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Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich) 1955

   

    Robert Aldrichís Kiss Me Deadly came near the end of the golden age of film noir, but itís so fundamentally wrapped up in the definitions of the genre that itís no wonder that the French film critics that initially coined that term responded to it as much as they did. You can feel the fingerprints of this film all over the early masterpieces of the French New Wave (particularly Breathless, which seems to draw much of its creative breath from here). The energy that this movie sends off is so radioactively intense that it seems entirely possible that it could kick off a new movement in film, and thatís all the more impressive since itís a B-picture. Still, no amount of badly post-synchronized dialogue can mask the technical and aesthetic prowess that Aldrich shows here.

   

    Though this adaptation of a Mickey Spillane novel is outwardly a fairly straightforward genre piece, itís infused with a rough and tumble grittiness that makes it seem far move alive than most of its contemporary crime films. It soaks in the seediness of its Los Angeles setting. Mike Hammer (a very brusque Ralph Meeker), the sleazy detective at this sordid storyís core, travels mostly at night through this other city that never sleeps, and that gives the impression that everything you see going on is somehow wrong, since itís happening while decent people are at home in bed. Hammerís movement from elite estates to burnt-out juke joints shows just how prevalent this urban decay is. As much as Hammer is presented as the lone crusader of truth here, chasing after an answer that he doesnít know the question to, heís also definitely a resident of this environment and shares its grizzled morality. Aldrichís skewed camera angles and extreme close-ups help lend a queasy mood while weíre watching this tour of the cityís underworld, and this mood seems to rub off on the detective as the film goes on.  Near the end of the film, as his anxieties increase, he begins bitch-slapping nearly everyone in sight as he grows more and more frenzied in his search.

   

    Even the series of pretty girls that Hammer comes into contact with during his quest are no exception to the corruption that extends to everyone here. The amazing thing about Hammer isnít that he begins to slide downward, but that heís held on as long as he has. Kiss Me Deadly touches on several issues that seemed rooted at the heart of civil unrest in 1950ís America, including the threats of political conspiracy, nuclear weapons, and racism. A hysterical tone permeates every element of the film, to the extent that even the opening credits move backwards. Though Hammer is presented here as a modern day Pandora, itís less disturbing that he finds evil than that he doesnít have to look very far to find it. Itís seeping through every crack of every dirty sidewalk trying to get at him.

 

07-24-02 

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Jeremy Heilman