Kiss Me Deadly

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This article is about the 1955 film. For the Mickey Spillane novel, see Kiss Me, Deadly. For other uses, see Kiss Me Deadly (disambiguation).
Kiss Me Deadly
In the upper half of the poster, there's a torso painting of a man embracing a woman. He's kissing her neck just below her left ear. The man is wearing a business suit. The woman is in a strapless gown; her skin is bare above her chest. She's leaning away from the man, with her eyes open and a quizzical expression; she's holding a small pistol in her right hand, which is dangling loosely. In the upper right corner, the words "Blood Red Kisses!" are lettered in red. In the middle of the poster, and just below the right corner of the painting of the couple, the phrase "Mickey Spillane's Latest H-Bomb" is lettered. Below the left corner: "White Hot Thrills" is lettered. Below the center is a painting of parted red lips with "Kiss Me Deadly" lettered on them; in smaller letters above the lips is "Parklane Pictures presents". There's a small billing block at the lower left of the poster: "starring Ralph Meeker/ with Albert Dekker - Paul Stewart - Juano Hernandez/ Produced and directed by Robert Aldrich / screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides/ Released through United Artists". There are several small paintings of scenes from the film scattered around the poster.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Robert Aldrich
Screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides
Based on the novel Kiss Me, Deadly 
by Mickey Spillane
Starring Ralph Meeker
Albert Dekker
Paul Stewart
Juano Hernandez
Music by Frank DeVol
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Michael Luciano
Production
company
Parklane Pictures
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • May 18, 1955 (1955-05-18) (United States)
Running time 106 minutes
104 minutes (USA)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $410,000[1]
Box office $726,000 (USA/Canada)
$226,000 (foreign)

Kiss Me Deadly is a 1955 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. It also withstood scrutiny from the Kefauver Commission, which called it a film designed to ruin young viewers, leading director Aldrich to protest the Commission's conclusions.

Kiss Me Deadly marked the film debuts of both actresses Cloris Leachman and Maxine Cooper.[2]

Plot[edit]

Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer, a tough Los Angeles private eye who is almost as brutal and corrupt as the crooks he chases. Mike and his assistant/secretary/lover, Velda (Maxine Cooper), usually work on "penny-ante divorce cases."

One evening on a lonely country road, Hammer gives a ride to Christina (Cloris Leachman), an attractive hitchhiker wearing nothing but a trench coat. She has escaped from a nearby mental institution. Thugs waylay them and Hammer awakens in some unknown location where he hears Christina screaming and being tortured to death. The thugs then push Hammer's car off a cliff with Christina's body and an unconscious Hammer inside. Hammer next awakens in a hospital with Velda by his bedside. He decides to pursue the case, both for vengeance and because "she (Christina) must be connected with something big" behind it all.

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 Christina's ex-roommate. Lily tells Hammer she has gone into hiding and asks Hammer to protect her. It turns out that she is after a mysterious box that, she believes, has contents worth a fortune.

"The great whatsit," as Velda calls it, at the center of Hammer's quest is a small, mysterious valise that is hot to the touch and contains a dangerous, glowing substance. It comes to represent the 1950s Cold War fear and nuclear weapon paranoia about the atomic bomb that permeated American culture. (Homage is paid to this glowing MacGuffin in the 1984 cult film Repo Man, the film Ronin, and in Tarantino's film Pulp Fiction.) In the film Southland Tales, Richard Kelly (director) pays homage to the film, showing the main characters watching the beginning on their television and later the opening of the case is shown on screens on board the mega-Zeppelin.

Later, at an isolated beach house, Hammer finds "Lily," who has been revealed to be an imposter named Gabrielle, with her evil boss, Dr. Soberin (Albert Dekker). Velda is their hostage, tied up in a bedroom. Soberin and Gabrielle are vying for the contents of the box. Gabrielle 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 the final scene apparently reaches explosive criticality when the box is fully opened. Horrifying sounds emit from the nuclear material as Gabrielle and the house burst into flames.

Alternative ending[edit]

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 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 apocalypse. In 1997, the original conclusion was restored, where Velda and Mike survive. The DVD release has the original ending, and offers the 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."[3]

Cast[edit]

Background[edit]

Los Angeles locations[edit]

  • 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 Flight incline railway, 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 Angels Flight.
  • 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.

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Critical commentary generally views it as a metaphor for the paranoia and nuclear fears of the Cold War era in which it was filmed.[4]

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."[5]

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."[6]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 97% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 37 reviews.[7]

Accolades[edit]

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

American Film Institute

Differences from the novel[edit]

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 anti-hero private detective 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. He also apparently has no compunction about engaging in nefarious acts such as pimping his secretary. 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."[8]

Home media[edit]

A digitally restored version of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in June 2011 and has the alternate ending as a bonus feature.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 238
  2. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. (2009-04-15). "Maxine Cooper Gomberg dies at 84; actress in the film noir classic 'Kiss Me Deadly'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  3. ^ Dirks, Tim. "Kiss Me Deadly". Filmsite.org. 
  4. ^ Prince, Stephen, Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film, Praeger/Greenwood, 1992, ISBN 0-275-93662-7.
  5. ^ Vallance, Tom. The Independent, Obituary, "A. I. Bezzerides. No-nonsense novelist/screenwriter," January 20, 2007. Last accessed: March 25, 2008.
  6. ^ Schager, Nick. Slant Magazine, film review, 2006. Last accessed: March 25, 2008.
  7. ^ Kiss Me Deadly at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: February 22, 2013.
  8. ^ Bergan, Ronald The Guardian, Obituary, "A.I. Bezzerides: Screenwriter victim of the Hollywood blacklist, he is renowned for three classic American film noirs," February 6, 2007.
  9. ^ "Kiss Me Deadly". The Criterion Collection. 

External links[edit]