Posted: 07/07/2009


Callan: Set 1


by Jef Burnham

Now available in a 3-volume DVD from Acorn Media.

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Before he starred in Anthony Shaffer’s classic, The Wicker Man (1973), Edward Woodward’s stardom was solidified by his portrayal of the conscientious assassin, David Callan. It is no mystery why when you see how ably Woodward bounces from vicious strong-arm to sensitive and unassuming at a moment’s notice, as he tussles with the moral implications of his every action.

Callan works for a section of the British government so secret, it is without name, referred to simply as “The Section.” The Section’s role is to hush up any situation which may make England look incompetent to the global community, whether it be high-profile assassinations or the engagement of a governmental translator to a potential Communist sympathizer, through any means necessary. Callan, though the Section’s top man, is always standing between his superiors and their goals, attempting to uphold his own dark definition of morality. Callan is a complex character, willing to put himself in harm’s way for the innocent, but never unwilling to play the trigger man in an assassination. And let’s not forget his debilitating weakness for model soldiers, which occasionally factors into his assignments.

Callan ran for four seasons between 1967 and 1972, was given a theatrical feature in 1974, and concluded with a feature-length reunion special in 1981. This DVD set somewhat confusingly contains all 9 episodes of the series’ third season. The main reason behind this decision is because it was the first season to be shot in color. At first, I was a bit upset by this decision, as it seemed to be perpetuating the idea that black and white is inferior.

Upon viewing the season and doing a bit of reading the show’s history, I agree with the decision. First of all, the third season marks the first appearance of Parick Mower’s ruthless rookie agent James Cross, who is a realistic foil for a complex character such as Callan. Secondly, the first season was only 6 episodes, making this a better value for anyone unfamiliar with the series, such as I previously was. Lastly, and most importantly, for the third season, it seems the producers really put forth some effort to make Callan something special. After the second season’s ambiguous ending in regards to Callan’s potential death, which gave producers an out, they went ahead with the series anyway, and increased the budget, that they might film in color.

Unfortunately, the DVDs open with a disclaimer about the series’ transfer being to the best of the restoration team’s abilities. There are definitely some issues, such as the occasional horizontal scratching or specks, and the bizarre appearance of a tiny box of wiggling, black and white lines in the top right corner of the screen. Some episodes are worse than others, of course; but if you have ever seen a degraded old film with scratches and graininess, you can handle this transfer.

Special features are mighty lean, consisting of a text biography of Woodward and a few bits of Callan trivia.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of

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