Posts Tagged ‘Mike Hammer’


Biff Elliot, Film Star

When I tell people that my uncle Biff is a movie star, they usually react the same way.

“You have an UNCLE named BIFF? That’s so awesome.”

Then I repeat the part about him being a movie star, and thus a conversation is born. I say “movie star,” when in fact that is something of a misnomer. He was an actor in both movies and television. His list of credits is amazingly long – I’ve seen but a small percentage of his work listed on IMBD. To hear him talk about it, you’d think it was something he just dabbled in back in the 1950’s. But the Internet Movie Database doesn’t lie: Biff Elliot had a decades-long career as varied as any actor could hope for.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of recording a commentary track with Biff about his first starring role, 1953’s Mike Hammer movie I, the Jury. This movie was important in film history because Biff Elliot was the first Mike Hammer. Beyond “importance,” I, the Jury is a really good film noir that actually uses 3-D in a non-gimmicky way.

At first Biff was skeptical of the endeavor; I think he agreed to do it for me. But as the recording got underway, he was slowly won over by the then 50-year-old film. He got past the flaws any artist sees about his work and was able to appreciate the performances of his co-stars, the direction, and even a bit of his own acting flair. I was particularly moved when he described the decision for his character to shed a few tears at a climactic moment. Back in the 50’s, this was considered blaspheme: a man doesn’t cry. From the perspective of a new millennium, I found the scene played just right. A man who doesn’t cry isn’t tough – he’s a sociopath.

That commentary track – one of the best I’ve heard, and I’m an admitted DVD junkie – sits unused on my computer’s hard drive. It is in turns enlightening, engaging, and damn funny. Biff alternates between background information on the production and personal stories, with a little bit of acting advice sprinkled in for good measure. Biff is a champion talker. I knew going in that he wouldn’t run out of things to say, but I was surprised at the variety and depth of his topics. I had made a list of questions in case things got quiet, but quickly found I wouldn’t need them.

I am enraged I, the Jury has never been released on DVD. When every Rob Schneider movie ever made is available at the nearest Wal-Mart, why can’t a genuinely GOOD movie make it to the market? Mickey Spillane, the author of the Mike Hammer books, most likely didn’t allow the movie to be re-released in his lifetime. He even remade the movie in the 80’s because he was a giant egomaniac. But now Spillane’s ego is long gone, and good riddance. It’s time for Biff Elliot and I, the Jury to be reappraised by the public. That the film is locked away in some collector’s vault, only taken out for special occasions, is heartbreaking.

Biff’s career in television begs further research, but I want to highlight just one role today. You see, Biff was one of the ill-fated “red-shirts” in the original series of Star Trek. For those of you unfamiliar, a red-shirt is a guy who dies before the opening credits in an episode. This is a small but important role: the red-shirt dies, thus setting the plot into action. Without a dead guy, there would be nothing interesting. The whole episode would be Kirk and Spock playing chess.

Following is a summary of the fan-favorite episode Devil in the Dark:

The U.S.S. Enterprise answers a distress call from Janus Six, a mineral-rich planet with a long-established pergium production station and colony. Several miners have been killed and machinery has been damaged by a powerful corrosive. A pump for the pergium reactor is stolen, and Captain Kirk orders Commander Giotto to lead the security troops into the mine to search for the creature responsible.

Schmitter (played with aplomb by Biff) is the first miner we see the rock monster kill. His unfortunate fate gets Kirk and crew excited enough to go exploring on Janus Six. Eventually, Schmitter’s death is attributed to a great misunderstanding between the miners and the rock monster. I won’t give away the ending, but you can bet it is resolved in true Trek fashion: a fight, followed by a bit of inter-species diplomacy.

Hollywood is full of actors unknown in spite of their greatness; Biff Elliot is one. I hope this blog can bring a greater awareness of Biff’s career. And can we get someone to release I, the Jury? I’ve got a commentary track that needs to be heard.


more information on Biff Elliot, film star

In an ongoing effort to bring you the most comprehensive information about film star Biff Elliot, I present to you these photos. Not only do they chronicle a long career in acting, but they offer us a glimpse into the life of the man behind so many roles.

Not only was Biff the very first Mike Hammer, but he was featured in such excellent TV shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Star Trek, and Planet of the Apes (as an orangutan).

The next three pictures were taken to promote the Harry Essex-directed I, the Jury.

I, the Jury was a detective story, a true film noir. However, the filmmakers believed it would be even more popular in 3D. Here we have Biff posing (in 3D!) for a group of onlookers.
Years later, Biff was devoured by a rock monster in the Star Trek episode Devil in the Dark. Before being eaten, he graciously agreed to sign this limited edition trading card.
Biff can now be found spending time with his lovely wife Connie. The following picture could easily grant Biff entry into the exclusive Moustache Hall of Fame:
The age-old question remains: could Mike Hammer beat Batman in a fistfight? The world may never know.
Many thanks to Connie for supplying these pictures. The internet is all the richer for them.


Biff Elliot 1923-2012

My great uncle Biff Elliot died today. He was 89.

Biff, as readers of this blog will know, was the original Mike Hammer. His starring role in I, the Jury proved to the world that a Jew could be a tough and daring private eye. Far from making Mike Hammer a one-note pulp fiction character, Biff infused his character with just the right mixture of toughness and fragility.  If you watch any detective movie today, you’ll see a similar blend of these elements: the man who knows when to use his fists and when to use his words. That unique formulation may have been lost on audiences in 1953, as Biff was not asked to play Hammer again, but today it is the norm.
Biff went on to a career in both movies and TV.  He had a small part in the fan-favorite Star Trek episode “Devil in the Dark” in which he was devoured by a rock monster.  In the Planet of the Apes TV series, he played a human slave to the talking apes. I am told he also got to play an orangutan, but could not tell you which orangutan was him. In the movie The True Story of Jesse James, he played a member of the gang in their glory days.  He was a regular on season five of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and had a recurring role in Mission: Impossible.  Biff played all his parts with a depth that a lesser actor could never have achieved.

I only recently began seeking out Biff’s many appearances on the screen.  Growing up, I remember him as the uncle who would talk your ear off at every family reunion.  He always had a few dozen things to tell you, and at the end he’d make sure you knew how much he loved you and how much you meant to him.  When I got to visit him in California, he would take me out.  He drove me in his bright yellow Mini to see the Hollywood sign, Disney studios (with the building in the shape of a wizard’s hat), the Kodak Theater, the one public bowling alley in Hollywood – the famous and the not-so-famous landmarks.

Wherever we went, it seemed, he knew somebody. I remember going out to eat with him and my aunt Connie. The owner of the restaurant came out to say hello, and ended up giving us hats and shirts with the restaurant’s logo on them.  In a town of fake friendships, Biff created genuine bonds with just about everyone he met.

I am glad there is an audio/visual record of Biff’s existence in the world, but I am much more glad to have known him.  He was the youngest of three brothers – my grandfather the potato-sack manufacturer (and the person who taught me to love the Sunday funnies), Win the TV and radio sportscaster, and Biff the actor and (unverified) one-time flyweight boxing champion of Maine. The world will not see another trio with as much wit and warmth, and is the poorer for their loss.


watch Biff Elliot in I, the Jury

Longtime readers have read much about my uncle, movie star and master storyteller Biff Elliot. Very few have actually had the chance to watch him in action. Here, presented in its entirety thanks to YouTube and ambiguous copyright issues, is I, the Jury.

If you could only play one lead role in your lifetime, as Biff did, you could do much worse than Mike Hammer. Biff was, in fact, the very first Mike Hammer of the screen. There would be many more, but like Sean Connery and James Bond, Biff left a long shadow.

Since I, the Jury is unavailable on any home video format, this is your best chance to watch a little-seen film noir.


I, the Jury commentary track

In October 2004, I flew to Studio City, California where my uncle Biff and his wife Connie lived. Biff Elliot was an actor; his career lasted from the 1950s through the 80s. His list of credits is impressive, but he only had one starring role in a film. I, the Jury came out (in 3D, no less). Biff was the first Mike Hammer!

This impressive film noir has been unfairly overlooked. It has, to my knowledge, never been released on any home video format, and has only been screened once or twice since its original theatrical run ended back in 1953. The copy I have was taped off TV in the 80s or maybe early 90s. Knowing Biff might not live long enough for a proper re-release of his film, I asked him to sit with me and record a commentary track. My thinking was if someone ever did get around to mastering I, the Jury for DVD and Blu-ray and Biff was no longer able to participate, I could offer this recording for inclusion. Biff was an excellent storyteller and I knew he could provide an entertaining commentary track.

Sure enough, Biff gave a rollicking, informative commentary on this little-seen cinematic gem. When he passed away in 2012, I knew I had done the right thing by recording this piece of history. Alas, no one has stepped up and given I, the Jury an official release. I have taken it upon myself to share Biff’s last words on his first, and biggest, film role.

For the first time available anywhere beyond my Mac, listen to Biff Elliot provide commentary for the Harry Essex-directed I, the Jury: