Baby boomers rejoice! It’s a week for 1950s television buffs as both “Peter Gunn” and a follow-up Ernie Kovacs collection land on DVD for the first time.
“Peter Gunn: The Complete Series” (Timeless, 1958-61, b/w, 12 discs, $99.99, 114 episodes, audio CD). This stylish half-hour private-eye show aired for three seasons and set the pace for many TV detectives that followed. Craig Stevens plays Gunn as a sophisticated, no-nonsense tough guy who isn’t afraid to use his fists or his pistol but is smart enough to figure things out before jumping into the fray. His office seems to be the jazz joint called Mother’s where his girlfriend Edie (Lola Albright) sings and a variety of colorful characters hang out. He also has a pal on the police force, Lt. Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi).
Various episodes from the first season have been on earlier DVD collections but the second and third seasons have never been available. And those earlier releases were mediocre prints of truncated shows from the syndicated rerun years while these are very nice transfers of complete episodes from the network archives.
Created by Blake Edwards (who went on to make a string of hit movies, including the original “The Pink Panther” series), the show was designed to be a more refined version of “Richard Diamond, Private Detective,” on which Edwards was a writer. Edwards wrote and directed 10 “Peter Gunn” episodes and oversaw the other 113 scripts, bringing in his pal Henry Mancini to provide the show’s smooth and jazzy score, which resulted in a pair of hit records. (The bonus soundtrack CD is a nice sampler with 12 cuts.)
Guests include James Coburn, Diahann Carroll, George Kennedy, Joe Besser, Ted Knight, Shelley Berman, Ross Martin, Lawrence Tierney and Jack Lalanne. Also, Mormon actor Billy Barty plays a pool hustler in eight episodes and Robert Altman directed a Season 3 show.
“The Ernie Kovacs Collection, Volume 2” (Shout! 1956-61, b/w, three discs, $29.93, 11 episodes, 18 skits, episode of “The Lively Arts,” pilot of “Medicine Man,” panel discussion, home movies; eight-page booklet). Kovacs fans will love this hilarious set, which includes eight episodes from his 1956 NBC morning show, three from his bizarre, off-the-wall game-show spoof “Take a Good Look” and myriad bonus skits. There is also an interview with Kovacs on the Canadian talk show “The Lively Arts” and a pilot for a proposed Western sitcom titled “Medicine Man” with Kovacs and Buster Keaton. Other guests include Carl Reiner, Tony Randall, Cesar Romero and, of course, Kovacs’ wife, the delightful Edie Adams. (If you buy this set at the Shout! website for $24.99, you also receive a single-disc collection of seven additional “Take a Good Look” episodes: www.shoutfactory.com.)
“Perry Mason: Season 7, Volume 2” (CBS/Paramount, 1964, b/w, four discs, $54.99, 15 episodes). The adroit attorney (played wonderfully by Raymond Burr, who won two Emmys for the role) takes on cases involving an amnesiac accused of murder, a fire chief accused of arson, a fake kidnapping and an heiress charged with the killing of her uncle. Guests include Ryan O’Neal, Paul Winchell, David McCallum, Jerry Van Dyke, Victor Buono and Michael Ansara.
“Law & Order: Criminal Intent: The Eighth Year ’09 Season” (Shout! 2009, four discs, $49.97, 16 episodes). This is the season that saw Jeff Goldblum joining the cast as another eccentric detective, and he’s quite good, providing the show with a shot in the arm, and his episodes also offer some much-needed humor. He is partnered with Julianne Nicholson (after the departure of Chris Noth), alternating episodes with Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe.
“Secret of the Wings” (Disney/Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital, 2012, G, four discs, $49.99, TV cartoon: “Pixie Hollow Games,” music videos, trailers). Cute entry in the “Disney Fairies” series (this is No. 4) about Tinker Bell and her fairy pals having adventures in the Winter Woods.
“Disasters Deconstructed: A History of Architectural Disasters” (History, 2012, six discs, $49.95, 18 episodes). This collection of episodes of various History Channel specials and series explores disastrous miscalculations in the construction of bridges, dams, etc. Special attention is paid to the Hindenburg and, of course, the Titanic.
“Happy Endings: The Complete Second Season” (Sony, 2011-12, three discs, $45.99, 21 episodes, deleted scenes, bloopers). This “Friends” wannabe sitcom follows six pals in Chicago, with the usual sarcastic pop-culture dialogue and raunchy gags. The most familiar actors are Elisha Cuthbert and Damon Wayans Jr.