Being locked down since March I’ve watched or binged most everything. Now I’m hunting around, looking for anything offbeat.

On ME-TV I discovered that in the middle of the night on weekends (not exactly primetime), they run episodes of PETER GUNN. I suspect most of you are saying, “Who?”

PETER GUNN was a private detective show that aired from 1958-61 on two networks (NBC for the first two years, ABC on the third). 114 episodes were made. (Today, over three years series would be lucky to make 39.)

Craig Stevens played a PI but not your Raymond Chandler hard-boiled detective. He was polished, well-dressed, sophisticated — more James Bond than Sam Spade.

It was created by Blake Edwards, who later went on to write and direct such film classics as THE PINK PANTHER series, THE GREAT RACE, and VICTOR/VICTORIA.

But the real stars of the show were Henry Mancini, Philip Lathrop and William Spencer. Who? Who? Who?

Okay, you might’ve heard of Henry Mancini. He did the music including the iconic theme. The other two gentlemen were the cinematographers.

PETER GUNN was the most stylish detective show on the air. Shot in black-and-white (my second black-and-white review of the week), but the cinematography was eye-popping. The use of light and shadows would make Orson Welles stand and applaud. Camera angles are sometimes unusual or from the ceiling. They really created a cool mood. And the music was modern jazz.

The price for all this, of course, is that the show really looks like a time-piece, in the same way that MIAMI VICE does. But it’s a fun time-piece to watch.

Also notable is that PETER GUNN is only a half-hour. And you know what? You don’t need a full hour to tell detective stories. So many of them are padded or cluttered with subplots and red herrings. A half-hour is more than enough time to set up the problem, go through four or five steps and resolve it. There’s always a fight scene, Gunn is held at gunpoint, and Lola Albright is making out with him. The scripts are high on banter and Noir. Double entendres fly. But what would you expect when your lead character is named two euphemisms for penis? Another refreshing change is his relationship with the police lieutenant played by Herschel Bernardi. They actually get along. Bernardi never says, “Stay out of it, Gunn! This is my territory!” By doing that alone they’re able to cut a half-hour out of each story.

What struck me most about PETER GUNN was that it had a clear vision. The look, music, dialogue were distinctive. I’m guessing Blake Edwards didn’t get a slew of network and studio notes. I’m betting he didn’t have to network approval for every writer and director. Edwards was able to give a directing assignment to a young nobody named Robert Altman.

If you’re up at 4 in the morning some weekend, check it out. If nothing else, that theme song will be an earworm that will last for days.



More...