"I read that somebody tried to kill you."
"Well...there's a lot of that going around L.A.."
Back on more solid footing here...so please god don't email me, okay, lady? Paramount has released Mannix: The Sixth Season, a much better ratio of good-to-excellent episodes than we saw in the last set of the classic 70s private detective series, this time from its 1972-1973 season. Starring Armenian-American god Mike "Touch" Connors and Gail Fisher, Mannix: The Sixth Season keeps the action sure-footed and the mysteries suitably puzzling while Joe Mannix has every bone in his body broken, just for your pleasure! A new opening title sequence couldn't help, though, against the likes of Lt. Columbo, Commissioner McMillan and his wife, Hec Ramsay, and Sam McCloud. No extras, as expected, but also as expected, the transfers are dishy.
As I wrote in my previous reviews, for the uninitiated in the world of Joe Mannix, West Los Angeles private investigator, a brief run-down of Mannix's set-up is in order. Having dumped the chilly confines of the MCA-like Intertect Agency five years before for his own home base of operations, private detective Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) pads down the stairs from his second floor apartment/office at 17 Paseo Verde, and accepts the always-waiting first cup of coffee of the day from his pretty secretary, appropriately monikered, Peggy Fair (lovely, husky-voiced Gail Fisher). "Regular Joe" Mannix, operating with that easy air of a man who may have received one too many cracks to the skull, slips on his regulation DacronŽ polyester sports coat or windbreaker, and calmly awaits his first beating of the day. In between assorted batteries on his person, Joe finds time to entertain clients in his Spanish-themed office, track down suspects in his sleek British racing green 1973 Plymouth Cuda 340 convertible, complete with handy Motorola telephone (not a CB, but a real phone, complete with a clunky handle receiver, telephone number KG6-21-14), make time with any number of gorgeous women, verbally spar with either police Lieutenant Art Malcolm (Ward Wood) or Lieutenant Adam Tobias (Robert Reed, in an infrequent supporting role), and either beat or get beaten by apparently every known felon in the greater Los Angeles county area. Mannix always solves the case, and fees are only seldom if ever paid. Oh, and if you need to contact Mannix, and he's not in his office, and his car phone isn't answering...try Los Angeles County Hospital.
I've written reviews for the past three seasons of Mannix (please click here to read those), and since stylistically this sixth season differs not at all from previous outings (the producers stay remarkably consistent to the "Mannix formula"), I'm not going to go over the same ground again here (the real story for this season of Mannix is probably CBS's disastrous move of the series from Wednesday nights to Sundays, where 7th-rated Mannix dropped out of the Nielsen Top Thirty altogether). Suffice it to say that even at this later point in the series (there would only be two more seasons), the series is still expertly crafted, with most of the audience pleasure coming not from anything terribly new or innovative to the formula, but from the anticipation and satisfaction of the "repeatable experience" that Mannix so consistently executes time and time again. We know Mannix is going to come by his next case in an unusual manner (sometimes cute, sometimes by his own instigation); we know at some point the case is going to become "serious" when the first of many attempts on his life is made; we know Peggy will somehow get threatened by someone with a gun at some point; we know Mannix will have to suffer some form of gently antagonistic guff from his cop buddies about his investigation; we know Mannix will meet some beautiful girl during the course of his investigation who will speculatively eye Joe up and down with unreserved admiration; we know Mannix will get into his sweet Cuda and wrench it back and forth in some kind of frenzied escape/pursuit; we know that Mannix will get his brains beaten in at some point; and we know Mannix will always dispatch his pursuer by the end of the episode...preferably in some spectacular manner if the usual snub-nosed Colt .38 to the belly doesn't work (there's a good screaming high diver over a cliff this season I found particularly tasty). We know this is all coming, and that's why we find a show like Mannix so comforting (Mike Connors is the epitome of the welcoming, reassuring TV actor―we'd be just as glad to talk to him over our backyard fence as we'd like him to discreetly and confidently handle our "dirty laundry"). It's a fantasy that's as predictable and reassuring as a favored picture book at bedtime. That isn't meant as condescension; indeed, it's the highest form of compliment for a series that had to churn out 24 feature film-glossy one-hour episodes every year for network broadcast.
A good indication of where the series is at at this point comes with the season opener, The Open Web. There's a cool new addition to the opening credits (some bongos playing over a silhouette of Mannix in action), before this solid Desperate Hours take-off gets going, with a funny, quirky turn by Rip Torn as the head psycho (I love the sick moment when he tells the kid if he shoots Mannix, they can all go free). We also get the first of this season's screaming free-fall deaths, too, as Torn takes a header out of a helicopter. Cry Silence has a couple of amusing "Mannix-isms," including Joe just happening to see a sniper in his rear view mirror a split second before the shot rings out, as well as Joe's impromptu (and rather shaky) spur-of-the-moment do-it-yourself bomb disposal in his office. Mannix was always known for being a particularly violent show, and Portrait of a Hero doesn't disappoint, with one of the show's more spectacular methods of homicide: a grenade lobbed into an elevator. Quite a few lovely, talented actresses show up this season, as well. English actress Jane Merrow (the sexiest mouth on television at the time) has her "astronaut wife's hair" piled up high in the well-paced Carol Lockwood, Past Tense. Susan Strasberg and a low-key Tina Louise are both excellent in The Faces of Murder, which has a nice Bondian moment for Joe when he breaks into fellow P.I. Woodrow Parfrey's (love him) security-laden office. The sexy Anne Archer has a good turn in A Problem of Innocence, a sharp whodunit with an excellent supporting cast (Fritz Weaver, John Randolph, Marion Ross, Bing Russell), while one of my all-time favorites, Jessica Walter (from Play Misty For Me to Archer!), gets a good backstory in the nervy The Danford File: she's a former call girl now soon-to-be governor's wife (Man With a Suitcase's Richard Bradford is suitably intense).
The Crimson Halo (great noir title) is indeed a neat little noir episode that involves Mannix running down a whole list of sour apples and malcontents, trying to find out who's gunning for Joe Campanella. Broken Mirror has that delicious TV standby―an evil twin―with the lovely Anjanette Comer being shown off to good effect (this one has the classic Mannix moment where Joe fights underwater thugs...in his leisure suit and white loafers!!). Mike Connors gets a chance to emote a little bit in the entertaining The Inside Man, where he goes undercover as a mob guy, before falling in love with sexy Nancy Mehta (in classic noir tradition, Joe is asked, "Were you in love with her?" to which he sadly, fatalistically answers, "...after a fashion."). Light and Shadow has a Christie-like feel to it, particularly at the climax (taking place on a yacht), as Joe runs down all the possible suspects and their motives like a gumshoe Poirot. Mannix's best director, Sutton Rolley, shows up for The Man Who Wasn't There, a classic Mannix episode complete with then-edgy visuals and a hilariously over-the-top Clu Gulager as a giggling psycho (was there any other kind on 70s TV?) bent on killing his old Army buddy Joe (Rolley manages a quite credible "flashback" to frozen Korea, along with a snazzy bar fight, before giving Gulager a memorable screaming death down a zip line at the old Grand Olympic Auditorium in L.A.).
No Mannix season would be complete without a Bad Day at Black Rock homage; for season six, we get two of them. In Harvest of Death, a local sheriff "suggests" Joe leave town (always a bad sign) before he's caught in the crossfire between sharecroppers and a wealthy landowner (Connors gets to throw out some fast Armenian to save his hide here). And in the terrific Lost Sunday, Joe pushes his luck too far in a small town, getting his ass thrown in jail, where a bully makes him...clean up his spilled food tray (don't worry: Joe drills him for that humiliation). Elsa Lanchester and Ruth McDevitt are delightful as two pre-Snoop Sisters old biddies who want the guy who smashed the headlight of their Rolls punished, in A Matter of Principle, a beautifully-crafted outing that maintains a nice balance between laughs and suspense. Sutton Rolley is back with the memorable To Kill a Memory, featuring a high-powered cast (Martin Sheen, John Vernon, Ben Piazza, Ford Rainey) in this intense episode, complete with impressive, weirdo visuals that approximate Vietnam vet Sheen's trauma-induced flashbacks (the early 70s were really the heyday for the "crazed Vietnam psycho" stereotype).
I don't have to write anything more than, "Shatner!" to explain the appeal of the nicely-designed Search for a Whisper. This is an excellent gumshoe entry, with a nice, sad turn by Yvonne Craig who's married to slob Noam Pitlik (there's an excellent scene with Pitlik, where he discusses letting a hitman kill his wife), and equally fine performances by Susan Flannery and Karen Carlson (Milton Selzer is back as Joe's P.I. friend, Albie, and Shatner is of course, Shatner). My favorite episode this season, though, has to be Out of the Night, a terrifically entertaining entry that could double as an acceptable blaxploitation meller. Gail Fisher gets to ditch her goody two-shoes Peggy Fair persona here as she goes undercover as a hooker (!), complete with Foxy Brown fro and Coffy/Sheba Baby smart-assed mouth, and she's fantastic. Joyce Van Patten is strong as a go-between madam, and James A. Watson, Jr. is smooth as the head villain. When Peggy walks into a bar, and a "customer" (really a cop, helping to establish her cover) asks her how much, she sneers, "$350," to which the cop takes a beat and indignantly replies, "I wasn't talking about buying a foreign car." Classic.
"Classic" twist of fate when it comes to the time slot change, though. If you remember from the previous review, Mannix's fifth season switch to Wednesday nights brought the detective series' its highest-ever ratings: the 7th most watched show of the 1971-1972 broadcast year. Moving Mannix, then, to Sunday nights at 9:30pm may have made some sense to someone in CBS, perhaps in an effort to prop up a lagging night with an established hit. But the decision to lead-in Mannix with four sitcoms was looney: the highly-anticipated dud, Anna and the King (no one cared about Yul Brynner anymore), the almost-cancelled M*A*S*H (which flourished when it moved next year to Mannix's old stomping grounds on Saturday night), the re-tooled The Sandy Duncan Show (Funny Face had been a huge hit the year before...so why mess around with it?), and The New Dick Van Dyke Show (which had also been a hit the year before, and which didn't survive this move to Sunday nights, knocking it out of the Nielsen Top Thirty...just like Mannix). Of course, lead-ins are only a small part of the ratings' slide; direct competition was tough, too. Over on ABC, The ABC Sunday Night Movie was delivering solid demos (it finished a strong 23rd for the year, with first-runs of titles like Love Story and Patton killing in the ratings), while NBC had a runaway new hit (5th in the Nielsen's that year) with their "anthology wheel" The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie, featuring "must-see" series Columbo, McMillan & Wife, and McCloud (don't get me wrong: Hec Ramsey was good...but you could miss it). Mannix, in its sixth season, didn't stand a chance (I'll admit it...even this Mannix fan back in 1972 switched over to catch Peter Falk and Rock Hudson). It dropped out of the Nielsen Top Thirty for two seasons, only to rise again in its final 8th due to huge lead-in, Kojak...which ironically would lose its audience by being stuck in an ill-fitting Sunday night time slot.
Here are the 24 episodes of the six disc collection, Mannix: The Sixth Season, as described on the inside cover insert:
The Open Web
When a gang leader escapes police custody in the Santa Monica Mountains, Mannix leads the manhunt.
An ex-priest who heard a killer's confession enlists Mannix to find the murderer...to tell him his deadly secret is still safe.
The Crimson Halo
An attorney hires Mannix to find out who is out to kill his high-profile target.
When a tycoon's wife vanishes on a sailing trip, Mannix dives into the mystery.
Portrait of a Hero
An ex-Air Force pilot doesn't live to see the presentation of an experimental plane, and Mannix smells murder in the air.
The Inside Man
Mannix goes undercover to protect a crime ring informant and avenge a friend's death.
To Kill a Memory
An amnesiac soldier, believed to be dead, returns. Now, Mannix must jog his memory.
The Upside Down Penny
Someone is willing to kill for a child's prized stamp collection.
One Step To Midnight
The granddaughter of an exiled mob boss is being stalked by her grandfather's dangerous friends.
Harvest of Death
An orange grove is ripe for mystery when two crop dusters go missing.
A Puzzle For One
While investigating a fellow private eye's death, Mannix ends up working his colleague's final case.
A victim's sister hires Mannix to prove her brother's death was no accident.
See No Evil
All the clues to a fatal mugging point to the troubled son of one of Peggy's friends. She enlists Mannix to clear his name.
Light And Shadow
When the boyfriend of a millionaire's daughter is murdered, the girl's stepmother is accused.
A Game of Shadows
Mannix searches for a wanted killer who has no identity.
The Man Who Wasn't There
Mannix is pulled into a dangerous game when a deadly enemy wants him dead...and uses Peggy as bait.
A Matter of Principle
A man who committed a hit-and-run traffic violation is suspected of another crime...murder.
Out Of The Night
To break up a drug ring, Peggy undercover as a hooker.
Carol Lockwood, Past Tense
When Mannix's ex-girlfriend turns up dead, he sets out to find her killer.
The Faces of Murder
A brother and sister confess to the same crime. Now, Mannix must sift through a family of lies.
Search For A Whisper
Mannix is hired to find out what skeletons a politician has in his closet.
To Quote A Dead Man
A bum's patchwork coat makes him a target for murder and Mannix must find out why.
A Problem Of Innocence
An ex-con's daughter hides out from deadly strangers still looking for the missing stash of cash her father allegedly stole.
The Danford File
Political blackmail takes an eerie turn when all clues point to the blackmailer being dead.
As with the previous Mannix seasons, a solid presentation. The full-screen, 1.33:1 transfers look quite good, with saturated colors (a few scenes here and there looked a little washed out, but they were isolated), with minimal grain, some scratches here and there, and a sharpish picture. A typical Paramount vintage television release (i.e.: quite good in the video department).
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track is big and fat, and all dialogue is clearly heard. English subtitles are available.
Human punching bag Joe Mannix, back in form. Mannix: The Sixth Season has quite a few solid episodes this time around―some even series' best―so fans of the show won't be disappointed. I'm highly recommending Mannix: The Sixth Season.
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.