Screen Couples

We all know them: the Stoneses, the Andersons or the Stephenses. For some, they may be a guilty pleasure, for others a mere necessity to get a story told. For me, they are the cherry on top of any tale: fictional couples and their personal stories. On the fringes of drama, comedy and mayhem, romantic innuendo has always been my favorite treat. From Date with the Angels and Family Ties to Murder She Wrote or Babylon 5, I have a weakness for double entendre paired with a healthy sense of humor, smarts and mutual respect.

Della and Perry1) Perry Mason and Della Street, for example, have been my favorite couple for more years than I care to admit. On paper, radio and screen, the lawyer and his secretary know how to put a smile on my face. Committed to their work as much as to each other, the true nature of their relationship has always remained a mystery. For some fans, they are the best of friends while others suspect some hanky-panky behind closed doors. For me, they have long been married, the epitomized working couple who combines independence with traditional values. And that’s the beauty of those characters and their story. They ignite your imagination and tease you to the point of sizzling frustration with a simple look, remark or smitten smile. It is a tradition Erle Stanley Gardner himself started in The Velvet Claws in 1933 and lasted until 1994 when the last Perry Mason TV movie aired on NBC. Perfected by its signature cast, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, Perry and Della have since lived on in the hearts of many fans, the flame of their romance burning more and more brightly towards the series’ end.

Jennifer&Jonathan2) The second couple I have loved for as long as I can remember are Jennifer and Jonathan Hart. Sophisticated, rich and charming, the Harts had everything including a mutually executed interest in solving mysteries. Following in the footsteps of TV’s Mr. and Mrs. North, they dug up trouble where it’s usually hard to find but their love for each other made their cases stand out from others. Together, they were invincible and (much like Della and Perry) have stood the test of time. A mere decade after Hart to Hart was canceled on ABC, the couple returned to television in 1993, matured, refined, and every bit as committed to each other as they had always been. Today, the Harts are still a dream couple for their fans, a twosome who showed their audience the ingredients of true love and how it beautiful life can be even if you are denied to have your desired offspring.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Hart to Hart

TV classics: Hart to Hart

USA 1979-84, 110 episodes, 5 seasons, 47 minutes each, ABC. Created by Sidney Sheldon, Producer: Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, Music by Mark Snow. Cast: Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, Lionel Stander

Plot summary: As hobby sleuths, Jennifer and Jonathan Hart investigate mayhem and murder with a little help from butler Max and their dog Freeway.

Review: Loosely based on The Thin Man narrative, Hart to Hart entered American living rooms in the summer of 1979. Starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as a wedded team of hobby sleuths, the show combined murder, mayhem and comedic situations with guest stars such as June Allyson, Diana Muldaur and Roddy McDowell. Supported by Hollywood veteran Lionel Stander as Max, Jennifer and Jonathan Hart investigated crimes in their hometown Los Angeles, as well as on trips around the world. Always combining duty with pleasure, Hart to Hart was a mystery show with the right amount of romance and action to entertain a family audience.

Originally written for Cary Grant, Robert Wagner was cast as a younger version of the charming leading man whose mansion was located in Mandeville Canyon. His on-screen chemistry with Stefanie Powers, once a guest star on his previous TV hit It Takes a Thief, was the main attraction of a show that never made it to the top of ratings. Warmly embraced by world audiences for the couple’s flirtations and banter however, the show had a decent five year run. With an unfortunate decline in script quality, the show was ended in 1984 and successfully rerun for many years until the formula was revisited in the early 1990s. Reprising their fan favorite parts in eight Hart to Hart TV movies, Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers reunited with their equally popular colleague Lionel Stander who remained a set imperative until his death in 1994.

Still dearly remembered by audiences around the globe, the Hart to Hart TV movies are now available on DVD while fans are still waiting for seasons three through five of the original show to be officially released. With their felicitous homage to Nick and Nora Charles with a dash of Mr. and Mrs. North, it would be a shame to not see the Harts on DVD as a complete set. Self-made millionaire Jonathan and his journalist wife Jennifer deserve to be introduced to young viewers who may not watch as much TV as generations before them but rather stick to DVDs and online streaming. In 2012, the upbeat tone of the series and the romantic foundation of each episode are still as entertaining and enchanting as in the 1980s when the show premiered on ABC. It is the perfect show for any spring season – hearty, suspenseful and bewitching. You’ll never forget it, especially due to the charm and quality of the performances of the three main actors and an adorable Lowchen dog called Freeway.

Hart to Hart intro

What’s My Line?

TV classics: What’s My Line?

USA 1950-67, 17 seasons,  876 episodes, 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Presented by John Charles Daly. Panelists: Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Louis Untermeyer, Hal Block, Steve Allen, Fred Allen, Mystery celebrity guests: Julie Andrews, Eve Arden, Desi Arnaz, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Candice Bergen, Polly Bergen, Carol Burnett, James Cagney, Claudette Colbert, Sean Connery, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, Errol Flynn, Joan Fontaine, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, James Garner, Bob Hope, Grace Kelley, Gene Kelly, Deborah Kerr, Hedy Lamarr, Angela Lansbury, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, Myrna Loy, Allen Ludden, Paul Newman, Debbie Reynolds, Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Jane Russell, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Ann Sothern, Jimmy Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Tierney, Lana Turner, Robert Wagner, Betty White, Joanne Woodward, Jane Wyman, Robert Young et al.

Game summary: Four panelists are trying to guess the occupation of their guests and the identity of the mystery celebrity of the week.

Review: What’s My Line? was one of the longest running and most popular game shows on American TV. Launched as early as in 1950, the show was broadcast weekly on CBS for seventeen successful seasons until it was continued on a daily basis in syndication. Transferred to radio as well as to audiences worldwide, the format was a big success and didn’t go off the air until 1975. In its history, What’s My Line? featured a lot of famous mystery celebrity guests such as Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, Elizabeth Taylor or Robert Young, some of whom appeared more than once.

With its easy format, the game show was an entertaining half hour of guessing what the weekly guests were doing for a living, for the panelists as much as for the TV audience. Broadcast live in the beginning, What’s My Line? lived of the chemistry between its regular panelists and their host John Charles Daly. Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and Bennett Cerf stayed with the show the longest while the fourth spot on the panel was usually given to a famous incoming guest. The thrill of the show lay in the variety of professions the panelists had to guess by asking funny as well as witty “yes-and-no only” questions. The mystery celebrity guest was always the cherry on top of each episode when the blindfolded panel of four queried its way to revealing who was sitting next to their host.

Like so many of the classic game shows, What’s My Line? is a lot of fun to watch these days. The panelists, guests and celebrities are entertaining and hilarious at times. The program is innocent for today’s standards, classy and polite. The game is harmless and relaxing, a perfect show to watch at the end of a hectic day.

Selected clips available on youtube (see links above).

Titanic

Talkie of the Week: Titanic

USA 1953, 98 minutes, black & white, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. Director: Jean Negulesco, Screenplay by: Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch & Richard Breen. Cast: Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, Thelma Ritter, Briane Aherne, Richard Basehart

Plot summary: Julia Sturges is boarding the Titanic with her two children Norman and Annette to escape her unhappy marriage and the elitist life they have lived in Europe. Her estranged husband Richard follows her in order to reclaim custody of his children. 17-year-old Annette is eager to return to Europe with her father and Julia ultimately accepts that she is old enough to make that decision for herself. However, she insists on taking 10-year-old Norman home with her to Michigan. While Julia and Richard find their marriage in shambles, Annette is falling in love with 20-year-old Gifford Rogers, a tennis player at Purdue. A young love that is being put to test when the Titanic hits an iceberg and slowly begins to sink.

Review: When you choose to watch a film called Titanic, you pretty much know what you will get. The ship hit an iceberg and sank. 1,517 people died. Happy endings look different, which may be an explanation for this movie’s marginal box office success back in the days. It was recognized however, and received two Academy Award nominations, including a well-deserved win for Best Story and Screenplay.

The film itself is beautifully shot and well cast. Clifton Webb is brilliantly convincing as an elitist Englishman, while Barbara Stanwyck lives up to her talent and shows a wide range of emotions as runaway wife Julia Sturges. It is a pleasure to watch these two actors as sparring partners, fighting over “their” children while a 22-year-old Robert Wagner gives a lively portrayal of Purdue college boy Gifford Rogers, a wonderful contrast to Audrey Dalton’s haughty character Annette. Thelma Ritter adds to that choir of rich performances and includes a sense of humor to the otherwise tragic plot of the film.

The Titanic itself serves a subplot, a mere setting. The real drama, the tragedy is told by the characters and their backstories. The movie picks up on the people and their lives, and how the tragedy affected them. And how they do it is convincing.

Throughout film history, the fate of the Titanic has been fitted to the screen several times. The story itself never really changes, although the characters and plot may. Check out Titanic from 1997 and look at the similarities in story-telling. It’s not the same, but sometimes it’s good to see a classic being revived in a way.

Available on DVD and VHS.