Monday 21 September 2020

Mannix season 3 (1969)

Mannix boasts one of the best opening credits sequences in television history and one of the best theme tunes (written by Lalo Schifrin who also did the theme to Mission: Impossible). That opening credits sequence sets the tone - there’s going to be a tough handsome hero, lots of action, lots of violence and lots of beautiful women. Glamour, action, excitement.

And that’s exactly what Mannix delivers. In its day it was just about the most violent and action-packed series on American network TV.

The third season aired on CBS in 1968-69.

Like the character he plays Mike Connors was Armenian and, unusually for the time, his ethnic origins are emphasised in the series. He gets regular opportunities to demonstrate that he speaks fluent Armenian. The cultural stresses involved in making a life in a new land are also emphasised, particularly in relation to Mannix’s dad. Mannix is in most ways a red-blooded all-American hero, but he’s a red-blooded all-Armenian-American hero as well.

When it comes to onscreen cool few people could touch Mike Connors. Joe Mannix gets beaten up regularly but although he’s often bruised and battered he never loses that cool.

Joe Mannix also has few peers as an action hero - he drives racing cars, he’s a pilot, he’s proficient in just about every sport, he was a high school football star, he had a distinguished war record in Korea and he has a black belt in karate. Mannix has testosterone coming out of his ears. Being hyper-masculine he has no qualms at all about showing his sensitive side. You might think a guy like this would be beating women off with a stick and you’d be right. Mannix might be a male wish-fulfilment fantasy but it’s a positive wish-fulfilment fantasy. As a hero he’s the real deal. And it’s done with style and frenetic energy.

One of the enduring clichés of the private eye genre is the antagonistic relationship between the PI hero and the cops. Mannix is a bit of an exception to this rule. Mannix is on quite friendly terms with the police. He gets on pretty well with Lieutenant George Kramer (Larry Linville) who appears in several early episodes and he gets on very well with Lieutenant Adam Tobias (Robert Reed) who becomes a semi-regular character. Mannix doesn’t let anyone walk all over him but he doesn’t have the chip on his shoulder that many fictional PIs have. He’s a relatively up-market private eye and he knows it’s in his best interests to work with the cops rather than against them. His relationship with the cops is also a reflection of his boundless self-confidence, his charm and his general likeability.

One of the most appealing things about this series is that it’s so wildly out of sync with modern sensibilities. I’m not talking about political incorrectness here. What makes Mannix likely to shock contemporary viewers is its optimism and its belief that uncomplicated old-fashioned heroes are not only real but are to be admired. Mostly though contemporary viewers will be struck by the fact that there was a time when good television programs didn’t have to be ironic.

Mannix is representative of the best of American network TV of its era - high production values, a charismatic star (with good support from Gail Fisher as his patient secretary Peggy), great guest stars and remarkably consistent scripts. Everything about the series is slick and professional. Mannix gets to drive some wonderful classic American convertibles (in this season a Dodge Dart GTS 340). He has a car phone - very unusual for the late 60s and something that makes it clear that Mannix is at the rich and glamorous end of the private eye spectrum. Even his office is classy and stylish. His job brings him into contact with an enormous number of women, all of them beautiful (even the ones with homicidal tendencies).

The whole package is glossy, polished and ultra-cool.

Everything about the series is just right. This is perfect television entertainment.

Episode Guide

Eagles Sometimes Can't Fly is overly earnest with a contrived ending. A young black guy and his Indian friend are causing trouble in a liquor store but they’re really just having a bit of harmless drunken fun. Then two other guys and a girl arrive and they’re after more than harmless fun. It ends with two people dead. The setup, which makes it difficult for the first two guys to prove they weren’t involved in the robbery, is quite clever. But really just a bit too earnest.

In Color Her Missing a PI is thrown to his death from the window of an apartment belonging to attorney Charles Egan. The dead PI and Mannix were old buddies. Egan has an alibi of sorts, a girl who saw him when he was out driving in the country a the time of the murder, or so he claims. The police cannot find any trace of the girl. Mannix doesn’t like Egan one little bit but he also doesn’t like the idea of an innocent man going to the gas chamber so he agrees to try to find the witness. And then things get really complicated. And of course Mannix gets beaten up, but then Mannix always gets beaten up. It’s a pretty decent episode.

Return to Summer Grove takes Joe back to his home town. An old college buddy is facing a murder charge and that’s just the start of his problems. And Joe has some issues from the past that he needs to deal with, mainly his uneasy relationship with his father. It’s a solid enough episode.

The Playground sees Mannix trying to stop a movie star from getting killed. Mitch Cantrell (Robert Conrad) is a particularly arrogant obnoxious star and he likes to maintain his reputation for not scaring and he doesn’t want a bodyguard. Mannix detests Cantrell but he has a job to do. Whether Cantrell wants his life saved or not Mannix intends to save it. But first he has to figure out exactly what is going on. The movie studio setting is used very effectively. A good episode.

A Question of Midnight takes Joe Mannix to Pleasant Valley California, only it isn’t so pleasant. Two years earlier Dr Ben Holland had his licence withdrawn after a patient died at the Pleasant Valley Hospital and now he’s in trouble for practising medicine without a licence. His girlfriend thinks there was something suspicious about the way Dr Holland lost his licence. She hires Mannix to find out what really happened. And Mannix finds out plenty. A very sound episode.

A Penny for the Peep Show has some interesting twists and turns. There are three desperate convicts on the run, and there’s an attache case containing $312,000 but that’s the least valuable item in the case. A very good episode.

In A Sleep in the Deep Mannix is hired by Ellen Stone to find out if the scuba diving accident in which her husband Roger was killed was really an accident. Mannix finds that Roger had some secrets. Pretty young Barbara Stoner is one of those secrets. Barbara’s father has some secrets too. As does shipping tycoon Andre Korvak. There’s also lawyer Tom Hewitt, who’s in love with Ellen Stone. And there’s Korvak’s glamorous European actress girlfriend. Not to mention the guy who’s been shadowing Mannix from the beginning. Not one of them is telling the truth. The solution to the puzzle is a bit unexpected for a Mannix story but it’s a very good episode.

In Memory: Zero a private eye named Benson, a man of whom Mannix had a rather low opinion, has been murdered. Now someone is also trying to murder Benson’s secretary Maggie Wells. Maggie wants Mannix to find out who’s trying to kill her, but she has absolutely no idea why someone would want her dead so Mannix doesn’t have much to go on. Luckily he finds out about the parking ticket and then everything becomes clear. Another solid episode.

The Nowhere Victim begins with an old man hit by a car but when the driver goes back to find the man he’s vanished. The driver’s wife, worried that they may have killed somebody, hires Mannix to find out what happened. And Mannix finds himself in the middle of a Mob war. A very good episode.

In The Sound of Darkness Mannix suffers temporary blindness which is a problem since he’s being stalked by a killer. He will have to learn to defend himself without his eyes. An idea that has been done quite a few times. It’s done reasonably well here.

In Who Killed Me? Mannix is hired to solve a murder, but he’s hired by the victim. This one has a pretty clever plot. Great stuff.

Missing: Sun and Sky is a kidnapping story, but the kidnap victim is a horse. A very valuable racehorse. The horse was onboard a cargo plane and the circumstances of the disappearance are very puzzling. It seems like an impossible crime, but Mannix has been hired by the insurance company and he’s going to have to find the answer. A solid mystery episode with several likely suspects. And of course Mannix gets beaten up. It’s not a proper Mannix episode unless he gets beaten up.

Tooth of the Serpent involves yet another friend of Peggy’s who’s in trouble. Eve Chancellor’s husband is a tough police detective, maybe too tough. And her rebellious son Cap has managed to get mixed up in something that is likely to turn out to be both dangerous and illegal. Mannix has to sort it out. Mannix doesn’t actually get beaten up this time but he does get thrown down a lift shaft so he still ends up battered and unconscious. This one has quite an ingenious plot. Unfortunately director Paul Krasny goes way overboard with the tilted camera angles which get distracting. It’s still a clever episode.

In Medal for a Hero evidence is found suggesting that Peggy’s deceased husband was a crooked cop. Mannix of course doesn’t believe it. It’s an OK episode.

Walk with a Dead Man is nicely devious. Mannix is on his way to meet a client when he gets warned off and then shot at. It’s a blackmail case and maybe Mannix should have realised that if someone is prepared to shoot him to stop him seeing the client then it’s likely the case has more to it than meets the eye. Someone is playing games with him. A very good episode with some nice twists.

The case Mannix takes on in A Chance at the Roses is one he really knows he shouldn’t waste his time on. There’s an eyewitness that says the guy shot a pharmacist during a robbery and the assailant ran out the door straight into the waiting arms of the police. But the guy’s wife wants him to take the case and Peggy wants him to take the case and faced with a united front from two women Mannix just doesn’t have a chance. He takes the case. There are some very good twists in this “nothing is as it seems to be” story.

Harlequin's Gold sees Mannix pitted against pirates! Not just pirates, but Australian pirates. It has a nice opening sequence in which a shambling bum wanders into a bar and asks some strange rambling questions about a ship. The shambling bum is none other than Joe Mannix. The pirates come later, and Mannix will also have to look out for sharks. This is an enjoyable episode.

Who Is Sylvia? is another very solid episode. His old Korean War buddy Phil invites Joe to a party, only Joe finds out that it wasn’t Phil who invited him, it was Phil’s wife Kathy. Kathy thinks someone is trying to kill her. In fact she’s sure of it and Mannix is convinced as well. There are some nice twists and while they might not be entirely original they’re handled skilfully. The key to the case is Sylvia, but exactly who is Sylvia? This episode does suffer just a little from having to be very coy about sex but other than that it’s exceptionally well done, with a great performance by Jessica Walters as Kathy. Good stuff.

In Only One Death to a Customer someone is hunting Mannix but he doesn’t know why. He just knows they want him dead. He figures out who it is pretty quickly, and you will too. It’s telegraphed just a bit too obviously. Not a terrible episode but everything is just a bit too obvious.

In Fly, Little One Mannix has to solve a case involving pirates and buried treasure. Well actually it’s just a regular robbery but the mentally disturbed nine-year-old girl who is the key witness thinks it’s about pirates and somehow Mannix has to separate truth from fantasy in her story. Mannix gets to show his gentle side, and since he’s so sublimely confident in his masculinity showing gentleness is never a problem for him. Not a great episode - it relies a bit too much on people doing the obvious. But still reasonably enjoyable.

In The Search for Darrell Andrews another private eye has a fatal accident but he’s earlier told Mannix that he thought he might be in line for such an accident. So Mannix has no doubt that this was murder, and obviously he intends to find the killer. But can he do so without risking Peggy’s life? As usual Mannix gets himself into a dangerous situation and the way he gets out of it is much too contrived. In fact the whole episode suffers from lazy writing. The various plot strands just don’t come together. This is one of the rare Mannix episodes that is pretty much a washout.

Murder Revisited presents us with an intricate mystery after a political fixer is murdered. There are two million witnesses - at the time he was murdered he was talking on-air to a sensationalist TV interviewer. You expect Mannix to run into cute blondes but this time there are two of them - twins. Two cute blondes (both potential murderesses) means double the trouble but double the fun. This one has quite a clever plot. A very good episode.

War of Nerves starts with a girl and a horse both disappearing. It seems like it’s going to be a typical rural paranoia story, with a city slicker (in this case Mannix) running afoul of crooked small town types. There is however a major twist and it becomes a paranoia story of an entirely different stripe. Far-fetched perhaps but very entertaining.

In Once Upon a Saturday Mannix spends the day at the carnival run by his old friend Bev. Carnivals are fun, as long as you don’t get killed, and this is the kind of carnival where you could very easily get killed. The big problem with this story is the implausible motive. The carny setting however is great and is used cleverly, so it ends up being an OK episode to finish the season.

Final Thoughts

Despite a couple of weak episodes towards the end the third season of Mannix is great well-crafted stylish entertainment. Highly recommended.

I've also reviewed Mannix season one and season two.

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