From 1957 to 1959, Darren McGavin played Mickey Spillane’s hardboiled detective Mike Hammer for Revue Productions, in a half-hour syndicated series that raised the ire of politicians and parents’ groups who were wringing their collective hands about the proliferation of violence on television. Since Mike Hammer’s first appearance in the 1947 novel I, The Jury, he’d become the epitome of the tough-talking, short-tempered gumshoe, smacking around men and women alike in order to get to the truth of a case. Revue’s Mike Hammer was nowhere near as punishing as Spillane’s—McGavin played the character as more rakish than raging, unlike Stacy Keach’s ’80s take on the character—but it is full of punch-outs and unapologetic misogyny, and does feel at times like it’s getting away with something.
The 78 episodes on the 12-disc Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Complete Series box set suffer some from their low budgets. Though the show is set in New York City, the authentic urban flavor is largely limited to stock establishing shots; most of the rest of the action takes place on generic sets, clean-looking back lots, and “upstate” (which looks a lot like California). And 25 minutes doesn’t allow for many twists or tricky mysteries; most of the plots are dispatched via fast-talking conversations, leaving just a few minutes per episode for a torrent of fists and hot lead.
Still, the producers pack plenty of noir-ish attitude into a small space. McGavin makes for a too-dashing, too-devil-may-care Hammer, as he pushes his fedora forward over his eyes and leans back in the office of his policeman pal Pat Chambers (played by Bart Burns). But he still spends plenty of time entertaining female clients with painted-on dresses, sometimes giving them unsolicited advice on how to look their best and how to steer clear of men who are no good for them. (“Why waste a symphony on a rock ’n’ roller?” he purrs at one gorgeous gal with a hoodlum beau.) And Mike Hammer sports an entertaining tough-guy patter, full of world-weary exchanges. “He’s gonna live… just long enough to die,” Hammer’s chum Chambers says of one death-row-bound suspect. The hero replies, “Isn’t that all any of us do, Pat?”
Key features: Bupkiss. Whaddaya gonna do about it?!