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The third season of Police Story was broadcast between September of 1975 and March of 1976, racking up another 22 episodes for this well-liked anthology series. It stayed consistent with the show’s theme about the complexities of policework and the personal baggage that accumulates both on and off the job for officers. It produced a number of fine episodes and this overview covers six examples that show off what made this show so special.

Officer Needs Help: Sgt. Billy Humm (Cliff Gorman) is a tough cop who is excellent at handling life-and-death situations on the streets. He’s respected by his brother officers but the brass doesn’t like that he’s been involved in several shootings, despite the fact that all involved a proper use of force. This is a compelling character portrait that allows the show to explore the pressures that cops live with due to the potential for violence and death in their work. In typical Police Story fashion, there are no simple solutions. Gorman gives a strong, intense lead performance and gets nice support from Richard Drout Miller, a show regular who makes a big contribution to the episode’s haunting final scene.  

The Cutting Edge: Sgt. Ed Peebles (Chuck Connors) is breaking in new partner Elmore “Rocky” Caddo (Sylvester Stallone) as the two try to track down some violent and prolific bank robbers. Ed is also dealing with loss: a wife who passed away, a partner who retired and his own encroaching retirement. This is a good example of how Police Story could combine the action expected in a cop show – the bank robbery scenes are pretty hard-hitting – with poignant themes about the psychology of a cop. Connors is fantastic as a veteran officer who struggles with the transitional phase he is in despite his grizzled persona and a young Stallone is quite witty as the new partner (ironically nicknamed “Rocky”).

A Community Of Victims: This is a unique episode because it devotes equal time to character portraits for both the cops and the crooks.  Priest (Cleavon Little) and Ripley (Michael Brandon) are hotshot patrolmen who love their job. What they don’t know they’re on a collision course with a group of junkies-turned-thieves whose leader, Stack (Charles Weldon), just acquired a handgun. The result applies the character study approach to people on both sides of a conflict and thus adds depth to a familiar plot. Little and Brandon are appropriately charismatic but Weldon does nice work in a deeper-than-usual portrait of a thief. Exploitation movie fans, take note: Ann Ruymen from Private Parts gives an impressive support performance as Stack’s girlfriend.

The Empty Weapon: The veteran partner of rookie officer David Singer (Kurt Russell) is shot on their first day out together by juvenile delinquent Danny Boy (Andrew Stevens) – but doesn’t Singer shoot the kid when he finds him because he knows he’s out of bullets. Singer finds himself ostracized by fellow officers who think he should’ve shot the kid… and to make matters worse, the juvenile justice system is all too easy for sociopathic Danny Boy to manipulate his way through. A great example of how Police Story could be tough and thoughtful all at once, offering a potent critique of both failings in the justice system and how the police force enforces its own unspoken code of conduct towards its own members. Russell gives a strong performance that points toward his adult career in the ’80s and Stevens is genuinely unnerving as his foe. Also of note: strong direction from Michael O’Herlihy, including an inventive sequence where the trashing of a house is suggested by sound design rather than shown.

Little Boy Lost: Detective Ed Brenner (Robert Forster) is called in when a young boy suddenly vanishes from his own front yard, leading to a difficult search and some revelations about the life of the sweet but neglected little boy. Brenner is dealing with a divorce and trying to figure how to remain a good father to his son, which makes the case all the more personal for him. This was based on a real case in California and is one of the show’s all-time strongest episodes in purely dramatic terms. It makes some tough points about how child neglect is just a different, more “polite” form of child abuse and shows how the grind of pursuing such heartbreaking cases can wear on the officers doing the work. Forster gives a subtle but powerful performance here: the final scene is uncompromising in typical Police Story fashion and Forster absolutely nails it.

Breaking Point:  Sergeant Vince Della Maggiori (Tony Musante) is brought in to investigate when a police pursuit ends in a patrolman (Michael Anderson Jr.) shooting a man dead in his own hotel room. Della Maggiori quickly susses out the patrolman isn’t being totally honest and risks contempt from the rank and file to find out the truth about what happened. This episode gets at some classic problems inherent to the police force, namely loyalty to doing the work right versus loyalty to one’s partner and the ever-present tensions when one cop investigates another. Musante’s fiery performance makes a memorable contrast to Anderson Jr.’s chilliness. Robert L. Collins, creator of Police Woman, directed here and shows an excellent visual sense, particularly in his use of p.o.v. camerawork for the Rashomon-style varying accounts of what happened.