This version of the Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer story is about the most perfect example of what the VHS age was all about when it came to exploitation titles finding legs through the home video market. It’s actually the first version of the Mike Hammer character I’d been introduced to and because of it, Armand Assante always comes to mind when thinking of the private eye. Ralph Meeker would come to eclipse Armand as my go to Hammer and I must say I also enjoyed Darren McGavin’s take on the role during his television run. Next up for some I suppose would be the Stacy Keach series though I never got around to checking that one out.
Assante as Hammer has an office right across the street from a topless bar setting the tone for the seedy side of town and derelicts he’ll be dealing with for the next 100 minutes of screen time. Before the opening credits even roll, he’ll be taking a job shadowing a worried husband’s attractive wife. The husband should be worried because while he’s out of town, Assante will be bedding the lonely wife. This intro makes it very clear that sex is front and center in this private eye’s world.
The plot/case kicks off when an old pal of Assante’s is murdered. “Stay out of it.” cop Paul Sorvino tells the P.I. but then that isn’t likely to happen. The first lead takes Assante to a sexual clinic or retreat if you prefer run by the good doctor Barbara Carrera! Miss Carrera running a sex clinic? I do believe all my teenage pals and I were quite happy with our weekend VHS rental by this point in the plot. The duo quickly begin to spar verbally with a heavy emphasis on sex filling the scene.
Not only does Assante’s Hammer have to contend with the possibility of bedding Miss Carrera but he has knockout blonde, Laurene Landon as his personal secretary Velda doting all over him at the office as she too tries her best to make him her personal property. I must say that the confident Assante carries this whole sexual escapades show off quite wonderfully. Even more so when he revisits the clinic and makes the acquaintance of the stunning twins, Leigh and Lynette Harris. The duo are there as sexual aides for those in need. Assante quickly discovers which one has the hidden birthmark in order to tell them apart.
O.K., so if you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s plenty of sex, orgies and full frontal nudity packed into this Larry Cohen screenplay.
Let’s not forget that it’s also an action film beginning with a wild chase through the woods near the cabin where another old pal of Assante’s lives. It’s one of my favorite character actors turning up for a few memorable moments, Geoffrey Lewis. Along with Lewis and the aforementioned, Paul Sorvino, another familiar face here is a memorable turn by Alan King as a mob boss who isn’t quite as high up the latter of mobsters as he wishes come the close of the film.
The action and sexual quotient of this Richard T. Heffron film is more than enough to make up for the fact that the actual plot is rather confusing and I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood the entire reasoning for offing Assante’s pal which is what sets this killing machine in motion. Sexual clinics, serial killers, shady C.I.A. agents are all rolled into one roadblock as Assante coolly goes about his business. He may break a sweat along the way but the word “worried” never enters his vocabulary as he takes down one hood after another and rushes to save the one lady in the film that stays true to him.
This is a “raw” very pulp fiction flick which I suppose is much like the novels that the character is based on. I say this despite never having read one so please correct me if you think I’m wrong or disagree. I just know I like the film and Assante in the main role. Barbara Carrera was at this point in time one of those go to women for nasty roles. She would face off against the come backing Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again as one of Bond’s great villainess’ Fatima Blush around this same time. I don’t care of it is an unofficial entry in the Bond world. Connery makes it official in my world.
Catchy opening credits, a Bill Conti soundtrack and a trailer that points out, “They call him the Hammer!”
Give this Armand Assante flick a try when you’re feeling naughty, looking for a guilty pleasure of the VHS age I love so dearly. Thankfully it’s been rescued from obscurity just recently by Kino Lorber who have released it on blu ray prompting yours truly to open the wallet once again.