In the 1980s, the hardboiled detective of the 1940s came back to the small screen in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.
First conceived by Spillane in his first detective novel I The Jury published in 1947, Mike Hammer had an illustrious career in print before becoming a character on the small screen, as one of Spillane’s major characters.
Mike Hammer first came to television in the late 1950s, with Darren McGavin playing Mike Hammer. In the mid 1980s, Mike Hammer was brought back to television with Stacy Keach as the private detective uncovering mysteries for clients in New York City.
The reintroduction began with two CBS tv movies – Murder Me, Murder You and More than Murder.
Although set in contemporary time, the film noir elements were used in the tv scripts, with the main character always wearing a wrinkled suit, fedora and trench coat. Hammer was a guy’s guy, and far from being politically-correct.
Unlike the contemporary detectives on television, Hammer smoked, was often shown in bed with a new lady friend, and didn’t mind using his gun Betsy – a Colt ’45 – when needed.
Lindsay Bloom was Hammer’s secretary Velda, Don Stroud as Capt. Chambers, Kent Williams as ADA Lawrence Barrington and Donna Denton as The Face, a mysterious woman, were regular episodic characters.
But filming of the second season was interrupted when Stacy Keach, in England to star in a mini-series,was arrested for cocaine possession. Convicted and incarcerated for nine months, Keach was released after six months, and the series had been cancelled.
An additional tv movie with Keach as Hammer – The Return of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer – lured back original fans, leading to the subsequent series The New Mike Hammer, starring Keach but with a new cast of characters. But this version didn’t keep fans interested and the series was cancelled after one year in 1986.
I remember occasionally watching this series, but not liking the film noir elements at the time, which as I grew older, I began to appreciate much more. But I do remember Keach’s arrest and conviction, which made news around the world.
A series that may have had a good life on television had its time cut short, but remembered for its stylish take on the 1940s circa the 1980s.