Thursday, August 24, 2023

Honey West: The Pilot, the Middle, and the End

It was one of several TV crime shows that featured cool jazz-influenced scoring. On the other hand, it maybe contributed to the mistaken notion exotic pets are cool, considering the title character’s habit of driving around in a convertible with her pet ocelot. Conceived as an American version of Emma Peel from The Avengers, she kicked a fair amount of butt in her limited time. In recognition of the early female private eye, UCLA screens the pilot, 14th, and final 30th episodes of Honey West this Saturday.

In the series opener, “The Grey Lady,” West and her dude-Friday, Sam Bolt, labor to foil a series of jewels thefts, mostly on spec. In the process, she judo grapples with a smug euro-trash cat burglar, showing off the fight choreography that was definitely one of the show’s strongest suits. Cesare Danova is certainly smarmy as the stealthy Abbott, but Kevin McCarthy (from
Invasion of the Body Snatchers) oozes even more sleaze as her prospective employer, Jerry Ivar. It is pretty simple, by necessity, given the half-hour format, but the fight scenes and the overhead camera work are on par with what they were doing over at The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

“Invitation to Limbo” (directed by Tom Gries, who also helmed the criminally underappreciated
Breakheart Pass) is similarly Peter Gunn-like in its stylish simplicity. However, the premise harkens back to the inspiration of The Avengers, while also evoking themes from The Manchurian Candidate, which had been withdrawn from circulation two years earlier, following the Kennedy Assassination. While working their latest case, West and Bolt discover a corporate espionage ring using hypnosis to brainwash otherwise loyal employees into revealing proprietary secrets. A longer running time might have allowed more intriguing complications, but the topic is even more timely today, given the CCP’s strategic espionage targeting intellectual property and commercial technology.

The final episode, “An Eerie, Airy Thing,” shows writers William Link and Richard Levinson (who went on to create
Columbo) really hitting their stride. This time around, the half-hour running time produces an ironic gem. Sort of a precursor to ledge jumper thrillers like Man on a Ledge and the unforgivably awful The Ledge, “Airy Thing” finds Bolt called to skyscraper window, where an acquittance outside threatens to jump unless West brings his wife to console him. Unfortunately, it turns out the woman has just been murdered. It has a cool twist and Lisa Seagram (who went from doing TV guest spots to small roles in Italian movies) is terrific as the femme fatale weather forecaster.

All three episodes are fun in a throwback kind of way, even though the chemistry between stars Anne Francis and John Ericson is just okay. At least Francis consistently plays West with assertive confidence that is appealing rather than abrasive. There was a separately recorded soundtrack released featuring musicians like Plas Johnson, Buddy Collette, Red Callender, and Barney Kessel. For what its worth, the closing theme definitely evokes the vibe and swing of Johnson famous tenor “dead ant, dead ant” motif from
The Pink Panther, which also means it sounds very cool. Recommended for fans of groovy detectives and crime jazz, the three episodes of Honey West screen Saturday (8/26) at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater.