Paramount // 1972 // 644 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // April 4th, 2007
On Keller and Stone having different theories on the murder...
Captain Malone: "Can't you two get together?"
Stone: "Then we wouldn't need each other."
Throughout the 1960s and the '70s, there was one name in crime dramas on TV and that name was Quinn Martin. At the height of his success, Martin's QM Productions had more hours of television on the air than any other company. The Untouchables, The Fugitive, Cannon ,Barnaby Jones, The F.B.I. and The Streets of San Francisco. Different in themes and settings, all of the Quinn Martin productions had that patented four-act formula (complete with act numbers on screen), and a stylized guest cast intro with Hank Simms' distinctive narration. If you're a child of the '70s, I bet you can still hear that voice in your head...
"A Quinn Martin Production!"
Lt. Mike Stone (Karl Malden, Gypsy) is a 23-year veteran of the police force. He's got a blue-collar background and a real knack for dealing with people. Inspector Steven Keller (Michael Douglas, Wall Street) is his young, college educated, gung-ho partner. Together, they're cleaning the scum off The Streets of San Francisco.
Here's what you'll find on The Streets of San Francisco: Season 1, Volume 1:
* "The Thirty-Year Pin"
* Special Features
* "The First Day of Forever"
* "45 Minutes from Home"
* "Whose Little Boy Are You"
* "Tower Beyond Tragedy"
* "Hall of Mirrors"
* "In the Midst of Strangers"
* "The Takers"
* "The Year of the Locusts"
* "The Bullet"
* "Bitter Wine"
* "A Trout in the Milk"
At first glance, The Streets of San Francisco looks very much like The French Connection or Bullitt. It has a gritty, street vibe accentuated by low level camera angles and driving sequences filmed with a hand-held from the backseat. The series makes good use of its setting, filming many scenes right in the heart of the city with the clang of cable cars in the background and the throng of tourists in places like Ghirardelli Square.
Produced in the early '70s, the show is firmly rooted in the culture of the era with many episodes about draft dodgers, Vietnam deserters, anti-war protestors, and an entire generation that preferred to turn on and tune out. The infamous "generation gap" of the '60s is well represented in the series' lead characters and weekly storylines.
Representing the old school is Lt. Mike Stone. For such a craggy, brutish-looking man, Karl Malden has a real charm about him. He plays Stone with a natural warmth and there's a very endearing quality to his "buddy boy" banter with protégée Keller.
Michael Douglas is well cast as the college-educated detective ready to take on the world. With his trademark Douglas dimple, Michael was positioned to be the sex symbol on the series, and despite the haircut (or maybe because of it) he captured the hearts of female fans. Keller's love life was often used to lighten up the series' heaviness with Stone constantly dragging him away from one lovely lady or another. When Stone poses the question, "don't you ever answer your phone?" and Keller replies, "not when it's in the refrigerator," one doesn't have to think too hard to fill in the blanks.
The character of Keller is one you have to watch with your mind set in the era he was written. In the early '70s, being a cop was hardly a noble profession for an educated young man, and Keller often gets an earful from his contemporaries who see him as a sell-out. This puts a sweet little chip on his shoulder and makes him a tad volatile -- a nice contrast to Stone's "slow and easy wins the race" style of police work.
And speaking of watching with a '70s mindset, I always get a kick out of how many cop show plots would be blown out of the water if only they'd had cell phones back then! Having to stop at a pay phone to check in while on stakeout has endangered the life of more than a few '70s television officers.
The Streets of San Francisco: Season 1, Volume 1 is well put together with easy to use navigation, an interesting combined animated/still opening screen, and smart use of the jazzy, strip club theme song. The packaging is done with warm gold and bronze tones that suit the gritty nature of the series with good use of stills but I could have done with more Michael Douglas and less Golden Gate Bridge.
Included are three special features:
First up is the original pilot with Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart) and Kim Darby (True Grit). I actually have vivid memories as a kid watching this movie on the late late show over and over to the point where I even remember whodunit and why! The pilot is full of twists and turns and I especially love that they give you the clues to the crime right off the bat -- but most people won't catch them. That's good storytelling, right there.
Next is a short pilot presentation reel that was used to sell the series to advertisers and studio executives. I love features like these because they're not something the public normally gets to see. This one is full of clips from the pilot movie with overly dramatic narration explaining what makes the series new and different. Very nice.
And finally, another unusual bit: a four-minute on-set interview with columnist Army Archerd. Archerd brings his camera into Lt. Stone's office where he sits down for a chat with Douglas and Malden. This type of short promo is quite common on TV today thanks to TV Guide Channel and shows such as Access Hollywood but fairly uncommon for that era. It's a wonderful piece of TV history, especially when you hear them talking about newcomer Michael Douglas. I predict a great future in the business for that boy.
Being that this is a cop show from the '70s, modern viewers may find it moves a bit slower than they're used to, particularly since the scenery is such a large part of the show. Stick with it. Once you find the rhythm, you'll enjoy the pace.
Now let's talk guest stars. The Streets of San Francisco is designed so that a large portion of each episode is devoted strictly to the guests. This is likely why they were able to attract so many popular actors of the day. The guest characters are well rounded and get more screen time than they would in a modern series. This works in favor of the show with talented actors such as Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart), Edward Mulhare (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir), William Windom (Murder, She Wrote), or David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky & Hutch). Where it doesn't work is when the stars aren't strong enough to carry the weight of the story, such as "Time Lock" and "A Trout in the Milk." But then that's the beauty of DVD, isn't it? The ability to fast-forward or switch to another episode whenever you want.
Even though this classic cop drama is loaded with hippies, sixties slang, and Vietnam war references, it doesn't come across at all dated. It's still pretty much the story of two cops trying their best to bring about justice in the big city. If you love Law & Order, give The Streets of San Francisco a chance.
Keller wants to throw the book at 'em but Stone believes in second chances, so The Streets of San Francisco: Season 1, Volume 1 is free to go. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2007 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 644 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Original pilot episode
* Pilot presentation
* Four minute Army Archerd interview on the show's set with Michael Douglas and Karl Malden
* TV.com - The Streets of San Francisco
* Karl Malden at Reel Classics