Gunn With Occasional Music

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, March 31, 2020 04:49pm | Post a Comment

Peter Gunn

By Brett Stillo

Many of us are finding ourselves with a lot of time on our hands -- A LOT of time. We’ve been granted a Peter Gunn, Billy Bartybittersweet surplus of hours to watch whatever we want for as long as we want. With the streaming lanes wide open, my viewing interests have led me to wander back to 1959 to get acquainted with a forgotten crusader in the annals of Pop Culture -- Peter Gunn.

For most of my life, Peter Gunn, the smoother-than-smooth TV private eye created by Blake Edwards, was just a name to me. The series came and went before my time, banished from the color-saturated rerun carousel of my youth to a monochrome junkyard of old shows from the black and white era.

The only thing I really knew about Peter Gunn was the music…and that theme song! That stone-cold bass methodically prowling down a dark street, chased by the frantic screams of brass. Composer Henry Mancini orchestrated a glorious truce between two musical generations: the powerhouse swing of the Big Bands and the brazen snarl of Rock and Roll. Elmer Bernstein built the launchpad for jazz on film with his swaggering score for The Man With the Golden Arm in 1955. Three years later, Mancini blasted it into orbit. This set the tempo for action-packed jazz scores on film and television for the decade to come.

Mancini recorded two albums of original music from Peter Gunn. They served as great introductions to the Peter Gunnworld of jazz. They were easy enough to find at the local thrift store, and the pseudo-Pollock splatter art on the cover set them apart from the Mantovani mediocrity found in the record bin. For the safe investment of a quarter or two, you could take that beat-up record home and dig in to Mancini’s grooves. It’s hamburger stand jazz: cheap, easy to get, but delicious. It’s a musical invitation to Peter Gunn’s world of dark empty streets, smokey night clubs, screeching car tires and echoing gunshots in an endless dark night.

Peter Gunn was not the standard world-weary gumshoe. This was an urbane hero with a sharp custom suit. Gunn lives in a shadow world of smooth operators, bizarre hoodlums, cars with tailfins, and torch singers wailing in basement bars. A cigarette, a cocktail, or a snub nose .38 are always within easy reach. It’s the familiar back alleys of Film Noir, but it’s all strangely inviting. We want to take a leap and land in Peter Gunn’s world, find a chair in a beatnik coffee house and listen to some kat blow his horn all through the night.

Blake Edwards and his cool creation were on to something in 1958. Gunn was a fantasy for the 9-5 office worker -- split from the office, go out on the town, and have an adventure. He was the ideal of Don Draper without the reality of Don Draper. Around this same time, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were working on bringing a similar character with the custom suits, appetite for cocktails and the catchy theme song to the big screen. Before, Bond however, Peter Gunn made the scene first.

In the hyper-impulse era of binge watching, and gobbling up the byzantine storylines of the cable or streaming show, watching episodes of Peter Gunn is like that bowl of honey-roasted peanuts at the bar. The episodes are self-contained and compact, running about 24 minutes flat. They go down easy, and there’s plenty in the bowl This is old school formula television, where the whole story is wrapped in between breaks for the show’s sponsor. Gunn episodes are a bit like reading EC crime comics. Boom! That was good and pulpy. How about another one?

The lightweight pulp of Peter Gunn is out there in the world of DVD and streaming. Forget the world outside and go back to ’59. Turn on the Hi-Fi stereo. Set yourself up with a highball. Watch the show. Dig the records. Have a blast, Daddy-O.

Relevant Tags

Brett Stillo (13), Peter Gunn (2), Film Noir (54), Tv (36), Blake Edwards (1), Henry Mancini (9), Elmer Bernstein (1), Mantovani (5), James Bond (8), Albert Broccoli (1), Harry Saltzman (1)