Friday, May 20, 2022

Young at Heart at the beach

Young at Heart
(1954) gives us a glimpse of an idyllic beach scene on the Connecticut shore in the 1950s.  To be sure, it is mostly of Hollywood origin, or at least, California, but if the beach is not in the right location, the warm and lovely nostalgia of the beach is genuine.

This is my entry to the Fun in the Sun Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association.  Have a look at some great posts on this topic here.

The movie Young at Heart is a remake of Four Daughters (1938), which we covered previously in this post.  In that original story, widowed Claude Rains heads a family of four girls, played by the Lane sisters plus Gail Page, and all are musicians.  May Robson plays the auntie matriarch who lives with them.  The girls’ suitors have picked out their choices among the daughters, but all the young beaus have competition with the newcomer: handsome and happy-go-lucky Jeffrey Lynn.  But an even newer newcomer, a dour, sarcastic and self-pitying John Garfield swoops in to really disrupt things and his love for Priscilla Lane nearly tears the family apart.

We see the beginnings of the rift and a change from a lighthearted first part of the movie to a more serious and even tragic second part at a family picnic in a secluded country glen.  Here we see the sisters are really all interested in the same man. 

In Young at Heart, this scene is transported to the beach.  Robert Keith plays the Claude Rains role of the dad, Ethel Barrymore in a charming mixture of regal and down to earth plays the May Robson role.  Here the sisters number only three instead of four: Elisabeth Fraser, Dorothy Malone, and Doris Day.  Doris plays the lead Priscilla Lane role.  The boyfriends are with the family at the beach, and the heartthrob who will cause unspoken jealousy among the sisters is played by Gig Young in the Jeffrey Lynn role.

Frank Sinatra plays the John Garfield role in this movie, but this scene is just before he makes his first entrance in the film, so we don’t know yet how he’s going to upend the family.  Even without him, the seeds of discontent are already sown, making the day at the beach bittersweet.

With an almost nuclear-powered sunny disposition, Doris Day is the most lighthearted of the group and fails to see her sisters’ yearning for the man she playfully cavorts with in the surf.  Doris gets to sing two songs during this nearly 10-minute beach sequence. 

For those of us who live close enough to a coast to have spent pleasant days on the beach, the movie image of sand and sea, of wave-kissed rocks and sunshine reflecting off the constantly moving ocean is familiar and almost personal, like someone with a movie camera somehow entering our brains and capturing a memory.  Some sensations experienced going to the beach are really timeless and there is a distinct and powerful comfort about that.

But we may sense that some aspects of this scene are not timeless, and that perhaps going to the beach in the 1950s was a little more do-it-yourself, simple, and perhaps with a slower pace of life.   Yes and no.  We don’t see any arcades or water parks or concessions, or even bathhouses with facilities on this beach, but there were beaches back then and even before – though not all – with plenty of tourist amenities. 

That this beach is not crowded and there is plenty of space between the actors and the extras in the background should not be taken that beaches were not crowded in the 1950s.  Of course, they were.  But not all were, and even in these modern times, I have been to New England beaches that were just as unspoiled and unpopulated as this one in the movie seems to be.

So that is not quite it, either.  There must be something else that evokes the strong feeling of nostalgia for a 1950s beach in this film.  Is it because there are no loud radios playing?  Maybe, but we see Doris singing along to a portable record player.  We don’t see too many record players at the beach these days.  

Is it because nobody’s in a bathing suit and they come lounging on the sand in their clothes?  Maybe.  No sunscreen?  Maybe.  

It could just be that the clam digging and the large pots with New England clambake accoutrements – corn on the cob, potatoes, etc., are not seen quite as much now as in the old days, or campfires on the beach, or gathering driftwood to fuel the fires.

There is a noticeable lack of people taking selfies or scarfing packaged junk food snacks.  No one is being divebombed by seagulls for a few Cheetos. 

I get a kick out of Alan Hale, Jr., who plays the suitor of Dorothy Malone, talking about his sudden idea of what a great thing it would be “buying this strip of beach, tearing down all the bungalows on the highway and putting up some hotels, a whole string of them.” 

She responds, “Whoever heard of a string of hotels along the beach in Connecticut?”

There are some hotels here and there on the Connecticut coast, and were, too, in the 1950s, but not enough perhaps to make Alan Hale, Jr.’s dream come true.  Instead of hotels today there are more likely to be a few condominiums, but the geography doesn’t always allow for development.  Working harbors, saltwater marshes here there, and far more protected areas than there used to be.  Thank heaven.

I think what I really like about this beach sequence is the work of the sound technicians.  Behind all the dialogue, behind Doris’s songs and the “orchestration” that seems to bloom from her portable record player, is the omnipresent, lazy, rhythmic sound of the waves rushing to the shore.  The seacoast is not a quiet place.  The sound of the surf is eternal.

The bright, almost blinding daylight of the first part of the sequence becomes a peaceful twilight with the family around the campfire, and Doris still singing, toasting marshmallows.  The large beach umbrella that sheltered Ethel Barrymore earlier in the day has been folded up.  You can almost feel the refreshing cooler breeze off the ocean, almost feel chilled by it.  It is an idyllic ending to the sequence, a calm before the storm.  A day at the beach is a respite, time to enjoy, to reflect, and to make a memory that will last through days to come.  A beach memory may mark epochs in our lives, just as it does in the movie.

Visit the CMBA website here for more Fun in the Sun Blogathon.


Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her new book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Caftan Woman Blogathon -- NOW SHOWING

And we're off!


Paddy, lover and scholar of classic films, friend to you and me, will always be a warm memory in our hearts.  Today, we turn our fandom of this wonderful blogger into a collection of posts in her honor.  Have at it, then.  Check out these posts below, and leave your link with your post in a comment here or at Lady Eve’s Reel Life . 

Be sure to visit each other’s posts and comment.  You know Paddy would.


Another Old Movie Blog -- The Case of Charlie Chan and The Caftan Woman

Make Mine Film Noir --   Union Station (1950)

A Shroud of Thoughts -- Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Final Fade-Out"

Once Upon a Screen -- Remember Caftan Woman and her Words

Lady Eve's Reel Life -- Champagne for Caesar (1950)

A Person in the Dark -- The Binding Ties Made of Film

Hometowns to Hollywood -- Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings --  Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952)

Let Yourself Go...To Old Hollywood -- Ida Lupino as Television Director

The Stop Button -- Ball of Fire (1941)

Vienna's Classic Hollywood -- Paul Lukas

By Rich Watson -- Saturday Night at the Movies

The Case of Charlie Chan and The Caftan Woman


When Patricia Nolan-Hall, a.k.a. Paddy, a.k.a. The Caftan Woman left us in March, the classic film blogger world lost one of its greatest champions and one of its dearest friends.  This is my entry for The Caftan Woman Blogathon.  A delightful aspect to Paddy’s love of classic films is that she embraced a wide range of genres and wrote about them with passion and humor.  She liked the great films, but also loved series movies, especially the mystery genre, and especially Charlie Chan.

Have a look at the rest of the Blogathon participants atthis page.  Visit them all and leave a comment.  You know Paddy would.

The character of the great Chinese-American detective, Charlie Chan, was created by novelist Earl Derr Biggers in the early 1920s.  Mr. Biggers was inspired by reading about two real-life Chinese-American police officers in Honolulu.  He created Chan as a protest against the “Yellow Peril” bigotry in California of the day.  He wrote six novels in the Chan series, and by the late 1920s, Hollywood tentatively expressed interested by producing a few films where Charlie Chan was only a supporting character.  But his popularity took off when Warner Oland was cast in Charlie Chan Carries On (1931), and played the detective for the remainder of his life.  Upon his death, the role was taken over by Sidney Toller for another decade.

The Charlie Chan series was quite popular, but in later decades its place in film history seems tarnished – or at least challenged – by modern sensibilities which naturally recoil from ethnic or racial stereotypes, particularly when played by white actors. The critiques are fair, but only in part.  Charlie Chan spoke in broken English and spouted Confucius-like proverbs, but that was the extent of his being a Chinese stereotype.  Inspector Chan was a world-famous detective, intelligent, kindly, urbane, courageous, honorable, modest, and his kids called him “Pop.”  His fast-talking American kids, who he had to cut down sometimes to keep them from messing up his latest case.  He was an exasperated father who still managed to save the day despite bad guys, uncooperative witnesses, and sons who didn’t always listen to him. 

Keye Luke, who played his eldest son and sidekick in many movies felt strongly that the Charlie Chan character was not demeaning to Chinese.  He is reported to have replied, “Demeaning to the race? My God! You've got a Chinese hero! He noted, quite accurately, that they “were making the best damn murder mysteries in Hollywood.”

There were something like 47 Chan movies made in the U.S. from 1926 through 1949, which made it one of the longest, if not the longest, movie series.  This is not counting the Spanish-language Chan movies, or the movies (including parodies) which featured Chan in later decades.  The honorable Inspector Chan found his way into radio shows, television, comic books, and even a 1970s cartoon series. 

Chan was something of a cultural phenomenon.  Paddy covered at length or at least mentioned something like fifteen Charlie Chan movies on her blog.  She did not approach the series with any apologetic debate about stereotypes.  She expressed wholeheartedly her delight at his personality, cleverness, the plots of the films, and her fangirl crush on Number One Son, Keye Luke.  I’m with her on that one.  In fact, I’m remiss at not having covered Chan movies before on this blog because I’m also a fan. 

Paddy covered in depth the origins of Chan in all formats, and traced the careers of the character actors who appeared in the films with her typical encyclopedic knowledge, and most of these posts were for blogathons.  Paddy loved blogathons.  There is a banner in her sidebar for every blogathon she joined.

I wanted to pay tribute to Paddy by co-hosting this blogathon and with my post, but unexpectedly, I also discovered a sense of comfort in going through her Charlie Chan posts for this entry.  Re-reading the words reflecting the vibrancy and wit of my dearly missed friend wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be and I even found myself laughing at some of her wry and always enjoyable observations. 

Here then, is The Caftan Woman facing off with Charlie Chan.  Please follow the links to read her full posts on The Caftan Woman blog.



“My tween years were devoted to sneaking up late at night and watching whatever old movie I could find. One momentous night I was introduced to Inspector Charlie Chan, 60 summers young and 60 winters old, and his number one son, Lee in Charlie Chan in Shanghai.”

“The first scene in the movie had introduced me to Inspector Chan who seemed a movie detective worth following. Lee immediately impressed me with his good looks and enthusiasm. It's even more fun to solve a fictional crime if you have a crush on one of the detectives!”

“Immediately, we can sense the bond of affection between Charlie and his firstborn. Warner Oland and Keye Luke became close, with Oland a mentor to the young man, and Luke a fond protector to his often troubled older friend.”

“My admiration and affection for the actor runs deep, but my crush, the crush of that tween girl up late when she was supposed to be sleeping on a school night, is only for Lee Chan, #1 son.”


VISITING PARIS WITH INSPECTOR CHAN: Charlie Chan in Paris (1935) and City in Darkness (1939) 

“Charlie Chan in Reno… a terrific movie that could easily be paired with The Women for a great movie night.”

Of Harold Huber in Charlie Chan on Treasure Island: “Huber literally throws himself into the unaccustomed comic relief duties as a character that comes off like Inspector Clouseau's grandfather.”


Favourite movies: Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

Charlie Chan at the Olympics is set amidst a background of political turmoil, contentious ideology and threats of violence at a sporting event that sees itself in a bubble apart from those things surrounding it. Perhaps that is the celebration that the Games should be, but can never be. The movie is an entertaining visit to the past with an uncomfortable connection to our present.”


AT THE CIRCUS BLOGATHON: Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)

“One of the outstanding features of the character of Chan, as opposed to many other fictional crime-solvers, is the fact that he is a family man. A family man in a big way with 12 offspring. During the course of the series, he even becomes a grandfather (Charlie Chan in Honolulu). We don't generally see a lot of granddads going head to head with the criminal class.”

“One of the thrilling aspects of the movie is that it was filmed on the winter location of The Barnes Circus and utilized the sights, sounds, people and animals from day-to-day circus life.”


Horseathon: Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)

“Oland found an alter ego that touched his soul.  He approached the role of Inspector Chan through diligent study of Chinese history and philosophy and so fused his personality with that of Chan's that he became the character.  Enduring international fame was Oland's reward for such fidelity of purpose, especially in China, the land of the fictional detective's ancestors.”

“Keye Luke always spoke fondly and admiringly of Warner Oland in interviews, and refused to continue in the series after the death of his friend in 1938.”

“Charlie Chan 101 for Newbies:  If there is a young romantic couple, and there always is a young romantic couple, you can erase them from your suspect list.  They are included only to be young and romantic.”

Harold Huber

“He is a welcome sight in enjoyable crime programmers and most important to this child of the late show, he is a superstar in the Charlie Chan universe.”

Of his work in City of Darkness: “To Harold Huber fell the job of comic relief. I have acquaintances who do not care for his work in this movie. I am not of their mind. Perhaps it is because I like Huber or that I have a soft spot in my heart for those who toil as comic relief…I can't help but think of him as the emotional Pere de Clouseau, and I get a kick out of the work.”


Backstage Blogathon: Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)

“Boris Karloff rightfully received top billing with Warner Oland in Charlie Chan at the Opera…Karloff's performance is touching and assured.  It also lays the groundwork for Maurice Cass' line, as Mr. Arnold, "I'm stage manager here and this opera's going on tonight even if Frankenstein walks in." 

Corny?  Perhaps, but delivered with unabashed gusto and always gets an appreciative chuckle.”


Beach Party Blogathon: The Black Camel (1931)

“When I read the Nancy Drew mystery The Secret of the Golden Pavilion as a young girl I longed to visit Hawaii.  Later on when I read Earl Derr Bigger's The House Without a Key my fondest wish was to visit Hawaii in the 1920s.  I imagine the closest I'll ever get to that far-fetched whim is in watching the 1931 Charlie Chan feature The Black Camel.”

“If I really could go back in time, I might have tea with Earl Derr Biggers and ask him about one of the plot points that has always bothered me concerning the clue of the ripped out newspaper photos.  If it didn't bother Biggers or his editors, it probably shouldn't bother me, but there it is.”


For Your Consideration: Sen Yung

“With only extra work in his background (Mr. Moto Takes a Chance and The Good Earth), Sen Yung was most happily cast with the new Chan, Sidney Toler. He proved adept at the comic enthusiasm which was Jimmy Chan's trademark and had a nice chemistry with star Toler. It is a pleasure watching him in the role today.”

“The Academy should have been taking note of the 24-year-old actor's work in William Wyler's adaption of W. Somerset Maugham's The Letter in 1940. As Ong Chi Seng, the law clerk with an agenda, Sen Yung steals scenes and gives the audience something to think about. While the British go about pretending the world is theirs, the unctuous young man reminds them that there is another world around them, one they cannot control. There is not a trace of the ebullient would-be detective in this fine characterization. It is a highlight in a film full of wonderful atmosphere and performances.”


Decorating with Boris

In which The Caftan Woman recounts acquiring this poster for her kitchen.

“As I spent a joyful couple of hours going through the wares of a shop it occurred to me that I - one of the world's noted Charlie Chan fans - I did not have a Charlie Chan poster among my collection. I turned to the vendor's assistant and, barely able to contain the excited anticipation from my voice, asked "Do you have Charlie Chan at the Opera"? "Why?" he responded. "What's so hot about Charlie Chan at the Opera?"

Taken aback may accurately describe my reaction to his query, but it was more than that. I was shocked…

"Perhaps," I responded politely, yet coldly, "if I used the full title card you will realize the folly of your question. I am speaking of Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff in Charlie Chan at the Opera." Unimpressed, the lackey pointed in a vague direction. "Yeah, that's here somewhere."


THE HOLLYWOOD GANGSTERS BLOGTHON: Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)

The movie world of Charlie Chan finds him often dealing with cunning murderers and spies, but Charlie Chan on Broadway is the only time in his 20th Century Fox period where he dealt with bona fide gangsters.”


And she ends with her 2011 second-place winning Haiku, a sublime piece:


The gathered suspects

Tremble 'neath Inspector's glare

You are murderer


Sailing Away on Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, 1940

Published on her blog only weeks before she passed. 

“Charles Middleton and Claire Du Brey play the Watsons. Jimmy rightly calls them "bluenosers." They are killjoys and she claims to be psychic. Just the sort you want along on a cruise…

“It's all fun and games until there is another murder or two.”


Paddy Nolan-Hall touched so many bloggers and readers in the past 14 years of writing her blog.  I will continue to visit The Caftan Woman from time to time, the way we continue to rewatch favorite movies to visit our old friends on film.

Have a look at the other bloggers’ entries to this blogathon hereat this page.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

One week to go until the Caftan Woman's Blogathon!

One more week to go until we launch the Caftan Woman's Blogathon!  If you haven't signed up, or haven't chosen a topic yet, you still have time!

See you next Friday, May 6th!

Friday, April 22, 2022

Happy Birthday, chum.

 I hope the birthday cake in heaven is pretty spectacular, Paddy.   Blessings to your loved ones today.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Caftan Woman Blogathon – Honoring Patricia Nolan-Hall


“The Caftan Woman Blogathon – Honoring Patricia Nolan-Hall” will be hosted here at Another Old Movie Blog and by Patty at Lady Eve’s Reel Life on Friday, May 6th.

On March 7th, the classic film blogger world lost one of its greatest writers and champions of classic film, Patricia Nolan-Hall, also known as The Caftan Woman, the name of her delightful blog.  You can visit her blog here.

Paddy was very supportive of other bloggers, and eagerly contributed to many blogathons, always graciously commenting on the posts of others.  It seems fitting to celebrate her time with us with a special blogathon in her honor.

Here’s the banner above, designed by Patty Schneider, to place on your blog to advertise the blogathon. (The photo of Paddy is courtesy of her sister, Maureen Nolan, used by permission.)

The range of topics on which to write is wide open, since Paddy’s interest and knowledge of pop culture was quite broad.  You might post on a movie or TV show she liked and wrote about, a genre you both loved, or about any topic she discussed on her blog (it wasn’t always about TV or movies), or about a comment she might have left on your own blog. You may post on any music, TV, or films from the silent film era through the 1960s, or spotlight stars or character actors from those decades.  Share your memories, the laughs, and the inspiration of this witty and kindly woman.

You can name your topic by leaving a comment on this post.  A blogathon page with all the entries will be posted here at Another Old Movie Blog and Lady Eve’s Reel Life on Friday, May 6th.  When you publish your post, link back to that page and leave a comment with your link so we can update the roster.

Be sure to visit each other’s posts and comment.  You know Paddy would.


Another Old Movie Blog -- The Case of Charlie Chan and The Caftan Woman.

Make Mine Film Noir --   Union Station (1950)

A Shroud of Thoughts -- Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Final Fade-Out"

Once Upon a Screen -- Remember Caftan Woman and her Words

Lady Eve's Reel Life -- Champagne for Caesar (1950)

Pale Writer -- Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

A Person in the Dark -- The Binding Ties Made of Film

Hometowns to Hollywood -- TBD

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings --  Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952)

Let Yourself Go...To Old Hollywood -- Ida Lupino, TBD

The Stop Button -- Ball of Fire (1941)

Vienna's Classic Hollywood -- Paul Lukas

By Rich Watson -- Saturday Night at the Movies

Moon in Gemini -- Ride the High Country (1962)

Paula’s Cinema Club -- Powell & Pressburger

Realweegiemidget Reviews -- Comments by Caftan Woman

Dubism -- Caftan Woman’s Sports Education -- A Prime Example of Her Support for Bloggers 

Shadows and Satin -- Man of the West (1958)

Silver Screen Modes -- Treasure Island: From Page to Screen to Cable

Taking Up Room -- The Patsy (1928)

Movies Silently: William S. Hart -- TBD

Silver Screenings -- The Secret Garden (1949)

Outspoken & Freckled -- The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

Silent-ology -- Supporting Actors of the Silent Era

The Old Hollywood Garden -- Paddy's positive impact, TBD

In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood -- The Proud Rebel  (1958)

Classic Film Observations & Obsessions -- Harry Carey, Sr. Film -- TBD

Rick’s Real/Reel Life -- The Women (1939)

Hometowns to Hollywood -- Betty Grable's Hometown

Spellbound with Beth Ann -- TBD

Crítica Retrô --  Fitzwilly (1967)

18 Cinema Lane -- The Song of Bernadette (1943)

Kristina at Speakeasy --  “An Appreciation” of Paddy

Friday, March 18, 2022

Peter Gunn meets Diahann Carroll - "Sing a Song of Murder"

Peter Gunn
(1958-1961) was a unique program, one would hope to say a forerunner in its genre, except that it was not a forerunner.  There has been nothing since to compare with it, it stands alone.

This is my entry in the 8th Annual Favorite TV Show Blogathon at the A Shroud of Thoughts blog, see more bloggers here.

Gunn was a private eye.  Both the character and the show were vastly stylistically different from private eye programs then or since.  Played by tall, handsome Craig Stevens, Gunn was intelligent, witty, dressed with tailored, conservative, Madison Avenue-sans-a-belt chic, more Ivy-leaguer than back-alley gumshoe.  Not that Gunn didn’t find himself tailed into back alleys, and there was plenty of shooting and punching in what was generally a half-hour show filled with requisite violence in between commercials. 

But Peter Gunn was not the usual glum, hard-drinking private eye who trusted neither dames nor the police, who were usually rivals.  Gunn enjoyed a monogamous relationship with girlfriend Edie, played by Lola Albright.  She was a singer at Mother’s bar and jazz club.  Mother was played by Hope Emerson in the first season, and by Minerva Urecal the last two seasons.

Gunn didn’t have an office with his name on the door.  Mother’s was his “office” where they took phone messages for him.  Gunn was a connoisseur of “cool” jazz that was flying eastward from California in those days.  Henry Mancini wrote the Peter Gunn theme, a tune so unrelentingly cool and forever identifiable with Peter.

There was jazz in each episode, and the start of the show usually featured a short ripple of thumping bass to glide us into the action, before a burst of trumpet flashed the title of the show across the screen.

Peter was not bitter, hardened like other TV or movie PI’s, but he was serious and questioning.  But with that slight amused smirk whenever he spoke to suspects, criminals, stool pigeons or even Mother and Edie, he seemed to find life an enjoyable and entertaining puzzle that he watched like a fly on the wall.

Perhaps this studied air contributed to his appearance of aloofness, though he was also engaged with his work, his ladylove – with whom scenes of sultry passion occur at astonishing sudden moments of simple “helloes.”

Rather than an adversarial relationship with the local police, Gunn had a teasing, but ultimately mutually respectful relationship with Lt. Jacoby, played with sarcasm that was somehow self-deprecating by the wonderful Herschel Bernardi.  They jabbed each other with brotherly insults, but always came to each other’s rescue.

There were others in Gunn’s orbit and his relationships with them show a lot about Craig Stevens’ deftness at playing the role, and at creator/producer/sometimes writer and director Blake Edwards’ intelligent creativity.  Gunn always smoothly sat down when talking to informant Babby, played by Billy Barty.  One suspects this was not just because Mr. Stevens was tall and Mr. Barty was a “little person,” but rather because the director knew that sitting to make himself less towering over the little man was part of Gunn’s empathetic character and not just for the convenience of a camera shot.  Gunn never uttered "small” jokes, and if he smiled it was because Babby was a pool shark of no little bravado, who gave valuable information but expected to be well paid for it like the businessman he was.

Gunn was inevitably courtly to women, and indeed, treated “Mother” protectively, like his mother.  For an ultra-cool guy who liked jazz, had an upscale apartment with tasteful works of art, Gunn was a square, and daring to be so may have been his coolest moments.  He charged a high fee for his talents, but sometimes did pro bono work if his heart was touched.  He was a conundrum, and that was the most special quality about him.  You couldn’t figure him out, and you’d come back episode after episode to try to do just that.

The episode I chose for this blogathon, “Sing a Song of Murder,” could be seen as a landmark episode in the history of television, but was just another day in the life of Peter Gunn.  Diahann Carroll guest stars as a lovely singer in swank jazz club, whose life is in danger.  She is the focal point of the episode.  It aired March 7, 1960, marking a breezy new decade in which Peter Gunn seemed more at home than the 1950s.  

In two years, Diahann Carroll would be the first Black actress to win Broadway’s Tony Award, and in eight more years, she would be the first female Black actress to star in her own television show in a non-stereotyped role:  Julia (1968-1971), but it had been only four years since Nat King Cole’s TV show debuted and was canceled, and opportunities for Black actresses mostly involved domestics.  It was no big deal having her on Peter Gunn; Pete took it for granted she belonged anywhere she wanted to be.

The show opens with a funeral graveside service breaking up, and Pete is left standing in the cold, gray cemetery, the leafless early spring trees and bare branches, the collar of his trench coat turned up.  It’s not a double-breasted trench coat like Bogie wore of another generation, it’s the lapel-less model of the modern man, and Pete does not wear a fedora.  Like JFK, the next President, Pete doesn’t wear hats.

The mournful sound of a clarinet draws him to a man seated by a monument.  He has contacted Gunn to meet him here at this funeral, the funeral of his wife.  He is a down-and-out musician.  He thinks his wife has been murdered and he wants Pete to find the killer.  He can’t pay much, but Pete gently says, “We’ll work it out.”  One can see by his expression he isn’t sure there’s really a case here, and it might just be that this poor slob, who feels guilty about being away from his wife for so long and not being able to support her because he’s been sick, just can’t accept that she died and it isn’t anyone’s fault.

Pete visits a couple of his sources, one a kooky hack musician, and the other a glum bartender, and both know something but tell him very reluctantly because they want to do the right thing but don’t know what the right thing is.  It’s a common malady in Pete’s world.

He is directed to visit a bar across the river.  Pete lives in a town that is always nameless and through which runs a working port river that is always shrouded in fog and full of dead bodies.  He pulls his flashy car up to the classy joint, and we see he is being followed.  Pete’s always being followed.

Inside, a gorgeous Diahann Carroll, triple-strand of pearls at her throat, sings the sad ballad “Don't Worry 'Bout Me.”  In this episode, Miss Carroll gets to sing two songs straight through, which is unusual because Pete’s girlfriend Edie usually only gets to sing clips of songs before the camera shifts to another dead body going in the river.

She is followed by a tight combo; the horn has a mute.  Pete, his superior knowledge of cool jazz, releases a slight, appreciative smile as he watches her.  When he tries to speak to her after her number, she tells him she must change and to wait at the bar. 

She never shows up.  Pete pumps the dour manager, who reluctantly gives him the address of her apartment, because he wants to help but doesn’t know what’s the right thing to do.

When Pete enters the apartment, she has bolted out the window and onto the fire escape, and when he catches her, they have a sad, breathy conversation, looking like Tony and Maria in each other’s arms on the fire escape, and we have her back story.

She’s the down-and-out clarinetist’s wife.  She faked her death.  He’s just gotten out of prison, a jealous monster who wants to kill her.  A shot rings out.  Pete has been followed here.  (But of course) and now the jealous husband knows where she is.

Since the show is only a half hour, it’s surprising how much happens in every episode.  We move from quick action scenes to quiet dialogue and exposition, from another body plunked into the river, to Lt. Jacoby’s office where we discover a few missing pieces of the story.  Ultimately, they set up a sting where Diahann Carroll will return to the jazz club and perform, and hopefully, draw out the would-be killer so they can catch him.  Edie’s worried about her, but Diahann faces facts that she’s never going to be able to get on with her life if she keeps running.

At the club that night, Pete teases Lt. Jacoby, who is wearing a false mustache and pretending to be a waiter.  There are other cops undercover here, too.  In an intriguing ceiling-to-floor shot, Diahann steps into the spotlight, and we see, from behind an unknown man’s shoulder, a pistol being loaded.  Is he a cop?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Diahann sings “I’m Through with Love” and after the song, the jealous husband shows himself, but Lt. Jacoby gets his man.  Miss Carroll stays around to sing another set.

It’s just another night in the life of Peter Gunn, but a landmark night in television.

For more great posts on classic TV, visit the 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Blogathon at Terence Towles Canote's A Shroud of Thoughts blog here.

This one's for you, Paddy.


Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her new book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.

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