After starring as Perry Mason for nine years, Raymond Burr successfully reinvented himself as Chief Robert T. Ironside, a police detective who operating out of San Francisco who, after an assassination attempt, was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Rather than accept his fate, Ironside was able to convince Commissioner Dennis Randell (Gene Lyons) to take him on as a consultant and set him up with a team and some special equipment. Running on NBC from March of 1967 through January of 1975, every week Ironside and his crew would solve a different crime through smart thinking and fast reflexes.
Although Burr was obviously the star of the show, the team dynamic of the show was a big part of its success. Along for the ride with Ironside was a cute and likeable lady cop named Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson), a loyal rookie detective named Ed Brown (Don Galloway), and tough street thug named Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell) whom Ironside befriended and brought onboard as his assistant. The interaction between the four characters became a key element to the show's dynamic and as episodes progressed we learned about these supporting characters and grew to care about them just as much as grumpy old Ironside himself. The interplay and banter between the characters provided some humor and interesting character development, whether it be Ironside and Eve going back and forth between the merits of cooking chili or Mark and Ironside arguing about Mark's potential and his path in life.
Performance wise, Burr dominated the series. He's a surly old grump with a hot temper and a keen sarcastic wit and the role suits Burr perfectly. We also learn fairly early on that Ironside has a softer side to him. We see this in the way that he looks out for his team as a father would his own family and in how he deals with old acquaintances that pop up in a few different episodes. Although he's very tough on the outside, the man is not without a heart. He's also a very determined individual, not willing to let the loss of his legs keep him from his one true passion in life, detective work. A widower for a few years, he's thrown himself into his job and in turn found a family through it.
Although like a lot of police shows the stories can get a little repetitive sometimes, the first season of Ironside is actually a lot more original than other cop shows from around the same time. Keeping Burr confined to a wheelchair added an interesting dynamic to the series as it really prevented him from going in with guns blazing and instead forced the character and in turn the writers to really use their heads to work out the various predicaments that the characters were to find themselves in.
Aside from solid writing, interesting stories, good performances from the core cast members and some interesting plots torn from the headlines of the era in which it was made, the show also features some interesting guest stars. Be on the look out for John Saxon, and even Bruce Lee! Quincy Jones shows up in one episode, and no review of the show would be complete without mention of Mr. Jones' fantastic work on the show's opening credits theme. Recently sampled by Quentin Tarantino in the Kill Bill soundtrack, the instantly identifiable music from the show starts each and every episode off with a bang.
The complete first season of Ironside is presented in the order of its original broadcast dates as follows:
The Pilot: Gruff, hardworking Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside is taking his first vacation in years when he's shot in the back by an unseen gunman. He winds up in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down. Not willing to simply give up, he convinces the Police Commissioner (Gene Lyons) to take him on as a civilian consultant. He aggress and sets him up with a wheelchair accessible office on the top floor of the station and assigns him a young cop named Eve Whitfield and a young detective named Ed Brown to work with him. Ironside hires an assistant, a young street hood named Mark Sanger, to be his assistant and after they build a special van to hold Ironside in his wheelchair, they head off
to catch Ironside's assailant.
Message From Beyond: Ironside and his crew head to the race track and while they're there, a stash of cash is swiped. It looks like it was an inside job, and the only clue is an old car that the cops impound. Unable to find any evidence in the car, they put the car up for auction hoping to lure the thief into their mitts but it doesn't go as planned.
The Leaf In The Forest: Ironside is called in to investigate when a string of killings in which single old ladies are strangled springs up. Ironside figures that there could be more to this than a simple roving psychopath and so he talks Eve into posing as bait so that he can catch the killer(s).
Dead Man's Tale: A mob boss is apprehended and finally convinced to turn states evidence and spill the beans on his operation. Soon he's killed, but in order to catch the killer and keep the case moving, Ironside has to pretend that the man is still alive so that he can catch the bigger fish.
Eat, Drink And Be Buried:A local television star named Francesca has started receiving threatening phone calls. Thankfully she and Ironside go way back and so he's on the case as soon as he gets word. Soon, however, it becomes obvious that someone is out to kill the woman and Ironside may have bitten off more than he can chew. A young Quincy Jones, the man responsible for the show's fantastic opening theme, guest stars in this episode.
The Taker: A friend of Ironside's is out on patrol one night working his beat when he's shot dead. It looks like he was on the take and was working with some shady characters but Ironside knew him too well for that to have been possible and he sets out to prove his innocence and clear his name.
An Inside Job: Two hoods bust out of the jail in the basement of the station and they make their way upstairs to Ironside's office where they hold him and Eve hostage. Ironside puts his brain on overdrive and comes up with an elaborate escape place but it isn't going to be easy. John Saxon guest stars in this episode.
Tagged For Murder: Ed gets into trouble with the top brass when he goes out of his way to prove that what looks to have been an accidental death was actually the result of foul play. Ironside takes on the case and does some digging to connect the death to a robbery from years back. The one and only Bruce Lee guest stars in this episode.
Let My Brother Go: Ironside calls in an NFL star named Bat Masterson to help him convince a group of teenage boys to keep it clean and play it straight. Bat and Ironside go way back and are good friends but when it turns out that Bat's brother is a bad seed, Bat is forced to choose between his good friend and his own kin.
Light At The End Of The Journey: A woman who was recently blinded is in the wrong place at the wrong time and is the only witness to a nasty killing. The murderer doesn't know she's blind and so he sets out to shut her up for good but Ironside is bound and determined to save her and to help her overcome her new handicap.
The Monster Of Comus Towers: A guard is killed in cold blood and a brilliant thief breaks into the Comus Towers Art Gallery and swipes a valuable piece. Ironside is called in to check out the scene but shortly after he starts his investigation, the man who runs the museum is also killed.
The Man Who Believed: While Ironside was in the hospital recovering from the bullet that took the use of his legs, a kind woman wrote him and encouraged him. When she turns up dead, Ironside thinks it was foul play but his investigation uncovers some strange and sad details.
A Very Cool Hot Car: A rash of car thefts has broken out in the city and the police seem to be getting less and less effective at finding the stolen vehicles. Ironside figures it's an inside job, that someone on the force is on the take and he thinks he knows who it is. Mark thinks differently and sets out to prove it.
The Past Is Prologue: A friend of Ironside has been living in California for the last nineteen years under a fake name unbeknownst to anyone around him. As it turns out, he's wanted for murder in the state of New York and the mayor wants to send him back to the Big Apple to face justice. Ironside does some digging and finds out he's an innocent man but it might already be too late...
The Fourteenth Runner: A runner from the U.S.S.R. is visiting the U.S. and during a practice run he just disappears. Ironside is called in to figure out what happened, and it turns out that he's got ties to the C.I.A. prompting Ironside to think that foul play may be at work. The lovely Ingrid Pitt shows up in this episode.
Girl In The Night: Ed is living it up in Las Vegas when he meets and subsequently falls head over heels for a girl he meets. When she suddenly disappears Ed gets Ironside and the rest of the crew to help him figure out what happened to her.
Force Of Arms: A group of business men are sick of the criminals running rampant in their town and so they set up a patrol force to do what the cops won't. When one of the founding members of the group is killed in action, the police have to get involved and break up the group before things get even more out of hand.
Memory Of An Ice Cream Stick: Mark is bound and determined to probe that an old friend of his who has been accused of murder is an innocent man. Ironside knows differently and he tries to prove to Mark that the man is guilty, though by doing so he risks losing Mark forever.
To Kill A Cop: Ed and two other young cops bust a man who threatens them all with murder. They ignore his comments but soon Ed's two coworkers are dead and he's suspended from the force. Ed figures he knows who killed the men and he enlists Ironside's help in cracking the case.
The Lonely Hostage: A cop named Fred Hickman goes nuts and shoots a fellow cop. The police come for him and he says he'll give himself up to Ironside, but when he and Mark show up, Fred takes them hostage, intending to kill them both once he's made his escape. Ironside's only hope is to convince Fred's wife to help him.
The Challenge: An old friend of Ironside named Dr. Paul Bragen, a prominent psychiatrist and art collector, is murdered in cold blood. Ironside takes the case and figures that the man's art collection just might be the key to cracking the case, but that's the only clue he's got and it isn't much to work with.
All In A Day's Work: Eve is out on night when she's attacked by a robber. She defends herself and kills the man, and later finds out that he was only seventeen years old. Eve starts to wonder if she's cut out to be a cop while certain factions of the town decry the shooting. Ironside has to prove that what Eve did was right and that the boy was a no good punk!
Something For Nothing: A man with a gambling problem finds himself in deep with a mobster and unable to pay his debt. Ironside figures he can get the man to testify and in turn put the mobster away but it won't be easy to convince him that he'll be safe if he takes the stand in court.
Barbara Who? : An old friend of Ironside's named Barbara (Vera Miles) is almost killed. The police would love to help her but she's got amnesia and can't remember anything about her past. Ironside, on the other hand, is starting to fall for her and taking her case quite personally.
Perfect Crime: Ironside delivers a lecture to a class of students where he's told that one of the boys in the class intends to prove that there is such a thing as the perfect crime. Ironside becomes involved in a battle of wits with the student and they play a game of cat and mouse.
Officer Bobby: Someone leaves a newborn baby in Ironside's van after an explosion at the airport sends things into chaos. Ironside figures that the mother is probably tied into the attack somehow and so he decides to lure her out of hiding by using the kid to guilt her.
Trip To Hashbury: When Ed is brought in on police brutality charges after getting a little carried away during a drug raid, Ironside tries to figure out what really happened. His picks up the trail of the dope dealers and finds that they point to group of upstanding young people who wouldn't possibly be involved in such nefarious schemes... or could they?
Due Process Of The Law: Mark's girlfriend is murdered in Golden Gate Park and so he takes it upon himself to avenge her death and bring her killer to justice. Ironside tries to talk him down but before you know it, Mark is in full on vigilante mode and in trouble with the law himself. David Carradine guest stars.
Return Of the Hero: A war hero, back from his tour of duty in Vietnam, is accused of murder but Ironside doesn't think he's the real killer. He and his team set out to solve the crime while one by one, key witnesses wind up dead proving that the killer is still at large.
The 1.33.1 fullframe transfers for the complete first season of Ironside look surprisingly good. There's a bit of shimmering evident in some episodes as well as some mild grain but the colors come through looking very natural and the picture is consistently clean and clear. Fine detail is stronger than expected for a television series of this vintage and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono audio that is provided for each one of the episodes in this set is a little flat at times but otherwise free of any major problems. Dialogue is consistently clean and clear and free of any distortion. A bit of hiss might pop up here and there but it's minor and unless you're looking for it, you're probably not going to pick up on it. The musical score and the opening credits theme sound quite good and pack some punch while the levels are all properly balanced ensuring that the performers don't get buried by the sound effects or the music.
Unfortunately, outside of some spiffy animated menus, episode selection and chapter selection, this boxed set is completely devoid of extras save for a few promo spots for other Shout! Factory DVD releases.
NBC's long running cop drama finally arrives on DVD! While it would have been nice if Shout! Factory had included some supplements to accompany the episodes, at least we get the all of the first season episodes as well as the pilot in their entirety and in nice quality. The series holds up really well, more than forty years after its debut and the show demonstrates some creative scripting and makes a great showcase for Burr and his supporting cast. Fans of old cop shows can consider Ironside – The Complete First Season recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.