DVD Review: Kojak (The Complete Third Season)

New York City was not a gleaming city in the fall of 1975. Economic hard times had taken a toll on the Big Apple. Times Square was a scary neighborhood with businesses pandering to the prurient. The Yankees had a losing season. The city was on the verge of bankruptcy. According to the cover of the New York Daily News, President Ford told NYC to “Drop Dead.” Who would save America’s largest city from devolving into lawless land? Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) was more than willing to step up and insure New Yorkers that somebody loved them. He wasn’t going to let his island become a pit of sin where there’s no consequences for criminal action. Kojak: The Complete Third Season gave people a reason to not drown themselves in the Hudson River.

Kojak’s unit is tight with Detective Bobby Crocker (Kevin Dobson) as his young gun, Captain Frank McNeil (Dan Frazer) as his crusader and Detective Stavros (George Savalas) not looking like Telly’s brother. They are eager to tackle any case and not merely fudge the stats to look like crime fighters. “A Question of Answers” opens the season with a double length episode. Kojak teams up with federal agent Jerry Orbach (Dirty Dancing) to nail a loan shark. Things go wrong in the operation and the target turns to a killer. The show is star packed with Eli Wallach (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) and F. Murray Abraham (Scarface). The biggest star shines on “My Brother, My Enemy.” Joining Kojak’s crew Sylvester Stallone as a detective. Was he about to be a series regular? His first assignment involves a fight inside an apartment building involving Charles Napier (Silence of the Lambs). Sly chases him to a rooftop and accidentally kills the wrong person. It’s up to Kojak to prove his man wasn’t firing randomly. Perhaps the greatest non-break in Sly’s career is that he wasn’t turned into a recurring character. Shortly after this role, he went off to make Rocky which got him nominated for Best Actor and Best Screenplay Oscars. He didn’t need to call up Telly to revive his character.

“Sweeter Than Life” is a small crime episode at first. Kojak’s camera gets stolen by his nephew’s friend. Why would he swipe a super cop’s property? He’s a junky and Kojak’s nephew might also be hooked. This turns into a homicide case when their dealer gets snuffed. Neville Brand (The Untouchables) returns to urban crime. “Life, Liberation and the Pursuit of Death” has a killer influencing a witness so she’ll forget ever seeing him dump a body into the water. The woman is already on edge so the mind games don’t have to get too harsh. William Katt (The Greatest American Hero) gets to play sinister. “A Long Way from Times Square” takes Kojak way out west. He arrives in a dusty part of Nevada to retrieve the big time witness on a case. Seems the town doesn’t want this to be a quick trip. “Money Back Guarantee” exposes a car thief ring run by David Ogden Stiers (M*A*S*H. Kojak senses the victims getting a cut of the action. Bernie Kopell (Doc on Love Boat) might be a victim.

“How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars” is a Christmas episode. Kojak wines and dines Veronica Hamel (Hill Street Blues). Oddly enough Daniel J. Travanti, her future romantic interest on Hill Street Blues, plays a captain in “A Grave Too Soon.” “Bad Dude” gives us NFL Hall of Famer Rosey Grier as a private detective with a hitman on his trail. He’s not quite up to his The Thing With Two Heads level. But he does return for season four. Future screen menace Bill Duke (Predator) tests out his early stare.

Kojak maintains it’s charm of being able to mix the gritty jungle of Manhattan with Telly’s disarming ways. This is a city on the verge of collapsing. The location shots expose the Manhattan that wasn’t viewed as the most prestigious address. Disney hadn’t turned Times Square into the world’s most expensive mall food court. There was nothing that fashionable on the dirty streets. Although Kojak looks good in his ‘70s suits, slightly tinted glasses and well buffed shaved head. He reminded people that no matter how bad things seemed, don’t give up on New York City.

The Episodes
“A Question of Answers,” “My Brother, My Enemy,” “Sweeter Than Life,” “Be Careful What You Pray For,” “Secret Snow, Deadly Snow,” “Life, Liberation, and the Pursuit of Death,” “Out of the Frying Pan . . . ,” “Over the Water,” “The Nicest Guys on the Block,” “No Immunity for Murder,” “A Long Way from Times Square,” “Money Back Guarantee,” “A House of Prayer, a Den of Thieves,” “How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars,” “The Forgotten Room,” “On the Edge,” “A Wind from Corsica,” “Bad Dude,” “The Frame,” “Deadly Innocence,” “Justice Deferred,” “Both Sides of the Law” and “A Grave Too Soon.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the grit of the streets when they work on actual Manhattan locations. The audio is mono. The levels bring out the simmering tones of Kojak when he’s cracking the case.

There are no bonus features.

Kojak: The Complete Third Season brings out one man’s struggle to keep Manhattan from falling into the abyss. The highlight of the season is seeing Sylvester Stallone be part of Kojak’s crew. Now it’s obvious that Telly had an influence in Sly’s super cop classic Cobra.

Shout! Factory presents Kojak: The Complete Third Season. Starring: Telly Savalas, Kevin Dobson, Dan Frazer and George Savalas. Boxset Contents: 23 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released on DVD: March 20, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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