Monday, July 17, 2006

    The Mick Is Dead

I guess I never thought he would die.  Really.  I started reading him when I was in sixth grade and I’m now in my early sixties and he was always there.  Until today.

    I’ve read the first few obituaries of Mr. Spillane, and none tries to put him into any perspective except that of dollars and cents.  Of course.  Books sold, movies made, beer commercials filmed.

    None mentioned the astonishing impact his Mike Hammer novels had on post-war popular culture.  Hammer had enormous appeal to the vets trudging home from the war because he got things done.  Period.  Where many vets faced a stagnating economy, families they no longer felt a part of, and an inability to work through their war mentality – Mike Hammer, arrow-true, arrow-swift, solved all problems with fists and guns.  A fantasy, yes, but an appealing one to disenchanted vets and my generation of boys that venerated those old Signet paperbacks.

    He rarely got credit for his craft.  Nor, I think, did he understand his own powers.  Even at thirteen I didn’t take Hammer’s adventures seriously.  The shoot-’em-stuff was fun but not very believable.

    What I did take seriously was the mood set by the writing.  For me, the best Spillane novels function as glimpses of American urban life as a new addition to Dante’s circles of hell.  They are great cries of pain, greed, violence,  loneliness, terror, deceit, perversion and mindless rage.  Everybody Hammer meets – even the good people – is in danger of being consumed by the madness of simply trying to survive.  It’s always midnight in Hammer-land, no matter what the clock might say otherwise.

    For all that Robert Aldrich professed to hate the Hammer novels, KISS ME DEADLY matches Spillane’s prose exactly.  The only touch he adds is the famous Ralph Meeker smirk.  It works in the film but the real Hammer, he would have known that a smirk is a bit effete for a real tough guy.

    So long, Mickey.  You saw me through more than fifty years of my life.  And I plan to keep right on reading you.  In fact, I think I’ll go downstairs and find my first edition hardcover of One Lonely Night right now.  That one holds up real, real nice.

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