Pulp writing at its worst was never as bad as this stuff. Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar... If the public likes you, you're good.
— Mickey Spillane
In 1947 comic book writer Mickey Spillane and his wife needed money to buy a new house. Hoping to add to his funds, Spillane wrote a novel in just nineteen days called "I, the Jury". It introduced the world to Hardboiled Detective
Mike Hammer, and sold six and a half million copies in the United States alone.
Hardboiled private detectives are expected to be world-weary and cynical
; Mike Hammer
however is patriotic
and fueled by rage at the evils of society. Hammer doesn't just bend the law; he holds it in complete contempt, often dishing out brutal beatings or appointing himself Judge, Jury, and Executioner
. Spillane would go on to create other characters, like James Bond
expy Tiger Mann, but Mike Hammer is his most well known creation. The novels revel in brutal violence and (though tame by today's standards) contained more sex than the competition. Critics (both then and now) have savaged them unrelentingly, yet they continue to be popular. In 1980 Spillane was responsible for seven of the top 15 all-time bestselling fiction titles in America, and his books have been adapted into film, TV and radio productions. The 1955 Kiss Me Deadly
is regarded as a classic of Film Noir
Provides examples of:
- Big Applesauce
- The Casanova: All women find Hammer irresistable. Unless they're gay.
- Deadly Game: "The Body Lovers"
- Deadpan Snarker: Both Hammer and Velda. But then, in their business, it's farely inevitable.
- Deconstruction: Many times, the filmmakers of the movie adaptations will basically brag about doing this to the Hammer character—and if not, the critics will do it for them. Ironically, One Lonely Night, Dirty Communists aside, is essentially Spillane having Hammer deconstruct himself, constantly mulling over whether he goes too far—and whether or not he's just as bad as the villains he fights. This eventually leads to his conclusion of "Evil Versus Evil" (see below).
- Dirty Communists: "One Lonely Night" lays this on good and thick.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Mike, very frequently.
- Everyone Loves Blondes: Hammer's Girl of the Week is inevitably blonde; interestingly however his UST Love Interest Velda has dark hair.
- Evil Versus Evil: In "One Lonely Night" Mike Hammer finally accepts that this is his role in life, just before he blows away a bunch of Dirty Communists who are torturing Velda.
I was the evil that opposed other evil, leaving the good and the meek in the middle to live and inherit the Earth!
- Famous Last Words. The last thing Charlotte Bennett says after being shot by Mike Hammer is "How could you?" Mike replies coldly: "It was easy." This is one scene that's shown in every film adaptation of I, the Jury.
- Fanservice: Every episode of the 1980's series contained the "Hammer-ettes", busty women in low tops and push-up bras emphasizing their ample cleavage, who'd exchange a Double Entendre or two with Stacy Keach.
- The books, of course, are famous for being heavily charged with this trope.
- Fatal Attraction: In "I, the Jury" Charlotte Bennett, the woman Hammer had fallen in love with and planned to marry, turned out to be the killer. This is probably the case that turned him from an ordinary Private Detective into the dispenser of brutal justice we all know and love.
- Friend on the Force: Captain Pat Chambers
- Girl Friday: Velda is Hammer's Sexy Secretary, but she has her own investigator's license and uses a gun on a couple of occasions too.
- Hand Cannon: Hammer carries a Colt .45 (called 'Betsy' in the Stacy Keach series) though he sometimes uses a small calibre hideaway or backup gun.
- Hardboiled Detective: Helped turn the character type into a parody of itself.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: In "Kiss Me, Deadly" Hammer kills two Mafia hoods who try taking him for a ride, leaving them under a sign saying DEAD END.
- I Resemble That Remark: Hammer spends an entire paragraph describing how no-one, from the biggest politician to the hardest con, would dare backchat corrupt cop Dilwick because he's a crude, murderous thug who enjoys dishing out violence and bloodshed. No-one except Mike Hammer that is; "Because I'm that way myself".
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Surprisingly downplayed, as Mike usually just has to threaten to do this, and the villain cracks. Still, that tends to be because said villain "knows", from looking Hammer in the eye, that he's serious.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Mike Hammer can screw around as much as he likes; Velda will still be there for him.
- Mysterious Woman: In the Stacy Keach series, Mike Hammer would repeatedly catch sight of the same beautiful woman (played by Donna Denton) who would then vanish before he had a chance to talk to her.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: "The Twisted Thing". The initial plan was to kill the victim (a wealthy scientist) via a heart attack caused by the stress of his son being kidnapped. When Hammer successfully recovers the boy, the killer simply murders the scientist with a cleaver, knowing his death will lead to other murders and countless possible motives being revealed, as his Big Screwed-Up Family scramble for his fortune.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The D.A. (named Lawrence D. Barrington in the Stacy Keach series) can't stand Hammer, and is always eager for a chance to lock him up.
- Police Are Useless: Averted. Mike Hammer is generally supportive of the police, regarding them as simply hamstrung by the law. Dilwick in "The Twisted Thing" is a notable exception, though he's no Inspector Lestrade, merely a Dirty Cop.
- Pretty in Mink: Quite a few ladies in the 1980s series.
- Private Eye Monologue: Naturally, as the novels are written in the first person. Also used in the Stacy Keach series.
- Sassy Secretary + Sexy Secretary: Velda
- Setting Update: Happens with every screen adaptation. Kiss Me Deadly (1955) was set in Los Angeles and had stolen nuclear Applied Phlebotinum as a McGuffin. The 1982 remake of I, the Jury (starring Armand Assante) had Hammer as a Vietnam veteran instead of a Pacific Theater World War II veteran, with a plot involving CIA mind control experiments. Stacy Keach's Hammer lived in 1980's New York, though he contined to dress anachronistically in a fedora and trench coat.
- Unsettling Gender-Reveal: The killer's true gender is revealed in the very last word of Vengeance Is Mine!
- Vapor Wear: "Kiss Me, Deadly" opens with Hammer picking up a female hitchhiker in a belted trenchcoat. He doesn't realise she's got nothing else on until she slips his hand underneath it to encourage him to get her past a police roadblock.
- Vigilante Man: Lampshaded in the title of the first Hammer novel, "I, the Jury". Even in the Stacy Keach series, the criminal was usually shot (albeit in self defence) rather than being arrested.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: In all but a few novels, Hammer's victims are often left vomiting after a blow to the stomach or groin.
- We Have Your Sassy Secretary: Happens to Velda on a couple of occasions.
- Wham Line / Wham Shot: As a rule, a Mike Hammer novel will tend to have at least one of these as it reaches its end. Most famously in Vengeance Is Mine!, in which a certain fact is revealed in the very last word:
"Juno was a queen, all right. A real live queen. You know the kind. Juno was a man!"
- What a Piece of Junk: Hammer refers to his car as his "heap", but in one book it's mentioned there's a Cadillac engine hidden under the hood.