Heaven and Hell” picks up the saga of the Hazard and Main families after the Civil War. United through the friendship of George Hazard and Orry Main, bound together by the vendetta sworn against them by Elkanah Bent, the families’ fates remain intertwined despite their fighting on opposite sides during the war. But without the dramatic backdrop of the war, the story lacks scope, and the six-hour, three-night length is too much.
Length could have been kept to a more appropriate four hours by reducing the numerous subplots and getting rid of virtually superfluous characters, such as hero George’s ruthless sister, Ashton (Terri Garber). It seems that the plethora of plots and characters is to add breadth; depth would have been a better choice.
There are some nice touches, such as introducing the various locales with sepia-toned period snapshots before abruptly returning to color and action.
The production does a good job of filling viewers in on what happened in the previous two parts of this saga. Wolper/ABC production values are high, in some cases maybe too much so: The poverty-stricken Southerners dress and live awfully well immediately following the war.
Director Larry Peerce gets the most he can out of Suzanne Clauser’s limited script. There are some abrupt switches in camera angle and action, but Don Faunterloy’s camerawork is effective; he knows when to go for the close-up and when to pull back, and, mercifully, he doesn’t shoot it like he’s just seen “Gone With the Wind.”
Same cannot be said for everyone involved in the production. Garber’s road-show Scarlett O’Hara turn is an embarrassment.
Two standout portrayals are Philip Casnoff’s demented Elkanah Bent and Stan Shaw’s Isaac, a former slave whose freedom is short-lived but fiercely loved and protected. Billy Dee Williams has a cameo; it’s too bad the ever-charismatic Williams wasn’t used more. Peter O’Toole as a louche actor bringing Shakespeare to the masses is a delight.
Major characters are all fine. The stage is set for further sequels, thanks to the love that has sprung up between Madeline Main (a luminous Lesley Anne-Down) and George Hazard (James Read) after the deaths of their respective spouses. Sequels, it’s hoped, will be kept to shorter lengths, or punched up.