• Kojak Collection, The

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: September 6th, 2017.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Telly Savalas, Marjoe Gortner, Jose Ferrer, Net Beatty, Max Von Sydow, Pat Hingle
    Year: 1973/1985/1987

    The Movies:

    Shout! Factory, a few years back, gave a domestic release to the Kojak TV movies that Mark Tolch reviewed here. Portions of that review are recycled below.

    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.

    The third film in this set is 1987’s The Price Of Justice. This time around we see Kojak trying to prove the innocence of a woman named Kitty (Kate Nelligan) suspected in the murder of her two sons, recently found at the bottom of the Harlem River. She’s married to a bar owner named George (Pat Hingle) who is a fair bit older than her. Things get complicated when the attraction between Kojak and Kitty becomes impossible to deny, as her court date looms on the horizon.

    The third film is decent. If the romance angle never works the way it should, Nelligan is very good as the female lead. She’s an interesting and strong character. Hingle is decent here too, while Savalas plays the character just as you’d expect by this point in his career. If not a classic, it’s got some nice NYC footage, moves at a decent pace and offers an ending that is more interesting than most would expect.


    Each of the movies in this set is presented on its own DVD in 1.33.1 fullframe, which seems to be the proper aspect ratio. Detail is soft, these are clearly derived from older analogue masters, but they’re watchable enough even if there’s some color fading and occasional smeariness to the image.

    As far as audio options go, each of the features is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in the films’ native English. The audio here won’t floor you but it seems like a reasonable enough representation of the source material. There’s a bit of hiss here and there but otherwise things are fine, and the dialogue is clear enough. There are no alternate language or subtitle options provided here.

    There are no extras included on any one of the three discs in the set.

    The Final Word:

    Umbrella’s presentation of The Kojak Collection isn’t going to floor you but Australian fans of Telly Savalas’ immortal detective should enjoy the content for what it is. The first movie is the best of the three but the two follow ups are pretty solid. Savalas is a lot of fun in the part and there are some fun guest starts here too.