Released by: Kino Studio Classics Released on: November 8th, 2016. Director: Richard T. Heffron Cast: Armand Assante, Barbara Carrera, Laurene Landon, Alan King, Paul Sorvino Year: 1982 Purchase From Amazon
Let's talk about everybody's favorite "sexy asshole" film and book detective - Mike Hammer. He's got all the tact of a horny rhino but his testosterone crazed persona makes the ladies all tingly downstairs. Streetwise and tough, he's a bad boy with a code of honor. Sensitivity ain't his thing, so the ladies need to be prepared to get slapped around a bit when they get out of line. Hammer's an unabashed sexist and deeply proud of it.
Author Mickey Spillane's most famous literary creation was beloved by the general public but loathed by the critical establishment. Even by 1940's standards he was seen as a lewd, rude and crude character. Spillane as a writer had none of Raymond Chandler's poetry or Dashiell Hammet's sophistication. And Hammer the private dick was just like his name. A blunt force instrument. The closest thing to "depth" the character got was his alcoholism and poorly sketched out war traumas. And on film the character was pretty uneven. Robert Aldrich's stylish and iconic KISS ME DEADLY starring Ralph Meeker was the high water mark and the weak THE GIRL HUNTERS (starring Spillane himself!), the low. Probably the most consistently satisfying portrayal was Stacy Keach's long-running 80's TV version which managed to mix in healthy doses of sly absurdist humor.
Then there's this baby - 1982's star-crossed I, THE JURY - starring Armand Assante.
The trouble on this film started early. Written by B-movie legend Larry (IT'S ALIVE/BLACK CAESAR/GOD TOLD ME TO) Cohen, he was also hired to direct. After one week and going over budget, Cohen was fired and replaced by unimaginative but prolific TV director Richard T. Heffron. The script - a bizarre mishmash of traditional revenge/detective story centering around Hammer's murdered one-armed Vietnam vet war buddy Jack (Frederic Downs) but salted with a bizarre MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE-themed mind control angle and a criminal sex clinic ring - is a hot mess. Cohen's off kilter influence is most clearly seen in the sex clinic scenes featuring an insanely hot Barbara Carrera as sex therapist Dr. Bennett and an assassination sequence in a Benihana style Japanese restaurant.
I, THE JURY makes no damn sense. And it's commitment to making Hammer unlikable is pretty impressive. The film opens with him banging the wife of a client who he's been hired to spy on to prove she's cheating! Hammer also has a stunning secretary he's having sex with regularly named Velda (Laurene Landon) that he has zero compunction about sleeping around on. He's a dog. As Hammer tries to figure out who killed Jack and why, he stumbles into a shady CIA fronted mind control outfit, a highly questionable sex clinic utilizing female surrogates to treat male impotence, and even some mob connections (keep an eye out for the great Alan King in a cameo).
So what makes this film so much guilty fun? The outrageous sleaze and Armand Assante's willingness to go method actor gonzo. The film has copious Barbara Carrera nudity, Barbie style twin sexual surrogates, a razor wielding psycho who dresses up in women's clothes and smears makeup on his victims (while wearing a wig of course), and Uzi toting bad guys. Every woman with a pulse hits on Hammer. Hammer has a goldfish tank he's obsessed with. And Asante is a blast to watch. Kind of sloe eyed and seemingly lazy one minute, then explosive the next. He probably looks a little too Italian American for the role, but his dark good looks go a long way towards explaining his appeal to the fairer sex.
Heffron's direction is pedestrian but the film is loaded with enough gratuitous sex and violence to keep everyone occupied. The supporting cast is strong with some good work from Paul Sorvino as Hammer's number one cop contact and the aforementioned Carrera and King. Despite being a major studio production, this one is really pure exploitation. Cannon would have been proud to call this one their own.
I, THE JURY was one of those rare titles that completely skipped the proper DVD era. Last seen in VHS and looking about as ropey as one would expect (there was also a burn on demand DVDr that I only just discovered the existence of), Kino's 1.85:1 framed AVC encoded 1080p presentation is an adequate affair. The image appears to have been mildly tinkered with - possibly filtering. Sometimes the picture looks healthy and organic, sometimes a little artificial. There's also some noticeable, though certainly not disastrous, cropping on occasion. Black levels and color representation are good however, and the image is stable. There is some mild print damage with the worst of it being some very light scratches.
Audio is covered by a 2.0 DTS-HD MA mix that's a bit on the grubby side. I didn't have any problems with dialog, but I found the track's bottom end weak and a little too much shrillness in the high end on occasion. This is one of Bill (ROCKY) Conti's stronger scores, so it's a shame this wasn't a stronger experience. Sound FX fare the best here, but this is merely a serviceable track. My guess is that it's faithful to the original source material however.
Aside from the film's theatrical trailer and a collection of other Kino trailers, the only extra here is a fun commentary track by film historian Nathaniel Thompson and filmmaker Steve Mitchell. Mitchell is actually a Larry Cohen expert who's just completed a documentary on the great man, so this is a pretty Larry focused track. That said, there's is a ton of info here on everything from the James Bond influence on the film to Cohen's original casting choices and anecdotes about the shoot. Mitchell's enthusiasm for the film is infectious and makes this well worth a listen.
The Final Word:
Sleazy, sexy, and shambolic, I, THE JURY succeeds as an unapologetic exploitation film wolf dressed up in respectable big studio sheep's clothing. Assante has a lot of energy and is fun to watch, and the movie's weirder elements make it memorable. Recommended.
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