The Blue Knight (1973, TV-Mini-Series)


A 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, Bumper Morgan (William Holden, The Bridge on the River Kwai), suddenly decides to retire, but before he hangs his uniform Morgan wants to solve the brutal murder of a prostitute.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I think I’m doing something for people every time I make a good bust.”

I’m sure most people can relate to me when I say I can’t count how many cop movies I’ve seen. What about TV shows that revolve around police officers? Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, Miami Vice, etc. I have watched them all. So it isn’t faint praise when I say that this TV limited-series is one of the best cop shows I’ve seen — The Blue Knight encapsulates the whole gamut of life as a cop splendidly.

The mini-series is based on a book written by former Los Angeles police detective Joseph Wambaugh. I’ve never read one of Wambaugh’s books, but I’ve watched a few movies based on his work. The Blue Knight incisively examines the difficulties involved in being a police officer, and that’s the trademark of Wambaugh’s oeuvre.

I loved how the TV program takes its time to show the everyday aspects of police work. The interactions with the public, the camaraderie among policemen, the craft, the emotional toll, the frustrations, the accomplishments, everything a cop goes through on a daily basis is presented in a remarkably unfeigned and gritty manner.

Since it was written by a former cop, I expected The Blue Knight to glorify law enforcement, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The program shows the good, bad and ugly of policing and lets viewers come up with their own conclusions.

William Holden’s Bumper Morgan is an anti-hero in the true sense of the word. While Morgan isn’t as morally problematic as Popeye Doyle or Harry Callahan, he isn’t perfect either. We see him roughing up suspects, we see him breaking rules right and left, we even see him committing perjury during a court hearing. We also see the character’s good attributes. He is brave, dedicated, and compassionate.

Days after watching the mini-series, I still don’t know how I feel about the title character. My ambivalence towards the protagonist is due in large part to Holden’s brilliant, Emmy-winning performance. The actor is so good at projecting the character’s innate decency that I couldn’t help but like him despite his admittedly bad behavior.

The supporting performances are all excellent, too. Lee Remick (The Omen), who plays Holden’s girlfriend, does a fine job expressing her character’s fears and insecurities. Eileen Brennan (Private Benjamin) is wonderfully earthy as an over-the-hill stripper. A very young Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction) is fabulous as a sassy prostitute. And a mustache-less Sam Elliott (Tombstone) plays Detective Charlie Bronski.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I recommend The Blue Knight to anyone who enjoy movies about cops. I also recommended it to fans of actor William Holden. This was Holden’s first TV production, and it’s one of the best things he ever did. Had this been a theatrical movie, I’m sure he would have won an Oscar. Followed by a short-lived TV series, with George Kenney (Cool Hand Luke) taking over Holden’s role. Color, 188 minutes, Not Rated.

This is my contribution to the 5th Golden Boy Blogathon: A William Holden Celebration, hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood, The Wonderful World of Cinema and The Flapper Dame.

14 responses to “The Blue Knight (1973, TV-Mini-Series)

  1. Long time since I’ve seen this (Holden is terrific): now you’ve promoted me to revisit it. Wambaugh wrote some great stuff. The best movies made from his work are The Black Marble and The Onion Field. The New Centurions (apart from George C. Scott) and The Choirboys (apart from Tim McIntire) are just so-so. My late brother-in-law was an actor (Larry Pennell) and he got to work with Holden, on a regrettably lame western (The Revengers) and just adored him: said he was one of the neatest guys he’d ever met in the business. Cheers, Mark

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a coincidence! The Black Marble and The Onion Field are my favorite Wambaugh movies as well (I think Black Marble is an underrated gem). I hated hated hated The Choirboys, but enjoyed the admittedly flawed New Centurions.

      Great to hear that despite his drinking problem, Holden was a nice person in real life.


  2. I loved your article Eric! While it seems you appreciated The Blue Knight more that I did, you perfectly highlight it’s strong point which encourages people to see it. Aside from Holden’s performance, I also liked the fact that it shows all the facets of the profession, the good and bad ones, as you explain. Thanks a lot for your contribution to the blogathon!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I watched this in spring 2021, and while I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it either. For me, its fun to watch Bill Holden be a cop- because he has that element to pull it off. I mean I LOVE AND ADORE Cary Grant, but could we see him in a cop role like this, I don’t think so! What I didn’t love was the ending as it was just a set-up for a show without him- but it is what it is. A good look at what Bill was doing in the ’70s- and forever gateful it gave Bill an Emmy!!!! Thanks so much for writing and I will see you round the blogathon circuit!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m relieved to hear there’s a fair balance in the representation of law enforcement, ie, the good along with the bad. I can’t stand the one-sided, especially when it paints cops as superheroes and saviors. This sounds very realistic and therefore compelling. And Holden–everyone seems to love him. I guess he was a darling the way Tom Hanks is, and Bill Murray, how people say they’re the nicest guys in Hollywood.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It’s always interesting to get a better grasp on how older films and TV shows dramatized the highs and lows of law enforcement, after all that the Law & Order shows have now revitalized. William Holden is a very distinguished actor, having seen him in Network and Damien: Omen II. It would be interesting to finally see this miniseries at some point. Thanks, Eric, for your review.

    Liked by 3 people

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