Crime shows have been a part of the TV landscape since the beginning. A tried and true formula, the story format was and remains perfect for television audiences all around the world. Twists and turns, murder and mayhem, and wisecracking cops have been consistent aspects of these series and there’s no sign of them leaving the airwaves anytime soon.
While the formula has remained pretty much unchanged – primarily thanks to the genres roots in both real police cases and written works of fiction – the level of violence, sex, and language has definitely increased over the past six decades. It’s interesting to note that what to us seems mundane on these series in the 50s and 60s was rather controversial for its time.
Case in point: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, a gritty, film noir style series filled with plenty of violence, blood, wisecracking, and twists that definitely have influenced the shows that have followed. While it may not strive for the realism of Dragnet, Mike Hammer does deliver solid stories that are engaging and intriguing even now.
It’s no wonder the series works so well; the episodes are based on the works of master pulp fiction crime novelist Mickey Spillane. Spillane knew how to create solid mysteries, snarky detectives, and plenty of twists that would keep the reader turning the pages until the final revelation and arrest. And while not everything can be translated from the page to 1950s TV (those darn censors!), Mike Hammer does surprise with its sequences of violence and gritty stories.
Darren McGavin – known to most as the dad in A Christmas Story – plays Mike Hammer with a gusto and vigor that makes him as interesting a character as any cop on TV today. His narration throughout may seem antiquated by today’s standards, but it helps set the mood of both the character and the series as a whole.
Even though it ran for just two seasons, the thematic elements and dramatic structure can be seen in almost every crime-drama series since. And its structure definitely had an influence on Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams as they created the short-lived series Police Squad! starring Leslie Nielsen that would later become the Naked Gun series of films.
This is a fantastic and gripping series that surprisingly ran for only two seasons on CBS from 1958 to 1960. But Mike Hammer didn’t end his detective work after 78 episodes, he was later seen in a series of TV movies and an updated version of the series in the 1980s starring Stacy Keach.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer box set contains both seasons on 12 DVDs. I wish there were some special features about the legacy of the show, the character, and its influence on crime fiction and crime shows today, but I think the show speaks for itself. And with plenty of great stories, dialogue, and mystery to go around, Mike Hammer is a timeless classic that will keep you watching from the first crime to the final arrest.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer is available NOW on DVD.
What’s your favorite crime show? Leave a comment and let us know!