Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer is the title used for two syndicated television series that followed the adventures of fictional private detective Mike Hammer. The gritty, crime fighting detective—created by American crime author Mickey Spillane—has also inspired several feature films and television films.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, with Darren McGavin in the title role, is the first syndicated television series based on Spillane’s hard-boiled private detective. The series (produced from 1957 to 1959) had a run of 78 episodes over two seasons. Episodes were filmed in black and white and filled a half-hour time slot.
Public and critical reaction to the show was mixed. While TV Guide referred to it as „easily the worst series on TV“, McGavin said that the show was „instantly successful“. Some reviewers[who?] were critical of the show for its use of excessive and gratuitous violence. However, McGavin made a point of playing the role of Hammer with a hint of tongue-in-cheek satire – against the wishes of Universal Studios executives. Unlike the series that appeared in the 1980s, Mickey Spillane had minimal involvement in the production of the 1950s program. „I just took the money and went home,“ Spillane said of the show. „Believe me, I had bigger fish to fry, namely, that darn elusive Batmanfish.“
Darren McGavin played the title role. McGavin would go on to play another hardboiled private detective in the short-lived 1968 series The Outsider. He is perhaps best known as Carl Kolchak in the television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the curmudgeonly father in A Christmas Story.
Bart Burns played the role of Hammer’s trustworthy ally in the Police department Captain Pat Chambers. Pat was the only other character to appear in every one of Spillane’s Hammer novels. Burns would later go on to guest star in several television series, such as Dragnet, Columbo and The Rockford Files.
On September 20, 2011, A&E Home Video released Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1 for the first time. The 12-disc set featured all 78 episodes of the series.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, with Stacy Keach in the title role, is a television series that originally aired on CBS from January 28, 1984 to January 12, 1985. The series was 24 sixty-minute episodes. The show follows the adventures of Mike Hammer, the fictitious private detective created by crime novelist Mickey Spillane, as he hunts down criminals on the mean streets of New York City. While firmly situated in the 1980s, the tone of the show also incorporated elements of classic film noir detective films, such as The Maltese Falcon. For example, each show featured the protagonist’s narrative voice-over and, much like the archetypal hard-boiled detectives of years gone by, Hammer would rarely be seen without his wrinkled suit, fedora and trench coat. While his get-up made a particularly awkward fashion statement for the time, the juxtaposition of old and new was a central theme in the show. Indeed, Keach’s Mike Hammer left the viewer with the impression that this detective had been somehow transported from a 1940s film set to 1980s New York City. The show’s theme song „Harlem Nocturne“ by Earle Hagen, a jazz tune featuring a deeply melancholy saxophone, set a gritty tone for each episode. The song proved to be one of the most popular elements of the program.
In contrast to the charming male leads in other popular detective shows of the day (e.g., Remington Steele, Thomas Magnum), Mike Hammer was unapologetically masculine with little concern for political correctness. A prominent feature of most episodes was the inclusion of a number of female characters (known in casting sessions „Hammer-ettes“) who would exchange a double entendre or two with Hammer while wearing very low tops and push-up bras emphasizing their ample cleavage. Hammer would regularly wind up in bed with the highly sexualized female characters in the show, who would never fail to melt once they had fixed their eyes upon the brawny detective. The show’s writers latched on to this element of clashing eras and often used it as a comic relief in the show. Examples of this include Hammer’s love for cigarettes being at odds with the growing social disdain for smoking and the detective’s humorous inability to comprehend the youth trends of the decade. Like its 1950s predecessor, Keach’s Mike Hammer never shied away from violence. Whether it was with his fists or his trusty gun, „Betsy,“ a Colt Model 1911A1 .45 ACP semi-automatic pistol, which was always tucked neatly inside a leather shoulder holster worn under his suit jacket, Hammer would never fail to stop a criminal dead in his tracks. Mickey Spillane insisted that Stacy Keach carry the .45 caliber pistol in the show because that was the weapon Mike Hammer carried in all of Spillane’s „Mike Hammer“ mystery novels. Unlike most detective shows of the decade, the bad guys on Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer were usually killed by the protagonist by the time the closing credits rolled.
Prior to the show’s début, Keach starred as Mike Hammer in two made-for-TV movies Murder Me, Murder You (April 9, 1983) and More Than Murder (January 26, 1984). Like the syndicated series, these two-hour movies were executed under the guidance of acclaimed Executive Producer Jay Bernstein.
Other actors who played prominent roles in the series include Don Stroud as Captain Pat Chambers, Lindsay Bloom as Hammer’s secretary Velda, Kent Williams as Assistant District Attorney Lawrence D. Barrington, Danny Goldman as „Ozzie the Answer“, and Donna Denton as „The Face“—a beautiful and mysterious woman who Hammer would see briefly in each episode but would then vanish before he had a chance to meet her.
Production of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer was interrupted near the end of the season when Keach was arrested in England for smuggling 1¼ ounces of cocaine. He was in the country filming Mistral’s Daughter, a television miniseries based on a novel by Judith Krantz. Keach found himself sentenced to nine months in Reading Prison, but he was released after six months with time off for good behaviour.
A year later, Stacy Keach returned to his role as Hammer in the made-for-TV movie The Return of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, which aired on April 18, 1986. Thanks to the positive reception of the movie and the tenacity of Jay Bernstein, a new Mike Hammer series, The New Mike Hammer, went to air on CBS on September 27, 1986. In the new series, several recurring characters were absent and elements previously criticized as sexist were significantly downplayed—although the violence was not. The show was cancelled after one season with the final episode airing on May 21, 1987.
Two years later, this series had a television film spin-off known as Mike Hammer: Murder Takes All featuring Lynda Carter, Michelle Phillips, and Jim Carrey in his pre-stardom.
Keach’s version of Hammer was revived with 26 more syndicated episodes produced in 1997–1998 under the title Mike Hammer, Private Eye. The revived version failed to establish wide distribution or much of an audience and was cancelled after one season.