on the second. I'm a little confused about the widescreen transfer. It doesn't look like it has been cropped into the ratio, but it's hard to tell; they might have shot it that way and cropped if for television, as well, but I'm unable to find any reliable information. In any case, the image has not been restored, so there is a fair bit of damage to the print and a murky lack of clarity overall. The box claims the sound is a 5.1 mix, but if that's true, use of anything aside from the front speakers is at a bare minimum. For all intent, this is a stereo mix. The only extra is a series of short interviews with members of the cast and crew.
It's too bad about The Manions of America. What started out as a substantially better production than I hoped for became a confused mess in its final third. Until then, it's a detailed production with good performances that I was really starting to get into, but it ends in such a slapdash fashion that, for its virtues, is still a failure.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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