Since last summer I’ve been researching and writing a study about the depiction of school violence in American film – exploring thematic consistencies and how they all changed post-Columbine. I was gonna wait to share anything, but I’m getting paranoid someone’s going to be beat me to it. I added a page here on the site about it, which will hopefully climax in book form. Check it out if you have the time, please and thank you.
As my work on the book progresses (slowly) along I’ll be updating this page.
This week at the Hardboiled Hangover, we’re taking a look at some films based on the books of Mickey Spillane – the prolific pulp maestro of sex and carnage. During his time on earth, Spillane (1918 – 2006) sold tens of millions of books, most notably his Mike Hammer series. A private detective who was fueled by rage and moral righteousness, Hammer was a misanthrope who preferred beating confessions out of riff raff rather than questioning them. Spillane put the hard back in hardboiled, with Mike Hammer as his literary tool for vengeance. He certainly wasn’t going for deep insights into the human condition. Mickey wrote to get paid and his books were all about instant gratification of the two-fisted sort.
In Harry Essex’s I, the Jury, Mike Hammer is a dim-witted, primitive goof who punches his way out of a whodunnit. The next film to feature the private dick stepped it up a notch, portraying Hammer as a crass neanderthal who not only uses his fists instead of wit, he’s a pure sadist. Despite having the meanest of mean bastards as a protagonist, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly is a landmark film of the classic noir period’s twilight years. It’s a satirical look at Mickey Spillane’s creation, while also miraculously blending hardboiled noir with apocalyptic science fiction. The mystery at the heart of the film unfurls against a violent maze of Red Scare paranoia and features one of the greatest MacGuffins of all time – one of white hot nuclear fire.
This week at the Hardboiled Hangover, we’re taking a look at some films based on the books of Mickey Spillane – the prolific pulp maestro of sex and carnage. During his time on earth, Spillane (1918 – 2006) sold tens of millions of books, most notably his Mike Hammer series. A private detective who was fueled by rage and moral righteousness, Hammer was a misanthrope who preferred beating confessions out of anyone rather than question them. Spillane put the hard back in hardboiled, with Mike Hammer as his literary tool for vengeance. He certainly wasn’t going for deep insights into the human condition. Mickey wrote to get paid and his books were all about instant gratification of the two-fisted sort.
I, the Jury (1947) was the first Mike Hammer novel published and the first film adaptation. The novel became quickly notorious for its final line, which has become one of the most infamous bits of dialogue in crime fiction history. Ask around, someone will tell you. I, The Jury the film was released in 1953, when cinema wasn’t nearly explicit enough for Spillane’s brand of pornographic justice. This toned down version of the book pretty much follows the same plot, which is a convoluted one that begins with a simple murder and leads to an international art black market, hypnosis, and lots and lots of fisticuffs.
Filmmaker Rudolph Maté has a damn impressive list of films under his belt as both a director and a DP. He started out shooting classics like The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940), then when set his sights on directing, he busted out noir classics like Gilda (1946) and today’s film: the dark beast known as D.O.A. As bleak and downbeat as D.O.A. is, it’s also kinda comical – borderline slapstick. This is thanks to the over the top physical performance by Edmond O’Brien, who plays a man whose time is running out quicker than you can say dead.on.arrival.
In much of film noir, sometimes the dirtiest thing about the streets is the cops. They either hold strong to such an unbreakable moral code of justice that they’ll destroy anything from a life to their families to ensure its vitality. Or they’re just as corrupt as the gangsters they through behind bars – beating their way to a promotion, pocketing seized cash in the meantime. One wicked example of the latter is the cop at the heart of Bruce Humberstone’s twisting tale of crime and punishment, I Wake Up Screaming (1941), featuring one of the most subtly psychotic cops I’ve seen yet on the Hardboiled Hangover.
Make up your mind to be a cop, not a gangster with a badge.
There’s a chilling moment in Nicolas Ray’s tough, contemplative noir On Dangerous Ground where detective Jim Wilson is beating the confession out of a suspect, connecting punch after punch, pleading with him, “Why do you make me do it?!” He’s internalized the brutality and depravity his job has exposed him to until it’s become second nature. It’s a violently tangible performance delivered by Robert Ryan (Act of Violence), and under the expressive direction of Ray, his character undergoes something like a spirit quest out in the mountains. On Dangerous Ground offers heaps of grit and haymakers, but also a flood of compassion towards its lineup of riff raff.
Barbara Stanwyck always seems to find herself in some form of a domestic nightmare. As the dark queen of noir, Stanwyck frequently donned the cowl of of the femme fatale in a litany of murder dramas: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The File on Thelma Jordan, No Man of Her Own, and, most famously, Double Indemnity. This morning I watched her in another suburban shit show, Crime of Passion. It was Stanwyck’s swansong with film noir, and boy howdy does she go out with a whimper. And a bang. A bang right through her husband’s slimy boss’ head.
So far my Hardboiled Hangover foray into the world of film noir has turned up some pretty paranoid pictures. Typically these disquieting films were reserved for the late WWII period and the post-war years when several factors led to an anxious nation. So where the hell did Boris Ingster’s 1940 pitch black thriller Stranger on the Third Floor Come from?! This is one dark sonsabitch spearheaded with disturbed performances from John McGuire and the almighty Peter Lorre, and some of the most striking cinematography I’ve seen in a while. Who’s the Stranger on the Third Floor? Short answer: one creepy ass dude. Long answer: hit the jump.
Right before he directed Kansas City Confidential, director Phil Karlson found his stride with the sensational noir Scandal Sheet. Based on the novel The Dark Page by the mighty Sam Fuller, Scandal Sheet is a lurid tale ripped from the tabloid pages the film’s characters write for. Fuller himself cut his chops in his youth as a copy boy, then as a journalist on the crime beat in his teens, so Scandal Sheet is dripping with notes of authenticity. It portrays the ruthless tricks writers and editors alike utilized to score the scoop, right down to covering up a murder (not sure if any editors ever did that, but shit, it’s in the movie).
Here we are, at the final Inner Sanctum mystery, and whatta miserably silly title it has: Pillow of Death! Forget about the dumb title though because Pillow of Death is a real good one that throws everything at ya, from seances to graveyards, from secret passages to a gun-toting maid. Not to mention a boodle of red herrings. Most importantly, at the heart of Pillow of Death‘s story is the strongest mystery in all the Inner Sanctum tales.