Judge Brett Cullum invites you to visit his shrine to Savalis, the Greek God of Crimefighting. (It's Doric.)
Our reviews of Kojak: Season Two (published September 27th, 2011), Kojak: Season Three (published March 8th, 2012), Kojak: Season Four (published May 9th, 2012), Kojak: Season Five (published September 2nd, 2012), and Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection (published January 15th, 2012) are also available.
"Who loves ya, baby?"
NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, and The Shield all owe a debt to a bald man sporting a badge and a lollipop—Theo Kojak. He was a tough, gritty New York police lieutenant played to the hilt by Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Kojak made his debut in 1973 in a highly-rated television movie, The Marcus-Nelson Murders. That presentation proved so popular that by October CBS was showing the weekly adventures of Kojak. The show ran for five successful and critically praised seasons. After the show's run, Savalas reprised the role as late as the 1990s in television movies. In March of 2005, USA Network revived the series with a new lead—Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction). But how could he ever compare to Telly Savalas? Just in time for the revival, Universal gives us Kojak—Season One on DVD to answer that question. And the verdict?
Facts of the Case
In Season One of Kojak we are introduced to this tough-as-nails NYC cop who always wears his Sunday best. The collection is divided into three double-sided discs, which contain all twenty-two episodes aired in 1973 and early 1974.
• "Siege of Terror"
• "Web of Death"
• "One for the Morgue"
• "Girl In the River"
• "Requiem for a Cop"
• "The Corrupter"
• "Dark Sunday"
• "Conspiracy of Fear"
• "Cop in a Cage"
• "Marker to a Dead Bookie"
• "Last Rites for a Dead Priest"
• "Death is Not a Passing Grade"
• "Die Before They Wake"
• "Deliver Us From Evil"
• "Eighteen Hours of Fear"
• "Before the Devil Knows"
• "Dead on His Feet"
• "Down a Long Lonely River"
• "Therapy in Dynamite"
• "The Only Way Out"
Telly Savalas was the son of Greek immigrants, a Purple Heart-decorated veteran of World War II, and a psychology student. Early on in his career as an actor, he was often typecast as the sadistic villain (his turn as Blofeld in the James Bond series) or even the devil himself (in Mario Bava's Lisa and the Devil). He played "tough" really well in 1967's The Dirty Dozen. He was even nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1963, for his work in Birdman of Alcatraz. But the world will always see him as the tough-talking Kojak, and the role that made him famous is his legacy. And why not? He was perfectly cast as the slick detective who played as cool as his perfectly tailored suits. He took home the Golden Globe a couple of times for lead actor in a dramatic series. Prostate cancer took his life in 1994 at the age of seventy. But in his time, he was a Greek god that solved crimes. No matter how dated the series looks today, he gives a timeless performance that looms large in pop culture's imagination. Every time I hit New York, I look for cops with candy sticks dangling from their mouths. The famous lollipop was a substitute for cigarettes when Telly quit, and a suggestion from the show's real life police adviser. It doesn't appear in the first part of the series, and I was shocked to notice how often Kojak is seen in this set with the cigarette instead of his trademark sucker.
Kojak—Season One starts off with a bang and doesn't let up for twenty-two episodes. This first season was filmed largely on location (unlike later seasons, which were filmed in Los Angeles), and the NYC locales make the show seem all the more gritty and real. The '70s Big Apple is chock-full of immigrants, all races, and even Hare Krishnas swirling around Kojak as he solves crimes. The series was Emmy-nominated for its cinematography, and boy, can you tell why with this batch of shows in front of you. The writing is top-notch too, filled with witty banter between Kojak and his colleagues. Another help is the supporting cast, which often featured young stars making their first (or at least early) TV appearances on the series. Harvey Keitel, John Ritter, Dabney Coleman, Tina Louise, Sally Kirkland, Ann Jillian and James Woods are all found here in Kojak Season One. Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon) even cut his directing chops on a episode called "One for the Morgue" found here. Kojak was television that felt like cinema.
Prior releases on VHS found Kojak edited and looking rather bad. Universal corrects these problems with their DVD presentation of Kojak—Season One. The colors are vibrant, the transfers remarkably clear, and, most importantly, everything here is unedited and whole for the first time since the original airings. The show is thirty years old, and often grain and artifacts pop up. Black levels are troublesome in some episodes, especially in "Web of Death" when Kojak does a stakeout in a black suit in the dark. But I have to say I was impressed with how the show looked overall. This is TV on DVD like it should be—it looks like a movie. The sound mix is a clean mono. Nothing terribly special about it, but it does the show justice in clarity.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's a crime. Again we have a television show presented without any context. There are no special features here, and no commentaries to help your stroll down memory lane. Hopefully the new series can win over some younger fans, but they'll find nothing here to explain any of the original. I don't know why studios seem to think television shows don't deserve all the bells and whistles feature films routinely receive. Who loves ya, baby? Certainly not anyone who can provide deleted scenes or documentaries.
The second crime comes in the omission of the pilot, or rather the television movie that launched the character. The Marcus-Nelson Murders remains in the studio vault somewhere and is not in this set. We don't get to see Telly in his first performance as Kojak, or glimpse Jose Ferrer (Lawrence of Arabia) and Ned Beatty (Deliverance) in supporting roles. True, it wasn't officially part of the first season. But it did start Kojak, and its omission is surprising.
Vin Diesel eat your heart out, because Telly Savalas made bald tough guys all the rage when you were only seven years old. Kojak—Season One is a great collection of episodes that does the series proud. It's pure Telly, and full out '70s television noir. Kojak inspired decades of cop shows, and now he's back on the screen. Universal offers a good-looking set that's bereft of extras, but long on entertainment. It's incredible just to see these shows once again.
Kojak—Season One is found not guilty simply because of a great batch of shows with pretty good transfers. Who loves ya, baby? I definitely do, and so do millions of fans who can now see the show uncut and cleaned up for the first time in three decades.
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