Retro T.V. Review: Mickey Spillane's The New Mike Hammer (1986)
Updated: Mar 23
Show Name: Mickey Spillane's The New Mike Hammer
Created by: Mickey Spillane
Starring: Stacy Keach, Lindsey Bloom, Don Shroud and Kent Williams
Number of Seasons: 4
Number of Epsiodes: 51
Original Air Dates: January 28, 1984 to May 13, 1987
I was looking on Amazon and I saw this box set for 15$. I used to watch this TV series with my dad and brother back in the day. I also remember the few TV movies as well.
I wondered how this TV show would have aged. The reason is a lot of people found the show to be sexist and I would figure that it would have aged poorly. Let us see if this is the case.
Brief History and Background
The show could not have happened if it weren't for the novels by Mickey Spillane (real name Frank Morrison Spillane) featuring the character of Mike Hammer.
The first novel featuring MIke Hammer was written in 1947. The last book that I can see in the series was made in 2001. Prior to the Mike Hammer books, Spillane, wrote some comic book issues. These included Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America. In fact, he had pitched the idea of a character of MIke Danger, a detective. When he could not sell the idea as a comic, he changed the name to Mike Hammer and started the crime novels that people have grown to love.
The Mike Hammer series that I am reviewing was not the first TV show. There was a pilot (1954) that was created starring Brian Keith, but the pilot never really went anywhere. Keith was known for his time in theatre. He was also known for guest starring on detective shows such as Shadow of the Cloak, Thousand leagues Under the Sea and Police Story.
Then there was another attempt in 1958, starring Darren McGavin. This version of the show lasted for 2 seasons. After his time as Mike Hammer, McGavin went on to star with Burt Reynolds in the TV series Riverboat. Apparently, McGavin did not get along great with Reynolds which led the latter to leave the show halfway through.
Then came along the 1980's version of Mike Hammer. This time the character was played by Stacy Keach. Before starring in this role, Keach had been in quite a few movies and tv shows. He played in 1977's Jesus of Nazareth as Barabbas. He also played in Portait of a Rebel: The Remarkable Mrs. Sanger.
The first few seasons of Mike Hammer were called, Mike Spillane's MIke Hammer (1984). Then a few years later starting in 1986, the show was renamed to Mike Spillane's, The New Mike Hammer. It would seem though that even though they were named differently, this is considered one series and not two.
As was the trend back at that time, once a popular TV show was off the air, there would sometimes be spin-off TV movies. I remember MacGyver having those and this series was no different. In 1989, there was a made for TV movie called Mike Hammer: Murder Takes All. This had a pretty big cast which included Lynda Carter, Michelle Phillips and a very young Jim Carrey. The movie is actually available on YouTube.
Mike Hammer: Murder Takes All
You would think that after this they would be done. You would be incorrect. There was a short lived revival in 1997 called Mike Hammer: Private Eye. That one from what I remember was not great. It tried to modernize Mike Hammer when he was still stuck in his old ways. I think by this time, the magic was gone from the show. However, that is a review for another time.
The show would mostly play on Saturday nights with the exception of a few times where it played on Wednesday nights. It would normally play around 9 or 10 pm local time on CBS.
The New Mike Hammer Theme
The theme is called Harlem Nocturne by Earle Hagen. This song was sung and released in 1939. The original 1939 track has more of a Jazz / Big Band feel.
Harlem Nocturne (1939)
You can hear the difference between the 2. The TV show had that 1980's smooth jazz vibe. However, I personally think both versions are awesome.
As you already know, Stacy Keach plays a private eye called Mike Hammer. He has a private eye office with his receptionist and assistant Velda (played by Lindsay Bloom).
Mike needed some help at the police department. He always had an in with his best friend Captain Pat Chambers (played by Don Stroud). They served in Vietnam together and Mike was also his best man at his wedding.
In most episodes, there is a murder of some kind and Mike tries to solve it. There is no overall arc. Every episode is a standalone story. The only continuous idea, is that Mike keeps seeing this mystery woman everywhere he goes. He can never get to her in time before she disappears.
The show even at the time was a throwback to old Film Noir detective movies. Some people have compared the feel of the show to the movie The Maltese Falcon.
I think they did a great job of casting with Stacy Keach. He has that old school detective look. Also, he plays the part of a rough and tough detective in New York to perfection. He actually said in some interviews that he made the character for palatable for TV audiences by showing his softer side.
Having said that, the show may not have been created today. Some people call the show sexist. The reason for that is that every episode had a good looking woman. They were always dressed in the latest fashion and they would always fall for Mike Hammer. They had a certain "style" to them. Hence this is why the show was very well rated with males between the ages of 18 and 34 years old.
Watching it now, it does not really effect me. I liked the show for Mike Hammer and not the so called hotties with the shoulder pads. I like the feel of the show. I like how stacy Keach narrates the show. The stories were similar to other shows like Magnum P.I.. The themes were also the same, for example, how Mike Hammer had trouble paying for bills. The main reason for this that he would take on cases that he would feel attached to and probably was never paid for them.
I think the show was cleverly written. Yes, it will not win any awards but it did its job. Also, with the library of 1940's type one liners that Hammer said, were enough to keep the audience entertained.
Sadly, as much as I love this show, is as much as I know that it was a product of its time. The references are be dated. No one speaks like Mike Hammer anymore. To be honest, I do not know if today's audience would be interested in this type of show anymore. It was just an hour of murder mystery fun with some humour thrown in for good measure.
I think that it is worth a watch. For the 15$ that I paid for it, it is worth it to get a piece of TV history. If anything, may be it will get you into reading the books.
What do you think? Am I off the mark? Let us know below.