Hart to Hart aired from 1979 to 1984 and was all about Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, a married rich couple who — much like The Thin Man or McMillan and Wife — solved mysteries together. Much like Jessica Fletcher, every single person they come into contact with usually dies.
Screenwriter and novelist Sidney Sheldon created the show — it was originally going to be a CBS TV movie called Double Twist — in the 1970’s before it was finally bought by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg. Tom Mankiewicz, who directed the Dan Aykroyd version of Dragnet and also wrote Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun and Superman: The Movie, was brought in to update the script and get it ready to be a prime time show. Mankiewicz made his directorial debut with the pilot episode and remained a creative consultant throughout the shows original run.
Spelling and Goldberg’s initial choice for the role of Jonathan Hart was Cary Grant, but since he was retired, they felt that Robert Wagner had the same style. Wagner wanted his real life wife Natalie Wood to play his wife, but the producers suggested Suzanne Pleshette, Kate Jackson and Lindsay Wagner before they settled on Stefanie Powers.
Wagner wanted boxer Sugar Ray Robinson to portray Max the butler before Lionel Stander was cast. He’d worked with Wagner on his older series It Takes a Thief, also playing a lifelong friend named Max. Strongly liberal and pro-labor, Stander was an outspoken political activist and helped found the Screen Actors Guild. He also spent nearly twenty years blacklisted from Hollywood, a true tragedy that served no purpose other than to advance political careers. While in Europe, he was in Leone’s Once Upon a Time In the West and Boot Hill. Hart to Hart was actually the reason why he moved back to the United States. He’s also in one of my favorite ridiculous TV movies, the Larry Cohen written and directed, Bette Davis starring Wicked Stepmother.
As Jonathan Hart contemplates what to give Jennifer for their anniversary, a murder is committed and Jonathan is being set up to take the fall. There’s some corporate espionage and all manner of red herrings thrown about before our loveable heroes resolve things and kiss.
This episode has plenty of fun guest stars. Just like Murder, She Wrote half the fun of these shows is seeing if you can name who everyone is. Mike Connors — Mannix himself — plays Johnathan’s old Air Force buddy Bill McDowell and Lance Guest — yes, from Halloween 2 — pays his son Peter. Paul Williams shows up in several of these Hart to Hart films as a tipster and Kevin Brophy (Hell Night and the wolf-themed 1970’s quasi-superhero show Lucan), Ken Howard (The White Shadow) and Dakin Matthews (Colonel Cochrane from Childs Play 3) all show up.
Sadly, Freeway the dog is deceased, but his son Freeway Junior shows up. Obviously, Lionel Stander is really old in these. It’s kind of sad, but it’s also great that he got to be in five of these movies before he passed on.
You can get this movie as part of the new Mill Creek Hart to Hart Movies Are Murder Collection, along with seven other Hart to Hart mysteries. I love this set and definitely recommend that if you love made for TV murder shows, you should totally pick it up.
DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to us by Mill Creek. That said, we probably would have bought it.