Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kiss Me Deadly - Robert Aldrich

Ed here: Peter Bogdanovich writes the best kind of blog, informed, amused and opinionated, even though some of his opinions collide with mine i.e. his mandatory put-down of Mickey Spillane. But this post is a fine example of a man who knows both Hollywood and the history of film writing about an infamous masterpiece and a director who occasionally had true greatness in him. You should definitely bookmark the site.

Kiss Me Deadly

by Peter Bogdanovich

Talk about the tension between a director and his material—which was one of the critical cornerstones of the French New Wave’s reassessment of American movies—-and they were the first to point out this frisson in the work of iconoclastic director-producer Robert Aldrich; perhaps most noticeably in his aggressive independent film, the dark and dangerous 1955 thriller, KISS ME DEADLY (available on DVD). Aldrich hated detective-fiction writer Mickey Spillane’s novels so much that he took one of the author’s most popular and typical Mike Hammer private-eye stories and transformed it into not only the best picture ever made from Spillane (which isn’t saying much) but a savagely angry film noir classic of annihilating dimension—-literally: At the end, everybody, including Hammer, gets blown away in a dusk-lit Malibu beach house by no less than a nuclear blast. What then happened to L.A. is left to the imagination.

The whole thing starts out quietly one night with a terrified young woman—-Cloris Leachman’s first role—-running barefoot along a deserted blacktop wearing only a raincoat. Hammer—-played exceedingly tough, with virtually no charm, by Ralph Meeker—-picks her up, tries to help her. When she gets murdered anyway, it really pisses him off and this is how he gets involved in the labyrinthine mystery that unfolds and remains fairly difficult to figure out all the way through. But, though often impenetrable, it’s also completely riveting—-like a down and dirty The Big Sleep—-Howard Hawks’ equally mystifying 1946 detective picture with Humphrey Bogart as Raymond Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe (also available on DVD).


Ron Scheer said...

Saw this film a couple months ago for the first time - with the nuclear ending. You are right. I didn't know Aldrich hated Spillane, but it makes sense. It's one of the angriest movies I've seen. And the opening with Leachman on the highway is iconic noir.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Great film, but I don't know where Bogdanovich gets this:

"At the end, everybody, including Hammer, gets blown away in a dusk-lit Malibu beach house by no less than a nuclear blast."

That never happened nor was it implied. What was implied was the looming specter of nuclear horror -- but Hammer, the girl and LA don't get blown up and it's not suggested in the film that they do.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I agree with Mr. Hoover on his interpretation of the film's ending. Otherwise, I'm not a big fan of the film, though I am a fan of Meeker.

I think Aldrich's The Big Knife and Attack are much better and more interesting films that are actually about something.

Gary Stevens said...

Remember the mysterious briefcase from PULP FICTION? Straight outta KISS ME DEADLY.

Cap'n Bob said...

So what was that big explosion at the end of the film?

RJR said...

Always loved this fil;m except for the ending. Yes, I had the impression thay everyone got blown up. Hated it.


Fred Blosser said...

For us fans who like '50s B actors, KISS ME DEADLY is packed with a who's who of iconic faces -- Jack Elam and Jack Lambert as the hit men, Robert Cornthwaite and James Seay as the FBI agents, Percy Helton as the creepy doctor in the morgue ... Anyone else think that Ralph Meeker should have played Lew Archer? Or maybe he did; the cynical L.A. private eye in KISS ME DEADLY seems equal parts Hammer and '50s-era Archer.

Mike Dennis said...

Re: the nuke blast at the end, Aldrich had shot an ending where Hammer and the girl escape the house, which continues to merely burn, but he released instead the alternative ending of them still inside the house when the nuclear explosion occurs.

KISS ME DEADLY is a classic and Meeker was great as Mike Hammer, IMO, although the script made him out to be a sort of James Bond prototype. I wish he could've made more Hammer films that were truer to Mickey Spillane's vision.

Max Allan Collins said...

Actually, the restored ending that turned up on DVD and is shown on TCM is what was shown in theaters -- with Hammer and Velda shivvering in the water, having retreated from the fiery beach house, including the mini-atomic blast that destroys the house, right down to a superimposed mushroom cloud. The version that ends with the house exploding and omits Hammer and Velda's escape appears to be a TV version and the one many of us saw as "official" for decades. Whether this was intentional or just a damaged print remains unknown. But Aldrich never approved it, and said so in interviews. The restored version comes from Aldrich's own vault print.

Peter B. writes wonderfully about film, but his glib putdown of Spillane indicates is too typical of the smugness that tinges all of his criticism and commentary.

Those younger among you who wonder why I speak of always having to defend Spillane...this is typical, and it still goes on.

michael said...

Max, I am very happy you enjoy Spillane's work and continued to make sure he is not forgotten.

But there are some of us who disliked his writing and characters.

Max Allan Collins said...

And there are many people like Bogdanovich who have probably never read Mickey but take cheap shots, anyway.

And others who dislike his work but fail to recognize or anyway acknowledge his importance in a pop cultural sense and in the progression of the hardboiled mystery novel. The number of things Spillane haters love that would not exist had Mickey not existed is long indeed.

And I am not the only one who appreciate Spillane...right, Ed?