DVD Review: Ken Follett’s The Key To Rebecca

The mini-series was a thrilling part of TV viewing in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The concept was simple adapt a major novel into a movie that could be split up into two or more nights on a network. This allowed the filmmakers a chance to adapt a few more chapters instead of truncating the novel that everyone poured through on the beach. It also allowed a channel to have an audience coming back for another night. In the summer of 1980, Ken Follett’s The Keys to Rebecca was a huge bestseller. This tale of World War II was a major smash however instead of being made for a network, the mini-series was created as part of Operation Prime Time which syndicated to major independent stations across America including WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York City. Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca proved a pleasure for audiences eager for a sweeping desert story.

Alex Wolff (Starsky and Hutch‘s David Soul) crosses the Sahara desert into Egypt although the trip gets rough as his camel dies. But he won’t give up his suitcases as he staggers across the burning sands. He’s rescued by Egyptians who bring him into Cairo which is still occupied by the English military. Wolff isn’t there to report for duty. He’s a German spy infiltrating the city to report back to the Nazi forces in North Africa led by General Rommel (I Spy‘s Robert Culp). His code book is a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Don’t spend the film looking for him to hook up with a woman named Rebecca. The person who is looking to hook up with him is Major William Vandam (Spider-Man‘s Cliff Robertson). He leads the English group assigned to sniff out and capture Wolff to cease any more messages from Rebecca to Rommel. Wolff’s biggest asset is a belly dancer (Automan‘s Lina Raymond) who wants Egypt free even if it means dealing with the Nazis. She does a tantalizing number that almost makes you forget there’s a war going on in the rest of the world. But there is a war and if the right side wants to win, Wolff’s operation must be stopped.

Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca is still an entertaining TV although without all the commercials it’s one long night of viewing instead of a two day occupation. David Soul is very smooth and seductive as Wolff. He’s got all the right moves when seducing the belly dancer to become his spy. He sizzles under the sun. He also has a sadistic side to remind us that he’s not the good guy in this story. Cliff Robertson doesn’t fake an English accent which is a plus. He plays his character less of a military man and more of a plainclothes detective tracking down a killer in the city. Season Hubley (Escape From New York) plays a bit of romantic interest to the Major in order to see that he’s not just all work in Cairo. The book is based on a true story of a Nazi spy which Follett adapted for fiction so the premise is not far fetched. David Hemming (Deep Red) directed the miniseries to give it a sweeping quality as Wolff journeys around the city to meet his contacts. He keeps up the tension so audience remembers there’s espionage going down. Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca makes you feel like you read the book without getting sunburned on the beach.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The miniseries appears to have been shot on 35mm film and post produced on standard definition video which was popular system in 1985. This lowers the resolution, but the transfer still shows off the charms of locations. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The levels will let you enjoy Soul’s slight German accent. The miniseries is subtitled.

No bonus features.

Paramount Home Video presents Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca. Directed by: David Hemming. Screenplay by: Samuel Harris. Starring: Cliff Robertson, David Soul, Season Hubley, Lina Raymond, Anthony Quayle, David Hemmings and Robert Culp. Running Time: 193 minutes. Released: February 12, 2019.

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