RARA-AVIS: Re: Staccato

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@sbcglobal.net)
Date: 23 Jun 2008

On Jun 21, 2008, at 5:24 AM, rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com wrote:

> Fans of the TV series Staccato, the soundtrack is now available on
> CD thanks
> to DRG records. The composer is Elmer Bernstein who as most of you
> know did
> a lot of Film Noir scores and Staccato was definitely TV noir.
> Now if we could just get Staccato on DVD . . .

Well, it would certainly be good for yucks, anyway. Noir yucks, of course. My experience with the show is that it definitely works better on paper than in reality. There are some good moody episodes, a few great location shots, and some of the almost hyper-noir fever dream fantasies work quite well (the one set in a jail cell is like a nightmarish version of Thornton Wilder aping Billy Wilder), and of course the music's pretty cool, but the direction is frequently so overwrought -- and Casavetes' scenery-chewing so carnivorous -- that it works much better in small doses.

Anyone's who's watched a four-year old on a sugar buzz enact a story will find the style of some of the shows quite familiar.

The episode where Staccato tries to talk down a jumper, broadcast a few years ago on TRIO, is particularly (and unintentionally) hilarious. Staccato is completely over-the-top ("Go ahead and jump, punk, see what happens!!!!") that you have to wonder why the guy just doesn't take a swan dive to shut Staccato up. Although after a while, though, you wish he'd take Staccato with him.

After years of hearing what a classic show it was, I can only say it was disappointing to finally see several episodes. By contrast, PETER GUNN, an arguably much less "heavy" show (and the obvious inspiration for STACCATO) has held up far better over the years, although there are some clunker episodes in that one as well. Where STACCATO seems heavy-handed, self-conscious and dated, GUNN's lighter touch and chemistry between its leads is still often surprisingly effective.

And of course, for the jaspers on this list, being dated isn't the worst crime. Taken for what it was, STACCATO did have its moments. But I fear its reputation depends mostly on what people think it must have been like; not what it actually was. Cassavetes himself went on to far better work, and in retrospect often sneered at the show -- his fans might do well to remember that.

Not that PETER GUNN, by the way, was light -- its occasional violence is some of the most shocking I've seen on television drama. Not so much for its being explicit, but because it's so sudden and often simply cruel. I remember one scene where Mother, already down and out, is kicked in the stomach by a thug without any cues (musical or otherwise) or warning or apparent reason. Nasty stuff, indeed.

And speaking of dated, I've been wandering through MANNIX, season one. It's dated, of course, and the stories are pretty much standard P.I. fare, but there's something about how everything ties together, making it better than just the mere sum of its parts, that makes for enjoyable (if not always essential) viewing. This is probably ground zero for the TV eye genre -- the pure hard essence of it. Other show may rise far above it or sink far below, but you can deny MANNIX its absolute pureness. And has there ever been a male on TV so alpha as Joe Mannix?

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site Celebrating 10 Years of P.I. Thrills

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 23 Jun 2008 EDT