DVD Review: Kojak (Season Four)

Pop historians have been having a field day declaring New York City in ’77 as a golden time. Studio 54 had gone into full swing. Swingers were enjoying the buffet at Plato’s Retreat. The New York Yankees were back to winning World Series titles. Punk rock was erupting from CBGB. In the midst of this happening time stood Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas). He had kept the city safe during it’s recent downtime. But even with the rejuvenation, crime wasn’t taking a holiday. Kojak and his unit of Capt. O’Neal (Dan Frazer), Det. Crocker (Kevin Dobson) and Det. Stavros (George Savalas) didn’t have time to disco, swing or root for the Yankees. Kojak: Season Four shows what kept the crime fighting quartet busy while Manhattan partied up ’77.

“The Birthday Party” starts the season with a gang botching a liquor store robbery. They kill a cop on the escape. One of their crew gets caught and taken into Kojak’s squad room. He overhears Kojak making plans to attend his niece’s birthday. He calls up one of his crew and plots for them to kidnap the niece as a way to beat the charges. How can he be so brazen? He thinks nobody in the room can speak Greek. Little does he know that Stavros is listening to part of the chat. Can he expose the entire plot before the cake is served? Richard Gere is part of the crew. This was his only TV series guest star gig. The next gigs for Gere would be Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Days of Heaven.. “Law Dance” includes future TV cop legend Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey). Things get complicated when Kojak must find the the killer of a murder trial witness. Bruce Glover (Walking Tall) gets to be his creepy self. “Out of the Shadows” unleashes a serial killer on NYC. Soon the real town would live in fear of the Son of Sam. The “Grim Reaper” killer in the episode only sues a knife. “A Need to Know” will be a strange treat for Pretty Woman fans since Hector Elizondo is the big guest star. What will disturb Pretty Woman fans is that Hector isn’t so helpful and lovable. He’s a child molester that Kojak can’t bust. Why? Cause Hector has diplomatic immunity and is a stoolpigeon for the FBI. Kojak can’t let this creep hide in the shadows. He must protect the children of Manhattan from Hector.

“A Hair-Trigger Away” is a Love Boat episode in the squad room. It’s a tangled tale of a cop’s junky girlfriend killing her lover’s partner during a raid. Amongst the bullets and needles are Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters),Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road), Dominic Chianese (The Sopranos), Dan Hedaya (Cheers) and Irene Cara (Fame). They ought to convict the casting agent for conspiracy to blind us with stars. “A Shield for Murder” reopens a murder case except a rich politicians wants Kojak to let it remain a cold case. Oscar winner Geraldine Page (A Trip to Bountiful) and Mary Beth Hurt guest star.

“Black Thorn” brings back Rosie Grier (Free to Be You and Me) as a bounty hunter. He and Kojak are on the trail of the same bail jumping fool. What guy expects to remain on the loose with the Kojak and an L.A. Rams Hall of Fame defender on this trail? Danny Aiello and Swoosie Kurtz better get out of the way. “Where Do You go When You Have No Where to Go” features the killing of a construction company head by an unemployed guy. Will they believe it was an accident? Blair Brown (Fringe) gets tangled into the case.

Was Terrence Malik a Kojak fanatic? How else can he explain that the two leads of Days of Heaven appeared in season 4? Brooke Adams stars in “Dead Again” as a woman who claims she’s being stalked by a dead man. Simon Oakland brings his Kolchak cool to the episode. Another Oscar winner pops up in “The Godson.” F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) is part of a plot to turn Kojak’s godson into an armed robber. A wife’s plan to snuf her husband includes planting false evidence like a phone message in “When You Hear the Beep, Drop Dead.” Joe Turkel (The Shining and Blade Runner) will make you repeat this message. Kojak tangles with Bond girl Maud Adams (The Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy) in Kojak Days. He has to sort out why a body is in the trunk of a Rolls Royce. That’s a little more stylish than being dumped in a Chevy Nova. “Kiss It All Goodbye” unloads a double barrel of Christopher Walken. Crocker shoots a super model while chasing down crooks. Walken isn’t a good guy here. Telly directed the episode around the same time that Walken would have a role in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Which director had the greater impact in shaping the young Walken’s approach to life?

Kojak: Season Four is a glory to behold. New York City was coming back. Kojak was on the streets busting the stars of tomorrow. There’s such a rush to see the extremely young Richard Gere, Blair Brown and Christopher Walken chewing the scenery with Telly Savalas. Both Gere and Walken would launch their major cinema careers after working on Kojak. Perhaps Telly let them rub his head for good luck after the final scene wrapped? Manhattan was a magical time in 1977. Kojak made sure nobody was tricked in the Big Apple.

The Episodes
“Birthday Party,” “A Summer Madness,” “Law Dance,” “Out of the Shadows,” “A Need to Know,” “An Unfair Trade,” “A Hair-Trigger Away,” “By Silence Betrayed,” “A Shield for Murder,” “The Pride and the Princess,” “Black Thorn,” “Where Do You Go When You Have No Place to Go?,” “Dead Again,” “The Godson,” “The Condemned,” “When You Hear the Beep, Drop Dead,” “I Was Happy Where I Was,” “Kojak’s Days,” “Monkey on a String,” “Kiss It All Goodbye,” “Lady in the Squad Room,” “Sister Maria” and “Another Gypsy Queen.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the grit of both New York City and the sets back in Los Angeles. Manhattan might have been in the middle of a revival in 1977, but it wasn’t cleaned up completely. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You feel the beauty of when Kojak asks, “Who loves ya, baby?”

No bonus features.

Kojak: Season Four is a fine penultimate season. The guest stars are top notch talent. The big thrill comes from seeing Christopher Walken as a youngster. The fact that both Richard Gere and Maude Adams would go from the set of Kojak to the remote location of Days of Heaven is quite an oddity. Telly probably worked them faster than Terrence Malick.

Shout! Factory presents Kojak: Season Four. Starring: Telly Savalas, George Savalas, Richard Gere, Blair Brown and Christopher Walken. Boxset Contents: 26 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: May 1, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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