Every so often an actor and a character are so perfectly matched that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
Would anyone dare remake or reboot the Dirty Harry franchise without Clint Eastwood? Can you imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones? Or a different Rambo or Rocky than Sylvester Stallone?
Or going back further, it’s difficult to picture the “Thin Man” sophisticated detectives Nick and Nora Charles and not think of William Powell and Myrna Loy. Or someone other than Mickey Rooney taking on the role of Andy Hardy.
And so it is with the eight made-for-television movies (2005-12) based on the late Robert B. Parker’s series of books about small-town police chief Jesse Stone, perfectly inhabited by Tom Selleck.
The films have been floating around for years on individual DVDs, and now they are in a newly released box set, pulled together for the first time as “The Jesse Stone Collection” (Sony, eight discs, $95.99), a no-frills set with a silly airbrushed photo of Selleck on the cover — which acts as a metaphor for why the annual TV movies abruptly ended.
It seems that despite the impressive ratings each film earned, CBS declined to continue making them because the demographic watching was too old.
Stop me if you’ve heard this, but apparently the money spent on advertised products to 50- and 60-somethings isn’t equal to the money spent by 20- and 30-somethings. Too bad the IRS doesn’t agree.
So there’s 68-year-old Selleck, with those well-earned lines on his craggy face removed so he’ll look younger, though the image is so smoothed out it appears to be a mannequin at Madame Tussauds’ wax museum.
Anyway, because this is a no-frills set, if you have the eight individually released DVDs, you needn’t invest in this collection. But the release is a nice opportunity to sing Selleck’s praises in this role, for which he received a very well-deserved Emmy nomination.
And to urge CBS — or somebody — to reconsider and let the franchise continue.
I don’t know whom Parker might have envisioned when he wrote his novels, but it’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to — or now, anyone other than Selleck as — the character of burned-out cop Jesse Stone, newly removed from his job on the Los Angeles police force for drinking on the job. He’s offered what he realizes is his last chance, the job of police chief in the small East Coast town of Paradise, Mass.
The first film in the series is “Stone Cold,” which is followed by “Night Passage” — but start with “Night Passage,” which is a prequel and tells the character’s origin story in a matter-of-fact way. Which is to say that “Stone Cold” is very much a direct sequel to “Night Passage,” despite the order in which they were filmed and shown.
After that, watching them in chronological order allows you to enjoy the nuanced development of the character and appreciate Selleck’s lived-in naturalness in the role as we see Stone’s struggles with alcoholism and loneliness, his often hilarious relationship with his dog, his unhealthy and somewhat obsessive long-distance relationship with his ex-wife, his interactions with Paradise residents and especially members of the town council, and perhaps most important, his friends and co-workers, some of whom call him out on his problems.
And Selleck’s recurring co-stars couldn’t be more impressive, from Stephen McHattie as an old pal on the Boston police force to William Devane as his psychiatrist, friend, confidant and conscience to future two-time Oscar-nominee Viola Davis as Stone’s deputy in the first four films and Kathy Baker as her replacement in the last five, as well as Gloria Reuben, Saul Rubinek, William Sadler and others.
Each movie is deliberately paced, which is to say they move along slower than most TV shows, especially modern police procedurals — and that’s a good thing. They take their time so we can relish the characters, which in these pictures is always more important than the crimes being investigated.
If you missed the “Jesse Stone” films when they initially aired, look them up. Despite CBS’s misgivings, no matter what your age, they will resonate.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parents Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com