Judge Clark Douglas is the President of his piggy bank.
"Darling, you may be my beau, but he's still my boss."
The miniseries format has been making a small comeback in recent years, but we're still a long way from the heyday of the '70s and '80s. Once upon a time, such series were a regular fixture on network television, genuinely important events capable of securing actors who had fallen off the A-list but were still too important for regular television. Those were the days of Shogun, I, Claudius, The Thorn Birds, North and South, Roots, Jesus of Nazareth, Lonesome Dove and The Winds of War. Less well-remembered is the 1976 Arthur Hailey adaptation The Moneychangers, a socially-charged examination of the banking industry starring Kirk Douglas and Christopher Plummer. I suppose there's a reason it's been largely forgotten—it hasn't aged particularly well, and it's melodramatic even by '70s miniseries standards. Even so, the show has its soapy charms.
Our story begins with a dramatic announcement: bank president Ben Rosselli (Leonardo Cimino, Dune) has been stricken with a terminal illness, and the time has come for someone else to take over. Rather than naming his successor, Rosselli tasks the bank's board with choosing between two well-qualified candidates: the smooth-talking, charming Alex Vandervoort (Kirk Douglas, Spartacus) and the conservative, religious Roscoe Heyward (Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music). Naturally, the two men begin contemplating how far they're willing to go in order to win the votes of the board, but Roscoe quickly proves far more vicious in his willingness to smear Alex's character. Who will the bank choose?
That decision will arrive by the conclusion of the The Moneychangers' fourth and final part, but in the meantime, we're treated to a host of gloriously over-the-top subplots. Among them:
The wonderfully preposterous story of Miles Eastin (Timothy Bottoms, The Last Picture Show), a bank employee who embezzles a few thousand dollars, gets sent to prison, endures the most awkwardly-staged prison rape scene of all time and eventually comes back to do dangerous work as an undercover informant working for the bank's chief security officer (Percy Rodrigues, Peyton Place).
The tale of Alex Vandervoort's troubled ex-wife Celia (Marisa Pavan, The Rose Tattoo), who has been suffering from catatonic schizophrenia for the past few years and is currently under the care of the benevolent Dr. McCartney (Helen Hayes, A Farewell to Arms). Alex is eager to get married to his current girlfriend Margot Bracken (Susan Flannery, The Towering Inferno), but Dr. McCartney cautions that such a decision might prevent Celia from ever recovering.
The story of Roscoe Heyward's slow-but-steady descent into debauchery, as his involvement with wealthy, powerful businessmen causes him to set aside his strict morality and begin cheating on his wife with a high-class prostitute (Joan Collins, Dynasty).
The convoluted plot which focuses Margot Bracken's attempt to get the African American community involved in a scheme designed to force the bank to change some of its policies. This plot takes up a great deal of time and leads to a couple of surprising moments: a massive explosion, and a scene in which Margot utters the words, "I am not The Man! I assure you I am not jive-talking!"
This miniseries wanders down a host of rabbit trails over the course of its lengthy running time, but it must be admitted the whole thing maintains a certain level of pulpy entertainment. The events which transpire may be melodramatic, but they aren't always predictable—the melancholy climax of the series certainly caught me off guard. All of the central actors deliver game performances, never condescending to the material (Douglas seems so invested in every single one of his cheesy speeches about the evils of the banking industry). The MVP of the cast is unquestionably Christopher Plummer, who won an Emmy for his turn as the hypocritical villain. Plummer does slimy incredibly well, but it's in the later portion of the series—when his whole world starts crashing down—that the actor really shines. In the fourth installment, Plummer has one large-scale meltdown which is almost alarmingly convincing, as the character's assured facade crumbles and gives way to childlike panic.
You'll certainly need to be prepared to endure some rough technical elements when you watch The Moneychangers. The transfer is pretty crummy, as scratches and flecks are all over the place and the image generally looks very soft. It's not a whole lot better than it would have been if you had watched it on TV at the time. Additionally, the Dolby 1.0 Mono track is a big disappointment, as Henry Mancini's flavorful score (not quite as terrific as his work on The Thornbirds, but still exceptional) sounds very wobbly and distorted on many occasions. Dialogue can be rather muffled at times, too. No supplements are included.
Don't expect a lost classic (or a very good transfer), but The Moneychangers is nonetheless a pretty entertaining way to kill five and a half hours. If you enjoy this sort of thing and can find it at a decent price, go for it.
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