My Gun Is Quick (MGM LE Collection) Review
It's not Kiss Me Deadly, for sure, but My Gun Is Quick has its pleasures. Coming two years after Robert Aldrich's landmark film noir, the 1957 iteration of Mike Hammer on screen positions the private investigator as volatile and hard-nosed, with a weakness for nice girls. Particularly dead ones. Hammer, played by Robert Bray, can be a tough nut to crack. He's not particularly nice or sympathetic. Wit also isn't an apparent strong suit. But, like other enduring private dicks on film and in literature, Mike Hammer has his own internal set of ethics. So when the redhead from Nebraska he meets late one night at a diner ends up in the morgue, the victim of an apparent hit and run, Hammer takes it upon himself to scrape beneath the surface. What he finds is rarely pretty and far more intricate and complicated than first imagined. Expensive jewelry twice stolen, once by the Nazis and again by an American military officer who took a ten-year prison sentence, still hasn't been recovered. The redhead had a ring from this collection she'd received as a gift but didn't realize its value.
Mickey Spillane's source novel, his second using the Hammer character, clearly made the redhead a prostitute but it's a bit less defined in the movie. She had come out to Hollywood with stars in her eyes and ended up working at a nightclub, where she befriended a Mexican dancer named Maria (Gina Core). Hammer's search soon leads him to Maria, who follows the script and attaches herself to the thirty-five-year-old war veteran with little hesitation. It's amazing how this guy can attract women with the attitude he has, though perhaps it's more helpful than hurtful in some situations. So it's from the redhead to Maria and from her to Nancy Williams (Whitney Blake), with blonde Dione as bait later on to entice Hammer to an apartment and ever-faithful secretary Velda (Pamela Duncan) perpetually waiting in the wings. Beyond Hammer's ladies, he encounters a multitude of troublemakers and ethically challenged characters. Most notable is Colonel Holloway (Donald Randolph), whose role in the whole shebang is defined little by little but always with a sense of prominence and inherent greed. We know Holloway isn't a good guy but it takes a while longer to figure whether he's actually a bad one.
My Gun Is Quick has the task of straddling the line between being dense in its plotting and predictable in its execution. The central situation has a lot of pinging about that could potentially create confusion in the viewer but still shouldn't be too hard to follow for those who pay attention. Indeed, a common complaint of the film actually seems to be that it's too easy to piece together in advance of the official reveals. That wasn't my own experience, but then I tend to watch movies and read books and let the storytellers do their thing without turning it into a role-playing game. If I just wanted the central mystery tied up I'd head on over to Wikipedia. A little trust in the picture doesn't seem to be too much to ask of the viewer. For a B-movie with a nondescript cast, My Gun Is Quick acquits itself nicely.
The central point of contention might be the character of Mike Hammer and how lead Robert Bray plays him. As with Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, there are numerous incarnations of Hammer, with various people vocally displeased with all of them at some point. The problem here is that Bray doesn't seem to be very good in his line deliveries. He's so quick-tempered and struggles to make believable some of the hard-boiled nature of the dialogue. I know others have been more forgiving of Bray's performance, and different reactions are understandable. It's tough, as such a strong admirer of what Ralph Meeker did with the character in Kiss Me Deadly, to not make even an almost subconscious comparison between the performances. In that contest, it would be Meeker all the way, though that could be an unfair standard. Worth noting, too, are the similarities here with Kiss Me Deadly in how Hammer gets involved, i.e., helping a female stranger who ends up dead, and then the subsequent presence of a femme fatale who misrepresents herself.
Something the film, which is credited to a pair of co-directors in Phil Victor and George White who never took the helm either before or after this effort, has going for it is a nice confidence so strong that a pair of lengthy sequences go by without the aid of dialogue. The first also allows for a peek at the highway system of mid-fifties Los Angeles. Hammer is tailing a mysterious character who seems to be involved in a murder or two and the film just lets the roadway follow ensue for a good four or five minutes minus any spoken words. It's kind of thrilling, and definitely the sort of thing one notices when spinning a rather unheralded, smallish movie for the first time. Also of interest is a climactic scene where the determined Hammer blurs the line between pursuer and pursued. This too extends for quite a while without any dialogue save for the voice of a police radio. It's pretty neat and rather unexpected. The film itself is likewise kind of a small yet involving piece of film noir that has thus far been met with faint praise. It's nonetheless worth a look, I think, particularly for those who enjoy fifties-era private eye movies with a hard edge.
A cool font introduces the opening titles and also closes out the film with a simple, abrupt "the end" in lowercase letters. That sets the mood for this made-on-demand disc from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. No-frills and lacking any sense of generosity, but a welcome addition to the market all the same.
The film is presented in approximately the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen televisions. Thin lines on both sides of the frame seem to indicate a slight windowboxing. Some speckles persist in the progressive transfer but nothing of major concern. The image is generally and consistently strong, with no stability or damage problems. The single-layered disc can't avoid some minor instances of the usual weaknesses like noise and mild artifacting but, again, this hardly proves to be a significant problem. Contrast isn't an issue, with no hint of the greenish hue that affected many earlier MGM LE Collection releases. Decent black levels for what's on display.
Audio is a clear English mono track without any major disruptions such as hiss or popping. Volume levels remain consistent throughout the picture. It's not an expansive listen by any stretch of the imagination, but dialogue can be heard clearly. Subtitles are, unforgivably, not offered on this rather expensive release.
No special features complement the film either.