Film

Smudge and Jury: The Punk-Noir Pulp of 'I, The Jury'

Mike Hammer (Armand Assante)

With all the roughneck charm of a '40s-era pulp novel and much style to spare, I, The Jury is a good, popcorn-filling yarn.


I, The Jury

Director: Richard T. Heffron
Cast: Armand Assante, Paul Sorvino, Laurene Landon
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Rated: R
Release date: 2016-11-08

Silly, pulpy but always exciting, I, The Jury reframes the film noir of the ‘40s through a punk sheen of the flashy ‘80s. The film is based on the 1947 crime novel by Mickey Spillane of the same name, which introduced his character Mike Hammer. The book was just a first in a series that features one of the detective genre’s most popular Private Investigators. The film captures all of the same schlocky debacles that the leading character in these novels usually endures; that is, murders, high-speed chases and run-ins with gangsters (at every end -- a hotel, the streets, and even a secluded camp ground).

The good and the bad of I, The Jury is that there are numerable plot twists -- at times, more than one can keep up with. It’s easy to lose track of what's going on, which, in this case, makes the "back" feature on DVD/Blu-Ray systems most useful. Much to be understood in the film is preceded by an important conversation; the dialogue reveals the motives for the ensuing action. Often, the action is circumvented by yet more action. It can get quite confusing.

The high-octane drama, however, is consistent throughout and there usually isn’t a dull moment. This is precisely what makes the film such a good, popcorn-filling yarn. It has all the roughneck charm of a grimy ‘40s pulp novel and much style to spare (check out the snazzy, art-punk slapdash of the title sequence).

The story opens with a one-armed man named Jack who is murdered in his own apartment. As it turns out, Jack happened to be a good friend of Hammer’s; they have a history together, which may possibly include Jack’s flirtatious and duplicitous wife. Naturally, Hammer decides to investigate the murder, but soon gets tied up in other businesses, like chasing down a rapist as well as encountering a very odd psychiatrist who may be tied to the matters involving Jack. Rounding out the edges of this sordid madcap mystery are a number of espionage touches, including an underworld mafia ring -- just to make things a little more confusing.

I, The Jury deals its best hand for the cast of characters. Playing lead is Armand Assante, a handsome regular joe who's often typecast as the calculating rogue in any number of action films. Here, he plays a cool cucumber who has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. He’s mouthy and almost always out of line, yet is thoroughly likeable. He also has a loyal and fast-thinking secretary (Laurene Landon) who joins him on most of his capers. Together, they navigate the crime-invested underworld of New York City.

On the margins, Paul Sorvino as Hammer’s superior offers an understated and talky performance. With as many twists and turns in a plot like this, it’s a good thing to have a few compelling characters to keep the action grounded.

Kino Lorber offers a fairly cleaned up picture which sharply contrasts the punkishly neon flashes of colour with the smudged greys of the gritty New York streets. The print suffers from some imperfections, but that's to be expected from a 35-year-old movie which used film stock. In fact, the bits of dirt on the print here and there add to the griminess of the pulp action affair; it’s like handling a musty, old vintage ‘40s paperback -- a charming sort of realism.

The sound seems to be in mono and comes across a little tinny and flat, but the dialogue is still, for the most part, clear as is the film score. Extras include a film commentary with film historian Nathaniel Thompson and a trailer.

For all of its lurid flash-in-the-pan thrills, there's something strangely enduring about I, The Jury. It's disposable entertainment, to be sure. But there's a comfort-viewing factor here that will bring many who love this kind of stuff back to the film, again and again. Film noir through a punk-rock filter may have already been old shtick by the time this movie was made (see the 1980 Deborah Harry-vehicle Union City), but it’s a shtick that never fails to seduce.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.