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Kiss Me Deadly
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Mystery, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
Robert Aldrich
Jack Elam as Charlie Max
Robert Cornthwaite as FBi Agent
Gaby Rodgers as Gabrielle
Marian Carr as Friday (as Marion Carr)
Juano Hernandez as Eddie Yeager
Jack Lambert as Sugar Smallhouse
Leigh Snowden as Cheesecake
Mort Marshall as Ray Diker
James McCallion as Horace
Maxine Cooper as Velda
Paul Stewart as Carl Evello
Fortunio Bonanova as Carmen Trivago
Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer
Strother Martin as Harvey Wallace
Cloris Leachman as Christina Bailey
Albert Dekker as Dr. G.E. Soberin
Wesley Addy as Lt. Pat Murphy
Marjorie Bennett as Manager
Percy Helton as Doc Kennedy
Storyline: A frightened woman is running barefoot on a highway, trying desperately to flag a car. After several cars pass her by, the woman sees another car approaching, and to make sure either the car stops - or, she's killed, she stands in the path of an on-coming car. Private Investigator Mike Hammer is the one at the wheel, and after almost hitting the woman, he tells her to get in. The woman's name is Christina Bailey.. She is obviously on the run, being barefoot and wearing nothing but a trench coat, and the scent of fear. Whoever was after her eventually catches up with them. Christina has information they want, but dies while being questioned. The killers fake an accident by pushing Hammer's car off the road, but, he survives, waking up in hospital two weeks later. As Mike starts to investigate Christina's death, he's told by the police to stay out of it, but, the hard-nosed PI proceeds anyways. Little did he know that Christina's secret would lead to death and destruction.
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Remember Me
While driving in a road nearby Los Angeles during the night, the divorce private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is forced to give a ride to a frightened woman that jumps in front of his car. The hitchhiker Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman) asks Mike to forget her, if they reach a bus stop; or remember her if they do not make it. Suddenly another car forces him to stop, Christina is tortured and murdered, and they are put back in Mike's car and dropped in a cliff. Mike survives, and when he leaves the hospital weeks later with his secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper), the police and some dangerous bad guys press Mike to tell what Christina had told him. Mike believes that Christina hide some treasure and decides to investigate what Christina had hidden.

"Kiss me Deadly" is a weird movie about greed and ambition. The lead character, Mike Hammer, is pulled into a whirlpool of lies and tragedies just because he believes that he may find a pot of gold in the end of a rainbow. However, he had the option to forget everything, but he prefers to find the Pandora Box. The content of the mysterious box seems to be uranium, but it is never clear. I do not know how lethal would be the exposition to its radiation, and whether a general contamination is spread when Gabrielle opens the box, but I believe the intention of the author is really to have an open end. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "A Morte Num Beijo" ("The Death in a Kiss")
I must confess that, with this film I have seen a good noir film that is well nuanced and spine chilling.
I must confess that, with this film I have seen a good noir film that is well nuanced and spine chilling.

From the titles in the beginning to the final frozen frame, there is a sense of mystique that prevails. It helped me hang for the whole length of the film and I felt grateful at the end. The film poster itself has too many details that need some good time to decipher.

To begin with, it's all in the writing of the script and placing them well in screenplay. Now, this film has done that part exceptionally well. Dialogues are good and they carry a certain intrigue that made me hold back to the whole length of the film.

It has many undertones and many references too. It's disapproving of many conventional film making norms that were there in 1950's. But in the same structure, the body and the heart of the this film are radically different and we have been offered a very niche film. It's classically noir and it's classically left for viewers interpretation.

The end climax is debatable and left me with questions. That's the kind of film that I like. The good films are good, but the great ones start asking questions about why anything happened. They start a debate internally within the mind and even with others, when you discuss about the film. Thus, this definitely is a great film.

With sharp editing and superb cinematography, this film is a landmark technically in 1950's. The production design is wonderful too. All kudos to the technical team who have got the infrastructure of this film together.

The acting, the nuances of emotions are done well by all the actors. Though, Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer stole the show.

Great work by Robert Aldrich the director and great work by Criterion in giving us the film unedited, with even the alternative ending preserved. This is not a film for general viewers, it's strictly for aficionados.

A 5/5 for a definitive, science fiction, noir film.
Mike Hammer, detective
Robert Aldrich was a no-nonsense film director. When he undertook the direction of this film, little did he know it was going to become the extraordinary movie it turned out to be. The fame seems to have come by its discovery in France, as it usually is the case. Based on Mickey Spillane's novel and adapted by Al Bezzerides, the movie has an unique style and it's recommended viewing for fans of the film noir genre.

Right from the start, the film gets our imagination as we watch a young woman running along a California highway. That sequence proved Mr. Aldrich's ability to convey the idea of a disturbed young woman that seems to have escaped from a mental institution. The plot complicates itself as Hammer learns that Christine, the young woman, has died. He decides to investigate, which is what he does best.

Some excellent comments have been submitted to this forum, so we will not even try to expand in the action but will only emphasize in the tremendous visual style Mr. Aldrich added to the film, which seems to be its main attraction. For a fifty year old film, it still has a crisp look to it thanks to the impressive black and white cinematography of Ernest Lazlo, who had a keen eye to show us Hammer's world as he makes it come alive. The great musical score by Frank DeVol fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the L.A. of the fifties.

Ralph Meeker made an excellent contribution as Mike Hammer. He dominates the film with his presence. Albert Decker, Paul Stewart, Miriam Carr, Maxine Cooper, Fortuno Bonanova, and especially Cloris Leachman, in her screen debut, make this film the favorite it has become.

Fans of the genre can thank Mr. Aldrich for making a film that didn't pretend to be anything, yet has stayed as a favorite all these years.
Bizarre and Unsettling
Though the acting by the lead is wooden, the main character is an unlikable ass, and and the plot is absurd, this is one of those films where a number of extraordinarily memorable scenes and great photography make up for the weakness of the whole, more or less.

Obviously, the opening and closing scenes stick out, but the one that will forever stay with me is the torture/murder of the hitchhiker near the beginning. The violence in this scene is completely implied - you see only her bare feet dangling over the floor while she cries out in pain, then you see the thugs talking and one of them is holding a pair of pliers - yet it's extremely brutal.

It's a standout genre picture with an interesting, albeit pitch black, theme, but those who expect a Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe type detective noir will probably be disappointed.
Bros before Hos
This film could fairly be deemed as fascist-noir. If often misogynistic, noir is rarely this brazenly phalocentric.

Mike Hammer (yup, really the character's name) is a seducer of women and abuser of both genders. The audience is to applaud his every bullying gesture. The many women in the film exist to move the plot along and/ or to worship Hammer as a sex-God. He, like all good entrepreneurial Americans, is humbled only when he learns that some "alien" may be getting its hands on the destructive power that America alone is "supposed" to wield.

Having said all that, I must guiltily confess my love for this film. Shot, it seems, almost entirely on location, it transports one to the lost LA of the early '50s. And, if Hammer, um, rams his way through all forms of otherness, he still encounters many forms of it on a dazzling tour through the underbelly of 1950s American urbanity. For all that is reactionary about the film, it contains strikingly unracist depictions of African-Americans compared to many other films of its era.
A Delicious Film Noir Beast
Before you hear the title Kiss Me Deadly and begin to enthusiastically sing the chorus of Lita Ford's super-de-duper 1980s hit of the same name, consider that the film Kiss Me Deadly is not soaked with hairspray, musical production echoes, or unironic leather. It's not a cringeworthy exercise in sweaty nostalgia; it's a fundamental work of film noir.

I throw the term "film noir" around in reviews quite often, sometimes seriously and sometimes comparatively. But Kiss Me Deadly is not slight nor an imitation of the genre: along with The Big Sleep, Raw Deal, and The Third Man, it is one of the defining films of the era. Yet it subverts conformity like the plague. Sleazy private eyes and gun-toting broads are fun and all, but what if you suddenly want to embark on a wildcard journey into what resembles an abstract Lichtenstein painting? Don't listen to the crowd; just do it.

The film opens in typical noir fashion. The setting is a kettle-black road in the middle of nowhere, cars zooming in-and-out with the frequency of a moviegoer seeking out Sylvester Stallone's newest movie. But cracking the deadly calm of the shot is a frantic blonde, barefoot, dressed only in a white trenchcoat. Desperate for someone to hitch her out of the nightmare she's living, she lunges in front of a speeding convertible. Inside this convertible is Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), a detective. The woman, Christina (Cloris Leachman), has just escaped from a local mental institution; but being caught by her doctors seems to be the last of her worries. Someone, or something, is bothering her.

But her worries become a reality when a group of thugs block the road, knocking out Hammer and brutally murdering his passenger. The next day, he awakens in a hospital bed; paramedics discovered him, his car, and Christina's body residing on a rocky cliff in the early hours of the morning. Despite almost being killed in the violent series of events, though, Hammer is intrigued. Christina, it seems, was part of something bigger, something more threatening. Without hesitation, he takes the case. But as it develops, it becomes quite clear that it isn't going to pass by with the sinfully simple workings of the divorce cases Hammer usually supervises.

Kiss Me Deadly has all the usual noir touches, but there's something compellingly, and unusually, artificial about the atmosphere. Everything looks as though it's part of a set (most likely due to the film's microscopic budget), but its cheapness, purposeful or not, establishes the tone even more than the material. Unlike other film noirs of the time, Kiss Me Deadly doesn't take itself seriously (even if the characters hardly ever crack a smile). It exists in the same universe as a comic strip that stars a Man with X-Ray Eyes or a bloodthirsty Martian disguised as a sex goddess. The film is distinctly fantastical; while The Big Sleep slithers by with witty dialogue and lethal underbellies, Kiss Me Deadly seems to have more in common with Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. This shouldn't suggest that it's a shoddy film; it should suggest that it's in love with itself, fond of its penny dreadful exterior, and isn't afraid to push much of its mystery onto a strange box that kills every person who opens it.

When I watched Kiss Me Deadly for the first time, I didn't understand its critical acclaim. Yes, it's good, but what does it have to offer that other run-of-the-mill film noirs couldn't? Years later, my appreciation has risen by several miles. It isn't so much that Kiss Me Deadly is of superior quality; it's that it is just so, so, so ... otherworldly. Not otherworldly like the mansion Jesus probably lives in up in Heaven or Margot Robbie's beauty, but otherworldly like the realm you might find yourself in if a mirror was a door. The film is of scrumptious pulp quality, unmatched by its peers. Every scene looks like a comic book frame, every character is stock (but not quite). The poster promises "blood-red kisses!" and "white-hot thrills!" And with its campy priorities in mind, it delivers those promises with a wink and a healthy serving of idiosyncrasy.
Anti-Slick, Anti-Glam, Nasty-Nasty
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Anti-Slick, Anti-Glam, Nasty-Nasty

This is as raw and as brilliant as low budget thriller noir crime mysteries get.

You know before the credits run that you're in for a ride--a woman in only a trenchcoat is running frantically down a highway at night, and she is desperate for good reasons, which we gradually learn. You also know that mise-en-scene accuracy isn't the point--the white stripe in the road jumps around from cut to cut. But once we are in the car, and the credits roll backwards, top to bottom, and we hear her panting (which would be orgasmic in some other situation) and panting and panting, you will either be enthralled or exhausted.

By the time she and Mike Hammer, played with psychotic heartlessness by Ralph Meeker, go through a police roadblock, get assaulted by some thugs and tortured, and then get pushed off a cliff in his sports car, we are about eleven minutes into the movie. It's fast without polish, and yet it holds together, it's smart, it actually shows Hammer to be a thinking, reasonable detective, even if a mercenary one (it's all about money to him). There are bad bad guys and bad good guys, and a bad bad suitcase. Even the sweet tongued and ever helpful secretary/lover Velda, played by Maxine Cooper, uses sex for purely commercial reasons--to trap husbands and give their wives reason to hire Hammer, or so it seems.

And who was director Robert Aldrich at the time? A man from privilege who was working his way up in Hollywood, and who might be the last you'd expect to dip into these steamy seamy depths. Or reach these heights, in fact. I'd hate to be laughed at but despite all its would-be flaws and obvious low budget devices, this is his best film overall, surely his best for sheer chutzpah and flair. And it brandishes the quirks that will resurface in some of his later films (notably Whatever Happened to Baby Jane), as well as his Hollywood smarts (the masterful The Dirty Dozen).

So, yes, this movie clunks in many parts. But you forgive it, like you might (sometimes) forgive a Corman film its huge gaps and bad acting. The force of Meeker's portrayal is key. This was the movie role of his life, resorting largely to television for a career afterwards (Aldrich used him again in The Dirty Dozen, and leave it to Kubrick to see Meeker's ability for Paths of Glory). The cinematographer is the admired Ernest Laszlo, who makes a lot out of very little throughout. The twists Aldrich (and/or his screenwriter, A. I. Besserides) made to the plot from the original Mickey Spillane novel (which isn't exactly tame) give transcendent brilliance of Kiss Me Deadly--the radiant, blinding contents of the suitcase (it roars when opened, too!) make the plot a terrible fantasy, and make all the other improbable events fair game.

And so the movie presents, intentionally or not, a comment of some confusing kind about nuclear power, atom bombs, the cold war, government secrecy, the lone dissident, and maybe, if we believe the ending, the futility of keeping nukes out of the hands of crooks. Let's hope this all stays a fantasy.
Noir for a Nuclear Age
Sleazy, tawdry B-noir doesn't get any sleazier or tawdrier than Robert Aldrich's jazzy and astonishingly entertaining "Kiss Me Deadly." This film was released late in the life cycle of the film noir genre. By 1958 and Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil," true noir would be just about washed up. Any noir film from that point forward would be self-consciously aware that it was tipping its hat to an established genre. But "Deadly" came out when films still didn't have to work at being noirish---they just WERE, and dazzlingly so.

Born-to-play-a-bully Ralph Meeker plays tough-guy detective Mike Hammer, who's in the wrong place at the wrong time and picks up a mysterious panic-stricken girl (Cloris Leachman), who's just escaped from an asylum. From that moment forward, he finds himself tangled up in a barely lucid plot, in which a bunch of baddies want to get their hands on something the girl either had or knew about. Hammer doesn't know what it is, but he knows that if so many people want it, it's something he probably wants too, and the race for the great "whatsit" is on.

If you wanted to teach a film class about the look and attitude of a film noir, you couldn't pick a better film than this one. I found myself on a recent viewing of this film pausing my DVD player and studying the frame (because, sadly, this is what I do in my spare time), rehearsing in my mind what I would tell a class about any particular composition. And aside from the style, the film is steeped in noir sentiment--it's not simply cynical, like the glossier studio noirs of the 40's; it's downright apocryphal. It's not simply one man undone by the vengeful forces of fate here, but an entire civilization on the brink of extinction.

So pop this in and have a great time with it--feel free to quote it liberally, as there are plenty of juicy lines worth quoting. But as you watch it, you might want to stay away from the windows, for as Mike Hammer's hot-to-trot sometime girlfriend, sometime secretary Velda says, someone may "blow you a kiss."

Grade: A+
One of the Worst Films I've Ever Seen
After watching this cinematic abomination, I felt embarrassed for anyone remotely associated with it, down to the Script Girl, Scene Dresser and the Caterer. One of the worst examples of noir as it's a watered-down version of the Genuine Article that makes clumsy, gratuitous use of early Cold War paranoia in a most cartoonish manner.

Because of its weak script and maladroit direction, the performances of several usually competent actors (Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Jack Elam, Cloris Leachman) are either sub par or wasted. Meeker tries to make a go of the Mike Hammer character, but he's too pudgy and soft-looking to be convincing in the role of red-blooded, iron-fisted tough guy. Since the script is so lame, ill-focused and full of extraneous padding, the motivations and actions of his character seem vacant or tentative. His brooding doesn't convey a sense of inner struggle, rather, he comes off as blank-looking and a tad dim. Also, as Hammer has his gun license suspended in the early going of the film, the character without the gat is like Jason Giambi off steroids.

The film does not have enough plot or character development to justify its 100+ minute running time: as perhaps 20 minutes of the picture should have been left on the cutting room floor, the pacing of the movie is sluggish and its narrative management is meandering. There are dozens of very long takes in the film where not much is happening narratively: it seems that the characters are just Doing Things and Killing Time, merely fulfilling the duration requirements of a feature film.

Too many of the film's undercurrents and plot twists are left unexplained. Perhaps this was meant to enhance the intrigue of the piece, maybe this was a tip of the hat to design features of the noir genre, i.e., evanescent and nebulous plot lines, contradictory narrative elements, etc., that add to the mystery of the story and suggest the nature of human reality (that matters don't always tie up at the end into a neat bundle). But I think not: this is just a case of a sloppy, wheezy and ill-managed script not delivering on the responsibility of bringing the audience sufficiently into the loop.

What I found particularly annoying was the insistence on including in the cast ethnic types with bogus foreign accents, jabbering away in an over-the-top fashion. This happens in three instances. Equally annoying was Meeker's/Hammer's habit of drinking out of other people's glasses, taking cigarettes out of other people's pockets, etc.

The handling of the "whatsit" (some sort of vague nuclear material) was pretty hokey, too. Naive and magical treatment of the film's central narrative motivation that was laughable in its implausibility. It was never explained how the Cloris Leachman character got tied up with this atomic intrigue, nor was the justification of crime figures' interest in the black market material. We can make assumptions on the second issue, but the first truly exercises the audience's suspension of disbelief.

Extremely lame ending, too. Hammer, with a slug in him, and Velda waltzing about in the surf while maverick nuclear material merely burns down the beach house. Right. No thought of the ensuing contamination, obviously, by the writers, director and producer of this piece of crap. Also what was truly rich in this regard was the scene at the health club when Hammer opens the box for the first time and is left with a burn on his wrist. No radiation sickness ensues. Right. And just what is that magic box made of that it can contain such virulent material? And the film just kinda ends, somewhat arbitrarily, immediately after the big Hollywood special effects finish. No narrative rundown, no suggestion of what would likely to come next. The incomplete feel to the ending makes one think that maybe they just ran out of film stock at that point.

Also, the women in this flick, excepting Ms. Leachman, are pretty beat up looking. If you're going to have starlets in eye candy, window dressing roles, at least get some babes who look like something. That sweaty actress who played Velda was built like Marcel Marceau and looked like she needed a good bath.

The only positive attributes of this film were technical issues and style points. Some of the scenes were very well composed and shot, there was some good camera movement and the lighting was indeed top notch. The art direction did capture that cheezy mid-1950s feel and the flick was indeed atmospheric, but these are ancillary concerns in relation to the primary purpose of film-making, i.e., storytelling. Loved that 1955 (1954?) Corvette Hammer drove, though...

I saw this film last evening at a theater in downtown Manhattan: most of the audience was laughing out loud at how dreadful this picture is, and there was a palpable sense of relief in the auditorium when it ended.

But all these negatives aren't particularly surprising when you consider who directed this fiasco. Robert Aldrich made a career of writing, directing and producing really lame, stupid, unbelievable and unconvincing films, and this tepid attempt is typical of his third rate oeuvre.
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