Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thoughts on "Kiss Me Deadly"

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This is my reaction paper from a college film noir class. Originally written in 2003.


"Kiss Me Deadly" (1955) is definitely the grittiest noir we’ve seen so far. There is no real good guy in this movie. The protagonist, Mike Hammer, is an anti-hero who is always skirting the law. He’s a private investigator who specializes in divorce cases, or as a police officer puts it, “he‘s a bedroom dick.” When Hammer wants to drum up more business he gets his devoted secretary Velda to sleep with married men so he has evidence that they’re cheating on their wives.

Velda will do anything for Hammer because she is madly in love with him. Hammer doesn’t seem to be interested; he constantly rejects her physical advances. The one time they do start kissing, it is not at all passionate because they keep talking about business in between kisses. Hammer must, on rare occasions, show her affection, because something keeps Velda wrapped around his fingers. In the scene where Hammer wakes Velda up, you can see how tortured she feels. She knows Hammer is no good for her, but something keeps her there.

The opening sequence of the film is fantastic. I loved the contrast of the easy-listening Nat King Cole music and the moaning of the young woman. Later, the shot where the woman is being tortured, and you can only see her legs, was very well done.

The biggest problem I had with this movie was the ending. I understand that this movie was a product of post WWII paranoia, and that’s a fine theme when done well like "Dr. Strangelove." However, this movie was your basic private eye/gangster flick until the last fifteen minutes of the film when it tried to become something else and it just didn’t work. If they wanted that ending to work, they would have had to add clues about what was in the box throughout the film and have had people talking about atomic weapons and so forth. Since it is so unexpected, the beach house exploding at the end of the movie comes off as a deus ex machina.

My other problem with this film was that Gaby Rodgers who played Lily Carver was such a bad actress that Lily came off like she suffered from a brain injury.

This film was really ahead of its time in terms of diversity. For instance, when Hammer goes to a Black jazz club/bar, he’s the only white guy in the place, but he isn’t an outsider, he’s a regular there.

Hammer really does make Sam Spade look like Liberace. At the beginning of the film when the young girl and Hammer are in his car, he tells her, “I should have thrown you off a cliff. I still might.” This line might not seem all that bad, except for the fact that it was completely unprovoked. Hammer is also sadistic; he is smiling when he slams the desk drawer on the blackmailing coroner. Plus, he beats up a front desk clerk at the health club for not taking a bribe.

It definitely goes along with this movie’s theme of humans as a doomed society that the one time someone starts to say a sincere, and sensitive line, he is punched in the face by Hammer before he can finish. Sugar, a henchman starts to say, “We’re here on this earth for such a brief span, we might as well be...”

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  1. I've seen Kiss Me Deadly twice and find it mesmerizing. I actually love the ending and think it fits. Reading your review makes me want to go watch it again, or even go read Mickey Spillane.

  2. By the way, did you noticed that the woman in the road was Cloris Leachman?

  3. I remember reading one of the Mickey Spillane in college and not liking it. I think it was too much about "the evil Communists." I felt like it was written by Joseph McCarthy. But, it makes for great Film Noir. I've also seen "My Gun is Quick," which I'll review here at some point and I'd love to see "I the Jury" but unless you can catch it on TV or at a film fest you are SOL because it has never been put out on DVD or VHS that I know of. Cloris Leachman; That's the neat thing about old movies you never know who you'll see, like Clint Eastwood's cameo in "Revenge of the Creature."