Today, let’s talk about one of the beloved champions of the noir genre, Kiss Me Deadly, a 1955 movie by Robert Aldrich, the amazing director behind cult hits like The Longest Yard and The Dirty Dozen.
The narrative of this reinterpretation of the archetypal detective tale starts with the ethically ambivalent central character, Mike Hammer, almost running a girl down the street with his car.
She is the beautiful Christina, who just escaped from a mental institution with only a jacket on and seeks his help getting to the nearest bus station.
Unfortunately, before he can take her to her destination, a group of men bar the road and kill the girl, then try to fake a fatal accident.
Mike miraculously survives, although, from that moment on, he realizes he is constantly under surveillance wherever he goes, even putting his friends and associates in danger.
The police have no intention of helping him since he has built up a reputation over the years as a detective with no ruths or morals, who gains by blackmailing unfaithful husbands and wives about whose every secret he knows.
At that point, Mike must investigate on his own, trying to find out who could have wanted Christina’s death and what secret his killers think he might know, as they give him no respite by killing every person he interrogates, making every clue disappear, and even going so far as to kidnap his colleague/lover Velda.
Becoming a masterpiece over time
Robert Aldrich skillfully employs an exquisite but harsh style to effectively support the narrative structure of Kiss Me Deadly, thus transforming it from a conventional noir movie into an unprecedented masterpiece, setting a new benchmark for future works in the genre from 1955 onward.
The convoluted narrative constantly generates an enigmatic atmosphere, evoking a sense of trepidation and apprehension about the occult force behind the events, a mysterious entity with meticulous and almost cruel effectiveness in making any evidence and witnesses disappear.
Although the censorship of the time obviously limited the explicit brutality, the violence enhanced in a new and unexplored dimension, that perverse atmosphere of dark pleasure of power and corruption.
No one is completely good or bad, including the detective who makes a living by blackmailing people and, for once, tastes his own medicine with the harassment and unfair treatment he suffers for reasons he cannot understand.
The screenplay by Mickey Spillane and A.I. Bezzerides skips unnecessary scenes and gets to the points of Mickey Spillane‘s (even more complicated) novel in less than two hours, in a magnificent and exciting set of close-ups and sudden, fast-moving shots.
A particular artistic creation that perhaps surpassed its original purpose, achieving cult status and serving as a benchmark for filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and Martin Scorsese.
Even today, these esteemed filmmakers continue to express their admiration for the innovative audacity and enduring inspiration they had from Aldrich‘s indisputable masterpiece.
Don’t open that briefcase!!!
Kiss Me Deadly was shot in record time, only in a couple of weeks, relying on the immense talent of the best possible cast for a 1955 movie, starting with Ralph Meeker, who plays Mike Hammer.
The actor transcends acting and sets the screen on fire, bringing to life one of the most famous private detectives in noir literature during those years; perhaps not on the level of Raymond Chandler‘s stories, but nevertheless highly beloved by audiences.
We often see a character hovering between good and evil as a victim in this story; still, in some quick flashes where he extorts information from suspects, we know that he, too, is unscrupulous and has an almost depraved pleasure in violence.
Working alongside him is the voluptuous Maxine Cooper as Velda Wakeman, a perpetually dissatisfied mistress but so loyal to the detective that she does not hesitate to sleep with the men they want to frame with their investigative blackmail.
However, does he truly love her, or is he just using her as another pawn on his chessboard for his convenience?
Indeed, the feeling toward the young and defenseless Gaby Rodgers, who here plays Christina’s best friend, Lily Carver, is more sincere, although we sense from the first moments that there is something wrong with this relationship.
Finally, every story requires an exceptional villain, and here we have the evil Dr. Soberin, of whom we see only the shoes, until the explosive (literally) ending, where he is finally played full-figure by Albert Dekker, solid mastermind of an army of criminals as anonymous as they are expendable and nameless.