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|Directed by: Robert Aldrich|
|Produced by: Robert Aldrich|
|Screenplay by: A. I. Bezzerides|
Based on the novel "Kiss Me Deadly"
by Mickey Spillane
Starring: Ralph Meeker
Music by: Frank DeVol
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Editing by: Michael Luciano
Distributed by: United Artists
Release Date: May 18, 1955
Running Time: 106 minutes
Kiss Me Deadly is a 1955 film noir drama produced and directed by Robert Aldrich starring Ralph Meeker. The screenplay was written by A.I. Bezzerides, based on the Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer mystery novel Kiss Me, Deadly. Kiss Me Deadly is often considered a classic of the noir genre. The film grossed $726,000 in the United States and a total of $226,000 overseas. It also withstood scrutiny from the Kefauver Commission as being a film said to be designed to ruin young viewers, leading director Aldrich to write against the Commission's conclusions.
Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer, a tough Los Angeles private eye who is almost as brutal and corrupt as the crooks he chases. Mike, and his assistant/secretary/lover, Velda (Maxine Cooper), usually work on "penny-ante divorce cases".
One evening on a lonely country road, Hammer gives a ride to Christina (Cloris Leachman), an attractive hitchhiker wearing nothing but a trench coat. She has escaped from a nearby mental institution. Thugs waylay them and Hammer awakens in some unknown location where he hears Christina screaming and being tortured to death. The thugs then push Hammer's car off a cliff with Christina's body and an unconscious Hammer inside. Hammer next awakens in a hospital with Velda by his bedside. He decides to pursue the case, both for vengeance and because, "She (Christina) must be connected with something big" behind it all.
Ralph Meeker and Cloris Leachman.
The twisting plot takes Hammer to the apartment of Lily Carver (Gaby Rodgers), a sexy, waif-like blond who is posing as Christina's ex-roommate. Lily tells Hammer she has gone into hiding and asks Hammer to protect her. It turns out that she is after a mysterious box that, she believes, has contents worth a fortune.
"The great whatsit", as Velda calls it, at the center of Hammer's quest is a small, mysterious valise that is hot to the touch and contains a dangerous, glowing substance. It comes to represent the 1950s Cold War fear and nuclear weapon paranoia about the atomic bomb that permeated American culture. (Homage is paid to this glowing MacGuffin in the 1984 cult film Repo Man, the film Ronin, and in Tarantino's film Pulp Fiction.)
Later, at an isolated beach house, Hammer finds "Lily", who has been revealed to be an imposter named Gabrielle, with her evil boss, Dr. Soberin (Albert Dekker). Velda is their hostage, tied up in a bedroom. Soberin and Gabrielle are vying for the contents of the box. Gabrielle shoots Soberin, believing that she can keep the mysterious contents for herself. As she slyly opens the case, it is ultimately revealed to be stolen radionuclide material, which in the final scene apparently reaches explosive criticality when the box is fully opened. Horrifying sounds emit from the nuclear material as Gabrielle and the house burst into flames.
The original American release of the film shows Hammer and Velda escaping from the burning house at the end, running into the ocean as the words "The End" come over them on the screen. Sometime after its first release, the ending was crudely altered on the film's original negative, removing over a minute's worth of shots where Hammer and Velda escape and superimposing the words "The End" over the burning house. This implied that Hammer and Velda perished in the atomic blaze, and was often interpreted to represent the apocalypse. In 1997, the original conclusion was restored, where Velda and Mike survive. The DVD release has the correct original ending, and offers the now-discredited truncated ending as an extra.
The movie is described as "the definitive, apocalyptic, nihilistic, science-fiction film noir of all time – at the close of the classic noir period".
Los Angeles locationsEdit
- Hill Crest Hotel, NE corner of Third and Olive Streets, Bunker Hill (Italian opera singer's home)
- The Donigan 'Castle', a Victorian mansion at 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue (where Cloris Leachman's character lived; it was used for interiors and exteriors).
- Apartment Building, 10401 Wilshire Blvd, NW corner of Wilshire and Beverly Glen (Hammer's apartment building; still standing)
- Clay Street, an alley beneath Angels Flight incline railway, on Bunker Hill, where Hammer parks his Corvette and then takes the back steps up to the Hill Crest Hotel, but when we cut to him approaching the hotel's large porch, he's on the Third Street steps opposite Angels Flight.
- Club Pigalle, 4800 block of Figueroa Avenue (the black jazz nightclub where Hammer hangs out)
- Hollywood Athletic Club, 6525 W. Sunset Blvd. (where Hammer finds the radioactive box; still standing)
Kiss Me Deadly remains one of the great time capsules of Los Angeles; the Bunker Hill locations were all destroyed when the downtown neighborhood was razed in the late 1960s.
Critical commentary generally views it as a metaphor for the paranoia and nuclear fears of the Cold War era in which it was filmed.
Although a leftist at the time of the Hollywood blacklist, Bezzerides denied any conscious intention for this meaning in his script. About the topic, he said, "I was having fun with it. I wanted to make every scene, every character, interesting."
Film critic Nick Schager wrote, "Never was Mike Hammer's name more fitting than in Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich's blisteringly nihilistic noir in which star Ralph Meeker embodies Mickey Spillane's legendary P.I. with brute force savagery...The gumshoe's subsequent investigation into the woman's death doubles as a lacerating indictment of modern society's dissolution into physical/moral/spiritual degeneracy – a reversion that ultimately leads to nuclear apocalypse and man's return to the primordial sea – with the director's knuckle-sandwich cynicism pummeling the genre's romantic fatalism into a bloody pulp. 'Remember me'? Aldrich's sadistic, fatalistic masterpiece is impossible to forget."
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 97% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 37 reviews.