Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


GUNN (1967). Director: Blake Edwards. Screenplay by Edwards and William Peter Blatty.

"My theory is that the human race is just a temporary experiment on the earth, and the experiment is failing" -- Lt. Jacoby

The TV series Peter Gunn had been off the air for seven years -- it ran three seasons from 1958 - 1960 -- when this big-screen adaptation played in theaters. Craig Stevens [Where the Sidewalk Ends] was forty-nine when he reprised the character in spite of the fact that private eyes in the movies were quickly being replaced by super-spies like James Bond. [The poster art for the movie tried to make it seem like an 007-type adventure, which it isn't.] The supporting players on the TV show were replaced in the movie, with Laura Devon filling in for Lola Albright as singer/sometime girlfriend, Edie; Ed Asner substituting for Herschel Bernardi as Lt. Jacoby; and -- of all people -- Wagnerian opera diva Helen Traubel taking over from Hope Emerson and Minerva Urekal as Mother, who owns the nightclub where Edie sings and Peter kibitzes. Gunn, despite being in color with slightly more elaborate production values, plays like an extra-long episode of the series. When a mobster named Scarlatti is murdered, the chief suspect is another criminal character named Fusco (Albert Paulsen). A shady lady named Daisy Jane (Marion Marshall) hires Peter to prove that Fusco was the killer. Along the way there are a couple more dead bodies for Gunn to trip over. To make the whole thing more contemporary, Mother's nightspot is turned into a rock club (after it is, once again, blown up, as it was at least once in the series), and one of the characters turns out to be a transvestite/transsexual a la Mickey Spillane [see the Mike Hammer novel, Vengeance is Mine.] There are a couple of twists and a fairly vicious final fight scene. Stevens plays Gunn in the same [one] note as before, and the other actors are fine, with Jean Carson making an impression as a flippant waitress in a diner.

Verdict: Perhaps this "gunn" was fired once too often. **.


Neil A Russell said...

I didn't even know this existed. I guess any memory of it had been exorcised (har har har) out of my mind.

Considering all the cast and location changes that were made, it's a shame Edwards didn't decide to go ahead and turn Gunn into a spy character. It might have made this pic a bit more memorable.
I usually have a tough time watching a movie or series when the principals have been replaced and while I'm trying my best with this movie, it's a little on the slow side. As you said, it plays like an over long version of the series.

It always seemed to me that the series traded more on the quality of the Mancini theme than the strength of the stories anyway, one of those "the idea of it is better than the actual product" kind of things.

Glad you pointed this one out though, it's getting harder to run across things I never saw from the 60s!

William said...

Me, too!

I thought "Peter Gunn" had some pretty good scripts, though it was hardly the best show on television. And you may be right that the theme music was the best thing about it.

Talking about the memory playing tricks on you -- I just went back and looked up my reviews of all three seasons, and except for the last season I seemed to like the show better than I "remembered." And mind you, I'm not talking about when it was on when I was a child but in the past couple of years! I thought there were some "excellent stories" but also found the final season "unexceptional but entertaining."

So I think we can both agree that "Peter Gunn" was not exceptional and the movie -- which should have been a spy movie, you're right -- was highly forgettable.

angelman66 said...

I also was not aware of this film, will need to look for it. Bill, have you read William Peter Blatty's recent memoir? A pretty interesting behind-the-scenes showbiz tale, right up your alley...

William said...

Glad you mentioned this Chris, I would think Blatty's memoir will make for an interesting read; I'll look for it, thanks.