Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Spillane’

So Long, Christmas! Hello Blue Christmas!

Tuesday, December 26th, 2023

I am writing this on Christmas Day 2023, still in the warm glow of a Christmas Eve with Barb, wherein party mix, little smokies in BBQ sauce, and champagne – combined with our annual gift-giving and a screening of A Christmas Story – added up to a wonderful evening.

The only drawback was not having our family (son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby and two grandkids, eight-year-old Sam and five-year-old Lucy) here to celebrate with us. They are in Texas with Abby’s family (we had an early “Christmas” with them a few days ago, before they headed out) and we missed them. But there’s something to be said for a couple sharing a cozy Christmas Eve.

Still, I hope next Christmas will be the usual family affair.

And I also hope next Christmas there will be a Blu-ray (or access via a streaming service) (or even a theatrical screening) of my latest film, Blue Christmas. This not-at- all lavishly budgeted feature has been completed by editor/producer Chad Bishop and myself, with our fellow producer Phil Dingeldein due to come down to Muscatine later this week for a look at the finished product and a final okay.

I returned, after a long absence, to indie filmmaking after last year’s Encore for Murder, the Gary Sandy-starring Mike Hammer Golden Age Radio style play that we shot and edited into something that might be called a movie. Whatever it is, it’s out on DVD from VCI Home Entertainment, and as a special feature on VCI’s Blu-ray of my expanded documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane. Both Encore and Spillane are also available on VUDU and Amazon Prime for streaming.

The Encore for Murder experience is what prompted me to get back into the indie game, and I’m glad I did because I’m proud of our little movie, Blue Christmas, and hope it will join the favorites on many of your Christmas Season video viewing lists next year at this time.

We are waiting for word from a video distributor (who had expressed a strong interest in the project) and I should know soon whether Blue Christmas will be available on Blu-ray and on streaming services before long or whether it will wait in the wings till next Christmas season. That will be up to the distributor. I do know we’re doing a handful of festivals early this coming year (tomorrow, as I write this!) (the year, not the festivals).

I have enjoyed collaborating with editor Chad and director of photography Phil on this project, as well as our talented cast, many of whom appeared in Encore. Our top-billed stars are Rob Merritt – a mainstay of Iowa independent film – and Alisabeth Von Presley, who appeared on both American Idol and American Songwriting Contest on network television. Also above the title is Chris Causey, who appeared as Norman Baker in Chad Bishop’s The Man in Purple. Very hardcore fans of mine may recall that real-life “cancer quack” Baker was the fictionalized subject of my early novel, No Cure for Death. That both Chad and I did projects about Baker indicates why we are kindred spirits.

Chad’s short, ambitious film can be seen here.

Chris Causey also appears as Mike Hammer’s cop pal, Pat Chambers, in Encore for Murder.

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As is the case with a lot of physical media collectors, I usually buy a Blu-ray – or lately a 4K disc – of any movie I’ve enjoyed seeing in a theater. In last week’s update I discussed the 4K’s of the new Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible movies. Since then we’ve watched at home Oppenheimer and The Equalizer 3 on 4K, having seen and liked them at the Palms Theater here in Muscatine.

Of the four movies mentioned above, the least discussed – the least taken seriously – is The Equalizer 3. On our second viewing of all four, I would rate The Equalizer 3 highest. I realize that’s not a popular view. And perhaps this very Spillane-derived film is one I would be destined to like, even prejudiced to rate highly, since it’s essentially a Mike Hammer vengeance reworking. But I would argue its direction and acting (particularly Denzel Washington and Elle Fanning) are superior examples of the craft. And the script is assembled as if by a Swiss watchmaker.

On second viewing, Oppenheimer continues to impress but the experience is now less overwhelming and its flaws start to reveal themselves. Christopher Nolan’s insistence on shuffling the narrative deck – which flashback am I in now, or is this a flashforward? – reveals the pretentious flaw in this gifted craftsman’s approach. He must be celebrated for getting terrific performances from all concerned. But the narrative’s weaknesses – ironically concealed somewhat by that pretentious deck-shuffling – are jarring.

What weaknesses am I talking about?

The depiction of Oppenheimer’s married life should either have been left out or depicted more fully. The worst realized character is Oppenheimer’s wife, Emily Blunt. The film indicates its protagonist’s womanizing without to any degree explaining it. The wife’s inclusion seems almost grudging.

More problematic is the structure. The last third of the film abandons Oppenheimer as protagonist and focuses on the efforts to paint him a left-wing risk by Lewis Stauss, well-portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. The daunting length of the film is unnecessary – this whole final section could have been replaced by one of those cards that briefly discuss the ramifications that followed a preceding film. Making your protagonist a bystander for the last third of the movie is incredibly bad storytelling.

Is Oppenheimer a bad movie? No. It is worthwhile and intermittently brilliant. But badly flawed.

On the other hand – and I realize I am to some degree comparing apples and oranges – The Equalizer 3 tells its story in a straight-forward yet bold manner. It waits until the very end of the movie to reveal what motivated its hero to undertake his righteous mission. It makes the stakes that hero faces high indeed, endangering the very people he hopes to protect; but it resists giving us cheap-shot deaths of those people, just to throw more gasoline on the vengeance fire. This director – Antonine Fuqua – deserves the kind of attention someone, like, say, Christopher Nolan is getting.

I liked all four of these movies, by the way. I just think Oppenheimer is the most overrated of the four. And of course it has an obvious weight over the likes of Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible. But a traditional narrative well-crafted, like The Equalizer 3, that accomplishes what it sets out to do will always please me more than one whose self-importance and ambition overwhelm the final product.

Let me say, too, a filmmaker who has never had to deal with a huge budget and all the difficulties that come with it, should tread lightly. I recognize the accomplishment of all four directors and their screenwriters – the degree of difficulty is immense.

I always hesitate to criticize movies, and I never criticize novels. Doing so lacks grace coming from a fellow storyteller. So I avoid discussing novels here, and don’t take money for my film opinions, having turned down opportunities to write reviews professionally; some may recall that I once wrote the Mystery Scene movie review column but stepped down after experiencing actually working on a film. This blog is the only place I allow myself to express these personal cinematic opinions, which I share with the readers who are good enough to follow my fiction and drop by here.

The next time I write you good people it will be, astonishingly, 2024.

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The great J. Kingston Pierce, at the indispensable Rap Sheet, has chosen both Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me, and Too Many Bullets as among his best books of 2023.


Too Many Bullets on “Best of Lists” and Spillane Cheap!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2023

Encore for Murder – for those of you who don’t have a Blu-ray player or already have a version of Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane that satisfies you – is available at a great price from VCI Home Entertainment. Such a deal.

For those who do have a Blu-ray player, and would like to partake of the newly expanded version of Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (with Encore for Murder as a bonus feature), VCI has it on sale for $14.98! (Regularly $29.95.). They also have the double-feature Blu-ray of Mommy and Mommy’s Day for $17.48 (regularly $34.95). By the way, Mickey Spillane is an actor in both.

Also, Encore for Murder is available for rental on Vudu.

And so is my documentary (again, this is the new, expanded version) Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.

Here’s a nice review two-fer of my novels Too Many Bullets and Dig Two Graves (with Mickey Spillane) from Jerry’s House of Everything.

Borg has a great review of Too Many Bullets right here. It’s terrific that Internet reviews are picking up the slack after the four trade publications completely ignored this Nate Heller novel.

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I am pleased to report that Too Many Bullets has finally started popping up on some “best of the year” lists.

The very knowledgeable Kevin Burton Smith of the great Thrilling Detective website has Bullets on his list.

At Deadly Pleasures, both Ted Hertel (a longtime Heller booster) and George Wagner have Too Many Bullets on their “best of” lists. (You’ll have to scroll down to find these.)

Also, Stuart Shiffman at has the Spillane bio by Jim Traylor and me at the top of his list of best books. Here’s what he has to say about it:

SPILLANE: King of Pulp Fiction by Max Allan Collins and James L. Traylor
My review (linked here: noted that “[g]reat biographies must capture the individual portrayed — his spirit, his accomplishments, and the times in which he lived and worked. SPILLANE does all of this so expertly that it reads almost as well as a Spillane novel.” A truly entertaining biography.
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Blue Christmas has finally wrapped – in the sense that Chad Bishop and I shot our final Second Unit location shots this week, and have edited this new material into the movie. Son Nathan and grandson Sam both made it into the final product (and the revised trailer, below).

Sam Collins, in his film debut, with Chad Bishop, producer/editor.

(left to right) Nate Collins, Sam Collins, Chad Bishop, Max Allan Collins.

We hope to have a few screenings in early 2024 – a “sneak preview,” a Muscatine premiere, and a Quad Cities premiere, ideally. Whether it will stream earlier than Christmas season 2024 remains to be seen (and whether it is on physical media sooner than that is also as yet undecided). But I am very proud of this little movie, which we practically had to will in existence.

At his request, I showed my eight-year-old grandson Sam (who is in Blue Christmas, remember) the Alistair Sim Scrooge aka A Christmas Carol. He gave it a ten.

Barb and I also watched (having first seen both at the Palms Theater here in Muscatine) the new Mission: Impossible and Indiana Jones movies on 4K Blu-ray. We like both better than a lot of people, including a good share of critics. The Mission: Impossible is admittedly just one impressive action set piece after another, linked by a gibberish plot. But Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is getting a bad rap. While its one car chase scene is a bit of a yawn compared to anything in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (not exactly a snappy title), Indiana Jones is firmly rooted in Professor Jones’ love for archeology, and along the way examines how a hero can be battered down by age and tragedy but can fight his way back.

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No card from Paul Reubens this year. But as Pee-Wee Herman will live forever, let’s pretend he sent one.


Bullets in Santa’s Bag for a Christmas Book Giveaway!

Tuesday, December 12th, 2023
Big Bundle cover
Paperback (New!):
E-Book: Kobo Google Play
Digital Audiobook:
Audio MP3 CD:

The Big Bundle with Nathan Heller is out in trade paperback from Hard Case Crime today. If you’ve not read it, what are you waiting for? What’ll it take, a free copy?

Okay. The first ten of you who write me at will get one fresh off the presses in return for writing a review at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Goodreads or your own blog or whatever. Due to shipping costs, this is open to US Residents only. Yes, it’s another free book giveaway – Merry Christmas!

Also, any of you who have been good enough to buy and read the new Heller, Too Many Bullets, need to write a review at Amazon and elsewhere, toot sweet. As I’ve harped about here, because of a dock strike in the UK last year, the hardcover edition of The Big Bundle didn’t hit our shores until this year, months after its 2022 publication, sending it careening into this year’s Heller, Too Many Bullets, and causing the trade reviewers in the US to ignore the second book – no review in any of ‘em (Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Library Journal), which hurts brick-and-mortar bookstore sales and library sales, too. And not a single appearance on any “best of the year” mystery lists, despite some of them being voluminous.

So please fight back with posting a review. (If you hated the book, why not find something else to do with your time?)

We are soon to launch the crowd-funding effort to help launch the ambitious Nate Heller podcast series adapting as many of the novels as possible (starting with True Detective and True Crime) with me scripting and Todd Stashwick (of Twelve Monkeys and Picard Season Three fame playing Nate Heller. I hope to get my pal Dave Thomas to portray Mayor Anton Cermak – he’s said yes, tentatively.

The great Robert Meyer Burnett is producing/directing the project, and frequently mentions what we’re calling True Noir on his popular podcasts (he does several). He’s been good enough to hold Too Many Bullets up for the camera to catch, and frequently.

To promote True Noir and the publication in trade paperback of The Big Bundle and in hardcover of Too Many Bullets, I’ve done an interview with Titan mastermind Andrew Sumner that you can find here.

Andrew is fantastic interviewing the likes of me, and Titan and their sister publisher Hard Case Crime have been responsible for keeping me and Nate Heller (and Quarry and even Nolan!) afloat despite this uptight politically correct climate. Andrew Sumner and Charles Ardai are the champs who have kept Heller and me in the game.

* * *

In the meantime, producer/editor Chad Bishop and I are putting the finishing touches on our film, Blue Christmas. I am thrilled with how it’s come together. Here’s the poster.

When can you see this? We’re not sure. If the Greenlight grant had come through, we would have shot the feature in time to get it out for this Christmas (2023). Then Greenlight decided to fund a couple of documentaries instead. But we decided to make the darn thing anyway. (I can’t say “damn thing” because it’s, well, Christmas and all.)

We have a distributor already interested, but it will probably be held for Christmas 2024. I’m sure we’ll have some events (local and area premieres, a few film festivals) that may allow you to see it sooner than that. And it’s also possible it will come out much sooner than Christmas 2024 and then be re-promoted at that time.

All I can tell you is that I’m very pleased with how it’s come together. As I say, we are almost done. Chad and I have the edit where we want it, with just one little Second Unit shot to grab this coming week. I think my grandson Sam is going to be in that shot!

The novella on which I based the screenplay, “A Wreath for Marley,” is dear to my heart for reasons I’ve expressed here numerous times. You can find it in Blue Christmas and Other Holiday Homicides by me and published by Wolfpack. You can also find it in Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a Vintage Crime Black Lizard original.

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Barb and I make a habit of watching a Christmas movie every evening in December. I’ve written about my favorites here before, but here they are again:


1. Scrooge (1951). Alistair Sim is the definitive Scrooge in the definitive filming of A Christmas Carol.

2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Hollywood filmmaking at its best, with Edmund Gwen the definitive, real Santa Claus, Natalie Wood in her greatest child performance, John Payne reminding us he should have been a major star, and Maureen O’Sullivan as a smart, strong career woman/working mother who could not be more glamorous.

3. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Heartwarming but harrowing, this film is home to one of James Stewart’s bravest performances and happens to be Frank Capra’s best film. (I thanked him for it in the Green Room at Good Morning America in 1981 – promoting the Dick Tracy comic strip.)

4. A Christmas Story (1983), Jean Shepherd’s unlikely claim to fame, and a Christmas movie with Mike Hammer and Carl Kolchak in it. Now if the PBS specials about Ralphie and his family would only emerge on legal home video!

5. Christmas Vacation (1989) uncovers every Christmas horror possible when families get together and Daddy tries too hard. This holds up very well and has unexpectedly eclipsed the original film.


Bad Santa (2003). This dark comedy has a warm heart, but you have to wade through a whole lot of black humor to get there. Billy Bob Thornton is wonderful, but here’s a special salute to the late John Ritter (who apparently died during the production) for the funniest moments in a side-splitting film. It’s become a Christmas classic at our house, and the very underrated sequel,

Bad Santa 2 (2016), is perhaps even funnier with Kathy Bates almost stealing the picture playing Billy Bob Thorton’s mother, who deserves more coal than anybody in either picture.

Holiday Inn (1942) is easily better than White Christmas, although the latter has its charms – it’s helped keep Danny Kaye from being forgotten, for one, and my late pal Miguel Ferrer’s mom is in it. The original has better songs and is funnier and ultimately more heart-warming.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958) is an old favorite of ours, the the movie Kim Novak and James Stewart made together after Vertigo. With Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs stealing scenes left and right, it’s a precursor to

Bewitched and might seem a better choice for Halloween, only it’s set at Christmas. I love the George Dunning score (he did some of the best scores for the original Star Trek TV series).

The Family Man (2000) with Nic Cage, a modern reworking of It’s a Wonderful Life, heartwarming and funny. Cage may be an over-the-top actor, but the man commits – he gives one thousand percent to every performance, and this time he has a wonderful movie to do it in. This is a favorite of my son Nate’s, whose goals in life include seeing every Nic Cage movie.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (2004). Okay, so it’s a shameless reworking of Groundhog Day as a Christmas movie, but this admittedly minor TV flick is funny and rewarding – good-hearted but with a darkly comic sensibility. Steven Weber is excellent as the successful slick businessman (similar to Cage in The Family Man) who has twelve tries to get Christmas Eve right. Molly Shannon gets her best post-SNL role.

Remember the Night (1940) is probably second best (after Double Indemnity) of the films Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray made together. It’s written by Preston Sturges – should I really have to say anything more? – and makes its humanistic points with sentiment, not sentimentality. It’s really a gem worth looking for.

I, the Jury (1953). The Classic Flix multiple disc set (with both 4K and 3-D versions, as well as Blu-ray) is finally a reality and anyone following this update/blog probably has already made that essential purchase. But this much underrated first Mike Hammer movie is set at Christmas and plays off of that fact throughout, with Christmas cards and carols the connective tissue between scenes. I continue to feel Biff Elliott was much underrated, and the cast is filled with wonderful character actors. The great John Alton shot it.

A Christmas Horror Story (2015) features William Shatner, excellent as the comic glue (a disc jockey) holding together inter-related stories about Krampus and Christmas. There are almost as many horror movies about Christmas as there are Christmas movies, but this is one of the best. It was put together by many of the Orphan Black people.

Office Christmas Party (2016) is a raunchy comedy whose preview in the theater (remember those?) turned me off. Somehow I wound up seeing it on Blu-ray and turns out it’s very funny and eventually betrays a good heart. The great cast includes Jason Bateman and Kate McKinnon.

A Bad Moms Christmas, recommended to me by Mark Lambert (who produced my documentary Caveman and is an associate producer on Blue Christmas), is an unlikely combination of raunchy humor and even dark comedy of the Bad Santa sort but an overwhelmingly good heart. It’s worth seeking out. Thanks, Mark!

Scrooge (1970) is the second-best Christmas Carol movie. Albert Finney is wonderful as Ebenezer in this musical version, with the Leslie Briccuse score perhaps the one most like his work with Anthony Newley, who did not contribute to this score but who played in the much-seen British stage version (which came after the film).

Also, don’t forget It Happened One Christmas (1977), which I wrote about here a while back.

NEW ADDITION: Silent Night, the great John Woo’s return to theater screens after something like a two-decade absence, isn’t being greeted with much if any fanfare. But it’s a taut, harrowing revenge drama in the Death Wish mold, but better than any entry in that franchise. The underrated Joel Kinnaman (so good in the American version of The Killing mini-series) has the lead, and has virtually no dialogue. The movie itself, except for TV broadcasts and background noise, is essentially a silent movie…well, there’s the gunfire and explosions, a lot of them. The film takes the time to show Kinnaman training for his assault on the gangbangers’ hideout (my favorite moment is Kinnaman writing on his calendar, on the date Dec. 24, Kill Them All! The final half hour rivals the two Raid movies and is perhaps even more intense and effectively staged. I loved the hardboiled nastiness married to the occasional melodramatic, even sentimental moments of reflection by the vengeful father, between killings. And Woo uses Christmas imagery well and imaginatively.

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Too Many Bullets reviews are coming in, thanks to the Good Folks at the Internet. Borg has a good one here.

Ed Catto at Pop Culture Squad has nice things to say about the latest Spillane/Collins Mike Hammer novel, Dig Two Graves.

A nice Goodreads review can be read here (and, below, more of the same and a very few naysayers, the world being a place where you find all kinds – I should know…I was at WalMart today!).


Spillane Doc (and Encore for Murder) Pre-Order

Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane expanded version cover

The new, expanded version of my 1999 documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, is available now for pre-order at Amazon. It ships on December 12.

This Blu-ray disc includes as a Bonus Feature Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder, the Golden Age Radio-style play with Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer, a 90-minute offering. (The doc is 61 minutes, so the Bonus Feature is half an hour longer than the main feature!) As you may know, Gary performed in Encore at Owensboro, Kentucky, and later in Clearwater, Florida. This presentation, about a year ago, was in my home town of Muscatine, Iowa, with Gary appearing with a particularly strong area cast. Many of these cast members are in my film Blue Christmas, currently in post-production.

Encore for Murder DVD cover

Encore for Murder will be available separately as a DVD, also on Dec. 12. It too can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

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Editor Chad Bishop and I have completed the edit of Blue Christmas with the exception of the opening credits sequence, which requires Second Unit photography and editing of stock footage. We have been waiting for snow to do the exterior shots and we have some today, so that may yet happen.

Chad and I met on the production of Encore for Murder and about a year ago began planning Blue Christmas. We thought we had a good shot at a $50,000 grant, but it fell through. We did a crowd-funding effort, in which some of you generously contributed, and raised around $7000 – hardly enough to mount a feature film (the operative term is “Yikes!) but neither Chad nor I nor Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein (my longtime collaborator) took any up-front pay. We share ownership of the final product.

I rewrote the script to utilize a single set and was able to secure the Black Box theater at Muscatine Community College, thanks to their generosity to a former student there (and teacher).

I am very pleased thus far. My underpaid cast was terrific, with Rob Merritt making a perfect Richard Stone (the Heller-ish private eye at the center of this Maltese Falcon/A Christmas Carol mash-up).

Barb swore up and down that she was not going to participate in my return to indie filmmaking; but of course she did. Son Nate did also, filling in on boom operator duties and even running camera at times. I admit pushing the “let’s put on a show” thing past the breaking point. I am pretty sure it was what sent me back into a-fib by the end of the week-long (double “Yikes!”) shooting schedule.

Already I’m very proud of this one.

Stay tuned.

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I continue to need your help with the new Nate Heller novel, Too Many Bullets. And the previous one, The Big Bundle, could use a boost, too.

The accidental collision of these two titles being (essentially) published in the same year has damaged them badly. Unusual for any Heller, neither book had turned up on any year’s end “Best Of” lists – it’s as if they don’t exist at all. As I’ve mentioned before, not one of the trades (Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, Booklist) reviewed Too Many Bullets – and in the past they have covered every single Heller novel, including The Big Bundle. But because it appeared as though I had published two Heller novels in the same year, the second of those (yes, Too Many Bullets) got ignored.

In reality, The Big Bundle was published in 2022, but was held up in a dock strike till several months into 2023. That made it collide with the already scheduled Too Many Bullets.

What can you do to help?

Well, as my late friend Paul Thomas used to say (quoting his father), “If you’re looking for sympathy, it’s in the dictionary between ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis.’”

What you can do is buy and read Too Many Bullets, in which Heller reveals what really happened in the RFK murder case, and then (IMPORTANT) review it at Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere. In other words, get the word out. Reader reviews have been pretty much excellent, except for the occasional “I’ve been reading him for years but he sucks now” school of thought.

Otherwise, without your help, I can guarantee you that Too Many Bullets will be the last Heller novel.

Too Many Bullets cover
E-Book: Kobo Google Play
Digital Audiobook: Kobo Google Play
Too Many Bullets cover
Paperback (coming Dec. 12):
E-Book: Kobo Google Play
Digital Audiobook:
Audio MP3 CD:
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Road to Perdition is one of fifteen mystery comics that a recommended here.

And Paul Newman’s wonderful performance in the film version of Perdition is discussed here.