For whatever reason, someone thought a "Hart to Hart" revival in the mid 90s would be a good idea. After a truly dismal start with 1993's "Hart to Hart Returns," series stars Robert Wagner, Stephanie Powers and Lionel Stander would adopt an almost relentless pace of subsequent TV-movies, including three in 1994 and two each in 1995 and 1996 subsequently. Obviously, someone was watching these shows as you just don't get eight TV-movies made if the fan base isn't there. 1995's first entry, "Secrets of the Hart" would be a bittersweet entry. While providing newcomers a glimpse at what made the Harts so watchable, it would also be the final entry in the series for Lionel Stander, who passed away in late '94. Chock full of recognizable bit players, "Secrets of the Hart" doesn't try to be an intelligent mystery; instead, it lays on the cheese and melodrama to strong effect.
While beginning on a cringe worthy note that somehow proves that Robert Wagner playing a pirate isn't even unintentionally funny, "Secrets of the Hart" regains ground sending Jonathan (Wagner) and Jennifer (Powers) on the TV staple hook of a long lost relative. With a mysterious locket in hand, Jonathan soon tracks down a goofy baker (Jason Bateman) who takes the Powers' to his relative, Maureen (Marion Ross) who claims to be Jonathan's long lost sister. However, any fan worth their salt, should know not all is as it seems and before we can say, "shady dealings" viewers are whisked away to the b-plot of "Secrets of the Hart," a healthy dosage of industrial espionage/robbery courtesy of two hammy crooks played by Michael Parks and Wendie Malick.
As clunky and dull as "Hart to Hart Returns" (I've yet to see the three movies in between, due to an unrelated mix-up) was, "Secret of the Heart" gets one thing right and that's pacing. There's no awkward reintroduction to our characters, instead all pretense is thrown out the window and it's sink or swim, allowing Wagner and Powers to recapture some on-screen chemistry, years after the peak of their relevancy. Wagner is especially having fun, laying the charm and occasional condescension on thick to solve not one, but two mysteries, which may or may not be intertwined. Powers plays a sympathetic sounding board and trusty co-detective, while Stander gets a few poignant scenes, including one with Wagner, which in hindsight feels like an on-screen farewell and tribute.
While still not holding a candle to more competent TV mystery/detective offerings like "Colombo," "Murder She, Wrote," or even "Monk." "Secrets of the Hart" is very light-entertainment for an older audience. The (in hindsight) eclectic supporting cast (including a completely random Pat Morita cameo) really keeps things moving when the focus isn't on our leads, with a third act extended scene involving Bateman, Malick and Parks coming off as more humorous than menacing without sacrificing the intended narrative advancement. As expected, the mysteries are wrapped up quickly and cleanly in the last 10 minutes of the program with a few minutes left over for the expected and required schmoozing between the Harts, but at least on this outing, the 90-minute trip was smooth and eventful, especially when, and no I'm not making this up, Parks and Wagner re-imagine the fight from "Amok Time" with garden equipment.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer is a tad faded and quite flat looking. Some compression artifacts are evident, but minimal, while grain/digital noise mars a few very dark, nighttime scenes. It doesn't hold a candle to modern television fare, but for its time, it likely looks better than the original television broadcast.
The simple Dolby Digital English 2.0 transfer is an accurate representation of an early 90s, network TV movie special. Dialogue is dominant but not overpowering, while effects feel pushed to the back and every once in a while, the generic score takes center stage. Distortion is thankfully absent.
While not very original and not entirely smart, "Secrets of the Hart" is genuine genre entertainment, especially in "historical" context. It becomes clearer that people weren't watching these things for a complex who-dun-it but instead for the large personalities of the leads and guest stars, which in the case of this feature, deliver in spades. Recommended.