Tuesday, July 25, 2006

RING OF FEAR

On July 17, 2006, Mickey Spillane passed away at age 88. Now, I’m guessing that a lot of this site’s readers are too young to remember what a phenomenon Spillane was in the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, but let’s just say he was, for many years, the most recognized fiction author in the world (think Stephen King today).

His Mike Hammer detective novels sold in the millions, he was a frequent guest on TV talk shows, and the star of a hugely successful, 18-year beer commercial campaign. The Hammer character appeared in numerous motion pictures and TV series beginning in the mid-Fifties and continuing up until the late Nineties. Spillane even portrayed his most famous character in a feature film, something no other popular author can claim – and he did a good job, too.

Spillane was something of a personal idol to me. I first encountered his novels in high school, and quickly became a fan not only of his books, but of many of his imitators, too. His approach to storytelling – raw and vital – had a huge impact on me and my writing, and I was fortunate enough to collaborate with him on a comic book project a decade ago called Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger.

Spillane’s first big-screen appearance was in the 1954, John Wayne-produced circus thriller, RING OF FEAR, directed by James Edward Grant.

In the film, Spillane plays himself, who, with the help of a Mike Hammer-ish sidekick played by Jack Stang (Spillane’s personal choice for Hammer), investigates mysterious going-ons and deadly "accidents" at the famous Clyde Beatty Circus. The somewhat routine story is enlivened by the novelty of celebrities Spillane and Beatty playing themselves, and an effective climax with Spillane facing down the murderous, psychotic saboteur. The movie also has a great, jazzy score.

Paramount has recently released RING OF FEAR in its first legitimate home video edition, on a bare-bones DVD. The disc features a very nice 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, clear, sharp stereo, and that’s it.

It’s not a great movie, but it has its moments, and it’s a unique pop culture curio. Recommended only for Spillane completists (like me).

BUY: Ring of Fear