Noir Movie of the Week: “Murder Me, Murder You”, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer starring Stacy Keach, 1983Posted on March 13th, 2013 No comments
It’s in color, made for TV, and from the ’80s…in spite of all that, this flick is a surprisingly well done, gripping movie with Keach playing Hammer truly like his namesake from the book. He pulls no punches, and has no qualms about killing the bad guys.
from 1983 staring Stacy Keach, Tanya Roberts, Don Stroud and Tom Atkins.
The 1980s were not known for the decade’s great Noir movies, and TV murder mysteries of the era were often some of the worst ever made. Consider this flick an exception. With a limited TV budget and Reagan-era censorship, Director Gary Nelson (a seasoned TV & Film director) managed to capture the true essence of Spillane’s style: dark and deadly serious, kept human by a few rays of sarcasm, a few laughs, and some hard liquor.
What makes this movie interesting to people like you and me is that it’s timeless. Mike Hammer is a 1950’s detective, living in the ’80s, driving a ’66 Mustang and listening to music from the ’40s. He talks, dresses and acts like a Noir gumshoe (including Porkpie hat) while fighting off Punk rockers and spandex-wearing muscle-heads. He carries his army issue .45 (named Betsy, just like in the books) and hangs out in a basement bar that only plays Swing on the Wurlitzer. Yet he’s got modern smarts, and although he runs into trouble with a whiny DA, he doesn’t think twice about beating the pulp out of some scumbags – and always gets away with it.
The Scene: The Art Director and locations manager did a bang-up job picking out “old” looking streets in New York. If it weren’t for the modern cars, this filrm would look like the outdoors were shot in the middle of the century. Don Stroud makes a grew Pat Chambers, Hammer’s friend and connection on the police force. And Tanya Roberts plays a fantastic Velda, sexy and sweet but tough underneath. Her ‘look’ is a lot more ’80s than you might expect, but it works – because Hammer is the only one really pulled from the past.
Ah yes, Hammer. Mike Hammer. Stacy Keach. Big, muscular, and already in his 40s when he shot these movies, Keach plays Hammer closer to the book than any other actor I’ve ever seen, including Spillane himself (No offense, Mickey). He perfectly combines the sarcastic, know-it-all detective with the dark, lonely and murderous killer that lurks beneath. That’s right, killer: In the books, Hammer admits to enjoying killing bad guys. He likes it. He looks forward to it. He admits (to himself) that he’s basically a serial killer who gets off on the thrill of watching someone (who deserves it) die, and found a way to do it legally. He does this very well, without the corniness or silliness that other actors just couldn’t leave alone.
Keach pulls it off like a champ. And the writing, although a little hokey at times (to be expected from an 80s TV movie, I think) really nails the character when it comes down to how Hammer would react to the given situations.
What the movie is about:
Any movie that starts off with two hot chicks getting knocked off the road and crushed and burned to death in their car is going to keep you enthralled. Two female couriers, transporting an important briefcase (contents unknown) are murdered. Mike Hammer is subpoenaed when it turns out his ex-fiance (Chris) is connected to the courier agency (in fact, she is a partner). The big bomb is dropped when it’s revealed that this chick had Hammer’s daughter 19 years earlier. She of course never told him.
Chris dies in the courtroom in Hammer’s arms, and although it looks like a heart attack he knows it’s murder. That’s when the Hammer character from the book kicks in full swing, vowing to avenge her death by killing her killer. He also needs to track down his daughter, and embarks on a journey that takes him through his own past, the pornography business, corrupt businesses and a 1-2 punch ending that will have your head spinning.
Fun stuff: Look for Michelle Phillips (yes, THE Michelle Phillips) and a very young, very sexy Delta Burke with more hair than should be legal on a chick’s head. Also look for Lee Meredith (Ulla from “The Producers”) and Jonathan Banks (that guy who was in a million things and always looked like he was about to fall asleep).
Food & Booze:
This is an easy one. Hammer orders a “Police Special” which, apparently, is a bottle of Jack Daniels in a paper sack. So, yeah. As for food, this a New York movie. Throw together a couple of fat, corned beef sandwiches with slaw and Russian Dressing and a pickle.
Note: The Mike Hammer series and TV movies from the ’80s were great. In the 1990s, Keach revived the series which, I believe, went straight to video. Although still decent, the production value of the later series isn’t as good as the original. Watch the originals first. If you dig them, move on to the 90s episodes.
My Take: Although I was a young teenager when these movies came out, I was already a fan of Spillane, the Hammer novels, and wearing fedoras. Spillane’s writing and Keach’s portrayal of Mike Hammer would highly influence my first works of writing, including my scripts for Stardust Theater in the 90s. Hammer’s character would also influence the main character in my best-selling murder mysteries, “Murder on Tiki Island” and “Murder Behind the Closet Door”: Detective Bill Riggins.
I found a TV trailer from ’83. This movie is second (around the 1:00 mark). Prepare to go back in time 30 years…
-Tiki Chris reporting from a basement bar with a 1939 Wurlitzer playing “Harlem Nocturn”.
Posted on February 3rd, 2010 22 comments
I am sitting at the Tiki Bar on the lanai, sipping a Jack and Ginger and enjoying the cool South Florida evening breeze. This is my favorite time of year, when it’s warm and sunny by day and crisp at night. It’s evenings like this when I remember the old days, before I moved to Florida; how it’s icy cold and dark and gray and morbid in the North East, how everything is dead up there and everything is green and lush and full of life here. It’s evenings like this when I like to crack open a Mike Hammer novel, and remember the past.
When I read Mike Hammer, it takes me back to that other time, that other place. That dark, rough time in the city, when the nights were full of alluring dames and cheap booze and the weight of my .45 kept dragging me down, reminding me that there were big, tough wiseguys that needed a lesson in respect, beat into them the right way, with a crowbar. That other time, long ago; that dark, evil time in the rain-soaked, soot-streaked city.
Phillip Marlow was tough. Sam Spade knew his way around a .38. Even Sonny Crocket could pull a trigger on an Uzi without blinking an eye. But in the tough guy department, none of them came close to Mike Hammer.
I’m not talking about the watered-down-for-TV Mike Hammer, played by Darrin McGavin in the ’50s and Stacey Keach in the ’80s. I’m talking about the real Mike Hammer, the borderline-psychopath detective dreamed up by Mickey Spillane in the late 1940’s through the ’50s, the .45 automatic-toting ex-army special forces operative who learned how to track and maim and kill in the jungles of World War II, the big tough street mug with a fist of ice cold steel and a soft spot in his heart for the dames. That Mike Hammer.
If you’ve read Spillane, you know what I’m getting at. If you haven’t, you should, on the double. Just the fact that you’ve read this far clues me in that you’re gonna like it something big.
Of all the great (and not so great but nevertheless popular) detective stories that came out of the last 80 or so years, from Marlow to Veronica Mars, from Ellery Queen to Tony Rome, from James Bond to Batman, only one really stands out as something darker, something almost horrifying…the original down and dirty streetwise gumshoe, the hardcore dime-store private eye who did things his own way and got away with it, his way. Many copied his style down the line, but they never hit on the real difference, the one thing that made Hammer stand a couple of blocks away from all the rest.
You see, Mike Hammer was a murderer.
Sure, he had a private dick’s ticket, a little card stamped by the State of New York that gave him the legal right to carry a heater and arrest bad guys. But to Hammer, it was nothing more than a ‘get out of jail free’ card. A convenience when it came to court time. A slip of paper that gave him the right clean up his beloved city, to wipe up the back alleys and dimly-lit tap rooms with the faces of the city’s scum, and then to go a step further…because he’d been around the block few times, and he knew the score…arresting the bad guys didn’t do nuts. They’d get off; sure as hell they’d get sent up for a short stretch and be back on the streets mugging and robbing and beating up dames and little guys for spending cash and kicks. Jail wasn’t enough for this filth. They needed to be punished.
The small-time hoods got off easy with a beating they’d remember for life. A couple of cracked ribs, a broken jaw and brain damage usually did the trick with Horse-pushers and lowlife pimps, two-bit gamblers and croocked politicians. But for the killers…well, that was another story. An eye for an eye. If they lived as killers they needed to die as killers, by an equally evil and screwed-up killer. Mike was the self-appointed jailer, judge, jury…and executioner. And he always found a way to make his story stick, make it legit…one way or another, he would kill, he would need to kill; he would justify it as ridding the world of evil and he’d get away clean.
Don’t believe me? Think I’ve gone off the deep end? Set your peepers on this little bit of insight, taken from the first few pages of One Lonely Night, the fourth book in the Mike Hammer series. Published in 1951, the story gives an inner view of Hammer’s mind, the way he thinks, and what he thinks about the world he’s been forced into. To me, these few paragraphs sum up his character, the whole series, and the darker side of life in “the good old days”. It’s what made me really appreciate Mike Hammer when I first read I, The Jury at age 12. It makes me appreciate all the Hammer novels for what they are: The real diary of a madman.
(talking about a judge who wanted to throw the book at him, but could not) “…I was a licensed investigator who knocked off somebody who needed knocking off bad and he couldn’t get to me. So I was a murderer by definition and all the law could do was shake its finger at definitions.”…”maybe he thought I should have stayed there and called the cops when the bastard had a rod in his hand and it was pointing at my gut…” “He had to take me back five years to a time he knew of only second hand and tell me how it took a war to show me the power of the gun and the obscene pleasure that was brutality and force, the spicy sweetness of murder sanctified by law. That was me.” “…There in the muck and slime of the jungle, there in the stink that hung over the beaches rising from the bodies of the dead, there in the half-light of too many dusks and dawns laced together with the crisscrossed patterns of bullets, I had gotten a taste of death and found it palatable to the extent I could never again eat the fruits of a normal civilization.”…”I was a killer. I was a murderer, legalized. I had no reason for living. Yeah, he said that!”*
Mix that insanity in a shaker with a Colt .45 Combat Commander and an insatiable appetite for serving justice. Throw in a couple of ice cubes and a busty brunette secretary named Velda. Pour it in a tall chilled glass, frosty with the blood of a hundred hoodlums and garnish it with a peel of the city at night, and you’ve got a Mike Hammer Manhattan.
There are 13 books in the Mike Hammer series, plus the TV scripts and screen plays. But with the passing of Spillane a few years ago flew any chance of ever hearing Mike’s voice say anything new again. Others may try, some may come close. But no one can dole out the imagery or lay down the style that Mickey gave to his fantastically flawed unsung hero, Mike Hammer.
(Read the books, start from the beginning with I, The Jury and follow Mike all the way through to Black Alley. If you dig reading about real mid-century American culture through the eyes of an author who was writing these books at the time, as the present, you’ll absolutely enjoy Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.)
-Original Content by Christopher Pinto for Tiki Lounge Talk.
*Passages from “One Lonely Night” written by Mickey Spillane, ©1951, 1979, used for informational/educational purposes only.