The second film on tonight's schedule at the World 3-D Film Expo, following INFERNO (1953), was I, THE JURY (1953).
I, THE JURY stars an actor previously unknown to me, Biff Elliot, as Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. (As a matter of fact, I discovered that I'd seen Elliot earlier this year in THE ENEMY BELOW.) This was the first time Mike Hammer was played on film; the role would later be played in movies and on TV by Ralph Meeker, Darren McGavin, and Stacy Keach, among others.
Prior to I, THE JURY, an interview with Biff which was recorded at a past screening of the film at the Egyptian was shown; Biff was quite a character. He had a good sense of humor and joked about having once wondered why his life was spared at Anzio; was it actually to make I, THE JURY?! Biff passed away in August 2012; his obituary is posted at the Official Biff Elliot website.
Having no familiarity with Mickey Spillane, I had no idea what to expect, and I was rather baffled during the first minutes of the film, as I tried to get my bearings and figure out what on earth I was watching. I, THE JURY, proved to be one of the most bizarre movies I've seen in a long time, rather like a live-action cartoon, very exaggerated and unrealistic. And I loved it!
As I, THE JURY begins, Detective Mike Hammer (Elliot) investigates the murder of a one-armed friend, aided by "gal Friday" Velda (Margaret Sheridan, ONE MINUTE TO ZERO) and friendly cop Pat (Preston Foster).
Along the way Hammer also meets up with a gorgeous shrink (Peggie Castle of LAWMAN) and a most peculiar set of identical twins (Tani and Dran Seitz, later known as Tani Guthrie and Dran Hamilton, who are both about to turn 85).
Women are inexplicably drawn to Hammer and kiss him, stoolies like Bobo (Elisha Cook Jr.) die, and bad guys beat Hammer to a pulp, only to have him emerge from battle triumphant after all. As played by Elliot, Hammer seems rather dense, yet in the end he always manages to figure things out.
Peggie Castle is simply dynamite as Charlotte Manning, especially in her final scene where Charlotte, in a state of panic, tries to seduce the now-much-wiser Hammer. I also really liked Sheridan as the resourceful Velda, and there's no denying that Tani Seitz is mesmerizing as the very strange Esther.
The movie also included fantastic location shooting in L.A.'s Bradbury Building; the audience in the Egyptian applauded the first time it appeared in a shot!
I was interested to note that the movie borrows the Christmastime theming of Chandler's LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), with pretty Christmas cards periodically dividing up the action.
The 3-D was excellent; there weren't too many gimmicks, but at times it certainly made the characters seem hauntingly "real"; there for a moment I almost could have sworn Preston Foster was standing right in front of me. Seeing the actors in 3-D brings home in a strange way that these were real people who happened to stand in front of a camera six decades ago, creating a film which in a way continues to keep them alive, right there in front of us.
The cast also includes Alan Reed, Nestor Paiva, John Qualen, Tom Powers, and Mary Anderson.
I, THE JURY was written and directed by Harry Essex. It was filmed by the great John Alton (REIGN OF TERROR, THE BIG COMBO), with a score by Franz Waxman. Victor Saville produced; Saville directed one of my favorite movies, Rita Hayworth's TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945).
The movie was distributed by United Artists. I'd love to own it on DVD!
This was a great evening of discovery for me, well worth the time and trouble to get up to the Egyptian Theatre. I'll be returning on Sunday to see Robert Mitchum, Linda Darnell, and Jack Palance in SECOND CHANCE (1953) on the last day of the festival. The final fight in the aerial cable car should be quite interesting seen in 3-D!