156 of 158 people found the following review helpful
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!
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2000
Absolute film noir heaven (or hell, depending on how you look at it.) A film so visually and stylistically arresting that the somewhat intricate and confusing plot becomes a moot point, one can't help but watch this 1955 (!) Robert Aldrich masterwork with a sense of awe. We may be in disagreement on the assessment of Jerry Lewis' "genius", but as for the importance of this film's influence on susbsequent cinema, I have to agree with the French on this one! Ralph Meeker's sneeringly existential and Brandoesque Mike Hammer persona in this film has been imitated many times but never matched.One interesting note: 1984's "punk-noir" classic "Repo Man" borrowed quite heavily from this film...make it a double bill some slow night and you'll be amazed and bemused!
52 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2001
Robert Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY is one of these movies I watch every two or three years with the same pleasure. When I discovered it for the first time long ago, Film Noir meant Humphrey Bogart, Howard Hawks, James Cagney or John Huston to me. So imagine the shock KISS ME DEADLY gave me.
Everything was so innovative in this movie from the initial credits rolling backwards over Cloris Leachman running half-naked on the road and gasping in Mike Hammer's car with a quite erotic intensity. From the sadistic torture scene of Christina Bailey to the character of Maxine -Velda- Cooper who helps Mike Hammer to nail adultery husbands by seducing them. From the secondary characters so well written that it seems that they all have a tremendously important role in the story.
At last, the performance of Ralph -Mike Hammer- Meeker is so perfect that it's hard to imagine another actor in the role. I personally can't. And Nick Dennis, Mike Hammer's friend, whose onomatopeia are now part of Movie History. And, and...
OK ! check for yourselves if you still don't know this movie. Superb copy with various subtitles, the alternate ending and the original trailer.
A DVD zone your library.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 1999
This is easily one of the most outstanding pieces of film noir ever made. Ralph Meeker, (An actor who usually played bad guys.), plays a very anti-heroic Mike Hammer.
The Mike Hammer that Meeker portrays is greedy and sadistic. He takes great pleasure inflicting pain on others, and stepping on as many toes as possible to get what he wants. With a lead character as trashy as the one Meeker portrays you can only imagine how cold-blooded the rest of the people in this movie are.
"Kiss Me Deadly" is one of the more rarely seen classic detective pictures; this is a shame. From the very first shot of this picture, you can feel the crime-detective genre being pushed and beaten into directions no one has ever seen before.
There are some people who did not understand the ending of this picture. It's simple: "Be careful what you go looking for, you might not like what you find."
This is one wonderfully stylish, suspensful, and unusual motion picture. You owe it to yourself to check it out!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2011
Arguably the finest film to be based on the writings of Mickey Spillane, director Robert Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY (1955) has just received a new, restored and remastered release from Criterion on DVD and Blu-ray.
L.A. "bedroom dick," Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) picks up a blonde in a trenchcoat named Christina (Cloris Leachman) that he finds running barefoot down a lonely road in the middle of the night. Shortly thereafter, his car is run off into a ditch, and he and his hitchhiker are abducted. The girl is tortured to death by unseen assailants, and both her body and the unconscious Hammer are put in his car and pushed off a cliff. Hammer survives and soon finds himself embroiled in a search to find a mysterious and valuable box - "the great whatsit" - a prize which he hopes will pay off big. Unfortunately, the slick P.I. is in over his head, playing a game far bigger than he can imagine.
Director Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides made no secret of their dislike of Spillane's novel and the character of Mike Hammer, who they perceived as a stupid thug. So their story portrays Hammer exactly that way, and ignores the various virtues of the literary version. In the film, Hammer is a sleazy operator who uses his secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) to entrap married men in sexual honey traps, enabling him to go to their wives with incriminating - and profitable - photos. Despite Christina being murdered while in his company, he doesn't pursue the case out of any noble effort to find justice for the girl; he just smells an opportunity to make a score. Like his literary counterpart, this Hammer is often violent, but unlike the Hammer of the books, he's portrayed as a cowardly sadist who only beats up on those weaker than himself.
The Mike Hammer of Spillane's novels is an occasionally brutal, rough-edged hero, while this film's version is almost the very definition of an antihero. The movie's Hammer is deftly summed up in one line: "What's in it for me?"
Despite this deliberate misrepresentation of the character and the filmmakers' choice to almost completely discard the novel's plot, KISS ME DEADLY does portray the dark, twisted, Fifties noir universe of Spillane's novels better than any other film or TV adaptation of his work. Aldrich's direction is appropriately slick and stylized, and the cinematography of Ernest Lazlo perfectly captures the shadows and stark contrasts that visually represent the story's noir milieu.
The Criterion Blu-ray edition features a gorgeous, 1080p HD, 1.66:1 widescreen transfer that has undergone extensive digital restoration, removing virtually all evidence of print damage, dirt or wear. Contrast and detail are extraordinary, and far better than any previous home video release. I've owned this movie on VHS, laserdisc and DVD, and it has never looked this good before. Audio is in its original mono, but has been cleaned up, eliminating all pops and background hiss.
Supplemental features include an audio commentary by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursani, an odd video tribute to KISS ME DEADLY by REPO MAN director Alex Cox, excerpts from a 2005 documentary on screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides, a featurette on the locations used in the film, the alternate ending, and a slightly shortened version of the Max Allan Collins documentary, MIKE HAMMER'S MICKEY SPILLANE (originally part of the author/filmmaker's SHADES OF NOIR anthology film) covering the life and career of the legendary author. Finally, there's a 22-page booklet with extensive liner notes and articles about the film.
Ultimately, Aldrich & Bezzerides' KISS ME DEADLY tries to be an indictment of Spillane's work that also attempts to blatantly exploit the author's fame and popularity. The result is an "anti-Spillane" flick that somehow manages to depict his particular worldview better than any other. If you own any of the earlier editions of KISS ME DEADLY, the new Criterion version - though a bit pricey - is likely to be the definitive edition for the foreseeable future. It looks and sounds amazing, and is well worth trading up to. If you've never seen the film, and have any interest in 50s film noir, it is essential viewing.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 1999
Kiss Me Deadly seems light years ahead of the studio made film noirs of just ten years earlier. Seventy-five per-cent of it is shot on location in Los Angeles circa mid fifties. Likewise the performances by Ralph Meeker and company are gritty and disturbingly honest. Meeker is the master of understatement and his Mickey Spillane is by far the quintessential reading of this pulp detective. Meeker inhabits his roles so thoroughly it's hard to pick him out in his various screen performances. The great fun of this cienimatic ride is following Spillane thru seedy L.A. and meeting the underworld characters, B-girls, and working-class joes that populate his world. Hold on to your hats for the surprise ending as Spillane follows the links to the contraband he was hired to find.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2002
"Kiss Me Deadly" has been accurately termed a "long neglected classic." The good news is that the 1955 release directed by Robert Aldrich has been recently receiving the recognition it deserves. The bad news was that it came too late to help Ralph Meeker, who did a superb job of playing Mickey Spillane's detective Mike Hammer in the film. Meeker, who replaced Marlon Brando on Broadway in "Streetcar Named Desire" and later starred in "Picnic," could have profited had the film been a contemporary success in the way that Sean Connery did in his association with James Bond, which propelled him to international stardom. Meeker failed to get a break when Harry Cohn at Columbia signed the more bankable William Holden to play the male lead in the film version of "Picnic," which proved to be a soaring vehicle for newcomer Kim Novak.
Robert Aldrich presented his subject matter and the script by Hollywood veteran A.J. Bezzerides in the same hard-hitting manner he embraced in his other major hit from 1955, the highly acclaimed "The Big Knife," Clifford Odets' cynical view of Hollywood starring Jack Palance and Shelley Winters.
The film begins with Meeker as Hammer picking up Cloris Leachman on a lonely road. This was her film debut. He learns that she has escaped from a mental facility and is seeking a ride to Los Angeles. Instead Hammer is waylaid by gangsters, who kill Leachman and almost succeed in destroying the detective. Hammer's toughness pays off when he survives a three day hospital ordeal hovering on the brink of death after his sports car is pushed off the highway with himself and the already dead Leachman in it.
When Meeker is later questioned by federal authorities he realizes that this was not the death of some poor, confused soul by some angry gangsters, but something of much greater importance. They excoriate Meeker for the way he makes a living. While the detective seduces married women, his sexy secretary Velda, played by Maxine Cooper, compromises married men. As a result they are able to build up a thriving divorce business through their nefarious activities as vehicles of temptation. When Meeker-Hammer is dismissed by the federal officers, the chief investigator says sarcastically, "Open the window and let in some fresh air."
A moralist could argue that Hammer is ultimately punished for his tawdry ways since Velda is kidnapped by gangsters, who warn the detective to lay off. Instead his resolve increases to solve the case and get back his secretary unscathed. His efforts lead him into the nether world of cheap criminal activity in the Bunker Hill section near Los Angeles. Great photography reveals this shadowy world in the darkness of hallways and small rooms. On one occasion, to gain quick attention and obtain information, he coolly destroys an expensive collector's item record featuring Enrico Caruso. Hammer continues encountering tawdry figures in bedraggled settings playing beautiful classical music, contrasting the difference between a world of beauty and the nether world of tawdry brutality which the detective frequents. He encounters a ruthless gangster with a Beverly Hills mansion, Paul Stewart, who says with admiration, "You handle yourself well, Hammer" after he employs his handiwork on one of Stewart's thugs, Jack Lambert, who operates in a shadowy tandem with Jack Elam.
Eventually Hammer follows the trail to a turncoat scientist played by Albert Dekker, who is holding his secretary captive at his Malibu beach house. The object of concern is a box with highly explosive contents, as both Hammer and Velda discover by film's end.
A major question surrounds the film. Critics and historians debate whether or not Hammer actually survives at the end of the film. See the explosive ending and decide for yourself.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2006
This late entry into the film noir genre has some harsh and memorable scenes and an ending unlike any other film noir. Of course, most of those weren't made during the A-Bomb scares of the mid 1950s, as this was.
The movie features a tough, no-nonsense Mike Hammer-like private eye, played well by Ralph Meeker, whose narration is a little dated but fun to hear. This is one of those noirs in which everyone is a tough-talking, tough-acting mug and one never knows who to trust. Except for Cloris Leachman, who is only in the first quick (but haunting) opening scene, the females in here are unfamiliar actresses but people with interesting faces and personalities.
That opening with Leachman is a real attention-grabber and is one of the best starts I've ever seen in a crime movie. It's very creepy, as is the unique ending. I also appreciated the cinematography in here a lot more once the DVD was issued.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2011
Of all the years this classic has been on different home video formats, this Criterion blu ray I can say, probably looks better than it did when first released to theaters. It still astounds me to see these older films get the Criterion treatment that blows the other studios away! Ever since Criterion started releasing laserdiscs back in the day, they have gone way beyond what studios could ever offer. The quality of this classic on blu ray let's us know they are still going out of their way to restoring these old classics to prestine conditions. Seems the older the film, the better they get them to look. The detail in this hi-def release is amazing! I fell in love with this movie all over again after watching it on this version. Criterion still retains the original 1.66 aspect ratio (so expect small bands on the side of the image) and not blow up the image to the incorrect 1.78. Just amazed how great the black and white image can be on this older movie.
If you have the MGM DVD, replace it with this superior version!
Keep up the great work Criterion!! Always look forward to what blu ray you can blow us away with next!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2005
This DVD is a great print, and so much more enjoyable than other versions. Sure, the film has flaws, but Ralph Meeker is an impressive Mike Hammer. Tough, yet easily friendly - notice his genuine friendship with Nick, the garage owner, and the lovely Velda. Notice the look of genuine glee when he is the tough as nails PI when he puts the blackmailing coroner's hand in a drawer, and positively enjoys slamming it over and over. Greedy, with an understandable self interest, this time, the PI bites off more than he can chew.