RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCIVES
As someone who has written extensively about the spy craze of the 1960s, I'm ashamed to admit I'd never seen an episode of Honey West. The series premiered in 1965 but lasted a mere one season, a casualty of high ratings from its time slot rival Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Thus, I had no preconceived notions when VCI's complete series arrived for review. The 4 DVD set consists of all thirty episodes. I have not watched all of them, but I've seen enough to get a general taste of the show- and I love it. It's been said that Honey West was the first kick-ass female action hero on TV, but in fact, that honor probably goes to the character of Cathy Gale on The Avengers. Nevertheless, Honey had great influence despite the brevity of her series. In fact, its amazing how loyal the following is for the show,considering it's not been available on DVD and hasn't been syndicated.
Honey West came to life in a series of 1950s pulp novels. The character, played by Anne Francis, made her TV debut in an episode of Burke's Law and producer Aaron Spelling decided she merited her own series. Honey is a sexy private detective aided and abetted by her loyal friend/partner/employee Sam (John Ericson). She resides in a luxury penthouse with her pet ocelot and her swinging Aunt May (Irene Hervey). Honey generally dealt with solving every day crimes like murder and smuggling, but she did possess an array of James Bond-like gadgets. Her compact works as a communicator and she carries weapons in her garter belt. She's also a martial arts expert. Although the half-hour plots aren't long enough to generate much suspense or character development, the real appeal is the chemistry between Honey and Sam. Due to the concerns over censorship, virtually all male/female action teams of bygone eras had deliberately ambiguous relationships when it came to sex. There was a flirtatious quality found on shows like The Avengers, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and The Protectors, but it's fairly obvious that Honey is not remaining totally chaste with a horndog like Sam around. Yet, it's equally clear that whatever sexual relationship they enjoy, it's of a casual nature, as both Honey and Sam aren't bothered by the other using their appeal to the opposite sex to further a case. Another refreshing aspect of the show is that Honey and Sam are all too human and prone to making mistakes. In the very first episode, they blow a high profile sting operation and have to hustle to make it up to their client. Both Francis and Ericson are extremely engaging and fun to watch. The bon mots tossed between them are also often very amusing.
VCI has done a good job of remastering the episodes, which look crisp and clean. Sadly, Ms. Francis is not interviewed on the set perhaps due to the fact that she was in fragile health at the time and has since passed away. However, the packaging is impressive and there are extensive liner notes listing prominent directors and guest-stars. Not incidentally, a highly enjoyable aspect of the set is the inclusion of an abundance of TV commercials from the 1960s. None relate to the show and most are for consumer products ranging from laundry detergent to cigarettes. One realizes how much revenue the TV industry lost when cigarette ads were banned in the early 1970s. I hadn't seen these in decades, but such was their impact on a child, that I could still recall the dialogue and tunes in certain episodes. It's amazing how smoking dominated popular culture during that era. In one ad for Sucrets throat lozenges, the ad advises you to take a tablet and feel free to smoke if you're suffering from a sore throat! There are also spots with George Burns ensdorsing the "luxury" of El Producto cigars- at least until the announcer mentions you can buy them at two for 25 cents! There are also promos for women's cosmetics, Edie Adams shilling another brand of cigars and some vintage ads for The F.B.I., A Man Called Shenandoah, The Legend of Jesse James and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. If you can't get into Honey West, these ads should be worth the price of the set alone. - Lee Pfeiffer