The Girl Hunters (1963)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/10/15
Writer: Mickey Spillane
Cast: Mickey Spillane, Shirley Eaton, Lloyd Nolan

"I don't hit dames. I always kick 'em."

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer has turned into a broken-hearted, alcoholic bum after his partner/secretary/girlfriend Velda disappeared while working on a case. She is presumed dead, but a dying man's words sober Mike up pretty quickly when he cryptically mentions that Velda is still alive, but might not be for much longer. Both the local police and the Feds are interested in the case, but only Hammer has enough clues and motivation to solve the mystery. One of the pieces in the puzzle is a beautiful and inviting widow named Laura Knapp (sexy Shirley Eaton), whose charms threaten to derail his investigation. Hammer follows a trail of dead bodies that leads ever closer to Velda's whereabouts, but will he be able to reach her before a notorious assassin does?

It's an entertaining and engaging crime story, but what sets it apart is that Mickey Spillane himself plays Mike Hammer, his own creation. He's not a trained or experienced actor, but he does a marvelous job of bringing the character to life and imbuing him with a tough exterior and a touch of vulnerability. His steely eyes, rough voice, and New York accent lend a sense of authenticity and credibility to the role, and you can tell there's always something going on behind his gaze. Unfortunately, he's short and stocky, which causes his full length shots to look awkward and unimposing. However, his close-up shots are riveting, and he sells the part well. Shirley Eaton is delightful as Ms. Knapp, and spends nearly all of her time lounging by the pool in a scandalously small bikini. The supporting characters are all wonderful and the film moves along at a cautiously contemplative pace. My only real criticism is that the story is a bit hard to follow at times, and Velda's classified military record and the threat of Communist incursion seem overly far-fetched and paranoid. But the Red Scare was a real concern at the time, and Spillane was a product of that era and severely prejudiced against anything non-American. The film is also surprisingly rough, and the shockingly brutal climax showcases Hammer's flair for violence and sadism. While the plot is fairly predictable, the film ends on an unsatisfying note, which robs the audience of any closure. The immediate threat has been neutralized, but the objective still hasn't been met. A sequel was planned to address the remaining issues, but it was never made. Still, for fans of gritty hard-boiled detective stories, "The Girl Hunters" is likely to please.