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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
S.W.A.T.: The Complete First Season (1975)

"All right, let's roll."
- Lieutenant Dan 'Hondo' Harrelson (Steve Forrest)

Review By: Jeff Rosado   
Published: August 06, 2003

Stars: Steve Forrest, Robert Urich, Rod Perry, Mark Shera, James Coleman, Ellen Weston, Michael Harland
Other Stars: Rose Marie, Annette O'Toole, Geoffrey Lewis, Sal Mineo, William Windom, James Keach, Robert Loggia, Jess Walton, Anitra Ford, Frances Reid, Robert Webber, Christopher George, Michael Conrad, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Loni Anderson, Lara Parker, Simon Oakland, George DiCenzo
Director: Various

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, mild language)
Run Time: 10h:11m:52s
Release Date: June 03, 2003
UPC: 043396003460
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BB+B D-

DVD Review

In my recent review of The Greatest '70s Cop Shows, I attested to the fact that S.W.A.T. was not exactly my cup of cops 'n' robbers tea, for a number of reasons. Perhaps it was a case of sibling rivalry; my younger brother absolutely adored the show (along with Emergency!, which I also discounted, although I always thought Nurse Dixie was really cute). Personality-driven shows like Starsky and Hutch and McCloud were more to my liking; so much for being a team player (although Charlie's Angels did a lot to rehabilitate my attitude in this area). It didn't matter much in the long run; after a hot start as a mid-season replacement series for ABC in the winter of 1975, the alphabet network curiously moved the show to a dangerous time slot: Saturday nights, opposite CBS' unstoppable combination of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show (and it certainly didn't help having Howard Cosell's ill-fated variety show as a lead-in). Pink slipped at the end of the 1975-76 season, the Aaron Spelling-Leonard Goldberg production departed quietly, not even leaving enough episodes (38 if you count the two-hour pilot that aired as part of The Rookies series) to qualify for cult status.

Yet thanks to the ongoing presence of co-stars Robert Urich and Mark Shera in more successful series (Soap, Barnaby Jones and Vega$ among them), a loyal contingent of the few, proud S.W.A.T. fans kept talking about the show over the last three decades. Inspired, hotshot producers Neal H. Moritz (The Fast and the Furious), Dan Halstead (The Virgin Suicides) and Chris Lee (Final Fantasy) joined forces to bring an updated version of Lieutenant 'Hondo' Harrelson's crackjack team to the big screen. Not missing an opportunity to capitalize, Columbia TriStar unearths S.W.A.T.-The Complete First Season, a collection of 13 episodes, most of which are surprisingly entertaining despite their age, the cartoon-ish tendencies of the villains to overact, and strained attempts at comedy.

Comprised of five members, Lieutenant Harrelson (Steve Forrest) presides over the team as combination boss/father figure; Sgt. 'Deacon' Kay (Rod Perry) serves as the team's scout (or the Wild Kingdom equivalent of Jim Fowler to Hondo's Marlin Perkins); Officer Jim Street (Urich), the soft-spoken, sensitive one—until danger calls; curly-haired Officer T.J. McCabe, the role of easy-to-like everyman; and Officer Dominic 'Dom' Luca (Shera), the cocky, wisecracking Italian mama's boy in need of better writers.

Although heavily criticized in its day for being extremely violent, age has tempered such beefs. Still, the action sequences hold up very well thanks to realistic staging and excellent exterior photography (maybe my little brother saw something I didn't, all those years ago). But it's the stilted, hit-and-miss quality of the off-duty sequences that brings the momentum of such instances to a standstill; at times, semi-regular Ellen Weston's underwritten role as Hondo's wife, Betty, gives her nothing to do but offer verbal clichés of support. Such qualms are put in perspective when one takes into account the period in which these shows were created, so if you keep that in mind, the occasional eye-rolling moments go down a little easier.

Disc One:

Episode 1: The Killing Ground

On morning patrol, officers Rob Duran and Jim Street are caught in the middle of a deadly ambush. Although the latter escapes to safety, Duran is not as fortunate. In memory of his fallen comrade, Street asks Lt. Harrelson for a chance to join the newly formed S.W.A.T. team that's setting up shop in his territory. With the two murderous brothers on a cop-killing rampage still at large, time is of the essence to get the team street ready before another officer is shot down. Although Steve Forrest's slightly overbearing Hondo is just shy of Frank Drebin Naked Gun territory (at least in this initial outing), the rest of the cast is terrific, especially the wonderfully talented (and sorely missed) Urich. Geoffrey Lewis (one of Clint Eastwood's frequent co-stars) is creepy as the mastermind behind the killing spree, and Smallville fans will recognize a very young Annette O'Toole as the wife of one of Lewis' accomplices.

The series debut rates 3 out of 5 handcuffs.





Episode 2: A Coven of Killers

Hondo looks forward to spending some much needed quality time with wife Betty on their 10th anniversary, until word of a deadly shooting at a nearby prison's hospital ward puts him back on duty. At headquarters, Harrelson learns that members of a Manson-like crime family were the culprits who helped their leader, Joey Hopper (Sal Mineo) to escape. It's not long before the crazed head honcho begins plotting revenge against those that put him in the slammer, including local district attorney Roger Forbes (Ross Elliot) and Hondo himself. Harrelson quickly makes contact with underground newspaper editor Russ Collins (William Windom), whose rag has been supporting Hopper's cause. Fans will recognize an older but still potent Sal Mineo from Rebel Without a Cause, hamming it up as the crime family's demented ringleader; William Windom (from one of television's greatest lost gems My World and Welcome to It) guests as the journalist whose ties to the case turn out to be closer than he realizes.

This episode scores 3.5 pairs of 'cuffs.





Episode 3: Death Carrier

The latest in a string of unsolved sniper shootings prompts the city's homicide division to turn over the investigation to Hondo and company. Knowing there has to be a connection, Harrelson and Street question Janet Warren (Ronne Troup), a local model and girlfriend of the first and third victims. Well, make that all the victims; apparently victim number two and she were having an affair. Still reeling from his own brush with snipers, Jim offers to play combination paramour/human target to help capture the hit man. An episode that threatens to peak early thanks to the identity of the killer being revealed way too soon, but the ever dependable plot twist and fairly exciting climax elevate Carrier up a notch. Late period My Three Sons cutie Troup has the quintessential honey blonde-in-peril routine down to a "T," and Barry De Vorzon's over-the-top incidental scoring for this installment is at its kitschy best.

Predictable but watchable, this outing chalks up three sets of handcuffs.





Episode 4: Pressure Cooker

Engaged in a tense convenience store stand-off, Hondo offers to give himself up in exchange for the freedom of the manager and lone customer inside. While he bargains with the gunmen, T.J. and Luca skillfully maneuver themselves into position to successfully bring the drama to a nerve-wracking close. But hold off on the pre-end credits, laugh-filled freeze frame, boys. It's back to the big black van to assist with an arson case involving a distressed businessman barricaded inside his building, armed with two deadly weapons: a shotgun and a voice like Bobcat Goldthwait. Saving the day yet again? Our gravelly voiced Lt. Harrelson talks some sense into the man while saving our eardrums from further damage. A local reporter invades home base the next morning; theproblem is, she's not exactly a card-carrying fan of Hondo's heroes, due to a recent case involving the death of an innocent man. Rather than sugarcoat or kiss up, the unit decides to show her what it's really like. In an activity filled 48 hours, the team and their very special guest tackle a domestic dispute involving gunplay, the kidnapping of a prominent businessman's daughter, and a personal drama as Hondo's youngest son, Kevin, is rushed to the emergency room with a potentially severe head injury. Whew, I don't think there was this much plot in the last five action-adventure movies I've seen; in spite of the cartoonish nature of the bad guys who make the villans in Batman seem low key (a trend that seems to be developing as the series goes along), this outing is enormously entertaining and the best of the 13 episodes thus far.

This episode earns four handcuffs.





Episode 5: Hit Men

Convicted felon Vincent Wheeler offers to testify against members of a crime family, but some of his old buddies are one step ahead as they successfully infiltrate a low-key police escort, wounding him and killing an officer. As Wheeler clings to life, Hondo and his officers are assigned to patrol the hospital to guard against another such instance occurring. But an orderly with gambling debts is utilized by two of Wheeler's former cronies to finish the job. Although the action quota in this episode leaves a lot to be desired, strong performances by tough guy Robert Loggia and soon-to-be soap opera vixen, Jess Walton (The Young and the Restless) give the show more credence than usual.

Watch your backs; three pairs of cuffs.





Disc Two:

Episode 6: Jungle War

Two burglars invade a prominent neighborhood and target a seemingly empty residence for a profitable robbery. But set-up man Brian Barnes is startled when the elderly owner turns out to be at home, and she promptly puts her hidden security alarm to good use. Informed by police, Hondo and Deacon get called away from a birthday party accompanied by fellow police officer Bo Pritchard, who served with Harrelson in Vietnam. Once on the scene, Hondo goes into negotiations with Barnes, who is now holding the homeowner hostage. Once that avenue's exhausted, the Lieutenant orders his men to move in, which causes the robber to fire a shot at Deacon, nailing him in an unprotected area. Tired of watching from the sidelines, Pritchard grabs his gun and finishes Barnes off, much to the shock and displeasure of the team. Rushed to a nearby hospital, Deacon goes into a coma. While Hondo waits at the hospital to offer support, T.J., James and Luca witness a cocky Pritchard boasting of his accomplishments. As the guys return for another day of duty, they're given the unwelcome news that Bo has been assigned with Hondo's blessing as Deacon's temporary replacement. B-movie vet Cameron Mitchell is a little over the top as Hondo's old war buddy gone bonkers, but his energy jacks the entertainment value of Jungle into above-average status; game show aficionados will delight to see former The Price is Right model Anitra Ford in a brief appearance as a barroom floozy.

No jumping the gun here; four cuffs.





Episode 7: Death Score

T.J.'s old friend and current pro-basketball hotshot, Ollie Wyatt (Michael Warren), drops by headquarters for a visit and invites all to his next game. But since the men are on call thanks to potential terrorist activity, they gracefully decline. It proves to be a blessing in disguise as a local documentary team assigned to cover the team turn out to be the bad guys in question. As they are threatening to kill a hostage every 15 minutes until their demands are fulfilled, T.J. and his partners have to hustle or its "game over." Inane dialogue, combined with clichés and incomprehensible situations come close to sinking this installment; would a sports team's faithful leave so orderly in a crisis situation and not hang around on the outside to see what's going on? I don't think so. Robert Webber (best known as Maddie's dad on Moonlighting) is all but wasted as the terrorist mastermind, and not even the charm of a pre-Hill Street Blues Michael Warren can keep this above mediocrity.

Aims high, but only nets two pair.





Episode 8: Time Bomb

Another day, another rooftop sniper. But the joke's on us as this latest wacko turns out to be a helpful movie studio aide, assisting the men as they test out a beeper device during a training exercise on an empty set. After the team departs, a van carrying a clean up crew arrives. Let's cut to the chase: As a disgruntled former stuntman Cowboy (William Smith) plots to blow up a movie studio to smithereens, Jim returns to the lot with his stewardess girlfriend to retrieve the beeper he'd left behind earlier in the day. Instead, they find themselves hostages of the mustachioed madman and his posse. What could have been a silly premise turns out to be a good showcase for Urich, who displays the ruggedness that made him so appealing in future small screen gems Vega$ and Spenser: For Hire; here's the proof he could make the transition from supporting player to leading role. Speaking of Bob, future wife Heather Menzies plays Street's girlfriend, while quintessential bad guy specialist Smith (remember Rich Man, Poor Man's Falconetti?) is perfect as Cowboy.

Bomb sets off four sets of handcuffs.





Episode 9: The Bravo Enigma

Via a tip from the underground, the team is assigned to protect a California senator from falling victim to an assassin. After securing the area around the politician's beachfront home, Hondo gives the all-clear, only to be welcomed by two scuba-gear wearing, machine gun toting assassins. Insert dramatic De Vorzon musical cue here! Fortunately, the baddies are taken care of as a motorist watches from a hilltop angle. Traveling to a nearby phone booth, our snitch reports his on-the-scene account to a white-haired mystery man, who promptly makes an international call of his own to a professional hit man known only as "Bravo." Once back in the States, our nattily attired bulletsmith's first order of duty is to secure a specially designed machine gun from a National Guard Armory. Identified by Hondo as an AR-18, it's the kind of weapon that when placed in the right hands, will take a "small army" to restrain its user. Jim and Harrelson plan to question the guard knocked unconscious by the assassin during the robbery, but the guard dies from symptoms pointing toward pneumonic plague. Now, not only is the senator's life still at stake, but an entire city, too. Ruggedly handsome George (the late husband of Mission: Impossible's Linda Day George) seemed to be having just a little too much fun as the hit man; in fact, ten minutes in I'm muttering, "Will you stop smiling, for pete's sake?" Then again, that's part of what made Bravo work for me; George knew he was playing it campy, a method many of the first season villains should have utilized. For example, there's a priceless bit where, after being spotted by a waiter in a restaurant, Bravo discreetly follows him to a men's room, does a little primp work to his tie and then proceeds to break the man's neck, in what amounts to the least realistic death I have ever seen on television. Classic stuff. The plague twist is ingenious and keeps things from falling into "same ol', same ol'" territory. About the only uncomfortable moment is the introduction of comic genius Rose Marie (from the classic The Dick Van Dyke Show) as Hilda, the sandwich vendor whose primary role is to come in for a couple of minutes, boast about her menu offerings, and trade wisecracks with the guys. I can only hope the shtick gets better in subsequent episodes.

Sanitized for your protection, 4 pair o' cuffs.





Episode 10: The Steel-Plated Security Blanket

An armored car theft presents our S.W.A.T. team with a most unusual challenge: no leads, and only a handful of potential scenarios to ponder. Yet none of them involve a most unlikely target: the Miss America Beauty Contest, where the winner is bestowed with a diamond crown and scepter. Personally, I'd settle for a hamburger/milk shake date with the the winner, but robbery ringleader Vince (Michael Conrad) only has eyes for the jewels. An episode I looked forward to for three reasons and they all came 11 minutes in: A pre-blonde, pre-WKRP in Cincinatti Loni Anderson; "Angel"-to-be Farrah Fawcett-Majors (still trying to shake that cute little Texas twang); and the sexiest witch this side of Samantha Stevens, Dark Shadows's Angelique herself, Lara Parker. Apart from this anti-climatic, pop-culture, baby-boomer high, talk about b-o-r-i-n-g; not even the presence of the commanding Conrad (whom I loved long before his Hill Street Blues days in movies like The Longest Yard) could keep me from having to go for a caffeine fix and avoid instant slumbering; only a fairly decent climax kept me from drooling (apart from the one-time teaming of Loni, Farrah and Lara, of course).

Dull as dishwater: 2 sets of handcuffs.





Disc Three:

Episode 11: Omega One

Under the guise of a peaceful protest, a group of college activists take one of their professors hostage inside a chemical plant to send out a message against bio-terrorism. Once on the scene, Street recognizes both the teacher and several of the students from his philosophy class. Yes, it's as bad as it sounds; at one point during the standoff, Hondo is asked what the S.W.A.T. book says about handling such a situation, to which he replies "I'm writing that chapter now." Judging from Robert Urich's uneasiness in the early going, I knew this outing was doomed from the start; leaden direction, bad acting and eye-rolling demands. In the age of Austin Powers, one-million-dollar ransoms just aren't scary anymore.

Truly the season's low point; a measly 1.5 handcuff rating.





Episode 12: Blind Man's Bluff

Two low-lifes stumble into a massage parlor, but easing tension isn't on their agenda. Proceeding to take the proprietor and her help hostage, one of the masseuses breaks free to call police. It's "let's roll" time as Hondo's heroes arrive on site and swiftly move into harm's way. Shortly after crashing through the window, Harrelson gets nicked in the noggin, leaving Luca and Deac to finish the job. Afterwards, the lieutenant is understandably woozy, but walks unassisted back to the van. Once on the outside, his vision goes blurry (either that or our main unit camera guy had a little too much fun the night before). In spite of his doctor giving him a clean bill of health, the headaches and fuzziness continues, culminating in full-blown vertigo during a neighborhood hostage crisis in which Deacon has to take control yet again. A terrific return to form as this outing balances action and drama with a fine performance from Forrest; for once, Ellen Weston is utilized as more than a token wife, which adds another advantage in Bluff's favor.

With one eye covered, I can still see a four cuff ranking.





Episode 13: Sole Survivor

Street and Hondo are at odds following a sniper situation that almost got the younger officer killed while trying to subdue a mentally disturbed gunman. Making the situation even tougher for Hondo is the fact that he had to kill the sniper in front of his son, now in danger of becoming an orphan, as his already critically ill mother battles for her life at a nearby hospital. But the team has to pull it together to battle an Ocean's Eleven-type crime outfit. Headed by former parole officer Frank Hunter (Simon Oakland), his recent observations of the S.W.A.T. team in action may enable his rascally rogues to beat them at their own game and walk away with a collection of rare coins. Although the potential orphan subplot is a bit on the mushy side, the main robbery plot is entertaining as it offers the twist of Hondo and company having to deviate from their normal routine to come up on the winning end.

Season one's finale cashes in three handcuffs.







Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Given the spotty track record of Columbia TriStar's television releases, my expectations were low, despite how impressive the series' pilot looked on The Greatest '70s Cop Shows collection. Yet that didn't prepare me for how revelatory most of these 13 episodes looked. Perhaps S.W.A.T.'s brief television run worked to its advantage: with nowhere near the amount to qualify for a syndication run, the masters/safety masters haven't been overused in striking syndication prints, like more successful Spelling/Goldberg properties (Starsky and Hutch; Charlie's Angels, etc.). In other words, if the somewhat dated techniques didn't give its age away, you'd swear you were watching a recently produced program. While some DVD television transfers suffer from looking overtly digital to the point of distraction, that's definitely not the case with S.W.A.T.. With spot-on skintones, perfect contrast/sharpness and warm colors that don't appear to have faded a smidgeon in 28 years (look at the outdoor sequences in The Bravo Enigma for proof), this is by far the best looking re-do of a '70s show I've seen from Columbia yet. Only brief instances of color shifting in Blind Man's Bluff and intermittent debris not uncommon for film-sourced product from this period keep this from achieving the "A" level, but we're definitely talking high "B."

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Since we're talking '70s era television, one speaker was all you needed until the advent of small screen stereo in the 1980s, so don't expect great shakes in terms of sound. But at least the mono is encoded into 2.0 and comes across much better on modern-day receivers than those knitted speakers on the family TV of yore, I can assure you. Only a slight bit of distortion is present, which is natural considering the age of the show, but nice low end and above average mid-range more than make up for it.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Tears Of The Sun, Bad Boys II, (Columbia TriStar) TV Action Favorites
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Picture Disc
3 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Since most of the three discs are crammed with episode content, the lack of bonus material doesn't come as a surprise. Yet, I do wish that Columbia would at least try to include some sort of historical retrospective piece or mini-documentary on future TV releases. Instead, we get the usual potpourri of loosely related big screen/DVD title tie-ins (Tears of the Sun, Bad Boys II) and a plug for the company's most recent small screen compilations including Charlie's Angels: The Complete First Season (as well as a single disc "best of," taken from those episodes), The Greatest '70s Cop Shows and of course, S.W.A.T.: The Complete First Season. Also, I bemoan the lack of chapter stops; all shows are divided into two chapters: the opening sequence, followed by the episode as one long 50-minute track (but this problem is not relegated to Columbia; its happening way too much from most of the studios on television product).

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

S.W.A.T. faithful, you'll want to fax or e-mail out an A.P.B. to your preferred DVD retailer, pronto; Columbia TriStar's first-class transfers make The Complete First Season one of their best television collections to date. Now if I can just get that catchy theme song that Rhythm Heritage covered out of my head!

 


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