Judge P.S. Colbert's porn name is Peter Stunn.
"I get around. Picnics, Fish-frys, funerals…"—Peter Gunn
G-U-N-N: What's that spell? That spells Cool!
Peter Gunn: The Complete Series unloads the full clip; one hundred and fourteen episodes, representing three seasons (with thirty eight installments apiece!) of style, street savvy, and smoky nightclub atmospherics.
Almost all the action happens after sundown: in darkened alleys, on mean streets, in swanky digs and run-down joints, in penthouses and flophouses. There's tough talk, gallows humor, gumshoes, gun molls, and plenty of pistol music per each half-hour bite.
When he wants to cool his heels, Gunn (Pete to his friends) heads over to see girlfriend Edie Hart (Lola Albright, Joy House), the stunningly beautiful lounge songbird at "Mother's," named for the tough old bird who runs it—played by Emmy-nominated Hope Emerson in the first season, Minerva Urecal in the second, and eliminated altogether in the third season, when the club became "Edie's."
Mother's serves food and drinks. More importantly, is acts as a launching pad not only for Pete and Edie's romantic couplings, but also for quite a bit of troublesome action, being a particularly popular target of femme fatales, flim-flam men, and would-be protection racketeers. There's also jazz, lotsa jazz. Hot, cool, brass band, Dixieland, blue note, you name it. But no rock 'n' roll, which was still considered greasy kid stuff when this suave, shrewd, and suspenseful figment of creator Blake Edwards' imagination burst forth in glorious noir and white on 22 September 1958.
Forty years old by premiere night, actor Craig Stevens had already put in twenty years hard labor in Hollywood's then studio system, playing bit parts and best buddies in a string of mostly unmemorable films and starring in ones he'd probably rather forget (e.g. The Deadly Mantis), before landing the role of his lifetime. Those years of toil no doubt helped Stevens appreciate Gunn's cynical sense of humor and hard-bitten edge ("Bother me one more time and I'll blow your head off!" he barks at one bothersome goon), which provides a perfect counterpoint to Pete's otherwise erudite demeanor.
Pete's best friend, confidant, and occasional competition is by-the-book Lieutenant Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi, The Front). Paunchy, pockmarked, slovenly, and shabbily dressed, he's the physical antithesis of the dapper unflappable Gunn. Nevertheless, these two make a great pair both at work and play. Their interactions are the show's greatest strength, earning both actors richly deserved Emmy nominations.
With such emphasis on snappy patter, panache, and mayhem, there's not much time left for complex storytelling. Most of the plots are shop-worn (though well-written and directed) pulp fiction potboilers that conclude abruptly and surprisingly neatly, considering the all the mess made by punch-ups and shoot-outs before the final act.
Speaking of coming clean, Timeless Media Group begins each of the twelve discs in this collection of standard definition 1.33:1 full frame episodes with the following disclaimer: "This program has been reproduced from carefully selected archival films. State of the art technology has been used to present the highest quality production. However, some imperfections in image and sound quality are unavoidable." There are some issues with black levels, blurred and bleached-out images, and other tell-tale signs of depreciation, but nothing visually prohibitive. The Dolby 1.0 Mono tracks, however, are a comparative mess of ping-ponging audio levels that favor fine Henry Mancini underscores, but bury a good bit dialogue beneath an aural fog of hiss. Much needed English subtitles aren't even an option.
The set does contain one terrific extra: a bonus CD of the stellar music that ran throughout the series, heralded by the hippest riff in TV theme history.
He may not have been television's first, but Peter Gunn set the platinum standard ever after for the hordes of small-screen private dicks who'd follow in his wake. From Mannix and Magnum P.I. to Monk and Psych, these series all owe some part of their success to the self-employed, smooth-operating sleuth that came and went before we even had a chance to thank him.
Don't waste my time! Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Timeless Media Group
• Soundtrack CD
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