Mike Hammer: Now who could that be?
Christina Bailey: You. You're one of those self-indulgent males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. Bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard.
1955 Film Noir adaptation of the Crime Fiction novel by Mickey Spillane, directed by Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) and starring Ralph Meeker as Los Angeles Private Detective Mike Hammer.
Spillane didn't much care for the film, as it actually deconstructed his macho, tough guy creation and differed from the original story by involving Cold War espionage and a nuclear MacGuffin. Originally unsuccessful upon its theatrical release, it is now considered one of the classic examples of Film Noir and was later cited as influential among directors of the French New Wave and also Quentin Tarantino when he made Pulp Fiction.
A terrified young woman named Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman in her first credited screen role) wearing only a trenchcoat is running down a highway at night. She stops a car driven by private divorce detective Mike Hammer. He picks her up, from then on becoming embroiled in a plot involving murder, missing scientists and a mysterious box...
Trope Me Deadly:
- Adaptational Mundanity: Inverted: the "Great Whatsit" and everything related to it didn't existed in the Hammer story that inspired this film, and although Gabrielle still goes off like a Roman candle in it, it's because it is revealed she constantly slathers herself in alcohol to stave off the pain of a highly-burned body and Hammer exploits it with a Reusable Lighter Toss.
- Adaptational Villainy: This film did not do Mike Hammer any favors. Whereas in the books Hammer was merely a standard Private Eye (Jerkass at times, but otherwise good), this movie made him a goddamn sadist. He's honestly not much better than the people he's up against. This is one of the reasons that Mickey Spillane didn't like the film.
- Affably Evil: The erudite and philosophical Dr. Soberin, made more ironic by how brutally he handles people to get what he wants.
- Artistic License Nuclear Physics: The "Great Whatsit" is clearly meant to contain unstable radioactive isotopes of a sort. But the way it behaves is more in the direction of Green Rocks than an actual nuclear reaction.
- Artistic License Pharmacology: Swallowing an entire bottle of sleeping drug will put a person in a coma or kill him outright, not put him in a deep, snoring sleep like William Mist.
- Cool Car: Mike's two-seat white Jaguar convertible.
- The Coroner: Mike tries to bribe one to get a key from him. When the coroner tries to get more money from him, Mike slams his fingers in a desk drawer until he gives it to him.
- Creative Closing Credits: Opening credits, that is. They're shown in reverse order, descending from the top of the screen in a scroll. Meeker's credit appears like this:MEEKER
- Damsel in Distress: Christina Bailey and later her roommate Lily Carver. Subverted in she is later revealed to be not the real Lily but Gabrielle, the mistress of the Big Bad.
- Deconstruction: Director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides deconstructed the Hardboiled Detective character here, depicting him as a vicious, amoral narcissist.
- Downer Ending: The film ends with the "Great Whatsit" being opened by Gabrielle, who screams in agony as she (and the beach house) goes up like a Roman candle. The only survivors are Mike and Velda, who stagger out into the sea terrified and confused as Hell seems to come to Earth.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Mike goes to a bar and downs a whole bottle of bourbon after his friend Nick is killed for getting involved in Mike's investigation.
- Dutch Angle: Used throughout a scene where a dazed Hammer briefly regains consciousness in the hospital.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Mike's car bursts into flame while gently rolling down a ravine.
- External Combustion: The killers have left a sports car outside his apartment building in perfect condition. His mechanic friend Nick goes to start it but Mike stops him and and shows that under the hood there's a bomb connected to the starter. Later when they check under the car at Nick's garage Mike shows that there was a second bomb set to go off when the car accelerates to higher speeds driving in the country.
- Femme Fatale: Lily Carver, who tricks Mike into thinking she's an innocent damsel but is actually an impostor, and a murderous one to boot.
- Friend on the Force: Lt. Pat Murphy, who tries to get Hammer to step aside. Towards the end a scornful Murphy notes that Hammer's selfishness has endangered Velda.
- Forbidden Fruit: Soberin repeatedly warns Gabrielle against opening the box containing the "Great Whatsit", telling her that it contains something that is both extremely dangerous and way out of her comprehension. It eventually drives Gabrielle to double-cross him just so she can have a look inside it.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: The chaotic editing near the film's climax makes it seem like the "Great Whatsit" is so dangerous that it's destroying the film reel.
- Genre Savvy: Mike figures out there's not one, but two bombs planted in a car delivered to him.
- Girl Friday: Velda, who runs Mike's business affairs, is a Honey Pot for his divorce cases, and apparently provides sex whenever he wants it.
- The '50s
- Hardboiled Detective
- He-Man Woman Hater: Hammer. He's worse in the novel.
- Interrogation by Vandalism: Mike smashes an opera singer's valuable 78 rpm record in order to get information from him.
- Jerkass: Mike, especially the scene where he breaks a valuable opera record of someone he's questioning.
- Kansas City Shuffle: Averted and lampshaded by Hammer saying the bomb he and Nick find shortly after opening up the car's hood is "the one we were meant to find."
- Kubrick Stare: Produced in the last scene when a homicidal Lily/Gabrielle looks up at the much taller Mike.
- Kung-Foley: Some earth-shattering blows when Hammer fights two mooks on the beach.
- MacGuffin: The "Great Whatsit", which is never really explained, but is something nuclear and very deadly.Velda: What is it? Who cares?
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Christine's kidnapping and murder reveals a plot to steal some sort of ghastly nuclear device.
- That Mysterious Thing or "Great Whatsit". Justified as it's Classified Information.Lt. Pat Murphy: Now listen, Mike. Listen carefully. I'm going to pronounce a few words. They're harmless words. Just a bunch of letters scrambled together. But their meaning is very important. Try to understand what they mean. "Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, Trinity."
- Pet the Dog: Mike's genuine friendship for Nick the mechanic and also his unusual (for the times) friendship and rapport with a couple of African American characters in the film.
- Playing Both Sides: Mike Hammer's method as a divorce detective. He's hired by a husband to get evidence against his wife for a divorce, then secretly is hired by the wife to get evidence against her husband.
- Plot-Triggering Death: Christina's death.
- Rated M for Manly: Mike Hammer is a vicious deconstruction of this trope.
- Retroactive Recognition: Cloris Leachman as Christina Bailey.
- Rule of Symbolism: The horrific ungodly screeches made by the "Great Whatsit" at the film's climax sound more like The Legions of Hell than a sub-critical nuclear reactor core going critical.
- Schmuck Bait: Soberin warned Gabrielle repeatedly not to open the case. Since he gave that warning one last time just after she fatally shot him, he might have been counting on schmucking her so she'd get herself killed.
- Stock Scream: When Hammer crushes the coroner's fingers, his screams are the same used in King Kong (1933).
- Swallow the Key: Christine leaves Mike a note which leads to him figuring out that she swallowed something to hide it from the bad guys. Sure enough, he retrieves a key from the coroner.
- The Teaser: Christine is shown running alone on the highway at night. After she gets picked up by Mike Hammer the opening credits begin.
- The Unreveal: The mysterious briefcase. All we see is that it gives off a blindingly bright glow (possibly nuclear in origin).
- Wham Shot: After a good while of appearing to just be a standard issue film noir, Mike opens the case and finds it's a brightly glowing something that makes an ungodly screech, bringing the story into science fiction or even fantasy out of nowhere.
- What's in It for Me?: Hammer says this when Murphy urges him to tell what he knows and let the police handle things.