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USA 1955
Directed by
Robert Aldrich
105 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Kiss Me Deadly

This low-budget mid '50s B grade is a mix of interesting and not-so-interesting elements. Loosely adapted from the Mickey Spillane novel of the same name it opens strongly with a panicky woman (Cloris Leachman) flagging down the car of L.A. private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) as some unusual opening titles unfurl. After a brief journey they are forced off the road, she is murdered and Hammer who has survived the incident decides to find out who wanted her dead. All that is good about the film can be found here and if it occasionally rises to the same level it also falls away at times.

Whilst the film, shot in black and white “expressionist” style by cinematographer Ernest Laszlo, is indebted to classic film noir precedents like The Big Sleep (1946) with Hammer wading through all manner of bad guys, floozies (the still from the promotional poster shown here does not appear in the film) and scared little men in search of the answer to the mystery he has found himself in, it also taps into contemporary fears over nuclear destruction. This aspect moves the film into rather cheesy low budget sci-fi territory in its latter stages

Shot in a mere three weeks with an evidently small budget Aldrich often uses a kind of narrative short-hand in telling the story, particularly in the action sequences, but he also interpellates estranging techniques such as anti-naturalistic acting and a disjunctive sound design, very apparent from the get-go in the opening scene in which Leachman’s sobbing goes on for the entire length of the credits. Not surprisingly, although the film bombed in America, both commercial and critically, the Cahiers Du Cinéma group of critics hailed it as a masterpiece and one can see its appeal to art film-makers like Godard and later, David Lynch.  

Personally, after the gripping opening I was underwhelmed but pleased to see the appearance of regular '50s bit player Percy Helton as a morgue doctor.




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