“She must be connected with something big,” he figures, and sets out to uncover just what that “something big is.”
For a private investigator with specializing in divorces, Hammer never really seems out of control when mixed up with murderous thugs and potential leads. Warnings like, “If you knew, you’d be afraid like she was afraid,” don’t phase Hammer. Neither does a pair of bombs strapped to his car.
Hammer had been seen onscreen once before in 1953’s 3-D mystery I, the Jury and he’d be portrayed a number of times after, both in film and television (by Darren McGavin and Stacy Keach). But nobody handled the P.I. like Ralph Meeker, who crafted Hammer as the misogynistic, justice-seeking brute the audience knows him as.
Kiss Me Deadly, based on Mickey Spillane’s 1952 novel Kiss Me, Deadly (note the comma), was a bit late to the film noir heyday. While the main staples of the genre--shadowy photography (by Ernest Laszlo, nominated for eight Oscars in his career), the femme fatale (Gaby Rodgers, very blonde and almost sexy), an ambiguous protagonist in a seedy underworld--are present, it takes a different approach to its genre than most.
Of note, its violence is disturbing to the point that Aldrich felt he had to defend it in the New York Herald-Tribune at the time of release. And perhaps more daring, the film takes an take on Cold War paranoia that was, at the time, normally reserved for science-fiction fare starring mutant bugs or pod people.
A key line in the film, the origins of which will remain a mystery in this review, goes: “Remember me!” From its opening scene that catapults the audiences right into the story to that explosive ending that remains a classic, Kiss Me Deadly doesn’t just ask the same, but requires it.
Director Alex Cox on Kiss Me Deadly (6:38): Cox, whose Sid & Nancy and Walker appear in The Criterion Collection, shares his passion for Kiss Me Deadly, touching on the original novel, the style of the film, director Aldrich (here labeled as a “bold and radical”), and much more.
Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (39:38): This “condensed version” of the 1998 documentary, directed by Max Allan Collins, offers a fascinating glimpse into the life and work of Spillane (1918-2006), who used Mike Hammer in 15 works, three of which were completed by Collins. Interviewees include a variety of authors and experts, actor Stacy Keach (who played Hammer in the 1980s) and Spillane himself.
The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides (9:14): This excerpt from the documentary of the same name has Spillane, novelist/screenwriter Bezzerides and writers Barry Gifford (“Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir”) and George Pelacanos (“The Way Home”) discuss Kiss Me Deadly, focusing on the differences between the novel and the script, the role of the screenwriter and more.
Bunker Hill, Los Angeles (7:06) and Locations Today (1:45) are a great tribute pieces to the locations used in Kiss Me Deadly, with writer and LA-based film buff Jim Dawson serving as host and writer/actor Don Bajema narrating.
Altered Ending (0:22): This very brief ending holds a much different fate for some of the main characters. According to the note, “neither director Robert Aldrich nor anyone associated with the film’s production or distribution intended for these crucial shots [restored in 1997] to be excised.”
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 20-page booklet with an essay titled “The Thriller of Tomorrow” by critic J. Hoberman and a 1955 reprint by director Aldrich.