|Craig Stevens IS Peter Gunn|
The name: Peter Gunn, Pete to his friends, Gunn to everyone else. Never Pete Gunn. Was there ever a better name for a TV detective? Not a (Richard) Diamond in the rough, not a (Johnny) Staccato music note. Maybe a (Thomas) Magnum, but that came much later, and doesn’t really take advantage of the wordplay. Peter Gunn packs a gun, and if things get too rough he’ll let you know it, too.
Peter Gunn was a half-hour drama that aired on NBC from 1958 to 1960, and spent a final season on ABC before going off the air in 1961. (But not out of the public consciousness, thanks to that theme.) It feels more like an ABC drama, to be honest, at least to me. Though it was produced by Blake Edwards*, long before the Pink Panther, it fits in well with the Warner Brothers shows that dominated the network in the late 50s and early 60s. It’s better than many of them, though. There’s a grit and an atmosphere to it that makes it one of the most noirish of TV series, with smoky saloons and foggy harbors and sultry girls with hints of danger, fists ready to fly and gunplay just waiting to break out.
*Whose first hit was none other than Richard Diamond.
The private eye patrolling this seedy beat was anything but: smooth, suave, urbane, suit tailored, tie knotted, pocket hanky carefully in place, with an ear for cool jazz and an eye for a hot woman. Craig Stevens, reminiscent of Cary Grant in his speech and his manner, but with an edge that lets you know he’s every bit as tough as his name suggests. His girl Edie, played by Lola Albright, singer at Mother’s, the joint that serves as Gunn’s office. Any suggestions that Gunn has the typical PI’s wandering eye are very few and far between – and why would you when you know you’ve got Edie waiting for you? His long-suffering contact at the department, Lieutenant Jacoby, Herschel Bernardi, a man who looks as if he wakes up world-weary. Their relationship is friendlier than most private/public cop pairings – Jacoby even gets to call him “Pete.”
|Mancini's music was a smash|
The tough guys are tough, but never tougher than Gunn. The girls are prettier, but never prettier than Edie. The heavies may be quick with the trigger, but not as quick as Jacoby, when he has to be. And you’re not going to get a lot of complications thrown in, not in a 30 minute show. Gunn’s got a job to do, and he’s going to do it, and you’d be wise not to get in his way. No loose ends, no wasted space. Got a problem with that?
So I know what you’re thinking: why should I care about a detective series that was on TV over 50 years ago? Good question. If the mood and the music aren't enough for you, there's Stevens’ portrayal of Gunn. In a genre that specializes in rumpled, hard-drinking, two-fisted playboys for heroes, Stevens is as smooth as a scotch on the rocks. He has the PI’s gift for glib, but friends and enemies both know he’s a man who’s not afraid to mess up his suit if he has to.
|Pete & Edie (Lola Albright)|
*Let me repeat that. Adults. In short supply on television nowadays.
Jacoby is one of the more likable policemen in the private detective arena. Sure he’s weary – he’s had his fill of disappointment and death, probably responsible for more than his share of it. He looks at Pete as a friend more than an adversary; he knows, even before the words are out of his mouth, that his warnings to stay out of police business are useless. And you know what? I don’t think he’d like Peter Gunn any other way either.
|Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi) and Gunn|
Half-hour dramas, once a staple on television, are deader than the dodo nowadays, which is a shame. You ought to check this show out, if you know what’s good for you. With its cast of colorful snitches, properly crooked hoods, and a dame or two that could be either a vamp or a vixen (or both), Peter Gunn is one show that’s going to give you the story, the whole story and nothing but the story. The bad guys get what’s coming to them, the hero gets the girl, and we all get to hear that cool music one more time. What more do you want?