The cast of guest characters have great potential, but the awful writing and direction leaves them and the whole episode flat. Bill and Jo LaMond penned this one. Some great lines include Jonathan's double entendre of "I do most of my working out at home," and Jennifer's follow up of, "He's in excellent shape;" as well as near the end when the butler says, "Happy hunting, sir," and the host replies with the immediate, "You're fired" deadpan. Fred Stuthman & Arlen Dean Snyder delivered those lines with beautiful timing. Tiny little exchange, huge impact. Unfortunately, the bad lines were awful. The LaMonds wrote one of the best (Harts under Glass) but also the very worst episode in H2H history, "Homemade Murder," plus "Bahama Bound Harts," which is another serious stinker. This was definitely tons better than both of those. It was Ray Austin's direction, however, that was truly atrocious. Dark lighting crippled this thing. Clue was this very same kind of storytelling, yet those scenes didn't need to be dark to pull off the suspense and creep factor. It wasn't simply that I didn't care for the art direction, I mean the lighting was incompetent. The camera shots are one piece of crazy after another. Long lingering closeups so extreme that I could inspect their pores. I'm pretty sure the shot of the host's head on a platter lasted an hour. I swear poor Arlen Dean Snyder's eyeballs needed some visine when Austin yelled cut. Shots through candles made me feel like I'd purchased obstructed view concert tickets. Terrible camera work at the dining room table. Beginning on J&J, then pulling out into a bird's eye wide shot of everyone seated around it had huge potential as a very compelling shot. But it's so shaky it was just unprofessional. I assume it was poor use of a jib, cuz I'm not sure a crane shot indoors would have resulted in the shaking camera. It was inexcusable, really. Nothing was worse, however, than the way these poor actors were directed. It was veeery clear that they were DIRECTED into these awful performances, because they were all equally bad, uncomfortable silences, and unexplained reactions. They all have these frozen looks of hand- over-mouth horror for no good reason, the strange characters played by Mews Small and Nina van Pallandt have these behaviors that make zero sense, and the whole thing is just one big hot mess.
One of the things I probably hate most about this ep is that Stefanie's wearing a fur and I'm quite sure she hates it now, too. It's not like her or Jennifer at all and she wears it in half the scenes. William Holden was not dead yet, but it's not like her views had changed overnight on that. Interesting to be a fly on the wall at that wardrobe session.
On the upside, while the front hall of this place looked like a redress of the Hart's foyer, the episode's exteriors were filmed at the famed Piru Mansion. Gorgeous. You can visit there today. Even get married. Also cool? A thousand and one blooper alerts.
BLOOPER ALERT --> When they're still gathering, the light goes out and then the final female guest show up. Timing is off, as Jonathan asks if someone forgot to pay the light bill, THEN everyone gasps and the light goes out.
BLOOPER ALERT Blink-and-you-miss-it jump cut. When the Morty the Minister (there ya go, Seinfeld lovers) is putting Jennifer in the closet, look very closely at his right hand on the coat hook, you'll see frames are clearly missed there. My son caught this one.
BLOOPER ALERT - Butler clearly can't drag RJ to the dumbwaiter, so RJ has to help while unconscious. This leads to an awful shot that's just all dark extreme closeup jumble of, literally, nothing (which is probably because, again, poor dude can't lift RJ onto the dumbwaiter any more than he can drag him there).
Picky picky: Torches in the secret passage? Really? Who lit them? How do they stay lit? And the headstones of the graveyard (conveniently located in the home's backyard) were something straight out of Disney's Haunted Mansion. Ugh.
I guess what I come down to in this cathartic bit of review therapy is that this episode is really freaking imperfect but totally worth watching. If not for the bloopers, then at least for the Clue Hart to Hart factor. The hosts are Miss Scarlet and Colonel Mustard, the medium woman is uptight Mrs. White, The curly-haired lush is loony Mrs. Peacock, Morty the Minister is shifty Mr. Green, the author is studious Professor Plum, the butler is the butler, and the Harts are the players getting shoved into secret passages as they try to figure it all out.