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, including 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 heroes’ 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.