You may have seen a Mike Hammer movie or two before - perhaps KISS ME DEADLY or even the very strange GIRL HUNTERS (which sees author Mickey Spillane playing his own character creation). You've not seen anything quite so sleazy and yet compelling as I, THE JURY though. This isn't even the first adaptation of this material, as there was a 3D movie made in the 1950s. Armand Assante plays Hammer this time and he establishes himself as a dirtbag within the first few minutes of the film in a very classy way. He takes a call from a potential client about investigating the man's wife as he suspects her of cheating on him. As soon as Mike hangs up the phone, we realize that he himself is the one she's cheating with so theirs clearly a moral low-ground established that will continue to be played out amidst a ton of action. From it's James Bond-esque opening credit sequence set to some great 80s Bill Conti score music, we get a sense that we are in for a good ride and indeed we are. Conti actually scored FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (his one and only Bond movie) just prior to this and you can feel a little bit of that in the music as well as some high end 80s action TV in there as well. Larry Cohen wrote the script from Spillane's book and was supposed to direct the film, but was fired extremely early in the production (which allowed him to move on to Q: THE WINGED SERPENT which wasn't a terrible thing for him). So despite not directing it, the movie still feels very much Larry Cohen-esque and is perhaps one of the best representations of the character of Mike Hammer on screen. Sure, some would bring up KISS ME DEADLY as the definitive Hammer, but in terms of being true to Mickey Spillane's writing - a case can certainly be made for I, THE JURY as a truer take on Hammer. The sleaziness, sex, action and blood of I, THE JURY more properly conveys the vision of the character and his world set about by the books. Though some stuff from Cohen's script was excised after he exited the film, Cohen was still a very solid choice for adapting as he and Mike Hammer are both very anti-authoritarian type gentlemen and they go quite well together. Also despite losing Larry as director, the movie was shot almost entirely in New York City which is another thing that helps align it with the Mike Hammer stories. The excellent supporting cast, which includes Barbera Carrera, Paul Sorvino, Alan King, Geoffrey Lewis and Laurene Landon really bolsters the film and helps make Armand Assante look all the better as Mike. It's hard to believe Assante had played a fairly wholesome camp counsellor in LITTLE DARLINGS just a few years before this. For film noir fans that are looking for something with a bit more of an explicit edge - I, THE JURY should be your next stop.
-Audio Commentary from Film Historian Nathaniel Thompson (of MovieMorlocks.com) and Filmmaker Steve Mitchell (of the upcoming doc KING COHEN about the life and films of Larry Cohen). I enjoyed this track very much and there's lots of production stories and Larry Cohen stories to be enjoyed within it. Recommended.
This one was previously pretty much off my radar, but the name Burt Kennedy carries a surprising amount of weight with me so I was compelled to check it out. My familiarity with Kennedy arises from his many often collaborations as writer with director Budd Boetticher. The two were a remarkable duo in the fifties and sixties - with films like SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, THE TALL T, RIDE LONESOME and COMANCHE STATION to their credit. These stripped-down thriller westerns starring the great Randolph Scott are some of my absolute favorites and Burt Kennedy certainly cemented himself as a writer to be reckoned with for me after I saw them. You see, Kennedy has this innate ability to generate and maintain tension between small groups of characters and WOLF LAKE is no exception. It falls into the tradition of DELIVERANCE, RITUALS and other such men-on-huning-trips gone wrong movies that were oddly popular around this time. It seems like the 70s and early 80s were a time of culture becoming aware of advancing urbanization and a growing lack of anonymity that came with it and sought to create stories that put people into isolated places to allow for civilized instincts to degrade into barbarism. The setup is simple - a group of older gentlemen come to a very remote cabin on a lake for some drinking and sport. When they arrive, they find that their regular guide through the wilderness is already off with another party and may not be back for a few days. What’s left behind is a man and woman who’ve been left to attend to the cabins by the lake in the guide’s absence. In classic Burt Kennedy style, the hunting party creates an immediate tension between themselves and the man and woman and things escalate from there. The leader of the group is played by Rod Steiger and his irritation with having to wait around combined with a penchant for making fun of the help causes things to go south real quick. So basically, you’ve got a gang of heavily armed men with a ton of booze sequestered in the woods with a girl. If this sounds like a familiar recipe for trouble, that’s because it is. And when the girl is Robin Mattson (CANDY STRIPE NURSES, RETURN TO MACON COUNTY, BONNIE'S KIDS) and she's got a fiery attitude, you know that there's gonna be trouble right quick. But where Burt Kennedy functions really well is with the slow building tension - so things intensify slowly and surely to a proper boiling point. Rod Steiger is a great powder keg for this kind of story. He has an old man macho quality about him that comes out in an interesting way here. He's actually much more sensitive and sympathetic than usual and that just makes the whole scenario a bit more infuriating if nonetheless engaging. Underlying all the building tautness is the notion that there are a whole lot of hunting rifles stacked up in a cabin somewhere, just waiting to get pulled out.
-Interview with actors Jerry Hardin and Richard Herd
-Interview with Producer Lance Hool
Buy WOLF LAKE on Blu-ray here: