Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

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Kiss Me Deadly
Kiss me deadly 01-edited.jpg
- - - - - - - - #filmnoir 1955 - - - - - - - - -
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Robert Aldrich
Screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides
Based on 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)
436,699 admissions (France)[2]

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is a typically depraved hardboiled noir story, with an uncaring and sleazy anti-hero. There are complex plot threads that generate an overall labyrinth that has to be ignored if you are to enjoy the story, and Cold War and nuclear paranoia grow like weeds through this, eventually and dramatically engulfing everything.

Kiss Me Deadly has many of the finer elements of film noir — a stark opening sequence, several destructive femme fatales, a clutch of low-life gangsters, and many expressionistically-lit night-time scenes.

There is also within this mess of noir, a vengeful quest, and a constant dark mood of hopelessness, which shows that the patterns of noir had by this late stage been refined into a high art in themselves. And Kiss me Daedly is also the closing point of the canon, the last ever film noir — so everything after May 18, 1955 — the day that Kiss Me Deadly was released — can officially be known as ‘neo-noir’.

Shot over one month in late 1954, and for an exceptionally low budget Kiss Me Deadly and has plenty in terms of disorienting camera angles and moody weirdness, not to mention violence and a whole lot of nasty characters, including the lead, played by Ralph Meeker. The unconventional compositions of Ernest Laszlo stir this up nicely, and even if you don't entirely get the story, you'll be surprised at the levels of cruelty, which kick in from the outset.

Backward Credits

Kiss Me Deadly is also known for its weird credits which back up the screen instead of descend it

You’ll be surprised by the credits if you've not seen them before, because they appear from the bottom of the screen and roll towards the top, while Nat King Cole’s Rather Have The Blues plays. The camera is pointed towards the highway’s white line, and as the skewed road trip begins, you have no idea the nonsense you are about to suffer in the name of art and entertainment. And how they ever thought this was a good idea, is anybody's guess.

Most striking and uncomfortable is the audio track of the woman panting from relief and poain throughout the sequence, it is far louder than the music and intimate for what is a night trip down a desert highway.

As for the action, if it isn’t Mike Hammer working the first ever answering machine you have ever seen — the contraption is insane, but was new enough at the time to merit itself several minutes of film — it is the half-baked stories which make just enough sense to carry the viewer from one scene to the next.

Maxine Cooper and Wesley Addy

The overall mood of this movie is a huge success, as are the locations and the acting. There's a neat performance from Wesley Addy in Kiss Me Deadly, you can see him in among other films, the psychologically scarring John Frankenhiemer sci-fi drama Seconds (1966).

Kiss me deadly 06-edited.jpg

The opening of Kiss Me Deadly is striking and one of these instances so compelling, bleak and mysterious, it draws you straight in. The woman Mike Hammer gives a lift to at the start of the film stops him by blocking the road and forcing him to almost wreck his car.

Quotes

Hammer: Thumb isn't good enough for you. You've got to use your whole body.
Woman: Why sir, would you have stopped if I'd used my thumb?
Hammer: No! What's this all about? I'll make a quick guess. You were out with some guy who thought 'no' was a three-letter word. I should have thrown you off that cliff back there. I might still do it. Where are ya headed?
Woman: Los Angeles. Drop me off at the first bus stop.
Hammer: Do you always go around with no clothes on?

Salacious Poster

KissMeDeadly.jpg

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. It's a clue to the ending of the film!!

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 smakker 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 minor paintings of scenes from the film scattered around the poster.

Gender Coasting

Women are abused in Kiss Me Deadly from the naked trench-coat-wearing Christina who is tortured to death with a pair of pliers, in something that does not appear to belong in the 1950s at all — it is exceptionally uncomfortable seeing her legs dangle there — to the faithful Velda who Hammer abuses every time he sees her Then there’s Lily, abused by Dr. Soberin, and all, we tell ourselves, in the name of entertainment.

Culture Coasting

If you want to tell the difference between the film in novel while you are culture coasting this intricate subject, Kiss Me, Deadly the novel (billed with: Mickey Spillane’s Latest H-Bomb!) features a comma, while Kiss Me Deadly the movie does not. Armed with this fact you are ready to become without doubt the most boring person during any discussion of 1950s crime flicks. The mention of the H-Bomb is something of a giveaway, although the general mix of noir, fifties political paranoia and hard-boiled meets sci-fi head on, can be a little surprising at first, if you don’t know what’s coming.

Here in Kiss Me Deadly it was that Robert Aldrich and " Buzz" Bezzerides came up with the original instance of one of Hollywood’s weirdest memes — the glowing suitcase — sometimes called the nuclear suitcase, which obviously doesn’t feature in the novel but was written into the film to ratchet up the already high stakes, shooting the paranoia off the scale and into the industrial strength nerve-twitching fear that only a government-induced world-ending apocalyptic secret could inspire. The suitcase — motif of the mysterious box, such as Repo Man (1984) and Pulp Fiction (1994) — is just one of those things that is testament to the richness of Kiss Me Deadly and the fondness in which its held. As with most other dangerous memes, the nuclear suitcase is not just for the fairy tales, and portable nucelar weapons have been of the greatest interest to science and government sicne 1950. Why the world persists with these things I will never know, but I know why science fiction does, and adding the private eye to science fiction, or science fiction to the private eye, was genius.

Apocalypse Now

In Kiss Me Deadly the apocalypse signals the end of the noir cycle of films, this is a truth in general and a cinema milestone. When the suitcase is opened with horrific results, Velda becomes a shrieking human torch, a perverse inferno, and the latest in a line of tortured girls. It's not actually an image typical to the noir canon, which always tended to focus on low key cruelty and humiliation, rather than grand destructive gestures and the explosions which have come to be our cinematic staples.

Gallery


Noir - Mike Hammer Thinks It Out

The trailer for Kiss Me Deadly gives away so much of the action, and doesn't truly express the confusion of the finished product.

If you've seen Kiss Me Deadly to the end, you may want to see the alternative ending which isn't that different, but you do miss Mike and Zelda up to their knees in the sea.

Who dies?

This ending says that it's the heroes who peg it, but I was half expecting the screen to go white (it doesn't) to express the idea that the whole world has blown up. That's what we want to see.

Buncha

Resources

  1. Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 238
  2. French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story