Plot: Bumper Morgan (William Holden) is a grizzled veteran of the streets of Los Angeles, an old school, hard nosed police officer who has seen it all and become more than a little jaded in the process. He is sickened by the criminal element he crosses paths with each day on his beat, but he has also come to resent how some of the average citizens see him and his fellow cops. Though he can also relate, as he holds little respect for the young officers he sees coming up, as he sees them as weak and ineffective. The times have started to change around him and Morgan refuses to change with them, so he feels like a man from a bygone era, to say the least. While he could have years ahead of him on the force, he tires of risking his life for a public he no longer sees as innocent, while the tolls of age have slowed him as well. But can Morgan leave the only world he has known in his life and with the chance of a fresh start on the horizon, can he make the transition to the next step?
Entertainment Value: The Blue Knight is a slice of classic prestige television, a mini-series that was head and shoulders above the average productions at the time and holds up quite well, even decades down the road. The narrative feels familiar, especially if you’re a fan of cop shows or crime thrillers, with an embittered police officer in his final days, realizing the passage of time, the shifts in society, and the inevitable tide of crime that seems to never end. But The Blue Knight is able to devote generous time to both Bumper Morgan as a character and the world he works within, which allows for much more depth than we’re used to. Much of the first half is devoted to getting know the man and his beat, which involves a lot of small scale, but important scenes that establish his routines and his perspective, all invaluable once The Blue Knight begins to thread the core narrative forward. The tone is a little dark, but not oppressively so and just feels gritty and grounded, like an authentic walk through 70s Los Angeles, in the shoes of this layered character. Even at just over three hours, The Blue Knight never feels slow in the least and is always captivating throughout. The mini-series has a natural midpoint break as well, so there’s a nice stopping point if you want to divide the sessions. But you might just want to run through the entire mini-series in one session, it is that engaging and well crafted.
This mini-series has a great ensemble of talent involved, but William Holden has the lead and turns in a dynamic, memorable effort that carries the entire experience. He is so believable as the worn down, abrasive Morgan, it feels authentic in all respects and is nothing short of a masterful performance. This kind of role asks a lot of a performer, since there is so much to convey and so many facets to the character, but Holden just nails the part and shines here. I love how he is able to bring across such outer strength even as his own confidence is shaken, giving us a glimpse into the kind of courage it can take to be a police officer, especially in a hardened locale like Los Angeles. The screen presence he radiates in The Blue Knight is remarkable, this would be a fantastic effort in a feature film, let alone a mini-series. Lee Remick is also excellent as Holden’s love interest and while she isn’t afforded quite so much depth, she is able to make the most of her character development. The impressive cast also includes Anne Archer, Eileen Brennan, Jamie Farr, Sam Elliott, and Joe Santos.
The Disc: Warner Archive has treated The Blue Knight to Blu-ray, in a clean, sharp presentation that should delight fans. I had never seen this mini-series before, but I can’t imagine it has ever looked nearly this good, as this treatment is so refined and shows no real issues at all. The colors have a natural presence, contrast is consistent, and detail is excellent, even small touches are crystal clear here. This is also the full, over three hour version of the mini-series.