In the film’s pre-title opening sequence, the viewer finds himself in the middle of the ocean on a dark night. A Coast Guard boat pulls up to an anchored Yacht. Two men dressed in Coast Guard uniforms, armed with machine guns, come on board. Quickly and efficiently they kill everyone on the boat including a high level big shot named Julio Scolotti (Lincoln Demyan). Just as quickly we then segue to the classic Henry Mancini theme as the credits roll…Peter Gunn is back!
Daisy Jane (Marion Marshall), a Madame at a swank bordello, hires Gunn (Craig Stevens) to investigate the murder of crime boss Julio Scolotti believing it was the work of another criminal big shot named Nick Mancuso (Albert Paulson) looking to muscle in on Scolotti’s territory. By the end of the ninety minutes or so of bloodshed, corpses and women, Gunn proves he is as persuasive, slick and deadly as ever to both enemies and the ladies. This includes Laura Devon as Edie, his main squeeze, and an almost always semi-clad Sherry Jackson (Make Room for Daddy) who throws in her towel for Gunn time and time again. After an additional few murders and some attempts on our heroe’s life, along with some twist and turns, Gunn uncovers the surprising truth.
Like many of Blake Edwards movies, drama mixes with humor, much of it here is dark. During the burial service for Scolotti which Gunn attends (Scolotti once saved his life), Lt. Jacoby, played by Edward Asner asks Gunn, “You in mourning?” “No, I’m a funeral buff,” he drily replies. The script was written by Edwards and William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) based on a story and characters created by Edwards. Most critics at the time of the film’s release seemed to miss how clever and witty the film was including Pauline Kael who admitted to walking out in the middle of the film. Kael’s long time nemesis, Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris, was an exception who wrote, “All in all, Gunn makes the Bond series look like child’s play.”
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, this film died a quick death at the box office and has remained absent from the home video scene not giving today’s audience the opportunity to discover it for themselves. Released in 1967, the ‘Summer of Love,’ the film’s demise at the time is arguably due to the changing times from when the classic TV show originally aired (1958-61) and the emergence of the then youth generation that ignored the suave and glib detective, more interested in suave and glib international spies like James Bond, not 1950’s style private investigators. Gunn may have been too much cool jazz at a time when psychedelic rock was more in tune.
Gunn was the first feature film based on the TV series. Some twenty years later Edwards would make a TV movie called Peter Gunn with Peter Strauss in the lead role which clearly reminded everyone how essential, and how much missed Craig Stevens was in the role. Gunn was hurt by some changes in the supporting cast. Hope Emerson made for a great Mother in the first season of the show, replaced here by Helen Traubel, who along with Lola Albright as Edie, are sorely missed. Laura Devon lacks the sultry, seen it all, devilish look Albright possessed. Ed Asher, however makes a fine replacement for Herschel Bernardi as the knowledgeable police officer, Lt. Jacoby.
Gunn is not a great film but it is better than most of the critics at the time let on. Fans of the TV show, and detective films in general, will enjoy it. At the very least, Gunn deserves a DVD release so today’s filmgoers can judge for themselves.
I’ve never heard of that! Sounds great!
Hard one to but as i just found out from another commenter, the film is streaming on Netflix which I do not have so that is good news.
John, as a die-hard fan of the original PETER GUNN TV series (which can be seen on RTV in our area), I was primed to be disappointed because Lola Albright was apparently traded in for younger tootsie Laura Devon (I’m sure she’s a perfectly nice gal, but she’s not the Edie Hart we know and love :-)). However, if GUNN turns up on TV or DVD one of these days, I’m willing to give it a chance on the strength of Ed Asner as Lt. Jacoby at the very least; I can imagine Asner being a good fit for the role played so wonderfully well by Herschel Bernardi. At least they kept Henry Mancini’s classic theme song. Your blog post itself was excellent, as usual!
Asher is very good, as he always is. Laura Devon was a sixties actress beauties who worked mostly in TV though she did have small roles in few films,”Goodbye Charlie” and Hawk’s “Red Line 7000” are two films I can think of.
John commented here that the film is streaming on NETFLIX if you have that. Thanks as always for the kind words.
It’s available on Netflix, streaming. Nice print, and, as John points out, is far better than its critical reception back when. Thanks for this thumbs up, John.
Thanks for this information! Was not aware of it, I watched it recently on what must have been a third generation bootleg.
John, I love movies like this. It isn’t on dvd? So you went to a movie theatre, obviously. Did you call me up and ask me to go with you? Did you even care? Of course not.
John, I’m hurt. Really hurt.
Sorry for the hurt feelings (LOL). I first saw this film in a theater back in ’67 but my most recent viewing was a bad bootleg copy. Good enough to watch but not ideal.
“Gunn” was the first feature film based on the TV series.
Sorry, John, but it wasn’t. Our Miss Brooks (1956) got there before it. Then there was Batman (1966). There was McHale’s Navy (1964) and McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force (1965). There was also Dragnet (1954) and a Dragnet TV movie (1966). In 1966, MGM released two films based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., To Trap a Spy and The Spy with My Face, though were made up of two-part TV episodes with added footage shot for the feature release.
Peter, I think you misread what I wrote, or maybe I was not clear but if you reread the sentence…I wrote “Gunn” was the first feature film based on THE TV series, meaning the Peter Gunn series. If I meant what you are saying, I would have wrote “Gunn” was the first feature film based on a TV series. If I have written that then your informative statement would be correct. That said, I should have been a bit clearer.
You are correct, sir! I read the sentence quickly and jumped the gun [ahem].
By the way, and because I can’t seem to locate your email address so I’m putting this in the comments, how would you like to interview me about my new biography of Dennis Hopper, which arrives in bookstores tomorrow? Patrick McGilligan, who you interviewed, gave me a great blurb for the dust jacket.
plwinkler at yahoo.com
[…] Peter Gunn was a jazzy private eye series created by Blake Edwards of The Pink Panther fame that ran on NBC from 1958-60 and then switched to ABC for the 1960-61 season. It was nominated for eight Emmys and won two Grammys for composer Henry Mancini. Craig Stevens played the classy detective who did his investigating around a jazz club, and the music became a primary characteristic of the series. Six years after the series went off the air, Blake Edwards revisited the character, this time with a feature film written by The Exorcist‘s William Peter Blatty. Gunn hit the theaters in 1967 and died a quick death. […]
Wonderful write-up for an unfortunately forgotten film. I watched Peter Gunn, the TV series, as a kid. Like another series — do you recall the short-lived T.H.E. Cat starring Robert Loggia? — it was just too cool and ahead of its time to last for any length of time. I was even one of the few who caught the ‘Gunn’ film at a movie theater in its initial run. It’s an under appreciated Blake Edwards film, alright. Thank the heavens Netflix is streaming it and hopefully more will check it out. Perhaps, one of the MOD programs will take the film up and release it to made-on-demand for fans who’d order it — I know I’d be one. Great spotlight on this. Well done.
That must have been you I saw in the theater that day.(LOL). Yeah, GUNN came and went quick. I do remember T.H.E. Cat! I think it was on Friday nights if I remember correctly. Another great show that was, as you say, ahead of its time. Thanks again for stopping by!
Mr John Grecko,
I really enjoyed the TV series and have seen most, if not all of the episodes via TV and the internet. After reading your very enjoyable blog I though I would forward this tidbit of info in regards to a DVD being available. A website called Rare Classic DVDs lists “Gunn” as in stock and for sale for $12.00. I am going to splurge a get a copy.
As you will soon find out they have a very large selection, numbering in the hundreds (too many for me to attempt to count!)
Thank you and cheers!
Thanks for the link. I will definitely check out their catalogue . PETER GUNN was one of my favorite shows way back when.
I find this movie to be an interesting curiosity.
It was obviously trying to depict the character of Peter Gunn in a more “swinging” way, a la James Bond, as hinted at by the opening sequence and showin through Gunn’s constant trysts with different women. It came off as a little silly, though.
It didn’t help that the plot was recycled from the first episode of the TV series, thereby kind of ignoring the whole series rather than following up on it.
“Gunn” certainly could have benefited from a different story, perhaps something with a bigger, international scale.
Yes, this was the summer of love, and, yes, Gunn was kind of a square character. But, by this time, so was James Bond, with his suits and tuxedoes and pro-establishment stance.
But Bond was still very popular. Maybe it had something to do with the outrageous plots and settings of the movies. In any case, I find the Bond movie “You Only Live Twice,” also released in 1967, to be much more entertaining than the “Gunn” feature film.
Thanks for your thoughts, a lot of which I agree with. It’s interesting that the TV show was very hip for it’s time, but dated just a few years later due to all the changes that were
going on in the country. I have not seen the show in many years and wonder how it holds up today.