QB VII is the name of a court in the Palace of Justice in the Strand where a libel action was fought out between an American Abe Cady a scriptwriter and Adam Kelso Polish born physician accused of carrying out grotesque operations in a death camp to sterilise by castration Jewish inmates without proper anaesthetic. It was probably based on a true story as Leon Uris, the author of the book as well as others which made films notably Exodus and Topaz, did work in films. It’s not actually a film but a tv mini series made in 1974 one of those rather lengthy sprawling ones beloved of the seventies with an impressive cast.
Prior to the courtroom scene the lives of the two protagonists, Abe Cady (Ben Gazzara) and Adam Kelno (Anthony Hopkins) are traced. Abe was an air force decorated war hero who became a successful scriptwriter in Hollywood and, after the funeral of his father in Israel, visits the holocaust memorial museum in Yad Vashem inspiring him to change the direction of his life – as a wealthy unfulfilled scriptwriter drinking too heavily with his marriage on the rocks – to write a book on the Holocaust. In that book he accuses Adam Kelno of war crimes. Kelno is a Roman Catholic physician born in Poland who works in a hospital in a poor area in London after surviving a concentration camp. After the war he is accused by the Polish Government of war crimes, a prosecution which he attributes to his anti-communist sympathies, but the attempt at extradition fails as he is not recognised by one of the fellow inmates and survivors. He goes to Arabia. After that setting up a clinic in the desert, raising significantly standards of health care and then returns to hospital work in London again, mainly treating the poor. He is knighted for his work.
There is a stellar cast including Edith Evans, John Gielgud, Leslie Caron, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins and Robert Stephens. One of the fellow inmates in the concentration camp is played by Vladek Scheybel, a Polish actor I have profiled here before. His familiar face appeared as Kronsteen the Russian Grandmaster working for Spectre in From Russia with Love and he was also in Ken Russell’s the Music Lovers.
Ben Gazzara is always an actor I admired but an unlucky one. His swarthy Mediterranean looks and Italian name came along too early as after The Godfather those features helped not blocked your career path in films.
Always a magnetic presence on screen, he really got into the role of the flawed character whilst Antony Hopkins showed early in his career what he could do with sinister personalities.
The difficulty is that at six and a half hours the series is on the lengthy side so I watched the two dvds separately. The acting for all the illustrious names which included Lee Remick, another who had more ability than decent films cast in her career, was often over the top rather than nuanced. I may be doing the theatrical actors an injustice but I wonder if they were more attracted by the lucre than the story. One who was not was Jack Hawkins as the presiding Judge Gilroy. He already had throat cancer and his words were spoken by Charles Gray.
Though rather dated now with actors drinking and smoking heavily, such a tv series challenging Hollywood was very much a precursor of Netflix and therefore an early indicator of the way films were going.