Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Fans of classic TV private eye shows have a reason to celebrate. The first season of  the David Janssen P.I. series from 1974-76, HARRY O, is now available on Manufactured-On-Demand DVD from Warner Archive. Highly regarded as one of the best - and best-written - private eye shows of its era, HARRY O was an unusually melancholy and realistic crime show for adults, with Janssen's Harry Orwell pretty much defining the term, "weather-beaten detective."

Harry Orwell (Jansen, THE FUGITIVE television series) is a former San Diego cop forced into retirement when he takes a bullet in the back. The bullet is irremovable, which causes Orwell pain when he's not careful or over-exerts himself. He lives in a cottage on the beach where he spends his days working on restoring his sailboat, The Answer. His disability payments cover his living expenses, so he only takes on cases as a private investigator when the job at hand interests him or when the potential client truly needs his help. As his car is always in the shop, he uses public transportation in his investigations, and relies heavily on his police contacts Manny Quinlan (Henry Darrow) and then, Lieutenant Trench (Anthony Zerbe, who won an Emmy for the role) for information. Halfway through the season, he moves from San Diego to Los Angeles (for production reasons), but nothing much changes. He still lives on the beach and takes the cases that interest him, and he continues to be disappointed in humanity and the things that people do to each other.

The weekly series was preceded by two TV-movie pilot films - "Such Dust As Dreams Are Made On" and a dramatically retooled second pilot, "Smile Jenny, You're Dead."

Like any television drama of its era, the quality of the writing varies from episodes to episode, but generally hits a fairly high level of quality, with some of Harry's voice-overs bordering on Raymond Chandler-esque noir poetry. Janssen is compelling in his portrayal, and he's surrounded by plenty of talented supporting actors (including a young Farrah Fawcett, who plays his beach side neighbor and semi-girlfriend ) and a slew of experienced TV guest stars, including pros like Sal Mineo, Stacy Keach Sr., Barry Sullivan, Anne Archer, Linda Evans, Broderick Crawford, Tom Atkins, among many others.

The burned-to-order DVD set from Warner Archive includes all 22 episodes of HARRY O's first season, spread across 6, professional-quality, DVD-R discs. The episodes are presented in their original 4x3, 1.37:1 aspect ratio and look remarkably good for their age, especially as no remastering appears to have been done. The Dolby 2.0 Mono audio is more than adequate. As a bonus, the studio has included the first pilot film, "Such Dust As Dreams Are Made On," but have not included the second telefilm, "Smile, Jenny, You're Dead." That title was previously released as a standalone disc by Warner Archive, so I guess they didn't think it was necessary to include it with this package. Unfortunately, those customers who don't already have it may be a bit dismayed to discover that they'll have to shell out another $20 bucks or so to complete their HARRY O set.

As with its contemporary, THE ROCKFORD FILES, HARRY O attempted to de-glamourize (if not necessarily de-romanticize) the private eye genre, and does so with intelligence and (a rarity on television, then and now) some genuine heart. I may actually prefer ROCKFORD for James Garner's charm, but HARRY O is a terrific, heartfelt show, and Janssen is excellent in it. Highly recommended.

BUYHarry O - The Complete First Season