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Hart To Hart: The Complete Third Season
The TV Series
"'Cause when they met, it was MURDAH!"
In its prime, Hart To Hart was a childhood favorite. I escaped to the carefree, crime-solving world of the handsome self-made millionaire Jonathan Hart and his plucky wife Jennifer ("She's gorgeous."), grooved to the disco-tastic opening theme music, and puzzled over Lionel Stander's opening voiceover when he declared "We're Chinese-y" (actually, he said "Which ain't easy." - oh.) The plots and guest stars' hammed-up acting were often silly, which didn't matter to this kid. Mostly it was the scintillating chemistry of stars Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers that kept me tuning in every week. C'mon, they had to have really been in love with each other - at least a little bit.
Now that Shout Factory has resurrected Hart To Hart on DVD in a six-disc Complete Third Season set, I can finally check it out again after all these years. Midway through the fluffy detective drama's five-season 1979-84 run, it appears that Jonathan and Jennifer are as delightful as ever, facing off against blackmailers, thieves and smugglers with irrepressible élan. They still have the fabulous hidden-away estate, the yellow Mercedes-Benz convertible with 2 HARTS license plate, their gruff yet lovable servant, Max (Stander), and the fuzzy family mutt, Freeway. Something is amiss in this rarified Sydney Sheldon-created world, however. This particular season seems kind of lazy, with wispy, blandly written scripts that barely stay afloat on the starring actors' charm. At first I couldn't pinpoint why, but it's telling that this season premiered shortly after a 1981 film and television writers' strike was settled. The fact that this season likely relied on leftover scripts is borne out in lame episodes like the season-opening Harts and Flowers, where the Harts must identify a murderous breeder of rare roses before the psycho kills the next victim (which happens to be Jennifer!). These 24 episodes definitely improve in the second half, although most of the plots are half-hearted (Hart-ed?) affairs which randomly throw Jonathan and Jennifer into luxurious interests like faux-furs (What Becomes a Murder Most?), wine-making (Vintage Harts), rare stamp collecting (Hartless Hobby) and the ballet (Harts on Their Toes).
Unlike Aaron Spelling's other cheesefests The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, Hart To Hart didn't often rely on guest stars to spice up the episodes. Sometimes they'd have an old-style movie star on (as with Ray Milland's appearance as Jennifer's father in My Hart Belongs To Daddy), but mostly the show was populated with sturdy, familiar character actors like Whit Bissell, John Dehner, Pat Hingle or Barry Corbin (all four made memorable appearances this season as villains). Despite their routine-ness, the episodes have some camp appeal in reflecting what TV viewers thought was cool in the early Reagan era. America was Country music-crazy in 1981 (Dallas; Urban Cowboy), so of course they had to have the Rhinestone Harts episode with then-hot Country star Charly McClain as a singer who befriends the Harts and unknowingly gifts Jennifer with a jacket studded with millions in stolen diamonds. There were also the ever-present episodes filmed in Hawaii - including From the Depths of My Hart, with the Harts becoming the targets of murderous smugglers after they discover a sunken boat affixed with valuable gold attachments.
Another factor which played a part in this third season's lackluster feel came with the unexpected offscreen tragedy involving Wagner in November 1981: the death of his wife Natalie Wood, who drowned while the couple were sailing with Christopher Walken off the coast of Catalina Island. How it affected production on Hart to Hart is up for speculation, although to Wagner's credit one would be hard-pressed to identify any differences in his performances in episodes filmed before and after the incident. Not to be morbid, but this season also has a few appearances from people who died prematurely - actress Dominique Dunne showed up in the episode Hart, Line and Sinker eight months before she was killed by a jealous ex-boyfriend. The What Becomes A Murder Most? episode also has a brief bit with Reid Rondell, a young stuntman who died in an accident during the filming of an Airwolf episode a few years later.
Jonathan and Jennifer were always presented as kind of a Disco-era answer to Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man book and movies, although the only third-season episode that calls back to that period was Hart and Sole and its shootout climax in an Art Deco movie theater while the James Cagney flick White Heat is playing. As inevitable as the cheesy special effects and fight scenes choreographed with obvious stunt doubles in every episode, Jonathan and Jennifer would eventually get the job done and put the baddies in their place.
Shout Factory's DVD edition of Hart to Hart: The Complete Third Season consists of the following episodes, spread over six discs:
3-01 ____ 06/Oct/81 ____ Harts and Flowers
3-02 ____ 13/Oct/81 ____ A Couple Of Harts
3-03 ____ 03/Nov/81 ____ Hartland Express
3-04 ____ 10/Nov/81 ____ What Becomes a Murder Most?
3-05 ____ 17/Nov/81 ____ Murder Up Their Sleeve
3-06 ____ 24/Nov/81 ____ Harts Under Glass
3-07 ____ 01/Dec/81 ____ Rhinestone Harts
3-08 ____ 08/Dec/81 ____ Hart of Darkness
3-09 ____ 15/Dec/81 ____ Hartbreak Kid
3-10 ____ 05/Jan/82 ____ From the Depths of My Hart
3-11 ____ 12/Jan/82 ____ Hartless Hobby
3-12 ____ 19/Jan/82 ____ My Hart Belongs To Daddy
3-13 ____ 02/Feb/82 ____ Hart of Diamonds
3-14 ____ 09/Feb/82 ____ Harts and Palms
3-15 ____ 16/Feb/82 ____ The Hart of the Matter
3-16 ____ 23/Feb/82 ____ Blue and Broken-Harted
3-17 ____ 02/Mar/82 ____ Harts On Their Toes
3-18 ____ 09/Mar/82 ____ Deep in the Hart of Dixieland
3-19 ____ 23/Mar/82 ____ Vintage Harts
3-20 ____ 30/Mar/82 ____ Hart, Line And Sinker
3-21 ____ 06/Apr/82 ____ Hart and Sole
3-22 ____ 04/May/82 ____ The Harts Strike Out
3-23 ____ 11/May/82 ____ To Coin a Hart
3-24 ____ 18/May/82 ____ Harts and Fraud
Hart to Hart: The Complete Third Season follows the same template as other Shout Factory TV season sets, its six discs housed in a clear plastic standard-width DVD case with episode titles, airdates and plot synopses printed on the interior of the package inlay. In a nice change from the norm, each disc sports its own unique label design.
Unusually, Shout Factory decided to have this set formatted for widescreen television screens, with the 4:3 image pillarboxed with black on the right and left sides. This is a great development, although I'm not sure how the formatting fares on old-style CRT televisions. Picture-wise, the shows are pleasant to look at with not too much damage on the original filmed prints. Colors are somewhat muted but all right, with an image that appears slightly sharpened but not to the extent that it damages the viewing experience. Like other Shout Factory editions of vintage hour-long TV series, the mastering is professionally done and generously spaced across the six discs.
The pleasant, mono soundtracks have a limited dynamic range and a slight bit of raggediness, but generally they're unobtrusive and fine. No subtitles or alternate audio is offered.
Call Jonathan and Jennifer - the extras have vanished!
My Hart Belongs to Shout Factory: the long-delayed third season of Hart to Hart has finally arrived on DVD thanks to the vintage TV purveyors. Honestly, this lackluster, misfortune-riddled season would primarily appeal to built-in fans of Robert Wagner and Stefanie Power's sparkling repartee. For better or worse, these 24 episodes exemplify '80s cheese, and as usual with Shout it's a nicely packaged set. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.