The Girl Hunters (1963)
Hardboiled Detective (is there any other kind?) Mike Hammer, portrayed here by his creator Mickey Spillane, is aroused from a seven year exile of binge drinking and bowery bum survival when a seemingly random murder is connected to the still unsolved killing of a prominent Senator and disappearance of Hammer’s secretary/unrequited love Velda. It’s her mysterious abduction that has sent Hammer into his downward spiral and the hope of her being alive that brings him out. Given a second chance to resurrect his life-and Private Eye practice-Hammer is befriended by FBI agent Rickerby (Lloyd Nolan) and sets out to find Velda. In the process he meets the beautiful widow of the deceased Senator Knapp (Shirley Eaton, forever embedded in our memory banks as the unfortunate head to toe gilded victim in the James Bond classic Goldfinger) and begins linking a series of improbable events. This eventually leads him to the trail of the murderous Soviet Agent code named "The Dragon" (Larry Taylor) who may or may not be involved in Velda's disappearance. The plot is difficult to follow, names and events are tossed out with little back story, and it’s the viewer's job to assemble the various puzzle pieces.
The tempo is relentless and the direction by veteran Roy Rowland leaves little room to consider the many plot inconsistencies, which is probably a good thing. For his part Spillane does a decent job as Hammer, making one wonder how much of the creation reflects the creator. The Girl Hunters was made at a time when men were men-who could get anything they wanted with the blunt end of a 45 or their irresistible testosterone-woman were “dames” and “tomatoes” and the police were given carte blanche to rough up anyone who didn’t give them the information they wanted.
The film’s somewhat muddled climax (we never really learn Velda’s fate) is surprisingly cruel and direct; in many ways The Girl Hunters is a reflection of the Cold War paranoia that was gripping our nation at the time. No one is to be trusted, even the sexiest and outwardly most vulnerable women can be deceptive, the authorities are seldom what they seem and you’d best not let your guard down for even a moment.
There’s a lot going on here and even while it’s not presented in the clearest of fashion The Girl Hunters remains a fascinating bit of archaic crime drama.
Did you know? Despite its flaws The Girl Hunters has attained a certain cult status among film industry insiders. It is referenced in movies ranging from Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 masterwork Full Metal Jacket (the drill instructor asks Private Joker if he “thinks he's Mickey Spillane”) to 1997’s low budget thriller Mommy's Day (scripted by mystery writer and aficionado Max Allan Collins) in which a poster for the movie is prominently displayed in several scenes. In 2009 it even earned its own category on Jeopardy!