Kiss Me Deadly

United States, 1955

Directed by Robert Aldrich

With Ralph Meeker (Mike Hammer), Maxine Cooper (Velda Wickman), Cloris Leachman (Christina Bailey), Gaby Rodgers (Lily Carver), Wesley Addy (Police Lieutenant Pat Murphy), Nick Dennis (Nick), Paul Steward (Carl Evello), Albert Dekker (Dr. G. E. Soberin)

This is an adventure of Mike Hammer, the breezy, blunt and brutal private investigator created in 1947 by Mickey Spillane It starts with a fast, frenzied and frightening series of nightly, kinetic shots that feel like an instant classic show of noir shock: a barefooted, barely dressed lady running on a highway, trying to stop a car unsuccessfully till she abruptly stands in the way of the sports car driven by Mike Hammer; their strange, tense and intriguing chats; the sudden swerve of a mysterious black sedan cutting short their drive and the grisly consequences of this attack – the savage death of the woman and the vicious way her body and the unconscious detective are dispensed with in a ravine.

On a frightening night a frightened lady takes a chance and starts a film: Cloris Leachman

But Hammer survives his wounds and sets about finding out what happened to him and who slew that Christina Bailey who beseeched him always to remember her. Helped by his beloved sidekicks, his secretary (and lover) Velda Wickman and his feisty, va va voom pal Nick, a car mechanic, Hammer tries to pick up the thread that would lead to the rope wrapping the riddle – even though he is watched over and warned against any move by another acquaintance, Police Lieutenant Pat Murphy, who is in charge of the homicide case and would prove better informed than the detective, even when Hammer has discovered many elements of the dangerous plot that he unintentionally gets involved in. This convoluted story leads him to meet and later protect a friend of Christina’s, another frail and worried blonde, Lily Carver, to fight a well-known mob boss, Carl Evello, and his grotesque henchmen and to uncover the trail of an enigmatic and dangerous doctor named Soberin.

But it is also an odd and far-fetched yarn; the film keeps the awfully slapdash style of a pulp fiction, the genre Spillane’s books belong to; twists and turns are not fully convincing while the bad people’s links and motivations remain murky – how those blondes got entangled in this sordid business and what they wanted to achieve are questions left unanswered as much as the life of Soberin. The focus is firmly on Hammer’s struggle to solve the riddle – that leads to punchy, macho developments shamelessly built around the contentious persona of the private detective, a wholly unappealing guy the tricky blondes readily unmask and depict: selfish, brash and careless, though the very fact he makes the investigation suggests he did care about Christina, showing a willingness to pay respect to a dead. The lead role is played in an apt though mechanical fashion; the rest of the cast fares as best as could be expected from such a low-cost and quickly shot production.

The finale powerfully bookends the striking overture; taking place again by night and in desert place (a beach instead of a country highway), it features a dramatic conflagration sparked by the mysterious box that proved to be the key to the plot; this is actually an Armageddon moment turning unsubtly the flick into a metaphor on the atomic fear that lurked in the American society of the 1950s. This clumsy vision is not the only element setting “Kiss Me Deadly” apart in its field – as pointed to by the first scenes, the director has a peculiar but compelling flair for compositions based on fragmentation and disquiet (epitomized by that fascinating motif of high-angle shots on the legs and shoes of the bad guys as they do their tricks).

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