Friday, June 23, 2006

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer


As noted before, I watched the two original Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer TV movies. The series that followed from 1984 to 1987, interrupted for a period while star Stacy Keach served a 6 month prison sentence for smuggling cocaine into the U.K., is not yet available on DVD, although the later 1997 syndicated version, Mike Hammer, Private Eye, is, although my experience so far with that is that the low production values and poor acting make it difficult to enjoy.

These have a major nostalgia factor for me. The show aired while I was in my early teens and featured a hard-ass private eye who never can seem to get away from women with leaking cleavage making suggestive comments to him, so I obviously watched it was some degree of religiosity. In fact, I had a sudden memory of watching the first movie, "Murder Me, Murder You", midway through viewing, remembering a scene where the dictionary definition of the word bastard is recited.

The Wikipedia entry on "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" reports on controversy surrounding the shows alleged sexism.

Before I jump into this, I'm going to jump briefly onto the defensive. I've never seriously dated a woman who hasn't at some point in our relationship stopped a conversation to say with some degree of astonishment and earnestness that I'm "really just not sexist at all", and to all of them wasn't something of little importance. As such, I have some confidence in this character trait.

But honestly, I can't say I fully understand what the fuss is about here. The show features a significant number of sexually carnivorous, somewhat cartoonish characters, male and female. The female characters are each exactly as actualized as human beings as their screen time allows.

Yes, they're all ridiculously attractive and wearing push-up bras and low cut tops or loose fitting tops with no bras, but they're not objectified, they're their own people with their own desires. And, yes, their desires usually involve having sex with Mike Hammer, but they are indeed a kind of simplified for TV version of the Hawksian woman. I think the problem roots heavily in the type of supposed feminism that eschews sexuality as a prominent part - or even significant part - of women's identity.

The movies themselves are solid, but in no way great when no colored with nostalgia. Stacy Keach is terrific in the role. I'm aware that there are detractors out there in the world, but for me he owns the role. Mind you, he was my first Mike Hammer. I tend to picture a version of him when I read the books to this day. Others began with the books themselves or another actor and have every right to differ.

The writers do a fine job of blending his kind of post-hard boiled detective sensibilities with the needs of an '80s TV series quite well, even if my opinions of the needs of a TV series at that time are somewhat harsh. The second movie and subsequent series recast Lindsay Bloom in the role of Velda seems to have been more a quick substitution for Tanya Roberts, who had the role in the first movie, than recasting of the role itself.

They are not made for their clever mysteries, although they're certainly more than servicable, but rather for the opportunity to create a mood and explore the character types and certainly in introducing the concept, they do a fine job. I only wish the series itself was available on DVD.

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