Monday, August 10, 2015

Radiation Theater - Kiss Me Deadly!

It's amazing to me what I still don't know. At my ripe age, I thought I'd at least heard of most of the things which might have tantalized my interest by now, even though I doubtless will not have time enough to sample them all. But the film adaptation of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly came out of left field and it wowed me.

I read a gang of Spillane's Mike Hammer books a few decades ago and I frankly don't remember if Kiss Me, Deadly was on the list. I don't have any specific memory of that particular tale, though the rough and tough and even sadistic Mike Hammer does indeed linger.

Meeker and Gaby Rodgers

This 1955 adaptation takes the bare bones of the plot of the novel and substitutes the "Maguffin" as Hitchcock called it, or the "The Great Whatsit" as this movie dubs it -- the thing everyone wants and is willing to kill to locate and take possession of. In this instance the "Whatsit" has a science fiction twist and that makes all the difference in how this movie is remembered and analyzed. 1955 was in the bosom of the Cold War and this movie has a lot to say about how that conflict changed everyone, even if they didn't know it at the time.

Leachman, Cooper, and Marion Carr - Hammer Dames

Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker)  is driving fast down the highway when a naked girl in a trenchcoat (Cloris Leachman) stops him and he gives the desperate dame a ride. She has a secret but before she can give over what it is the two of them are waylaid and she is killed. Hammer survives, barely and after his recovery puts his secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) and other associates on the lookout for details about the case despite the police who want him to steer wide and clear.  The path quickly leads to hoods and they don't like a palooka like Hammer nosing about so a few murders are arranged to get him to lay off. He doesn't, in a weird blend of hubris, curiosity, and pride and that brings about the death and destruction of a good many folks before it's all said and done.

Robert Aldrich and Friends read Spillane
 I won't spoil this one by giving out too many details beyond what I've already stated, but if you like to read a detailed and thorough summary of the plot with some analysis check this out.

And the cast for this one is rich with character actors such as Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Paul Stewart, Percy Helton and many others you've seen dozens of times before. Faces that stick in the mind long after the character and circumstance might be forgotten. Kiss Me Deadly is a bracing movie, fueled by a legit mystery, but also occupied by snappy and compelling characters who don't always do what the stereotypes they are based on are expected to do.

Velda seems far too desperate and we see her do what she does for Mike out of a hopeless love for the schmoe who knows it and uses her anyway. This Mike Hammer is a complete prick, with a dismissive attitude toward women which causes him no end of trouble before its over and a sadistic streak which makes him hurt people even when the outcome could've been achieved with other means. The villains are properly villainous and oddly urbane and complex even.

The ending is a blockbuster, weird and truly frightening and not for the reasons you might expect. Noir films are supposed to be full of grim and dour characters living in a grim and dour world, but this one takes it to extreme giving us possibly no single character we can truly root for, who is not either a mark or a swindler or more likely both.

Check it out, it's different.

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  1. Here were my thoughts on it from way back when

    1. It looks like I liked it better than you. The ending is what elevates it for me, though I admit it's strange.

      On an unrelated note: I'm having problems with my password at the GSMB board and it's not letting me use e-mail to update it. Is there a larger problem or am I the only one frozen out right now. Help is most appreciated.

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    2. I'll look into it. I'm not aware of any troubles.

    3. You know thinking about it now, years after I wrote that review and just as long since I've seen the movie. The ending is really the most memorable thing about it. Maybe I didn't give it enough credit.

  2. Are you using the same email address? I tried to email you something.


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