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P.J. (1968)

The ever popular “private eye” genre takes center stage with a perfectly cast George Peppard as our resident P.I. who goes by the name P.J. Detweiler. Peppard is matched on screen by the deliciously sexy Gayle Hunnicutt cast as the woman the detective has been hired to protect from a would be assassin. Might Raymond Burr be returning to his roots in the Noir genre as our Heavy?

Like those who have come before him, Peppard, is playing the world weary private eye with nothing but debt collectors surrounding him and a trustworthy barkeep played by Herb (Murray the Cop) Edleman to rely on. Over the opening credits we’ll see how far Peppard has fallen when it comes to ethics. He’s used as a set up man in a marriage dispute and beaten senseless for a lousy $250 bucks. All of which he hands out to his debtors at Herb’s bar.

And along comes Raymond Burr speaking to a mystery character looking to pay someone $100K to arrange a killing. Could the mark be his estranged wife who keeps hounding him for cash played by another Noir veteran, Coleen Gray?

Now back to Peppard and a new job on the horizon just when he needs it most. He’s fallen into the bodyguard racket when he’s recommended to take center stage in protecting Burr’s mistress, Miss Hunnicutt, who looks ravishing while making her entrance in a red dress and making it clear she’ll be tempting Peppard for the rest of our journey with all her feminine charms.

Peppard is quick to learn that Burr has a number of relatives who don’t approve of Miss Hunnicutt and her positioning herself in the wealthy Burr’s will. Among those you’ll recognize are a debuting Susan Saint James playing cute and sexy with Peppard and scene stealer George Furth who appeared in damned near every TV show of the sixties and had a memorable scene opposite Newman and Redford in Butch and Sundance’s “too much dynamite” scene.

Shortly after Peppard takes on the bodyguard job two attempts are made on Gayle’s life. Time to get out of the country and Burr whisks everyone away to an isle in the British West Indies which allows both Wilfrid Hyde-White and Brock Peters to make an appearance. It’s here on the isle that the plot thickens when Peppard seemingly shoots down the assassin who has made a number of attempts on Gayle’s life. It’s Burr’s business partner, Jason Evers.

Something doesn’t quite add up for Peppard who is promptly arrested but soon finds everything has been swept under the carpet nice and neat. He’s been relieved of his duties and left to find his own way back to New York.

Burr scores a change of pace in this outing from director John Guillermin. What I mean by that is he’s one cruel son of b***h. Something he hadn’t played in a number of years thanks to his successful run as Perry Mason on television. As best I can tell, this is Burr’s only theatrical release between 1957 and 1978 after a steady of diet of gangsters and killers including the Hitchcock classic Rear Window. When Peppard gets back to town and begins sniffing around like any respectable gumshoe, Burr, makes it clear that he should mind his own business and will see to it that one his goons played by Severn Darden lays a beating on the eventual A-Team leader.

Let me point out that it’s not the usual rough up cinema goers of the 40’s and 50’s were used to. Times were a changing at the movies and Peppard gets his beating from a group of men in a gay bar that Darden lures him to based on the disclosure of some key information.

There is still plenty of plot left and I’ll let you see for yourself just how Anthony James, Arte Johnson and Ford regular, John Qualen fit into Peppard’s hunt for the truth about the man he’s killed and whether or not there’s another killer lurking in the shadows gunning for Gayle.

New to me, private eye films were going through a rediscovery in the late sixties with Paul Newman’s Harper and James Garner’s take on Marlowe. It would seem that Miss Hunnicutt impressed producers enough here to have her enlisted in the Garner film of 1969. I guess I always think of 1973’s The Legend of Hell House when she comes to mind. A big favorite of mine in the horror genre.

Released by Universal, I must admit the film has a very TV feel to it and I couldn’t help but wonder if Don Knotts might turn up in one of his own Universal releases from the period like The Reluctant Astronaut or The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. The films do share some of the same character actors in the background. And how about that music score! A quick double check and yes, those musical cues do remind me of The Odd Couple for a good reason. Both this and the Neil Simon penned hit were credited to composer Neal Hefti.

The 1960’s were the key years for George Peppard on the big screen. He kicked off the decade in the popular Home From the Hill opposite Robert Mitchum and rose to leading man status in big budget efforts like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, How the West Was Won and The Blue Max. He wound down in the early 70’s and as we know, moved into TV and a successful run as John Hannibal Smith commanding Mr. T and the gang.

Peppard had already worked on The Blue Max with director Guillermin who was a solid choice behind the camera in the action genre. He guided films like Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (one of the best in the series), The Bridge at Remagen, Death On the Nile, The Towering Inferno and the ’76 King Kong remake.

A first time viewing for me and an easy flick to recommend for fans of the genre and period let alone Peppard and co. Thankfully it turned up on blu ray via Kino Lorber Studio Classics who have put out a number of Peppard films recently including Cannon For Cordoba, The Groundstar Conspiracy and Newman’s Law.

14 Comments »

  1. I happened upon this by chance and pulled in by the cast was delighted to find it solidly entertaining. It’s awash in 60’s style and Gayle, stunning throughout, as I recall had some really elaborate and neck bending hairdos, the kind only truly beautiful women can carry off. Peppard plays it in just the right low-key only slightly ruffled manner.

    Loved that in nearly every scene I had an “Oh good this actor or that is in this too” moment. If I’m remembering correctly there is also a scene where people are dancing in a giant champagne glass, again very 60’s! How often do you see that?

  2. Just watched the first 20 mins or so. Thought the opening terrifically well done and was looking to enjoy the rest when the screen just froze. Have another copy on order.

  3. Thought this was absolutely terrific, a true mystery, a dodgy detective, greed uppermost in everyone’s mind, but with a great second half when Peppard reverts to moral crusader. I’ll be reviewing it in a couple of week. Burr plays one of the screen’s most insidious horrible characters. I loved his miserly touches. Burr, by the way, was in Desire in the Dust (1960), one of the films I discovered in my book on The Magnificent Seven that the western encountered on its box office travels.

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