This is a recommendation that will probably appeal to only a small number of people.
The Snoop Sisters (1972-1974) is a 5-part TV series that would be an ideal gift for that Murder She Wrote fan in your life…. 😉
Preceding Angela Lansbury’s blockbuster franchise by more than a decade, The Snoop Sisters also stars an elderly writer of detective fiction, Ernesta Snoop, who solves the occasional real life case. At all times, she is supported by her sister Gwendolyn. The core set of characters is completed by their nephew Steve, a police officer who disapproves of their snooping activities as he fears for their safety; and Barney, the chauffeur / baby-sitter Steve employs in the vain attempt to keep his aunts out of trouble.
The Snoop Sisters premiered in 1972 as a one-off pilot (100 min. running time), and returned to TV one year later as a loose four episode series as part of NBC’s Wednesday Night Mystery Movie slot. Each episode has 75 minutes of running time, a slightly unusual format which actually serves the stories very well. The length of the stories feels just right, neither too short nor too long, with an agreeable pace.
In the year between the pilot and the series, several changes took place. The nephew, Steve, was recast, and in the re-write Barney was changed from an elderly ex-cop to a middle-aged ex-criminal. It also seems to me that in the pilot aunts and nephew were supposed to live in the same house, while in the series he lives separately from them.
The writing makes this an enjoyable but still average crime series, with the minor plot holes and inconsistencies which are so abundant in the shows of that era – not exactly a “gem”, and no “must-see” TV. What makes this show rise and shine are the casting choices for the two leading ladies: Helen Hayes as Ernesta Snoop, and Mildred Natwick as Gwendolyn.
Just as Angela Lansbury’s performance and charisma turns Murder She Wrote from average TV into a real enjoyment, it is thanks to Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick that The Snoop Sisters evolves from an average crime show into something memorable. Their performances and their completely natural interaction, their ability to play with and off each other with perfect timing – these are the element that make this show special.
Adding to the enjoyment is the fact that the legendary Henry Mancini composed a rather pleasant musical theme for the four 75-minute episodes.
The Snoop Sisters is available on DVD as a 3-disc box-set (Region Code 1). I am not sure if a Region 2 version exists as well, BUT: my own Region 1 set is working on my Region 2 player without problems, so it seems to be one of those cases where the Region Code was not actually activated on the discs. This is, of course, no guarantee that this will be the case with every Region 1 set out there.
As for the technical aspects (all based on my experiences with my own DVD set), the show’s DVDs are of unexpectedly high quality. Visually, there are very little flaws of the kind which you so often find in TV archive-to-DVD transfers, especially with shows this old. Unlike other shows from the era, which were often even erased, The Snoops Sisters seems to have been treated very well by the NBC archivists. Either that, or someone has undertaken great efforts to smooth out any big faults in the source material. In any case, the discs contain a warning stating that there are flaws in the source material that could not be mended, but as I said, I could hardly find any faults. One exception is the audio volume which seems to vary from episode to episode – for the pilot I had to turn up the volume on my TV so far that my (cheap) speakers created a constant humming sound in the background. But it is not too bad.
Another (very minor) problem is that near the beginning of each of the 75-minute episodes there is some kind of generic sequence with opening titles which was meant for NBC’s Wednesday Night Mystery Movie as a whole rather than for The Snoop Sisters in particular. Not a real problem, just slightly irritating as it features actors that are not in the show.
One last caveat: just like many episodes of Murder She Wrote, Magnum P I, and others, each of the 75-minute episodes opens with a montage of scenes which very often spoils the entire episode. I really hate this and cannot understand why so many shows of the 70s and 80s did that. So I always carefully fast-forward, with one-and-a-half eyes closed.
As I said, The Snoop Sisters is not exactly “must see” television; but this little-known TV show is definitely worth checking out for those who like crime stories of the Murder She Wrote kind, especially since the performances of Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick are so enjoyable.
The DVD box-sets currently retail at around $17.- on amazon.com; generally, I would regard anything up to $14.- a fair price, but then, I am rather stingy…..