Mickey Spillane IS his alter ego Mike Hammer in THE GIRL HUNTERS, out on DVD and limited Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.
Off the wagon since the death of his secretary Velda during a protection job gone wrong seven years prior, former private detective Mike Hammer (series author Mickey Spillane himself) find himself dragged out of the gutter and cleaned up by his ex-friend detective turned police captain Pat Chambers (Scott Peters, THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN!) to question shooting victim Richie Cole (Murray Kash, THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN) who is on his deathbed and will only talk to him. Before Cole dies, he not only tells Hammer the identity of his murderer is the mysterious "Dragon" but that Velda is alive and next on the killer's hitlist unless he finds her first. Chambers is more than ready to beat the testimony out of Hammer because the bullet used to kill Cole matches the one that killed Senator Knapp during a burglary two years before in which the only missing items appeared to be costume jewelry belong to his wife Laura (a pre-GOLDFINGER Shirley Eaton). More concerned with finding Velda – for whom he begins to suspect Chambers of being his romantic rival – Hammer withholds the information and is confined to a hospital as an acute alcoholic. FBI agent Arthur Rickerby (Lloyd Nolan, PEYTON PLACE) visits him eager to discover the murderer's identity as well since Cole was an undercover agent. Hammer is able to negotiate his freedom for a limited period to pursue his own investigation on a deadline as he evades Chambers and the killer as he tries to find the link between Velda, Cole, and the dead senator. He also finds himself torn between the widow Laura and finding a Velda it turns out he never knew.
A British production with exteriors shot in New York, THE GIRL HUNTERS was an adaptation of Spillane's Mike Hammer comeback novel ten years after KISS ME DEADLY, and – despite the increasingly complex backstory layering of the plot – it is told with the narrative economy of his novels. It matters not that certain elements of the plot are left open-ended (although not quite as shockingly so as the theatrical ending of KISS ME DEADLY) since the final scene packs a punch. As the opening credits state "Mickey Spillane is Mike Hammer" and the end credits state "Mike Hammer is Mickey Spillane", and the writer-turned-star fully embodies his own alter ego, seeming more at home in the narrative (getting beat up in virtually every other scene) than any of his esteemed co-stars. Eaton is not given much to do, but she ably juggles the personages of potential femme fatale and smitten widow disregarding the dangers of associated with Hammer (despite his numerous warnings). The accents of some of the supporting characters fail to convince sometimes and the sets have a certain sixties British studio look to them, but Kenneth Talbot's black and white Panavision cinematography is light years ahead of his later color work for Hammer and Tyburn (especially the low budget latter), strikes a nice balance between 1940s noir expressionistic interiors and city environs and the cool grays and whites of European 1960s filmmaking in the scenes set around Laura's pool where Spillane sweats it out while Eaton lounges about in fetching swimwear. New York Herald Tribune columnist Hy Gardner plays himself, providing Spillane on the background of the Knapp case and using his connections to ferret out more information since Hammer has since burned his bridges.
Previously released on DVD in an anamorphic widescreen transfer by Image Entertainment in 2000, Scorpion's progressive, anamorphic transfer is derived from a new HD master. I haven't seen the Image DVD, but the Scorpion transfer is wonderfully glossy with grain from underexposure only popping up in a handful of night exterior shots. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is also in good condition. While the Image DVD was barebones, Scorpion has been able to provide three substantial extra features with the participation of novelist/filmmaker/Spillane expert Max Alan Collins (whose DTV film MOMMY featured Spillane in a supporting role). First up is an audio commentary by Collins. He explains under the optimistic "Colorama Features presents" card that the production was supposed to be shot in color. He also explains that many of the actors were Canadian because their accents were less noticeable, but also notes those whose Britishness is apparent. He also discusses Spillane's performance here and his few film and TV appearances (the Miller Lite commercials) as well the other Mike Hammer incarnations including Darren McGavin and Stacey Keach. He also compares Mike Hammer more to Tarzan, Zorro, and pulp heroes like Batman than Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. For those unfamiliar with the Mike Hammer novels (and the ways in which source novel for this film varies greatly in tone from the earlier ones that preceded his religious conversion), he puts the film in the context of its comeback status and Hammer's prior relationships with Velda and Chambers. He also discusses Philip Green's score – a composer whose best known work is one of the library cues later used in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – and how it is more reflective of Spillane's own musical tastes than more noir-ish scores. It's an excellent, fully informative track that is an essential listen for Mike Hammer fans.
Spillane himself appears in a video interview (29:57) shot a few years before his death in 2006. He recalls his exasperation that the producers were still looking for funding while the film was in production, how he would have preferred if it had been made in color, his kissing scene with Eaton, how his "eat it" anecdote was incorporated into the film, his reaction to union-mandated tea time on British film sets, and a fellow hotel guest who thought he was a cowboy firing off guns and riding horses in his hotel room. He also discusses his earlier appearance as himself in RING OF FEAR, a film produced by an uncredited John Wayne that went quickly into production because he had booked the Clyde Beatty circus for a film and would have lost money if he didn't make it (Spillane is also uncredited as having fixed the script during production).
Eaton also appears in a brief interview (9:02) in which she recalls Spillane and the director coming to see her in a stage production of COME BLOW YOUR HORN! in which she was playing an American (and continued to work on at night while shooting THE GIRL HUNTERS by day). She speaks warmly of the simultaneously down to earth and larger than life Spillane and compares him to Ian Fleming (who died before GOLDFINGER was released). The extra features are rounded out by a theatrical trailer (2:27). THE GIRL HUNTERS is a fun film on its own, but Scorpion's extras definitely make this edition worth picking up or upgrading from earlier editions. The film is also available on Blu-ray in a limited edition of 2000 copies. (Eric Cotenas)
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