Video Files: New Peter Gunn set celebrates ’50s private eye

Along with westerns, another dominant genre on late ’50s and early ’60s network television was the private eye (detectives). These were guys (with the exception of ABC’s Honey West starring Anne Francis) with style and flair who took cases regular cops either ignored, were afraid to handle, or wouldn’t touch for various reasons. Some had military training, while others had left the force disillusioned with what they’d seen and heard. They could be violent when necessary, persuasive on other occasions, and all were equally good with weapons and women.

gunnBut none were as sophisticated or hip as Peter Gunn. A creation of writer/producer/director Blake Edwards, Peter Gunn worked a tough waterfront neighborhood in an unnamed city full of colorful and shady types. Gunn loved jazz, and his girlfriend was a glamorous blonde who sang at the city’s best club, “Mother’s.” He also had a close friend on the force in Lt. Jacoby, although their dialog was so loaded with terse phrases and coded language you often didn’t know whether they were buddies or enemies.

Craig Stevens played Gunn, with Lola Albright as Edie and Herschel Bernardi portraying Lt. Jacoby. The show ran on NBC from 1958-1960, then had a final season on ABC. But it remained a hit in syndication for many years. It was also the first TV show that didn’t rely on a set orchestra. Instead, the program used West Coast jazz cuts played by top musicians. Such major names as trumpeter Shorty Rogers and drummer Shelley Manne had guest roles. Some of its finest episodes like “Streetcar Jones,” “The Blind Pianist,” and “Lynn’s Blues” involved music in a pivotal fashion. Henry Mancini wrote the classic “Peter Gunn Theme,” and won two Grammys for his score and other contributions.

There have been previous DVD reissues of Peter Gunn, including several sets of individual episodes by A&E. But nothing compares to the new three-DVD/CD edition being released Oct. 23 by Shout! Factory in conjunction with Timeless Media. Peter Gunn – The Complete Series offers 38 uncut episodes on each DVD. They’ve been digitally remastered, with exemplary sound and video quality. Unfortunately, there are no actor, director or producer interviews or narration. Still, seeing these shows again is a great treat, and a reminder of how visionary Edwards was with this show.

Despite only being a 30-minute program, Peter Gunn squeezed plenty of action and character exchange into the scripts. As the series unfolded, viewers got to see many things. They saw Gunn’s cars (initially a 1958 two-tone Desota, then a 1959 two-tone Plymouth Fury convertible equipped with mobile phone), learned his tastes (expensive across the board), and discovered his fee ($1,000 a case). They also occasionally encountered some of his other friends, among them a pool hustler (Billy Barty) and tipster (the sculptor and painter Wilbur). An additional bonus is a CD featuring music from the show.  Several top “cool school” players contributed to the disc, among them Manne and Rogers as well as Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida.

Peter Gunn was influenced by film noir, and Edwards utilized many of Hollywood’s finest directors, among them Robert Altman, Boris Sagal, Robert Gist and Lamont Johnson. This new release is a mandatory purchase for fans of crime/mystery fiction, action, adventure and suspense novels, films or television.

avengersThe Avengers

The big video news this month is the release of The Avengers (Disney) on DVD. It ruled the box office all summer, and proved the pleasant exception of being a heavily hyped production that exceeded both commercial and aesthetic expectations. It was issued Tuesday, and there are numerous ways to get this film. Some critics have called this the finest super-hero movie of all time. While not necessarily agreeing with that assessment, it was the best of the summer blockbusters. It also compares favorably with the first Iron Man, The Dark Knight films and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man epics from a storytelling and visual splendor standpoint.

For those who just want the basic DVD, you can certainly get it. But for those who want the ultimate presentation, there are various Blu-Ray combinations. One involves getting the film and a second highlight DVD, another includes an additional digital copy disc. The Blu-Ray packages also contain a host of extras, among them an audio interview from director Joss Wheedon, deleted scenes and the usual array of extras. With the price of Blu-Ray DVD players now under $100 for basic models, this would be the ideal time for those without one to invest in the techbology. The enhanced video and sound elevates seeing it even on the most basic analog TV, while those with HD and top caliber audio/video systems will get nearly as great a thrill in their homes as they did at the theater.

The Avengers
is available in retail stores, through Amazon and also on Netflix.

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.