Mickey Spillane is Mike Hammer

October 21st, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
The Girl Hunters Blu-Ray

The day this update appears, the limited edition blu-ray disc of THE GIRL HUNTERS from Scorpion (1000 copies) will be released. Here’s where you can get it for a great price.

It’s also available on DVD, and here’s the Amazon link (and they of course have it on blu-ray, too).

For this Mike Hammer fan, having THE GIRL HUNTERS on blu-ray is a big deal. I don’t pretend that THE GIRL HUNTERS is a great movie, but it’s a very good P.I. movie by any standard and an almost hallucinatory treat for longtime Spillane/Hammer fans. I’ve stated many times that KISS ME DEADLY is the best Mike Hammer film, a statement with which few would take issue. I also feel that I, THE JURY with Biff Elliot is terrific representation of the feel and mood of the early novels, with a fine Franz Waxman score and great John Alton cinematography that seen in 3-D is something very special. And Elliot is a much better young hot-headed Hammer than he is generally given credit for.

It should be noted that in 1963, Mickey didn’t like any of the movies made from his novels (he was more charitable about the Darren McGavin TV series). He came to like KISS ME DEADLY, but that would take many years (and my efforts to sway him). The basic notion behind the film of THE GIRL HUNTERS was to do a Mike Hammer movie right for a change. And a good argument can be made that Spillane succeeded in his wish.

THE GIRL HUNTERS has a solid Hollywood director in Roy Rowland, whose interesting body of work includes everything from ROGUE COP to THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T. The melodic big band score, considered overbearing by some, is by Philip Martell, a composer more associated with that other Hammer, the one Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing worked for. That’s a clue to an oddity about the film (as is the presence of lovely co-star Shirley Eaton), which is that it’s a British/USA co-production, predominantly shot in the UK though with considerable B-unit location work in Manhattan. This two-country combo of shooting is skillfully done but limiting, and a funding source that fell through on the eve of production kept the film from being shot in color. The latter is fine with film noir fans of today, but in 1963, when the film was released, it hurt box-office potential considerably.

What is of course unique about THE GIRL HUNTERS is that Mickey Spillane portrayed Mike Hammer. Mickey had starred as himself in John Wayne’s RING OF FEAR (1954) and later would appear self-spoofingly in the wildly popular, long-running series of Miller Lite commercials, as well as in a couple of indie thrillers called MOMMY and MOMMY’S DAY. But in ‘63, Mickey had only RING OF FEAR and a few TV appearances for screen credits.

The risk of putting a non-actor in the lead role of a film, where he would appear in every scene and carry the picture on his shoulders, is staggering to contemplate. So is Mickey’s self-confidence and even audaciousness in accepting such a gig, the publicity value of which is topped only by its suicidal nature. But even more impressive is how good Mickey is – critics of the day loved him as Mike Hammer. Over the years, some viewers have been less impressed, but it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking Mickey was anything less than adequate.

And whether you think he’s great or merely passable, there remains the brain-frying fact that Mickey Spillane was playing his famous creation himself. We don’t have Conan Doyle on film as Holmes (or for that matter Watson) nor do we have Agatha Christie portraying Miss Marple, however ideal that casting might seem; and Ian Fleming seems to have been beaten out for the Bond role by somebody or other, and thank God we were spared Bob Kane as Batman. Yet the famous creator as his famous creation is exactly what happens in THE GIRL HUNTERS, as attest the film’s opening credits: MICKEY SPILLANE IS MIKE HAMMER.

THE GIRL HUNTERS puts on the screen, faithfully and well, the Hammer of the early and mid-‘60s, and it shows without doubt the manner in which Spillane viewed the character, which is to say with a steely-eyed mix of mercilessness and mirth. As tough as his Hammer is on screen, both actor and character (and writer) have a sense of fun. Of humor. (The prior screen Hammer closest to Mickey is McGavin.)

The film can seem a little slow to audiences today. Mickey himself said he wished he could cut himself, down to ninety minutes. (He also wanted to colorize it!) This may be the writer’s own fault, since it’s his screenplay; but it was the director’s responsibility to tighten it up. Still, for anyone even vaguely a Hammer fan, this is the one time a book in the series was translated almost word-for-word to the screen, with none of the sex or violence watered down. Only John Huston’s MALTESE FALCON rivals it in faithfulness. I have not received any copy of the blu-ray yet, so I can’t comment on the quality; but I am confident Scorpion did a good job. I played a role by doing a commentary, and also went to the original raw footage for my 1999 Spillane documentary and (with editor Phil Dingeldein’s help) put together lengthy interviews with Spillane and Shirley Eaton as bonus features for the disc. These interviews far surpass the “sound bites” that made it into my film (which you can see as an extra on Criterion’s KISS ME DEADLY release).

Truth be told, I have no idea whether my GIRL HUNTERS commentary is worth a damn – I haven’t heard it. It was strictly a down-and-dirty affair, with me at Phil’s dphilms studio in Rock Island going in and recording a non-stop, unedited commentary as I watched a DVD of the movie. I had done some prep, re-watching the film the night before and making some notes about what I might say. I’ll report back after I get a copy of the blu-ray.

But for now I am thrilled this even exists. We have the wonderful Criterion KISS ME DEADLY. We have the complete McGavin TV series on DVD. We even have a decent DVD of MY GUN IS QUICK, as well as a double-feature of the first two Keach TV movies. Now if we can only get blu-ray releases of both I, THE JURY movies, with the 1953 one in 3-D….

Here’s a very nice write-up at Detectives Beyond Borders about my intro to JACK CARTER’S LAW.

Here’s a Scotland paper’s review of DEATH SENTENCES, a collection of bibliophile mysteries edited by Otto Penzler that includes the Spillane/Collins “It’s in the Book.”


Death Sentences

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13 Responses to “Mickey Spillane is Mike Hammer”

  1. Joe Menta says:

    Thanks for the heads up, Max– I’ll definitely pick up a DVD or Blu-Ray of the movie, as I’d love to hear your commentary. I just saw (via your link) that Amazon included all the reviews of the earlier bare-bones DVD of the film, including mine, on the page offering the new DVD. I’ll have to add a comment to my review to remind people I reviewed the earlier version, not this new one with the extras.

  2. I received my copy of the new GIRL HUNTERS Blu-ray today and watched the first 15 minutes of it. While it’s certainly the best-looking version of the film I’ve seen, it does appear that the company applied some unnecessary digital edge-enhancement, causing some odd halos around the actors at times. It’s not egregious, but it is occasionally distracting. I’ll be watching the whole thing later tonight with your commentary and the interviews.

  3. Brian Drake says:

    Great news about the DVD. Back in the ’90s when a VHS and DVD copy were available, I only picked up the VHS and missed out on the DVD because I waited too long. Now I have a DVD player and no VHS so that must be rectified. One thing I noticed, though, is that the movie is such a faithful adaptation that it nearly ruins the book, especially after repeated viewings and a re-read to “see what’s different”–there isn’t anything different. It still had to be one of my favorite lazy Saturday afternoon or “home with the flu” movies, though. You can throw it on anytime and not be bored.

  4. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks for the comments, guys. Chris, despite being both a Blu-ray buff and a film director, I am oblivious to the edge-enhancement controversy. I watched the Blu-ray last night (with commentary track — I’ll watch the film itself soon) and I think it looks great — at least as good as my memory of it in theatrical showings.

    As for my commentary, I hope it’s okay. It was very much a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants thing — just me alone with nobody in a control booth, and nobody to interact with or to prompt me. You can hear phone rings in the adjacent room and me turning the pages of my notes and my chair and so on. No sound editing was done at all. But I hope it’s serviceable.

    Scorpion did a bunch of editing on the interviews, dropping in film clips to illustrate points and cover edit points. They did fine, but I wish I’d known they had the budget to do that, because Phil D. and I would have done it ourselves. What we gave them included the questions of the interviewers (me in Mickey’s case, a colleague using questions I prepared in Shirley’s). So I was taken aback that they had taken my material and done whatever they wanted with it and to it. On the other hand, they did all right, though I may have liked it better when you got the back-and-forth between Mickey and me.

    It’s a really great disc. I recommend the Blu-ray.

  5. Mike Doran says:

    Through the good offices of Amazon Prime (with an assist from your convenient link), I took delivery yesterday on my DVD of THE GIRL HUNTERS.

    Upon receipt, I gave the features a quick look-through (time constraints kept me from doing more); everything seems to be in good order – HDMI widescreen looks really fine, your commentary (which I promise I’m going to listen to in its entirety (eventually) (honest) sounds promising, and the filled-out Spillane/Eaton interviews look good too.

    By the way, those time constraints I referred to above have to do with a whole bunch of other stuff I’ve been getting recently, reflecting my wide (and weird) tastes in other things; among others, I have just acquired all three INSPECTOR HORNLEIGH movies, comedy mysteries from England, circa 1939, with Gordon Harker and a (sort of) young Alastair Sim. Coming up for me would be a fourple feature culminating with Sim in GREEN FOR DANGER (Criterion).

    I mentioned that this is the DVD; I still don’t have Blu-Ray.
    I remain as always one obsolescence behind.

    So on to 2015 and the next volley of books.

  6. Mike Doran says:

    After all this time, I should do a better job of proofreading.

    Please transpose the third and fourth paragraphs above.
    Thanx a heep.

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