9 September 2006 | Dewey1960
Spectacular TV / JAZZ NOIR with John Cassavetes
This short-lived (one season, 1959/60) television detective series is without a doubt, the definitive example of what can now be termed TV Noir, riding high atop a list including such programs as Peter Gunn and 77 Sunset Strip. But JOHNNY STACCATO had much more going for it than those other shows, mainly the presence of the mighty John Cassavetes who starred as the jazz pianist turned Greenwich Village private detective. He also directed a handful of the 27 total episodes. The only other regular character was Waldo (veteran character actor Eduardo Ciannelli), the crusty old proprietor of Waldo's, the jazz club where Staccato hung out. On any given show the "house band" might include Johnny Williams (before he became Academy Award-winning composer JOHN Williams), Red Mitchell, Ray Brown, Barney Kessel and Shelly Manne. In addition to Cassavetes, other directors who stepped in were Joe Pevney, John Brahm, Boris Sagal and Paul Henreid. Among the crack cinematographers on the show were Ben Kline ("Detour") and Lionel Lindon ("The Manchurian Candidate"). Each of the 27 episodes are fantastic in their way, but among the stand-outs are: MURDER FOR CREDIT with Charles McGraw as an egocentric jazz musician; THE NATURE OF THE NIGHT with Dean Stockwell as a psychotic slasher; EVIL with Alexander Scourby as a corrupt religious leader; FLY BABY FLY with Gena Rowlands as the target of a bomb planted on an airplane that Staccato's also on; TEMPTED with Elizabeth Montgomery as an old flame of Johnny's; DOUBLE FEATURE with Cassavetes in a dual role; THE LIST OF DEATH with the great Paul Stewart, SOLOMON with Elisha Cook Jr as a megalomaniac attorney and Cloris Leachman as a mysterious vixen; THE MASK OF JASON with a pre- Dick Van Dyke Mary Tyler Moore; A NICE LITTLE TOWN, a Twilight-Zonish episode and THE WILD REED with Harry Guardino as a heroin addicted jazz musician. Lots of VHS tapes and now DVDs are floating around offering up most of the episodes with varying quality, depending on the original source material. Many are taken directly from 16mm television prints. It's truly criminal that MCA doesn't release a full DVD collection of this show, given its incredible credentials and consistently excellent quality. I CANNOT RECOMMEND THESE EPISODES MORE HIGHLY, they are simply superb in every respect. 10 out of 10.