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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

WALLENBERG: A HERO’S STORY (1985)

Raoul Wallenberg, one of the most intriguing & admirable characters of the Second World War, was a rich Swedish ne’er-do-well when he reinvented himself at his country’s consulate in Budapest. With little more than personal charm and the creative use of forged documents, he managed to put a large percentage of the local Jewish population under Swedish protection and save thousands from both the occupying Nazis and the Hungarian ‘Arrow Cross" fascists. And, apparently, had a great time doing it. Until the war ended and the new Russian occupiers spirited him away. This well-received mini-series, written by Gerald Green who also wrote the HOLOCAUST mini, is skillfully structured, if on the blunt side, and exceptionally well directed by Lamont Johnson, an undervalued helmer of film & tv. But what really makes it work is Richard Chamberlain’s perf as Wallenberg. While he never quite registered in features, here, his delight at seeing will-o’-the-wisp decrees & strategies taking hold over Nazi generals, Hungarian collaborators & even his own staff, is infectious. Yet, the dire urgency of the situation also comes thru. Not all the characters find similar balance, a romantic subplot never convinces and some of the Jewish characters might have found gainful employment on Manhattan’s Second Avenue, but Kenneth Colley’s Eichmann gets under your skin. (If only he didn’t look like THE PAJAMA GAME’s Eddie Foy, Jr.!)

DOUBLE-BILL: A Swedish telling, GOOD EVENING, MR WALLENBERG/’90, with Stellan Skarsgard, uses a darker pallet to concentrate almost exclusively on the last chaotic days of the Nazi occupation in Budapest.

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