Max Allan Collins and James L. Traylor
Mickey Spillane on Screen: A Complete Study of the Television and Film Adaptations
Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2012
“Dat’s Mike Ham-muh?” — Dismayed patron at a showing of I, The Jury (1953)
“Mike Hammer is Mickey Spillane . . . Mickey Spillane is Mike Hammer” — First opening and last closing credits, respectively, of The Girl Hunters (1963)
Imagine, if you will, that Ayn Rand, dissatisfied with King Vidor’s The Fountainhead, announced that her next book would eventually be filmed — by Rand herself. And it would star — Rand herself; along with various non-professional actor buddies.
Imagine, then, Atlas Shrugged, brought the screen in the early ‘60s, with Ayn as Dominique, Nathaniel Branden as John Galt, Alan Greenspan a governmental czar Wesley Mouch, etc. Plenty of scenes of Ayn, with her signature $ brooch, swanning around Park Avenue and the old Penn Station (pausing to wonder aloud when someone will tear down that architectural monstrosity and put up something modern and efficient), etc.
Seriously, could it have been worse than what we wound up with?
Now, does it become stranger still, if I note that another writer — he disdained the word “author” — did just that (with one of his own books, of course)? And that it was a writer Ayn Rand expresses some approval of?
And that it was — Mickey Spillane?
If you’re not familiar with Spillane, the book under review provides a nice bit of biographical updating. The main author, Collins, has the advantages of being a detective writer himself, and of being a friend of Spillane’s, right to the end, and even collaborating with him on several books. In fact, he wrote a sort of obit that, stripped of the autobiographical asides, will give our reader a nice summary of the facts:
1947. Mickey Spillane, former fighter pilot, is one of many World War II vets having a tougher time than promised in the glorious postwar world. He’s worked Gimbel’s basement, selling neckties. Before the war he’d written comic books (Captain America, Submariner), but the market has dried up some. And nobody wants his private-eye comic, Mike Danger. He has a new wife and a chunk of land in upstate New York. He pitches a tent and pounds out a harder-hitting, sexier prose version of the comic book. He knows a guy who knows a guy at E.P. Dutton, and his nine-day wonder — I, the Jury— winds up in an editor’s hands. The editor finds it in poor taste but possibly commercial, and there is already reprint interest from Signet Books, whose sexy Erskine Caldwellpaperbacks are doing pretty well. Dutton takes a chance.
I, the Jury comes out in paperback in 1948 and is the biggest sensation in the history of mystery. Mickey, whose second Hammer book, The Twisted Thing, was initially rejected by Dutton, is now that publisher’s fair-haired boy (“Death’s Fair-Haired Boy,” according to Life magazine). His sales soon surpass Caldwell’s, rocketing into the millions. The vigilante tactics of Mike Hammer are reviled by liberal critics, while the (then) extreme sexual content riles conservative commentators. Spillane laughs it off, but perhaps feels the sting. Hollywood calls and producer Victor Saville makes movie versions that the author despises and the public tolerates — one, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me, Deadly (1955), achieves the status of a classic film noir. There’s a comic strip, a radio show, and Darren McGavin plays Hammer in a late 50s TV series. Mickey, hammered by the critics, takes time off to star in a movie for John Wayne (Ring of Fear, 1954), tour with Clyde Beatty’s circus, deep-sea dive, race stock cars, fly jets. Along the way he becomes a Jehovah’s Witness.
Mickey doesn’t write much between 1952 and 1960, just some novellas and film scripts. . . . The Hammers continue selling despite Mickey’s silence, and by the beginning of the 1960s, seven of the 10 bestselling books of all time are his (and he has only written seven). As a stopgap till Mickey starts writing books again, his paperback publisher, Signet, publishes a Spillane-influenced series of British spy novels, presenting “the English Mike Hammer,” James Bond.
In the 1960s and 70s Mickey roars back with more Mike Hammer novels, a movie in which he plays his own famous hero (his acting gets raves), and some bigger, blockbuster-style novels, including the outrageous The Erection Set. He begins an incredible run of 18 years doing Miller Lite commercials, spoofing himself as Hammer next to his lovely “doll” (Lee Meredith of Producers fame). He writes an award-winning children’s book (The Day the Sea Rolled Back, 1979). He forms a partnership, after a casual meeting on an air flight, with Jay Bernstein, who produces numerous Hammer TV movies as well three successful series, all starring Stacy Keach. By the 90s many critics are reappraising Mickey, and finally the Mystery Writers of America votes him in as a Grand Master. Without him and Mike Hammer, there would have been no Dirty Harry, no James Bond, no Sin City.
Constant Readers will know that I have a longstanding obsession with two of the Hammer films: the Hollywood Liberal putdown that accidentally turned into a noir classic, Kiss Me Deadly, and Spillane’s’ response, the auto-hagiographic The Girl Hunters. I bought this book — or rather, downloaded the kindle when it went on sale — to learn more about the two movies. But I was surprised — pleasantly — by two things: the remarkable level of Spillane’s involvement in TV and movies, and not only in versions of his signature character; and the remarkable perspicuity of Collins’ observations on the films, especially KMD and TGH.
But first, right from the start, Collins is right to emphasize the key to Mike’s popularity: the ways Spillane enables the reader to identify with an otherwise some-what larger than life hero.
He fights hard and loves hard, and may not be as smart as most movie private eyes, which gives him a nice everyman quality.
This is the “I could do that if I had the breaks” sense that humanizes the hero and allows the reader to ease into the fantasy of being him. This much Hammer shares with Holmes, Bond, and even Batman.
But there are two important differences. First, the prose style itself: Mike’s adventures are narrated in the first person; even the titles rely on “I”, “me” and “my” (Spillane jokes (?) that he stopped writing after the first burst because “I ran out of pronouns” and had to think up another trick).
[This lets Spillane] convey the special relationship that existed between readers and the unconventional, even psychotic hero who was Mike Hammer. Seldom has a narrator been more effectively used by an author as a point of identification for readers.
By contrast, Holmes is such a sui generis character that Conan Doyle uses the device of Watson writing up case histories; as I quote Prof. McCrea, ”Watson is our way into the stories.” The Bond stories are entirely in the third person, enabling the author to utilize what Amis calls “The Fleming Effect,” downloading all kinds of “inside” info, which, in the case of all those brand names, at least, would be intolerable if someone were narrating the story to us.
And second, as far as content goes, is that, again in contrast to Holmes or Bond, Mike Hammer is never described; instead, “The evocative paintings on the paperback covers encouraged male readers to fill in Mike Hammer’s face with their own.” By contrast, both Bond and Holmes are clearly, even lovingly detailed by their creators, and Holmes appeared in illustrated magazines right from the start.
Of course, both devices would make it tough to bring Hammer to the screen. Narration has become a genre characteristic for detective films, but for that reason also seems like a clunky cliché; it’s also become the signature of desperate filmmakers looking for a way to provide narrative structure to a poorly made film.
As for avoiding depiction, using the camera’s POV did work in the detective noir Murder my Sweet, but it’s still both cliché and difficult, which is why it’s hardly ever used anyway.
Both drawbacks coalesce in the problem: who can play Mike Hammer onscreen? For the first film, I, the Jury, (1952), Spillane pushed for Jack Stang, a friend and former cop. But that would have failed the identification test; Hammer’s “bullying tactics are offset by his partial lack of size [which also makes him more like us] . . . a six-foot-three Hammer (like Jack Stang) might have made Spillane’s hero come across as a thug.”
By contrast, the actor chosen, Biff Elliot, had a “light-heavyweight look overcame that problem.” Nevertheless, producers had him wearing shoulder-padded suits that produced “an almost ape-like gait,” though Collins suggests Hammer-as-Frankenstein Monster does have a certain sympathy factor.
He also had a bit of a Boston accent; hence, the anguished plea from the moviegoer quoted above.
This problem would be overcome in the two most successful Hammer films. First, by casting Ralph Meeker, whose ability to play tough but not entirely stupid guys was proven when he took over the Stanley Kowalski role from Brando; macho but not thuggish, charismatic but able to ooze oily charm when needed, Meeker, despite Spillane’s longstanding objections, is perfect for the role.
Spillane’s dislike of the Meeker film would eventually lead to a solution too obvious to be used by anyone but the bull-headed Mickey Spillane: cut out the middleman.
Spillane was the rare author of popular fiction who physically resembled the type of superhero he writes about — broad-shouldered, steely-eyed, with a Dick Tracy hawkish nose and a commanding physical presence, Mickey Spillane IS Mike Hammer . . . which is exactly the way he’s billed in “The Girl Hunters.”
“I knew my lines. I wrote them.”
But first, Mickey, like Mike, had to get motivated; he had to get fired up for revenge (a motif we’ll explore later). That was provided by Meeker’s film, Kiss Me Deadly.
Kiss Me Deadly
I’ll take my previous take on KMD as read, and just note what Collins adds; because basically Collins is all right, and even adds some nice touches.
Collins sees clearly that KMD was intended not as real Mike Hammer film but as a hatchet job, “a somewhat hypocritical, left-leaning attack on the character and author.” But things did not go as planned.
In an outcome as surprising as the ending of a Mike Hammer novel, the filmmakers wound up inadvertently capturing the magic of Spillane’s fever-dream storytelling at the moment of its popular peak.
Almost by accident, Aldrich and Bezzerides achieved a kind of paperback perfection, conveying the surrealism and underlying nihilism of Hammer’s world, and capturing the feel and mood of the novels more completely than a faithful acolyte ever could.
My essay on KMD tries to explain how that accident happens, but Collins provides lots of details. The film seems to have been deliberately designed to be ass-backwards, so as to mock Spillane even in technical details; “much of the film is purposely backward, beginning with opening credits that roll down but read up,” and moving the action to LA rather than NYC.
They also “jettison the first-person, strong identification of the novels — no Chandler-esque voiceover here — and depict Hammer from the outside. From their perspective, the view is a troubling one.” Identification with Hammer is the last thing they want: Hammer — like, say, Trump — is not a person, certainly not a hero; he’s an inarticulate backlash, not a movement; a symptom or a disease, to be diagnosed and hopefully eradicated by the film’s educational exposure.
Unlike the 45-fetishism of the books, this Mike doesn’t carry a rod, or even seem to want one. Ironically (again) this liberal gun-aversion adds brutality to the film, as Mike handles his adversaries with his bare hands: roughing up a tailing punk and then casually throwing him down a flight of concrete stairs, softening up a recalcitrant witness by smashing one by one a collection of opera 78s, and, in an infamous scene, when a coroner holds out for a bigger bribe, crushing his fingers in a desk drawer.
On the other hand, Mike does some (off camera) martial arts tricks that, though equally brutally effective, hint, I would add, of Mike’s shamanic abilities; it “makes an almost mystical force out of Hammer.”
Another distancing effect: “the three actresses are attractive but unusual in their looks, carriage and personality,” a feature we’ve noted before in this and other shamanic or metaphysical tales. Cloris Leachman, who’s “introduced” here, is well known enough to illustrate the point, but the real standout is Gaby Rogers  who “displays an off-beat beauty. . . . Her last-act transition into suicidal femme fatale is chillingly believable”; as I summed up both aspects,
But nothing can outshine the satanic brilliance of Gaby Rogers, Husserl’s niece and Anne Frank’s playmate, as the most fatal femme fatale of all; her eyes are like jellied fire and burn through the screen long before she sets herself, and the film, ablaze with an ending stolen from Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster. “Kiss me, Mike. I want you to kiss me. Kiss me. The liar’s kiss that says I love you, and means something else.” Bang!
Despite all these charms, “Hammer shows surprisingly little interest in these attractive women.”
Collins notes that “For a movie shot in under three weeks, the mastery of the camera-work and art direction is dazzling,” and he’s certainly right; we’ve written before about its almost hallucinatory brightness, a hyper-realism that seems to take place post some nuclear apocalypse (and thus tied in with the famous ending).
He calls attention to the number of concrete steps, staircases, funicular railways, and other symbols of ascension, and notes that Hammer seems to die and be resurrected several times — while “Christ figure Christina dies for real.” Could this mean that in this inversion of the Christian myth, Hammer survives in the end as well?
For our part, we called attention to the checkerboard or black/white motifs that show up everywhere, from tile floors to ladies suits, an obvious allusion to the Traditionalist symbol of the warp and woof of the phenomenal universe; Collins adds that that the filmmakers planted lots of “X’s” too, as a homage to Howard Hawks’ similar use of them to represent death in Scarface (1932); but here they also recall the kisses signing a childish note, like Lily’s childishly lisped and repeated line, calling Mike to the love/death finale:
“Kiss me, Mike. I want you to kiss me. Kiss me. The liar’s kiss that says I love you, and means something else.”
Everything in this movie means something else: the filmmakers wanted to trans-value Mike and his methods, show them to be stupid and dangerous, like anti-Communism and Mutual Assured Destruction, make the audience loath them like good Stevenson voters, but like the stolen nuclear core he won’t stay in that box; Kiss Me, Despite?
Despite Aldrich and Bezzerides conceiving the film as a denunciation of Spillane, Kiss Me Deadly evokes Spillane’s (if not Mike Hammer’s) bizarre vision of the universe as none of the other films do
Despite what the latterday critics may think, the Mike Hammer of Kiss Me Deadly is primarily a positive character.
The Girl Hunters
Spillane/Hammer came roaring back, thirsting for revenge. TGH solves the two great problems we’ve discussed, first person narrative and lack of physical description.
First, by using Spillane as Hammer, we have someone who at least looks the part, but still seems enough like an ordinary guy to identify with; that he’s a non-actor just makes it seem more like “Hey, I could not only be Mike Hammer, I could play him in the movies too!” And as noted, I learned that actually Spillane had a lot on his resume already: “With his co-starring role in ‘Ring of Fear,’ his guest shots on television, and occasional commercials he’d appeared in, Spillane felt confident he was up to the challenge.”
The second problem was elegantly solved as well, “by using narration only in moments when Hammer is lost in alternately romantic and violent reverie over the missing Velda.”
The reversals continue, with reversed credits (although this time “Mike Hammer IS Mickey Spillane”) and the action moved back to New York City and Upstate. But then another reversal: aside from some location shooting, the movie was actually made in London, with British and Canadian actors. But then, “Spillane’s Manhattan is a dream landscape anyway.”
It pretty seamlessly done, though the constant insertion of the rather generic NYC footage — Mickey enters a building, leaves a building; yanks off his white trenchcoat, pulls it back on, etc. — begins to feel intrusive, but eventually, I would insist, gains its own kind of hypnotic power.
And above all, it’s a real pseudo-nostalgic treat; never having been near Manhattan in the ’60s, it still conveys to me an almost documentary sense of urban life in that era, when manly (mostly white) men, home from the Good War, walked around like they owned the place; before they were displaced first by the cult of Youth and then by the endless guilt trips of PC. It’s like Mad Men in black and white, and Don Draper tells his own damn story.
Speaking of which, it’s also a treat to see a movie where a newspaper columnist and Spillane friend Hy Gardner (playing, perhaps badly, himself as Mike’s friend), can eulogize a murdered senator as someone who “hated the commie punks as much as we do.” I’m sure Spillane includes Aldrich and Bezzerides among the punks.
Otherwise, the meld is fairly seamless, although Collins does note one Coleman Francis-worthy (as I would have said) snafu when Mike drives up the Henry Hudson Turnpike in a Ford Galaxie 500 (my dad’s old car!) and arrives at an English country house in a Thunderbird, but here he does note the contribution to the overall hallucinatory, fever-dream tone of Mike Hammer; I would say this shapeshifting also adds to the shamanic atmos’ as well.
Speaking of which, Collins points out how Mickey’s performance takes the well-worn plot point of the drunken private dick pulling himself together to solve a case to a higher, I would say shamanic, level:
Watching the unshaven, bum-like Spillane transform into crisply trench-coated, porkpie-hat-sporting Mike Hammer is a genuine treat, even a thrill-like seeing Clark Kent enter the phone booth only to emerge as, well, you get the picture.
And the 45 is back; in fact, there’s a whole arsenal — as real as Mike and his pals, provided by a London gangster, and lovingly detailed here — though Mike only gets his permit back more than halfway through.
In the end, Mike gets his man, and in “the only finale in a Spillane-derived film to capture the shocking, hypnotic, sexy, violent, abrupt endings that so characterize the books,” after a tremendous brawl — no stunt doubles in sight — Mike literally hammers a spike into the guy’s hand, to keep him on ice until the Feds arrive. Try that with one of your railroad spikes, Dominique! Or maybe Tarantino would like to try his hand at it.
All this, and we’re only halfway through the book! There’s a whole ‘nother section on TV Hammer, but I’m going to skip that, both because I’m less interested in ’80s TV (although I agree with Collins that Stacy Keach is a fine actor who has made the role his own, at least for you younger kids), and to try to save the reader’s interest from flagging. As I say, you younger kids might find it of interest.
The Appendices has useful things like biographical capsules on the actors who have appeared in Hammer films, and conversely, a list of actors arranged by what character in the “Hammer universe” they embodied.
Another bonus is the transcript of an interview Collins conducted with Spillane. Of course, it largely covers the same ground, but it’s great to hear it in Mickey’s inimitable voice. One choice bit gives some background on the famous ice pick scene from TGH, which actually happened to Mickey and was then added to the film.
Now I know about this trick, what they do, they [shove the pick into the bar and then pull off the handle, so they] can stick you with that ice pick, meanwhile their prints are still on there [the handle they pulled off] and in the meantime you die of loss of blood, internal bleeding is what you die of.
Naïve me always wondered why the guy shoved the pick into the bar; I figured it was just a symbolic threat, and he had some other weapon he’d actually use. I guess I’m no good in a bar fight. But see, here’s where Fleming shows up Spillane. It’s not in the book, so we don’t know how Spillane would have handled it there; in the movie, he could have added this detail to a patron out of the side of his mouth, perhaps. But Fleming would have given us the story along with the action, the “Fleming Effect” as Amis calls it, making us feel like insiders and all full of “street smarts.”
And where do you think the Joker got that pencil trick in The Dark Knight?
Most interesting though is “The Hammer (Film) Code,” where Collins reiterates his points about pronouns and reader identification, addresses and dismisses, like Amis, the concerns about sex and sadism, then turns to formulate the Hammer Code:
An enhanced sense of duty and friendship, and very much distrust [of] the motives of society and its ability to deliver effective justice. And yes, revenge. . . .
Collins points out that “Hammer is an amalgam of two character types, the hero and the revenger,” not a sadistic postwar degenerate but a type with a legitimate lineage going back to Shakespeare. So was Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, a point critics miss because the popular Marlowe movies were made under strict censorship.
The Marlowe/Hammer difference is striking only because the directors and writers of Hammer on film do not flinch in their portrayal of Chandler’s mean streets. The film world of Bogart and Powell is romanticized toughness, soft-focus mayhem; the film world of Meeker and Spillane is a more realistic melodrama, gritty, hard-edged-where the streets are not just called mean, they actually are.
We could tie this in to our earlier comments about the Holmes type arising in the wake of the realistic novel; Spillane is simply too realistic for our genteel critics and prestige filmmakers, if not for the home audience, especially the men, like Spillane, who had just returned from WWII.
No matter how hard Robert Aldrich and A. I. Bezzerides try to make us dislike their Mike Hammer, the audience still admires a man who can rise up when something evil enters his world, and respond in harsh kind.
Spillane created Hammer to be a hero who fought the villain by co-opting the villain’s means. In a world without moral absolutism, such simplicity retains a timeless appeal.
This gets back to what went “right” with KMD. For Aldrich and Bezzerides, Hammer as avenger is worse than the disease, and, in proto-feminist fashion, crucified Christina and irradiated Velda “are the only small hopes for mankind that Aldrich and Bezzerides hold out.” Just keep calm and wait for the police. It’s like they were filming it for the Lifetime Channel.
Spillane, of course, offers a hero. And despite the filmmakers’ best efforts, so do they — it’s a shabby world Aldrich and Bezzerides present, but Mike Hammer is the best man in it.
We can once more quote the future M, Judi Dench, as she intones at the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick: “In normal times, evil would be fought with good. But in times like these, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil.”
Movies might be a bit more faithful to the details of the gutter these days, but there are other problems a Hammer faces, new kinds of codes.
Today, they have codes that they expect you to abide. I don’t accept their codes. You got gender factors coming into it, you have to say certain things, go certain ways, you can’t use certain words. They don’t want you to use the word Negro, colored, they don’t want anything that’s identifiable. They don’t want you talking about women in a certain way. I don’t buy their attitudes. I don’t like the way the world is at all today. Today’s a mess.
What was it Chandler wrote? “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean . . .” And that other part? “He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.”
Porkpie hat firmly clamped to his head, trenchcoat — white, ‘natch — tightly buttoned; writing, directing, acting, and even playing his own trumpet theme on the soundtrack, Mike Hammer IS the hero America deserves.
1. Actually, Greenspan would make a fine Ellsworth Toohey, would he not? Rand apparently had wanted Clifton Webb, but the studio nixed the idea of bringing the Broadway dance sensation to Hollywood; that would be left to Otto Preminger, who cast Webb in his debut role as Waldo Lysacker in Laura. See essay “The Babysitting Bachelor as Aryan Avatar: Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty, ” Part One and Part Two.
3. “Now I’m not an author, I’m a writer, that’s all I am. Authors want their names down in history; I want to keep the smoke coming out of the chimney.” Mickey Spillane Interviewed by Michael Carlson, here; “Mickey’s persona is that of a tough guy who doesn’t really care about his art, but as this interview makes clear, good story telling grows from understanding people, and Spillane has a PhD in people.”.
4. “In the 1960s, Spillane became a friend of the novelist Ayn Rand. Despite their apparent differences, Rand admired Spillane’s literary style, and Spillane became, as he described it, a “fan” of Rand’s work.” See McConnell, Scott, ed., “Mickey Spillane,” 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand (New York: New American Library, 2010), pp. 232-39.
5. Not to be confused with The Firesign Theater’s “The Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye.”
6. “One day this little prissy guy, I’m at a tea party, if you can picture me at a tea party, and this guy comes up to me and says ‘what a horrible commentary on the reading habits on Americans to think that you have seven of the top ten bestsellers of all time” and I looked at him at I said ‘You’re lucky I don’t write three more books’.” — Carlson interview, op. cit.
7. For the first, see “Mike Hammer, Occult Dick: Kiss Me Deadly as Lovecraftian Tale,” here and reprinted in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014); for both, see “Essential Films . . . & Others,” here.
8. See “The Baker Street Männerbund: Some Thoughts on Holmes, Watson, Bond, & Bonding,” here.
9. “Quit talkin’ about me in the third person” Mike complains when he’s picked up out of the gutter at the start of The Girl Hunters.
10. Mike does have a sidekick, a cop named Pat Chambers, but he doesn’t make much impact, compared with Mike. Although, I had a friend back in grad school — now a professor of philosophy in Nebraska — who was a great fan of then-starting to be reputable crime writers like Raymond Chandler — talk about “quest motifs” and whatnot — but who admitted to a liking for Mickey Spillane. As a teen, he was informed that his name, Pat, was a sissy name, but took great comfort in the discovery that Mike Hammer had a pal named Pat, a tough NYC police detective. Other than such “purely personal associations,” as the Magister Ludi would say in The Glass Bead Game (or “the personal equation,” as Evola would say), it’s hard to see anyone identifying with Pat. In KMD he seems like a friend but he’s also an insufferably smug spokesman for the “let the government do it” liberal views of the filmmakers; in TGH he’s jealous loser driven to sadistic interrogations. After roughing up Mike yet again, Mike sneers to the police surgeon “You’re right Doc, he’s really sick.”
11. The one exception, The Spy Who Loved Me, which is narrated by the Bond Girl is, Amis observes, universally regarded as a failure. There is one, late Holmes story in the first person, and it too is a failure.
12. Bret Easton Ellis uses a second-person variation of this in American Psycho, where the constant brand awareness does indeed estrange us from the titular psycho.
13. The first description of Bond from Casino Royale, Chapter 8 — PINK LIGHTS AND CHAMPAGNE: “His grey‑blue eyes looked calmly back with a hint of ironical inquiry and the short lock of black hair which would never stay in place slowly subsided to form a thick comma above his right eyebrow. With the thin vertical scar down his right cheek the general effect was faintly piratical.” There’s also a scar on the right cheek, we learn. Interestingly, the very first cover depiction of Bond is the first American paperback, which already shows the “Hammer effect” of Bond re-imaged by a 50s American reader: “April 1955 first American paperback of Casino Royale published by Popular Library under the title You Asked For It. This is a classic pulp paperback seen on shelves in the US in the 1950s. The cover is certainly alluring in a sleazy sort of way but it is hard to imagine the people illustrated on the cover as James Bond and Vesper Lynd. It is sometimes said that one reason for the title change of this pulp paperback, besides being more provocative, is that it was feared that American readers would not be able to pronounce ‘Royale.’ It is also notable that the back cover of You Asked For It refers to Bond as Jimmy Bond.” Bond would indeed become “Jimmy,” and a CIA agent to boot, in the ’50s TV version of Casino Royale. Ironically, the UK paperback image “was based on the American actor Richard Conte who appeared with James Stewart and Lee J. Cobb in the 1948 film noir Call Northside 777 and later starred in the films Ocean’s Eleven in 1960 and The Godfather in 1972. Bond as Barzini! “If Don Corleone has all the judges and the politicians in New York, then he must share them, or let us others use them. He must let us draw the water from the well. Certainly he can present a bill for such services; after all, we are not Communists!”
14. For some reason, Bond covers, at least the first editions, studiously avoid Bond himself, although that presumably is his hand on the cover of OHMSS.
15. From Beast of Yucca Flats (Francis, 1962) to Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1986). Sometimes, the director is too cheap or incompetent to record live sound (“Coleman Francis solves the problem of sound sync” — MST3k on Beast); perhaps the soundtrack was dropped in Lake Mead (The Creeping Terror) or two entirely different films are being spliced together to fill out a double bill (Monster A Go-Go).
16. The “ape like gait” reminds me of what I say about Ralph Meeker’s Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly. Here Collins has a rare slipup; he says Hammer wakes up the gallery owner by breaking in; broadly, true, but actually the owner wakes up when Hammer walks into and shatters a glass coffee table, which I suggested is meant to convey Hammer as a cave-man shuffling along oblivious to the art and culture around him.
17. Along with Spillane: “Victor Saville was bad news because he wanted money just to do one big picture. I’d sold millions but he wanted to make The [Silver] Chalice, [Paul Newman’s Hollywood debut] which fell on its face with a deadly thud, and he could’ve made the biggest hit in the world with I, the Jury Instead he gets this slob writer called Harry Essex, who last I heard was making porno films, and he rooned everything, I mean, everything’s stupid. Imagine this guy hits Mike Hammer over the head with a wooden coathanger and knocks him out. You hit Mike Hammer over the head with a wooden coathanger, he’ll beat the crap out of you. You went to see it and . . . Yeah, I hadda walk out of it . . . And the audience reaction was . . . Awful. Biff Elliott walks out and says ‘I’m Mike Hammer’ and someone goes ‘Dat’s Mike Hammah?’ He was a good actor, a good friend, but he’s left-handed with a Boston accent. Saville’s lawyer saw him do live TV in New York, he won a prize, says, ‘aw I got the right guy to play Hammer’. I had the right guy, Jack Stang, a real cop, only he couldn’t act.” — Carlson interview, op. cit.
18. Though Hammer films would always have a problem with technology; I, the Jury was filmed but seldom shown in 3D (poster here), while The Girl Hunters was unable to find the money for color filming, though it’s still billed as a “Colorama Production.”
19. I could swear I’ve seen it said that Meeker was offered the Bond role but I can’t find any evidence now. See Meeker on the panel Connery tries to stump on What’s My Line, here. The two would meet again in Meeker’s last picture, and Connery’s first post-Bond, The Anderson Tapes (1971). The level of interest in “Meeker in a Speedo“ (from an Outer Limits episode) on the internet rivals “Connery in a red thong.”
20. “Now here, in this forsaken jungle hell, I have proven that I am all right!” Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster (Ed Wood, 1956)
21. The filmmakers’ contempt for the material made them not pay enough attention to it, and the automatic nature of their involvement allowed subconscious, Traditionalist motifs to arise. “This opus has become a cult film. . . . I cannot say why — I never completely understood our finished screenplay and my confusion was still there when we ran the completed film.”
22. The first thing we see is the bare feet of the running Cloris Leachman; Collins makes the interesting observation that the filmmakers seem to enjoy introducing us to characters by focusing, literally, on their feet, shoed or not. Has Tarantino noticed this?
23. As I pointed out in the Holmes essay, the book Bond kills Blofeld, and various others, with his bare hands, which ups the sadism and perhaps the latent homosexuality.
24. See, for instance, the essays on Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John in Green Nazis from Space! (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2016).
25. The Evil Babes Wiki says “Gaby Rodgers, mainly a stage actress, who made only 1 other movie, gives a quirky, off center performance as Lily — a character who seems a world away from the usual predatory, hard boiled, high maintenance, worldly film noir “femme fatale”; but Lily’s gamin appearance and needy manner are just a disarming surface below which lurks a twisted, totally evil personality. With stark camera closeups on her face, Lily’s warped, taunting, triumphant, gleeful sadism in her final confrontation with Hammer, where sex and death are being implicitly equated, is one of the most disturbing and chilling moments on film.”
26. “Essential Films . . . & Others,” here. Ironically, Rodgers is the only surviving member of the film’s cast at this date.
27. The famous two endings seem to give us the choice of Hammer and Velda blown up in the house, or saved but presumably dying of radiation poisoning. As we’ll see, Spillane will bring Hammer back to the screen with a vengeance.
28. Even the title is against itself. Spillane insisted that his beloved pronoun be set off with a comma: not “Kiss me in a rather deadly way” but “Kiss me, Death.”
29. Mickey also worked on the script, but apparently had another Ring in mind: “That was some movie. This was where I got the Jag. The guy wrote and directed the picture had problems, but John Wayne who produced it, never gave up on his friends. Duke was having a bad time, going through a divorce, and they needed to fix the script. So they’re thinking who could do it, and someone says, Spillane’s a writer, he could do it. Now I’m playing ME in the picture, for pete’s sake. They called me up in Newburgh on Wednesday, I’m already back home across the country, and said come back and fix it. So I took my Wagner records, flew West, and worked Friday, Saturday, Sunday. They set me up in a beautiful hotel suite, and I worked. So I’m sitting there Sunday, all done, having a cold beer and listening to “The Ring” and in comes Andy McLaughlan, Victor’s son. He says, ‘how you doing?’ and I tell him I’m all done and he thinks I mean I’m done for the day because it’s Sunday, and I say “I’m finished’ and he says “whaddaya mean you’re finished, you just got here!” So I hand him the pages, and he’s reading and going “wow, wow, wow” and he calls Duke and Bob Fellows and says we got it. He goes out in the street and says to this woman ‘you wanna make a hundred bucks?” and the guy she’s with nearly slugs him, but he was looking for typists! . . . And they wanta pay me for the script but I won’t take nothing for that, it was a favour. But Duke says, ‘he was looking at those Jags in the lot next to the Cock and Bull’. One night, I’m back in Newburgh, it’s snowing, and out in front of my house is this beautiful Jag with a red ribbon around it, and a note that says ‘Thanks, Duke’. People see that car now, I had a guy saying ‘who makes those?’ I said, that car’s older than you are!” — Carlson interview, op. cit.
30. One of which, Shirley Eaton, “is only one of several ironies that signify the passing of the popular-culture torch from Hammer to Bond.” Not only do we get Ms. Eaton in her various Goldfinger-style bikinis, we also a climactic showdown where the bad guy, for no particular reason, whips off his hat and sails it at Mike, Oddjob-style.
31. Oddly, for someone so closely identified with the mean streets of NYC, Spillane wrote his first Hammer bestseller so as to use the money to get out of Manhattan and build his own ex-GI bohemia for family and hard-drinking friends in Newburgh, NY. “I’m a country boy. I hate New York. But that’s where things happen, so I use it as a base for stories, I know enough about it. But it’s too crowded, jammed up, I can’t be happy there.” Eventually he moved to coastal South Carolina. “It’s a nice place, but too many Yankees coming down there. It was OK when I was the only one! You’d think the South won the Civil War.” — Carlson interview, op. cit.
32. “Just like a cop, to wear a white trenchcoat. Probably trying to pass as a fag.” William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, 1962.
33. “Things change. The Blue Ribbon [featured in TGH], that I thought’d be there forever, that’s gone. The face of the city changes. The city’s almost alive, you can see the movement of people from one section to another. When they took all the Els down on the East Side and let the sunlight in, everything changed.” — Carlson interview, op. cit.
34. It’s interesting that only one episode uses a voiceover, “The Summer Man” (Season 4, Ep.8) where Don decides to try and keep a journal; it’s widely regarded as pretty weak. After all, Don admits that, as an ad man, he’s never had to write more than 250 words at a time, which is pretty pitiful compared even to Spillane’s daily comic book output: postal regulations required two pages of text for each issue, and Spillane would write them in half an hour, for $25. “You could write four a day and you’re getting $100 a day when a hardworkin’ man out there was making $35 a week.” And turns out that Spillane shares our love of what Henry James called “the dear, the blessed nouvelle”: “The 20,000-world novelette length was one Spillane preferred above all others, where he displays some of his best-crafted work.”
35. “I’m at a party once, with Hy Gardner, the columnist, and I wind up sitting between Salvador Dalí and Jimmy Durante, and they’re talking to each other in something like English, and neither one understands a word the other’s saying, so I’m in the middle, interpreting.” — Carlson interview, op. cit.
36. We previously quoted Colin Wilson on Holmes as developing into a Nietzschean Superman.
37. “Billy Hill was the Al Capone of London. . . . Now Billy asked if there was anything he could do for me, and we had this awful Spanish gun for Mike Hammer, so I asked him if he knew where we could find a .45, and next day he shows up on the set with a gunny sack, and he says “I got your pieces for you, where should I put them?’ and he dumps about two dozen .45s there, and ammo, and the prop boy nearly hit the roof, “those are REAL GUNS”. Bob Fellows the producer, knew this, but he didn’t pay any attention, he just got them registered. The paperwork was incredible.” — Carlson interview.
38. The movie is very detailed and presumably accurate about the hazards of walking around NYC with an unlicensed gun. Later, we’ll meet a tough guy in a bar who threatens Mike with an icepick, and Mike psyches him out by pulling out a clip and pretending to have a gun. This sort of realism is far more involving than Tarantino-style Mexican standoffs. Real gangsters and even bodyguards know better than to carry a gun and get picked up for quick ride to the Big House upstate. Ever hear of Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk”? Tommy in Goodfellas shoots people left and right, and pulls out a gun on Henry in the famous “Why am I funny” restaurant scene, but that’s because he’s a dangerous nut who eventually has to be whacked just to keep the peace. When did movies stop noticing this? The producers of Better Call Saul have a better handle on this: in the “Pimento” episode Mike gives us a demonstration of why he doesn’t need to carry a gun: “Mike confidently and without breaking a sweat shows Mr. Cocky why he doesn’t need a gun, when he simply takes Cocky’s and dismantles it, before knocking Cocky to the ground, taking his other guns from him, throwing them in a trash can and leaving Cocky writhing in pain on the ground, while Mike and Price drive off to TCB (take care of business).” The scene reminds me of how Bogart’s Sam Spade easily disarms Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon (“A crippled newsie took them away; I made him give them back.”); see “Humphrey Bogart: Man among the Cockroaches,” in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012). A key plot point in TGH involves Velda’s paperwork for her PI license; for a guy Aldrich smeared as a loose cannon, Mike sure does like to do things by the book.
39. Another irony: “British prints substitute an alternate shot that shows a wrist clamp being hammered into place, negating the scene’s effectiveness.” When will they stop messing with Hammer’s finales? Speaking of Tarantino, Lawrence Tierney, later of Reservoir Dogs, does a pretty good Spillane impression as Elaine’s terrifyingly macho writer father in the Seinfeld episode “The Jacket” (Season Two, Episode 3 ). “During the ‘Seinfeld’ shoot, Jerry Seinfeld discovered that Tierney had tucked a butcher knife from the set under his jacket, apparently planning to steal it. Jason Alexander, who played George, said in an interview, “Lawrence Tierney scared the living crap out of all of us.” Apparently, Tierney was himself as dangerous an alcoholic jerkass as the writer, Richard Yates, his character was based on. Tierney IS Yates!
40. Except perhaps for the really young ones, who may find it hard to associate Mike Hammer with the guy who narrates those Too Cute! animal clip shows.
41. I think this is the interview that’s included in the 2014 Blu-Ray, which I haven’t seen. A review says: “Spillane is a natural story teller, and quite a presence. His anecdotes about the production are very engaging, including describing a number of murders that happened nearby, including a couple that he personally witnessed. His story about the standoff in the bar that inspired a scene in the film is priceless. This is very good.”
42. As Spillane says, “Sex and violence are punctuation marks in a story. The whole thing isn’t written about sex and violence. There’s a story involved.”
43. Revenge isn’t really in Bond’s MO — it is, after all, part of the name SPECTRE — but speaking of SPECTRE, it certainly becomes his MO after Blofeld kills Bond’s wife. Batman, of course, is defined by vengeance, although promoted as “The World’s Greatest Detective.” Despite their name, and the portentous opening narration, I always found “The Avengers” to be doing precious little if any actual avenging; too dark for the hip, mod image?
44. Hammer, to use Jack Donovan’s useful distinction, is not a good man, but he’s good at being a man. One might also relate Hammer to Walter White of Breaking Bad, especially along the revenge axis.
45. “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.” “The Fine Art of Murder,” an essay which first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (November, 1945).
46. On the other hand: “What about Chandler? There’s that famous scene where Marlowe throws what’s pretty obviously a Mike Hammer book into the garbage. I know. I think it’s pretty stupid.” –Carlson interview.