What all of the above have in common is Stacy Keach in the title role; and despite the many Mike Hammers (including Armand Assante, Brian Keith, Ralph Meeker, Darren McGavin, and even author Spillane himself) who preceded him, Keach makes the part his own. He was in his mid-fifties by then, not exactly light on his feet anymore, and sporting a hairpiece that does him no favors. But in Keach's hands, Hammer is an appealing hero, flawed but likable. This time around he's dealing with computers, Internet porn, tobacco company whistle blowers, talk radio blowhards, and other funky features of the late 20th Century, along with the usual whores, junkies, and assorted lowlifes. But Hammer is still a tough-talking, hard-punching lug, engaging in macho repartee ("What're you, drunk?" "Nah, just thirsty"), dispensing world-weary voice-overs ("Art? I couldn't tell a fresco from a Fresca"), and remaining fiercely loyal to his friends and helpers (including Shannon Whirry as sexy secretary Velda and Shane Conrad as kid sidekick Nick) as he doggedly seeks and destroys the bad guys ("I'm not a killer, Mike. I'm a pervert!").
Too bad the rest of Mike Hammer Private Eye (whose meager bonus features include a recent interview with the star) doesn't quite measure up to Keach's engaging performance. The budget for this series was clearly lacking; production values are pretty poor (with cheesy interiors that bring to mind Jack Webb's Dragnet, produced some thirty years earlier), and a good number of the supporting actors are less than stellar. But whereas one could never quite be sure if Webb's Sgt. Joe Friday was as square as he seemed, there's no doubt that Keach and everyone else involved have their tongues planted firmly in cheek, which makes Mike Hammer Private Eye a genuine hoot. At the very least, any show that uses "Harlem Nocturne" for a theme song has got to be worth checking out. --Sam Graham