As CBS/Paramount gets closer to releasing the last of the original Hawaii Five-O series on DVD, some of us find ourselves questioning life. “What,” the quaintly-queer queries go, “will I do to pass the time once the very last episode of one of the greatest cop shows ever is finally put out on home video? And how will I take care of my Jack Lord fix after that?” Well, the answer is simple: you simply find one of the other great cop shows out there — one that has an equally-superior star as Jack Lord.
Impossible? Surprisingly, it isn’t. In 1973, NBC aired a daring new television series entitled Police Story, created by cop-turned-writer Joseph Wambaugh (who also penned The New Centurions The Blue Knight and The Onion Field). The revolutionary aspect of this anthology series was that — in addition to ignoring the typical procedural formula most cop shows followed and focusing on the lives of the officers themselves — it had no regular cast. There was no Jack Lord, Telly Savalas or Robert Blake at the helm; instead there was more. Much more.
And now, thanks to the dedicated folks at Shout! Factory, Police Story: Season One is available for you to add in your collection right next to all of those (if not directly on top of) Hawaii Five-O DVDs. Each episode focused on an entirely different officer, veteran or rookie in the LAPD, beginning with the original feature-length pilot, “Slow Boy” starring the late great Vic Morrow (who would return in a two-parter, “Countdown” later in this same season). From there, we dive into different aspects of how the job of keeping the peace affects various law enforcement officers from agents, beat cops, detectives and newbies alike.
Among the incredible array of star power here are John Saxon, James Farentino, John Forsythe, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Jan-Michael Vincent, Cameron Mitchell, Ed Asner, Hugh O’Brian, Pernell Roberts, Tony Lo Bianco (who stars in two episodes here and would go on to star in two more), Claude Akins, Clifton Davis, Martin Balsam, Edmund O’Brien, Donnelly Rhodes, Clu Gulager, Bert Convy, James Gregory and more. Supporting roles are played by greats such as Patty McCormack, Kim Hunter, Mel Ferrer, Sid Haig, Frankie Avalon (as a “kid” from the street), Dean Stockwell and Jerry Lee Lewis (as a pair of psycho hick thrill-killers), Sal Mineo (as a pimp!), Jackie Cooper, Tim Matheson, Albert Paulsen and Mary Ann Mobley.
The only “regular” cast member in the entire series is a retired police officer that owns a watering hole that caters to cops — played by veteran actor Scott Brady — and is seen sporadically. My only qualm is that Joe Don Baker wasn’t cast in a single episode of this series, which ran for a total of five seasons.
Highlights include “Wyatt Earp Syndrome,” with a subtly-super performance Cliff Gorman (and an incredibly bad one by Smokey Robinson as Gorman’s partner); Darren McGavin as surprisingly open-minded cop looking for “The Ripper” — a killer who targets homosexuals); Angie Dickinson in “The Gamble,” which served as a backdoor pilot for Police Woman; Earl Holliman as a latent print examiner who dreams of becoming a “real” cop (“Fingerprint”); Christopher George as an officer on the take (“Cop In The Middle”) and Kurt Russell as a young man trying to make it through police academy in “Country Boy.”
Shout! Factory presents Police Story: Season One in a glorious 6-disc set that houses three to four episodes per disc as well as a newly-produced interview with Joseph Wambaugh, who talks about how the series came to be and his writing achievements in general. Two feature-length episodes — the aforementioned pilot and “Big John Morrison” (aka “The Hunters”) with Tony Lo Bianco and Jackie Cooper — are also advertised as special features. The 1.33:1 video and mono audio aspects in this superb set are commendable, and are right on par with what we’ve come to expect from Shout! Factory.
In short, this is a fabulous series full of magnificent character actors and classic heavies that touches upon a lot of subjects that were deemed as “taboo” in the early ‘70s (sex, drugs, homosexuality, etc.) but are decidedly tame by today’s standards. There are a few moments here and there that border on “racist” or “sexist” with contemporary, overly-sensitive audiences — the same people who will, ironically, no doubt think that Police Story doesn’t contain enough action compared to modern television shows.