The Big Wave is back with Hawaii Five-O: The Second Season (1969-70), another fine six-disc boxed set featuring terrific transfers of the top-rated detective show. Proudly produced entirely in Hawaii, its second season is pretty indistinguishable from the first, except that its strengths have been fine-tuned and accentuated, though in maintaining its high-stakes storylines week-after-week the series is fast becoming a Dick Cheney fantasy: practically every week the 50th state is threatened by rogue nation terrorists and psychopathic super-villains poised to launch a Pearl Harbor-scale attack on America, or least disrupt its thriving commerce.
As before, Five-O is a fictional state police agency headed by former Navy officer Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord), a tough-as-nails, demanding boss answerable only to Hawaii's Governor (Richard Denning, in a semi-regular role). Working with both local authorities and national intelligence, McGarrett is aided by detectives Danny "Dano" Williams (James MacArthur), Chinese-American Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong) and native Hawaiian Kono Kalakaua (Zulu).
The set's first round of episodes quickly establishes the tone for the rest of the season. After the season opener's routine war widows insurance scam episode, "A Thousand Pardons - You're Dead!" which if nothing else delves into two worlds common to Five-O, the U.S. military presence and the problematic relationship between hookers and visiting servicemen, "To Hell with Babe Ruth" tackles, quite badly, another iconically Hawaii-Five-O standby, Pearl Harbor and Japanese-American immigrants. In this show an escaped Japanese mental patient (Mark Lenard, totally unconvincing) thinks it's 1941 and prepares to carry out his mission to blow-up Hawaii's oil reserves.
Much better is "Forty Feet High and It Kills!" which brings back McGarrett's arch-nemesis, not seen since the show's pilot episode, Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh, pronounced "Kye-Dee"), the smiling, intellectual Chinese master spy, who'd make about a dozen appearances during Five-O's run, including the last episode. This episode is particularly good because Wo Fat is not only matching wits with McGarrett, but also a southern gentlemen scientist, Harold Lochner (Will Geer) that Wo Fat plans to kidnap and smuggle out of the country. No slouch himself, the scientist-kidnapping victim's mind games against Wo Fat are pretty ingenious, too, and there's a lot of fun to watching the Fu Manchu-like agent's genuine amusement at Lochner's ingenuity. It's a real nail-biter, clever and exciting.
"Just Lucky, I Guess" deals with another story premise common to the show - and guest stars another formerly blacklisted actor just one week after Geer's appearance, John Randolph. He's Marty Sloane, a respected, married-with-kids hardware salesman from the mainland enjoying a convention...until the hooker he picks up is brutally murdered right before his eyes by big-time pimp and heroin pusher Charley Bombay (played with sneering arrogance by Albert Paulsen). McGarrett wants Marty to finger Bombay but he refuses; the scandal of a public trial would ruin his marriage and reputation. Beyond McGarrett's seething contempt for mainlanders like Sloane, the show offers what would become another Hawaii Five-O staple: McGarrett's high-handed speeches, in this case about civic responsibility, delivered with typical Jack Lord intensity.
In the next show, "Savage Sunday," McGarrett vents his spleen on a (thinly-disguised) Cuban ambassador, who wants McGarrett to drag his feet tracking down a wanted and wounded revolutionary (Henry Silva) who has stolen some arms from an military base; he's certain to die of his wounds if not found soon. Here, McGarrett delivers a long, Cold War-era speech about his duty to uphold the law - unlike certain dictatorial governments.
In Year Two the show's characters are further refined, with credibility strained somewhat by having McGarrett at the center of the action most of the time: in "Savage Sunday" he catches Silva's revolutionary off-guard by shimmying down a rope through a broken skylight, drawing fire from his opponent's M-16. Beyond the fact that there's no base security anywhere in sight, this kind of thing - aren't there more qualified men to do that job? - while in keeping with the standards of late-'60s TV shows and their leading men, is still pretty hard to swallow. Nevertheless, Lord's intense performances are eminently watchable; it's clear why he's the star of the show.
MacArthur's Danny, less-experienced and more impulsive and emotional in the first season, wisely has been matured into a thorough professional, while Zulu's Kono gets to keep his enjoyably casual air and Kam Fong's Chin Ho Kelley his paternal one. Former Universal contract player Peggy Moran began her long run on the series this season as Millie, the governor's secretary.
Other guest stars this season include Harry Guardino, Barbara Luna, Barbara Nichols, Anne Helm, Eric Braeden, Theodore Bikel, Brandon De Wilde, James Gregory, Lyle Bettger, William Windom, Jackie Coogan, Marion Ross, Arthur Franz, John Colicos, Charles Aidman, Joanne Linville, Ed Flanders and, early in their careers, Loretta Swit, Tom Skerritt, Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen. The show's setting, with its mix of Asian cultures, was a boon to actors like James Hong, Philip Ahn, Soon-Tek Oh, Keye Luke, Jack Soo, who all appear here.
Video & Audio
Hawaii Five-O: The Second Season looks just great. The full frame image sparkles with rich color and bright clarity. The shows are not time-compressed or edited, and for the first time open with a "big wave" prologue bumper. The Dolby Digital mono is likewise especially strong; an alternate Spanish audio track is included, along with optional Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese subtitles. The 24 second-season shows are spread across six single-sided, dual-layered discs.
Important Note: Several readers contacted this reviewer to note that the set omits one entire episode, "Bored, She Hung Herself," reportedly pulled from syndication after someone allegedly copied that show's suicide. Though it's inexcusable the packaging doesn't mention that the episode's missing (8/11 update: Well, okay, it does, albeit in tiny print on the bottom of the back of the box...), I wouldn't say it's inexcusable that the episode's not included. It seems entirely possible that the show was pulled as part of a legal settlement, and that CBS/Paramount might have no real choice in the matter. Additional details can be found at the highly recommended Hawaii Five-O Home Page. The site also reports that the opening titles are from Season One, not Season Two, though the difference between them appears extremely minor, limited to the billing of MacArthur's character's name.
The single extra is a good one, but it's botched. Included are promos for the next week's episode ("Be there," McGarrett orders, "Aloha!") but they've been wrongly positioned on the discs to precede the very episode they promote, instead of where they should be: right before the end credits of the episode immediately before it.
CBS and Paramount have done another fine job with Hawaii Five-O: The Second Season. Except for its exotic setting, it's not actually all that much better than other cop shows of the same era, but on its own terms is still great fun. Highly Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.