Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

MIKE HAMMER Season 1 (1958)

Hammer (Darren McGavin) watches a zesty cat-fight
MIKE HAMMER Season 1 (1958).

I don't know what purists might think but to me Darren McGavin (Kolchak, the Night Stalker) seems like perfect casting as Mickey Spillane's New York private eye, Mike Hammer. There were forty half-hour episodes in the first season of this show, and they rarely dipped below a "B" level in quality and some were much better. In addition to McGavin, the only other regular on the show was Bart Burns [a real-life WW2 hero] as Captain Pat Chambers, and in his low-key way he's also quite good. Among the more memorable episodes, "The Broken Frame" with Dick Van Patten asks if an executed man was really innocent; "Look at the Old Man Go" with Angie Dickinson starts out as the tale of an old father smitten with a young babe but turns out to be something a bit different; the sick family drama "My Son and Heir" with Douglas Dick, Barbara Turner and Virginia Gregg deals with the death of a rich son's girlfriend and twisted relationships; and the very suspenseful "Old Folks at Home Blues" has Hammer helping a bewildered Ruta Lee find her missing husband in the Bowery and discovering a startling plot. Other interesting guest-stars on the show, many of whom made more than one appearance, include Doris Dowling, Doris Singleton (Carolyn Appleby of I Love Lucy), Kipp Hamilton (War of the Gargantuas), Gloria Talbott, Nita Talbot, Joan Taylor, Robert Clarke, Jeanne Cooper, Grace Whitney (Star Trek), Terry Becker (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), Barbara Bain, Yvette Vickers, Robert Vaughn, Paula Raymond, and Joan Marshall/Jean Arless of Homicidal fame. Boris Sagal directed the show adroitly and certainly kept things moving. The show could be quite violent at times, and the girl-happy Hammer could be a bully, even with witnesses, but that's one of the things that makes his tough character interesting. The show had plenty of good, well-orchestrated fist fights and at least one zesty cat-fight (between Doris Dowling and Doris Singleton) in "Lead Ache."

NOTE: Two years before this series aired, a Mike Hammer pilot was filmed with Brian Keith in the title role. Keith [who was the son of actor Robert Keith and the stepson of Peggy Entwhistle, who jumped off the Hollywood sign] did other TV series, but he didn't play Hammer, possibly because of other commitments. Keith is very good in the role, not necessarily better than McGavin, but different, and perhaps a bit gruffer. The pilot's story has Hammer pursuing a mobster after a newsboy and several other people are shot and killed outside a nightclub.

Verdict: Very entertaining crime drama with a solid lead performance. ***.

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