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Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is a 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.

Kiss Me Deadly marked the film debuts of both actresses Cloris Leachman and Maxine Cooper.

Plot

Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer, a tough Los Angelesmarker private eye who is just slightly less brutal and corrupt than the crooks he chases. One evening, Hammer gives a ride to Christina (Cloris Leachman), an attractive hitchhiker on a lonely country road, who has escaped from the nearby lunatic asylum. Thugs waylay them and force his car to crash. When Hammer returns to semi-consciousness, he hears Christina being tortured until she dies. Hammer, both for vengeance and in hopes that "something big" is behind it all, decides to pursue the case.

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 the dead Christina's ex-room mate. Lily tells Hammer she has gone into hiding and asks Hammer to protect her. But she is duplicitous, and is after a mysterious box that, she believes, has contents worth a fortune.

"The great whatsit" (as Hammer's assistant Velda (Maxine Cooper) calls it) at the center of Hammer's quest is a small, mysterious valise that is hot to the touch and contains a dangerous, shining substance. It comes to represent the 1950s Cold War fear and nuclear paranoia about the atomic bomb that permeated American culture.

Later, at a deserted beach house, Hammer finds Lily with her evil companion, Dr. Soberin. Velda is their hostage, tied up in a bedroom. Soberin and Lily are vying for the contents of the box. Lily 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 an apocalyptic final scene apparently reaches explosive criticality when the box ("Pandora's Box") is fully opened. Horrifying sounds are emitted from the nuclear material as Lily bursts into flames.

Alternate ending

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 End of the World. In 1997, the original conclusion was restored. The DVD release has the correct original ending, and offers the now-discredited (but influential) 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."

Cast



Background

Los Angeles locations

  • 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 Flightmarker, 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 Angel's Flightmarker.
  • 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 reviews

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 96% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 26 reviews."

Awards

In 1999, Kiss Me Deadly was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Differences from the novel

The original novel, while providing much of the plot, is about a mafia conspiracy and does not feature espionage and the nuclear suitcase, elements added to the film version by the scriptwriter, A.I. Bezzerides.

It further subverted Spillane's book by portraying the already tough Hammer as a narcissistic bully, the darkest of anti-hero private detectives in the film noir genre. He apparently makes most of his living by blackmailing adulterous husbands and wives, and he takes an obvious sadistic pleasure in violence, whether he's beating up thugs sent to kill him, breaking an informant's treasured record collection, or roughing up a coroner who's slow to part with a piece of information. Bezzerides wrote of the script: "I wrote it fast because I had contempt for it ... I tell you Spillane didn't like what I did with his book. I ran into him at a restaurant and, boy, he didn't like me."

References

External links




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