Seven Great Episodes From The 1st Season Of POLICE STORY

The only frustrating thing about writing a review for Police Story, Season One is that it was so consistently good that Your Humble Reviewer had to avoid discussing several excellent episodes to keep his feature review at a reasonable length.  With that in mind, here’s a supplement to that review that goes into detail about some memorable episodes of Police Story that were left out of that writeup:

Dangerous Games: this episode stars James Farentino as Charlie Czonka, a vice cop who impersonates a pimp so he can snare a real pimp named Snake (Fred Williamson).  The intense interplay between Farentino and Williamson is fun to watch and it’s unique to see Williamson playing a full-on villain.  There’s also an affecting turn by Elizabeth Ashley as a call girl-turned-madam that Czonka has to manipulate to get to Snake.  Czonka has to adopt a pimp’s mentality – manipulating the madam’s hopes of a better life and yearning for love – to get to Snake and Czonka’s struggle with that betrayal gives the episode a real charge.

Requiem For An Informer: the focus here is the unlikely, almost “father and son” friendship that develops between Detective Tony Calabrese (Tony LoBianco) and low-level junkie Stan (Marjoe Gortner).  Calabrese starts out using Stan to get info on a nasty bank robber (well-played by Michael Ansara) but ends up becoming fond of Stan, a well-meaning guy who became a lost soul after a stint in Vietnam.  The episode portrays the push and pull of their relationship with depth, building to the kind of gut-wrenching ending the show would become known for.  It’s also worth noting that b-movie stalwart Gortner is fantastic in his role here.

Line Of Fire: this is the closest that this season got to a pure “action” episode and it focuses on the S.W.A.T. training of new recruit Hauser (Jan Michael Vincent). He’s got the cool temperament necessary for the job but as he is trained by squad leader (Cameron Mitchell) and veteran sniper (Alex Cord), he grapples with whether or not he can shoot someone down when the time comes.  Strong performances by all in this one, which explores the concept of killing for the right reason as a necessary evil.

The Big Walk: cop Jack Bonner (Don Murray) prides himself on being fair but tough as he patrols his beat. His authority and honor are challenged when he is wrongly accused of harassing a wealthy woman – and this dredges up an incident from his past that could wreck his career and his marriage.  This is a good example of Police Story‘s “slice of cop life” episodes, anchored by a three-dimensional portrayal of its flawed but essentially decent protagonist and a thoughtful portrayal of how he deals with his moment of reckoning.  Great lead performance by underrated character actor Murray.

Cop In The Middle: cult movie fans who know Christopher George for the wealth of b-movie work he did in the 1970’s and early 1980’s might be pleasantly surprised by his work in this episode.  He plays Rollins, a well-liked cop who secretly takes money on the sly from a crime boss.  When that boss blackmails him for assistance in getting out of a criminal rap, he has to figure out how to get free without ruining his life or his family.  This episode is a believable exploration of how a decent person can slide into corruption – and how it affects the colleagues and family of the person involved.  George’s quietly effective work as the troubled cop seals the story’s success.

The Ripper: an unusual episode that pits detective Matt Hallett (Darren McGavin) against a brutal killer who preys on homosexual men.  Dealing with the gay community in a non-cartoonish way was a rarity for television at the time – and the gay characters in this episode are presented with depth and dignity.  It’s also to be commended for challenging homophobia without resorting to finger-wagging polemics: some of its best scenes feature Hallett gently but effectively countering the homophobic attitudes of his partner.  McGavin brings plenty of charm and wit to his performance, effectively reinforcing the humane tone of this episode.

Country Boy: one of the subtlest episodes of Police Story‘s first season and also one its most emotionally affecting.  It focuses on the travails of three young recruits making their way through a police training program – natural leader Gary Collins, cocky upstart Clu Gulager and the naive but decent “country boy” of the title, Kurt Russell. The three men bond with each other as they learn some tough lessons about what it takes to be a cop in the modern world.  It’s an effective slice-of-life drama with a few flashes of humor and a certain amount of commentary about how police training was changing at the time.  Exploitation movie scholars will enjoy seeing biker-movie veteran Jeremy Slate turn up here as a tough but fair leader of the training program!

As these descriptions hopefully indicate, there’s a lot of great material in the first season of Police Story.  If you devote the time to exploring it, these seven episodes represent just a few of rewards you will find.

For Schlockmania’s feature review of Police Story, Season 1click here.

For Schlockmania’s DVD review of Police Story, Season 1click here.

Police Story: Season 1

Police Story: Season 1

Created by ex-cop-turned-author Joseph Wambaugh (The Onion Field), Police Story is an anthology series detailing the lives of LAPD officers in a collection of realistic and gritty accounts of what it meant to be a cop in 1970s Los Angeles. The series became the archetype for many critically acclaimed shows that followed, including Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life On The Street. The series distinguished itself from its predecessors by a multidimensional portrayal of its protagonists — these cops were flawed, not cartoonlike heroes. From week to week, gripping episodes addressed difficult issues such as police corruption and the stresses and hell that can come with leading a cop’s life. With no regular cast, the show featured different stars each week, as well as a rotating acting ensemble including James Farentino (Jesus Of Nazareth), Tony Lo Bianco (The French Connection), Don Meredith (NFL Monday Night Football), Laraine Stephens (Matt Helm) and Vic Morrow (Combat!). Season One stars included Ed Asner, Lloyd Bridges, Angie Dickinson, Dean Stockwell and Kurt Russell.

4 Replies to “Seven Great Episodes From The 1st Season Of POLICE STORY”

  1. Excellent write up, Don! I was so shocked at the consistent quality of POLICE STORY when I first started watching it. “The Ripper” episode is groundbreaking for the time and I don’t think today’s TV would even handle such a topic.

    1. Thanks, Will! I was hoping you’d read this and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I agree about “The Ripper” – not only is it a gutsy choice of topic for an episode but it’s also handled in a uniquely nuanced and thoughtful way.

  2. I did several Police Story’s an Actor. I would like to find about 6-8 episodes I was in. Can you help! Starting with the first Line of Fire. I had two names Richard Drout Miller and Richard john Miller

    1. Hi Richard – I took a quick look at your credits on IMDB and two of your POLICE STORY credits, “Line Of Fire” and “Country Boy,” are both in the Season 1 DVD set. You can buy it from Amazon or any DVD retailer. The other four P.S. credits they list for you – A Dangerous Age, Robbery: 48 Hours, Officer Needs Help and Firebird – look like they come from the 2nd and 3rd seasons. Those haven’t been officially released yet but you can try sites like IOffer, where sellers often sell their own DVD-R collections of shows. I know some sellers on there sell POLICE STORY episode collections. Good luck!

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