Created by Dick Berg
“A smooth man on the ivories, hot on the trigger and cool in a jam — he’s the toughest private eye to hit America in a decade.”
— from the paperback blurb
JOHNNY STACCATO (played by John Cassavetes) was a pianist who sometimes played at Waldo’s, a Greenwich Village jazz hangout in Staccato, a stylish, moody, TV show from 1959, that remains a cult favorite. Johnny supplemented his income as a musician by taking on detective work, and otherwise sticking his nose in other people’s business.
But jazz played a big part in the show’s charm. There were numerous performances by the Pete Candoli combo, which featured musicians Ray Brown, Barney Kessel and Red Norvo at the time.
Gone, but not forgotten, particularly by the Europeans, who found something in the show’s jazz-tinged moodiness and overwrought, “noirish” style that Americans seem to have missed. Or simply didn’t appreciate. It only lasted one season on NBC, despite ABC picking it up for repeats, and all the glowing reviews in Europe counted for squat.
Me? It’s certainly an interesting show, the filmed-on-the-streets shots of New York City give it a welcome layer of cinema verité grit, and the attempts to push the boundaries of what could be done on television were certainly impressive and admirable. After finally catching several episodes, I thought Cassavetes was often very good, burning with a barely controlled intensity. In other words, when it was good, it was very good.
But when it was bad?
Far too often Cassavetes, as temperamental and prickly an actor as he was a director, just descended into scenery-chewing. And too much of the self-consciously arty direction (often by Cassavetes himself) went completely beyond style, and right on into in-yer-face pretentiousness, with much of the writing and acting so overwrought and hokey that it became laughable.
A show where Johnny tries to talk down a potential suicidal jumper was particularly enjoyable, although probably not exactly in ways that the producers had in mind — the Girl Detective and I both concluded that Johnny’s twitchy, eyeball-popping, motor-mouthing attempt at reverse psychology (“Go ahead, jump!”) would in fact be far more likely to send the guy over the edge — anything to get away from that jabbering buffoon in the nice suit.
And somehow I don’t think it’s just a matter of being dated. Peter Gunn, a similar show, has aged far better, its laidback West Coast vibe perhaps better suited to the long run than Staccato’s edgy, brash in-your-face New York-ness.
But, as I said before, when it was good, it was very good…
- “You know, man commits crime, man goes after man with crime, man solves crime and kisses a few girls on the way.”
— Cassavetes on Stacatto in Cassavetes on Cassavetes
- JOHNNY STACCATO | Buy the complete series on DVD
27 30-minute episodes
Created by Dick Berg
Writers: Dick Berg, Richard Carr, Laurence Mascott, Douglas Taylor, Sidney Michaels, Henry Kane, Hal Biller, Austin Kalish, Philip S. Gardner, Robert Hector, Hollis Alpert, Robert L. Jacks, James Landis, Stanford Whitmore, Shimon Wincelberg, Jameson Brewer, Everett Chambers, Michael Fessier, Bernard C. Schoenfeld.
Directors: Joseph Pevney, John Cassavetes, Robert B. Sinclair, Boris Sagal, Bernard Girard, Robert Parrish, James Hogan, John Brahm, Sidney Lanfield, Richard Whorf, Paul Henreid.
Directors of Photography: John F. Warren, Lionel Lindon, Ben Kline
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Producer: Everett Chambers
Executive Producer: William Frye
Starring John Cassavettes as JOHNNY STACCATO
with Eduardio Ciannelli as Waldo
Featuring Pete Candoli with various sidemen, including Shelley Manne, Barney Kessell, Red Norvo, Red Mitchell, Johnny Williams, Mel Lewis, Bob Bain, Ray Brown as The Band at Waldo’s.
Guest Stars: Michael Landon, Elisha Cook, Jr., Robert H. Harris, Chick Chandler, Ruta Lee, Nick Cravat, Stacy Harris, Charles McGraw, Martin Landau, Shirley Knight, Don Gordon, Nobu McCarthy, Dean Stockwell, Jimmy Murphy, Alexander Scourby, Lloyd Corrigan, Gena Rowlands, Elizabeth Montgomery, Susan Oliver, Mike Kellin, Nick Dennis, Harry Guardino, Bethel Leslie, Juano Hernandez, Rupert Crosse, George Voskovec, Mary Tyler Moore, Tom Allen, Virginia Vincent, Paul Stewart, Monica Lewis, Warren Berlinger, Geraldine Brooks, Cloris Leachman, Frank DeKova.
- “The Naked Truth” (September 10, 1959)
- “Murder for Credit” (September 17, 1959)
- “The Parents” (September 24, 1959)
- “The Shop of Four Winds” (October 1, 1959)
- “The Nature of the Night” (October 15, 1959)
- “Viva Paco!” (October 22, 1959)
- “Evil” (October 29, 1959)
- “Murder in Hi-Fi” (November 5, 1959)
- “Fly, Baby, Fly” (November 12, 1959)
- “Tempted” (November 19, 1959)
- “The Poet’s Touch” (November 26, 1959)
- “The Unwise Men” (December 3, 1959)
- “A Piece of Paradise” (December 10, 1959)
- “The Return” (December 17, 1959)
- “Collector’s Item” (December 31, 1959)
- “Man in the Pit” (January 7, 1960)
- “The Only Witness” (January 14, 1960)
- “Night of Jeopardy” (January 21, 1960)
- “Double Feature” (January 28, 1960)
- “The List of Death” (February 4, 1960)
- “Solomon” (aka “Jessica Winthrop”) (February 11, 1960)
- “An Act of Terror” (February 18, 1960)
- “An Angry Young Man” (February 25, 1960)
- “The Mask of Jason” (March 3, 1960)
- “A Nice Little Town” (March 10, 1960)
- “The Swinging Longhair” (March 17, 1960)
- “The Wild Reed” (March 24, 1960)
- Staccato (1960; by Frank Boyd) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Frank Boyd was a pseudonym of Frank Kane.
- The Enduring Noir Legacy of John Cassavetes
Zach Vasquez makes the case for Cassavetes as an early hero for American indie cinema… and crime cinema, as well. (November 2020, CrimeReads)
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And a tip of the fedora to Ted Fitzgerald, David Spencer and Dale Stoyer for their contributions to this page.