DVD Review: Police Story (Season One)

During a junior high career day, a classmate asked a police officer how realistic CHiPs was. The officer took a deep breath and harshly explained that Ponch and Jon were the most unrealistic cops ever put on TV. He pointed out that most of what a cop does is repetitious and mundane. He had yet to fire his gun while on duty. Maybe once or twice during a career did a cop’s day get the extreme excitement that happened every 15 minutes on CHiPs. The follow up question was more timidly asked. Was there a realistic cop show? Police Story was the only show he could watch. The anthology drama was about that big case in an officer’s life. It felt real enough to him.

Part of what made it real was the creator didn’t learn about cop life from watching Dragnet. Joseph Wambaugh was a detective on the LAPD that wrote The Onion Field and The Blue Knight. He insured that the series maintained a cultural reality to the men behind the badges. He knew not merely what went on in a squad car, but the bars and bedrooms after a shift. This isn’t a Jack Webb just the facts production. The stress of the job is exposed in the characters. Police Story: Season One contains 22 tales that give insight to beat cops, homicide detectives and support personal.

“Slow Boy” is the pilot that plays like a great theatrical cop movie. Vic Morrow (The Bad News Bears) is part of an elite police squad that tracks down major felons on the loose. Their latest target is Slow Boy (The Rifleman‘s Chuck Connors). They tail him into a supermarket to interrupt his robbery. Vic appears to have him cornered, but he takes Diane Baker (Marnie) hostage. This is a rather intense stand off between Vic and Chuck. The gritty production values makes it seem like anything can happen at that moment. Vic isn’t the usual bold cop. He’s dealing with a devastated marriage and other demons that Eliot Ness never coped with on The Untouchables. Connors gets an extreme chance to shine as the bad guy. “Dangerous Games” is another script that pushed the TV cop realm. James Farentino is a vice squad cop out to bust the rackets run by Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (Hell Up in Harlem). He gets tight with Elizabeth Ashley. She’s running Fred’s prostitution business and lets herself get too involved with the undercover cop. She introduces him to her kid thinking this might be real. The relationship explodes into an emotional mess. “Requiem for an Informer” explores a cop and his junky snitch. Marjoe Gortner (Food of the Gods) displays his natural charisma. “Ten Year Honeymoon” ends the partnership between a pair of cops. One of them gets a little goofy on the job. This is another stand out performance from Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo). Keep your eyes open for a cameo from Vic Tayback (Alice). “The Ho Chi Minh Trail” tracks down the dope dealers. Antonio Fargas (Starsky & Hutch) is part of the process along with Raymond St. Jacques (Cotton Comes to Harlem).

Jerry Lee Lewis gets a major role in “Collision Course” in a completely weird bit of casting. Luckily he’s got Dean Stockwell (Blue Velvet) for support. “Death on Credit” has amazing credits with John Saxon (Enter the Dragon), Tina Louise (Gilligan’s Island), Howard Duff and Rory Calhoun. CHiPs gets a slight bit of respect with Larry Wilcox shows up in “The Big Walk.” It appears Erik Estrada never guested on Police Story, but he did have a roles in The New Centurions movie based on Wambaugh’s book and Police Woman – the spinoff of the episode “The Gambler.” Angie Dickinson goes undercover to bust an illegal casino empire.

Fans of Airwolf get a treat seeing Jan-Michael Vincent and Alex Cord teamed up a decade before the helicopter. Vincent’s Danger Island co-star Rockne Tarkington links up for “Chain of Command.” While part of the anthology aspect had new cops arriving each week, a few good ones found themselves back for a second patrol. Vic Morrow couldn’t be kept away after his awesome work in the pilot movie. “The Countdown” was a two-parter that brought back his crack unit. This time they’re targeted by their suspects. “Cop in the Middle” focuses on a cop that needs to clean up his dirty past before it’s exposed. Sid Haig (Devil’s Rejects) isn’t much of a help to him. “The Ripper” lets Darren McGavin (Kolchak) encounter Michael Cole (The Mod Squad). “Country Boy” has a hick Kurt Russell (Escape From New York) eager to wear the badge. Can Gary Collins help him adapt to big city ways?

“Big John Morrison” is a 75 minute episode about a turf war. Don Meredith (Monday Night Football) is rather impressive as an actor. He also gets great support from Frankie Avalon (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine), Jackie Cooper, Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause) and Nehmiah Persoff (every cop show ever made). Jack Soo plays a shady character shortly before he’d wear a badge on Barney Miller. “The Wyatt Earp Syndrome” pushes the tensions of a cop’s marriage. Smokey Robinson acts in this episode. Future Police Woman co-star Earl Holliman is the crime scene investigator that wants to investigate homicides in “Fingerprint.”

There was not a real let down episode in Police Story: Season One. The lack of central characters doesn’t hinder the series. The casting department did astounding job of landing great actors for the various roles. This wasn’t merely a show up and play the good cop or the bad guy. They had to do some emotional work on the screen. Even after four decades, Police Story episodes match up with The Wire, The Shield and the 74 CSI-Law & Order spin-offs. There was a reason why the visiting officer dug Police Story and that reason still resonates.

The Episodes
“Slow Boy,” “Dangerous Games,” “Requiem for an Informer,” “The Ten Year Honeymoon,” “Violent Homecoming,” The Ho Chi Minh Trail,” “Collision Course,” “Death On Credit,” “The Big Walk,” “Man On A Rack,” “Line Of Fire,” “Chain Of Command,” “Countdown Part I.” “Countdown Part II,” “Cop In The Middle,” “The Ripper,” “Country Boy,” “Big John Morrison,” “Wyatt Earp Syndrome,” “Fingerprint,” “Chief” and “The Gamble.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are fine with plenty of ‘70s details shining on the screen. The audio is mono. The mix is fine enough for broadcast TV. The levels are good.

Cop Talk (22:00) interviews creator Joseph Wambaugh. He was a former cop turned novelist that found himself hired to develop Police Story. Producer David Gerber wanted it to be true and gritty. Wambaugh gave it to them. The writer was still on the force as a detective while developing the series. He wanted the anthology approach so he could kill actors without it being a shock. “If a cop had to die, he died,” Wambaugh says. He also wanted to make a series that showed how the job acts on the cop. It’s what makes Police Story click after four decades.

Police Story: Season One remains a top TV cop show. The anthology allows the show to give viewers looks into the various parts of the LAPD. The actors get to shine in the roles that are more than just the facts acting. Vic Morrow owns this season as part of a crack unit. He dominates the screen as he goes after Chuck Connors. It’s the perfect gift for the law and order member of your family.

Shout! Factory presents Police Story: Season One. Starring: Vic Morrow, Tige Andrews, Gary Collins, Kurt Russell and Angie Dickinson. Boxset Content: 22 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released on DVD: September 6, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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