The Harts return…courtesy of televangelist Pat Robertson!
By Paul Mavis
With “Big Three” NBC out of the picture, and Christian broadcaster The Family Channel now running the Hart reunion show, the sixth Hart to Hart movie, Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time, which premiered over the 1995 Thanksgiving weekend, gets its ‘90s basic cable priorities straight: pretty people, pretty clothes, pretty locales, and a modicum of romance for this “family friendly” mystery. (Mill Creek Entertainment is releasing all eight Hart to Hart reunion movies in a new DVD collection).
Starring of course Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner, along with heavyweight guest star Joan Collins (and lesser weight thesps Jeff Kaake, Daniela Amavia, Sebastian Koch, Tara Slone, and Roc LaFortune), Hart to Hart: Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time may play a bit downbeat and glum at times—not unreasonably, considering the plot centers around the death of Lionel Stander’s Max. Overall, though, it’s an innocuously sedate (a little too calm, perhaps), fitfully amusing mystery, with just the right amount of whimsy to get you over the blah bits.
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Montreal, Canada. Fabulously wealthy couple Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers) are quietly mourning the loss of their beloved major domo, Max, who didn’t survive an unnamed operation. At the reading of his will, Max again proves that he thought of every contingency: he has instructed his grandniece, Marie (Daniela Amavia), to aid the Harts in following Max’s last-planned travel adventure for his bosses…and beloved friends. After all, Max’s motto, imparted to orphan Jonathan so many years before in San Francisco, forever applies: “Get on with the exciting business of life!”
The key to the Harts’ Canadian adventure lies in a delightful hand-carved cuckoo clock, fashioned by Marie’s boyfriend, Kurt (Sebastian Koch). Unknown (at least at first) to the Harts, is that the sentimental gift from Max contains a deadly secret involving their friend: auto tycoon/authoress/husband-devourer Lady Camilla (Joan Collins). Married for a fourth time to pretty-boy actor, Ronnie Scott (Jeff Kaake), what the savvy Camillia doesn’t realize is that Ronnie has something going on the side with Vivienne (Tara Slone), Marie’s childhood friend and her partner at an antique shop. Why do Ronnie and Vivienne desperately want to get that cuckoo clock away from the Harts? Will Montreal police inspector Detective Herschon (Roc LeFortune) ever interview the Harts? And most importantly: will the Harts survive Max’s final adventure?
I’m fairly certain I wasn’t watching much of anything on The Family Channel back in 1995, so the arrival of the Harts into the Robertson fold didn’t register with me. As I’ve written before, I was never that big into the TV reunion movies, anyway (I enjoy a good car wreck just like anyone else…but no one should have to see something so grotesque as The Return of Ben Casey). So, it’s easier for me to just pretend that these Hart to Hart reunion movies are just long, long delayed episodes from say…season 16.
As Hart to Hart reunion movies go, Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time isn’t the best, nor the worst. The personal allure of the two headliners is—yet again—the movie’s main draw. I would think Powers and Wagner got rather tired of that left-handed compliment, don’t you (how about writing something they could sink their teeth into, or at least jacking up the usual Hart hi-jinks with some much needed vim and vigor)?
Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time’s behind-the-scenes talent is certainly agreeable (as expected for these glossy Hart movies). I was only too happy to see Tattletales favorite Donald Ross listed as the main writer here (he was the droll, mustachioed funnyman married to Match Game genius, Patti Deutsch). A veteran TV writer, with credits that included Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat, and Hart to Hart, among many others, it’s easy to pick out his snappy one-liners here amid all the draggy exposition.
Even better was seeing former Hart to Hart producer and script editor Mart Crowley’s name attached to the script. I can’t attest to the lasting value of what else Crowley has written, but I think it’s safe to say that his groundbreaking Broadway play, The Boys in the Band, will be his epitaph…and a weighty one, at that (the film version, which most critics and P.C.-minded viewers demand you take seriously and soberly and solemnly and with a suitable amount of self-disapprobation, is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen—it’s unparalleled for snotty, bitchy humor). With these two noted funsters, Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time should have ‘em rolling in the aisles, right?
Well…no, not exactly. Sure there are a number of diverting, funny moments between Powers and Wagner, and a few comical bits delivered by Collins and LeFortune’s inspector character (any time be-wigged Joan gets to put some toyboy in his place, Dynasty-style, you’re going to get a laugh). The opera scene, where the Harts embarrass themselves with their “barking” clock, going back and forth through the aisle as people get up and down, is particularly funny (Jonathan’s, “I don’t know you,” as he turns away from a mortified Jennifer, is priceless), as is their “maybe” scene, where they work through various solutions to the mystery (you can see how skilled they are with more serious material, during the opening reading of Max’s will). Whenever Wagner and Powers are in a close-up two-shot, and they’re interacting with that engaging charm of theirs, it’s very easy to get the audience to smile along (Powers is especially amusing whenever she does a slow turn and gapes at someone with wide-eyed astonishment).
Too bad, then, that Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time’s storyline is rather clunky and thick. I don’t know the production history of this outing, but I wonder if the script wasn’t jumbled around a bit because of the loss of Lionel Stander, prior to shooting? I never bought that whole arbitrary grandniece stand-in for Max (he had time to mentor orphans all over the world…while being on-call to the Harts 24/7?), while Collins’ character seems like she wandered in from another plot altogether (when the two storylines meet here, they don’t mesh). And as for the mystery…it’s really no mystery at all, for anyone who mastered their Encyclopedia Browns back in grammar school.
Still…Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time could have fared better with such a script, had the director just goosed up the whole thing. As it is, helmer Michael Tuchner seems stuck in low gear, deadening the proceedings with a sluggish approach that almost kills the movie. Tuchner, a British director, wasn’t always so demure: back in the early 70s he guided two noted rough-and-tumble semi-classics: Richard Burton’s Villain, and Barry Newman’s Fear is the Key. However, by this late point in his career, he was sludging through basic cable movies and episodic TV, and unfortunately, his line of attack for Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time is to snooze, rather than swoosh.
As for Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time’s production design, the alternately rainy/cloudy-sunny/cloudy Montreal location work is relatively unfamiliar (and all the more welcome for that novelty), while the lead actors make you jealous for their spiffy wardrobes (Wagner reeks money and Powers, who always looks fab, has this checked coat and black turtleneck number that’s to die for). I guess that’s probably all one needs to enjoy Two Harts in Three-Quarter Time. It certainly won’t tax your detective skills, and you may find yourself doodling your shopping list during some of the unnecessary yakking…but Powers and Wagner look and sound great (watch how happy Powers looks, getting thrown around that dance floor by handsome Jeff Kaake), and the jokes come at a reasonable clip, and there’s always some pretty location to admire. That’s not the worst way to wile away an hour and a half.
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.