Published on December 14th, 2019 | by Rob Mammone
The Streets of San Francisco DVD Box Set Review
Summary: Two classic actors from the great days of Hollywood team up in this cracking, groundbreaking crime drama that set the stage for all the Law and Order you could ever hope to watch!
Classic crime television
Developed by Edward Hume and starring Karl Malden and Michael Douglas. First aired 16 September 1972.
Mixing the classic buddy cop formula of old hand (Karl Malden’s Mike Stone) and younger partner more hip to the vibe (Michael Douglas as Steve Keller) The Streets of San Francisco was nonetheless a groundbreaking and popular television series that has now become a fascinating time capsule of the era that straddled the free love of the late 60s and the degeneracy and corruption of the 1970s.
Malden and Douglas’s characters are homicide detectives, coming to grips with the mean streets of San Francisco in an era where urban crime was becoming more and more prevalent. Unlike their modern counterparts, who tend to use green screen to insert the cityscape they purport to be set in, The Streets of San Francisco was filmed almost entirely on location. The two actors formed a strong bond over their time working together, and even decades later Malden and Douglas would talk fondly about their experiences on the series.
121 episodes were broadcast over five series, with Douglas leaving early in the last season, as his movie career began to take off. Richard Hatch (Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica series) replaced him for the remainder of the series. As with similar television during the 1970s, The Streets of San Francisco provides a who’s who of television and film talent of that era. In this set, expect to see Mark Hamill, Richard Anderson, Sam Elliot, Martin Sheen, Cheryl Howard, Patty Duke, Nick Nolte and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Crimes investigated would generally involve homicide, but the wide variety featured often led to entertaining television, and an interesting insight into what the creators of the series thought would engage the interest of the audience. We have a Jack the Ripper inspired serial killer, inadvertent hijacking of uranium, an exploration of suburban vigilante justice, blackmail, crime at a modern day rodeo, gang warfare and high tech industrial espionage.
The performances by Malden and Douglas are top notch. Malden’s worldly character who has seen it all comes up against the changing times, with the prevalence of youngsters flooding the city falling prey to drugs and prostitution. Douglas’s brasher performance stands in contrast to Malden, with his character adopting attitudes more in tune with the times. Though, that said, it is interesting to see him taking a hard line on drugs when a character in the opening episode (Robert Wagner) comes out against the idea that smoking marijuana automatically leads to heroin injecting. It’s also interesting to see how themes we today think of as familiar are even mentioned back in the early 70s. Talk of victims suffering from sexual assault, and idea that would never have been mentioned in series from the 60, speaks to the evolving nature of television and the sort of topics they were beginning to be willing to discuss in the more open 1970s.
Visually, The Streets of San Francisco looks great. Recorded on film, the tones are slightly muddy, which is either a stylistic choice, a fact of the medium at the time, or possible degradation over the decades. The images look surprisingly clean, and all credit to those who worked on and released this box set. You can think of any number of series from this era which are bunged onto a disk and kicked out into the world. Hats off to Viavision for throwing a few dollars at visuals and audio for this release. Also, it just goes to prove how superior film is to videotape.
Overall, this set is a must have. Not every story is a cracker, but it is a fascinating glimpse back at an era where old taboos in television were beginning to erode, and more modern storytelling and sensibilities began to be deployed. Malden is terrific as the old hand, striving to hold the city together, while Douglas is amazingly good in one of his earlier roles, balancing the new vibe of the 70s with the still conservative nature of policing in that era. The Streets of San Francisco is a very fine series to plunge into, as you measure the width of the ties, the length of the hair and the grit and stink of the living, vibrant city brought to life on your television.
Included in this set are the reunion TV movie Back to the Streets of San Francisco, which again starred Malden in the role, but with Douglas, in the middle of his hot run as one of the premiere actors of his generation, bowing out. There is a vintage featurette from the time when the pilot was shot, which always presents as a fascinating time capsule in its own right. Finally, there is an interview with Army Archerd, actor, producer and long time writer for Variety magazine.
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|English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
|Mild themes, violence, sexual references and drug references
|Year of Release
|Primary Format – Movies/TV