Kiss Me Deadly
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A brilliant film noir classic based on Mickey Spillane's bestseller, Kiss Me Deadly is masterfully directed by Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen) and hailed as one of his best (Leonard Maltin). This DVD edition of Kiss Me Deadly features the fully restored original endingwhich contains over one minute of crucial footage that clarifies decades of false interpretations. In order to illustrate the vastly different impressions left by each version, the altered/shortened ending has been included as well. When callous thugs beat Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) senseless and viciously murder the gorgeous blonde he's been trying to help, the hard-boiled detective retaliates theonly way he can: by hitting first and asking questions later. Cutting a brutal swath through the city's sleazy underside, Hammer uncovers a mysterious black container whose deadly contents not only solve the murder...but trigger an apocalyptic climax as well!
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This is an often overlooked film noir classic, and it is extremely influential. The "MacGuffin" that the story revolves around is a mysterious glowing thing in a briefcase, and the seeds of this idea can be found at the root of other classic movies such as 'Repo Man' and 'Pulp Fiction'. The events that lead Mike Hammer into the case are heartily reminiscent of some scenes from Frank Miller's 'Sin City', and I doubt that is accidental.
Kiss Me Deadly is an excellent story filmed well. The creeping McCarthyist paranoia of the age, Cold War annihilation fears...all of them are examined under the guise of a simple detective yarn. Should be right up there with 'Key Largo', 'The Big Sleep', and other oft mentioned classics of the genre.
Happened to Baby Jane? A model for the private detective movie. Hard hitting, suspense, torture, lies.
This is an excellent release and highly recommended for fans of Mike Hammer, film noir and even science fiction.
This movie also serves as a kind of a time capsule for old Los Angeles.
BLU-RAY: The picture is excellent. It is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Inside the booklet that comes with this release there is information on the film transfer. It says that on a standard tv that it will appear letterboxed and that there will be bars if on the side if you watched on a wide screen tv as I did. The HD digital transfer was made from a 35mm master positive. Dirt, debris, scratches, etc. were manually removed. The monaural soundtrack was remastered.
PLOT/SUMMARY: The movie opens with a naked girl running out onto a road that Mike Hammer is driving on one evening. Mike drives off the road and gives the girl a ride. She tells Mike that she was put in a mental institution and to "Remember Me." Shortly they are stopped by some thugs. They kill the girl and beat up Mike and send him and his car over a cliff. Mike survives and wakes up in a hospital. He is now determined to find out why the girl was killed and go after the girl's killers.
From here the story takes several turns. Mike follows up leads throughout Los Angeles and eventually comes across a glowing case. It is implied that the case is the material for a nuclear bomb. Velda ends up getting kidnapped and Mike goes after Velda.
EXTRA'S: There are plenty of extra's with this release. This is a strong point of this release. They are as follows:
1) Double sided cover sleeve with the chapters on the reverse.
2) 20 page booklet - There are two articles, "The Thriller of Tomorrow" by J. Hoberman and "You Can't Hang Up the Meat Hook" by Robert Aldrich, the director. There is also information on the restoration and credits and photographs.
3) Audio Commentary by film noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini.
4) Video tribute by director Alex Cox - This was quite entertaining to listen to. Cox has that sarcastic humor that so many of the British have.
5)The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides, a documentary on the screenwriter of Kiss Me Deadly.
6)Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane - This is a documentary made in 1998 of Mickey Spillane. Spillane is his usual entertaining self in his interview. He tells lots of stories and elaborates on his feelings about the Mike Hammer films. He did not like Kiss Me Deadly when it came out and he says he left the theater half way though the movie.
7)Film's Locations - You get to see comparisons of all the locations when filmed and how they look today.
8) Altered Ending - Self explanatory. The altered ending is not a different ending, it just cuts out the final minute of the movie and places 'The End' over the burning house.
9) Theatrical Trailer
All in all, some excellent extra's!
PRODUCTION: The movie had a budget of around $400,000 and was filmed in locations around Los Angeles in 1955.
There are two different endings to this movie. There had been rumors that the original has Mike Hammer die in the house at the end as the house burns down....or at least he isn't shown escaping so you can assume that. It is true that this version exists but it is not the original ending. The original ending is the one presented in this release where Mike and Velda escape to the beach. The alternate ending is the one that was shown sometime after the first release that shows the house burning with the words The End superimposed over it. This one has the last minute cut from it showing Mike and Velda running away.
This movie was not easy to get made. At the time, Mike Hammer had a reputation for being extremely violent and the censors didn't want to approve the movie. One of the ways that they got the movie approved was by Mike Hammer not using his gun. His gun is taken away by Pat early on in the movie.
There are distinct differences between the book and the movie. The most obvious difference is that in the book the 'bad guys' are the mafia not some guys (terrorists?) trying to get their hands on a nuclear bomb.
Also, Mike's main occupation is basically catching cheating spouses in the act. He uses Velda to set up the husbands.
The title's meaning was changed with an ever so slight change. The book has a comma in it's title after Kiss Me. So it reads Kiss Me, Deadly. This movie does not, thus changing the message of the title.
THOUGHTS/COMMENTS: I agree with most critics who say that Ralph Meeker was the best Mike Hammer. While he didn't have the rough look you might imagine from the books, he is a large guy and has a tough demeanor.
I loved the fact that this movie was not shot in a studio and that most of the locations are filmed in old Los Angeles. You get to see many locations that don't exist in the same state anymore, most notably, the Bunker Hill scenes.
This story, like many detective stories gets a bit confusing if you don't really pay attention. I had to go back a few times because I couldn't remember who all the people named were.
I did not like the casting of Maxine Cooper as Velda. I've read all of the Mike Hammer books and Cooper is just not what I had pictured in my head as Velda. I always imagined a more glamorous looking girl.
While Mike Hammer's violent nature was toned down for this movie by necessity in order to get it made, he does exhibit some violent behavior in other ways than shooting people. He uses his fists to beat up a mugger before throwing him down a long staircase. He smashes a collector's valuable record and he slams a drawer shut on an old man's hand.
I liked the implication that the glowing case was Pandora's Box and the very creepy noise it made when opened.
RECOMMENDATIONS/CONCLUSIONS: I think that this is an excellent release by Criterion. I'm giving it 5 stars based on the excellent picture and excellent extra's.
Highly recommended for fans of Mike Hammer and also for fans of science fiction films of the 50's. The movie is included in Bill Warren's excellent 'Keep Watching the Skies,' a book on all science fiction films from 1950-1962. It is included for the reason that the Pandora's Box in the movie sort of allows this movie to be called science fiction. If they had stuck to the book's story line then this would not be so.
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.