|Craig Stevens as Peter Gunn.|
Debuting on NBC in 1958, the half-hour Peter Gunn series centered on a suave, cynical private eye who worked in a crime-infested, fictional city. Though he rarely looked ruffled, Gunn wasn't afraid to use his fists or revolver. In the episode "The Kill," Gunn threatens to murder a thug (Jack Weston) if a friend dies--and it's clear from the detective's steely voice that he's willing to carry through on his threat. When not investigating cases, Gunn frequented Mother's, a nightclub operated by an elderly woman called (what else?) Mother and featuring his girlfriend Edie as the in-house chanteuse. While Gunn didn't have a partner, he often received unsolicited--but timely--assistance from homicide detective Lieutenant Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi).
|Stevens and Lola Albright.|
While its music earned acclaim, the Peter Gunn series only cracked the Nielsen top 20 shows once, peaking at #16 for the 1958-59 season. It was probably always a niche show, lacking the mainstream appeal of more popular crime shows like 77 Sunset Strip. Its limited success may also be due to star Craig Stevens, who certainly projects "cool" but comes across as detached and, frankly, not very interesting. The sultry Lola Albright fares only slightly better as Edie, but that's because her character comes across as desperate--mooning over the emotionally-detached Pete. The most likable character is Mother, played by Hope Emerson (who died in 1960) and then Minerva Urecal.
Edwards revived the character again in a 1989 made-for-television movie with Peter Strauss as the urbane private eye. It received respectable reviews, but didn't generate enough interest to warrant a revival TV series. Since then, there have been a couple of attempts to produce another Peter Gunn theatrical film, but none has materialized.
What remains is a pretty good TV series with a deliciously moody atmosphere...and that incredible Mancini theme. It's a testament to the music that you'll find people who recognize it by sound, without even knowing that it came from a private eye TV show called Peter Gunn.
(Never seen Peter Gunn? Check out the clip below!)