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Category:    Home > Reviews > Police Investigation > Detective > Drama > Action > Crime > The Streets of San Francisco - Season One, Volume One

The Streets of San Francisco - Season One, Volume One


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Series: B



Along with Kojak, The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977) was one of the best of the countless one-hour, formulaic TV police dramas to air on network television during the 1970s.  It's also one of the better productions of Quinn Martin, the prolific producer of such '60s and '70s shows as The F.B.I., The Fugitive, Dan August, Barnaby Jones and Cannon.


First airing in September of 1972, The Streets of San Francisco starred film veteran Karl Malden (On the Waterfront, One-Eyed Jacks, Patton) as 24-year police veteran Lieutenant Mike Stone, and Michael Douglas, son of screen legend Kirk Douglas, as Inspector Steve Keller, Stone's 28-year-old partner who'd only been on the force a couple of years.  Their relationship as characters paralleled their relationship as actors with the wise old vet schooling the green young guy as they went along.  The great chemistry Malden and Douglas had was a key reason to why the series lasted five seasons on ABC -- although Douglas left after the fourth season to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), leaving Richard Hatch (later of Battlestar Galactica) to play Malden's young partner for the final season.  


Lt. Stone lived and breathed police work and was seemingly always on the job.  He was aging (Malden was 60 when the series began), but showed no signs of slowing down, and his workaholism was often a source of frustration for Keller, who didn't mind working hard, but also appreciated an occasional day off so he could take some young lady out on a date.  In these earliest episodes, Stone appears to have no life outside the job.


Opening with a hard-hitting, '70s-sounding theme song (love that Wah-wah guitar) amidst the sights of one of America's most scenic cities, each episode was divided into five segments, Act I, Act II, Act III, Act IV and the Epilog.  As with other Quinn Martin shows, a deep-voiced announcer always said the names of the stars, guest stars and the episode aloud as the names simultaneously appeared on-screen during the opening credits -- something hilariously spoofed a decade later in Police Squad


The contrived storylines almost always consisted of the typical seriocomic banter between Stone and Keller, a crime involving that week's guest stars, Stone and Keller investigating the crime while driving around San Francisco in their big brown Ford and the occasional foot chase or mild gun battle before everything, inevitably, would come together at the end -- Stone and Keller always got their man.


I don't know if The Streets of San Francisco and the many others of its ilk can be considered great television, and you can certainly make a strong argument that such shows are entirely too predictable -- I can't help but thinking how much more interesting shows such as this would have been if just once or twice a season, the bad guy got away.  Streets, though, holds up because it's anchored by two charismatic leads, written with some degree of intelligence, features beautiful on-location filming in the Bay Area and, in many ways, remains a great time capsule to '70s America.  A certain sense of sameness sets in if you watch too many episodes in a row, but an episode of Streets or Kojak is still an entertaining way to kill a spare hour now and then, taking us back to a time when we still used rotary phones, had only three or four TV stations to choose from and the net was something you used in volleyball.


CBS/Paramount DVD's first box of The Street of San Francisco (Season 1, Volume 1) includes the original feature-length pilot and the first 13 episodes to air.  Guest stars on the early episodes include Robert Wagner, Tom Bosley, Mako, Edmund O'Brien, William Windom, Stephanie Powers, Edward Mulhare, Jo Ann Harris, Peter Strauss, Dick Van Patten, Vic Tayback, Ed Lauter, Bernie Casey, Robert Foxworth, Ramon Bieri, Louise Latham, Harold Gould, Michael Lerner, Nehemiah Persoff, Roscoe Lee Browne and the future Starsky (Michael Glaser, minus the "Paul") and Hutch (David Soul), a few years before they would become the stars of ABC's most popular police show.  But the casting of Soul as a young Chicano cop ashamed of his roots has to be one of the most ludicrous bits of casting of the '70s, and completely ruins the episode entitled Hall of Mirrors.  The blond-haired, blue-eyed Soul as a Hispanic?  I wonder what kind of drugs the casting director was on when this decision was made?


The 13 episodes plus the pilot movie are presented on four discs.  The picture quality is stunningly good for shows that are 35 years old, with solid print quality from the original 35mm 1.33 X 1 film sources.  Note how good the color is too.  The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono recorded from the original English mono.  The pilot is listed as a special feature, but other than that, the only extra is an on-set interview Army Archerd conducted in 1972 with Malden and Douglas.  The second volume of the first season is due on DVD at the end of September, 2007, and we look forward to that set too.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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