Cracked Rear Viewer’s 2017 Year in Review

Once again, it’s time to step back and take a look at how far Cracked Rear Viewer has come, and where it’s going in 2018. When I started writing this blog in June of 2015, I didn’t know what I was getting into! It takes a lot of time and effort, and you Dear Readers have certainly rewarded me far beyond my expectations. As of this writing, 2017 has seen 24,456 visitors (doubling last year) view my musings a record 36,756 times. As Sally Field once said, “You like me! You really like me!”. I thank you, one and all.

I’ve tried out some new things this year, some successful, some not so much. The Cracked Rear Viewer Facebook page has given this blog a huge boost; if you haven’t subscribed, please do so! Book reviews on classic film subjects have proved popular, and I’ll continue those in the New Year, as well as my “Familiar Faces” posts. But its movies that are the cornerstone here, and without further ado, here are the Ten most popular posts of 2017:

1- A tie between two classic cowboys: Clint Eastwood in THE BEGUILED (originally published April 2016)  and John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS (Sept. 2017). The Clint post gained traction due to the recent Sofia Coppola remake, while The Duke reigns eternal in the hearts of film fans (including Yours Truly – expect more on Wayne as 2018 unfolds!)

2- THE VIOLENT YEARS (April 2017): I pulled out an old VHS copy of this Ed Wood-scripted movie when my DirecTV went down for a few days. The post took off like a comet, surprising and delighting me! This post is the one that got me thrown out of a certain Facebook page (no names, please) for this picture of the video’s hostess with the mostess, Mamie Van Doren:

Really? Really??

3- Top Ten Reasons CASABLANCA is The Greatest Movie Ever Made! (August 2015): Resurging interest in this post was due in large part to the film’s 75th anniversary. Like I’ve probably told you before (about a million times!), CASABLANCA will always be my favorite movie, and I did two other posts on it this year: a look at my experience viewing it on The Big Screen , and a review of Noah Isenberg’s book, WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA .

4- Why I Think ERASERHEAD Sucks! (Nov. 2015) gained views because of David Lynch’s recent TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN on Showtime. I like Lynch, but still think ERASERHEAD is overrated. To each his own.

5- John Ford’s FLESH (July 2017): An obscure Ford entry, part of my “Pre-Code Confidential” series, starring Wallace Beery as a German grappler. The post exceeded expectations when a Pro Wrestling site called F4WOnline picked it up. Thanks, Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez!

6- Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg’s RABID (April 2017): I don’t know if it’s because of Cronenberg, porn icon Marilyn, or the fact it’s a great movie; all I know is RABID was one of this year’s most popular posts!

7- 1931’s THE MALTESE FALCON (May 2017): Another “Pre-Code Confidential” post, the original version of Dashiell Hammett’s pulp classic drew a lot of viewers. Most in the “Pre-Code” series do, so expect a lot more in 2018!

8- SEX IN THE CINEMA by Lou Sabini ( July 2017): My look at a book that covers over 100 Pre-Code films, written by film historian Lou Sabini, who also hosts a wonderful Facebook page titled MY “REEL” LIFE. Thanks for the autographed copy, Lou!

9- John Wayne in THE COWBOYS (Dec. 2017): Duke again, in one of his best 70’s Westerns. Like I said, John Wayne is eternal!

10- Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (Nov. 2017): Number One in a new series spotlighting Pulp Fiction writers and their characters, featuring Spillane’s notorious gumshoe. I’m looking into more for 2018; stay tuned!!

As always, I thanks the crew at Through the Shattered Lens for letting me repost my ramblings on their fantastic site. And the biggest shout out of all goes to all you Dear Readers who make it worthwhile! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing and editing to do… see you Next Year!!

Pulp Fiction #1: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer

“The roar of the .45 shook the room. Charlotte struggled back a step. Her eyes were a symphony of incredulity, an unbelieving witness to truth. Slowly, she looked down at the ugly swelling in her belly where the bullet went in.

“How c-could you”, she gasped.

I only had a moment before talking to a corpse. I got it in.

“It was easy”, I said. “

– from I, THE JURY by Mickey Spillane, first published in 1947 by EP Dutton

Mickey Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer made his debut in I, THE JURY, and set the shocked literary world on its collective ear with its sex-and-violence laden story. Critics savaged Spillane, but the book buying public ate it up, turning I, THE JURY into a best seller and launching Hammer as a pop culture icon. Hammer’s roots were deeply set in the bloody pulps and another 20th century phenomenon… the four-color comics!

Spillane got his start writing for both mediums. Born in Brooklyn in 1918, the tough-talking Irishman found he had a knack for storytelling, and by the 1930’s managed to make a few sales to the pulps. Spillane soon joined the fledgling comic book world, cranking out stories for Timely’s (later known as Marvel Comics) Human Torch, Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, and a ton of those two-page “fillers” publishers used to print to meet the cheaper second-class postal rates. Like most red-blooded American males of the era, Spillane joined the service during WWII, and when it was over he returned to grinding ’em out. Only this time, Spillane had an idea.

Spillane dreamed up a tough private eye named Mike Danger and, together with artist Mike Roy, looked to sell it to the lucrative syndicated newspaper comics market, without success. Undaunted, Spillane took his project and wrote a novel based on the character, now renamed Mike Hammer. The writer (“I’m not an author”, he once claimed) elevated the levels of sex and violence, whipping up his lurid adaptation in a little over a week. Publisher E.P. Dutton bought the book, titled I, THE JURY, and history was made. The critics lambasted Spillane’s literary style (or lack thereof), but post-war readers grabbed onto all the sex and violence within the book’s pages and begged for more.

“The guy was dead as hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains scattered all over the floor and my gun in his hand”

  • – from VENGEANCE IS MINE , first published in 1950 by EP Dutton

Mike Hammer is Spillane’s macho fantasy alter ego. The PI was, like his creator, a World War II vet, now a Cold War Anti-Communist who played by his own set of rules. He was a law-and-order guy dishing out vigilante justice, not interested in waiting for an incompetent system that rarely worked for the little guy. Hammer had a way with the ladies, yet the love of his life was loyal secretary Velma. His two best friends were NY Homicide Captain Pat Chambers and his trusty Colt .45, which served him well when delivering just desserts to the lowlifes and corrupt officials who deserved them. Say what you will about Hammer’s misanthropic methods or misogynistic viewpoints; he was a stand-up guy who got the job done… by any means necessary!

Ralph Meeker as Hammer in “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955)

Spillane’s terse, graphic novels exploded in the public conscience like a .45 slug through flesh and bone, and it was inevitable Mike Hammer would blast his way to the Silver Screen. Tough guy actor Biff Elliot was the first to play Hammer in a 1953 adaptation of I, THE JURY, which of course was considerably toned down for the screen. Probably the best known movie Hammer was Ralph Meeker, who starred in director Robert Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY (1955), as bleak and violent a film noir as you’re likely to find. Robert Bray next stepped into Hammer’s shoes for 1957’s MY GUN IS QUICK, a low-budget but fairly entertaining entry. A syndicated television version of MIKE HAMMER was run from 1958-60, with Darren McGavin as the PI, a series decried by critics for its excessive violence – hey, what did they expect?

Mickey Spillane as his creation Mike Hammer in “The Girl Hunters” (1963)

Mike Hammer took a ten-year hiatus before Spillane resurrected him in the 1962 novel THE GIRL HUNTERS. Believing his beloved Velma dead, Hammer’s been on a booze soaked bender before learning she’s actually alive, and he begins his regeneration from drunken bum to instrument of vengeance. This book was made into a film a year later with none other than Spillane himself cast as Hammer! It’s as violent as you’d think with the author doing a not-bad job. Spillane had always been a self promoter, and in later years he made the rounds of TV talk shows and even starred in a series of commercials for Miller Lite Beer!

Stacy Keach, TV’s greatest Mike Hammer

Hammer was back with (what else?) a vengeance, and a new audience was turned on to Spillane’s sex-and-violence fueled world. In the Reagan-era 1980’s a new TV version was broadcast on CBS, starring Stacy Keach, by far the most popular of Hammer portrayers. The stylish series was a hit, that is until Keach got busted in Britain on cocaine smuggling charges and had to serve time in prison. He returned to the role in (appropriately enough) the 1986 TV movie THE RETURN OF MIKE HAMMER, and again the 90’s with the  syndicated MIKE HAMMER, PRIVATE EYE series.

“There isn’t a Coliseum anymore, but the city is a bigger bowl, and it seats more people. The razor-sharp claws aren’t those of wild animals, but man’s can be just as sharp and twice as vicious. You have to be quick, and you have to be able, or you become one of the devoured, and if you can kill first, no matter how and no matter who, you can return to the comfortable chair and the comfortable fire. But you have to be quick. And able. Or you’ll be dead”

-from MY GUN IS QUICK, first published in 1950 by EP Dutton

Tough as a two dollar steak, Mike Hammer refuses to die, even though his creator Spillane passed away in 2006. Mystery writer Max Allan Collins, who once took over the Dick Tracy comic strip and penned the graphic novel THE ROAD TO PERDITION, has been chronicling the hard-boiled adventures of Hammer since 2007, working from Spillane’s own unfinished manuscripts. As long as there’s a need for a ruthless avenger to take on the dirty jobs no one else can, there will be a need for Mike Hammer, political correctness be damned!

New Book on Lupe Velez Debunks the Myths of “Hollywood Babylon”

An excellent post on Lupe Velez and “Hollywood Babylon” by the always interesting and informative Will McKinley at Cinematically Insane

cinematically insane

Ask the average person about Lupe Vélez and you’ll probably be met with a blank stare. But query those same folks as to whether or not they’ve heard of the classic film star who “drowned in the toilet,” and they’ll likely perk up with smirking recognition.

We have Kenneth Anger’s book Hollywood Babylon to thank for that.

Of course, there are other (perhaps unwitting) accomplices: The Simpsons, wherein guest John Waters joked about the store where Vélez bought her toilet in the 1997 episode Homer’s Phobia; Frasier, in which Lupe is said to have been “last seen with her head in the toilet” in the 1993 pilot; and Andy Warhol, whose 1966 film LUPE depicts the popular Mexican actress facedown in a toilet, dead.

But the apocryphal story of the tragic demise of Lupe Vélez, who took her own life with a barbiturate overdose in 1944 at the…

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