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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

MIKE HAMMER Season 2 (1959)

Hammer comes across an interesting leg in his hotel room
MIKE HAMMER Season 2. 1959.

Darren McGavin was back as Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer for a second entertaining season in 1959. Hammer had always been a brash, no-nonsense tough guy, but in this season he was sometimes an outright bully and frequently obnoxious, picking on older and smaller men, and acting too much like a goon [not that this is necessarily inconsistent with the character]. He especially delights in tormenting and brutalizing a sniveling, un-threatening small-time operator and candy store proprietor (played quite well by Vito Scotti), but when this same person sells an illegal gun to a man who uses it to kill a woman Hammer is in love with, Hammer pretty much lets him get away with it and doesn't even report him to the police! Go figure. Cliffhanger serial director William Witney directed many of the second season episodes, which move briskly.

There were quite a few good episodes this season. In "I Ain't Talkin" a young man (Robert Fuller) won't name a man he saw committing a robbery and murder because that man is his brother-in-law (DeForest Kelly)."Baubles, Bangles and Blood" features murder at a carnival run by an ex-con. "Husbands are Bad Luck" starred Ann Robinson [The War of the Worlds] and Jean Willes in a tale of matrimony and blackmail. "Coney Island Baby" concerned murder in a wax museum at the amusement park with a notable Lloyd Corrigan as a lovesick older man. "Save me in San Salvador" was an amusing, change-of-pace episode in which Hammer looks for an embezzling professor in South America and discovers a spirited Nita Talbot. "Swing Low, Sweet Harriet" has Lorne Greene blackmailed by a paramour played by Merry Anders [Hypnotic Eye]. "Another Man's Poisson [sic]" has Hammer investigating if a blind man's long-lost brother is the real deal. "See No Evil," about a man falsely accused of robbery and murder, boasts a fine performance from Gene Saks [better-known as a director] and outstanding work from Walter Burke as a tormented organ grinder. Virginia Gregg [Crime in the Streets] steals the show as a nasty dilettante who takes over a small theater company in "Curtains for an Angel." "M is for Mother" stars Coleen Gray [The Vampire] as a woman whose daughter is afraid that her suitor is a little bit shady. In "Now Die in It" Barbara Turner's sister is murdered and Hammer comes to uncomfortable conclusions about who did it and why. "I Remember Sally" features Doris Dowling in another vivid performance as a woman being sought by old friend Malcolm Atterbury [High School Big Shot]. An ex-con he put away is out to get Hammer in "Merchant of Menace." A wealthy woman tries to buy off her brother's girlfriend in "Bride and Doom." The final episode, "Goodbye, Al," which illustrates Hammer's good side, and his compassionate sense of justice, deals with a lowlife gambler who is arrested for supposedly killing a waitress.

But even those, good as they were, weren't the best episodes, which include: "Groomed to Kill," in which a young man (Ray Daley) about to be married is blackmailed by a woman who smooches him at his bachelor party; "A Haze on the Lake" concerned everything from fraternity hazing to a murder plot to a troubled father and son relationship, and featured fine performances from Lorne Greene, Ray Stricklyn, and John Carlyle; and (perhaps the very best episode) "Park the Body" in which a parking garage scam leads to murder, with Robert Fuller and Helena Nash in top form.NOTE: To read about the first season and the pilot with Brian Keith as Hammer, click here.

Verdict: Great episode titles, some fine scripts, and McGavin add up to a darn good private eye series. ***.

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