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A Knuckle Sandwich for Christmas!

Mickey Spillane (1918-2006) was a prolific writer of hard-boiled detective fiction.  His first novel, “I, the Jury” was published in 1947.  By 1980 he was the author of seven of the 15 best-selling fiction novels in the US.  His books have sold 225 million copies worldwide.

The lead character and hero of the books, TV series and movies was Mike Hammer.  Mike was one tough cookie.

Mickey’s sixth and seventh novels were written in 1952 and 1962.  Apparently the 10 years in between were spent sobering up from all the money flowing in and all the liquor flowing down into Mickey.  Mickey claimed he never drank more than a couple of beers and didn’t smoke. Since he lived to 88 he was probably telling the truth.  Still, there was that long 10-year period between stories.

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A 1955 Film of “Kiss Me Deadly” has been remastered and released in a Blu-ray edition with lots of great extras.  The best is a 1998 documentary called, “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer,” made with the participation of Mickey when he was 80.  Also on hand are numerous folks from the TV shows and films, and just about every writer of detective fiction of the last 60 years.  KMD stars Ralph Meeker as MH.  Robert Aldrich directed (The Dirty Dozen, The Flight of the Phoenix 1965 version, The Longest Yard 1974 version and many others).  KMD is a visit to the mid-50s film noir.  It is full of sleazy characters, suspicious women, and Mike battling crime while looking for a mysterious glowing box.  The film is dark and violent, but also a classic in its field.  The new Criterion BR transfer cleaned up years of decay and resolved the sound problems from prior video versions.

The second of the two stories, published in 1962, was “The Girl Hunters.”  The movie premiered in 1963.  While the story takes place in NY, it was filmed in London except for a few NYC location entry shots to establish where the action was supposed to be taking place.  Mickey had played himself in a film from 1954, “Ring of Fear,” in which he, Mickey the writer, investigates a circus mystery.  In “The Girl Hunters” he plays his own creation, Mike Hammer.  This would be like Erle Stanley Gardner playing Perry Mason, Agatha Christie playing Miss Marple, or Edgar Rice Burroughs playing Tarzan.  The story concerns MH coming back from a seven-year bender after learning that his beloved secretary Velda was killed, but now is found to be alive.  Mike sobers up overnight, loads his 45, and goes to work.  Shirley Eaton (the girl who gets painted gold in Goldfinger a year later) plays the femme fatale.  Mike beats and threatens anyone who stands in his way while he tries to find his Velda.  While not in classic film noir like “Kiss Me Deadly,” it’s worth a viewing for fans of the genre just to see Mickey as Mike.

Mickey went on to success on TV in Miller Lite Beer commercials, which he did for 18 years:  A couple of them are seen in the documentary referred to earlier.   He saw his alter ego on TV (1958 and 1959) first played by Darren McGavin (1922-2006) – now best remembered as The Old Man in the classic A Christmas Story.  Stacy Keach took over the role in a couple of made-for-TV movies and a series than ran from 1984 to 1987.

If you make it to NYC this Christmas season, stop by a bar owned by the Spillane family aptly named “Mickey Spillane’s Hells Kitchen” at 49th and 9th Ave.  Have an eggnog and wish Mickey a Merry Christmas.  Be polite or you can expect a knuckle sandwich.

Both films rated 4.0 out of 4.0 because I’m afraid of what might happen to me if I gave them any less.  Merry Christmas.

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