Kiss Me Deadly

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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 byRobert Aldrich
Produced byRobert Aldrich
Screenplay byA. I. Bezzerides
Robert Aldrich (uncredited)
Based onKiss Me, Deadly
by Mickey Spillane
Music byFrank De Vol
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byMichael Luciano
Parklane Pictures
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 18, 1955 (1955-05-18)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$726,000 (USA/Canada)
$226,000 (foreign)
436,699 admissions (France)[2]

Kiss Me Deadly is 1955 American film noir produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, and starring Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Juano Hernandez, and Wesley Addy. It also features Maxine Cooper and Cloris Leachman appearing in their feature film debuts. The film follows a private investigator in Los Angeles who becomes embroiled in a complex mystery after picking up a female hitchhiker who has escaped from a psychiatric hospital. The screenplay was written by Aldrich and A. I. Bezzerides, based on the 1952 crime novel Kiss Me, Deadly by Mickey Spillane.

Kiss Me Deadly grossed $726,000 in the United States and $226,000 overseas. The film 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. Despite initial critical distaste, it is considered one of the most important and influential film noirs of all time, with praise directed at its bleak tone, deconstruction of pulp fiction archetypes, and twist ending.

The film has been noted as a stylistic precursor to the French New Wave, and has been cited as a major influence on a number of filmmakers, including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Alex Cox, and Quentin Tarantino. 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". [3][4]


Mike Hammer is a tough, Los Angeles-based private investigator who, with the assistance of his secretary/lover Velda, typically works on "penny-ante divorce cases". One evening on a lonely country road north of the city, Hammer gives a ride to Christina, an attractive hitchhiker wearing nothing but a trench coat, who has escaped from a nearby psychiatric hospital. 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, for vengeance, a sense of guilt (as Christina had asked him to "remember me" if she got killed), and because "she (Christina) must be connected with something big" behind it all.

The twisting plot takes Hammer to the apartment of Lily Carver, who says she is Christina's ex-roommate and lover. 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. Hammer soon finds himself being stalked by Charlie Max and Sugar Smallhouse, two hired killers working under gangster Carl Evello; they are also seeking the mysterious box. Hammer manages to track Carl, and confronts him during a party at his lavish mansion. Carl is initially impressed by Hammer's brazenness and offers to work out a deal, but swiftly rescinds.

Carl retaliates by having Charlie and Sugar murder Hammer's close friend and mechanic, Nick. They then kidnap him and take him to an isolated beach house, where another of their bosses, Dr. G. E. Soberin, injects him with sodium pentothal and interrogates him. Hammer manages to kill Soberin’s thugs and escapes, but when he goes to his friend Lieutenant Pat Murphy for help, Murphy refuses and warns him that the case is involved with a top-secret government experiment akin to the Manhattan Project.

Hammer goes back to the beach house and finds "Lily", who is revealed to be an imposter named Gabrielle, with Soberin. Velda is their hostage, tied up in a bedroom. Soberin and Gabrielle discuss splitting the value of the box, but instead, Gabrielle shoots Soberin. With his dying words, Soberin urges Gabrielle not to open the box.

When Hammer comes into the room, she shoots him. Gabrielle then opens the box, which emits a blinding light. The highly unstable radionuclide material inside reaches explosive criticality as it becomes fully exposed, and Gabrielle bursts into flames, with the room and eventually the entire house becoming engulfed. Hammer, wounded, struggles to his feet, then searches for Velda. Together, the pair flee the flaming room and house, helping each other along the beach, away from the house, to the ocean.




In October 1954 Robert Aldrich announced he would produce and direct two Mickey Spillane stories the following year, for Parklane Productions, an independent company owned by Victor Saville. The stories would be Kiss Me, Deadly and My Gun Is Quick. Saville turned over control to Aldrich because he was busy on The Silver Chalice.[5]

The screenplay was loosely adapted by A. I. Bezzerides with contributions from Aldrich, though it "made no effort to follow the book’s convoluted plot, [though] both are structured around [a] search for a mysterious box."[6]

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 mysterious nuclear suitcase, elements added to the film version by Bezzerides.

It further subverted Spillane's book by portraying Hammer as an amoral, narcissistic bully, perhaps the darkest anti-hero private detective in film noir. 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 a contact's treasured record to get him to talk, or roughing up a coroner who's slow to part with a piece of information. He also apparently has no compunction about engaging in 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".[7]

Los Angeles locations[edit]

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.

  • 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 Boulevard, NW corner of Wilshire and Beverly Glen (Hammer's apartment building; still standing)
  • Carl Evello's Mansion, 603 Doheny Road, Beverly Hills, California
  • 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)


Critical response and analysis[edit]

Critical commentary generally views it as a metaphor for the paranoia and nuclear fears of the Cold War in which it was filmed.[8] "The great whatsit", as Velda refers to the small, mysterious valise at the center of Hammer's quest, is hot to the touch and contains a dangerous, glowing substance. It comes to represent the 1950s Cold War fear and paranoia about the atomic bomb. The film has been described as "the definitive, apocalyptic, nihilistic, science-fiction film noir of all time – at the close of the classic noir period".[9]

Although a leftist at the time of the Hollywood blacklist, Bezzerides denied any conscious intention for this metaphor in his script. About the topic, he said, "I was having fun with it. I wanted to make every scene, every character, interesting."[10]

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".[11]

The film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 97% of its critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 8.1/10, based on 37 reviews; its consensus states, "An intriguing, wonderfully subversive blend of art and commerce, Kiss Me Deadly is an influential noir classic".[12]


Institution Year Category Result Ref.
American Film Institute 2001 AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominated [13]
2005 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominated[a] [14]
2008 AFI's 10 Top 10 – Mystery Film Nominated

Home media[edit]

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released the film on VHS as part of their "Vintage Classics" collection in 1999,[15] and on DVD in 2001, with the alternate ending as a Special Feature.[16] A digitally restored version of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in June 2011, and also includes the alternate ending.[17]

Revised ending[edit]

The original ending as shown during the American release of the film shows Hammer and Velda escaping from the burning house at the end, staggering 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 82 seconds of footage showing Hammer and Velda's escape, and instead superimposing "The End" over the burning house. This implied that Hammer and Velda perished in the atomic blaze, and has often been interpreted to represent an apocalypse.[18] In 1997, the original conclusion was restored after the remaining 82 seconds were uncovered in the vaults of the Directors Guild.[18]


Contemporary film scholars have named Kiss Me Deadly as one of the most influential film noirs of all time, with praise directed at its bleak and nihilistic tone, deconstruction of pulp fiction archetypes, and twist ending.[19][17][20][21]

Kiss Me Deadly has been cited as a stylistic predecessor of the French New Wave,[18] named by French filmmakers François Truffaut as greatly influential to his "elliptic" filmmaking style,[18] as well as Jean-Luc Godard.[22] In the 1960s, both filmmakers touted the film as the singular American film "most responsible for the French New Wave."[22]

The film has been referenced or alluded to in a number of other feature films, including Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994), which features a similar "glowing suitcase" as a plot device.[18]

Homage is paid to the glowing suitcase MacGuffin in the 1984 cult film Repo Man, the film Ronin, and in Tarantino's film Pulp Fiction. The "shiny blue suitcase" is mentioned with other famous MacGuffins in Guardians of the Galaxy. When the Ark of the Covenant in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark is opened, the shot of Rene Belloq's face melting is directly inspired by that of Gabrielle opening the suitcase. In the film Southland Tales, Richard Kelly 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.

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."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nominated for dialogue: Christina: "Get me to that bus stop and forget you ever saw me. If we don't make that bus stop..."; Mike Hammer: "We will."; Christina: "If we don't, remember me."


  1. ^ Silver & Ursini 1995, p. 238.
  2. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  3. ^ "Preserving the Silver Screen (December 1999) - Library of Congress Information Bulletin". Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  4. ^ a b "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  5. ^ Pryors, Thomas M. (September 3, 1954). "TRACY AND CLIFT TO STAR IN FILM: Metro Will Team Actors in 'Bannon' Against Background of U. S. Labor Movement". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Arnold & Miller 1986, p. 38.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Prince, Stephen, Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film, Praeger/Greenwood, 1992, ISBN 0-275-93662-7.
  9. ^ Dirks, Tim. "Kiss Me Deadly".
  10. ^ Vallance, Tom Archived 2007-10-01 at the Wayback Machine. The Independent, Obituary, "A.I. Bezzerides. No-nonsense novelist/screenwriter," January 20, 2007. Last accessed: March 25, 2008.
  11. ^ Schager, Nick. Slant Magazine, film review, 2006. Last accessed: March 25, 2008.
  12. ^ Kiss Me Deadly at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: February 22, 2013.
  13. ^ American Film Institute. "100 Greatest American Thrillers". AMC. Archived from the original on August 2, 2012.
  14. ^ American Film Institute. "Greatest Movie Quotes". AMC. Archived from the original on May 15, 2020.
  15. ^ "Kiss Me Deadly [VHS]". Amazon. Archived from the original on May 15, 2020.
  16. ^ "Kiss Me Deadly [DVD]". Amazon. Archived from the original on May 15, 2020.
  17. ^ a b "Kiss Me Deadly". The Criterion Collection. Archived from the original on January 20, 2013.
  18. ^ a b c d e Poland, David (June 27, 1997). "The revised ending of Kiss Me Deadly". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on May 15, 2020.
  19. ^ Cox, Alex (June 16, 2006). "Nuclear-powered nastiness". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  20. ^ Hamid, Rahul. "Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955)". Senses of Cinema. Archived from the original on May 15, 2020.
  21. ^ "DVR Alert: Kiss Me Deadly". The New Yorker. March 19, 2010. ISSN 0028-792X. Archived from the original on May 15, 2020.
  22. ^ a b Collins & Traylor 2018, p. 44.


  • Arnold, Bill; Miller, Eugene L. (1986). The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 978-0-870-49504-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Collins, Max Allan; Traylor, James L. (2018). Mickey Spillane on Screen: A Complete Study of the Television and Film Adaptations. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-49242-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Parish, James Robert and Michael R. Pitts. The Great Science Fiction Pictures. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1977. ISBN 0-8108-1029-8.
  • Silver, Alain; Ursini, James (1995). Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?. New York: Limelight. ISBN 978-0-879-10185-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Strick, Philip. Science Fiction Movies. London: Octopus Books Limited, 1976. ISBN 0-7064-0470-X.
  • Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies: Science Fiction Films of the Fiftees Vol I: 1950–1957. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.

External links[edit]