THE TWISTED THING (1966) ****
by Mickey Spillane
This paperback edition published in The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 3 by Obsidian, 2010, 178pp (524pp) with The Girl Hunters (1962) and The Snake (1964)
Introduction by Max Allan Collins
First published in hardcover by E.P. Dutton, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-451-23124-6 Blurb: This is some household. The kid is a genius, the father a scientist of international repute. Money is a problem. Not a shortage of money, but the opposite: too much. The sort of money that brings the envious and the scheming clustering like flies around offal: nieces, nephews, cousins … a family of mean minds and gross appetites. The staff has its peculiarities, too: the chauffeur is an ex-con; the governess formerly a featured act in strip clubs from New York to Miami; and the secretary has a well-developed taste in other women. Yes, it’s some household – and not all that welcoming of PI Mike Hammer, not when the kid has been kidnapped and everyone’s a suspect. Comment: This ninth Mike Hammer novel from the pen of Mickey Spillane seems to hark back to the noir mystery thrillers of the 40s and 50s. There’s a reason for that. This was in fact the second Mike Hammer book Spillane wrote (after I, the Jury – published in 1947). It had initially been rejected by Spillane’s publisher who was looking for something tougher, more violent, sexy and vengeance-driven after the success of the first book. So, Spillane obliged with My Gun is Quick and shelved The Twisted Thing for 18 years. It’s easy to see why the book was initially passed as it tends to blend into the more traditional field that surrounded it at the time. That said the book is not without its moments of violence and sex. The main difference is Hammer is less driven by vengeance and his two-fisted ways of obtaining his leads and works more as a detective in the Chandler or MacDonald mode. Indeed a softer side to his character is shown in his attachment to the kidnapped boy. As such, the book is refreshing with its complex kidnap/murder plot built around a large dysfunctional family and has distinct echoes of some of the classics of the genre. Excepting one or two fanciful advancements of the plot, Spillane keeps the reader engaged throughout and his writing is often impressive as Spillane sticks with the tried and tested first-person narrative until its twist ending. The setting is mostly a small town in New York state, so the change of environment also serves to freshen up the formula. One of the best of the later published Mike Hammer novels, this is worth seeking out.
Well, really there are more than 70 films I can watch over and over, but I had to stop somewhere. I don’t claim this list to be the best films ever made or even the best films I have ever seen (although a lot of these would also be in that list). It is a collection of the films I love to return to on many an occasion and can thoroughly enjoy on their own terms. So whilst I have seen and rate a film like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, for example, very highly, it is difficult to watch over and over. In fact, I have only seen Spielberg’s brilliant recreation of D-day and the aftermath once, it is such a tough watch. So whilst I acknowledge and admire its brilliance, I wouldn’t want to spend a wet Sunday afternoon in its company.
Here then are the 70 films I have picked that I would love to watch on those rainy Sundays…
THE GENERAL (1926, Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton) – When Union spies steal an engineer’s beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines. Maybe the greatest silent comedy ever made. Wonderful sight gags from the stone-faced Buster Keaton (many of which have been stolen over the years). I always preferred Keaton to Chaplin.
FRANKENSTEIN (1931, James Whale) – An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses. The grandad of all horror movies is all sinister atmosphere and haunting production design with Boris Karloff the definitive monster in ground-breaking make-up. “It’s alive!”
DUCK SOUP (1933, Leo McCarey) – Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighbouring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale. Marx Brothers mayhem at its best. Groucho: “Remember, you’re fighting for this woman’s honour, which is probably more than she ever did.”
KING KONG (1933, Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack) – A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal ape who takes a shine to their female blonde star. He is then captured and brought back to New York City for public exhibition. The grandad of monster movies with its iconic finale on top of the Empire State Building. As enjoyable now as it was when I was ten. “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”
WAY OUT WEST (1937, James W. Horne) – Stan and Ollie are enlisted to deliver the deed to a goldmine in a small village, only for it to be stolen. Pure joy from Laurel & Hardy as they sing “On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine”. Sharon Lynn: “It can’t be. What did he die of?” Stan: “I think he died of a Tuesday, or was it a Wednesday?”
CASABLANCA (1942, Michael Curtiz) – A cynical American expatriate struggles to decide whether or not he should help his former lover and her fugitive husband escape French Morocco. The greatest movie ever made? Probably. It’s as near to perfection as I’ve ever seen. Bogart: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
MURDER, MY SWEET (1944, Edward Dmytryk) – After being hired to find an ex-con’s former girlfriend, Philip Marlowe is drawn into a deeply complex web of mystery and deceit. Film noir mystery at its best and most convoluted with Dick Powell a surprisingly effective Marlowe. Powell (voiceover): “She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.”
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944, Howard Hawks) – During World War II, American expatriate Harry Morgan helps transport a French Resistance leader and his beautiful wife to Martinique while romancing a sensuous lounge singer. The electric chemistry between Bogart and Bacall in Hawks’ adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel has never been topped. Bacall to Bogart: “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.”
THE BIG SLEEP (1946, Howard Hawks) – Private detective Philip Marlowe’s hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he’s seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love. Bogart and Bacall again in this wonderfully scripted and densely plotted adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel. Bacall to Bogart: “So you’re a private detective? I didn’t know they existed, except in books, or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors. My, you’re a mess, aren’t you?”
OUT OF THE PAST (1947, Jacques Tourneur) – A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double-crosses and duplicitous dames. Film noir of great depth with a brooding Robert Mitchum up against a self-assured Kirk Douglas. Mitchum: “Let’s go down to the bar. We can cool off while we try to impress each other.”
JOUR DE FÊTE (1949, Jacques Tati) – Tati as an inept and easily distracted mailman in a backward French village. No plot just pure observational and largely silent visual comedy from a master filmmaker. This is very rustic compared to Tati’s later work, but it is so diverting and enjoyable you can overlook its rough edges.
SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949, Allan Dwan) – A dramatisation of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima in which John Wayne has to break-in a platoon of young marines. Wayne’s screen presence as the definitive tough sergeant and the authentic action scenes make this a must-see war movie. Wayne: “You gotta learn right and you gotta learn fast. And any man that doesn’t want to co-operate, I’ll make him wish he had never been born.”
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951, Christian Nyby) – Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a bloodthirsty alien organism while at a remote arctic outpost. Highly influential sci-fi/horror produced by Howard Hawks is the definitive base-under-siege story. Great ensemble cast and James Arness as the monster. John Carpenter would later make a more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s source novella. Last line: “Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”
BEND OF THE RIVER (1952, Anthony Mann) – When a town boss confiscates homesteader’s supplies after gold is discovered nearby, a tough cowboy risks his life to try and get it to them. The 1950s was the golden era for the Western, James Stewart made a handful with director Anthony Mann and this may be the best of an excellent bunch. Great scenic photography. Arthur Kennedy: “I’ll be seeing you, Glyn.” Stewart: “You’ll be seeing me. You’ll be seeing me. Everytime you bed down for the night, you’ll look back to the darkness and wonder if I’m there. And some night, I will be. You’ll be seeing me!”
SHANE (1953, George Stevens) – A weary gunfighter attempts to settle down with a homestead family, but a smouldering settler/rancher conflict forces him to act. Alan Ladd is compulsively watchable as the gunfighter trying to escape his past but being drawn into the conflict. It’s a simple morality tale but told so well it is a real contender for the definitive Western, with great performances all round. The final scene packs a real emotional wallop. Ladd: “Know what you want to stay for? Something that means more to you than anything else – your families – your wives and kids. Like you, Lewis, your girls. Shipstead with his boys. They’ve got a right to stay here and grow up and be happy. That’s up to you people to have – nerve enough to not give it up.”
REAR WINDOW (1954, Alfred Hitchcock) – A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. This slow-burn thriller hooks you tight and reels you in. Hitchcock’s storytelling gifts are in great evidence here, with inventive camera work and direction placing you firmly in James Stewart’s shoes. Stewart: “Why would a man leave his apartment three times on a rainy night with a suitcase and come back three times?”
BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955, John Sturges) – A one-armed stranger comes to a tiny town possessing a terrible past they want to keep secret, by violent means if necessary. Spencer Tracy demonstrates how good an actor he was in this modern-day Western. His uncompromising approach to the hostility he attracts is wonderfully played and makes for compulsive viewing. Tracy: [to the town mortician] “Mind not looking at me like that?” Walter Brennan: “Like what?” Tracy: “Like a potential customer.”
FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956, Fred M. Wilcox) – A starship crew goes to investigate the silence of a planet’s colony only to find two survivors and a deadly secret that one of them has. A sci-fi adventure way ahead of its time and can now be seen as a forerunner to Star Trek. Great production design and visual effects. Walter Pidgeon gets the balance right between charm and obsession. The invisible “Id” monster is unnerving and there’s also the cinema’s first cute robot in Robbie. Leslie Nielsen: “Nice climate you have here. High oxygen content.” Robby the Robot: “I seldom use it myself, sir. It promotes rust.”
THE SEARCHERS (1956, John Ford) – An American Civil War veteran embarks on a journey to rescue his niece from the Comanches. This epic Western contains John Wayne’s finest ever performance as the embittered ex-soldier on an obsessive quest. It’s an unsympathetic part that demonstrates the star’s command of the screen. Wonderful use of the Monument Valley vistas and one of cinema’s most famous closing shots. Ward Bond: “I say we do it my way. That’s an order!” Wayne: “Yessir. But if you’re wrong don’t ever give me another.”
7 MEN FROM NOW (1956, Budd Boetticher) – A former sheriff blames himself for his wife’s death during a Wells Fargo robbery and vows to track down and kill the seven men responsible. Like James Stewart with Anthony Mann, Randolph Scott made his best Westerns with director Budd Boetticher. Psychologically driven stories, tightly scripted and impeccably acted. This is perhaps the pair’s best. John Phillips: “You must’ve rode a long way.” Scott: “I walked.” Phillips: “Ain’t you got no horse?” Scott: “Did have. Chirichua jumped me about ten mile back.” Phillips: “They stole ’em?” Scott: “They ate him.”
12 ANGRY MEN (1957, Sidney Lumet) – A jury holdout attempts to prevent a miscarriage of justice by forcing his colleagues to reconsider the evidence. Absorbing study of human nature as Henry Fonda stands alone against his fellow jurors in his determination to question their judgement. The most effective one-room drama. Edward Binns: [when Fonda asks him to “suppose” the defendant’s innocence] “Well, I’m not used to supposin’. I’m just a workin’ man. My boss does all the supposin’, but I’ll try one. Supposin’ you talk us all out of this, and, uh, the kid really did knife his father?”
THE ENEMY BELOW (1957, Dick Powell) – During World War II, an American destroyer meets a German U-Boat. Both captains are experts, and so begins a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Tense tactical thriller with Robert Mitchum and Curd Jürgens perfect as the respective captains. Mitchum: “I have no idea what he is, what he thinks. I don’t want to know the man I’m… trying to destroy.”
DRACULA (1958, Terence Fisher) – Jonathan Harker begets the ire of Count Dracula after he accepts a job at the vampire’s castle under false pretences, forcing his colleague Dr. Van Helsing to destroy the predatory villain when he targets Harker’s loved ones. Forget the ludicrous BBC adaptation, Hammer Films’ take on Bram Stoker’s novel remains the best with Christopher Lee the perfect Dracula and Peter Cushing the man out to stake him. Cushing: “Since the death of Jonathan Harker Count Dracula the propagator of this unspeakable evil has disappeared. He must be found and destroyed!”
TOUCH OF EVIL (1958, Orson Welles) – A stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town. Dark film noir is magnetic from its amazing opening tracking shot through to its thrilling conclusion. You can even accept Charlton Heston as a Mexican. Heston: “This isn’t the real Mexico. You know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country. I can just imagine your mother’s face if she could see our honeymoon hotel.”
DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959, André De Toth) – A rancher is at odds with homesteaders when outlaws hold up the small town. The outlaws are held in check only by their notorious leader, but he is diagnosed with a fatal wound and the town is a powder keg waiting to blow. This psychological Western with complex characters is bleak and intense, heightened by the winter setting beautifully captured by cameraman Russell Harlan. Robert Ryan: “The trail ends in this town. There’s no place to go but back.”
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959, Alfred Hitchcock) – A New York City advertising executive goes on the run after being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. One of the contenders for the most purely entertaining movies ever made. Hitchcock mixes suspense, action, romance and comedy with Cary Grant the perfect lead. One amazing scene after another. Grant: “Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself ‘slightly’ killed.”
RIO BRAVO (1959, Howard Hawks) – A small-town sheriff in the American West enlists the help of a cripple, a drunk, and a young gunfighter in his efforts to hold in jail the brother of the local bad guy. The film I’ve watched more than any other. I still love spending two hours or so in the company of these characters. The interplay between John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, Angie Dickinson and Ricky Nelson is perfection. Ward Bond: “A game-legged old man and a drunk. That’s all you got?” Wayne: “That’s WHAT I got.”
TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959, John Guillermin) – Four British villains raid a settlement to obtain explosives for use in a diamond mine. In doing so they nearly destroy the settlement, so and Tarzan pursues them to their mine. I grew up watching Tarzan films on a Saturday morning. This is most definitely my favourite and it is a surprisingly gritty and absorbing adventure with Gordon Scott an intelligent and articulate Tarzan. Scott: “Death is never a pretty sight. We’ll see it again before the hunt is over.”
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960, John Sturges) – Seven gunfighters are hired by Mexican peasants to liberate their village from oppressive bandits. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this most popular of Westerns. It’s a classic tale, with a plot lifted from Seven Samurai (1954) and a cast of actors, most of whom went on to become big stars. Steve McQueen: “We deal in lead, friend.”
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963, Don Chaffey) – The legendary Greek hero leads a team of intrepid adventurers in a perilous quest for the legendary Golden Fleece. When I was a kid Christmas was never Christmas until you had watched this film. Ray Harryhausen’s wonderful stop-motion monsters are the real stars, from giant walking metal statues to skeletons with swords. Great fun. Todd Armstrong: “We reach land at noon. Then you can fill your bellies until they grumble as much as your tongues.”
A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964, Blake Edwards) – Inspector Jacques Clouseau investigates the murder of Mr. Benjamin Ballon’s driver at a country estate. Peter Sellers demonstrates his brilliant comedic talent and expert timing in this the best of his Clouseau films with Blake Edwards. Wonderful sight gags abound. Sellers: “I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.”
THUNDERBALL (1965, Terence Young) – James Bond heads to the Bahamas to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Agent Emilio Largo in an international extortion scheme. I used to go to the cinema regularly in the late 60s and early 70s to watch James Bond double-bills. At the time this was my favourite (I have two others now, which will follow) and by this point, Connery had perfected his performance. Great spectacle and fantastic escapism. Luciana Paluzzi: [after Connery finds her in the bathtub in his hotel room] “Since you’re here, would you mind giving me something to put on?” [Connery casually hands Paluzzi her shoes].
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966, Sergio Leone) – A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery. Superb marriage of a director’s vision, Ennio Morricone’s music and Clint Eastwood’s star power. The visuals are magnificent. Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach make up the trio in the title. There’s a wonderfully evocative scene where Van Cleef tortures Wallach for information whilst the prisoners of war are forced to sing the most beautiful melody outside. Eastwood: “There are two kinds of people in the world those with guns and those that dig. You dig.”
EL DORADO (1967, Howard Hawks) – Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire, joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara. Together with an old Indian fighter and a gambler, they help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher that is trying to steal their water. Often confused with RIO BRAVO (see #27 on my list) due to the situational similarities, this is a more expansive variation on the same themes. The banter between John Wayne and Robert Mitchum is priceless. Mitchum: “What the hell are you doin’ here?” Wayne: “I’m lookin’ at a tin star with a… drunk pinned on it.”
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967, Roy Ward Baker) – A mysterious artefact is unearthed in London, and famous scientist Bernard Quatermass is called in to divine its origins and explain its strange effects on people. The best of British sci-fi and horror courtesy of Hammer Films with Andrew Keir and impressively intense Quatermass. Despite the budget limitations, the remarkable finale packs a real punch and would be mimicked years later in LIFEFORCE. Keir: “The will to survive… it’s an odd phenomenon. Roney, if we found out earth was doomed – say, by climatic changes – what would we do about it?” James Donald: “Nothing. Just go on squabbling as usual.”
PLANET OF THE APES (1968, Franklin J. Schaffner) – An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved. In the early 70s, I remember excitedly catching the bus to the cinema in Bolton to watch double-bill re-releases of the Planet to the Apes film series. The original remains the best with its allegorical storyline. The apes make-up was standout for the time. Charlton Heston was a stoical lead. Heston: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”
WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968, Brian G. Hutton) – Allied agents stage a daring raid on a castle where the Nazis are holding American brigadier general George Carnaby prisoner, but that’s not all that’s really going on. Real boys-own adventure stuff, this adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s novel was the dog’s bollocks with kids in the playground, mimicking Clint Eastwood’s machine-gun fire. Just as memorable Richard Burton’s call handle: “Broadsword calling Danny Boy.”
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969, George Roy Hill) – Wyoming, early 1900s. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are the leaders of a band of outlaws. After a train robbery goes wrong they find themselves on the run with a posse hard on their heels. Their solution – escape to Bolivia. A real advert for the impact two top stars can have on a film. Paul Newman and Robert Redford invented the buddy movie with this modern take on the Western. Fatalistic but funny right through to its inevitable conclusion. Newman: “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969, Peter R. Hunt) – James Bond woos a mob boss’ daughter and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps involving beautiful women from around the world. The film that stayed truest to Ian Fleming’s source and with an energetic new Bond in George Lazenby. It’s impressively mounted with stunning photography. A contender for the best in the series. The downbeat finale was a one-off for the series. Lazenby [to the camera]: “This never happened to the other fellow.”
DIRTY HARRY (1971, Don Siegel) – When a madman calling himself “the Scorpio Killer” menaces the city, tough as nails San Francisco Police Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan is assigned to track down and ferret out the crazed psychopath. The early 70s saw the advent of the gritty crime thriller and this is one of the best examples. Clint Eastwood in his signature role and taut direction from Siegel. John Vernon (The Mayor): “Callahan… I don’t want any more trouble like you had last year in the Fillmore district. You understand? That’s my policy.” Eastwood: “Yeah, well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard – that’s my policy.”
THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971, William Friedkin) – A pair of NYC cops in the Narcotics Bureau stumble onto a drug smuggling job with a French connection. The winter-shoot in New York and Gene Hackman’s obsessive cop give this absorbing crime thriller an air of gritty realism. The car chase was shot for real and is superb. Hackman: “All right, Popeye’s here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!”
GET CARTER (1971, Mike Hodges) – When his brother dies under mysterious circumstances in a car accident, London gangster Jack Carter travels to Newcastle to investigate. Full of quotable dialogue and Michael Caine at his best, this tough bleak gangster thriller is wonderfully shot and laced with black humour. Caine: “You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape. With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself.”
SHAFT (1971, Gordon Parks) – Cool black private eye John Shaft is hired by a crime lord to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter. Updating 1940s detective thrillers with a black hero and the coolest of soundtracks, this is a slick variant on the tough PI genre. The opening shots of Richard Roundtree strutting the streets on New York to Isaac Hayes’ theme are among the best introductions to a screen character ever. Roundtree: “Don’t let your mouth get your ass in trouble.”
THE GODFATHER (1972, Francis Ford Coppola) – The ageing patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son. Epic gangster tale is full of memorable scenes and superb performances from a top-class cast, headed by Marlon Brando as the old Don and Al Pacino as his favourite son. The first sequel was just as good, the second not so much. Brando: “We have known each other many years, but this is the first time you’ve come to me for counsel or for help. I can’t remember the last time you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is godmother to your only child. But let’s be frank here. You never wanted my friendship. And you feared to be in my debt.”
THE WICKER MAN (1973, Robin Hardy) – A puritan Police Sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl who the townsfolk claim never existed; stranger still are the pagan rites that take place there. One of the strangest horror movies ever made is all sinister atmosphere and religious symbolism. Spooky and with an ending as memorable as any in the genre. Edward Woodward’s increasing indignation is perfectly judged. Woodward: “And what of the TRUE God? Whose glory, churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now sir, what of him?” Christopher Lee: “He’s dead. Can’t complain, had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it.”
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973, Richard Lester) / THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974, Richard Lester) – A young swordsman comes to Paris and faces villains, romance, adventure and intrigue with three Musketeer friends. This isn’t a cheat. Although released as two films this wonderfully witty and action-packed adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel was shot as one movie, originally intended to be split by an intermission. The all-star cast is perfect and it is huge fun. Oliver Reed (Athos): “You will find, young man, that the future looks rosiest through the bottom of a glass.”
CHINATOWN (1974, Roman Polanski) – A private detective hired to expose an adulterer finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption, and murder. A densely plotted, beautifully realised period piece with one of the great twist endings. Jack Nicholson is terrific as J.J. Gittes and Faye Dunaway the perfect femme fatale. Nicholson: “But, Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamn near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it. And I still think you’re hiding something.”
THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974, John Guillermin) – At the opening party of a colossal, but poorly constructed, office building, a massive fire breaks out that threatens to destroy the tower and everyone in it. This was huge when released and disaster movies were in vogue. This one is memorable for its all-star cast and great set-pieces on a large scale. It remains hugely enjoyable. Paul Newman: “I thought we were building something that… where people could work and live and be SAFE! If you had to cut costs, why didn’t you cut floors instead of corners?”
JAWS (1975, Steven Spielberg) – When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, it’s up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down. The first summer blockbuster was huge at the time, but really it’s a small-scale man versus beast story with great contrasting performances from Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. Steven Spielberg would never look back from here. Scheider: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976, Alan J. Pakula) – “The Washington Post” reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the reporters who broke the case and Jason Robards as their editor give superb naturalistic performances. It is a fascinating and gripping account of one of America’s biggest scandals. Robards: “Now hold it, hold it. We’re about to accuse Haldeman, who only happens to be the second most important man in this country, of conducting a criminal conspiracy from inside the White House. It would be nice if we were right.”
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976, John Carpenter) – An unlikely partnership between a Highway Patrol Officer, two criminals and a station secretary is formed to defend a defunct Los Angeles precinct office against a siege by a bloodthirsty street gang. Carpenter shamelessly riffs on Howard Hawks and George Romero and comes up with something fresh and hugely entertaining. Carpenter also provided the pulsing electronic score. Darwin Joston: “Still have the gun?” Laurie Zimmer: “Two shots. Should I save them for the two of us?” Joston: “Save ’em for the first two assholes who come through that vent.”
STAR WARS (1977, George Lucas) – Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader. You had to be there. It’s hard to believe today, given the effects-driven epics that hit our screens almost every week, the impact this film had on its initial release. I saw it five times at my local cinema. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was a richer and darker film, but this was the most fun. Harrison Ford: “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
ALIEN (1979, Ridley Scott) – After a space merchant vessel receives an unknown transmission as a distress call, one of the crew is attacked by a mysterious life form and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun. A masterclass in building tension and terror from a familiar plot. Sigourney Weaver is one of the screen’s most memorable heroines giving a performance that feels very real. Great production design. The chest-bursting scene is truly memorable. Weaver: “Ripley: Whenever he says anything you say “right”, Brett. You know that?” Harry Dean Stanton: “Right.”
LIFE OF BRIAN (1979, Terry Jones) – Born on the original Christmas in the stable next door to Jesus Christ, Brian of Nazareth spends his life being mistaken for a messiah. Dogged by controversy on release by those misguided enough to take its religious setting seriously, this is a hilarious look at naivety and gullibility. A close call between this and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. Jones (as Brian’s mum): “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy! Now, piss off!”
MANHATTAN (1979, Woody Allen) – The life of a divorced television writer dating a teenage girl is further complicated when he falls in love with his best friend’s mistress. Woody Allen’s masterpiece is an insightful slice of New York life told with a romanticism heightened by the wonderful black-and-white photography and Gershwin’s music. Witty and real, with an emotional finale that has the perfect closing line. Allen: “My analyst warned me, but you were so beautiful I got another analyst.”
THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1980, John Mackenzie) – An up-and-coming gangster is tested by the insurgence of an unknown, very powerful threat. Whilst its 80s soundtrack feels a little dated, this is still a highly entertaining gangster movie with Hoskins giving a tour-de-force performance. Hoskins: “I’m setting up the biggest deal in Europe with the hardest organization since Hitler stuck a swastika on his jockstrap.”
GREGORY’S GIRL (1980, Bill Forsyth) – Gregory is a normal teen who is infatuated with a classmate. He must work to win her affection. This delightful unassuming comedy is the perfect summation of the awkwardness goes with changing hormones and how girls are years ahead of the boys in coming to terms with it (brilliantly encapsulated by John Gordon Sinclair’s gangly Gregory) that. Wonderfully observed. Sinclair: “Have you ever been in love? I’m in love.” Billy Greenlees: “Since when?” Sinclair “This morning. I feel restless and dizzy. I bet I won’t get any sleep tonight.” Greenlees “Sounds like indigestion.”
BLADE RUNNER (1982, Ridley Scott) – A blade runner must pursue and terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator. I remember seeing this on release and being blown away by the visuals and production design. The film flopped on initial release but became a cult classic growing in reputation over the years as Scott fiddled around to restore his original vision. Highly influential it remains a visual assault on the senses. Rutger Hauer: “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982, Nicholas Meyer) – With the assistance of the Enterprise crew, Admiral Kirk must stop an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, from using the life-generating Genesis Device as the ultimate weapon. I grew up watching Star Trek and like many found the first movie to be a bloated bore. I was delighted then when this film came out three years later and totally captured the essence that made the TV series so enjoyable. Ricardo Montalban: “I’ve done far worse than kill you. I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her; marooned for all eternity in the centre of a dead planet… buried alive! Buried alive…!” William Shatner: “KHAAANNNN!”
THE THING (1982, John Carpenter) – A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims. I know I included Howard Hawks’ version (#13 on this list), but Carpenter’s take is very different and much closer to the source material – and I love both versions. The gross creature designs (no CGI here) by Rob Bottin are incredible and still hold up well today. The team togetherness of the original is replaced by a paranoia here and the result a powerful film that, like BLADE RUNNER, has grown in stature. Kurt Russell: “Somebody in this camp ain’t what he appears to be. Right now, that may be one or two of us. By spring, it could be all of us.”
THE TERMINATOR (1984, James Cameron) – In 1984, a human soldier is tasked to stop an indestructible cyborg killing machine, both sent from 2029, from executing a young woman, whose unborn son is the key to humanity’s future salvation. Fast-paced action in this chase movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger in his signature role as the machine and Linda Hamilton his feisty target. Expertly directed by Cameron. The sequel was more expansive and had a bigger budget, but this remains the template. Schwarzenegger: “I’ll be back!”
ALIENS (1986, James Cameron) – Ellen Ripley is rescued by a deep salvage team after being in hypersleep for 57 years. The moon that the Nostromo visited has been colonized, but contact is lost. This time, colonial marines have impressive firepower, but will that be enough? After scoring with THE TERMINATOR, Cameron took Ridley Scott’s ALIEN and turned it from horror to an action-packed war movie. Fast-paced and exciting. Sigourney Weaver: “Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?”
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986, Woody Allen) – Between two Thanksgivings two years apart, Hannah’s husband falls in love with her sister Lee, while her hypochondriac ex-husband rekindles his relationship with her sister Holly. The marriage of a razor sharp and witty script with a top-class cast to produce an intelligent and ironic romantic comedy. Allen didn’t like his ending, but it works perfectly in conjuring a message of hope from the various crises that preceded it. Lloyd Nolan: “Then at lunch she got drunker and drunker and finally she became Joan Collins!”
DIE HARD (1988, John McTiernan) – An NYPD officer tries to save his wife and several others taken hostage by German terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. Testosterone fuelled thriller set the bar at a new level when it came to explosive action. Bruce Willis was a charismatic hero and Alan Rickman a deliciously cool villain. A must for viewing over Christmas. Rickman: “This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.” Willis: “That was Gary Cooper, asshole.”
IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993, Wolfgang Petersen) – Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) couldn’t save Kennedy, but he’s determined not to let a clever assassin take out this president. Eastwood had taken his career to a new level with the brilliant UNFORGIVEN the previous year. Here he is back to acting under another director and produces, for me, his most charismatic performance as he spars with John Malkovich’s psychotic would-be assassin. This is the definitive Clint Eastwood action thriller and my favourite of all his films. Malkovich: “Do you have what it takes to take a bullet, or is life too precious?” Eastwood: “Well, I’ll be thinkin’ about that when I’m pissin’ on your grave.”
JURASSIC PARK (1993, Steven Spielberg) – A pragmatic paleontologist visiting an almost complete theme park is tasked with protecting a couple of kids after a power failure causes the park’s cloned dinosaurs to run loose. A real throwback to the monsters on the rampage movies of the 50s and 60s, but with ground-breaking CGI that makes the dinosaurs seem real. Great popcorn entertainment. The T-Rex attack is one of the all-time classic set-pieces. Richard Attenborough: “All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!” Jeff Goldblum: “Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”
OPEN RANGE (2003, Kevin Costner) – A former gunslinger is forced to take up arms again when he and his cattle crew are threatened by a corrupt lawman. The last great traditional Western. Robert Duvall and Costner make a great team and the closing gunfight is brilliantly shot and feels very real. Duvall: “We got a warrant sworn for attempted murder for them that tried to kill the boy who’s laying over there at the Doc’s, trying to stay alive. Swore out another one for them that murdered the big fella you had in your cell. Only ours ain’t writ by no tin star, bought and paid for, Marshal. It’s writ by us, and we aim to enforce it.”
SIDEWAYS (2004, Alexander Payne) – Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment embark on a week-long road trip through California’s wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle. A wonderful and biting tale of mid-life crises amongst two friends with opposing outlooks on life. It’s searingly funny with perfect performances from Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Giamatti: “This week is not about me. It is about you. I’m gonna show you a good time. We’re gonna drink a lot of good wine. We’re gonna play some golf. We’re gonna eat some great food and enjoy the scenery and we are going to send you off in style, mon frere.” Church: “And get your bone smooched.”
CASINO ROYALE (2006, Martin Campbell) – After earning 00 status and a licence to kill, Secret Agent James Bond sets out on his first mission as 007. Bond must defeat a private banker funding terrorists in a high-stakes game of poker at Casino Royale, Montenegro. James Bond reinvented for the post-BOURNE crowd and breathes new life into the franchise. Craig is an effective Bond and the action is superbly staged. The emotional edge puts this on a par with ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (#39). Last line from Craig: “The name’s Bond… James Bond.”
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen) – Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande. The Coen Brothers’ masterpiece is this brilliantly directed and wonderfully scripted adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. Bardem’s hitman is one of the most memorable screen villains. Full of the Coens’ trademark dark violence and black humour. Josh Brolin: “If I don’t come back, tell mother I love her.” Kelly Macdonald: “Your mother’s dead, Llewelyn.” Brolin: “Well then I’ll tell her myself.”
Others that could quite easily have made the final cut… A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1936, Sam Wood, Edmund Goulding); DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944, Billy Wilder); MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946, John Ford); KEY LARGO (1948, John Huston); VERTIGO (1958, Alfred Hitchcock); PSYCHO (1960, Alfred Hitchcock); THE LONGEST DAY (1962, Andrew Marton, Ken Annakin, Darryl F. Zanuck, Gerd Oswald, Bernhard Wicki); CAPE FEAR (1962, J. Lee Thompson); HATARI! (1962, Howard Hawks); MARY POPPINS (1964, Robert Stevenson); ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968, Sergio Leone); YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974, Mel Brooks); MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam); FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975, Dick Richards); THE OUTLAW, JOSEY WALES (1976, Clint Eastwood); THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980, Irvin Kershner); THE FOG (1980, John Carpenter); RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981, Steven Spielberg); BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984, Woody Allen); UNFORGIVEN (1992, Clint Eastwood); FARGO (1996, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen); JACKIE BROWN (1997, Quentin Tarantino); THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy (2001-3, Peter Jackson); CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013, Paul Greengrass); HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016, David Mackenzie).
THE DEEP (UK, 2010) *** Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: Tiger Aspect Productions; Release Date: 3-31 August 2010; Running Time: 289m (5 episodes); Filming Dates: December 2009-March 2010; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15. Director: Jim O’Hanlon, Colm McCarthy; Writer: Simon Donald, Paul Rutman; Executive Producer: Greg Brenman, Eleanor Moran; Producer: Will Gould; Director of Photography: Adam Suschitzky, Damian Bromley; Music Composer: Samuel Sim; Film Editor: Chris Wyatt, Helen Chapman; Casting Director: Jill Trevellick; Production Designer: Simon Bowles; ArtDirector: Andy Thomson; Costumes: Trisha Biggar; Make-up: Gilly Popham, Linda A. Morton; Sound: Simon Gershon; Special Effects: Chris Reynolds; Visual Effects: Thomas M. Horton, Shanaullah Umerji, Simon Carr, Becky Roberts. Cast: James Nesbitt (Clem Donnelly), Minnie Driver (Frances Kelly), Goran Visnjic (Samson), Orla Brady (Catherine Donnelly), Sinéad Cusack (Meg Sinclair), Sacha Dhawan (Vincent), Vera Graziadei (Svetlana), Tobias Menzies (Raymond), Tom Wlaschiha (Arkady), Antonia Thomas (Maddy), Dan Li (Hatsuto), Nigel Whitmey (Lowe), Molly Jones (Scarlet), Amit Patil (Cg generalist), Nick Nevern (Stas), Richard Brake (McIndoe), Goran Kostic (Zubov), Ron Donachie (Sturridge), Nicholas Pinnock (Charlie Goodison), Shonagh Price (Sandra), Simon Donald (Dr. Christianson). Synopsis: A research submarine beneath the Arctic stumbles upon a terrifying secret with Earth-shattering consequences. Comment: Whilst the story gets more and more preposterous and the dialogue is often risible, this underwater thriller still manages to hook you in for the most part through its makers’ sheer enthusiasm for the material. Nesbitt is part of a submarine crew captained by Driver to return to the site beneath the Arctic ice where a previous research team (including Nesbitt’s wife, Brady) and their vessel disappeared. On arrival, they find they are not alone and have stumbled across a covert Russian drilling operation in UN waters. The story moves along at a nice clip, slowing occasionally for cliched moments of character development. Moments of tension and suspense are built at regular intervals as the crew begin to find themselves out of their depth. The acting is generally good with the cast often overcoming the limitations in the material. The technical attributes and visuals are excellent for the most part, with great production design of the hi-tech submarine – notwithstanding the occasionally obvious CGI moment. After managing to hold our attention through the first four hour-long segments, the story goes off the rails in the last episode with lazy writing that fails to tie up the character arcs and the plot satisfactorily as it lays on the emotional trauma. The result is a generally entertaining but flawed story that may satisfy undemanding genre fans.
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (UK/USA, 2015) *** Distributor: 20th Century Fox (UK) / Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA); Production Company: Blueprint Pictures; Release Date: 26 February 2015 (UK), 6 March 2015 (USA); Filming Dates: began 10 January 2014; Running Time: 122m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), F65 RAW (4K) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: PG. Director: John Madden; Writer: Ol Parker (based on a story by Ol Parker and John Madden); Executive Producer: Michael Dreyer, Jonathan King, John Madden, Jeff Skoll; Producer: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin; Associate Producer: Tabrez Noorani; Director of Photography: Ben Smithard; Music Composer: Thomas Newman; Film Editor: Victoria Boydell; Casting Director: Michelle Guish, Seher Latif; Production Designer: Martin Childs; Art Director: Dilip More; Set Decorator: Ed Turner; Costumes: Alison Lewis, Riyaz Ali Merchant; Make-up: Daniel Phillips; Sound: Ian Wilson; Visual Effects: Fay McConkey, Thomas Proctor, Emma Moffat. Cast: Judi Dench (Evelyn Greenslade), Maggie Smith (Muriel Donnelly), Bill Nighy (Douglas Ainslie), Dev Patel (Sonny Kapoor), Richard Gere (Guy Chambers), Celia Imrie (Madge Hardcastle), Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins), Penelope Wilton (Jean Ainslie), Diana Hardcastle (Carol Parr), Tina Desai (Sunaina), Claire Price (Laura Ainslie), Lillete Dubey (Mrs. Kapoor), David Strathairn (Ty Burley), Tamsin Greig (Lavinia Beech), Shazad Latif (Kushal), Rajesh Tailang (Babul), Denzil Smith (Mr. Dharuna), Sid Makkar (Jay), Avijit Dutt (Nimish), Seema Azmi (Anokhi). Synopsis: As the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for two fresh arrivals – Sonny pursues his expansionist dream of opening a second hotel. Comment: A more-of-the-same sequel, which coasts on the charm and skills of its excellent cast and vibrant locations. The plot lacks originality and veers too far toward a sit-com approach at the expense of depth in characterisation, but the vibe is good. Patel and Smith are looking to expand their hotel business and look for sponsorship from the US. When Gere arrives, Patel believes he is an inspector charged with assessing the business and he goes out of his way to charm him – echoes of Fawlty Towers. The cast is in good form again but has less to get their teeth into here and the film comes across as both unnecessary yet still entertaining.
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (UK/USA/UAE, 2011) **** Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Production Company: Blueprint Pictures; Release Date: 30 November 2011 (Italy), 17 February 2012 (UK), 25 May 2012 (USA); Filming Dates: began 10 October 2010; Running Time: 124m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Dolby | SDDS; Film Format: 35 mm (anamorphic) (Fuji Eterna-CP 3514DI), D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: PG-13/12. Director: John Madden; Writer: Ol Parker (based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach); Executive Producer: Jonathan King, Jeff Skoll, Ricky Strauss; Producer: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin; Director of Photography: Ben Davis; Music Composer: Thomas Newman; Film Editor: Chris Gill; Casting Director: Michelle Guish, Seher Latif; Production Designer: Alan Macdonald; Art Director: Peter Francis; Set Decorator: Tina Jones; Costumes: Louise Stjernsward; Make-up: Beverley Binda; Sound: Ian Wilson; Special Effects: Shiva Nanda; Visual Effects: Karen Clarke, Fay McConkey. Cast: Judi Dench (Evelyn Greenslade), Bill Nighy (Douglas Ainslie), Dev Patel (Sonny Kapoor), Tom Wilkinson (Graham Dashwood), Maggie Smith (Muriel Donnelly), Penelope Wilton (Jean Ainslie), Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins), Celia Imrie (Madge Hardcastle), Tina Desai (Sunaina), Sid Makkar (Jay), Lillete Dubey (Mrs. Kapoor), Diana Hardcastle (Carol), Seema Azmi (Anokhi), Paul Bhattacharjee (Dr. Ghujarapartidar), Liza Tarbuck (Staff Nurse), Denzil Smith (Viceroy Club Secretary), Honey Chhaya (Young Wasim), Bhuvnesh Shetty (Muriel’s Physiotherapist), Rajendra Gupta (Manoj), Jay Villiers (Evelyn’s Son). Synopsis: British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. Less luxurious than its advertisements, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways. Comment: The top-notch cast is the big draw to this adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s novel “These Foolish Things”. They are helped by a witty script, which manages to navigate the more predictable and familiar elements of the story. A group of elderly Brits each have their own reason for the late-in-the-day change to their lives when they decide to stay at a residential hotel for the elderly in Jaipur, India. the hotel is run by Patel’s dreamer. Once there, each of the residents finds their own way to come to terms with what they had been looking for in the later years of their lives. It is a charming and winning film which coasts on the supremely talented cast and the exotic location. Those looking for more depth, will not find it in abundance here despite the occasional moment of poignancy, but what they will find is an entertainment that has more than enough attraction to win them over. Followed by THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2015).
THE SNAKE (1964) ***
by Mickey Spillane
This paperback edition published in The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 3 by Obsidian, 2010, 158pp (524pp) with The Girl Hunters (1962) and The Twisted Thing (1966)
Introduction by Max Allan Collins
First published in hardcover by E.P. Dutton, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-451-23124-6 Blurb: New York PI Mike Hammer has traced his lost love and secretary, Velda, who went missing seven years ago. In a race against time, Mike has to move her to another location, but she is sheltering a young woman who fears for her life. Finally safe once again, Hammer devotes his time to helping the young woman, who is being threatened by her stepfather. But as Hammer investigates some leads on the seedier side of town, he finds himself caught up in a three-decades-old mystery involving a great deal of money that’s gone missing. And just who is The Snake? Mike is going to have to figure that one out, or three lives – his, Velda’s and the girl’s – are in danger. Comment: Mickey Spillane had returned to his most famous creation, New York PI Mike Hammer, with 1962’s The Girl Hunters. In that book, we saw Hammer come out of a 7-year drinking bender when he learned his secretary and love Velda, who he had assumed dead, is still alive. That book ended before Hammer and Velda were reunited. The Snake picks up immediately where The Girl Hunters left off and pitches Hammer into a new case. Whilst rescuing Velda, Hammer also rescues a young blonde girl on the run from her stepfather, who is a high-moving politician. The girl believes her stepfather killed her mother. It becomes clear the case is linked to a robbery that took place more than 30 years earlier, which the girl’s father prosecuted as a DA. The Snake is a less successful novel than its predecessor and feels a little lacking in inspiration. The plot is familiar to genre fans in its exploration of themes around familial disharmony, trust, power and greed. Many of the plot progressions that lead Hammer to the eventual solution are incredibly contrived and coincidental. The “when will they” dilly-dallying between Hammer and Velda also becomes a little tiresome and irritating. That said it is a quick and easy read and will broadly entertain fans of thick-ear hard-boiled mysteries. Its lack of sophistication may hold it back from other stronger examples in the field, but there are moments when Spillane captures a rhythm with his prose that suggests a stronger book could have emerged if more time had been spent ironing out some of the plot difficulties which led to the writer taking the easy way out. The Snake sits in the lower rankings in the Mike Hammer bibliography but is a required read for those wanting to tie the outstanding threads from The Girl Hunters.
THE GIRL HUNTERS (UK, 1963) **½ Distributor: Colorama Features (USA) / Twentieth Century Fox Film Company (UK); ProductionCompany: Fellane; Release Date: 12 June 1963 (USA), 16 July 1964 (UK); Running Time: 98m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12. Director: Roy Rowland; Writer: Mickey Spillane, Robert Fellows, Roy Rowland (based on the novel by Mickey Spillane); Producer: Robert Fellows; Associate Producer: Charles Reynolds; Director ofPhotography: Kenneth Talbot; Music Composer: Philip Green; Film Editor: Sidney Stone; Art Director: Tony Inglis; Costumes: Rene Coke, Dan Millstein (Miss Eaton’s wardrobe); Make-up: Sidney Turner, Alice Holmes; Sound: Jim Roddan, Hugh Strain, Gerry Turner. Cast: Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer), Lloyd Nolan (Federal Agent Arthur Rickerby), Shirley Eaton (Laura Knapp), Scott Peters (Police Captain Pat Chambers), Guy Kingsley Poynter (Dr. Larry Snyder), James Dyrenforth (Bayliss Henry), Charles Farrell (Joe Grissi), Kim Tracy (Nurse), Hy Gardner (Hy Gardner – the Columnist), Benny Lee (Nat Drutman), Murray Kash (Richie Cole), Bill Nagy (Georgie), Clive Endersby (Duck-Duck), Ricardo Montez (Skinny Guy), Larry Cross (Red Markham), Tony Arpino (Cab driver), Hal Galili (Bouncer), Nellie Hanham (Landlady), Robert Gallico (Dr. Leo Daniels), Michael Brennan (Policeman), Howard Greene (Policeman), Grant Holden (Policeman), Francis Napier (Detective), Larry Taylor (The Dragon). Synopsis: Legendary detective Mike Hammer has spent seven years in an alcoholic funk after the supposed death of his secretary, Velda. He is brought back to the land of the living by his old friendly enemy, police lieutenant Pat Chambers. Comment: Mickey Spillane plays his own literary creation, New York PI Mike Hammer, in this straight adaptation of his seventh Hammer novel. Here Hammer has been 7-years a drunken bum following the assumed death of his secretary Velda. When he is given hope Velda is still alive by a dying man, Hammer seeks to find the truth behind her disappearance and becomes embroiled in an espionage plot which puts him at the centre of the target for a professional killer. Eaton plays the widow of a US senator who was also involved in the plot and Nolan a government agent who has Hammer working to unravel the mystery. Made in the UK, art director Inglis does well to create authentic street scenes and sets. Spillane is stiff as Hammer and struggles to deliver his own dialogue with the tough intensity one imagines on the written page. Nolan is the movie’s bright spot along with Green’s mournful score. Like its source, the movie fails to close out the story and a sequel (an adaptation of Spillane’s follow-up novel The Snake) was intended but never shot. The tough-guy antics, moody atmosphere and black-and-white photography suggest the movie belongs in another time – unfortunately its execution falls short of its ambition.
WILD (USA, 2014) ***½ Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Production Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures / Pacific Standard; Release Date: 29 August 2014 (USA), 13 October 2014 (UK); Filming Dates: began 11 October 2013; Running Time: 115m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: Codex; Film Process: ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 15. Director: Jean-Marc Vallée; Writer: Nick Hornby (based on the memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed); Executive Producer: Nathan Ross, Bergen Swanson; Producer: Bruna Papandrea, Bill Pohlad, Reese Witherspoon; Associate Producer: Jeffrey Harlacker, T.K. Knowles, Cheryl Strayed; Director of Photography: Yves Bélanger; Music Supervisor: Susan Jacobs; Film Editor: Martin Pensa, Jean-Marc Vallée (as John Mac McMurphy); Casting Director: David Rubin; Production Designer: John Paino; Art Director: Javiera Varas; Set Decorator: Robert Covelman; Costumes: Melissa Bruning; Make-up: Kymber Blake, Tanya Cookingham, Miia Kovero; Sound: Mildred Iatrou; Special Effects: Bob Riggs; Visual Effects: Julien Maisonneuve, Jean-François Ferland. Cast: Reese Witherspoon (Cheryl), Laura Dern (Bobbi), Thomas Sadoski (Paul), Keene McRae (Leif), Michiel Huisman (Jonathan), W. Earl Brown (Frank), Gaby Hoffmann (Aimee), Kevin Rankin (Greg), Brian Van Holt (Ranger), Cliff De Young (Ed), Mo McRae (Jimmy Carter), Will Cuddy (Josh), Leigh Parker (Rick), Nick Eversman (Richie), Ray Buckley (Joe (as Ray Mist)), Randy Schulman (Therapist), Cathryn de Prume (Stacey), Kurt Conroyd (Greg’s Friend), Ted deChatelet (Greg’s Friend), Jeffree Newman (Greg’s Friend). Synopsis: A chronicle of one woman’s one thousand one hundred mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy. Comment: Story based on the memoirs of Cheryl Strayed who hiked across the Pacific Crest Trail in order to bring some sense to her life following the death of her mother and the breakup of her marriage. Witherspoon gives a wonderfully gritty performance as she comes to terms with the gruelling landscape and the challenges presented along her journey. We get to gradually understand her motivation through flashbacks of her life. We see her mother (Dern) leave an abusive relationship, taking her children with her and schooling them in how to embrace life. When her mother dies of cancer, Witherspoon’s life unravels and she goes off the rails. The experience of her adventure enables her to get her life back in perspective. It is a well-directed and acted movie, but the flashback scenes, whilst totally relevant to the story, are occasionally distracting and somehow detract from the portrayal of the ordeal of the hike. There are still touching and humorous moments along the way and the production team have managed to capture the beauty and danger of the wild.
SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (UK, 1960) **** Distributor: British Lion Films (UK), Continental Distributing (USA); Production Company: Woodfall Film Productions; Release Date: 27 October 1960 (UK), 3 April 1961 (USA); Filming Dates: began 26 February 1960; Running Time: 89m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG. Director: Karel Reisz; Writer: Alan Sillitoe (based on the novel by Alan Sillitoe); Executive Producer: Harry Saltzman; Producer: Tony Richardson; Director of Photography: Freddie Francis; MusicComposer: John Dankworth; Film Editor: Seth Holt; Art Director: Edward Marshall; Costumes: Sophie Devine, Barbara Gillett; Make-up: Harold Fletcher, Pearl Tipaldi; Sound: Chris Greenham, Peter Handford, Bob Jones. Cast: Albert Finney (Arthur Seaton), Shirley Anne Field (Doreen), Rachel Roberts (Brenda), Hylda Baker (Aunt Ada), Norman Rossington (Bert), Bryan Pringle (Jack), Robert Cawdron (Robboe), Edna Morris (Mrs. Bull), Elsie Wagstaff (Mrs. Seaton), Frank Pettitt (Mr. Seaton), Avis Bunnage (Blousy Woman), Colin Blakely (Loudmouth), Irene Richmond (Doreen’s Mother), Louise Dunn (Betty), Anne Blake (Civil Defence Officer), Peter Madden (Drunken Man), Cameron Hall (Mr. Bull), Alister Williamson (Policeman). Synopsis: A rebellious, hard-living factory worker juggles relationships with two women, one of whom is married to another man but pregnant with his child. Comment: Finney is an angry young factory worker rebelling against the conventions of life in post-war Britain. In doing so he indulges in an affair with Roberts, the wife of one of his work colleagues whilst being attracted to the young and naïve Field. Whilst a product of its time, spearheading the British New Wave in the early 1960s, it retains much of its power through Finney’s superb performance and those of a strong support cast including Roberts as the misled married woman. Sillitoe’s script is sharp, witty and socially aware and Reisz translates it well to the screen. Francis’ black and white cinematography wonderfully captures the industrial heart of Nottingham with its smoke billowing factories and terraced rows. The themes of generational gaps and the rebellious youth in post-war Britain are keenly observed in this ground-breaking drama right through to its ironic closing scene.
THE GIRL HUNTERS (1962) ***½
by Mickey Spillane
This paperback edition published in The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 3 by Obsidian, 2010, 171pp (524pp) with The Snake (1964) and The Twisted Thing (1966)
Introduction by Max Allan Collins
First published in hardcover by E.P. Dutton, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-451-23124-6 Blurb: Seven years of hitting the hard stuff have taken it out of PI Mike Hammer. That’s how long it’s been since he gave his beloved secretary the job from which she never returned. Now he’s back with a vengeance. Velda is alive, if only he can reach her in time. But New York’s toughest investigator still has friends in the right places. And his long-neglected .45 is definitely one of those. Piecing together the puzzling deaths of a senator, a newsagent and an FBI man, Hammer finds the missing link in a murderous network of international spies. One that turns out to be Spillane’s kind of beauty – and who knows a good deal more than she should. Comment: There was a 10-year gap between Mickey Spillane’s sixth and seventh Mike Hammer novels (Kiss Me Deadly and The Girl Hunters). During this period Spillane semi-retired from writing and had become a Jehovah’s Witness. The Girl Hunters addresses the absence of Mike Hammer novels during this period by introducing a plot element that has Hammer’s secretary Velda missing in action for the last seven years. Hammer believing her dead has turned to drink, lost his PI licence and his friendship with NYPD captain Pat Chambers. But when a dying man gives Hammer hope Velda is still alive, he sobers up and resolves to find her. The mystery elements are blended well as the dying man is linked to the murder of a US senator and these events, in turn, are linked to the case Hammer and Velda were working on before her disappearance. Meanwhile, Hammer has become involved with Laura, the senator’s widow. The plot may be fanciful with its mix of espionage and hit-men, but Spillane manages to keep the reader from dwelling on the absurdities and emboils us in Hammer’s search for Velda. Whilst the early passages are slow as we become re-acquainted with Hammer and learn of the nature of Velda’s disappearance, once this set-up has been explained the pace quickens and the action is tough, sexy and intriguing. The finale is pure Spillane and will satisfy his loyal fan base. Written with tough-guy dialogue and in a spare first-person narrative prose, Spillane hits his stride once more and would enter a second prolific phase of writing, which could have been written ten years earlier. A year later the book was adapted into a movie, in which Spillane played his own creation.