Tuesday, July 25, 2006

MIKE HAMMER, PRIVATE EYE - THE COMPLETE SERIES

I am, as I've written here before, a fan of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer character. I also enjoyed the two 1980's television series that starred Stacy Keach as the fedora-wearing, .45-toting private detective. Unfortunately, those shows are not available on home video.

However, the syndicated 90’s revival series, MIKE HAMMER, PRIVATE EYE (1997-98) is available on DVD. This show had Keach reprising the role, this time with a new, younger Velda (the gorgeous Shannon Whirry) and a young, pretty-boy assistant (Shane Conrad, son of veteran TV tough-guy Robert Conrad).

While the show was shot on the cheap – and looked it – I still liked the episodes I saw when it originally aired in syndication, and found I enjoyed watching the rest of them on DVD.

Like the two 80’s series and TV movies, this syndicated series mines a lot of humor out of playing Hammer as a 40’s-50’s kind of guy a bit out of step with the modern era. This series deals with Internet crimes and similar 90s plots, but, oddly, Hammer’s a bit rougher and more violent here than in the previous series. I’m guessing that’s because it was syndicated, and didn’t have to deal with network censors. The writing’s not too bad, either – not great, mind you, but most of the stories are tough and fairly clever.

The hardest thing to get past is the cheap-looking sets, bland photography, and the occasional palm trees that show up in many exterior scenes, even though the show is still supposed to be set in New York City. Sure, they filmed a bunch of insert shots of Keach wandering around Manhattan, but unlike the 80s shows, this one never quite manages to hide the fact that it was shot in Ventura, CA.

Tango has released the entire, single season series on four double-sided discs. The full frame transfers are generally pretty solid, although the last disc has a couple extra episodes crammed on it and this leads to some obvious compression problems; a few episodes show some distracting pixelation. The set comes in an attractively designed box, and includes a single bonus feature: a short but entertaining on-screen interview with star Keach.

It’s not the best Mike Hammer series, but it’s the only one available. If you’re a fan, you’ll want to pick it up.

BUY: Mike Hammer, Private Eye - The Complete Series