Sledge Hammer…. what a show!

Sledge Hammer! It was many years ago – I was still in school then that I had the chance to see this magnificent satire. As far as I recall it used to be telecast on Saturday afternoons and fortunately, we were already home well in time to see the show begin with the long, near-sensual closeup shots of Hammer’s .44 Magnum as it rests on a luxurious satin pillow as the ominous theme music played in the background. Hammer then picked up his gun, spun it expertly like an Old West gunslinger, and uttered his catch phrase (“Trust me, I know what I’m doing”) just before firing into the screen, making a hole in it.

The show was on the law enforcement saga of San Francisco Police Department’s Inspector Sledge Hammer (played by David Rasche) , whose best friend is a .44 Magnum with a customized grip featuring a drawing of a sledgehammer ( Hammer even slept and showered with his gun, and even talks to it…and it was an unmistakable show when he hallucinated that it was talking back to him).

“Under The Gun” – the first episode – showed him recalled from suspension when the mayor’s daughter is kidnapped and Hammer vows to bring her back “dead or alive”. To keep him in check, Hammer is partnered with Detective Dori Doreau. Together, they unravelled a mystery involving a militant organisation behind the kidnapping. In a brilliant scene, Sledge dealt with a sniper on a skyscraper roof by blowing up the entire building with a bazooka, then turning to the uniformed cops on scene and saying – “I think I got ’em”.

Doreau (played by Anne-Marie Martin), Hammer’s beautiful partner is competent, kind, sensitive, intelligent, and sophisticated — everything Hammer is not. Doreau is often shocked and offended by Hammer’s crass behavior and obnoxious attitude, but she appears to see some redeeming qualities beneath his gruff exterior. Hammer’s blatant male chauvinism is a running gag in his dialogues.

Doreau’s cautious and compassionate approach to law enforcement is a crucial counterpoint to Hammer’s reckless and nihilistic quest for justice. Yet Doreau is a tough, agile cop who can handle a gun and deliver a well-timed karate kick when necessary. She frequently saves Hammer from the extraordinary predicaments he invariably gets himself into.

But it is the  chronically uptight, Pepto-Bismol-guzzling Captain Trunk (played by Harrison Page) that steals the show. Trunk spends most of his time yelling at Hammer for his incompetence or complaining about his migraine headaches brought on by Hammer’s antics. If Trunk has any respect or fondness for Hammer, he hides it extremely well. In one episode (“Miss of the Spider Woman”) Hammer is about to die from snake venom poisoning but is saved at the last minute when Trunk shows up with the antidote:

Hammer: How can I ever thank you?
Trunk: Don’t drink it.

Like Hammer, Trunk is divorced. His short temper and high blood pressure even made him immune to a biological weapon that contaminated the whole precinct in the episode “They Call Me Mr. Trunk”.

Most of the humour focusses on Hammer’s callous, simplistic, narrow-minded worldview and its unfortunate consequences for everyone around as like a human tornado, he devastates everything in his path. A camera view of his apartment shows that one of his favorite wall hangings is a “enemy” target on his closet door. He blames gun control, feminism, and rock music for many of the world’s ills. One example of such humor:

Sledge Hammer: Well, Miss, I was in this store when two thugs entered and threatened the owner with shotguns. At that time I drew my magnum and killed them both. Then I bought some eggs, milk, and some of those little cocktail weenies.
News reporter: Inspector Hammer, was what you did in the store absolutely necessary?
Sledge Hammer: Yes, I had no groceries at all.

Hammer’s over-the-top but deadpan antics ranged from pulling a rocket launcher from his trunk and firing it at the building where a sniper is stationed, to forcing a purse-snatcher to beat himself up in order to avoid brutality charges.

Physical comedy is another important element of the show. Through his clumsiness, Hammer is constantly injuring Captain Trunk with, for example, a stray billiard ball to the head, a coffin lid dropped on the fingers, or a misguided attempt at fixing Trunk’s sore neck with a little amateur chiropractic adjustment:

Trunk: (yelling in pain) You sadistic, depraved, bloodthirsty, barbaric…
Hammer: Is that why you called me in here? To shower me with compliments?

Another running gag is Hammer’s reckless driving; he is continually rear-ending and backing into things with his beat-up, bullet-riddled, lime green Dodge St. Regis (which has a “I Love Violence” bumpersticker!).

To Be Continued….

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