Published for the first time anywhere, in
celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane's birth, come two short
novels in the same book. "The Last Stand" (Spillane's final novel) is
preceded by "A Bullet for Satisfaction," an unfinished manuscript
that was finalized by Spillane's long-time collaborator Max Allan Collins. Both
stories are satisfying reads. The book has been published by the Hard Case Crime imprint from Titan Books.
Mickey Spillane is best known for his
character Mike Hammer, the fictional P.I. that redefined the "action
hero" and spawned countless imitators. Unlike private investigators before
him, Mike Hammer was a merciless executor of villains who slept with countless
beautiful, willing women. Sound like anyone we know? The first Mike Hammer
novel, "I, The Jury," was published in 1947, six years prior to Ian
Fleming's James Bond debut, "Casino Royale." It may be argued that if
Fleming was indeed James Bond's literary father, Spillane and Mike Hammer could
be considered, if not grandfathers, then influences. Fleming admitted to that
but he also had an influence on Spillane. The mid-1960s saw Spillane introduce
a new character, Tiger Mann, an agent for a private organization dedicated to
wiping out Communism. Tiger Mann lasted four novels.
If there is such a thing as a
"Tough-Guy-Renaissance-Man," Mickey Spillane was it. After a brief
stint in college he worked summers as a lifeguard and for a period of time was
a trapeze artist for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.Through a friendship with
fellow Gimbels department store employee Joe Gill, he began his career
as a comic book writer in 1940, eventually writing an eight-page story a day on
a diverse number of characters from different publishing companies, including
Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America. He enlisted in the United
States Army Air Corps on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor and
became a fighter pilot and flight instructor.
"I, The Jury" was written in just
19 days and sent off to publisher E. P. Dutton. Between the hardcover released
in 1947 and the subsequent paperback a year later, the novel sold more than 6
1/2 million copies in the US alone. A new career began, along with a
reinvention of the genre.
Mickey Spillane was also an actor. His first
leading role was given to him by John Wayne, who hired him in 1954 to appear
with Pat O'Brien and lion-tamer Clyde Beatty in the Wayne-produced film
"Ring of Fear," which Spillane, without credit, also co-wrote, although,
he did receive a white Jaguar as a gift from producer Wayne. He also starred as
his most famous creation, Mike Hammer, in the 1963 British produced film
"The Girl Hunters" for which he received favorable notices acting
alongside such veterans as Lloyd Nolan and future “Goldfinger” actress Shirley
Eaton. But perhaps for many of us of a particular age, he was most well known
for his appearances in the Miller Lite commercials as his alter-ego of Hammer
along with "Doll," Lee Meredith of "The Producers" fame.
First up in the book is "A Bullet for
Satisfaction”, which presents a very Hammeresque character in a Hammeresque
story. Told in Spillane's traditional first-person style, Detective Capt. Rod
Dexter is both the hero (anti-hero?) and narrator. The book opens with Dexter
investigating the murder of the politically connected Mayes Rogers. But no one
seems to be talking. In an argument with the D.A, he loses his temper; "Then
I'll just continue my investigation of the Rogers’ murder and go anywhere and
everywhere it leads me. And before I'm through with you, you'll be doing plenty
of talking". Not
surprisingly, he loses his job. He takes it on his own to continue the
investigation unofficially. The web spins, the clock turns and he finds himself
getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he comes closer to unraveling a
conspiracy. Of course he finds time for a dalliance, this time with the sister
of Rogers’ widow.
Much like Mike Hammer, Det. Dexter is a man
driven by vengeance. And much like Hammer, Dexter has a lot of luck with dames.
When he, along with one of the women he seduces are kidnapped, Dexter diagnoses
the situation thusly: "The other one grabbed Jean. She tried to break
away and he slapped her until she was still. He was dead - he just didn't know
it yet." A short time later: "Behind the wheel now, Bacon smiled
and let a low, rumbling laugh come deep from his throat. 'What have you got
against a little joy ride, Dexter?' He laughed again. So did the guy in the
back. Killing them would be a pleasure."
Yes, Mickey Spillane's work can be a guilty
pleasure but he never fails to satisfy. I guess that's why sales of his books
have now topped 225 million.
The lead story here, "The Last
Stand", is an entirely different type of book. First of all, it's told in
the third-person, not Spillane's typical style. There are no shoot outs.
There's no sex. There's a hell of a terrific story, though.
Joe Gillian is a pilot who, when his vintage
BT 13A airplane loses power, lands "in the middle of a desert that was
someplace in the United States where nobody would ever look to find him and, so
far, not even a vulture was eyeing him for supper."
Drinking a beer (Miller Lite, natch -
Spillane got a plug in) to pass the time, he meets Sequoia Pete, an Indian from
a local reservation who's "fossil hunting" but who has lost his horse.
They share a "Tastes great, less filling, right?"beer and try to find their way back to
Pete's hogan. The buddy movie begins.
The love interest shows up soon after in the
form of Pete's sister who is as brilliant as she is sexy and Joe finds himself
pulled into a whirlwind of trouble that involves criminals, G-men, the tribe
and a secret that could lead to incredible wealth and power.
Then there's Many Thunders, aka Big Arms. "They
call him Big Arms for a reason," Running Fox said softly. "He picks
up train wheels. He plays with tree trunks. Sometimes he lifts cars right off
the ground." He also considers Running Fox to be his woman and has
hurt many other men who he thought were a threat to his claim. And he's going
to fight Joe on Feast Day.
"The Last Stand" is a terrific romp
through the western desert of the US with colorful, well-fleshed characters and
a fine story. It's written cinematically. You can almost picture the people and
the world they inhabit.
I thoroughly enjoyed both these stories both
times I read them. I can't say this about too many books, but when I turned the
last page of "The Last Stand" I turned the book over, turned to the
first page and started to read it again.
(Author Gabriel Hershman has written "Black Sheep: the Authorized Biography of Nicol Williamson" (The History Press). Williamson, who passed away in 2011 at age 75, was an enormous talent. John Osborne called him "The greatest actor since Brando". However, he had many personal demons that sidetracked what should have been a far more successful career. Hershman explores the peaks and valleys of this temperamental man's dramatic life and career and in this article reminds us of why his talents and work should be rediscovered.)
BY GABRIEL HERSHMAN
Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Alan Bates, Albert Finney,
Tom Courtenay and … Nicol Williamson. Just a few of the most influential actors
of their generation.
Were you surprised when I mentioned Nicol’s name? He was, at the time of
his death, the least well known of
that generation of actors. And yet, in my opinion, Nicol should have topped that
list. Anybody who saw Nicol in Osborne’s InadmissibleEvidence, sweating, combustible,
driven by almost orgasmic self-loathing – ‘the greatest performance in a modern
play’ in Michael Coveney’s words – knew they were watching an extraordinary
If only we could re-visit Waiting
for Godot, Diary of a Madman, The Ginger Man and, of course, Hamlet – a performance that led Nicol to
the White House to give a one-man show in front of Richard Nixon – then it
would be clear: Nicol was the
foremost actor of his generation.
But … Nicol’s stage triumphs made his screen career
seem desperately unsatisfactory by comparison. Yes, Nicol wanted to be a film
star. An early meltdown at Dundee Rep came when Lindsay Anderson chose not to
cast him as Frank Machin in ThisSportingLife (1963). If he’d got that role – and there’s no reason to
assume Nicol would have made a lesser impact than Richard Harris – then Nicol’s
film career could have been different. Sadly, it was several years before
audiences would see him in a major role, to glimpse that blowtorch talent on
Nicol shone in The
Bofors Gun (1968), playing a deranged, alcoholic squaddie who kills himself
and, in so doing, scuppers the career prospects of a mild-mannered bombardier
who’s desperate for promotion. It was a barnstorming portrayal.Pauline Kael later criticised this and other performances
of Nicol’s as ‘too strong’ – but she was wrong. Take LaughterintheDark
(1969). He was vulnerable and oddly affecting as the businessman blinded by
infatuation (and a car crash) in Tony Richardson’s otherwise ineffective
re-working of Nabokov’s classic.
Nicol was on top form again with one of his serial
collaborators, Jack Gold, in The Reckoning
(1970), a powerful story of class and revenge. It should have been up there
with GetCarter but it was overlooked. The film of Hamlet – although too dark and claustrophobic – at least captured Nicol’s
nasal, deliberately unsexy prince for posterity.
By 1970, despite not having a movie hit, Nicol was a
genuine superstar. He wed gorgeous actress Jill Townsend who would enjoy small-screen
success with Poldark. Yet an essay by
Kenneth Tynan, written at the time of Nicol’s White House triumph, hinted at the
demons that eventually destroyed him. In particular, it seems to me, that Nicol’s
altercations– unlike those of Harris and Reed – were often with influential
people. ‘Victims’ included Broadway producer David Merrick, whom Nicol punched
when the legendary showman demanded cuts to InadmissibleEvidence, Dick Cavett, whose chat
show he once unceremoniously exited, and, later, Evan Handler, who got a beating
during the infamous Broadway performance of I
Perhaps – for all their hellraising and vitriolic
behavior – guys like Reed and Harris knew who to be nice to. Perhaps they were
simply more endearing drunks? Either way, by the early Seventies, Nicol was
losing ground. He stumbled again on film. Who remembers his Red Bull
performance in The Jerusalem File? Or
TheMonk? (Don’t worry, even diehard fans of Seventies movies don’t
know them!!) They have disappeared.
Nicol offered a brilliant interpretation of Arturo Ui
– the Hitler-like gangster in a TV version of Brecht’s classic drama. But it
was soon forgotten. Nicol made a memorable villain (his son, Luke, thought it
was his greatest screen performance) in The
Wilby Conspiracy. But it didn’t do much for his screen career. Playing
Sherlock Holmes in The Seven Per Cent Solution
looked like a breakthrough. Yet some enthusiasts had trouble accepting Nicol as
a drug-addled Holmes.
Williamson starred as Sherlock Holmes opposite Robert Duvall as Watson in the 1976 film "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution".
By then Nicol’s life was increasingly troubled. He
stormed out of Enemy of the People and
times before a scene was shot. He eventually took the lead in TheHumanFactor, Otto Preminger’s
cash-strapped tale of political double dealing. Yet again it was a troubled project. Preminger
seemed to be in the early stage of Alzheimer’s. It needed Hitchcock to bring it
to life. Yet in Nicol’s self-effacing, benevolent lead – a political agnostic
caught between despicable ideologies – there was so much nuance and subtlety.
Stage success continued to come Nicol’s way, in Coriolanus and TwelfthNight, in a Royal
Court revival of InadmissibleEvidence, and, especially, in a Broadway
production of UncleVanya. George C. Scott, his notoriously
fiery co-star, was driven to apoplexy when Nicol won better notices. Yet
genuine film stardom was elusive. Sadly for Nicol, who hated TV, it’s likely
that an episode of Columbo was his
best remembered screen performances of the decade. (Rosebud?!) See, I told
The Eighties finally gave Nicol a palpable hit – as Merlin
in Excalibur. Such was Nicol’s
perceived unreliability, and lack of box office clout, that John Boorman had to
fight to win approval to cast him. Nicol enjoyed the role but, strangely, it
did little for his film career. Instead he played third fiddle to Oliver Reed
and Klaus Kinski (whom he cheerfully described as ‘a cunt’) in the enjoyably
hammy Venom. To be fair, if anyone
caused trouble on that film, it was not Nicol.
After that? Who remembers I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can? Or his portrayal of Mountbatten in
the TV series The Last Viceroy? A late
supporting role (well, he was only 50 but approaching the end of his film career)
in BlackWidow gave a hint of what could have been. He played, with
endearing tenderness, a successful but lonely museum director. If you re-visit
the film, watch Nicol’s performance carefully, the way he fiddles with his watch
when he meets Theresa Russell, his little jig when he shows her his Seattle
dream house. Ah, what a talent Hollywood missed out on in the Eighties!
Nicol continued to shine on stage. But great
theatrical performances exist only in memory. Trevor Nunn, a particularly
insightful contributor to my biography, remarked that ‘the achievements of
those who work in the theatre are no more than writing on the sand. There may
well be a vivid and important message for all to see, for a while, but by and
by the tide comes in, and when it next goes out, that writing has disappeared’.
All too true, sadly. Nicol continued to appear on
stage, memorably in his one-man show Jack:
A Night on the Town with John Barrymore. A contributor to my book, Saskia
Wickham, told me she thought Nicol was “mesmerising and just sublime … a
genius”. This, in the end, is where the appeal of Nicol and – my biography – resides.
Nicol was perhaps a great screen actor lost. But I suspect that history will
regard him as probably the greatest stage actor of his generation nevertheless.
Cinema Retro receives many film-related books from publishers who desire that we feature them on our web site and in our magazine. One of the most impressive we've received recently is "The Films of Broderick Crawford" by Ralph Schiller. It's an engrossing biography that you may need two hands to lift and it's packed with interesting facts about one of Hollywood's most neglected leading men of a bygone era. We've asked Mr. Schiller to provide an overview of Crawford's career based on information in his meticulously-researched book.