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Literature / Mike Hammer

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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. Four films were made featuring the Mike Hammer character between 1953 and 1963. The 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly is regarded as a classic of Film Noir, while Spillane himself played his own creation in 1963's The Girl Hunters. Mike Hammer was revived in the 1980s for a series of television films and series that lasted to 1998, most of which featured Stacy Keach in the starring role.

John Zorn devoted a Concept Album to Spillane's "Mike Hammer" novels, simply called Spillane (1987).


Provides examples of:

  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: In the first novel I, the Jury, Mike deliberately shoots the female murderer of a friend of his in the stomach to ensure they die as painfully as possible.
  • Big Applesauce: The stories are usually set in crime infested New York City.
  • The Casanova: All women find Hammer irresistible. 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!
  • 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.
  • Final Exchange: In the end of the novel I the Jury, Hammer shoots the killer, Charlotte Bennett, in cold blood.
    Bennet: How could you?
    Hammer: It was easy.
  • Friend on the Force: Captain Pat Chambers.
  • Genius Bruiser: Mike is pretty strong and tough, and quite intelligent. He's reasonably literate, too — enough to quote Hamlet, at least.
  • 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.
  • I, Noun: I, the Jury is an early example.
  • Indecisive Parody: The Stacy Keach version, which is too serious to be a straight-up farce of Film Noir, but most of it is played incredibly tongue in cheek.
  • 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.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: In the New Mike Hammer episode "Elegy For a Tramp", Hammer and the killer are fighting when the killer winds up hanging precariously from a hotel balcony. He begs for Hammer to give him a hand, to which he replies, "I'll do even better...I'll give you a standing ovation!", and the killer slowly loses his grip and falls to his death from the balcony, similar to the way he killed his first victim.
  • Letterbox Arson: One episode of the 1957 TV series has an extortion racket demand "protection fees" against arson. Those that don't pay have hydrogen gas pumped into their heating oil intake, where it seeps out, filling the workspaces. The ignition source is the ringer relay on the rotary-dial telephones.
  • Lotsa People Try to Dun It: An Invoked Trope in 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Mike Hammer's general MO when dealing with murderers.
  • 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.
  • Retro Universe: The TV version with Stacy Keach is clearly set in the 1990s (the Cold War is over, and Mike makes use of personal computers), but fashions and societal mores are still in the 1940s.
  • 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 continued to dress anachronistically in a fedora and trench coat.
  • Smiting Evil Feels Good: Velda shoots a thug In the Back to stop him from killing Hammer. Afterwards instead of crying she starts laughing, and Hammer tells her she's right to do so, as there's "no shame to killing an evil thing."
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Once, unbeknownst to Velda, Mike compares her to Circe in his internal monologue. Less than a minute later, Velda compares him to Ulysses.
  • 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.
  • Visual 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.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: One very effective and harsh one right before the beginning of One Lonely Night, courtesy of a judge. Mike is deeply shaken by that, and by the end of the novel starts viewing his struggle against the villains of the piece as Evil Versus Evil.

Alternative Title(s): Mickey Spillane