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A Fight And A Flirt--A Groundbreaking Detective Noir Hits DVD For The First Time
on August 13, 2011
Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer surely ranks as one of the most famous (or infamous) detectives in modern fiction. A lot of actors have embodied the hard boiled Hammer through various film and TV projects, but the quintessential representation for me has always been Darren McGavin in this series from 1958-1959. Obviously as a product of the late fifties, the show can seem tame and dated by modern standards--but that certainly doesn't decrease its "cool" quotient. Ironically, the show was lambasted upon its debut for its use of excessive violence by contemporary critics--but that didn't detract viewers from embracing the program's offbeat charms. Always a fan of McGavin, his television work (particularly this as well as the before-his-time Kolchak) is what truly stands out in a career resume spanning over sixty years. His Hammer plays up tough guy cliches with refreshing humor and unapologetically sexist machismo. And when pushed to action, he moves quickly and with relentless determination (not to mention a healthy dose of contempt for authority).
As the episodes are short and action packed, character development often plays second fiddle to moving the narrative along. As such, many guest roles can seem fairly one dimensional. Women, in particular, get short shrift--usually portrayed as either simpering victims or as evil incarnate with little moderation. In many respects, therefore, the show's success sits on the reliable shoulders of McGavin. The stories themselves are better than expected, with plenty of twists and surprises. In fact, looking back at some of Hammer's cases--many are more intricate than what can be seen in today's cookie cutter procedural crime shows. It's all very brisk, exciting, and genuinely funny with a tough guy hero you can't help but root for (despite your better instincts and modern sensibilities).
As a representation of its time, "Mike Hammer" ranks as a strong five star recommendation that pushed the boundaries of acceptable television politeness. Anyone looking for an old fashioned noir reconfigured as a TV serial should appreciate this DVD release. It contains all 78 episodes from its two season run at a list time just shy of 33 hours over 12 discs. When you revisit any old TV show, there is a certain nostalgia factor that kicks in intrinsically. Part of the fun can be seeing actors pop up in guest roles long before they became famous. "Mike Hammer" is no exception with appearances by Angie Dickinson, Marion Ross, DeForest Kelly, Ted Knight, Lorne Greene and Barbara Bain among others. If you like hard edged detective fiction and aren't scared by classic TV--this is a must-have entertainment. One of the coolest and most risk-taking shows to emerge from fifties era television. KGHarris, 8/11.