Format: Amazon Watch Party
Director: Harry Essex
There was a time before Mickey Spillane was a name everyone kind of knew, and before Mike Hammer books had been adapted by major studios. I, the Jury is one of the first Hammer books, released in 1947. This poverty row movie adaptation came out in 1953 - and it really isn't like anything else coming out at the time.
Yeah, the acting in this film wasn't going to threaten the usual Oscar contenders, and at first blush, there's a lot of what you might have seen in a Marlowe mystery - but (a) this case starts personal and finishes even more so for our detective, and (b) this detective is going to punch his way through the mystery.
Where Marlowe tries to keep his cool, often over the top of rage whichs pills over, Hammer starts at a ten and goes up from there. When your mystery starts with a dead best friend and you're on the trail through a bunch of weirdos - any of whom could have done it - I guess I can see how you'd be testy.
Star Biff Elliot who plays Hammer is a curious choice. He's not the stringest actor and his decision to go "angry" in every scene means that there's nowhere to go, really. He blasts into the frame the first time we see him, and barges into every room thereafter - so we don't ever really see him in any other state. And anger is an easy go-to for actors, but it's hard to maintain.
The rest of the cast is actually pretty solid. Peggie Castle as a love interest/ psychologist and Margaret Sheridan as Velda are both pretty great. And Frances Osborne - who I'd only seen elsewhere in Murder By Contract - was very good as the mourning girlfriend of the murder victim.
I discussed Spillane's semi-controversial place in crime-fiction, and this movie doesn't do much to dismiss the notion. It's got as gritty a crime and violence angle, adjacent to overt sexuality as anything I can think of from this era - but still coded deeply enough that it was going to fly past the censors. But, man, that ending is something else for the era.
The film was shot by John Alton, who always makes any picture look far better than it has a right to look - and I'd argue this movie had a huge impact on Frank Miller and his Sin City look and feel, from the deep shadow and windy mystery to the cinch in Hammer's raincoat.