Hammer Time

MICKEY SPILLANE

IS

MIKE HAMMER

Thus bellow the opening credits of THE GIRL HUNTERS, and they bellow the same thing again in reverse at the end in case we didn’t get it. So here’s an interesting phenomenon — years before Garth Marenghi, an author plays his own famous fictional creations (Hammett used a Spade, Spillane a Hammer… Gerry Anderson a Spanner). And the result is quasi-interesting.

Spillane, of course, isn’t an actor… but he IS Mike Hammer, so he has a kind of advantage over Ralph Meeker, Stacy Keach et al. Robert Aldrich and A.I. Bezzerides made a noir masterpiece out of KISS ME DEADLY by doubling down on the sadism but treating the character with acid disapproval. It’s not absolutely certain that Spillane wholly admires his character — he has Lloyd Nolan’s fed make a prophecy about the man’s lurking violence, which then comes true with a double-whammy of nastiness at the end. But whatever ambiguity is on offer is of the two-fisted variety and the movie would rather nail a man’s hand to the floor of a barn than linger too long on ethical questions. So it does.

Kind of hilarious the way everyone who helps the hulking Hammer is a chinless, bespectacled pencilneck, as if to emphasise the protag’s pudgy, slab-faced manliness.

There are as many bikinis for Shirley Eaton to wear as there are dweebs for Hammer to chat with. She plays her society lady role… I would not say incompetently… but it’s like the Rank Charm School version of early Monroe, all inappropriate sexiness. Ladylike flirtation and raised eyebrows. Kind of genre-appropriate, you could say, but Spillane’s version of the genre is moronic.

The movie was shot at Borehamwood, England, with what looks like a day’s location work in NYC, showing Hammer shambling from dive to dive before plunging back into the sound stage. It’s surprisingly seamless and the only really terrible Noo Yawk accent is in the first scene, which gives the game away.

His dialogue is occasionally crudely felicitous (“I’ve been shot before.” “Yeah, but you’ve never been killed before.”) His prose was the same: he couldn’t write, but he could write a line like “I took out my gun and blew the smile off his face.”

The characters spend a lot of time swapping backstory about entirely offscreen figures we have no reason to care about. Hammer snoops, meets up with Nolan to tell what he’s gleaned, then checks out Eaton’s latest swimsuit, then snoops, then meets Nolan again… There’s half an hour’s plot here padded out with exposition covering what we already know because we just saw it. For a thriller, it’s very slow, stodgy, simple and inert, a bit like its lead performance.

Still, the film is just about worth seeing. The ‘Scope camerawork is in the hands of operator Alan McCabe, singled out by Soderbergh as the best in the business. The compositions are consistently fine, and frequently GORGEOUS. Much better than this commie-baiting sadism, pulp cliche and thick-ear deserves.

The title is meaningless — a line of VO near the end refers to “the night of the girl hunters,” just to try and get it in there, but no girl hunting then occurs. Do we feel cheated or relieved?

And do I need to see RING OF FEAR now?

9 Responses to “Hammer Time”

  1. Of course, in recent decades plenty of nominally American films are shot in England, calling on a mirror version of the Hollywood Raj to provide the necessary Yank accents. Recently read that Disney tied up the whole of Pinewood Studios to crank out Marvel and Star Wars epics, creating a soundstage shortage.

    Other authors have played themselves, if not their creations. In “It”, Eleanor Glynn arrives at a nightclub and explains to her adoring fans (via intertitle) the essence of the title word. Kurt Vonnegut appears briefly in “Back to School”, hired by vulgar millionaire Rodney Dangerfield to write a term paper about his own book. An animated J.K. Rowling turns up in “The Simpsons”.

  2. Pynchon did a Simpsons too.

    Vonnegut does a walk-on in Mother Night, and Donald Westlake does the same in Le Couperet. But the closest thing to Spillane might be Norman Mailer, the thinking/writing man’s Mickey Spillane, in his self-directed improv films.

  3. ehrenstein47 Says:

    William Gaddis has a walk-on in “Ganja and Hess”

  4. Spillane was Ayn Rand’s favorite writer.

  5. Made for each other. I, The Jury, Shrugged.

  6. Hammer locates Galt’s Gulch and makes a fortune selling maps. Soon it’s soon overrun by snotty college sophomores — the type who think they’re the indispensable individualists Rand was writing about. They accumulate, waiting for civilization to beg them to come back, but the resulting shortage of economy-wrecking financiers, idiot middle managers and conservative pundits actually causes civilization to prosper. Hammer later discovers that Galt’s Gulch has collapsed into chaos and its inhabitants are dying, but to say anything would be to sacrifice his still-lucrative map business — and violate Rand’s principles.

    Don’t mind me. I’m in a mood.

  7. I enjoyed it!

  8. There’s a Terry Southern article about the filming of this including an interview with Spillane. Southern concludes that JDSalinger might give up the film rights to Catcher in the Rye if he were offered the opportunity to play Holden Caulfield onscreen.

    https://classic.esquire.com/article/1963/7/1/mickey-spillane-as-mike-hammer

    Throughout the 90s, assorted cult novels about the travails of drug addiction were adapted into films. Each film usually had some brief cameo by an actor so inert and stinking that I concluded the only reason they had not been cut was because these thespic corpses were actually the original authors gracing the movies with their authentic glamour.

  9. This caused me to immediately look up Hubert Selby Jr to see if he’s in Last Exit to Brooklyn. He is!

    Irvine Welsh, of couse, delivers a walking dead walk-on in Trainspotting.

    Mind you, if one could but assemble an entire cast of authorial zombies, one would be closer to the actuality of what addiction to hard drugs does.

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