DVD Review: Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection

Where does a cop like Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) come from? How does a bald Greek New York Police Department detective rise to become a national icon of the ‘70s? Where does he go after the glory of five seasons on network TV? Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection answers all these questions. The boxset contains the TV movie that introduced the character, the reunion movies and the ABC Mystery Movie series. Kojak brings a career’s worth of love in this collection.

“The Marcus-Nelson Murders” (1973) is a fictionalized accounting of New York City’s Wylie-Hoffert murders. This is the case that played a major role in people getting read their Miranda rights. In the middle of the night, someone breaks into an apartment and kills two young women. They’re cut up in such a gruesome fashion that the head of the NYPD puts dozens of detectives on the case. He needs a suspect caught fast. Ned Beatty and his team find that man in the form of a kid who wants to give information about a rape attempt. They turn the kid’s helpful attitude into a double homicide confession. Everyone is relieved that the case is closed except Kojak. He doesn’t buy that the kid did it. He senses the real killer is roaming free. Kojak isn’t popular around the police department, but he doesn’t care. He gets a lead that points at a lifelong burglar and junky (Food of the Gods‘ Marjoe Gortner). He wants the case reopened and justice really served. The movie could easily be mistaken for a theatrical release with its gritty tour of New York City. Director Joseph Sargent had also made The Taking of Pelham One Two Three the same year. It’s easy see why after this TV movie, the network was eager to have Kojak turn into a weekly character. It should be noted that for this movie, Telly played Kojack.

Kojak lasted five seasons before it was canceled. Telly went onto commercial stardom as the spokesman for the Player’s Club. But the detective role kept calling him back. CBS brought him on for two TV movies during the mid-’80s. “The Belarus File” (1985) brings back Kojak on an international level. This isn’t the usual policework as Kojak gets wrapped up in a case that goes back to World War II concentration camps and a smuggling operation. Telly gets to flex his acting chops against Max Von Sydow (Strange Brew). He also gets to flirt with Suzanne Pleshette (The Bob Newhart Show). While it’s a welcomed return, the heaviness of the plot has Telly play the role with less glib moments. “The Price of Justice” (1987) keeps things within the city limits. His investigation squad must solve the murders of two young boys. The prime suspect is the mom (Kate Nelligan) since she’s a little bit too calm for her own good. Things get bumpy when Kojak uncovers her connections in both politics and crime. This one feels more like the old Kojak from his first movie.

Kojak was revived as a series in 1989 when it became part of the ABC Saturday Mystery Movie. It rotated with Peter Falk’s Columbo and Burt Reynolds’ B.L. Stryker. The five films produced for the series gave Kojak a regular crew including Det. Winston Blake (Andre Braugher). He’s the young guy that Kojak must mentor into his kinda detective. Blake’s also the one dealing with ‘80s hair. The good thing about being bald is that Telly avoids embarrassing haircuts. His dome is eternal. “Ariana” lets Kojak gets paternal when a Greek girl is found in NYC without her parents. “Fatal Flaw” makes Angie Dickinson (Police Woman) as suspect in her husband’s death. Frustrating Kojak is the fact that he once hooked up with her. Can he be suspect? “Flowers for Matty” features an Irish gun smuggling plot. “It’s Always Something” brings back series regular Kevin Dobson. He’s aiming to be the next District Attorney in NYC. “None So Blind” ends Kojak in a star packed mobster tale. Jerry Orbach (Dirty Dancing) has a weasel iced by James Remar (Dexter) at an Italian restaurant. The only witness is Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden. The killing gets tied back to real estate developer Rip Torn (The Larry Sanders Show). Leave it to Kojak to make sense out of this spaghetti laced case.

ABC killed off the Mystery Movie after this season, but Telly would always be known as Kojak around the world by fans who enjoy lollipops and shaved heads. Some people might be wondering why put out the TV movies when Kojak: Season Three doesn’t come out until March? Shouldn’t this come at the end after season five gets released? Getting the original TV movie onto DVD is a priority for fans who haven’t seen it for decades. It really explains how Kojak arrived on the scene and cemented his reputation. This isn’t going to be shown on ME-TV in the afternoon anytime soon. The boxset is a must see for anyone who asks, “Who loves ya, baby?”

The video for the first three movies is 1.33:1 full frame. The aspect ratio changes to 1.78:1 anamorphic for the ABC Mystery Movies. Telly looks better in widescreen towards the end of his career since he’s a little wider. The quality of the transfers is fine. The audio is 2.0 stereo for all the reunion movies. The mix is fine for a TV show. You get the full sound of Telly’s voice.

Kojak: Who Love Ya Baby (32:00) interviews the cast and crew of the final Kojak series. There’s also talks with Telly Savalas’s friends and family. He got more than his brother George a gig on the show. There’s a lot of details about the series. We get to meet the man who really inspired the Kojak character. Turns out he wasn’t a cop or Greek.

Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection brings together the pilot film with the 7 movies that were made after the series went off the air. “The Marcus-Nelson Murders” is a great ‘70s Cop film with Telly Savalas facing off with Marjoe Gortner. While Telly has gotten a little older and heavy, he’s has his suave nature. Kojak might be a step short when chasing down a suspect, but he’s got the same glimmer in his eyes when he corners them. He’s got young assistants to do the heavy running.

Shout! Factory presents Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection Starring: Telly Savalas, Rip Torn, Marjoe Gortner and Suzanne Pleshette. Boxset Contents: 8 films on 4 DVDs. Released on DVD: January 24, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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