Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Not Rated   |    |  Crime, Film-Noir, Mystery


Kiss Me Deadly (1955) Poster

A doomed female hitchhiker pulls Mike Hammer into a deadly whirlpool of intrigue, revolving around a mysterious "great whatsit".


7.6/10
18,062


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  • Paul Stewart in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
  • Maxine Cooper and Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
  • Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
  • Maxine Cooper in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
  • Marian Carr in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
  • Marian Carr and Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

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21 July 2013 | dougdoepke
Worth a Closer Look
No need to recap the plot (even if I could) or echo some of the more obvious details.

Notice how no one stops to help poor Christina as she runs down the street frantically at movie's opening. Instead cars whiz by, until Hammer almost wrecks his snazzy car trying to avoid her. In fact, there's not an overload of compassion anywhere in this brutal noir classic.

As I recall, critics of the time reviled it for the unremitting violence and lack of heroics. At the same time, in years of movie watching, I've never heard screams of pain (e.g. Christina, Sugar Smallhouse) so convincing as here. They're almost too much to bear, which was likely Aldrich's intent. Add to the package a scummy, narcissist PI like Hammer, and you've got a melodrama unlike audiences of the time were prepared for. No wonder the movie bombed. (Two previous Hammer films had also disappointed Spillane fans-- I, The Jury {1953}, The Long Wait {1954})

Except this movie was years ahead of its time in both style and content. Sure, the plot doesn't make much sense. There are threads, but they never seem to come together in coherent fashion. Instead, the money hungry Hammer keeps thrashing around in the dark like there's got to be a big payoff somewhere in the tangle he's got himself into. Self-assured to the hilt, he's not one for self-doubt or moments of contemplation. Instead, he bulls his way through every situation, heedless of what he's getting into. I expect folks looking for deeper meanings find plenty of grist with this. Then too, it's hard to say enough about actor Meeker's spot-on portrayal. His Hammer amounts to a guy you neither like nor dislike, but can't help watching anyway (his physical resemblance to Brando is almost astonishing).

The visual style here is almost equally astonishing. Noir b&w has never been photographed (Earnest Laszlo) more effectively than some of those night scenes (e.g. the brutal fist fight between Hammer and his attacker {Paul Richards}), plus the long, dark hallways and staircases that suggest an enclosed world without redemption. Then too, the exploding beach house is well done, though it goes through 4 or 5 increasingly violent blasts, making Aldrich's apocalyptic point, I guess.

But it's not just Hammer and the thugs he's surrounded with. The women we see may be lovely or even beautiful (Carr), but none are to be trusted. Not even Hammer's Velda (Cooper), who, when you think about it, is his willing partner in the scummy infidelity scams that are his bread and butter. How many husbands, for example, has she seduced into grounds for divorce. It's not obvious, but there's a misogynistic undercurrent running through the narrative, which, I guess, is appropriate for the movie's generally nihilistic attitude. (Note how oblivious Hammer is to the grandeur of the classical music around him that keeps popping up in the screenplay. None of that sublime stuff for him.)

No doubt about it, the movie may retain the raw violence and sex that made author Spillane's potboilers so popular in the 50's. But crucially there's no one to root for here, not even the Hammer of Spillane's Cold War novels who kills commies on sight. No, Aldrich's and screenwriter Bezzerides world is not divided into good and evil, in the way that Spillane's brutal Hammer is redeemed by fighting on the good, patriotic side. Instead, the Aldrich world comes across as a nihilistic one, without enduring values, one that can only be redeemed by apocalypse, nuclear style. No wonder the French glommed onto the film immediately. I'm sure those pessimistic themes fit perfectly with the existentialist topics then so popular among their artistic class.

Anyhow, however you choose to take the 100-minutes—as a betrayal of the novels or as a somewhat profound gloss on the human condition-- the movie remains a memorable one-of- a-kind.

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