As noted in Schlockmania’s review for Kojak: Season 5, the final season of this classic cop show was starting to show signs of age that manifested themselves in the shape of a few less-than-inspired episodes. However, fans of the show shouldn’t be discouraged from checking this season out because it still has a number of fine episodes in its ranks. The following are five particularly noteworthy picks from Season 5, along with a brief discussion of what makes them worthwhile.
The Queen Of Hearts Is Wild: the season opener was penned by future episodic t.v. mogul Donald Bellisario and focuses on a gangster’s moll (Paula Kelly) who witnesses the murder of a cop but refuses to step forward and testify. Kojak figures out who she is but discovers she has a very legitimate reason to not step forward – and he must figure out how to get it around to solve his case. The tight script delivers a number of fun scenes, including some inspired verbal sparring between Telly Savalas and Charles Cioffi as a sleazy mob boss. However, it also has an interesting message about the personal costs of a career in law enforcement that is communicated beautifully in a few great scenes between Savalas and the underrated Kelly, who really shines here.
Once More From Birdland: Kojak is asked by a showbiz friend to look after one of his clients, a pretty jazz singer (Andrea Marcovicci) who might have a stalker and really doesn’t like cops because they put her father away on trumped-up murder charges. What neither knows is her dad (William Windom) is actually out of prison and trying to avenge the people who framed him, forcing Kojak and the singer to work together so a new tragedy can be avoided. The story’s memorable theme deals with how a few hastily-made mistakes can cast a shadow over several lives and it’s told in a classy way, particularly in its convincing evocation of New York’s jazz scene. Marcovicci gives a spirited performance and even sings a few jazz numbers with great skill. Also worthy of note are Windom in a subtle performance as the wronged father and Julius Harris as a nasty small-time crime boss.
The Summer Of ’69: the season’s one two-part episode is its best. A serial murder case that Kojak solved by killing the apparent culprit years ago is reopened when a new murder using the same modus operandi happens. Kojak’s job is threatened by this turn of events and he must investigate the new killing to clear his name, a task that forces him to re-evaluate his past professional and personal choices during that era – including the fiancé (Diane Baker) that he left behind. This dovetails with the story of the killer, ably played by Stephen McHattie, who has a fascinating story all his own. This episode was written and directed by season producer Gene Kearney and he does a confident job, using his two episode’s worth of time to present a complex plot that gives some interesting insight into Kojak’s personal psychology. It also boasts a stellar performance from McHattie, who is both pitiful and scary as a man whose tragic past makes him a reluctant but uncontrollable killer.
Mouse: both the cops and the crooks are shocked when a fearsome enforcer (Lincoln Kilpatrick) is brutally beaten by an assailant who is, by all accounts, a “mouse” of a man. Said culprit (Ben Piazza) is a meek accountant being shaken down by a corrupt doctor who gave his mom a dangerous operation to bilk her for money and killed her in the process – but will Kojak be able to make sense of this and keep the “mouse” from doing jail time for fighting back? A very unique plot in that it forces the always-macho Kojak to reflect on how the meek often suffer at the hands of the strong, even in the justice system. Quality performances from Kilpatrick and Piazza aid things considerably, with Piazza having some memorable scenes with Savalas during the episode’s final act. Said final act also boasts a few nifty plot twists that make this episode satisfying.
In Full Command: the season’s closer is one of all-time best Kojak episodes and is all the more impressive because Savalas directed it himself in addition to playing the leading role. In this episode, Kojak is trying to close a major sting operation aimed at several gangsters when Assistant Chief Brocore (Danny Thomas) is sent in to supervise. Brocore begins meddling in the case, allowing his personal morality and obsession with protocol to trump practical considerations and creating trouble for Kojak when he won’t comply. A gangster moll informant (Susan Tyrell) is caught in the crossfire, forcing Kojak to bend the rules – and this may end his career if Brocore has his way. As some insightful writers have noted, this is basically The Caine Mutiny retold as a Kojak episode – and it’s done beautifully, with a real sense of dramatic stakes and rich characterizations. Tyrrell and Savalas are fun to watch but it’s Thomas who steals the show, proving he was much more than just a comedian as he gives a serious, very intense portrayal of a man whose ambition masks a troubled, highly sensitive ego. His scenes with Savalas are all gems, particularly their final confrontation.