Mickey Spillane’s Birthday

March 9th, 2010 by Max Allan Collins

Today is Mickey Spillane’s birthday, and after a few announcements, I’m featuring a short piece I did about the first film of I, THE JURY by way of tribute. It appeared in Classic Images last year – Classic Images is a great magazine in newspaper tabloid format that is extremely well-edited by Bob King out of the back of my hometown paper, the Muscatine Journal, where I had my first professional writing job.

Barb’s father, William Mull, passed away yesterday. Bill had been suffering from pancreatic cancer (the killer that took Mickey Spillane out, too, coincidentally). But Bill survived over a year with the disease, which enabled his family to spend time with him in person and on the phone, and say goodbyes properly. He was a fine man with a sly sense of humor, a WW 2 combat vet, a great trumpet player, a successful businessman and the father of seven kids, all of whom grew up just fine. To me, his greatest achievement was helping bring Barbara Mull to the planet.

I am working on ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF, which already had been dedicated to Bill by his daughter. Barb did an exceptional job on the rough draft. I think this will be the best Brandy and Mother mystery yet, but don’t let that stop you from picking up the current ANTIQUES BIZARRE.

Also, I have already done a series of revisions on QUARRY’S EX – Charles Ardai is the most lightning fast editor on the planet – and that book has been put to bed and is off to the typesetter.

You Can't Stop MeAntiques Bizarre

We got a great review from Bill Crider for YOU CAN’T STOP ME. If you don’t follow Bill’s great blog, start doing so now. He obviously has incredible taste.

Craig Clarke, another great blogger, had wonderful things to say about ANTIQUES BIZARRE.

The Court Reporter website recently posted a very controversial list of the top 100 crime novels of all time. I mention this because (oddly, it seems to me) I am represented on that list for…ready for this?…my novelization of AMERICAN GANGSTER. Now I’m proud of that book, and it made the NY Times bestseller list, and won the Scribe from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. But of everything I’ve ever written (say, TRUE DETECTIVE or ROAD TO PERDITION or THE FIRST QUARRY)…why that? But I’ll take it, since my policy is that any such list is utter bullshit…unless I’m on it.

And now, in honor of Mickey’s birthday….

by Max Allan Collins

I, The Jury 3DMickey Spillane was not a fan of the films British producer Victor Saville fashioned in the 1950s from the mystery writer’s bestsellers, I, the Jury, The Long Wait, Kiss Me Deadly and My Gun Is Quick. So incensed by what he considered a mishandling of his famous private eye, Mike Hammer, Spillane wrote and co-produced THE GIRL HUNTERS (1963) in which he starred as Hammer himself.

Time has been kind to several of the Saville films, notably KISS ME DEADLY (1955), starring Ralph Meeker, directed by Robert Aldrich and written by A.I. Bezzerides. The film had a strong anti-Spillane subtext but was nonetheless a brilliant evocation of Mike Hammer’s violent, sexually charged world. Late in life, Spillane came to appreciate KISS ME DEADLY, which is now considered a noir classic; but he never warmed to the others. With MY GUN IS QUICK (1957), wherein Robert Bray portrayed Hammer, Spillane had a point: it was a slipshod quickie. THE LONG WAIT (1954) (with Anthony Quinn as a non-Hammer protagonist and an array of beauties including Peggie Castle) does have its admirers, with a particularly strong climax involving starkly expressionistic lighting.

Though he counted Biff Elliot a friend, Spillane disliked I, THE JURY (1953). He thought Elliot was too small, though his chief complaints were with the script and such details as Mike Hammer’s trademark .45 automatic being traded in for a revolver, and he howled about Hammer getting knocked out with a coathanger. He found director/screenwriter Harry Essex obnoxious and disrespectful, and was irritated that his handpicked Mike Hammer – close friend, ex-cop Jack Stang (for whom the hero of the posthumous novel Dead Street is named, and who appears briefly in I, THE JURY in a poolroom scene) – was turned down for the part.

In 1999, Mickey and I were invited to London where the National Film Theater was showing my documentary, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane,” as part of a retrospective of Spillane films. Mickey did not bother to attend any of the screenings except my documentary. But I was eager to attend a rare 3-D screening of I, THE JURY.

I’d always liked the film, and had argued its merits (and those of KISS ME DEADLY) to Mickey over the years. Of all the Saville films, I, THE JURY seemed to catch best the look and flavor of the novels; it was fun and tough and sexy, and the dialogue had crackle. What had disappointed moviegoers at the time remains disappointing: the most overtly sexual aspects of the plot (a dance studio may or may not be a brothel, several characters may or may not be homosexual) became incoherent due to censorship issues, and the famous striptease finale reduced lovely Peggie Castle’s disrobing to taking off her shoes!

But Elliot himself was a terrific Mike Hammer – an emotional hothead who could be as tough as he was tender. That he was a little smaller than readers might have imagined Hammer only makes him seem less a bully. He fights hard and loves hard, and may not be as smart as most movie private eyes, which gives him a nice everyman quality. It’s a shame Elliot, with a screen presence similar to James Caan’s, was not better launched by the film.

The revelation of the screening, however, was the 3-D cinematography – seen “flat” on TV, the film doesn’t seem to be much of a 3-D movie, with only a few instances of objects and people coming out of the screen. But the 3-D screening revealed the brilliant John Alton’s mastery at creating depth, bringing the viewer inside the images. As one of a small handful of 3-D crime films, I, THE JURY is an unacknowledged 3-D gem.

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5 Responses to “Mickey Spillane’s Birthday”

  1. writerdude says:

    Thanks to your great son Nate I’m able to post finally. I liked all those 50s Spillane films. I’ve never been an Anthony Quinn fan but he worked pretty well in The Long Wait, which is one of my favorite Mickey books. Robert Ryan would’ve been much better but Quinn hung in there. I dimly remember seeing the 3-D I, The Jury. I think I’m remembering this correctly-we had a cousin named Denny who was four years older than me and six years older than my brother Dan. He always took us places and I believe he managed to get us into this one. BTW He gave me his heavily marked up copy of I, The Jury which is when I read my novel Spillane novel.:) And I share your interest in Peggy Castle. There was loneliness and maybe a bit of grief mixed in with the sexiness giving her a depth most of the calendar girls lacked. She came to a sad boozy end which I was sorry to see. These are exceptionally good Spillane posts Al. Thanks for writing them. Ed Gorman

  2. It is so great to have Ed Gorman posting here — Ed is one of my best friends and favorite writers. You can never go wrong with a Gorman novel or short story, and his wife Carol is a terrific writer, too.

    Ed, you and I bonded over our mutual love for Mickey Spillane’s early novels long, long ago. We were right then, and we’re right now.

  3. […] As Max Allan Collins reminds us, crime novelist Mickey Spillane was born on this date in 1918. He died in 2006 at 88 years […]

  4. Biffelliot says:

    I was hired as an actor to play Mike Hammer. I was not Mike Hammer. Mike Hammer is a cartoon character like Superman. I am not Superman. I’m an actor. I appreciate your comments about me. I took a cartoon character and turned him into a flesh and blood human being similar to what Mikey Spillane was. It’s impossible to please a writer who’s writing without knowing it his own autobiography.
    Biff Elliot (Still alive at age 86!)

  5. What a thrill to hear from one of my favorite actors! Mr. Elliot, I am a big fan of your portrayal of Mike Hammer, as you know. I saw I, THE JURY on TV as at age 13, when I was first reading the Spillane books, and it had a great impact on the way I envisioned Hammer (and still does).

    Over the years I have remained a fan and my wife could tell you how many times I have bolted upright at home or in a movie theater and said with great pleasure, “Hey! It’s Biff Elliot!”

    You honor me by stopping by.