on March 19, 2004
Robert Aldrich's 1955 detective thriller, "Kiss Me Deadly," came at the end of the American classic film noir cycle, and shows the genre at its most violent, surreal, cruel, cynical, and visually bizarre. It's the last great explosive moment of the classic era of film noir -- and I do mean explosive. This is one detective film, like "Chinatown," which you won't soon forget.
Aldrich and screenwriter A. I. Bezzirides took on Mickey Spillane's popular P.I. Mike Hammer, but aside from keeping the basic plot outline of the original novel, they completely changed the nature of the character in a very reactionary move. Spillane's Mike Hammer is a New York detective-avenger, a self-righteous vigilante who deals out justice when the paralyzed forces of the law can do nothing: he's a vicious knight on a mean-spirited quest to right wrongs through brute force. (The title of the first Hammer novel, "I, the Jury" pretty much sums up his attitude.) The movie relocates Hammer to Los Angeles and turns him into a shallow con-artist who only cares about his car and his looks. He's a lousy detective too, relying on knocking people around for information, often innocent inoffensive folks, and never really paying attention to the important details of the case. His detective work is entirely matrimonial, where he and his 'assistant' Velda put the squeeze on couples to blackmail them. Hammer's motto is simple: "What's in it for me?" Ralph Meeker is perfect in the role, looking as if someone carved him out of slab of meat.
No doubt, in this story Hammer is in way over his head...if only he knew it. He picks up a nearly naked girl (Cloris Leachman in an early role) who throws herself in front of his sports car. Later, they're run off the road, and faceless gangsters torture her to dearth and leave Hammer for dead. Hammer sets out to find out what's up; not because he cares what happened to the girl, but because he sniffs out big money and he'd like to get the guys who wrecked his sports car! Hammer finds himself in a violent quest to locate an object that everyone desires: a package called 'The Great Whatsit.' The Great Whatsit isn't a meaningless red herring or Hitchcock McGuffin, however. Its contents are the great surprise of the plot, and the perfect exclamation point on a movie taking place in a chaotic world that seems to be falling apart. I won't tell what the Great Whatsit is (and shame on the reviewers here who have!), but...oh wow!
And this brings us to the issue of the ending, and the only extra on this disc. (Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil the ending.) For years, "Kiss Me Deadly" had a mysteriously abrupt finale that many people praised for its surreal, weird quality. This was how I first saw it. However, in 1997 the original ending was discovered in Aldrich's personal print of the film by editor Glenn Erickson and film noir scholar Alain Silver. Apparently, an accident involving a careless projectionist snipped off part of the ending, so what we had enjoyed and critiqued for years was actually a mistake! The new ending shown on this disc fortunately doesn't change the tone of the film: it's still pretty astonishing, filled with a brilliant use of light and sound effects. However, there's still something about that abrupt ending that gets to people. The DVD contains the option to watch this original abrupt ending so you can make up your mind which one 'feels' more right to you: what the director intended, or the mistake that many embraced as a stroke of brilliance.
No matter which ending you like, "Kiss Me Deadly" is a fabulous piece of brutal crime cinema. The photography is amazing, filled with weird and surreal images and crazy camera angles. The performances are all dead-on: Meeker's ugly Mike Hammer; Albert Dekker as the sinister and poetry spouting Dr. Soberin; Wesley Addy as Hammer's police acquaintance Pat, the sole voice of reason in the mess; Paul Stewart as a smarmy L.A. gangster; the late Jack Elam as freaky thug; and Gaby Rodgers in the film's strangest performance as the distant, weird, but ultimately very dangerous (to every living thing on the planet!) Lily Carver.
If you love detective films and film noir, "Kiss Me Deadly" is a great must-see classic. For a 1950s film, it is surprisingly violent and far ahead of its time. And either end will leave you shivering in shock. If only they had the guts to end films this way today!
on June 4, 2013
Being a big fan of both film noir and the Criterion label, I thoroughly enjoyed this DVD and highly recommend it. The restoration that Criterion has done on both the film and the audio track is superb. Special-feature bonuses are a big part of what the Criterion label is known for and this DVD offers many interesting extras to explore.
Now on to the film itself, this is a great Mickey Spillane detective yarn. A tough Private Detective (perfectly played by Ralph Meeker) takes a journey through the Los Angeles criminal underworld that is pure fun to watch. The casting is fantastic and Cloris Leachman stands out in her big-screen debut. Cinema does not get any better than this.
Of all the Mike Hammer entries this one is one of the most uneven. Perhaps it is because of the outstanding excellence of some of the other classic productions that this one just doesn't shine. Ralph Meeker seems a cardboard cutout of the usual Mike Hammers.
The first damsel in distress has escaped an institution ( where it turns out she had been parked by the authorities " for her own protection") dressed only in a trench coat without even shoes. She manages to stop Mike by standing in the middle of the road in a stop for me or kill me ploy. Both subsequently are captured by the bad guys. She dies while being " questioned " by the bad guys , and they push her and Mike off a cliff and wreck his first neat car , a Jaguar. Miraculously he survives , and now he has a mystery to solve. He hooks up with another girl who seems to be the other girls roommate and pursues the trail. The cops tell him to butt out , and then revoke his P.I. license. After briefly tooling about in an MG , Mike is given a ( what I think is a ) 1953 Corvette as a bribe to butt out by the bad guys. Mike suspects the car is booby trapped and we get a nice look at the engine of the time , an inline OHV 6 cylinder as they search for what turns out to be two bombs.
The best characters are the group of ( now classic ) bad guys , including The Face , Jack Elam. Eventually Mike finds the holy grail that all are seeking , which turns out to be a box containing radioactive material. Radioactivity was fairly new at the time
and when the box is opened a blinding laser like light is emitted. In the final scene Mike rescues his secretary Velda ( no not Velma!) , as the women that pretended to be the roommate ( who was also dead long ago ) can't resist opening the Pandoras'
box containing the radioactive substance. She is consumed in the subsequent fire , allegedly caused by the radioactivity.
A curiosity is that the same screams of the original damsel in distress are reused in the final scene where the "roommate"
If this description sound dis-jointed , well that's a reflection of the movie itself. All Mike Hammer stories are worth a look , it is just that , compared to the others , this one is lacking in my opinion. Still it is worth a look for Mike Hammer / Mickey Spillane fans , and is of course , in Glorious Black & White!
United Artists presents "KISS ME DEADLY" (18 May 1955) (106 min/B&W) (Fully Restored/Dolby Digitally Remastered) -- Regarded by many critics as the ultimate film noir, and by many more as the finest movie adaptation of a book by Mickey Spillane, Kiss Me Deadly stars Ralph Meeker as Spillane's anti-social private eye Mike Hammer. While driving down a lonely road late one evening, Hammer picks up a beautiful blonde hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman), dressed in nothing but a raincoat. At first, Hammer assumes that the incoherent girl is an escaped lunatic; his mind is changed for him when he and the girl are abducted by two thugs. The men torture the girl to death as the semiconscious Hammer watches helplessly. He himself escapes extermination when the murderers' car topples off a cliff and he is thrown clear. Seeking vengeance, Hammer tries to discover the secret behind the girl's murder. Among those who cross his path in the film's tense, tingling 106 minutes are a slimy gangster (Paul Stewart), a turncoat scientist (Albert Dekker), and the dead woman's sexy roommate (Gaby Rodgers). All clues lead to a mysterious box -- the "Great Whats it," as Hammer's secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) describes it. Both the box and Velda are stolen by the villains, at which point Hammer discovers that the "Whats it" contains radioactive material of awesome powers. The apocalyptic climax is doubly devastating and we now know there are two endings to the film just recently discovered.
Ralph Meeker made an excellent contribution as Mike Hammer. He dominates the film with his presence. Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Mirian Carr, Maxine Cooper and especially Cloris Leachman, in her screen debut, make this film the favorite it has become.
Director Robert Aldrich transcends Kiss Me Deadly's basic genre trappings to produce a one-of-a-kind melodrama for the nuclear age.
Under the production staff of:
Robert Aldrich [Director/Producer]
Mickey Spillane [novel "Kiss Me Deadly"]
A.I. Bezzerides [Screenplay]
Victor Saville [Executive Producer]
Frank De Vol [Original Music]
Ernest Laszlo [Cinematographer]
Michael Luciano [Film Editor]
1. Robert Aldrich [Director]
Date of Birth: 9 August 1918 - Cranston, Rhode Island
Date of Death: 5 December 1983 - Los Angeles, California
2. Ralph Meeker [aka: Ralph Rathgeber]
Date of Birth: 21 November 1920 - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date of Death: 5 August 1988 - Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California
the cast includes:
Ralph Meeker - Mike Hammer
Albert Dekker - Dr. G.E. Soberin
Paul Stewart - Carl Evello
Juano Hernandez - Eddie Yeager
Wesley Addy - Lt. Pat Murphy
Marian Carr - Friday
Maxine Cooper - Velda
Cloris Leachman - Christina Bailey
Gaby Rodgers - Gabrielle
Nick Dennis - Nick
Jack Lambert - Sugar Smallhouse
Jack Elam - Charlie Max
Mr. Jim's Ratings:
Quality of Picture & Sound: 4 Stars
Performance: 5 Stars
Story & Screenplay: 5 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars [Original Music, Cinematography & Film Editing]
Total Time: 106 min on DVD ~ United Artists ~ (06/19/2001)
on May 11, 2003
Condemned by censors, panned by critics, and banned by the Btritish when it was released in 1955 KISS ME DEADLY is today universally considered one of the definitive and perhaps most perfectly realized films noirs ever made. Director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides, both having a mutual contempt for right wing pulp novelist Mickey Spillane and all he stood for, nevertheless smartly capitalized on the extraordinary success of the author at the time, basing their film on Spillane's book of the same name while taking such drastic liberties with his story, characters, and ideologies that the finished product would be nearly unrecognizable to serious Spillane fans. This point seems to be forshadowed, as film noir scholar James Naremore has pointed out, in the weirdly reversed opening credits which seem to stand Mickey Spillane on his head.
The movie opens with divorce detective Mike Hammer(Ralph Meeker) forced to pick up a barefoot and naked-under-a-trenchcoat Christina Baily(Chloris Leachman in her first screen role)who, as we soon find out, has escaped from a mental institution and is running down the middle of a remote California road at night. When Hammer is quickly run off the road by gangsters who torture Christina to death and nearly kill Hammer himself his interest is sparked. Hammer smells something big and the cut of something big is...well, big. He decides to give the divorce work a rest and devote himself, his adoring secretary Velda(Maxine Cooper), his Greek mechanic friend Nick(Nick Dennis), and anyone else he can get to do his dirty work for him to this new mystery. The film is rich with Cold War fear and nuclear paranoia as all the characters relentless focus of selfish greed is on "the great whatsit", the mysterious glowing box of material stolen from a nuclear testing facility. Mike Hammer's detective is totally enjoyable to watch although a distinctly unfavorable and immoral character. He whores out his secretary, Velda, without remorse to adulterous husbands to wrap up divorce cases, gets his innocent friend Nick killed by involving him in the case, is a markedly poor detective, and sadistically enjoys physically punishing those who get in his way.
KISS ME DEADLY is fundamentally wrapped up in the definitions of the film noir genre, containing all the elements--a stark opening sequence on a dark road, destructive manipulating femme fatales, low-life cheap gangsters, dark expressionistically lit night-time scenes, a vengeful (or greedy?) quest, maybe the best, and most anti-, anti-hero of the noir canon, and a dark mood of hopelessness.
on February 18, 2003
Dark and moody and violent, more style than substance -- and enough more to make it all right (as Humphrey Bogart said in another movie in this genre). Credited with inspiring the entire French New Wave cinema movement of the late 1950s. (In one scene that would have sent those French directors, Ralph Meeker walks a deserted but lamp-lit city street late at night, trailed by a would-be assassin. Their footsteps echo in the stark landscape; their shadows are about a mile long.) Reportedly, French critical writing found deep symbolism in various scenes, whereas director Robert Aldrich responded that this was news to him, they were just shooting a detective picture. True to the spirit of the Mike Hammer novels, there is a pervasive vagueness. Who are all these thugs? (We don't even see their faces at first.) What are they after? (A nasty little radioactive Pandora's Box, we eventually learn; it is very well staged but little explained, and is ultimately a fool's prize.) Well-cast Meeker portrays unredeemed sleazy private eye Mike Hammer, whose normal line is blackmailing married men with the help of his girlfriend Velda (he carries a .45, Velda a .32). The menacing thugs, wearing baggy clothes and fedoras, we might take for NKVD (as indeed they are, in other of the Mickey Spillane novels circa 1950, and also near the end in the 1994 film _Burnt by the Sun_), but sufficient unto this film is the evil thereof, without contribution from Stalin, Beria & Co.
on January 19, 2003
Most unaccountably, "Kiss Me deadly" has been long underated or neglected, like its director Robert Aldrich, whose best is probably "The Dirty Dozen" or "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane." Though "Kiss Me Deadly" does not feature the incredibly campy battle between Bette and Joan, it still gives us a dynamite opening where a frantic girl is desperately running, with her foot naked, on the deserted highway at midnight. She needs a help, she says to detective Mike Hammer, who happened to be driving there. This is the start of another long day for this LA private eye.
Then follow some deaths, and threats from government agents and secret organization alike. Hammer's investigation is, as is the case with the genre, full of plot twists, but Aldrich never gets us bored with his rather laid-back direction and occassional shock materials provided for the fans. The violence (such as torture) is all suggested, not directly depicted, but the power is still there after half a century. The dialugues or situatons are all intentionally clunky, as if Aldrich is telling that the events are all happening on another planet. But his tactics work, giving the entire picture some strange feelings like another world.
We must remember that the film is made soon after the WW2, and the world is haunted with the images of nuclear age, and the conflicts between two superpowers. Clearly the weird touch of the film reinforces the uneasiness of these times found in the film, and the fears of the days are conveyed to us even now. So, nothing is fully explained; everything is suggested. You find a box, but you don't know what it is (but can guess). And the "shock" ending has not lost its power yet.
Actors are comparatively unknown except the prolific Cloris Leachman (later wins Oscar for "The Last Picture Show"), but that doesnot matter. Just watch it, and enjoy its stylish camerawor, and shocks that its audiences saw years ago. And find the possible inspiration for the "box" which Jules and Vincent had in a coffee shop in "Pulp Fiction."
on November 14, 2002
This intense story starts off fast and continues at a breakneck pace until its "didn't-see-that-coming" conclusion. The ending is very atypical of the film noir genre (hence the title of my review), but everything leading up to it is noir at its finest. Ralph Meeker's portrayal of Mike Hammer is nothing short of sensational. He's the kind of guy you love to hate for how he conducts his business, but secretly wish you were half as cool. Some have noted his character as "bumbling", but I found him to be quite the opposite; he was able to handle just about any situation with either brute force or sly cleverness (ok, maybe he didn't do some follow-up work on Christina Bailey's roomate Lily Carver, which cost him, but I think we can overlook that). He's at his best when he's smacking someone around, which he does throughout. You couldn't have asked for a better performance.
I thought the development of the secondary characters was done quite well, e.g. even though Nick the mechanic didn't have much screen time, how bad did you feel for him when he met with his fate? And Doc Kennedy who performed Christina Bailey's autopsy. You could tell after 30 seconds that this guy was scum. I also enjoyed the two brutes Sugar and Charlie Max. Those guys had some of the best facial expressions ever filmed.
All this aside, my favorite aspect of the film was the cinematography. Filmed in glorious black & white so rich you'd think you were watching it unfold live in front of you. Also included are some of the best camera angles from the genre. One scene that sticks out is when Hammer tells Carver to meet him outside once she hears him honk the horn. They show Hammer running down the stairs from the vantage point of the top of the stairs. When Carver makes the same trip down they lensed it from the bottom. Really made an impact with me.
You should enjoy this movie if you have any interest in either noir or older b&w movies.
on October 7, 2002
Hands down one of the best detective thrillers there is. Ralph Meeker is the ideal Mike Hammer in this down and dirty crime film. Robert Aldrich directs this at a breathless pace and with ahead of it's time style. Cloris Leachman is featured in an early role at the beginning and you don't forget her for the rest of the film. Her death by torture and her screams haunt the film (and Hammer) and you want her death avenged as much as Hammer does. His secretary, Velda, is a toothy sex-pot with the hots for him so bad you can taste it. She'll literally do ANYTHING for him. Bad girl Lily is a real psycho babe and is willing to bring the world to an end out of greedy curiosity. Her comeuppance is a vivid highlight of the climax. Women like this just weren't on the screen at the time. Only in pulp novels. But Aldrich brings them deliciously to life as motivations for Hammer to plow his way through a truly wild murder mystery and search for a "great what's-it" in pure 50's pulp style. Two endings are available on DVD but I can't see that much difference---but maybe there is. This is slick, violent adult viewing all the way. WAY out there for the time. It's classy stylish trash if there is such a thing but undeniably entertaining and superbly made. Even if you aren't a Spillane fan, you'll enjoy this. It's a great one-of-a-kind movie.
on June 21, 2002
OK, I mention quirks, so let me get right to them. One involves the way the bad guy gets it in the end, so I can't say anything about it without giving away a major plot element. But it is perhaps the oddest way any character has died since a character in Charles Dickens's BLEAK HOUSE died of spontaneous combustion. Just watch the movie; you'll see what I am talking about. The other endearing quirk is some of the "hot" technology you find in it. Without any question, this film features the first answering machine in the history of cinema. A full two decades before the breakout of the answering machine in American life, there is a reel-to-reel tape machine answering machine in Mike Hammer's apartment.
Despite a hokey ending, this is a really cool film. Ralph Meeker never had the kind of career he should have had. He was charismatic, a good looking guy, and a talented actor, but had only a few roles that were plum parts. In particular, he had a very fine role as a rogue ex-calvary officer in Anthony Mann's THE NAKED SPUR, and he had a great part in Stanley Kubrick's anti-war classic PATHS OF GLORY. All things considered, his finest role was, however, playing Mike Hammer in this film.
The film has great atmosphere, a fine story (until the bizarre end), and fine acting. Stylistically, it is film noirish with a hipper edge. Mike Hammer may be a detective, but he likes to have fun as well. Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler's novels always has a sense of the tragic element of life as well as its absurdity. His stance towards many of the events of his books is ironic. There is no sense of irony with Mike Hammer. He has a chip on his should just for the heck of it. He may lack Philip Marlowe's depth and complexity, but he probably gets more enjoyment out of life. He probably would also make a better dinner guest.
There is a great period feel to the film. It was made and set in the mid-1950s, but rarely have I seen a film that gives such a great sense of when it was made. It also features a great case. In particular, it is amazing to see Cloris Leachman play a part when she was young and very cute.
I thoroughly recommend this movie. It has a lot of energy, a lot of style, and tells a great yarn. And even though the ending is scientifically iffy, it is still a lot of fun.