So this is how it ends? Not with a bang, but with severe blunt force trauma and multiple contusions? The end for Joe Mannix is here. There will be no more seasons of Mannix coming out on DVD. Get your head around that as your tears slide down your pumpkin yellow and apple green-checked Dacron« polyester sports coat. There will be...no more. Paramount has released Mannix: The Final Season (my god why did they call it that? Is it not enough to know it's the final season?), a 6-disc, 24-episode collection from the CBS detective series' 1974-1975 season―and a damned good season, it is, too, with emphasis on nicely-constructed little noir mysteries over the more emphatically Mannix-y elements. Which makes this all the more difficult. This goodbye. A new car for Joe and a big bump up in the ratings didn't mean a thing to the suits at CBS: they folded the show at the end of this eighth season. No extras for these typically good-looking transfers.
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 seven 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 Dacron« 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 brand new Chevy Camaro LT, 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 police Lieutenant Art Malcolm (Ward Wood), 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 never hidden my love for Mannix, so why should I hide my grief now that it's over? What is there to write after six reviews other than, "I feel pain."? The words are gone. Dried up. There is only...ennui and emptiness. So then you callous reader say, "Shut the hell up, Mavis; it's just a stupid TV show." You say, "Grow up, Mavis; it was a cool show, sure, but it was repeating itself by the end, and besides, Connors looked bored. Shut up!" You say, "Jesus, Mavis! You'll write anything to stretch a review out, particularly when you don't have anything important to say about a show you're already written about six times before. Shut up!" And then I say to you...you're right. Everything you say is right. Does that make you feel better? Mannix is finished, baby. Finished. So I don't care what you say. The show that made me wear a sports coat to my fourth grade class picture (wide lapel) when everyone else had a striped T-shirt on. The show that made me use a hot comb in high school to get the "Connors Conk" when everyone else looked like Geddy Lee. The show that taught me never to trust any of my ex-servicemen buddies, lest I wind up assassinated. The show that taught me no broad is better than a weekend fishing up in the mountains...with of course a required detour to a nearby small-town-with-a-secret and its corrupt sheriff who ditches me in the desert to die. The show that taught me 412 blows to the noggin via sap, gun butt, fist, pipe, boat oar, golf club, and garbage can doesn't necessarily mean a subsequent lifetime spent in p.j.s, a football helmet, and Depends«. Not the greatest show in the world by far...but a show that occupies a fondly-remembered little slice of my childhood, back when I was young enough and na´ve enough to really believe such a fantasy world of two-fisted private dicks existed. Because TV told me it did. That whole show, is long over.
"Finis. Applause," as Michael once said. As for Mannix's final go-around...it's a blast. Most long-running series by this point wouldn't be faulted for flagging in terms of their scripting or performances, but here, even if some of the episodes feel awfully familiar, the writers, directors and actors keep their focus, delivering one tightly-constructed little mystery after another. The season opener, Portrait in Blues, is a typically hysterical Mannix outing, throwing in everything from targeted-for-murder folk/rock singers (you'll want them dead, too, after they sing that same stupid song for the fifth time), to "the Organization," to someone dying of leukemia, fercrissakes. Joe debuts his new Camaro (Suuuuu-weeeet), and gets off one of his best smart-assed tough-guy lines to weasel Barry Gordon: "Next time, little boy, Daddy's going to spank." Chance Meeting has Geoffrey Deuel as a disconnected Vietnam vet smuggling dope (they were all over the networks in the mid-70s), before Joe is beset by chain-wielding bikers (hasn't that happened a few time before?). Search For a Dead Man has the delightfully nutty premise of professional assassin John Hillerman (hee hee!) hiring Joe to find his "I thought I shot him dead" victim (Connors has a great little shamus scene with sexy Mary Wilcox that's right out of a 40s noir). There's an impressive two-parter this season, Bird of Prey, based on the noted mystery, The Venetian Bird, from celebrated crime author, Victor Canning, that gives Connors a chance to run around an exotic location for a change in this fun banana republic political assassination thriller. And for this final season, it's nice to see Gail Fisher get an episode largely to herself; here, she's held captive in a secret basement apartment by "Syndicate" assassin Lincoln Kilpatrick, who's suffering from childhood trauma-induced psychosis (the underrated Kilpatrick is excellent here).
And of course (as I've written countless times in these reviews), what would a Mannix season be without at least two knock-offs of Bad Day at Black Rock―one of the most frequently reworked scenarios of 70s detective series. Death Has No Face finds Joe tracking down his would-be bomber assassin (he blows up Joe's office...not a singe on Joe's sports coat) to your typical Mannix small-town-with-a-secret, where boss lady Lynn Carlin runs the show. Desert Sun cleaves even closer to BDABR's bone by adding in a racial element (Indian/White relationships), along with a Mannix stand-by―old Army buddy in trouble―for a tasty little actioner. However, a good number (if not the majority) of episodes this season eschew the typically oversized action sequences and almost Bondian flair that was a staple house style for Mannix, in favor of small, tight, noirish outings that emphasis complicated plots and characterization over action. Game Plan has a novel twist on its kidnapping plot: inveterate gambler James Olson has to steadily lose in a gin game to pay off the ransom (we get a little action at the end, with a dune buggy chase, and this classic line from Joe: "Now let me give you a little piece of advice, son, before I turn you over to the cops: don't try and hustle another man's game...and cheap crooks are mine."). A Fine Day For Dying features one of my favorites, Pamela Franklin, as a coma patient awakened to find out she's been marked for murder. Another favorite, Alan Fudge (who could forget that name?) plots a murder in the Brady Bunch house here, and Peggy's first message of the day to Joe is one of the series' all-time best: "The garage called and they filled in the bullet holes." Exactly.
The Green Man is a quirky little noir with Scott Marlowe as a wealthy heir dabbling in counterfeiting. (that "cheese box" bit with the phone is a winner, and the glider finale is nice, too). A Small Favor For an Old Friend has Joe back in Frisco, trying to figure out why everyone seems to think he's been living there for months (good foot chase at the end, with solid location work). If Enter Tami Okada was a potential spin-off, it's too bad CBS didn't pick it up, because Mako is excellent as a sharp, polite sidekick private dick (Connors gets to show off some then-trendy kah-ra-tay moves, and the director makes good use of the now-vanished Japanese Village and Deer Park at Buena Park). A season devoted to noirish plots wouldn't be complete without a Laura knock-off, and Picture of a Shadow fits the bill nicely (why wasn't the alluring Rosemary Forsyth a way bigger star?). The old "is he or isn't he my husband?" plot is given another whirl in The Survivor Who Wasn't (always good to see solid actor Paul Burke). A Choice of Victims is of note mostly for a nice bit of acting by none other than 70s and 80s gossip queen, Rona Barrett, playing herself...and damned well, too (were they testing out Stanley Adams as some kind of legman/sidekick semi-regular here?). Joe finds himself (literally) in the middle of a Mafia squeeze play when two semi trailers try to squish him in Man In a Trap (how many "syndicates" are there in L.A.? Don't they all know Joe by now?). I always like a good college murder mystery, and Edge of the Web is a nicely complicated one, with a trendy racial element added in for some snap.
Actor Bill Bixby directs A Ransom For Yesterday and does a clean, professional job of this familiar tale (always welcome Dabney Coleman shows up doing what he does best: being an obnoxious a-hole, while another favorite, Woodrow Parfrey, nails his little cameo as a seedy journalist). Quartet for a Blunt Instrument (best title of the season) is a beautifully complicated, dense little noir, scripted by Shimon Wincelberg, that finds Joe helping out Thalmus Rasulala when he's framed for murder. Design for Dying is a nasty-tinged outing that has Barbara Rush and Dennis Patrick not quite telling the truth to Joe, in an involved little frame-up. The last broadcasted episode of the season, Hardball, sports a great cast, including William Windom and John Ritter (good as a real dick), in a very cool outing that has Windom taking a jury hostage (along with wounded Ward Wood), and demanding that Joe kill Ritter so his cop friend can live. My two favorite episodes this go-around, however, come a bit earlier in the season, and both are directed by the talented Bill Bixby, whose presence this season really bumps up the show's quality. In A Word Called Courage, written by George Slavin, who shows up but yet another of Joe's Korean War buddies out for revenge. Not just content to blow him up, he wants Joe to suffer, vowing to make Joe break the way he did when the North Koreans tortured him. To do this, Joe's old Army buddy sets up Joe with Anthony Zerbe, a mobster who thinks Joe has the name of a stoolie in his organization. So now it's time for Zerbe to torture Joe in a special observation tank, complete with electrocution and auditory shock treatment. A nasty little outing, nicely performed by Connors, A Word Called Courage is exactly the kind of episode that comes to mind when you want to sum up the Mannix mystique (and by the way: Joe don't break). Same thing with The Empty Tower, a precursor to Die Hard, which finds Joe and new buddy Bixby locked in a safe in an empty skyscraper, as thieves rob it floor by floor (like The Anderson Tapes). Once Joe cracks the safe from the inside (a really well-paced sequence), Joe's on the loose throughout the building like a better-dressed Bruce Willis, zapping henchman before a showdown with the real heist mastermind. Bixby's lensing is always visually interesting, and he has a real sense of energy to his action sequences. It's just a shame there wouldn't be more Mannix episodes for him to direct....
I guess you'd have to ask Mike "Touch" Connors why Mannix was axed this eighth season. Was it increasing production costs? Did certain people, like Connors, want to move on? Hard to say, but if ratings were any indication this 1974-1975 season, Mannix should have been given the green light for at least one more go-around. Knocked out of the Nielsen Top Thirty for the last two seasons (after CBS foolishly moved it out of its Wednesday night slot, where it was the seventh most-watched show of the 1971-1972 year), Mannix came charging back to score an impressive 20th ranking for this '74-'75 season, thanks in no small part to its lead-in: 14th-ranked Kojak (direct competition over on ABC and NBC―The ABC Sunday Night Movie and The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie―both fell hard against this one-two punch). Now, if money was involved, then I can see CBS saying so-long, but strictly from a ratings point, this 20th place finish should have kept Joe slugging along for the 1975-1976 season...a missed opportunity brought into stark relief when Mannix's replacement, Jack Palance's dud, Bronk, fared so poorly. Too bad.
Portrait In Blues
A Fine Day For Dying
Walk On The Blind Side
The Green Man
Death Has No Face
A Small Favor For An Old Friend
Enter Tami Okada
Picture Of A Shadow
The Survivor Who Wasn't
A Choice Of Victims
A Word Called Courage
Man In A Trap
Edge Of The Web
A Ransom For Yesterday
The Empty Tower
Quartet For Blunt Instrument
Bird Of Prey Part I
Bird Of Prey Part II
Design For Dying
Search For A Dead Man
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.