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KISS ME DEADLY (1955)

Kiss Me Deadly - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of the film noir classic, ‘Kiss Me Deadly’. It was directed by Robert Aldrich; it starred Ralph Meeker, Maxine Cooper, and Nick Dennis; and it’s 106-minutes long. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with audio commentary provided by Alain Silver and James Ursini, a documentary about Mickey Spillane, an interview with A. I. Bezzerides, a then and now film location featurette, the original theatrical trailer, an alternate ending, and a visual essay by Alex Cox.


Kiss Me Deadly [The Criterion Collection]


THE STORY:
For the last couple of days, I’ve been driving around the streets of Los Angeles with one question plaguing my mind: Why? Why would someone want to kill Christina (Cloris Leachman) when she was obviously in some form of distress? I mean, she looked on edge when I first picked her up on the highway a few nights ago. But then, before either of us could figure out what was going on, Bang!, a car suddenly hit us, head-on, and she wasn’t distressed anymore. No! She was dead instead, very dead, while I had to spend some time in a hospital bed.

Not for long, though! No, fortunately not, because when I eventually got back on my feet again, I made sure that I was going to find out who was behind this mess, even if it did annoy Lieutenant Murphy (Wesley Addy) and the rest of the cops.

At first, I decided to touch base with my secretary, Velda (Maxine Cooper), and my mechanic, Nick (Nick Dennis), in order for them to do a bit of snooping on my behalf. Then once I did that, afterwards, I decided to do some snooping of my own! Snooping which led me to follow a trail of clues that began at a flophouse and ended right here, Lily (Gaby Rodgers), right to your front door.

So, now that I’ve got that off of my chest, please allow me to formally introduce myself. Hello! My name’s Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), and I’m a private investigator, which is most probably why what next transpires goes bang, slap, boom, when I slowly start to realize that I need to do some more work. As a dead man tells no lies – a group of suspects aren't so wise – a criminal mastermind takes off his disguise – and at the end of the day, please remember, a mystery box holds one hell of a surprise.




THE REVIEW:
If you’re a fan of butch men, sexy women, and f#cked up crime-stories, then I’m pretty sure you’re going to like watching this reinterpretation of ‘Kiss Me Deadly’. After all, on a conceptual level, it is somewhat similar to a modern-day police procedural, such as CSI whatever, for instance. Whereas on a cosmetic level, it has a noir style, a hard-boiled tone, and its overall narrative is fairly conventional in terms of structure and design.

Kiss Me Deadly - The Girls
Essentially, a large portion of the plot is focused on a no-nonsense P.I. -- named Mike Hammer, as played by Ralph Meeker -- who takes it upon himself to avenge the death of a woman he hardly knows. Not that this is a problem, mind you, because just like many other stories of this genre (namely, crime), it makes sure that the journey is far more enjoyable than the final destination. Or in other words, it shines a spotlight on a right dick (both head and private), who’s brazen enough to beat up old men and devious enough to use women as pawns. In fact, he’s such a pain-in-the-ass, that he even got one of his friends killed by involving him in his investigation. So, as you can imagine, the main star of the show isn’t really the brightest bulb in the socket.

Having said that, though, Mike does seem to represent a somewhat nuanced hero that has fallen by the wayside over the last few decades. Not only because he’s a flashy dresser with a chiseled jaw that approaches his problems like a bull in a proverbial china shop, but in addition to this, he’s also a gruff, stoic, and stubborn individual, who’s fairly down to earth and isn’t afraid to make mistakes. Well, let’s face it, no matter who you are, everyone makes mistakes from time to time. So in many ways, it was rather refreshing to see this natural quality appear on the silver screen, especially since it’s a lot healthier compared to today’s pristine, high-tech, pretty boys, who have as much personality as a blank piece of paper.


Kiss Me Deadly - Mike and Nick


Similarly, many of the supporting cast featured in this film were likewise caricatured in an old fashioned style. Most of the ethnic characters, for instance, were usually depicted as bold, loud, and hard-working people who communicate with a thick colloquial accent (as represented by the Greek, Italian, and African American personas played by Nick Dennis, Fortunio Bonanova, and Juano Hernandez). While most of the women, on the other hand, were either maternal by design or objects of desire (see Gaby Rodgers, Marian Carr, and Maxine Cooper for more details). And as for the men? Well, no matter what way you look at it, they’re thugs, henchmen, or authority figures who were somehow corrupted by money or power (as portrayed by Jack Elam, Jack Lambert, and Paul Stewart)!

Kiss Me Deadly - Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because I think now would be a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Parklane Pictures’ first released this production in Denver, Colorado, on the exact same day the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia was born. His name was Meles Zenawi, and it was on the 8th of May, 1955. (2) Robert Aldrich and A.I. Bezzerides based the screenplay for this film on a crime novel written in 1952 by Mickey Spillane. It was also called ‘Kiss Me, Deadly’, but with an additional comma. (3) To follow on from my previous point, and you might like to know that Bezzerides and Aldrich didn’t like the original source material and so they decided to change it quite a lot. Change it by replacing its initial mafia inspired plotline with a mysterious nuclear obstacle, along with a lead character that was initially a no-holds-barred private investigator and is now a narcissist, a bully, and a pimp that blackmails married men by hiring out his secretary. (4) Loosely translated, this project was entitled ‘The Rat’s Nest’ in Germany, ‘Night without Grace’ in Sweden, and ‘A Fatal Kiss’ in Poland. (5) The majority of this movie was shot inside ‘Sutherland Studios’, located within the American state of Los Angeles, California, even though some of it was also shot on location. Most notably, Bunker Hill, Downtown LA, Wilshire Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, The Hillcrest Hotel, Clay Street, The Club Pigalle, Calabasas, Beverly Hills, Angels Flight Railway, Third Street Steps, Westward Beach, and The Castle. (6) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states: ‘Blood red kisses! White hot thrills! Mickey Spillane's latest H-bomb!’. (7) This film marks the silver-screen debut of Cloris Leachman, best known for starring in the Mel Brooks comedy classic, ‘Young Frankenstein’; as well as Maxine Cooper, best known for starring in this film noir. (8) The opening credits weren’t a mistake, because the text was intentionally reversed to represent a different type of movie.


Kiss Me Deadly - Jack Elam


In closing my review of ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, I would just like to point out that this film isn’t a full-on film noir. Not totally, anyway, because every now and then it has a visual look that seems to change depending on the situation the main character is placed in. At night, for instance, the story appears to be a classic noir, as the screen is nicely lit to enhance the shadows and the light. But during the day, it’s obviously a thriller, largely due to the strange camera angles and even tone to the surrounding environment. An environment, I hasten to add, that's populated by Art Deco furnishings, Victorian architecture, panoramic landscapes, coastal views, urban decay, shabby chic apartments, Nubian nightclubs, and even an old fashioned answering machine that’s attached to the wall which sports a reel-to-reel magnetic tape format.

Kiss Me Deadly - What's in the box?
Now, where the acting is concerned, that’s a completely different story altogether. After all, no one really gives a bad performance, per se. But then again, no one really stands out from the crowd either. Apart from Ralph Meeker, of course, who plays the star of the show, Mike Hammer, as if he were a stoic sadist that says more with his fists than he does with his mouth. Likewise, Maxine Cooper is also very memorable in the role of Velda. Although, in her case, she isn’t a stoic sadist, but rather, an obedient masochist who’s more than willing to sleep with strangers to appease her boss / boyfriend / pimp. And as for the supporting cast? Well, they support the story, they enhance the environment, and they give the overall production a certain ethnic yet diverse flair! Which, in my opinion, makes this movie a great movie to watch, despite not buying into the way it ended!

Well, in all honesty, I don’t think it’s entirely possible to hide nuclear fusion in a leather storage case? No matter how strong it looks! Plus I didn’t really understand why the villain’s identity was kept a secret when we didn’t really know who he was when it was finally revealed! I mean, were doctors supposed to be scary in the mid-1950s? Scarier than women who accidentally set themselves on fire by opening a leather storage case? Either way, at the end of the day, this film wasn’t a bad film because it was nicely staged, well presented, and in retrospect, strangely memorable.

THE RATING: B-

KISS ME DEADLY (1955) KISS ME DEADLY (1955) Reviewed by David Andrews on August 05, 2019 Rating: 5

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