Monday, September 21, 2015

DVD Spotlight on "The Bold Ones: The Protectors"

Originally broadcast in 1969-70 as part of the umbrella TV series The Bold Ones, The Protectors made its long-awaited DVD debut last week courtesy of Timeless Media. The DVD set includes the pilot film Deadlock plus all six episodes that rotated with The New Doctors and The New Lawyers during the first season of The Bold Ones.

Deadlock, shown as a 1969 NBC made-for-TV movie, introduces the two protagonists: ambitious African-American district attorney Leslie Washburn (Hari Rhodes) and hard-nosed police lieutenant Sam Danforth (Leslie Nielsen). Racial tensions are running high in San Sebastian, a West Coast metropolis, after a white newspaper reporter is murdered in possible retaliation for a black youth killed by a cop. Washburn, who is running for the Senate, is tagged to head a special task force to investigate the journalist's death. That pairs him with Danforth and their strong personalities clash immediately.

Hari Rhodes as D.A. Washburn.
Deadlock is more social drama than mystery. Washburn, whose primary focus is to prevent a race riot, tries to enlist the aid of influential black activists. They think Washburn wants to "put a lid on the brothers and sisters" and question the affluent attorney's motives, telling him: "You think white. You look white. You dress white."

Meanwhile, Danforth has little success with the investigation, since none of the ghetto eyewitnesses are willing to talk with the police. (His inquiries do lead to one of the film's best scenes, with the marvelous Ruby Dee playing a prostitute who uses Danforth's presence to frighten away children spying on her.)

Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Danforth.
Although Deadlock could have benefited from tighter pacing, it's still an engrossing urban drama. Its plot parallels with recent events in the U.S. adding unexpected relevance. Nielsen and Rhodes are convincing as the leads. The latter is particularly effective in the kind of role that Sidney Poitier would have played if Deadlock had been a theatrical film.

Film buffs will no doubt appreciate the impressive visuals which bring the city to life, especially at night. This was one of the earliest films credited to cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who would later gain prominence for his collaborations with directors such as Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, and Brian De Palma. In a 2012 survey by the International Cinematographers Guild, Zsigmond was ranked among the ten all-time most influential cinematographers.

The Protectors TV series--which premiered in the fall of 1969--carried over the pilot film's strongest attributes, namely the actors and the emphasis on societal themes. Episodes dealt with corruption within city hall and the police department as well as the church's right to harbor a wanted fugitive. Attorney Washburn and detective Danforth (who has been promoted to deputy chief of police) remain at odds occasionally, but their mutual respect has evolved into a friendship.

Guest star Robert Drivas.
One of the best episodes, "If I Should Wake Before I Die," deals with a death-row inmate who gets a second trial when a law is changed by a Supreme Court ruling. Guest star Robert Drivas (Cool Hand Luke) gives a chilling performance as the charismatic convicted murderer who has penned a best-selling autobiography. Until the climax, one is never sure if he's an innocent victim of circumstantial evidence, a guilty man who has repented, or a master manipulator that masks the face of a heartless killer.

The Protectors rotated with the The New Doctors and The Lawyers during the first season of The Bold Ones. It was replaced by a better show, The Senator starring Hal Holbrook, the following year. The inability of The Protectors to find a viewing audience can be attributed, in part, to its sporadic scheduling and lack of episodes. Only six episodes were produced and there were occasions when it wasn't on NBC's schedule for a full month.

Rhodes and Nielsen.
The two stars remained in demand after its cancellation, especially Nielsen. He found his greatest fame as a comedian, spoofing police detectives like Danforth, in the Police Squad! TV series and Naked Gun movies. Hari Rhodes, who had previously starred with Marshall Thompson on the Daktari TV series, later appeared in Roots and theatrical films like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972).

The DVD set from Timeless Media includes Deadlock and all six episodes of the TV series on two discs. There are no extras. There's a disclaimer that the DVDs were mastered from the best sources available. Given the rarity of these prints, some scratches are to be expected. Overall, the image quality is fine.

Timeless Media provided a review copy of this DVD set.


  1. Looks like I have to make room on the shelf for this - never mind that I haven't even thought of it in ages.

  2. Rick, I think the leads are quite good in this Bold Ones entry. But I really enjoyed The Senator the most.