"Van Der Valk,"a classic cult British mystery television series, set on the streets of Amsterdam in the early 1970's, has finally been released on DVD. The series, a police procedural that stars Barry Foster (Bob Rusk in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy,"Alfred Hitchcock The Masterpiece Collection - Frenzy / Family Plot / AFI Salute to Alfred Hitchcock plus other extras Bonus Disc (DVD);Smiley's People, Ryan's Daughter , and The Sweeney - The Complete First Series), plays the title character, based on the novels of Edgar Award-winning British mystery author Nicolas Freeling. The entertainment was made by Thames Television for Britain's ITV (Independent Television stations); debuted in the U.K. in 1972, and ran for five seasons. It was broadcast in the United States on PBS (Public Television stations) in the 1990s. Set 1 is a 2 DVD box set that runs approximately 306 minutes; it includes all six episodes from Series 1 and an interview with the series' creator, Freeling. Unfortunately, as the cast speaks in a mixture of accents, some Dutch, some English, and Foster in best cockney, playing his character as one of the lads, the production does not offer subtitles.
The series was shot largely on location in the charming old city of Amsterdam, all cobblestones and canals; however, neither the visual nor the sound quality is up to what we might expect today. Production values are also lower than we might expect with a similar entertainment today - and there are no guest stars. The dramas are gritty, and make full use of their setting, the peculiarities of the Dutch character, and their time. Van Der Valk smokes like a chimney, drinks hard --doing both in the actual station house -- and is out and about, driving a police car after having had a few drinks, with, of course, no seat belts. It's definitely the 1970's, grass cloth walls, caftans, KLM calendars wherever you look, all brown outfits: the real 1970s, not the Life on Mars: The Complete Series 1970s.
The catchy theme song by Dutchman Jack Trombey was commercially released as "Eye Level:" it became a Top 40 Hit, and sold millions of copies worldwide. To my ear, it strongly echoes the music you could then hear in Amsterdam, played by organs in the streets: I actually visited that city twice in the late 60's, early 70's, during the years of my English exile, and can still hear the notes.
Foster portrays Van Der Valk in a counter-intuitive way: he's not the character we would expect from the Dutch stereotypes we carry, such as phlegmatic, pragmatic: his policeman is excitable, free-wheeling, and rebellious. The policeman has, in fact, been called a Dutch "Columbo." However, the author Freeling (born Nicolas Davidson in London, England in 1927), had Dutch-German blood through his mother, and lived most of his life in continental Europe, in France; he also frequently went to Amsterdam to research its goings on, so let's assume he knew what he was doing. He published 37 books in all, and won the three most prestigious mystery writers awards, the Edgar of the Mystery Writers of America; the Gold Dagger of the Crime Writers' Association, and France's Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere. Unfortunately for us all, he grew tired of his Dutch creation, and killed Van Der Valk off, just as this series was airing, in 1972.
The episodes are:
1. One Herring's Not Enough. A sculptor/art school teacher walks in to confess killing his wife and her young lover, but there's no sign of such a crime.
2. Destroying Angel. An unknown man living above a seedy bar is poisoned to death. Commisaris Van Der Valk considers it a woman's crime, and suspects one of the sex workers in the brothel next door.
3. Blue Notes. A world-famous Dutch violinist returns to Amsterdam for a rare performance. Someone smashes his Stradivarius, and then he ends up dead.
4. Elected Silence. The daughter of a controversial right-wing journalist disappears; where's the ransom note. What's going on?
5. Thicker than Water. A well-to-do young Englishman shows up dead in an Amsterdam canal, and his powerful mother doesn't seem to care. The dead man's trail leads Van Der Valk through the city's seamiest gay, transvestite, and sado-masochistic bars.
6. The Adventurer. A fatal accident; the dead man, a Lebanese, is carrying a gun and a picture of an anonymous local stonemason. The commisaris is troubled.
Now listen, I initially saw this series during the years of my English exile; it was great company for me. And I loved it: and I loved the underlying Freeling books. I believe I read every one of them, up to the 1972 work in which the author killed off his best-loved character. So don't try to argue with my opinion on this.