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I was very young when this precursor to the television version of Nick and Nora Charles as well as of "Hart to Hart" and, frankly, had no remembrance of the series save a positive feeling and the phrase in the summary line naming the actors. I am very grateful for the issuance of the videos and DVDs of this charming series. The plots have the light touch of a good 1930s "Thin Man" motion picture yet all is played straight with no mugging. It helps that Denning is always solid (as in all his roles) while Britton is amusing as she touches on overplaying while being a complete treat for the eyes with a smile that would make any man smile with her. The half hour light mystery is as extinct as my childhood but if anything this satisfying could be created today I would be surprised. Long live "Mr and Mrs North"!
"Mr & Mrs North" is, basically, a forerunner to shows like "Hart To Hart": a married couple ALWAYS finding murder and mayhem wherever they go, and just like on "Hart To Hart", there is an emphasis on a humorous undercurrent, so nothing can be taken TOO seriously. Barbara Britton and Richard Denning (Lucille Ball's hubby on radio's long-running "My Favorite Husband", the show that led to "I Love Lucy") play sophisticated inhabitants of Greenwich Village who are also amateur sleuths, with Britton taking the more aggressive lead to Denning's more-reluctant follower. Sure, the low-budget sets and often over-the-top supporting performances cause unintentional laughs, but it's also undeniably fun, thanks to its two lead performers and quick (just 30 minutes) and painless (no deep thoughts here; just relax and enjoy) running time. I found this on DVD in a local "dollar" store chain, featuring 3 episodes, and the picture quality is surprisingly good, considering its source's age. Definitely a fun show!
This was an entertaining if innocuous series along the lines of "The
Thin Man" without the booze. Pam and Jerry North (played with
enthusiasm by Barbara Britton and Richard Denning) were New Yorkers who
lived in a tidy little apartment. Jerry owned a mystery magazine
company. So even though the North's were not filthy rich the way Nora
Charles' family was, they still had plenty of spare time to investigate
murder and mayhem. Pam usually solved the murder mystery but gave the
credit to her husband, Jerry, and to police Lt. Bill Weigand (Francis
De Sales). At times the series got a bit racy for early television. In
one episode, Bill Weigand is speaking to Jerry over the telephone.
Jerry has just reported another murder. Weigand jokes with a glint in
his eyes, "How do you and Pam do it?" The audience doesn't hear the
answer over the phone, but Weigand begins to chuckle with an impish
look on his face.
The series began with a creepy introduction. The door bell rings in the dead of night. Pam and Jerry North awake and with flashlight in hand pick up a note that was just pushed under the door in a mysterious manner. The note is unfolded: It reads, "And now...Mr. and Mrs. North." This series also had a cute closing following the credits. Pam plants a kiss on Jerry's face. He shows how much he enjoys it by giving a special look towards the camera. This is followed by a cartoon of Pam and Jerry putting the cat out to the tune of "Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me" so they can get down to business.
The episode I watched recently on DVD was called, "Million Dollar Coffin." The story was well written involving a bank robbery with the robbers hiding the money in the coffin of a recently deceased friend. The gang plains to stay in hiding for three years, then return and dig up the cold cash. Enter Pam and Jerry who are seeking to exhume one of Jerry's ancestors who played an important role in the Revolutionary War. There were important historical documents buried with the body. You guessed it. The coffin they wish to dig up is next to the one containing the stolen money. Adding to the fun and games, one of the robbers can't wait. He is determined to get all the money first. This all leads to one of the best episodes ever. There is a stellar cast of character actors including Edward Brophy, who is actually funny this go around, Olin Howland, who overacts outrageously, and Guy Wilkerson, Panhandle Perkins of B western fame.
As a fan of old time radio, I've observed that early television was often simply radio drama with pictures slapped on. "Mr. & Mrs. North" follows that pattern. Richard Denning and Barbara Britton are charming in the lead roles and the mysteries themselves aren't bad. My major beef is the pacing of the show. It spends an inordinate amount of time on opening and closing credits, builds an intriguing mystery, and then because of the 30-minute length (reduced by the need to include commercials) hurriedly wraps things up in the last 30-60 seconds without a satisfying denouement. Somehow, many radio mysteries of the same length managed to be more complete. A solution might have been two-part episodes, but that innovation apparently was uncommon at the time "Mr. & Mrs. North" was made. Still, it's a pleasant and wholesome diversion, superior to many other early TV shows available on dollar DVD.
Mr. and Mrs. North had a great run on the radio, but in the early days of television, production companies didn't spend much money on such silly things as cameras, directors, or editing. Barbara Britton and Richard Denning are good as the leads, but the guest stars are mostly of the quality of your typical high school production. As a matter of fact, the two stars are what make the series watchable. To be fair, compared to most of what was on TV at the time, this is actually a decent show. Really this can only be recommended for fans of the radio series, the novels by Richard and Frances Lockridge, or old-time TV in general. Please beware of the cheap DVD versions released by TV Guide through Genius Entertainment. They overdub horrible, newly recorded theme music over the opening sequence and closing credits that does not fit at all. I'm sure the original music was much more enjoyable... at least it had to be less annoying!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched a half dozen episodes of this series today on Amazon Prime.
I'd heard of it before but had never seen it.
I think a lot of the guest actors could have done better-- someone else on the IMDb said they were pulled out of the worst community theaters across the country! I don't think that's entirely true but if they had been given stronger direction, it might have helped.
One thing I do like is the way the stories are paced-- the writers are not compelled to feature the main characters in every scene the way some programs do. Three to five minutes might pass without Mr. North or Mrs. North being directly involved in the action. The writers have faith other characters can move the story along. Also worth mentioning is the use of humor-- it is not over the top, but the comedy is quite amusing, especially the bits at the end of each episode. Richard Denning in particular is good at the lighter moments. He's kind of an underrated performer who should be more widely known. And Barbara Britton is glamorous yet sort of screwball, which works wonderfully for her role.
Something else occurred to me as I watched this series today. It was the way the Norths are interested in helping other people. We don't always see that happening in modern-day TV programs. Mrs. North volunteers at a women's prison in one episode, believing it will help society. In a different story, she and Mr. North give a suicidal woman a job as a housekeeper, convinced it will give the gal purpose and a reason to live. In another episode, Mr. North helps a troubled friend call off the hired killing of an estranged wife. You get the idea. So in the process of catching murderers, we have a basically decent couple trying to make a difference.
When TV first came to my mountain town in 1952, I never missed an installment. The Norths brought into my little livingroom a bright shining married couple that just about embodied 1950's styles and ideals. Nonetheless, seeing even a small sampling 65-years later still entertains. It's a personality series that depends heavily on the charisma of its two stars, which Denning and Britton supply, in spades. Looks like the four stories that I recently viewed were mainly ordinary, except for one "Reunion" that deals with nuclear holocaust in rather daring fashion. So the series may not be as airbrushed as the early 1950's suggests. Filming is done in conventional high-key lighting, with little hint of noir. At the same time, production values appear on the budget side, with outdoor studio sets substituting for the real thing. Still, Pam is well upholstered in styles of the day, that is, when women still wore fancy hats. But what I really like is the North's sign-off where they break the proverbial "fourth wall" and smile at the audience. It's like they're saying "We had a good time, hope you did too". I sure did, Pam and Jerry, and much thanks for then and now.
I just recently purchased a DVD containing three episodes of Mr. and
Mrs. North I wanted to see because I was 8 or 10 when this show was
popular and I wanted to see how much things have changed. Well, of
course, they've changed enormously! The writing, directing and acting
reminded me of some early Saturday morning theatrical serial dramas
I've reviewed in recent years. I now remember that anyone in Hollywood
with any success in movies didn't want to be associated with TV in any
way whatsoever, unless it was Edward R. Morrow's interviews or Ed
Sullivan's variety show. I can see why. The individual lines for each
role, moment by moment, only sounded remotely like they were in the
same story, as if the script had been cut-and-pasted like a ransom note
made in the last hour before a deadline. As a writer, that was what
offended me the most.
But as person I was offended by obvious gender roles. Barabara Britton was of course very charming and beautiful in the role of the only person in the cast with any real brains whatsoever, but Richard Denning's role - as well as any other man for that matter - was that of ignoring or discounting absolutely anything his wife or any other woman had to say. The men were also written to look and sound like idiots. In the mid-fifties, according to my history teachers, no one was trying to make social commentary or anything deep on TV because of the paranoia of the McCarthy Era. So, I'm forced to believe these observations are simply of clichéd, predominating, formula ideas that were over-used in TV and movies both during that time. It's fascinating to me that these gender attitudes were considered normal and healthy - even funny - in their time, but today only serve to make the men look stupid. If these were the prevailing attitudes, why was the stupid little woman written as the only real sleuth? These flash-backs are nostalgic but annoying.
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