A sweet, low-key little surprise.
I had such a nice response from Hart to Hart fans over my review of 1993’s Hart to Hart Returns that I thought: why not review all of that fun series’ reunion movies since Mill Creek Entertainment is releasing all eight of them affordably on DVD? They fit just right into light, undemanding summertime viewing requirements.
By Paul Mavis
Home Is Where The Hart Is, the second of eight Hart to Hart reunion movies produced by NBC in the mid-90s, stars the gorgeous Stefanie Powers, suave Robert Wagner, gruff, lovable Lionel Stander, and some big-name Hollywood veterans: Maureen O’Sullivan, Alan Young, Howard Keel, and Roddy McDowall. Originally airing February 18th, 1994 , Home Is Where The Hart Is has a mellow, romantic vibe to its almost-sad mystery, with the glamour and glitz and one-liners of a typical Hart to Hart series episode waylaid for a more tranquil, bucolic feel. And that’s just fine with this reviewer.
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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 served by their faithful, gravelly-voiced major domo, 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 Home Is Where The Hart Is. Lots of ribbing and bantering and one-liners, along with glitzy, over-the-top hijinks and stunts hallmarked the original series when it was overseen by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldman over on ABC. Almost none of that tenor, however, 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 reckoning of old—and some sad—memories. If Home Is Where The Hart Is resembles anything, it’s a more sedate Murder, She Wrote, rather than a typical Hart to Hart series episode, 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.
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 on the screen, which can only help bring out the 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. How nice to see attractive performers acting…attractively, rather than crudely or coarsely (an unknown quality in so much of today’s TV offerings).
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Those graceful moments are perfectly punctuated by director Peter H. Hunt throughout Lawrence Hertzog’s clean, simple, well-written script, with both keeping us smiling as we follow the leisurely-paced mystery. Home Is Where The Hart Is certainly takes its time about solving that mystery (it’s fairly clever, too, in the end), but that’s one of the script’s benefits: it doesn’t spell everything out right away (for example: 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 those conventions are gently, ironically sent up), and to get a real sense of “going home again” for Jennifer’s character—an approach and a tone that was quite unexpected here.
Add to that gorgeous scenery (I’m guessing Northern California, or maybe Canada?), and a superlative score by actor/composer 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 in Home Is Where The Hart Is, too. Howard Keel uses that big man’s charm of his to good advantage as the suspicious Captain Jack, while Roddy McDowall, as always, is thoughtful and engaging (even when he really has nothing to do in the script).
Mister Ed‘s Alan Young comes at you pretty 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. Home Is Where The Hart Is is a surprisingly adept little meditative mystery, with a sweet, romantic tone that should satisfy Hart to Hart fans looking for summer fun. Entirely watchable.
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s TV reviews here. Read Paul’s film reviews at our sister website, Movies & Drinks.