Thank heaven for YouTube. Without it, would anyone remember those halcyon days of yesteryear when television series had a weird little thing called an opening credits sequence, accompanied by, wait a minute, it will come to me, oh yes!--a theme? I had a blast a few weeks ago running rampant on YouTube and revisiting some of my favorite themes from the 60s and 70s and it reminded me again how much fun those 60 second or so musical interludes could be each week. Now I'm definitely a music geek, so you may want to roll your eyes now and get it out of the way, but I remember to this day wanting to tune in each year to catch new themes, or even the reorchestrations of a theme from a series returning for a new season (or even the rarer occurrence of a series returning with an entirely new theme, as in Lost in Space's third year). Why spend so much time opening my review with this diatribe? Because I for one am convinced one of the big reasons Mannix hit it big on CBS from 1967-75 was its spectacularly lilting opening jazz waltz theme by Lalo Schifrin, who two years previously had entered the cultural vernacular with his amazing music for Mission: Impossible (in fact both series shared a lot of the same behind the scenes talent, notably producer Bruce Geller). While always competently written and acted, with some nice location shooting (especially after the more studio and backlot bound first season), Mannix was, after all, not really anything that groundbreaking or exciting, despite its rapidly jettisoned first season gimmick of a computer-run detective agency (strangely, the same idea would fail a few years later in the Hugh O'Brian series Search). That said, this first season of Mannix was never included in any of the syndication packages that kept the show on the air long past its original broadcast run, so it's fun to see the beginnings of what was a major success in the private eye genre that has so dominated series television virtually from the first sign-on signal.
Mannix, created by the venerable team of William Link and Richard Levinson, follows the adventures of private dick Joe Mannix (Mike Connors), who in this premiere season works for a Los Angeles detective agency known as Intertect, run by one Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), evidently an homage, name-wise, to Lew Wasserman (according to an extra interview with Connors and Campanella). The first season's office conflict is quickly set up when Intertect's "one piece of paper on your desk at one time" rule (no, I'm not kidding) is revealed to be rather spectacularly broken by Mannix, just one of several rules he flouts throughout each episode. It's a fairly routine sparring match between Wickersham and Mannix throughout this first season: Wickersham wants Mannix to toe the line and follow the rules, Mannix refuses, Wickersham relents, realizing Mannix is his "best man" (as Wickersham himself admits in the pilot), and then Mannix following his own well-developed gut, goes out and solves the mystery on his own. It's pat, to be sure, but Connors and Campanella play off of each other in that relaxed, friendly style that was a staple of late 60s television fare. They're playing easily identifiable types (in the formal sense) here, and as such, rise to the occasion with a minimum of fuss and bother. Don't expect any overt "acting" lessons in these episodes, at least from these two, who keep their performances extremely low-key. The histrionics are usually left to the guest stars, and the first season is full of them.
Occasionally some "major" names crop up, notably Oscar winner Kim Hunter in the pilot (though I was aghast to see her relegated to end credits supporting status, with Lloyd Nolan given the opening "guest star" credit, but such are the vagaries of television celebrity hierarchies). But the bulk of the episodes features a who's-who of late 60s television regulars, including such folk as Beverly Garland, John Colicos, William Windom, Leslie Parrish, Paul Petersen, Larry Storch, Ruta Lee, Madge Blake, and Richard Mulligan. A couple of episodes feature some nice turns by one fading star and one newly blossoming one, Jan Sterling and Karen Black, respectively. The Sterling episode, about a former Hollywood queen, also has a sort of funny time capsule moment by featuring gossip maven Rona Barrett playing herself. Two of the more interesting guest shots are Joseph Campanella's own brother Frank in one episode, and my personal favorite, none other than Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young in the waning days of Buffalo Springfield in another.
Several of the episodes involve Mannix getting involved with generically named "gangsters," with the implication being organized crime. These are all fairly standard episodes, though there is one nice twist in "Make It Like It Never Happened," when Mannix is "hired" (for $28.00, her life savings) by a little girl (played by the improbably named Amber Flower, but, hey, it was the 60s) trying to clear her father of a murder charge. This episode was nice in that it gave Connors at least a little opportunity to open up and show a fun side to his character and his interactions with the girl were a welcome respite among the usually more buttoned-down performances he displays throughout the bulk of the season.
Another thing that set Mannix apart, or at least gained it some notoriety in its day, was its unusually brutal fight and stunt sequences. In fact Connors reminisces (several times actually, in both an extra interview and one of the commentaries) about dislocating his shoulder and breaking his wrist, among other injuries. The shoulder mishap occurred during the helicopter chase sequence that is a major part of the opening credits (culled from the pilot episode). It's not unusual for Mannix to engage in several fist fights, get clubbed over the head (with an actual injury showing afterward) and even shot (always in the arm, of course, as is pointed out in a funny TVLand promo included as an extra) in any given episode.
Mannix may not be anything unusual, but it is always fast-paced with an occasional nice twist and turn in the plotting, and well-anchored by the extremely likable Connors in his best-known role. Watching Joe Mannix tool about Los Angeles in his custom convertible Oldsmobile Toronado, to that great theme by Schifrin, has to be one of the seminal images of 60s detective television, and it's a welcome sight again after over 40 years' hiatus.