A sweet, low-key little surprise. Sony's Choice Collection vault of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released, Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is, the second of eight Hart to Hart reunion movies produced in the mid-90s (Sony has just recently re-released all eight of the Hart to Hart reunion movies in two handy four-volume sets). 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 series 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 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 each other's strengths. 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 by director Peter H. Hunt (1776) throughout Lawrence Hertzog's (Hardcastle and McCormick) clean, simple, well-written script, with both 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.
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.