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Peter Gunn: The Complete Series (Timeless Media Group, NR)

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dvd peter-gunnOne of the great reasons to watch Peter Gunn is for the variety of guest stars who appeared on it.

 

Variation within formula is the standard recipe for successful plotted television series before the birth of the long form show, and the private detective has proven to be one of the more reliable character types to serve as the basis for a traditional TV series. Having a new case to solve every week provides lots of variety in terms of plots, secondary characters, and settings. Audiences never seem to tire of seeing their hero rather improbably solving each case right on schedule, allowing the process to start over again next week.

Peter Gunn, a series created by Blake Edwards and broadcast for three seasons on NBC (1958-1960) and then ABC (1960-1961), embodies the virtues of a Golden Age drama series. The eponymous P.I., Peter Gunn (Craig Stevens), is a straight arrow with none of the moral ambiguity of film noir heroes, but he’s also a cool guy who likes to hang out at clubs and dates a jazz singer, Edie Hart (Lola Albright). Gunn is on good terms with the police, particularly Lieutenant Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi, who won an Emmy for the role), who sometimes refers clients to him, but is also comfortable with (and respected by) people from all walks of life.

Jazz permeates the series. Gunn’s usual hangout is a jazz club is run by “Mother” (Hope Emerson of Caged fame in the first season, replaced by the much less interesting Minerva Urecal in the second), and often Edie performs there, sometimes with guest musicians like Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne. The show’s pulsing theme, written by Henry Mancini, won an Emmy and two Grammys; Mancini’s orchestra also provided music for the episodes, providing Peter Gunn with yet another distinctive trait that set it apart from most shows of the day.

Independent of the show’s regulars, one of the great reasons to watch Peter Gunn is for the variety of guest stars who appeared on it, including Jackie Coogan, Diahann Carroll, Francis X. Bushman, James Coburn, and Henry Daniell. A number of different directors worked on the show, too, among them Robert Altman, Blake Edwards, Jack Arnold, and Lamont Johnson.

The DVD set of Peter Gunn, distributed by Timeless Media Group, includes all 114 episodes of the series on 12 discs (over 58 hours total). The pictures quality ranges from excellent to acceptable, and the sound is clear. The only bonus material is a CD with Henry Mancini’s music for the series, which is disappointing, but the show itself is strong enough that if you’re a fan of classic television, this is one collection worth looking at. | Sarah Boslaugh

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