It’s Hammer Time!

Send-ups and Put-Downs of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer

“I passed this kid sucking a lollipop. Don Brown dead, and him sucking a lollipop. I rammed it down his throat. I hate injustice.”
— from “Don Brown’s Body” by Jean Kerr

As literary poobah Christopher La Farge pointed out in an article on the Mickey Spillane phenomenon way back in 1954, “It would be a lot more fun (and a lot easier) to write a parody of these Mike Hammer books instead of an article…” And sure enough, through the years even while everyone from the “literary establishment” to Max Allan Collins has taken a swipe at propping up or tearing down Spillane’s legacy, trying to explain what it all means, others have just been content to poke a little fun at the Mick and his greatest creation.

Certainly, the cockeyed (and occasionally ass-backwards) “tributes,” coming from sources as diverse as MAD Magazine, Daffy Duck, Jean Kerr and Fred Astaire over the years warrant some kind of investigation, almost constituting a sub-genre by themselves. Perhaps fittingly, several of these sideways salutes appeared in comic books — the very same place where Spillane, as a young writer, first got his start.

Among those worth a peek:

  • “The Super Snooper”
    (1952, Warner Bros.)
    Written by Tedd Pierce
    Directed by Robert McKimson
    Music by Carl Stalling

    Starring the voices of Pinto Colvig, June Foray, Billy Bletcher, Alan Reed
    Daffy Duck stars as Duck Drake, a “private eye, ear, nose, and throat,” in a parody of both Hammer in particular and 1940s detective flicks in general. In this seven-minute cartoon from Warner Bros., Daffy, complete with trenchcoat, fedora and eternal cigarette, receives a mysterious phone call summoning him to the J. Cleaver Axe-Handle Estate, where a murder has supposedly taken place. A slinky femme fatale lady duck greets our hero and promptly puts the moves on him, but a suspicious Daffy smells something fowl. When he investigates further, he’s shot, crushed by a falling piano, and run over by a train, before being informed he has to the wrong address. Coincidentally, both Daffy and Goofy starred in a hard-boiled detective parody cartoon in 1952, in which they wear nearly identical outfits. “The Super Snooper” is more slapstick, and more specifically spoofing Spillance, than “How to Be a Detective,” which widens its lens to focus on film noir and detective films in general and leans more towards lampooning Chandler, although the “twist ending” is right out of the Spillane playbook.
  • “How to Be a Detective”
    (1952, Walt Disney)
    Written by Jack Kinney & Brice Mack
    Directed by Jack Kinney
    Starring the voices of Mel Blanc, Marian Richman
    Starts with a suitably noirish scenario: a body tossed off a bridge in the dead of night, and proceeds from there, zeroing in on hard-boiled detective Johnny Eyeball (Goofy, of course). He’s hired for “a hundred smackers” by a mysterious weoman in a veil to “find Al,” and promptly gets warned off by the cops and a thug, loses a fistfight and slipped a Mickey Finn–and that’s all in the first three minutes. A three-taxi car chase ensues, and there’s a twist ending. The moody, shadow-ridden art of the backgrounds, in particular, really nails the whole vibe of early hard-boiled detective films.
  • “The Bloody Drip” by Muckey Spleen
    (1953, Uncle Pogo’s So-So Stories)
    By Walt Kelly
    Appearing in his first published volume of new Pogo material, Uncle Pogo’s So-So Stories (1953), this dead-on spoof features Albert Alligator as “Meat Hamburg, Private Eye, Ear, Nose, Throat, and Leg Man” (upping the ante on the gag used in the previous year’s Daffy Duck parody), sporting at one point what looks like a lampshade, and a cross-dressing Churchy LaFemme as Tundra, the obligatory femme fatale.
  • “Me, the Jury”
    Parody by Ira Wallach
    Included in The Defective Detective: Mystery Parodies by the Great Humorists
    One of the great parodists wields a mighty hammer. Poor Mickey.
  • “The Night He Cried”
    (1953, Star Science Fiction Stories #1)
    By Fritz Leiber
    The noted sf writer gives us this clever pastiche, imagining Spillane’s possible influence on the fantasy genre, as an alien lifeform comes to Earth disguised as a babe to clue pulp writer Slickie Millane, author of the Spike Mallet crime novels, in on the real purpose of sex. Slickie, of course, tries to get the doll drunk and seduce her. In an afterword to a later collection, The Best of Fritz Leiber, that included the story, Leiber confesses: “I wrote “The Night He Cried” because I was distantly angry at Mickey Spillane for the self-satisfied violence and loveless sex and anti-feminism he was introducing into detective fiction and because he had the temerity to publish a couple of stories in the fantasy field, about which I have a parental concern. My rage seems remote, now, yet the point was valid.”
  • The Girl Hunt Ballet: A Murder Mystery in Jazz
    Sequence from the 1953 film “The Band Wagon”
    Directed by Vincent Minelli
    Choreography by Michael Kidd
    Featuring Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire
    In Mickey Spillane on Film (2012), Max Allan Collins calls this extended, twelve-minute dance sequence one of “the best and most high-profile” Spillane parodies on film, appearing as a sort of show-within-a-show in Vincent Minelli’s 1953 musical The Band Wagon, labelled as “Girl Hunt: A Murder Mystery in Jazz.” It features Fred Astaire as hard-boiled gumshoe Rod Riley and Cyd Charisse as The Blond/The Brunette. Loaded up with sirens, gun fire and a montage of pulpy paperback covers by “Mickey Starr,” it’s an affectionate and loving tribute, complete with spot-on dialogue, an actual plot (well, sorta–it is a dance number, after all), and more than enough attention to detail to suggest somebody knew their Spillane. And needless to say, Astaire and Charisse can dance. You get extra points for spotting a pre-Catwoman Julie Newmar in a small bit. A huge fan of musicals, Spillane must have been pleased — and in fact he named his 1962 comeback novel… The Girl Hunters.
  • “My Gun is the Jury”
    (February/March 1954, Panic)
    Written by Al Feldstein
    Art by Jack Davis
    The kick-off story in Panic #1, EC Comics’ short-lived rip-off of their own MAD Magazine, this spoof featured the rather foppish “Mike Hammershlammer” awash in a sea of guts and gore, blowing away several women (“I let her have it, right in the gut, a little below the belly-button…”). The story even boasted a typical socko Spillane-type ending: seems Mike Hammersshlammer is… a woman.
  • Murder in Pastiche
    1954 Novel
    By Marion Mainwaring
    This novel-length parody of fictional detectives lays waste to nine (count ’em, NINE!) of them.The world’s greatest gumshoes find themsleves on board the R. M. S. Florabunda as it sails from Liverpool to New York. Of course, murder soon rears its ugly head, and M. Atlas Poireau (Hercule Poirot), Sir Jon. Nappleby (Sir John Appleby), Jerry Pason (Perry Mason), Broderick Tourneur (Roderick Alleyn), Trajan Beare (Nero Wolfe), Miss Fan Sliver (Miss Silver), Mallory King (Ellery Queen), and Lord Simon Quinsey (Lord Peter Wimsey). rush to discover the culprit. But by far the funniest — and sharpest, or at least nastiest spoof — is of Spike Bludgeon (Mike Hammer). Bludgeon is a complete psycho, shown as willing to kill just about anyone to get to the truth, and there are a slew of in-jokes for those familiar with Spillane’s work.
  • “Gore Blimey: The Bloody Drip Writhes Again” by Muckey Spleen
    (1955, The Pogo Peek-a-Book)
    By Walt Kelly
    Another whack at the Spillane canon. One bit features an impatient Hamburg getting busted for shooting at slow-changing traffic lights. La Farge called it “brilliantly done.”
  • “Kiss Me, Dudley”
    (January 1955, Manhunt)
    By Hunt Collins
    An absolutely hilarious parody of Hammer by Hunt Collins (actually Ed McBain).
  • “Don Brown’s Body”
    (1957, from Please Don’t Eat the Daisies)
    By Jean Kerr

    A two-fisted send-up of Mickey Spillane AND of John Brown’s Body, a then recent-Broadway production directed by Charles Laughton, that starred Raymond Massey, Tyrone Power and Judith Anderson. The skit, a staged dramatic reading, with props and sound effects, was originally written for a Broadway revue called John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, starring Cyril Ritchard and Hermione Gingold. “Don Brown,” with Orson Bean as Mike Hammer, was the big hit of the evening. Kerrlater slipped it into her bestselling collection of humourous essays Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.
  • “I’m Tough”
    (May 1961, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
    By Davis Dresser
    “A cute little Spillane parody”  by Davis “Brett Halliday” Dresser. Also collected in the 1965 collection Best Detective Stories.
  • “If Mickey Spillane Wrote NANCY”
    (April 1969, MAD Magazine)
    By Wally Wood and Frank Jacob
    This piece originally appeared in the April 1959 issue of MAD Magazine, as part of an article entitled “If Famous Authors Wrote the Comics.”
  • “My Gun is Cute”
    (May 1972, National Lampoon)
    By Henry Beard
    Spillane re-envisioned; now feminist-friendly.
  • “Mike Hammy”
    (1985, MAD Magazine #255)
    By Sam Viviano
    This two-page story spoofs the then-current TV series starring Stacey Keach, and his arrest for cocaine possession. The cops arrive to arrest him and he protests that “You can’t arrest me right in the middle of this MAD satir–“
  • Mickey Spillane for Miller Lite Beer
    TV Commercials

    Some would argue that the ultimate parody was Spillane’s own long-running (nineteen years!) string of TV commercials for Miller Lite Beer, which deftly played off his carefully constructed persona over the years. In each ad, Spillane sported a fedora, a trench coat and usually a “Doll” (Lee Merideth, usually) lingering close by. Although others might argue that the ultimate parody was actually Spillane casting himself as Hammer in the 1963 British film The Girl Hunters, and the beer ads were simply a long, drawn out curtain bow…

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • Something Funny About the Eyes
    This site’s growling list of parodies, satires, spoofs and lampoons of the genre we hold dear.
  • “Mickey Spillane and His Bloody Hammer”
    (November 6, 1954; The Saturday Review)
    Christopher La Farge’s own take on the Spillane phenomena, in which he suggests that “Mike Hammer is the logical conclusion, almost a sort of brutal apotheosis, of McCarthyism; when things seem wrong, let one man cure the wrong by whatever means he, as a privileged saviour, chooses… he operates, as has Senator McCarthy, on the final philosophy that the end can justify the means; in this Hammerism and McCarthyism are similar.” 
    An excerpt from the essay later appeared in Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White’s Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America (1957).
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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