A sweet, low-key little surprise. Sony has released, as part of their M.O.D. (manufactured on demand) Screen Classics by Request service, Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is, the second of eight Hart to Hart reunion movies produced in the mid-90s. Starring the gorgeous Stefanie Powers and suave Robert Wagner―and of course Max's Lionel Stander plus some big-name Hollywood veterans like Maureen O'Sullivan, Alan Young, Howard Keel, and Roddy McDowall―Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is has a very gentle, romantic vibe to its almost-sad mystery, with the glamour and glitz and one-liners of a typical Hart to Hart episode waylaid this time for a more tranquil, bucolic Murder, She Wrote feel. And that's just fine with this reviewer. No extras for this good-looking transfer.
The multi-million dollar Hart residence. The outdoor hot tub. Morning. Nude self-made millionaire Jonathan Hart (Robert Wagner) is "mapping out"―on the back of his luscious nude wife, writer Jennifer Hart (Stefanie Powers)―the topography of a ranch he helped design right before their damned dog Freeway initiates a canine coitus interruptus. With the moment passed, the Harts repair to their kitchen for a breakfast prepared by their faithful, gravelly-voiced manservant, Max (Lionel Stander). When Max presents Mrs. H with a telegram, Jennifer discovers that her old mentor and first editor Eleanor Biddlecomb (Maureen O'Sullivan), has just been shaked and baked right off a cliff in scenic Kingsman's Ferry, the beautiful little coastal town where Jennifer first learned her craft at Biddlecomb's village newspaper. At Jonathan's suggestion, the Harts return to Kingsman's Ferry for the funeral, where they're shocked to discover that not only did Eleanor own the entire town...but that Jennifer has now inherited it. However, something just isn't right in the dying little fishing town. Captain Quentin Jackson (Howard Keel) is a little too solicitous; attorney Jeremy Sennet (Roddy McDowall) is a little too suspicious-acting; town mayor Walter Trout (Jack Kruschen) is more than a little too drunk; and official village idiot Charley Loomis (Alan Young) is just a little too smart for his own job description. Will Jennifer accept the offer of taking over the town and rehabilitating it...or will sinister forces cancel the Harts' vacation plans permanently?
I haven't seen Hart to Hart since I reviewed Season Two five years ago, but I always found the series quite light and charming and amusing during its original run. I don't think anyone involved with it thought it would be anything heavy or meaningful, but importantly, I think they did take their task of providing expertly-produced fluff seriously, and I always respected the show for that dedication (the behind-the-scenes creative staff was first-rate, so even sometimes second-rate material shone brightly for this 1980s ABC hit). As for TV reunion movies in general, I usually avoid them, even when they're for beloved shows like Perry Mason or The Andy Griffith Show. It's not so much their already-doomed striving to recapture a time and a place and feeling that bothers me with such nostalgia exercises, as much as it's the deadly slow reverence this movies usually employ. The tone of these reunions is often ghoulish in their displaying of the still-surviving cast members, as the stories ponderously plod along ("You're watching icons here, so love them!"), while we're invited to sit and watch our favorites from decades past, cataloging the withering effects of time on our once-ageless idols. For me, I'd rather just watch the old shows. After all, the whole point of immersing yourself in vintage TV is denial, anyway, isn't it? Who wants to see the effects of reality on our happy TV memories?
So it's rather doubly weird to watch a Hart to Hart reunion movie from 17 years ago...that was produced as an exercise in nostalgia 10 years after the original series folded. Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is is set even further back in time from its premiere, than the original series was for the fans who caught the reunion special. It's nostalgia for nostalgia, in a strange way. Quite frankly, I didn't know what to expect when I requested these three Hart to Hart reunion movies, but I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet-natured Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is. I remember a lot of ribbing and one-liners and glitzy, over-the-top hijinks in the original series, but almost none of that shows up here, where a laid-back, meditative mood fits in nicely with the mystery that involves the passage of time (Jennifer's journey home to her beginnings resonates), and old (and some sad) memories. If Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is resembles anything, it's a more sedate Murder, She Wrote, set in a village not at all unlike Jessica Fletcher's Cabot Cove, with eccentric locals clued into a secret that gets some of them killed.
Now, Powers and Wagner are still light and loose with each other, displaying an easy chemistry that comes from both performers knowing they have chemistry with each other. Confidence breeds relaxation, which breeds charm...if you already have it, and Powers and Wagner certain do, in spades. They throw off ever-so-slightly risqué references to each other, but we know that they'll probably wind up laughing with each other rather than in a passionate clinch. Those light moments are perfectly punctuated throughout Lawrence Hertzog's (Hardcastle and McCormick) clean, simple, well-written script by director Peter H. Hunt (1776), keeping us smiling as we follow the leisurely-paced mystery. Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is certainly takes its time about solving that mystery (it's fairly clever, too), but that's one of the script's benefits: it doesn't spell everything out right away (I like how we never get an answer to whose lover's initials are carved with Jennifer's on her old desk). There's time to meditate on the story's minor asides about small towns and traditions (before they're gently, ironically sent up), and to get a real sense of "going home again" for Jennifer's character that was quite unexpected here.
Add to that gorgeous scenery (I couldn't find a credit for the locations, but I'm guessing Northern California, or maybe Canada?), and a superlative score by Arthur B. Rubinstein (his incidental music turns what could have been broad comical scenes into something odd and off-putting), and all you need to seal the deal are good performances...and you get those here, too. Howard Keel uses that big man's charm to good advantage here as the suspicious Captain Jack, while Roddy McDowall, as always, is thoughtful and engaging, even when he really has nothing to do here. Mister Ed's Alan Young starts off pretty broad, but he's quite adept at pulling off the small pathos of his character when his sad backstory is revealed, while The Apartment's Jack Kruschen walks away with his scenes, delivering some hilarious line readings for a character who really isn't funny at all, before he gets serious and sad, too. If the rest of the Hart to Hart reunion movies are this good, it's too bad more weren't made.
Or maybe it's time for a new one.
The full-frame, 1.33:1 video transfer for Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is looked good on my big monitor. Colors were correctly valued and vibrant, while the image was sharpish and compression issues negligible. Not bad at all.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio track is good and loud for us oldsters who remember Hart to Hart. Directional elements were discreet, and everything sounded crystal clear. No subtitles or close-captions.
No extras―not even a menu: the disc just goes in and the feature plays.
A surprisingly adept little meditative mystery, with a sweet romantic tone to it (romantics at heart will love Jonathan's big surprise at the finale). Fans of Hart to Hart expecting some razzle dazzle pizzazz will find here instead a cleanly, simply, effectively written Murder, She Wrote episode starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers...with some little Hart to Hart markers thrown in to keep our bearings straight. Entirely watchable. I'm recommending Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.