Where do people get creative inspiration? Perhaps when Lawrence Gordon dreamed of Matt Houston the spark was involved, “What if Thomas Magnum was really rich instead of borrowing Robin Master’s stuff?” Why not have a detective with the mustache and the money? Ultimately Aaron Spelling must have taken a puff on his pipe and declared, “He shall be our Dynasty detective with a Dallas twist.” Thus Matt Houston came about as the extremely rich Texas oilman with the hobby of solving crimes. Since he was rich, he was able to afford a computer to help him narrow down the suspect list. He had a large staff including his lawyer C.J. Parsons (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century‘s Pamela Hensley) and a couple ranch hands to keep things real. Matt Houston: The First Season reminds us that not every private investigator cares about incidentals.
“X-22″ introduces us to the character with a 94 minute pilot. A rich industrialist dies while launching a naval vessel. The champagne bottle’s loaded with explosives. The prime suspect is the sexy Barbara Carrera (Never Say Never Again). Matt has to use all his toys to uncover who put too much pop in the bottle. “Stop the Presses” has a tabloid publisher murdered after he tells four people he’s going to put them on the front cover. Although he might have lived if he put Heather Locklear on page 3. “Deadly Fashion” dares to mix the clothing industry with Vic Tayback (Alice). “Killing Isn’t Everything” is an all star football spectacular. There’s murderer on the gridiron. The always cocky John Beck (Rollerball) is the quarterback in jeopardy. Seems that Hall of Famer Dick Butkus wants to take him out. Matt makes a new friend in “Too Mean” Malone (Rockne Tarkington). If the star power isn’t enough, you get LA announcing legend Chick Hearn and Forrest Tucker (F Troop). Tarkington would become a recurring characteras Matt’s grounded muscle. He’s beloved around the globe as Morgan on The Banana Splits‘ “Danger Island” segment.
Aficionados of Gilligan’s Island get a treat with four of the castaways popping up on the show. Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell) gets blown up at a charity carnival in “The Beverly Woods Social Club.” Amongst the suspects are Don DeFore (Hazel‘s Mr. Baxter), Bo Hopkins (Burt Reynolds co-star that looked like Jerry Reed), Ben Murphy (Gemini Man) and Ron Palillo (Welcome Back, Kotter‘s Horshack). Why would anyone blow her up? She was a gossip columnist with a black book listing swingers in the social club. “The Kidnapping” has Arab prince get nabbed. Tina Louise (Ginger) gets drawn into the conspiracy. “The Yacht Club Murders” properly cast Alan Hale (the Skipper) as The Commodore. “The Visitors” has Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) getting mixed up with UFOs. Star Trek fans get a whiff of George Takei in “The Rock and the Hard Place.”
“Another Fine Mess” makes Chuck McCann (Far Out Space Nuts) use the power of Oliver Hardy for evil! He and a hook arm Stan Laurel attempt to kill C.J. Parsons. Ernest Borgnine (McHale’s Navy) gets to wear a captain’s hat as he give Matt the skinny. “Recipe for Murder” has David Hedison’s fancy French restaurant serve James Coco the head of his pal inside a giant blob of Jell-O. “Joey’s Here” has a robot murderer. But the human cast is to die for with Norman Fell (Mr. Roper), Jessica Walter (Arrested Development), Troy Donahue and David Cassidy. “The Purrfect Crime” has a cat food maker (Hogan’s Heroes‘ Wener Klemperer) mauled to death by a tiger. Who let the feline out? His four ex-wives need the case solved so they can get into the will. Among the wives are Zsa Zsa Gabor and Barbi Benton. Sonny Bono wears a toga. Ladies should be warned that they’ll be treated to Col. Klink in a bathing suit. “Fear For Tomorrow” has tearful Tori Spelling begging Matt to kill. How do you think this pre-teen starlet got her break? This was her second guest role after Vega$. The episode reunites Hensley with her Buck Rogers co-star Tim O’Connor. “The Haunted” wraps up the season with Martin Landau taking C.J. hostage to force Matt to blow his testimony.
Matt Houston skirts the edge of becoming Richie Richie: Detective since he’s a man who can uncover the truth if he throw enough cash around for investigative toys. He lacks a certain struggle during an investigation. Banacek lived a wealthy life and had a limo driver, but his fortune came from being the best in the insurance recovery game. Where’s Matt’s risk? Here’s a guy who doesn’t care about the money, but his cases mostly involve the rich and famous. It’s rather superficial when compared to other detective shows of this era. Luckily Lee Horsley lets us see him sweat instead of being pampered during the cases. He brings a little weight to the role instead of letting the mustache do the heavy work. They also feature quite a few destructive stunts to bring a boom to the screen. Matt Houston: The First Season gets better as season progresses thanks to Horsley busting in his cowboy boots.
“X-22,” “Stop The Presses,” “Deadly Fashion,” “Killing Isn’t Everything,” “Who Would Kill Ramona?,” “Recipe For Murder,” “Shark Bait,” “The Kidnapping,” “Joey’s Here,” “The Good Doctor,” “The Rock and The Hard Place,” “The Purrfect Crime,” “The Yacht Club Murders,” “Whose Party Is It Anyway?,” “Get Houston,” “The Visitors,” “Here’s Another Fine Mess,” “The Beverly Hills Social Club,” “The Showgirl Murders,” “Fear For Tomorrow,” “A Deadly Parlay,” “A Novel Way To Die” and “The Hunted.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers appear to be struck off the 35mm negatives. There’s a crispness to the image that allows you to enjoy the little details of the early ‘80s. Don’t look too close at Matt’s computer. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You’ll get a full range of Texas twangs.
Episodic Promos (0:30) give the rundown on each episode.
Matt Houston: The First Season gives us a Dynasty rich private investigator with a Texas drawl. He’s able to bring his horse sense with his deep pockets. Like all Aaron Spelling productions, the episodes are always stocked with notable guest stars. However the ultimate guest star is Horsley’s mustache.
CBS DVD presents Matt Houston: The First Season. Starring: Lee Horsley, Pamela Hensley, Dennis Frimple, Pual Brinegar and John Aprea. Boxset Contents: 23 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released on DVD: March 9, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.