Music: Bill Conti
In the 80’s when this film first came out I thought it was one of the classic detective movies. I was going through a Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer phase, and this film had everything a hormonal teenage boy could want: sex, violence, tough dialogue, and dead fish.
But time has moved on, and I have grown up (well, a bit anyway). Now I see I, The Jury for what it truly is – a B-grade action film that is so sleazy that it encroaches on being an exploitation picture. Not that that’s a bad thing, I just remember it as being slightly more classy. After all, this is the film, that in it’s trailer, promised Mike Hammer making love to a ‘gorgeous set of twins’. With advertising like that, how could I stay away?
For those who have never heard of I, The Jury, it features a hard-boiled detective named Mike Hammer, and is based on a novel by Mickey Spillane. Above I mentioned Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective, Philip Marlowe who is different to Hammer. Sure they are both hard asses, but Marlowe works in the candy coloured world of Los Angeles, and particularly Hollywood. His down-to-earth nature is always juxtaposed against the phoney façade of tinsel town. Hammer, on the other hand deals more with ‘underworld’ types. He’s a ‘crush your kidney with a crowbar’ kind of guy. Today, Spillane’s writing is often accused of being extremely right wing, bordering on fascism.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Mike Hammer has appeared on the screen. In fact I, The Jury was filmed once before in 1953, with Biff Elliot playing Hammer. Other popular Hammer films are the classic Kiss Me Deadly with Ralph Meeker, and The Girl Hunters which featured Spillane himself as Mike Hammer. The Girl Hunters also featured Shirley Eaton, the woman who’s image is indelibly etched into the minds of any boy who watched Goldfinger as a kid. Hammer has also turned up on television, first in the 50’s portrayed by Darren McGavin, and then later in the 80’s with Stacey Keach taking on the role.
But that’s enough background information about Hammer.
The film open with one of Hammer’s friends, Jack Williams (Frederic Downs), who happens to be a detective, being shot and killed. Williams was a Vietnam vet who lost an arm during the Tet Offensive. Hammer is called to the murder scene by Pat Chambers (Paul Sorvino). Chambers, who is a police detective, is also a friend of Hammer’s. In a very strange, creepy scene, Hammer is visibly upset at his friends death. Because he is so tough he isn’t about to cry, but he does pick up Williams prosthetic arm and cradle it. I think it is supposed to be an emotional moment, but like I said it is just plain creepy.
Naturally, Hammer wont leave it to the police to find his friends killer, and he starts poking around. It appears that Williams had been having sexual problems, and going to a private clinic to sort it out.
Hammer turns up at the clinic to see what goes on. The clinic is run by Dr. Charlotte Bennett (Barbara Carrera – who you may remember as the villainous Fatima Blush in Sean Connery’s Bond comeback movie Never Say Never Again). Carrera is the one thing this movie has going for it. She is beautiful. Her acting isn’t too convincing, but that doesn’t really matter.
It seems that this sex clinic has some thing to do with the dirty dealings of the CIA. And as Hammer continues to investigate, and gets closer to the truth, the story gets more convoluted and people start to die a bit more frequently. The CIA is an organisation that doesn’t like it’s secrets revealed to the greater community. To stop Hammer, and to tidy up the loose ends, the CIA have a hitman, Mr. Kendricks (Judson Scott). Kendricks is an absolute nutter, whose specialty is killing women. He dresses them up in red wigs and makes them tell him that they love him. The CIA send this nut job after Velda (Laurene Landon), Hammer’s secretary.
From the brief synopsis above you’ve probably gathered that I, The Jury is a pretty violent film. It also features quite a bit of nudity (in some prints anyway – The German print that I watched recently appears to be cut – much to my disappointment). I don’t mind the odd bit of nudity in a motion picture, but here it is presented in such a voyeuristic fashion, that some viewers may feel the need to take a bath after watching this film.
Armand Assante isn’t really a good choice for Mike Hammer. Sure, he can be a good actor (maybe not this film), but he doesn’t seem world weary. And he scrubs up too well in a suit. Everybody knows that Hammer can’t afford a decent suit.
The music by Bill Conti has dated badly. I am sure in 1982, when the film came out, that combining brassy jazz sounds with a contemporary beat didn’t sound too bad. The jazz elements almost work today, but the 80’s contemporary sound is cheesy and sleazy (much like the movie). Conti is a good composer; he did the theme from Rocky, but he does have a tendency to compose scores that only work around the vintage that the film was made. Another example is his score for the Bond film For Your Eyes Only which is very difficult to listen to today.
All in all, if you’re a fan of Mike Hammer or just have a perverse fascination with Barbara Carrera, then you’ll have to watch this film. If not and your after a good detective movie this isn’t the place to start. There are better, and I feel more faithful adaptations of Spillane’s source material.
With the CIA subplot, I guess you could class I,The Jury as a cusp spy film (barely). But for other ‘Spy Connections’ we have the gorgeous Barbara Carrera, who, as mentioned above, appeared in Never Say Never Again. In fact, aside from Connery, I think she is the best thing in the film. And Bill Conti wrote the score for For Your Eyes Only