Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Hawaii Five-O season 3 (1972)

The most surprising thing about the third season of Hawaii Five-O, which screened on CBS in 1970-71, is that there is absolutely no sign of any drop-off in quality. The second season had been marginally better than the first and by season 3 everything was humming along nicely.

The four key cast members are unchanged. My feeling is that James MacArthur (as Danno) and Zulu (as Kono Kalakaua) in particular were growing steadily more comfortable and more confident.

Hawaii Five-O works for the same reason Mannix works. Both CBS series had charismatic lead actors. Both boasted high production values with a fair bit of location shooting. Both were extremely slick and very professional productions. Both combined action and glamour and both were fast-moving. They look expensive. In both cases the scripts were generally very strong. Both featured terrific guest stars. With those ingredients success was pretty much guaranteed. They were representative of a type of television that the Americans were remarkably good at making at that time.

Steve McGarrett and Joe Mannix also have a great deal in common. They take their jobs seriously, to the point that they have no time for a family life. They are very good at their jobs. And they are both hyper-masculine heroes. They’re so supremely comfortable in their masculinity that they have no qualms about revealing their sensitive sides. They are the absolute antithesis of the anti-heroes and flawed heroes who were increasingly featured in movies in the late 60s and early 70s. These are heroes in whom the viewer can have complete confidence.

As the 70s progressed American crime series would feature more oddball heroes (Frank Cannon, Columbo, Sam McCloud, Kojak) and flawed heroes (Jim Rockford). Hawaii Five-O and Mannix can be seen as the last hurrah for the old-fashioned all-American hero.

Hawaii Five-O is also interesting for the light it sheds on the stresses caused by rapid development. Hawaii had grown wealthy due to tourism but the native Hawaiians were losing their traditional way of life and some were not sure if it was worth it, particularly since they weren’t necessarily the ones getting seriously rich. Hawaii had become, to an extent, a troubled paradise. Hawaii was also getting some of the other dubious benefits of progress, such as organised crime and the drug culture. The series has a considerable amount of sympathy for those who were sceptical of the benefits of progress. Hawaii Five-O tackled social issues quite often and mostly tried to be fairly balanced.

One thing I really like about this series is that when Five-O are trying to trace a telephone call we actually get to see how it’s done, and in one episode we get to see the ingenious ways in which criminals can thwart such attempts. In fact the series is quite good at showing details of forensic stuff. It’s that kind of attention to detail that gives the series a realistic feel, even when some of the plots are quite outrageous.

Hawaii Five-O is also a series that occasionally veers into spy thriller territory, or into stories that deal with international intrigue or power politics. This gives it a distinctive feel among cop shows of the era.

Episode Guide

And a Time to Die… kicks off season three. Starting the season with a Wo Fat spy thriller episode is a pretty sound idea.  This time the Red Chinese master spy is trying to stop a CIA agent from revealing China’s nuclear secrets. The plan to assassinate the agent almost succeeded and he’s now in a coma in hospital.

The challenge for Wo Fat is to find a way to kill the agent with seems impossible since the entire wing of the hospital is sealed off. But Wo Fat has a plan to force the neurosurgeon to do the job for him.

Wo Fat is of course a wonderfully entertaining character. What’s interesting is that he’s not a two-dimensional villain. He believes the survival of his country is at stake so ruthless measures are justified. And we do see a human side of the Chinese master spy in his story. Wo Fat is also, in his own way, an honourable man. If he makes a promise he will keep it. The local CIA station chief is every bit as ruthless as Wo Fat and arguably less honourable. This is not the only Hawaii Five-O episode to take a slightly sceptical view of the CIA and other intelligence agencies and it’s obvious that McGarrett does not altogether trust spies, of any country.

In Trouble in Mind there’s a bad batch of heroin on the island. A really bad batch, cut with arsenic. McGarrett thinks that Michael Martin, pianist for popular jazz singer Eadie Jordan, might be involved. The fact that Martin slugged Kono when Kono tried to search his car adds weight to that suspicion. The truth is more complicated but McGarrett doesn’t want to see it. TV series that try to look sympathetically at social problems usually fall flat on the faces but this one works because it doesn’t pull its punches.

The Second Shot has a great opening pre-credits sequence. It establishes that something pretty bizarre is happening, wth a man apparently setting himself up as the target for an assassin’s bullet. We have no idea what’s behind it but we’re immediately interested. The plot of this episode certainly lives up to the promise of that pre-credits sequence. It’s a deliciously devious political thriller story. An excellent episode.

In Time and Memories McGarrett meets an old flame but she looks more and more like the obvious suspect in her husband’s murder. This is a good murder mystery plot with a rather neat solution plus we get some glimpses into McGarrett’s private life. Good episode.

The Ransom is yet another kidnapping story but there’s a twist. In trying to rescue the boy who’s been snatched Kono gets kidnapped as well. Which as you can imagine makes McGarrett pretty mad. Another good story with plenty of tension.

Force of Waves is a real misfire. McGarrett is nearly killed when a boat blows up. A rich businessman who has just dumped his wife for a younger prettier model is killed in the explosion. There are multiple suspects but the solution manages to both obvious and ludicrously far-fetched.

The Reunion of the title is a reunion of World War 2 veterans. Someone is threatening the life of a Japanese businessman and it seems that three of those WW2 veterans could be suspects and the roots of this case may go back to 1943. If the story of the veterans is true, which it may not be. Not a bad episode although the ending is not going to surprise anyone despite some heroic efforts at misdirection.

The Late John Louisiana takes Five-O to Maui where a hoodlum who works for gangster Harry Qon has been killed and a young couple have vanished. Is it part of a gang war? Is it connected to the murder of another gangster, John Louisiana? This one is quite complicated tale but it’s a clever story of love and betrayal.

The Last Eden is occasionally in danger of getting preachy but fortunately that element is kept reasonably well in check. A sewerage plant is blown up and a Hawaiian singer (and part-time ecological activist) is the prime suspect. But there’s just too much evidence pointing to Jimmy (the singer) - McGarrett doesn’t trust cases when they seem to have been made too easy for him. Not a great episode.

Over Fifty? Steal is unusual for Hawaii Five-O, being a whimsical mostly comic episode. A daring but oddly considerate elderly jewel thief leads McGarrett and his men on a merry chase and even McGarrett can’t help admiring him. A very enjoyable story.

Beautiful Screamer makes use of a device, having one of the detectives personally involved in a case, which I think is usually a mistake. Two young women are murdered. There’s a link between them but that link can’t possibly provide a plausible motive. So what could the real motive be? The plot does include some reasonably clever touches and the alibis are very clever. All in all a reasonably good episode.

In The Payoff a falling out among thieves might lead to murder, possibly even several murders. But all Five-O have to go on is the shooting of an anonymous drunk at a sleazy rooming house. It’s going to be a matter of slowly and methodically putting the pieces together. There’s no room for brilliant leaps of intuition in this story, but just patient thorough routine police work. But it’s also an exciting race against time. A good episode.

In The Double Wall a prisoner named Ritchie is badly injured and before dying makes a deathbed confession to another prisoner, Harry Kellem. That confession would have cleared Kellem of the murder for which he is serving a life sentence, but no-one else head the confession. Kellem goes crazy, takes a shotgun away from a guard and holds the prison doctor hostage. He insists that McGarrett reopen the case or he’ll kill the doctor. McGarrett figures there is a chance that Kellem is innocent but he has only hours to prove it. Lots of race-against-time tension in this one with the added bonus that McGarrett has no way of knowing just how much time he’s got. All he knows is that he hasn’t got long. Not overly original but well executed.

Paniolo is a cowboy story. Frank Kuakua is a cowpoke down on his luck. A shady land developer is trying to force him to sell his cattle ranch. Frank would rather die than give up his ranch, and sadly it may come to that. One man is dead already. And yes, back in 1970 there were cattle ranches in Hawaii. This one is on Maui. While it doesn’t have a particularly strong plot this episode does have quite a few things going for it. There’s some spectacular location shooting on Maui (which is great because most episodes of this series are set on Oahu). And to get his man McGarrett will have to saddle up his horse (literally) and get together a posse (literally). That’s enough to make this a pretty interesting episode.

Ten Thousand Diamonds and a Heart is an elaborate heist story. Old-time gangster Willard Lennox bust Sheldon Orwell out of prison. Orwell speciality is masterminding spectacular robberies. McGarrret knows Orwell is going to be planning a big score but he has no way of knowing what the target will be. All he has to go on is some cigar ash and some marble dust. While Orwell lays his plans for and rehearses his big robbery McGarrett patiently sets about trying to out-fox him. A terrific episode.

To Kill or Be Killed is one of a number of episodes dealing directly or indirectly with the Vietnam War and it takes a surprisingly strong anti-war stance. It begins with a mystery. A young man, not long returned from the war, falls from the balcony of an apartment to his death. Or was he pushed? There is certainly evidence suggesting foul play. What puzzles McGarrett is what was going on in the next door apartment. As in several other episodes McGarrett clashes with the military authorities. This is also a family drama. It’s a highly emotional episode but without ever feeling manipulative or sentimental. A very very good episode.

F.O.B. Honolulu is a two-parter, and it’s a Wo Fat episode which is even better. A Marine corporal arrives in Honolulu on a flight from Saigon, for R&R leave. He brings with him a souvenir - a Buddha. He is murdered and the Buddha is stolen. But he was no Marine corporal. And what did that Buddha contain? This is not just a spy story - there are lots and lots of spies in this one, all sorts of spies. And a plot that may endanger the entire Free World! The target is - the US dollar. And all those spies are in competition and trying to double-cross each other. Including a beautiful but deadly lady spy. An excellent episode with plenty of twists (and a great deal of mayhem).

In The Gunrunner arms dealer Ben Cunningham’s wife is kidnapped in a commando-stye raid. Cunningham kills one of the kidnappers. Cunningham is a legal arms dealer but since the dead kidnapper was a foreign national from a country in which separatists are planning an armed rebellion McGarrett can’t help suspecting that Cunningham is being pressured into supplying arms to the rebels. So this is an international intrigue rather than a straight crime episode. This blending of crime and espionage elements is one of the things that made Hawaii Five-O such an interesting and unusual series. A good episode.

Dear Enemy opens with small-time conman Ray Tobias just off the boat from Australia who meets with an unfortunate accident. He’d been a witness in a big murder trial a year earlier in which senatorial candidate Fred Whiting was convicted of murdering his mistress. Mrs Whiting claims Tobias had evidence that would force the case to be re-opened. McGarrett isn’t convinced but he is interested. And he gets more interested. A reasonable episode although motive is the weak link in the story.

The Bomber and Mrs. Moroney is a siege episode. A guy is paroled from prison and sets off to Five-O headquarters, wth a stack of dynamite, to see Danny Williams. Danny isn’t there but the guy takes a bunch of hostages, including Chin Ho. It’s a bad situation - there’s no way for Five-O to get in without blowing everyone up and the explosives are connected to a timer. Time is running out. Among the hostages is Mrs Moroney, a very feisty old lady who isn’t scared of hooligans with guns. Plenty of tension in this very good episode.

The Grandstand Play is a two-parter. A woman is murdered at a ball game. Gary Phillips, the son of baseball legend Lon Phillips, was seen in the vicinity. Gary is 17 and good-natured but he’s slow. McGarrett doesn’t think Gary killed the woman but he does think Gary saw something and is too frightened to talk. But someone else knows Gary may have seen something. Five-O will need to find Gary before that person finds him. The problem here is that there’s not enough plot to justify a two-parter and it’s all a bit too predictable. A disappointing end to an otherwise very strong season.

Final Thoughts

The third season of Hawaii Five-O is polished quality entertainment. A hit series at its peak. Highly recommended.

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