Few things personify the musky odor of mid-20th century American masculinity quite as potently as the writings of Mickey Spillane. Born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn in 1918, the jut-jawed, fedora-wearing beer enthusiast penned a series of wildly popular Ayn Rand-approved pulp novels featuring a private eye named, with appropriate lack of subtlety (or perhaps candor), Mike Hammer.
Selling several hundred million books is a sure way to get Hollywood’s attention, and, since his print birth in 1947, Hammer has appeared on the big screen half a dozen times — most memorably in 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly, an ink-black nuclear noir directed by Robert Aldrich. As for Spillane, he was celebrity enough to play himself in Ring of Fear (1954), a goofy but enjoyable circus-set thriller, and actor enough to play his own creation in 1963’s The Girl Hunters, one of a double bill of Hammer adaptations screening this Thursday, June 29th at Pacific Film Archive as part of the pulp writers series ‘One-Two Punch ’.
First up at 7:00 pm is 1957’s suggestively titled My Gun Is Quick, an independently produced bill-filler in which the two-fisted Hammer tries to recover some jewelry stolen by the Nazis during World War II. Shot on location around Los Angeles, it’s an atmospheric, neon-soaked slice of hokum featuring a terrific brassy jazz score by one time Oscar nominee Marlin Skiles.
Amusingly, the film’s opening credits include an inter-title ‘introducing Robert Bray as Mike Hammer’. In reality, this was the 70th film of Bray’s long career in the Hollywood trenches (he’d retire after appearing in over 100 episodes of Lassie during the late ‘60s). His unfamiliar craggy physiognomy, however, matched Hammer’s red-blooded all-American everyman personality to a ‘tee’. If you ever needed a guy to order chopped egg sandwiches, beat up greaseballs, and tell women to shut up, Bray was your man. Though badly edited and burdened with cartoonish villains (one even has a hook for a hand), My Gun Is Quick is good hard-boiled fun.
The Girl Hunters (immediately following at 8:50 pm) is an odd duck: in addition to featuring Spillane, this New York City-set film was (exteriors aside) shot in England and almost certainly seen by someone associated with the forthcoming production of Goldfinger. By far the more interesting of the two films — primarily thanks to Ken Talbot’s excellent widescreen cinematography and Eddie Calvert’s memorable trumpet riffs — The Girl Hunters features Goldfinger girl Shirley Eaton as Hammer’s love interest and an odd fight scene involving a vaguely Asiatic baddie and a bowler hat. It all seems more than a little coincidental.
Intimate tale of self-loathing
If you missed it during this spring’s San Francisco International Film Festival, Oslo, August 31st — a day in the life of suicidal 34-year old drug addict Anders (Anders Danielson Lie) – is currently playing at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood. Directed by Joachim Trier, distantly related to Lars von Trier, this intimate and not at all exploitative tale of self-loathing is worth seeing for Lie’s impressively vulnerable performance. There’s little here you haven’t seen before, but it’s extremely well done.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.
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