• Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection

    Released By: Shout! Factory
    Released On: 01/24/2012
    Director: Various
    Cast: Telly Savalas, Andre Braugher
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Film:

    Who loves ya, baby? From 1973 to 1978, the lollipop-chewing New York City Police Detective Theo Kojak solved crimes in the Big Apple, courtesy of the hit show, Kojak. Though most viewers became familiar with Kojak through the 5 seasons that his show was on the air, Telly Savalas introduced the character to subsequent generations through a series of made-for-TV movies that aired from 1983 until 1990, a few years before his untimely death from cancer.

    It’s not too difficult to spot what set Kojak apart from other police dramas. Far from your typical Hollywood star, Telly Savalas was a mountain of a man with a giant bald head, and a New York attitude that simultaneously conveyed aggression and compassion. Dressed in expensive Italian suits, Kojak’s New York backdrop took advantage of the grit, grime, and character of the city, forgoing the usual studio lot filming, a technique that can be seen in current shows such as Law and Order and CSI: New York. Adding to the show was an impressive cast of supporting actors, and some of the most stellar writing to ever grace a television series.

    Starting the whole phenomenon off was the 1973 pilot film, The Marcus-Nelson Murders, based on the 1963 Career Girls Murders; the horrific double murder of two young women that led to a police brutality-induced confession from a young black man. While the actual case was ultimately solved due to the questions of prejudice from numerous reporters and doubtful cops, The Marcus-Nelson case in the film takes the liberty of putting Kojak in the role of truth seeker. The biggest star of The Marcus-Nelson Murders (outside Savalas) is the aforementioned City of New York, which oozes all of the character that Martin Scorcese would later utilize in Taxi Driver. The film is also unique in that it tackles some pretty juicy topics that weren’t addressed a lot on television; racial prejudice, prostitution, drug addiction, police brutality and sexual assault, to name just a few. Offsetting the gloom is Savalas’ Kojak character, bringing just enough personality and wisecracking to the table to lighten the mood enough that you won’t feel like you need to take a shower after watching it.

    The Marcus-Nelson Murders was enough of a hit (earning writer Abby Mann an Emmy) to guarantee a 5-year run, but by 1978, the series was finished. An unheard-of seven years later, Theo Kojak was back on television in The Belarus File, which found the surly Greek Detective trying to solve a series of murders related to concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Russia, almost half a century earlier. Though the subject matter was still dark, the film fell short of the excellence of The Marcus-Nelson Murders, despite the continued intensity of Savalas and guest star Max Von Sydow.

    Shout! Factory has gathered The Marcus-Nelson Murders, The Belarus File, and six subsequent films, aired between 1987 and 1990 into Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection, with mixed results; while 1989’s Fatal Flaw, dealing with the murder of a writer who promised a tell-all book on the mob, was quite enjoyable (despite the wooden non-acting of Steven Weber), others such as 1989’s Ariana, seem to lack any kind of convincing or inspired writing. However, the one constant throughout is the character of Theo Kojak; love him or hate him, he’s the reason that viewers kept coming back for more for almost two decades. This collection, in addition to the television series, is a great way to experience what TV Guide called “one of the 50 greatest TV characters of all time”.


    Like the films themselves, the transfers in this collection are a mixed bag, but pretty decent for the most part. Presented in a variety of aspect ratios depending on the times (the 1973 film is 1.33:1) the films are what you would expect from a collection of made-for-TV movies. The Marcus-Nelson Murders, despite the age, fares the best of the lot of them, with an abundance of grain present that really brings out the character of the location. Later films presented in 1.78:1 look a bit tidier, but overall, the set is clean with only a few minor issues found here and there. Likewise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is fitting, carrying the dialogue, sound effects and score, with only a bit of noise to be found.

    Eight films are spread across the four discs in the collection:

    The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973)
    The Belarus File (1985)
    The Price of Justice (1987)
    Ariana (1989)
    Fatal Flaw (1989)
    Flowers For Matty (1990)
    It’s Always Something (1990)
    None So Blind (1990)

    Included on the fourth disc is Kojak: Who Loves You, Baby? which runs about 31 minutes and is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Featuring interviews with a large number of the cast, crew, directors from the show and the films, and Savalas’ family members, it’s a tribute to the life of Telly Savalas and the Kojak character. Many of the cast members talk about working with Telly and what a professional he was, while investigative reporter Selwyn Rabb gives the background on the Marcus-Nelson storyline. Also discussed is filming on location in Manhattan, the guest stars that appeared on the show, Kojak’s Greek heritage and sex symbol status, as well as the potential origins of the infamous lollipop habit. Though the featurette does appear to be rather recent, it does unfortunately suffer from a lot of edge enhancement and interlacing, which slightly disturbs an otherwise pleasant viewing experience.

    The Final Word:

    I have to admit it, I had no interest in checking out Kojak’s world before I got this set, but was immediately sold about 20 minutes into the first film. Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection is over 12 hours of pure television watching enjoyment.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      That last screen cap is from inside the Brooklyn Army Terminal - there's a cool history of that building here.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      That's awesome that you wrote that, i was going to ask you where that was, because it looks so crazy. The first and second films (mostly the first) are full of awesome locations.