Kiss Me Deadly
The Criterion Collection
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In this atomic adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s novel, directed by Robert Aldrich (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Dirty Dozen), the good manners of the 1950s are blown to smithereens. Ralph Meeker (Paths of Glory, The Dirty Dozen) stars as snarling private dick Mike Hammer, whose decision one dark, lonely night to pick up a hitchhiking woman sends him down some terrifying byways. Brazen and bleak, Kiss Me Deadly is a film noir masterpiece as well as an essential piece of cold war paranoia, and it features as nervy an ending as has ever been seen in American cinema.
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1) The Mike Hammer of the books, who is a man of conscience (if not pacifism), is converted here into a sleazy detective who wallows in messy divorce cases, manipulating their outcome to his advantage. One may not like this interpretation, but it's undeniably interesting and different. Funny thing, though: despite the alterations to his character, Hammer still remains somewhat likable.
2) Classical music (symphonies, opera, etc.) is heard repeatedly throughout the film, usually emanating from radios in the dwellings Hammer visits during his investigation. Don't know exactly why, but I liked the juxtaposition of hearing cultured music while watching the sleazy, brutal elements of the story unfold.
3) Hammer drives a couple of cool looking open-top convertibles during the movie, and we are sometimes treated to a sort of hovering-over-the-trunk-looking-forward view as he drives along. Most movies settle for the usual camera-in-the-backseat-looking-over-the-driver's-shoulder shot, but the innovative set up described above allows us to drive along with Hammer AND see most of the cool car's exterior, too. It's hard to describe these shots in a more specific manner, but viewers will notice and appreciate them immediately.
4) I liked the mysterious box with the strange, glowing contents that everyone is after. It's creepy and fun. Also fun to think about: the plot device of having an object that everyone badly wants is clearly inspired by "The Maltese Falcon", and the fact that the object here is a box with something glowing inside it in turn inspired a similar item in the film "Pulp Fiction" decades later!
5) It was a good move to affix the longer ending onto the DVD release of this film. Simply put (but without giving too much away here), the longer ending makes it clear whether or not our hero survives this adventure. The shorter ending (included in the DVD's "extras" section, so viewers can compare for themselves) is ambiguous and unsatisfying, as one could make a case either way about Hammer's fate. There is certainly a place in film noir for ambiguity, but- trust me- in this particular story it's much better to know for sure who lives and who dies.
So, if not a true "cult classic", I guess I have to say that "Kiss Me Deadly" is nevertheless a solid entry in the private eye genre, and it delivers the goods. The movie is moody, involving, dangerous, sexy, and damned fun to watch. It has all the things one likes to see in private eye movies, but several original touches, too. Oh, yes- the DVD features a picture that is crystal clear and sharp as a knife; it looks like they made the film yesterday. In short, pick this one up.
Years ahead of its time when made in 1955 "Kiss Me Deadly" still makes a timeless point, but I won't spoil the ending. The story is mysterious and women add to the intrigue. Ralph Meeker is the best actor that ever played Mike Hammer, and Mickey Spillane remains among the best and definitely the most unique of detective story writers.
The film is black and white but that's okay. The quality of the DVD is excellent, the sound tract, too.
The changes in the film, though technically minor, affect the whole tone of the work. The novel is darker, with many more episodes taking place on rainy days, or at night, in dark alleys and bars.
Most recent customer reviews
This is an excellent release and highly recommended for fans of Mike Hammer,...Read more