The Streets of San Francisco – Season 1, Vol. 1 – DVD Review

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Produced by
Quinn Martin

Karl Malden … Detective Lt. Mike Stone
Michael Douglas … Inspector Steve Keller
Jo Ann Harris … Lita Brewer
Robert Hogan … Tom Garver
John Lasell … Clark
Steve Oliver … Bret Wilson
Jacqueline Scott … Emily Rankin
Paul Sorensen … Police Officer
Dick Van Patten … Johnny Collins
William Windom … Russell L. ‘Russ’ Rankin
Joby Baker … Sonny Lane
Ken Lynch … Howard Joslin
Lawrence Montaigne … Officer Morgan
James Olson … Loren Graham
Phillip Pine … Salesman
Janice Rule … Beverly Landau
Mako … Kenji
Robert Wagner … David J. Farr
Carmen Mathews … Sally Caswell
Kim Darby … Holly Jean Berry

The Show:

If you were ever looking for a time when cops went from the classic hardboiled detective to the maverick “cop on the edge,” it’s best to look at the late 60’s and early 70’s. This was the birth of that archetype as movies like Bullitt, The French Connection and, most importantly, Dirty Harry came on the scene, changing our perception of police officers on screen forever. Another great example of this shift was actually on television, as the Quinn Martin produced TV series The Streets of San Francisco gave viewers a weekly dose of justice in the form of a hot headed rebel cop, and his partner, an aging, trench-coated, old school police officer.

The maverick in this series was Inspector Steve Keller (Michael Douglas), a character based on real-life Police Officer Dave Toschi, the man in charge of the Zodiac killer case (as portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in David Fincher’s Zodiac), and who would also be the basis for such icons as Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt and Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan. Douglas is actually quite good as Keller, a man that is trying to earn his reputation from his partner, but occasionally lets his façade down. He’s also terrific in the show’s action scenes, busting through windows and driving like a maniac when necessary.

Honestly though, the show wouldn’t work without his partner, Karl Malden’s Detective Lt. Mike Stone. Stone is a strictly “By the Book” detective, collecting the facts and not jumping to harsh conclusions and hunches like his partner will often do. Stone is the voice of reason on this team, believing in the law to its fullest and trying to keep the streets safe for all citizens, not just its “good people.” Malden attacks the role with a quiet ferocity, seemingly taking it as seriously as if he were in another Tennessee Williams production. Malden brings great experience with him to the show, and you can see it in every scene he is in.

The two leads have great chemistry together, as well. Their partnership begins with a feeling-out process, each trying to get to know the other – and both seem to be learning from each other. The actors were also probably doing the same on set, trying to become comfortable with each other until they jelled; a well-oiled machine. Even here on this DVD set, you can see this relationship grow further together on-screen, making them a formidable crime-fighting duo.

Despite these terrific performances, I was still afraid the show would simply feel too dated to be very entertaining. In my mind it seemed difficult for a police procedural TV drama from the 70’s to be able to pack the same punch that modern shows like C.S.I. and Law and Order do. Predating techniques like DNA evidence and other modern practices could have simply made this show too antiquated, but thankfully that isn’t the case. The show is strongly centered on these two characters and their relationships, and isn’t able to use modern techniques as a crutch or filler. We’re kept with these two as they discover each case, making the journey fascinating. Also, the show digs deep into each episode’s guest stars, such as Robert Wagner and William Windom, creating wonderful performances that don’t feel dated whatsoever.

The episode “45 Minutes from Home” is a terrific example of this. The episode deals with the character of Russ Rankin (William Windom), a salesman framed for the murder of a young girl. While Stone and Keller try to solve the murder in the background of the episode, Rankin is front and center, slowly losing his grip as he believes it was him that accidentally killed the girl. There are wonderful moments with Rankin as he lovingly talks to his wife (Jacqueline Scott), his face packed with grief and guilt. This type of characterization would be unheard of on many modern shows, but on this series the patient viewer gets a wonderfully enthralling conclusion.

The show’s gritty photography is another wonderful asset, as the city of San Francisco is amazingly utilized. Despite the show’s fullscreen presentation, the look of the series is incredibly cinematic for the time, reminiscent of the film’s mentioned above, especially Dirty Harry. Again, the city is a huge help with atmosphere, from skyscrapers, to boat houses, to scummy motels, we’re shown all of the city’s haunts, creating an amazing and unique backdrop for these stories of murder and suspense.

The Streets of San Francisco is a show that’s like a fine wine that has aged nicely. With Oscar winners as the leads, as well as a slew of great guest stars, the show’s acting is another commodity even decades after being a prime-time staple. In addition, the writing and photography are fascinating and quite gripping to behold, thus making this one of the best shows of its kind. While some of the clothes are ridiculous and the lack of blood may take away some authenticity, The Streets of San Francisco is a terrific show and would be a wonderful addition for fans of the genre.

The DVD:

The Video
The series has cleaned up pretty well on DVD. While I wouldn’t say it looks new, it does look quite good, with little degradation and not as much debris as you’d expect. The show is presented in fullscreen in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

The Audio
The Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is pretty nice. There are moments the sound is a little weak, but I think that may have been a problem with the original audio and not this transfer. An example has the cops talking to each other, but the sound is kind of low, but I think the problem was actual wind on the boom mike at the time, which messed up the audio.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurettes, Previews.

Army Archerd Interview – This is a four-minute on-set interview with columnist Army Archerd, and is a nice little piece of TV history. The interview is with Malden and Douglas and seems a bit rehearsed, but is still interesting to watch.

Pilot Presentation – This is a behind-the-scenes look at the show, that would have been for studio execs and advertisers. This goes about 8 minutes and highlights many clips from the show’s pilot. This is again a pretty neat little piece of TV history.

Previews – You get previews for various shows from CBS and Paramount.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Streets of San Francisco – Season 1, Vol. 1
(OUT OF 10)







Robert Sutton feels the most at home when he's watching some movie scumbag getting blown up, punched in the face, or kung fu'd to death, especially in that order. He's a founding writer for the movies section of, featured in his weekly column R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema as well as a frequent reviewer of DVDs and Blu-rays. Also, he's a proud Sony fanboy, loves everything Star Wars and Superman related and hopes to someday be taken seriously by his friends and family.