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Directed in 1968 by John Guillermin, P.J. tells the seedy story of P.J. Detweiler (George Peppard, a hardboiled private detective who works the mean streets of New York City. He isn't up to his neck in top notch jobs these days, however, so when he's offered a paying gig working as a bodyguard protecting the voluptuous Maureen Preble (Gayle Hunnicutt), he takes it. Beggars can't be choosers after all. Preble is romantically involved with William Orbison (Raymond Burr), a married millionaire who has his greasy fingers in a few pies that are, shall we say, less than legal, which brings an element of danger into Preble's life.
The plot thickens when Detweiler winds up framed for the shooting and murder of Orbison's business partner. Detweiler is sure that he has been set up, and once the cops let him go, he takes it upon himself to figure out who was really behind the killing and why they set him up for it. Sometimes payback really is a bitch.
A very noir-style thriller, P.J. is seriously good stuff. It's a tough film, featuring plenty of hardboiled elements, a great femme fatale and, of course, a down on his luck hero that we can all get behind and even relate to in a few spots. Guillermin directs the film with brisk pacing and the full color cinematography from Loyal Griggs is rock solid. Throw in a score from Neal Hefti (yes, the man behind the super famous theme song for the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman television series from the sixties) and production values shape up quite nicely. This might not have been a zillion dollar production but clearly Universal Studios put a decent amount of money behind this (making it surprising that it is as obscure as it is).
Of course, the cast plays a huge part in this film's appeal. Peppard is the perfect leading man here. He's handsome and charismatic but at the same time, completely believable as the sad sack private dick he plays in the picture. He handles the action as well as he handles the drama and you kind of wonder if maybe Universal wasn't grooming him for a franchise with this picture. Gayle Hunnicutt is great here as well, she shares some memorable screen time with both Peppard and Burr. As to Burr himself, his inimitable screen presence is certainly an asset to the picture, he's a good casting choice to play the heavy in this film. On top of that, besides the three great leads we get some fun supporting performances from the likes of Brock Peters, Coleen Gray, Susan Saint James and hey, look for a really small part for a young but instantly recognizable Anthony James as a bartender.
Aspects of the movie are a bit predictable. When P.J. starts to fall for Maureen we see it coming from a mile away, there's no way this wouldn't happen in a movie like this, but it still feels a little tired. It also isn't all that incredibly difficult to figure out the twists that occur in the second half of the movie. Still, if this film doesn't tell the most original story you've ever seen play out on the silver screen, it's a hard hitting and frequently very tense picture that'll keep you entertained throughout.
P.J. makes its North American home video debut (it didn't even have a VHS release, let alone a DVD release) on a 50GB region free Blu-ray disc from the Kino Lorber with the feature presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen taking up 34.1GBs of space on the 50GB disc. The transfer, which is taken from a new 2k master, is quite strong. The picture offers nice detail, very good color reproduction most of the time (there are one or two scenes that look a little less consistent than others but this is a very minor complaint) and nice, deep black levels. There are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts, nor is there any evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about, the picture always looks nice and filmic. This looks really good.
The main audio track on the disc is an English language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The audio here sounds just fine. The levels are nicely balanced and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. There's a good bit of depth here and the dialogue is always clear, the score has some moments of impressive depth. No complaints about the audio on this release and the gun shots, which are a semi-frequent occurrence throughout the film, pack a nice punch.
The main extra on the disc is a new audio commentary by Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell. It's a very engaging and conversational track, with the life and times of John Guillermin getting a lot of airtime in particular. They also cover Peppard's career, dish the dirt on the supporting cast members like Hunnicutt, Burr and Peters, talk up the film's style, detail its production and release history and quite a bit more. It's a fun listen.
Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for a few other Kino Lorber properties. The disc also comes with menus and chapter selection.
P.J. works very well, it's a noirish thriller with some hardboiled elements that are easy to appreciate for fans of the genre. Peppard is great in the lead, really doing a strong job with the acting here, and you've got to love the supporting cast in this one. Kino's Blu-ray offers the film a very strong presentation and features a lively commentary as its main extra. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.