Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Peter Gunn vs. Michael Shayne

Patrick Murtha's Diary: Peter Gunn vs. Michael Shayne


Patrick Murtha said...

Wow, Bill, I'm honored by the link!

Richard R. said...

Good article and analysis, thanks for the tip, Bill.

Max Allan Collins said...

Murtha's article is first-rate. But Patrick, weren't some of the Shaynes based on novels, a la PERRY MASON?

PETER GUNN is a very important show in the P.I. genre's history -- it (with 77 SUNSET STRIP) sparked the private eye craze on TV. GUNN's relationship to Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer is significant -- Blake Edwards wrote and directed a too sexy/too tough HAMMER pilot not long before he did the GUNN series (Brian Keith as Hammer). Peter Gunn is basically Mike Hammer minus the rage plus irony. And the series is how you get from Mike Hammer to James Bond in our popular culture.

Patrick Murtha said...

Yes, they were. One of the episodes I watched, "Murder and the Wanton Bride," shares a title with a Shayne novel and is presumably based on it. The complex plotting certainly suggests a condensation of a novel.

In a follow-up post in the discussion thread at The Blackboard, I wrote that "One of the reasons I was careful to differentiate the TV Shayne from all the other incarnations of Shayne is that I felt that both the casting of Denning and his handling of the role tended to ratchet Shayne up from 'the tough private eye with a nose for trouble, an eye for the ladies, and two fists for anyone who stands in his way' described on the back of my paperback reprint of Fit to Kill. Denning's fists are available, but are not an early go-to for him. It is quite possible, as I suggested, that the TV Shayne was influenced by Peter Gunn -- that the Shayne conception was re-shaped a bit to take advantage of Gunn's popularity. Certainly the sartorial styles are very similar, and equally well-suited to the poshest upper-class party you could be invited to. The TV Shayne is obviously well-educated -- he quotes poetry to Lucy, and no cultural reference slips by him without recognition (one episode I watched centers on a copy of Alice in Wonderland). I don't recall if Peter Gunn discusses literature much, but he has a post-collegiate air and is smart enough to hold his own in any sort of conversation. These guys don't ever have to 'clean up nicely'; they are already cleaned-up. And their clientele tends to be drawn from the monied classes; they're not sitting in a lonely third-floor office waiting for a desperate knock. Maybe that's why Gunn can get by without an office; he generates business entirely on well-placed word-of-mouth.

In short, Peter Gunn and the TV version of Mike Shayne can both walk the mean streets, but they are quite unsullied by them. They are indeed a better sort of gent."

I like your formulation of "Mike Hammer minus the rage plus irony." A trait that Peter Gunn and the TV Mike Shayne share with Ralph Meeker's Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly is that, with disposable income to spend and no middle-class obligations to suck the money up, they are all free to indulge themselves with snazzy convertibles, well-appointed bachelor pads, $200 suits (equivalent to $1500 today), and the other accoutrements of the male consumer lifestyle. It looks like fun.

Max Allan Collins said...

It should probably be noted that Craig Stevens as Gunn was frequently cited as a TV version of Cary Grant.

Possibly not a coincidence that Blake Edwards' own PETER GUNN imitation, MR. LUCKY, was based on a Grant film. John Vivian, I believe was the actor's name, who was another roadshow CG. I liked Stevens a lot. Cool, droll manner, but believably tough.

By the way, the GUNN theatrical film (much underrated) rips off Spillane's VENGEANCE IS MINE! Part of what makes Peter Gunn the link between Hammer and Bond is that Gunn carries over the sex and violence quotient.

Unknown said...

I haven't seen the GUNN theatrical film since it opened long ago, but I was very impressed.