McMillan & Wife: Season One
Crime fighting partners has always been a staple of both films and television, but one variation has reigned supreme for decades, the husband and wife team. From the thirties when William Powel and Myrna Loy played Nick and Nora Charles audiences have always enjoyed watching a married couple solve a mystery. Perhaps the most famous such team in television has been McMillan and Wife. During the early seventies this was one of the must see mystery series and rightfully so. Rock Hudson played San Francisco Police Commissioner Stewart McMillan. Along with his ultra perky wife Sally (Susan St. James) the pair solved unsolvable crimes week and week. According to the back story former Navy man and District Attorney McMillan is named police commissioner and along with his wife the couple become quite a stir to local society. In between social events crimes of a particularly unusual nature seem to cross Macís desk and when the regular police can not solve them, Macís natural investigative nature kicks into high gear. His wife Sally is not the type to let her husband have all the fun. She usually had her own ideas of how and by whom the crime was committed and dives into the investigation head first. Typically, a television investigator has a kooky side kick, since there are two detectives here its only natural that we get two faithful sidekicks. For Mac this came in the personage of Sgt. Charles Enright (John Schuck) his counterpart on the home front was Mildred (Nancy Walker), ostensibly the maid but was usually found deep in trouble instead of keeping house. With this somewhat mismatched band of sleuths on their tails the criminals just didnít have a chance.
With such an offbeat set of characters the stories had to be just the right settings for the antics. In the pilot episode ĎOnce Upon a Dead Maní a simple theft at a charity auction leads to an Egyptian sarcophagus that naturally enough winds up containing a murdered keeping an eye on a famously expensive necklace. Of course, the piece goes missing and a chase that would do credit to the Keystone Cops is on the way. There is even a scene where Mac has to go around in disguise as a bunny rabbit. The action is a little closer to home in the one of the last episodes of season one when Mac and Sally are trapped in their home by the killers. In the last episode it is announced that Sally is pregnant but by the opening of the second season this thread seems to have disappeared.
This was one of a revolving group of Mysteries that NBC aired on alternating weeks. Along with the likes of Columbo and McCloud this was a novel way to present a television series. The extra time between airings gave the producers more than the usual time for each 90 or two hour episodes, these where much more like stand lone movies than the usual rushed weekly episodes most television dramas presented. The plots may have seemed simple on the surface but there were excellent mysteries in each episode, permitting the audience the chance to see if they can figure things out before the McMillans. The prevailing attitude here was family enjoyment. The zany natural of the cast and settings never failed to entertain. Unlike most modern mysteries there parents need have no trepidation in watching this series with the whole family. True, unlike many other television couples Mac and Sally sleep in the same bed and where openly affectionate towards each other. Part of the fun was watching a couple with a strong marriage get into dire straights and work together to extract themselves.
This was one of the dream television casts of the seventies. Rock Hudson was an actor capable of serious drama, action and comedy with his most famous roles in the genre of the romantic comedy. This gave him an almost unique background perfect for the role as Mac. The audience can believe him as a man dedicated not only to the responsibilities of his career but also to his friends and family. Hudson gave us the character of Mac as a man that could take things seriously while having fun still a part of his life. Susan St. James was no stranger to the rotating mystery format NBC used here. She appeared as Peggy Maxwell on the excellent series ĎThe Name of the Gameí where she played the wacky and nosy editorial assistant. In an excellent move the studio executives decided to give her a vehicle that would better showcase her talents. Beautiful and witty St. James could hold her own in scenes opposite a veteran actor like Hudson. She has a natural talent for physical humor that translated well in this series. She had incredible on-screen chemistry with Hudson that sold the relationship. John Schuck is one of those actors that would turn up in the most unexpected places. One of the few actors to be in almost every incarnation of the Star Trek franchise he was one of the most successful character actors around. Here he is the always willing to help Sgt. Enright. Enright was almost constantly at the Commissionerís side, eager to please and completely devoted to his boss and mentor. At the time this series first aired Nancy Walker was best know as Rosie, the counter waitress selling paper towels. She was also Rhodaís mother on the Mary Tyler Moore show and its spin-off Rhoda. Walker is a comic delight. Her tiny frame can barely contain the energy she had always with hilarious results. She had a sort of Ethel to St. Jamesís Lucy here, the side kick that is always ready to enter any situation no mater how bizarre they were. This cast worked extremely well off each other, never stepping on each other, creating a synergy not often seen on television, then or now.
Universal has been releasing their wonderful catalog of seventies mystery series for awhile now. For those of us that remember these series this is an unprecedented delight. I havenít seen McMillan & Wife in syndication too often so this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on the show. For those younger viewers they can see how family entertainment should be done. The full screen video is fairly free of defects although there were some occasional bouts of grain and the random white speck flickering. The mono audio is re-mixed to Dolby two Channel mono and is a bit light on the lower frequencies. Still, it is clear and easy to listen to. Gather the family together and get into real classic television.