On January 4th, 1969, a group of thugs broke into a San Diego liquor store. Officer Harry Orwell and his partner arrived on the scene. In their attempt to stop them, Harry was shot, his partner killed. Forced to retire from the police force due to injury, Harry must supplement his disability pension with work as a private investigator—$100 a day plus mileage and expenses, would put him on the case, if he was in the mood.
Played by David Janssen (who first gained fame as Richard Kimble on TV’s The Fugitive), Harry Orwell, was different than your average 1970’s private eye. He wasn’t suave, ready with a line, or popular with the ladies. Instead, Harry was a world-weary guy, who wanted to cut through the niceties. Frequently in pain due to his back injury, Harry wasn’t able to run very fast, or engage in fisticuffs. And since his car, a beat-up Austin Healey Sprite, was almost always in the shop, he generally conducted his investigations by bus or taxi, even setting out on foot on occasion.
Harry O was really one of the detective series to depict the private investigator as a normal man, devoid of any superhuman qualities. Filmed in 1973, the series first pilot, “Such Dust as Dreams are Made on” which got its title from a quote in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, didn’t catch on with audiences. Similar to Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, the Harry O seen in Such Dust was tough and none-too-likeable. Poorly received by audiences, Harry O underwent a bit of a retooling before a second pilot, “Smile Jenny, You’re Dead” was aired in 1974. This time, Harry was still tough, but had a vulnerable side. Smile Jenny was popular enough to finally get Harry O picked up as a series, but it was going to be tough to stay on the air. Only halfway through the first season, the show went through another retooling, changing the supporting cast and the location.
Things begin with “Gertrude,” regarded by many as one of the series’ strongest episodes. A sister of an AWOL soldier hires Harry to find him. The brother has sent his sister an interesting clue: one civilian left shoe.”The Admiral’s Lady” Harry is hired by an Admiral to find his missing wife. Police believe she’s dead, but is she? Linda Evans guests on “Guardian at the Gates,” as Harry attempts to protect an architect who witnessed a murder. A man confesses a murder to a priest in “Mortal Sin,” but not everything stays in confession when the priest looks for help from his friend Harry. In “Coinage of the Realm,” a young girl is in need of a kidney transplant, and her missing father shares her blood type. Harry is hired to find him, but things get tough when it turns out that the man is on the run from the mob. A blind teenager is the only witness who can help a young man wrongly convicted of murder in “Eyewitness.” Harry goes undercover at a mental hospital accused of holding patients as prisoners in “Shadows at Noon,” but things don’t exactly go as planned when he finds himself being held prisoner. “Ballinger’s Choice” has Harry investigating a missing husband, and discovering a murderous web of deceit.
A blind psychic is able to predict a string of murders in “Second Sight.” In “Material Witness,” Harry has to protect a physician who witnessed a crime. She’s none-too-thrilled to have Harry around, but soon finds out how much she needs him. In the two-part episode “Forty Reasons to Kill,” an investigation in a small town becomes a murder case, and Harry is the prime suspect. Harry is hired by a woman who believes her husband (Robert Reed) is having an affair in “Accounts Balanced.” In “The Last Heir” Harry finds himself stranded at a desert home, where one member of the family is killing off all other potential heirs. A woman helps her boyfriend steal $25,000 in “For the Love of Money,” but he goes missing with the money.
Diana Hyland guest stars in the “Confetti People,” which finds Harry embroiled in a puzzling case involving murder, and a young man recently released from a mental institution. In “Sound of Trumpets,” recently released from prison, a jazz musician finds he has to deal with some very serious problems as a free man. Jim Backus guest stars. A deaf-mute is arrested for arson in “Silent Kill.” Farrah Fawcett makes her first appearance of the series in “Double Jeopardy,” where a crime boss makes a mistake which could prove to be fatal for an aspiring actor. Kurt Russell guest stars. In “Lester,” a college student and aspiring detective finds himself a murder suspect. Harry pursues the killer of his partner, in “Elegy for a Cop.” In the final episode of the season, “Street Games,” Maureen McCormick of Brady Bunch fame guest stars as a teenage drug addict. Her mother becomes desperate to locate her after her boyfriend is murdered by a dealer.
In addition to those already mention, you’ll find quite a few notable guest stars, including the following: Sylvia Field (in her final television appearance), Hal Williams (in three different episodes), Leif Erickson, Sharon Acker, Laurence Luckinbill, Kenneth Mars, David Dukes, Rosalind Cash, Gordon Jump, Margaret Avery, Florence Stanley, Martin Sheen, Juliet Mills, Milt Kogen, and Lawrence Pressman.
Warner Archive has included all 22 first season episodes, as well as both pilot movies (until now, “Such Dust as Dreams are Made on” had been very hard to find) on their six DVD set. Like most recent Warner Archive titles, the DVDs are presented on pressed DVDs and NOT DVD-R discs, although this will likely only apply to the early orders for the set (later copies purchased will likely be DVD-R).
The video quality is average. This is an older show, and it shows throughout the presentation. Grain and debris is clearly evident on several episodes, but it doesn’t really detract from the viewing process that much. Unfortunately, it’s pretty clear that little to no restoration was done on this title.
Presented in mono, the audio comes in surprisingly loud and clear. I noticed only a few times where the volume momentarily dropped off. Unfortunately, subtitles or closed captions are available.