One of the oldest genres in television is the detective show. They were there when TVs were first becoming a standard part of the American living room. Many of the early series started in the ancient days of radio. One thing the all had in common is the center character was a man. Over time there have been young men, older men; skinny ones and a famous show with named for the corpulent titled character. Sure there were women all around in these prototypical detective shows but they were always relegated to the parts of girlfriends or most likely secretaries. In 1965 the landscape of the nation was beginning to change. In the mid sixties the term Women’s Liberation took hold and there was a wave of feminism overtaking the country. Women were demanding equal pay for the same jobs that men held and a chance to have those jobs. Now one thing that television was always rather good at was reflecting the changes in our society. People wanted to see shows on the air that they could relate to with characters that were like themselves. In 1964 a series would come around that would put the established detective shows on their ear; ‘Honey West’. For once the dedicated and resourceful detective was a woman. Now younger viewers especially have to put this series in the proper historical context otherwise it may seem trite. In 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson was just elected president. The war in Vietnam was causing a division in the country along generational lines. Young women were burning their bras in protest for the second class citizenship they were afforded. This was also a time when the cold war was nearing its peak and spies were the most popular genre in films and television. ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ was a major hit with ‘Wild, Wild West’ only a year away. Detective shows were a proven formula for success and the network wanted to find a way to bring in the younger viewers. The result was ‘Honey West’. Although she was basically a high price private detective she had a few gadgets in her arsenal that could rival those used by James Bond. Girls and young women flocked to the series to see a strong female role model. Boys and men would watch to see the stunning beauty that was often clad in skimpy, by those days’ standards, outfits. This was a short lived series lasting only one season but in that brief time it became a cult classic. People of the venerable baby boomer generation will remember this series fondly. This series was rarely found in syndication and was around long before the invention of the VCR so for most of us all we have are memories of the show. Now VCI Home Video has come across with a DVD release of the entire series. It is another chance for those of us of more mature age to show the younger set just how a television series should be.
The original character was created by Gloria and Forest Fickling under the pseudonym ‘G.G. Fickling’ in a series of novels that were popular in the late fifties. The first incursion of Ms West to television was in an episode of the popular male oriented mystery series ‘Burke’s Law’. The audience responded well enough for the network to go ahead with a spin off series. She was the female counterpart of the flashy male detectives that previously dominated the airwaves. Honey was a master of marital arts and many weapons and as such was well equipped to take down male villains twice her size. She tooled around town in a sleek AC Cobra convertible, more typically a male sports car. In a twist from the loyal secretary that a male detective Honey had a male sidekick, Sam Bolt (John Ericson) who like the female characters in a traditional crime drama was kept mostly in the background. It was typical for him to be in their tricked out surveillance van talking to Honey on the radio she had neatly hidden in her tube of lipstick. Honey was frequently clad in a skin tight jumpsuit that even prepubescent boys could appreciate a whole lot.
It is difficult to believe that there have been forty five years since I watched this show on the old family television. I admit that I had not given much thought to it but when a chance came around to review it I jumped at it. Many times in the past when I had a chance to revisit something I enjoyed from my childhood I was disappointed with the series as an adult. There is a certain halo effect at work were anything from that long ago seems better than what is on TV now. This was not the case here. The show holds together very well. It is dated to some extent which is only natural but overall it is something that I would still watch now. There is action that comes from strong story lines and reasonable presentation of the characters. Honey West is a strong, opinionated young woman working in a field that traditionally all male. She is not shy about using her feminine ways to get the goods on the criminal in her sights. She inherited the private investigation firm from her late father, a little nod to the male hierarchy that wouldn’t accept Honey building her own business. It also gave the writers a way out with how she was trained in this area; she learned at her father’s knee. Besides Sam Honey has a couple of others in her life. One is her quirky Aunt Meg (Irene Hervey) who is a ‘speak her mind’ sort of gal. Then there is Honey’s pet ocelot Bruce who is a physical manifestation of the dangerous feline nature that Honey exudes.
With only a half hour, actually about 22 minutes, to get the story out the writers had little time to spend on character development. Honey was shown as a no nonsense woman who is more than able to get the job done. The plots of the episodes follow the same basic format and types of crimes that the male detective would encounter. The stories frequently required Honey going undercover to the evidence she requires to solve the case at hand. There are the usual assortment of bad guys that will be brought to justice by Honey such as arsonists, kidnappers and thieves. It wouldn’t be a sixties crime show if someone close to Honey wasn’t kidnapped and Sam manages in at least one episode. Since Honmey is a beautiful and intelligent there has to be a hint of romance. Since the writers needed to maintain some degree of sexual tension between her and Sam any potential suitor for Ms West had to have something wrong. In one episode she discovers the man she has been dating is actually a jewel thief.
The series was out in that time before color television was wide spread and is presented in black ad white. The video has held up very well for a one season series from so long ago. There are some problems with the contrast but nothing so major as to be annoying. The Dolby mono soundtrack is acceptable but nothing special. This is a piece of our childhood for many of us and it is great to have it finally on DVD.