Noirvember Feature #9 – Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

KissMeDeadlyKiss Me Deadly (1955)
Directed by: Robert Aldrich
Written by: A.I. Bezzerides (based on Kiss Me, Deadly by Mickey Spillane)
Starring: Ralph Meeker, Maxine Cooper, Cloris Leachman, Gaby Rodgers, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Juano Hernandez

Robert Aldrich is perhaps one of the best known directors of the entire marathon, with a filmography including Noirvember’s latest feature Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Flight of the Phoenix, and The Longest Yard.  To say that Aldrich has had an undeniable influence on the history of genre filmmaking is an understatement.  Some of the films listed above are very likely to have paved the way for the future generation of blockbuster and big budget filmmakers.  Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly came early on in his directing career, and would would go on to be recognized as one of his great films.  The film perfectly captures the manic paranoia of Cold War era United States.  Nearly every character in the film is mysterious, immoral, unpredictable, and dangerous, just like the threat of imminent nuclear war during the 1950’s.  Kiss Me Deadly stars Ralph Meeker as detective Mike Hammer, a role that would define his career of starring in low budget and cult films.  The success of Kiss Me Deadly can’t be attributed to its director or star, both of whom were relatively unknown as the time of its release, but rather the controversy and discussions that were generated by the famous film noir.  Both the controversial beginning and ending of the film have had critics and historians poring over and debating the merits of Kiss Me Deadly for decades now.  The fact that people are still talking about this film sixty years after its release speaks for itself as far as the final judgment made by the public.

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Kiss Me Deadly begins with detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) picking up an extremely distressed hitchhiker Christina (Cloris Leachman).  The panicked woman tells Hammer to drive her to the bus station, where he can then forget all about her.  She mentions that if for some reason they don’t make it to the bus station, that it’s important the detective should remember her.  Hammer and Christina are quickly run off the road, the hitchhiker brutally tortured and murdered, and Mike left for dead.  He wakes up to find himself in the hospital, and very quickly gets to work on trying to solve who the woman was, and what she was on about.  Mike quickly finds out that Christina had escaped from a nearby mental asylum, that she had important knowledge held by few, and that the people who are responsible for her death are now after detective Hammer.  Unfortunately for them, detective Mike Hammer isn’t a man who can be bullied into submission by thugs, because our main character is every bit corrupt and dirty as the criminals he is now chasing.  After meeting Christina’s supposed roommate, Lily Carver (Gaby Rodgers) Hammer learns of a valuable box she held in her position, whose contents are a mystery.  We later come to find out what the contents of the mysterious box are and what they represent, and hold the knowledge that if opened could forever change the lives of those around it.  Will Mike Hammer track down the men responsible for Christina’s death and recover the mysterious box, or will the detective be outmatched and outgunned by the clever criminals chasing him?  Find out in Robert Aldrich’s incredible Kiss Me Deadly.

“If I catch ya snooping around with a gun in your hand, I’ll throw you in jail!” – Going to jail is literally the least of Mike Hammer’s concerns in Kiss Me Deadly, and that fact only makes the film greater in its high stakes nature.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve watched the film nearly three times in the last week in order to fully comprehend the twists and turns it makes, as well as understand the fairly complex plot at hand in the film.  At first nothing clicked with me, and I thought that maybe Kiss Me Deadly’s complex and fast-paced plot and large cast of characters just wasn’t for me.  On a rewatch, however, I found out just how wrong I was.  Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, based on a novel of the same name by writer Mickey Spillane, is an incredibly taught and suspense noir, and will very likely go down as one of the most memorable I’ve seen to date.  The cast of characters are all corrupt crooks looking out for themselves, which helps establish the film’s dark and eerie mood.  Mike Hammer is such a complex and unique character that it took me those three watches to finally appreciate him.  I can’t possibly imagine how Ralph Meeker’s performance as Hammer didn’t launch him into a more notable career, but at least it’s here for us to praise all these years later.  The film’s climax is one of the most nihilistic and downtrodden I’ve ever seen, not just in the film noir genre I’ve been featuring this past month.  I can’t possibly spoil it for anybody reading, but I’ll say that it’s explosive in its energy and suspense, and that it’s well worth the wait.  Kiss Me Deadly can be looked back upon as the originator of the “mysterious box” trope found in films like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, which was inspired by Aldrich’s film.  The film is an obvious product of Cold War era Hollywood, feeling incredibly paranoid and untrustworthy in every twist and turn it makes, and this helps further the plot and character building in its own unique way.  

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In all of its dark, moody, corrupt, and paranoid glory, it’s easy for me to say that Kiss Me Deadly is an absolute masterpiece of the genre.  The character of Mike Hammer is incredibly complex and a delight to watch onscreen.  It makes me wish that more serious adaptations of the novels featuring him as a character were made, and that the team of Aldrich and Meeker were able to collaborate on more than one of them.  Kiss Me Deadly is about as depressing as film noir gets, and it works in every single frame.  I can say without a doubt in my mind that Kiss Me Deadly is highly recommended, and that anybody reading this would find something in it to fall in love with.

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