Private detective Mike Hammer (Mickey Spillane) is found by the police, lying in a back alley in a drunken stupor - the same drunken stupor he's spent the last few years suffering from since his secretary Velda disappeared. But the police want him sober because they have a fast-fading victim of a shooting in the local hospital and he has requested to speak with Hammer before he dies. Hammer is taken to the home of police captain Pat Chambers (Scott Peters) and roughed up by the testy lawman, then escorted to the hospital where after another drink to steady his nerves Hammer speaks with the dying man, who tells him that the man who shot him is the same killer who is chasing after Velda... a killer known as The Dragon.
Here's a thing. It's a popular theory that the characters that writers create are actually their alter egos, the people they would like to be acting the way they'd like to act. Not necessarily true, of course, but in the case of Spillane, the two-fisted private eye of his pulp novels does indeed live the life that he would like to live, on this evidence at any rate. And this evidence is a hard boiled thriller that would be film noir if it wasn't fifteen years too late, with plenty of violence and Spillane playing Hammer as if he were... well, as if he were Mickey Spillane.
Adapted from his novel by Spillane, director Roy Rowland and Robert Fellows, The Girl Hunters was a British production but with plenty of New York City location work. If you're playing a drinking game with this film, which seems appropriate considering the amount of alcohol Hammer imbibes, then take a swig every time the hero gets beaten up, puts on or takes off his hat and coat, and goes for a walk around the city streets. Chances are you'll be on your own years-long bender after that lot. After Hammer realises he may have a chance to win Velda back, he cleans up his act (yet still, as I say, drinks like a fish) and heads out on another case.
Spillane is notably lacking in tough guy charisma, and most of his screen presence is down to him being as wide across the shoulders as he is tall, but he seems to be enjoying himself in a treasured vanity project kind of way, even forcing a heavy to eat a bullet at one point. Hammer goes back to his old office, gets his gun and hits the streets, finding an ally in Rockerby (Lloyd Nolan), the boss of the federal agent who gave his deathbed confession to Hammer. It seems the gun which killed the agent was the same one which killed a powerful, anti-Communist senator a few years back, and both the authorities and the dectective believe there is a connection.
All this leads Hammer to the senator's glamorous widow, played by Shirley Eaton with a wavering American accent, who takes an unlikely romantic interest in Mike. These look like simpler times, when you knew who the bad guys were (Commies and gangsters), but the complex plotting of The Girl Hunters shows that there were no such things as simpler times, and the paranoia was ever-present. It's no shock to learn who is the double crosser, but it is hard to accept Spillane as a Lothario when he seems so much happier getting beaten up and shot at. His love scene with Eaton is handled with the equal finesse of the scene where Hammer nails a would-be assassin's hand to the floor to stop him getting away. Not as bad as its reputation, the film has a certain unrefined appeal, and Hammer fans will want to see it out of curiosity if nothing else. Extremely repetitive music by Philip Green.