Judge Bill Gibron looks at a very mod British series about a crime-fighting ghost. Yes, you read that correctly.
Not quite the ghost with the most, babe.
While working on a typical divorce case, the private detective team of Randall and Hopkirk face the first major fracture in their time-honored teamwork. Fun-loving family man Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope) is mowed down by a hit and run driver and killed instantly, leaving behind devastated partners, both business (Jeff Randall, played by Mike Pratt, The Vault of Horror) and life (Jeannie, played by Annette Andre). In a stroke of supernatural luck, Marty becomes a ghost and chooses to haunt Jeff. Thanks to this spectral selection process, Randall is the only one that can see the dear departed Hopkirk, and his presence as a poltergeist comes in handy in the Sherlock business. With Jeannie along as a secretary for the firm, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) continue their partnership, one built in both a pragmatic and paranormal means of solving a case.
Representing the first half of the only season of the sneak and specter atrophy, A&E's four-disc set of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) features the initial 13 episodes of the 1969 British television show. The installments offered here trace the beginnings of the ghost/dick dynamic and illustrates the ways in which a Ghost and Mrs. Muir-like novelty was incorporated into the standard, stilted whodunit drama. Individually we find the following ectoplasmic escapades:
"My Late Lamented Friend and Partner"
"A Disturbing Case"
"All Work and No Pay"
"Never Trust a Ghost"
"That's How Murder Snowballs"
"Just for the Record"
"Murder Ain't What it Used to Be"
"Who Ever Heard of a Ghost Dying?"
"The House on Haunted Hill"
"When Did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?"
"The Ghost Who Saved the Bank of Monte Carlo"
"For the Girl Who Has Everything"
"But What a Sweet Little Room"
History will bear witness that there is no more dull detective drivel than the so-called hyper-hip British PI poop called Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Hoping to pump some life into what is essentially a stillborn snoop and spirits premise, this English excuse for entertainment tries to get by on the horribly dated demonology ideal of ghosts mixed with an "all mod cons" campiness of late-'60s London to novelize its nonsense. And it almost works, kind of like Diet Coke is almost like regular Coke. The unexciting entropy of the entire program just drips with Dame Doodlebach drollness. There is so much stiff upper lipping and "govna" drink freshening that you almost always forget that there's a mystery going on. Perhaps the most perplexing part of this silly series is the desire to make tired sourpuss Jeff Randall into a jet-setting ladies man. As played by actor Mike Pratt with the pallor of death drilled into every crevice on his face, the un-randy Randall is a hound dog dud with about as much machismo as a French waiter and equally attractive hygiene issues. You can tell he smells of old bubble and squeak, cigarette butts, and endless coal burning fires. They even have his apartment decked out in psychedelic rock posters, yet he can only come across as more Canal than Carnaby Street. And yet, R&H(D) wants to turn this twit into Casanova, having him grope and grovel at the feathers of any "bird" that happens to roost near his dry rot.
Sadly, the show saves the real stud showboating for hampered haunter Marty Hopkirk. As played with a wily worrywart quality, Kenneth Cope seems to disembody the swinging London look that Mike Pratt's Randall has been railroaded into. But the creators have killed off this potential potboiler, leaving our lothario as impotent as the show's hackneyed stories. Indeed, R&H(D) is fantasy as formula, with a premise so prissy you start to wonder when Charles Nelson Reilly will make a cameo. The afterlife aspects are barely addressed (aside from Marty's pathetic nursery rhyme explanation for things paranormal in "My Late Lamented Friend and Partner") and the assistance from the spirit world has a very bewildering and bothered Bewitched quality to it. Marty could probably wrap up all the cases here in about 27 seconds. He can travel anywhere undiscovered, interact with those who are truly gifted with sixth sense sight and can use his essence to create whirlwind storms. So what usually happens to all these special super powers? They are mucked and mired, kept in check with character ineptness and creative contrivance. All Darrin (not Durwood) had to do was say "Sam, I wanna be filthy rich" and money was merely a magic spell away. The same applies to Jeff's financial, investigating, and career woes. Marty is his key to fortune, fame and—yes—even some females. But he (and the show's overseers) fails to use the phantom to his fullest. Thus, many of the narratives in this series are required to trade on the traditions of detective fiction. And Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is rote when realizing such mysteries.
If, for some reason, you decide to pay attention to the 13 shows offered here, you'll see the almost motionless metamorphosis of this series, from serious supernatural thriller to jocular jumpin' jive. By "But What a Sweet Little Room," we find the first departure from the show's standard operating procedure. British cinematic legend Roy Ward Baker attempts to instill a little vitality into this afterlife mess and he almost succeeds. "But What a Sweet Little Room" doesn't give its criminals away from frame one, but lets the audience discover the collusion conclusions along with the main characters. We are also treated to a few absolute eccentrics, individuals who raise the atmosphere of weirdness up a notch or two. Since Baker only helmed one more installment of the show (#14), his imprint was short but significant. Had he been brought on from the beginning to control this metaphysical claptrap, perhaps this series could have connected. But there are too many ill-defined elements of R&H(D), issues stemming directly from the show's inability to properly consign its ghostly traditions. All we are left with are the decidedly dull human elements to see us through. And what with villains of only varying success and a tendency to toss its plot issues up in the air to see just how they will falter into place, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is a series whose production death was never very far away. Frankly, the entire enterprise was on creative life support from the first frame of the opening episode.
A&E's packaging of this title is professional, if a little perfunctory. It divides the 13 installments over four discs to maximize image and sound quality and, for the most part, the efforts are welcome. This show is over 35 years old and looks it on occasion. Colors are faded and a notorious avocado green/dirt brown negative tinge can be seen on some episodes. Still, there is crisp detail to the picture that allows the transfer to expose some of the most God-awful bluescreen work and effects foolishness in all of television. Still, the 1.33:1 full screen transfer is perfectly acceptable. As is the faux Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack (the series was only ever made in mono).
A&E is not famous for its outlay of extras, and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is no exception. There is a still gallery featuring photos from almost every episode in the series and onscreen essay biographies (with accompanying filmographies) of Mike "Jeff Randall" Pratt and Kenneth "Marty Hopkirk" Cope. But the oddest entry into the bonus material arena is a 45-minute television show from the History Channel (an A&E affiliate) entitled Haunted History: London. While very interesting in its dissection of Britain's famous royal, political, criminal, and literary specters, there is no actual link to the series except the sole supernatural one. But it's part and parcel of the amount of attention this box set, and the series itself, demands.
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is an off-title testament to the fact that not all ancient broadcast series were worthy of nostalgic reissue. Here's hoping that this saggy '60s spirit discorporates before set two.
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