McMillan & Wife-The Complete First Season (1971)

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Released 19-Apr-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category TV Series Booklet-4 page episode guide. Informative and attractive.
Booklet-24 page re-print of 1971 pressbook. Excellent.
Credits-Original Mystery Movie Titles from 1972.
Gallery-Photo-23 colour shots, 6 black and white. Good quality.
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 595:56 (Case: 603)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (72:00)
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Michael Lewis
Lou Antonio
Daniel Petrie
John Astin
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Rock Hudson
Susan Saint James
John Schuck
Nancy Walker
Barbara McNair
Claude Akins
Paul Stewart
June Havoc
Jack Albertson
Don Stroud
Michael Ansara
Wally Cox
Hazel Court
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $39.95 Music Jerry Fielding


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, Rarely, and in character.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Action prior to stock opening.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Note : Some of the following material appeared in my review of McMillan and Wife, The Complete Second Season.

     From Universal, and released here by Madman, are the first two seasons of McMillan and Wife. I have recently reviewed Season Two of this show, and now have the opportunity to take a look at the premiere season of this extremely popular series from the 70s. Originally part of the NBC Mystery Theatre this series was aired in an "umbrella programming" strategy devised by NBC for Universal product. So successful was this format that NBC concurrently aired The Sunday Mystery Theatre and The NBC Wednesday Mystery Theatre.

     Under the umbrella format different shows were aired in rotation, the three original 1971-72 shows being : McCloud, which starred Dennis Weaver; Columbo starring Peter Falk and McMillan and Wife. In this series, Rock Hudson was top-billed as San Francisco's sophisticated police commissioner, Stuart McMillan, assisted in his war against crime by his cute and sassy wife, Sally, played by Susan Saint James. These two were rather like a 1970s version of Nick and Nora Charles, though there really was no comparison with the elegance, wit and charm of William Powell and Myrna Loy in that revered series of The Thin Man films produced by MGM in the 1930s and 40s. Rock Hudson, nee Roy Fitzgerald, was probably the greatest fabricated star in the history of Hollywood. Blessed with a tall, athletic frame and handsome facial bone structure, he was moulded by Hollywood's most notorious "star maker", Henry Willson, into a celluloid icon of masculinity. The enthusiastically willing young man was given a new name, new teeth and a new voice - yelling his throat ragged to lower his naturally girlish pitch. Other gay stars from the Willson stable included, amongst many others, Tab Hunter and Rory Calhoun, but Hudson was Willson’s supreme creation. Robert Hofler in his book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson explores the relationship between the Hollywood Pygmalion and his male Galatea, and it is fascinating reading. When Hudson's big screen popularity waned in the late sixties, he turned to stage musicals and television, striking instant success with McMillan and Wife.

     Once upon a time, way back before Dwayne Johnson, even before The Rock, there was just plain ROCK! In this series, in his mid forties, Rock Hudson was an amazingly attractive, massive man, still fit enough to bare his chest in most, if not all, episodes.Hudson had been a hugely popular male star almost from his first appearance in films. I distinctly remember attending the first Saturday night of the Jimmy Stewart western Bend of the River at Sydney's State Theatre way back in 1952 - or was it 53? The big Technicolor western was supported by a little black-and-white comedy, Here Come the Nelsons, starring Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. Their daughter's strapping young beau was played by an actor the audience didn't recognize, but this physically huge young man made quite an impact on that Sydney audience. After interval the main feature, Bend of the River,, got under way and there on the screen was the young man again, this time in glorious Technicolor. I can still remember the audible gasps of pleasure from that audience. "There's that young man again!" By the early 70s Rock’s big screen career was slowing down and he bravely ventured into television with McMillan and Wife. Cast opposite Hudson, at just over twenty years his junior, was Susan Saint James. Beginning her career as a model in the U.S. and then France, Saint James looked to Hollywood to further her career where she found work in popular TV series such as It Takes a Thief and Alias Smith and Jones. Her kookiness, with just a hint of Shirley MacLaine’s appeal, caught the attention of the producers of a new series, The Name of the Game (1968-1971), and the young actress was cast as the female interest against the established male stars Gene Barry, Robert Stack and Anthony Franciosa. When that show was cancelled Saint James moved straight into the role of "Sally McMillan" where she stayed for five years. Apparently there was little love lost between the two stars, although their chemistry on screen is quite effective, and the sixth and final season was re-titled simply McMillan, with Rock solving cases without the assistance of his "charmingly zany" young wife.

     With the timeslot demands of the NBC network shared by three separate shows, McMillan and Wife contributed only six or seven episodes per season, each episode filling a "feature" timeslot of ninety minutes. Allowing for commercials, the actual running time was approximately seventy-three minutes. This set spreads the longer pilot and the seven episodes of Season One over three discs, their contents being :

Disc 1

Disc 2

Disc 3

     As was the case with Season Two, a major plus of this series is the extensive location work around San Francisco and its environs, though here not quite as imaginatively used as in Season Two, the producers occasionally resorting to stock footage which is not the same quality as the rest of the material. Of course there are those incredible hills, with a bicycle chase for a change. Case Five does take us on an aerial jaunt to Palm Springs for some golf, excellently filmed and without any stock footage, but generally we are firmly established in the city by the bay. We see the dock and bay areas, parklands, a football stadium, museums, cable cars, and everything else that we associate with San Francisco. Technically most irritating in these episodes is the 70s cliché of zooming, and there is some very poor camera placement in some dialogue scenes. Interior sets range from the elaborately detailed, such as the McMillan's abode, to the very tacky and makeshift. A "restaurant" is barely suggested by a red drape, a table and a couple of chairs. Guest stars are less than glittering, and when there is a "name" of any magnitude it is dangerous to be expectant. June Havoc, the real-life "Baby June" from the musical Gypsy, has dreadful stuff to do. Best are Claude Akins in Case Four and Barbara McNair in Case Six. McNair, recording, TV and nightclub star, gets to sing one song on screen, "Until It's Time for You to Go", as well as providing audio of a couple of other songs from her recordings.(Trivia alert!) Worth noting in the same episode is the appearance of Bobby Troup, second husband of the beautiful singer/actress Julie London, who famously introduced "Cry Me a River". Troup was a renowned jazz pianist and composer, his most famous songs being "(Get Your Kicks) on Route 66" and "Daddy". I guess London's career was a little too "hot" for her to guest on McMillan and Wife. Pity. Troup was the second husband of the sultry and sexy London, her first having been Jack Webb of "Dragnet" fame, and she and Troup were still together when he died in 1999.

     If you blink you may miss the appearances by Tyne Daly and Jackie Cooper.However, the series regulars fare much better. John Schuck as Sergeant Enright, the commissioner's right-hand-man, has too much comedy in this first year, some of the running gags - never being able to finish a meal or get to sleep without being interrupted by "the Commissioner" on the phone - are extremely laboured and obvious. However the actor works well and has a likeable presence. Nancy Walker's character, Mildred, does not appear in the pilot, and has only one short scene in Case One. However, her evident popularity ensured that her involvement increased with each episode. Walker, along with June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven, was one of the Broadway stars of Best Foot Forward when that property was bought by MGM in 1943. After three films at Metro, Nancy Walker returned to Broadway, but was back in Hollywood in 1954 for Doris Day's Lucky Me at Warners. Walker became extremely popular on TV, appearing in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and The Nancy Walker Show amongst others. She also turned her hand to directing, first for TV and then for the big screen with Can't Stop the Music in 1980.There are also regular appearances from that excellent actor Paul Stewart as the Chief of Police. Stewart's long and distinguished career began with his debut in Citizen Kane (1941), and later he indelibly terrorised twelve-year-old Bobby Driscoll in The Window (1949), and then added to the studio mayhem of Singin' in the Rain (1952) .Sadly Stewart did not survive into Season Two of McMillan and Wife, but it is good to have him here for most of these earlier episodes.

     The 70s fashions are a distinct point of interest in this series. Rock was at this stage sporting his impressive moustache, which was to disappear in Season Two along with Susan Saint James’ pregnancy !!! However, despite the at times eye-catching fashions and prints adorning the two stars, it is the occasional appearance of hot pants that really steals the show. What a truly tragic fashion! In Case Three Lorraine Gary sails in on a matching electric blue ensemble of hot pants, knee high boots, a turban and a cape that would be large enough for a moderate breeze to get her airborne. It's even better than Rock in a pink bunny rabbit suit - which we can't blame on the 70s.

     The music too has that hollow 70s disco sound, with trumpets blaring and trendy bongo riffs chucked in far too frequently. The Henry Mancini Mystery Theatre theme is fine, but the music composed for McMillan itself, credited to Jerry Fielding (The Wild Bunch) serves as a reminder of the extent to which western culture declined during this tasteless decade. On far too many occasions the series looks and sounds like an episode from The Love Boat or even Bewitched.

     McMillan and Wife is a competent enough relic of the 70s. The main reason to watch it today is Rock Hudson, as was the case initially. Susan Saint James does improve in Season Two, but in the Season One episodes her "endearing zaniness" is merely irritating. Much is to be blamed on the script and the directors, many scenes having the look and sound of very amateurish fare. The makers seem to have been far too influenced by Sally McMillan's character, with the emphasis on comedy jarring in a "mystery" series. In the last three episodes, and especially the finale where a pregnant Sally is out of the action, things do improve. The rainy night opening to Case Five begins that one well, and Case Six has the strongest plot of the season with an ingenious threat to the lives of the two McMillans. Case Seven, with Barbara McNair's character returning from "Mac's" past, ends the first year on a very strong note.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     The video transfer of this first season of McMillan and Wife is markedly better than Season Two. There is some variation, but generally the image is vivid and amazingly sharp.

     The episodes are presented at their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The series was filmed on 35mm stock, and processed by the Technicolor laboratories. Although there are occasional variations in quality from episode to episode, the season overall is startlingly vivid. Digital processing is not an issue, with no instances of aliasing noted through the entire almost ten hours screen time. There are a couple of instances of faded colour at the sides of the image, which may have been caused during the original processing. Generally the image is sharp, stable and vivid. The colour palette highlights the extravagant colour schemes and tones of the fashions and fabrics of the period. The close-ups come up particularly well, with very good skin tones and great clarity.

     There is modest film quality grain, and detail is basically very good, with shadow detail quite impressive in some of the dark, "mysterious" scenes. Film artefacts are minimal, reduced to the occasional fleck, and these are mainly evident at the opening of episodes. Plus there is that washed out edge of the image described above.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There in one audio stream on each disc, English Dolby Digital two channel mono encoded at 192 Kbps. The soundtrack is in extremely good condition, and quite satisfying given its strictly mono origins.

     Dialogue is perfectly clear with, as was the case with Season Two, evidence of considerable post dubbing. Hudson was frequently post-dubbed during his early days at Universal, in order to ensure that he projected the most manly tones. Generally the dubbing here is excellent, though there is an air of unreality to the dialogue in some scenes. No background hiss was noted at all, and there were no crackles, pops or drop-outs.

     The title music of Henry Mancini plus that provided by Jerry Fielding is quite satisfactorily reproduced, and reminiscent of the hollow sound of many popular recordings of the era.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu

The main menu is presented over a split-screen with live action on the left and monochrome portraits of the two stars on the right, plus music from the series.

Original Mystery Movie Title (1:03)

     This title sequence comes from 1972 when the Mystery Movie line-up of the shows which starred Rock Hudson (McMillan and Wife), Peter Falk (Colombo), and Dennis Weaver (McCloud) was joined by Hec Ramsey, starring Richard Boone. Boone’s show, which only survived for ten episodes after its pilot, was only one of a number of series which had relatively short lives under NBC's umbrella rotation strategy.

Booklet : Universal Television Press Kit 1971-1972

     This was a very welcome surprise. Included in the slip-case as an insert, this is an excellent twenty-four page replica of the original Press Kit booklet. There are blurbs prepared for the press which include :

     There are also two full page very attractive black and white portraits of the two stars, plus a single one of Rock.

Booklet : Season One Episode Guide

     An insert in the case, this four page booklet has two pages of "guide" with colour portraits of the two stars on the front and back covers. The details presented for each episode provide a small colour picture from that episode, plot synopsis, original U.S. broadcast dates, guest stars, writing credits and names of directors. Quite a nicely produced little booklet with very good colour.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    According to customer comments on Amazon's site, the Region 1 two disc release has been riddled with "sticking" and "jumping" problems. I can also find no reference to the Press Kit booklet that is in the local release. So, get this one locally.

Summary

     This was big TV news in 1971. A really BIG movie star was starring in a TV series. Rock’s many fans will thoroughly enjoy him in these eight comedy/mystery episodes. He looks great, still every inch the star although the material and his directors let him down at times. Originally on film, the image looks great, sharp and richly colourful, with 70s fashion at times upstaging everything else. Oh, those hot pants!. This is really brainless TV to eat popcorn by, but what's wrong with that?

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Monday, December 06, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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