Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

KISS ME DEADLY (1955), which over the years has come to be considered an iconic '50s film noir title, is the sixth film from my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time this year.

KISS ME DEADLY is a crime film centering on detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), who was created by writer Mickey Spillane.

Last year I saw another Mike Hammer film, I, THE JURY (1953), at the World 3-D Film Expo and thought it was terrific pulpy fun, sort of a live-action cartoon. It featured a somewhat dimwitted Hammer (Biff Elliott) surrounded by a lively cast of zany characters, and it had the added plus of wonderful L.A. location shooting. I still smile remembering the twins, the seductive shrink played by Peggie Castle, the Christmas setting, the Bradbury Building, and the weird 3-D-induced sensation that Preston Foster was actually standing there in front of me.

KISS ME DEADLY proved to be quite different from I, THE JURY. On the surface KISS ME DEADLY has plenty of elements I like: Film noir? Check. Plentiful L.A. locations? Check. Atomic era paranoia? Check. Eye-catching black and white photography? Check. It's even got a title song sung by a huge favorite of mine, Nat King Cole.

This should be my kind of movie, yet it rubbed me the wrong way from the opening moments with Cloris Leachman -- someone I've never enjoyed -- breathing heavily for what seemed like eons.

Meeker is a very different kind of Mike Hammer, very grim but not very charismatic. In fact, the entire cast is simply...flat. The pair of lookalike women wandering around barefoot in bathrobes just confused me. Jack Elam shows up for a bit to liven things up, but no one in this did much for me, other than wonderful Juano Hernandez (STARS IN MY CROWN), who unfortunately has but a single scene.

The film has a couple of violent moments which manage to be disturbingly brutal without actually showing much, but they added to my distaste for the film. And the scene where Hammer breaks a record...well, I haven't ever been able to go back to BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955) because of a similar scene. Maybe it's because I'm the daughter of a record collector!

The ending? Okayyyyyyy. I guess it was nervy having the "MacGuffin" actually be something. And now what?

I think I've put off seeing some of the films on my 10 Classics lists because I had gleaned enough over the years to suspect they might not be my thing -- THE APARTMENT (1960) being an example -- but this is one I really expected to find more interesting. I know plenty of people who really like and admire this film so I'll put it on my list of films to revisit one day in the future to see whether my reaction changes if I see it in a new context or different mood.

I did at least love Hammer's answering machine!

KISS ME DEADLY runs 106 (very long) minutes. It was directed by Robert Aldrich and filmed in black and white by Ernest Laszlo. The script by A.I. Bezzerides was based on the novel by Mickey Spillane.

KISS ME DEADLY is available on DVD or Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. There are many extras, with a couple of nice short pieces on the L.A. locations and Bunker Hill; I found it useful to watch these before the film as a guide to what I was seeing.

I've been busy watching the final films on my 10 Classics list during my Christmas vacation and will review more as quickly as time permits!


OpenID vienna said...

Ah well, as we know, Laura, we can't all like the same movies. I love Kiss Me Deadly and that start to the film,with Cloris Leachman waving down Ralph Meeker's car is one of my favourite opening scenes.
I'm sure you know about the Blogathon that's coming up, On The Contrary Opinion. Can't wait to read what folk think about films either highly regarded or the reverse.
Someone is going to criticise my favourite musical The Band Wagon! Will I stay calm, no I won't!

1:10 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Not one of my favourite noirs either, Laura. No one in it to remotely like maybe has something to do with it.

I see we have more in common than films - the great Nat King Cole is one of my musical heroes too!

2:06 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Vienna and Jerry!

Vienna, I was discussing the film with a couple people on Twitter last night who love the movie and we agreed that while we're all passionate about classic movies, in the end it would be odd if we all responded uniformly to every movie, LOL.

What's fun is that I love THE BAND WAGON like you do, and one of the reasons I loved the other Hammer film I saw, I, THE JURY, is that I felt like I was watching a full-length movie version of "The Girl Hunt Ballet"!

Jerry, glad to know I'm not "the only one." My friend Kristina just told me she doesn't care for this one either. I think you're right. I, THE JURY had so many fun actors/characters, including Margaret Sheridan, Preston Foster, and Peggie Castle. No one likeable in this to root for. Even Velda was just a sweaty mess, I didn't really care about her.

Love, love, love Nat King Cole! Have many Cole CDs which I play often.

Best wishes,

8:38 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I remember thinking when you posted this as a movie you wanted to see this year that you wouldn't like it. I love this one for all kinds of reasons, but it's definitely not for everyone! I recently told a friend to skip it, as I knew she wouldn't like it either. I should give The Band Wagon another try. I've never been able to make it through that one, even though I love the cast. We are all so different!

And that upcoming blogathon, "On the Contrary Opinion" sounds like a lot of fun! I will definitely have to check that out.

Happy New Year!!

9:35 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb, Happy New Year to you and yours!!

My posts on this or a couple other films like THE APARTMENT would have been perfect for that blogathon LOL. I'm looking forrward to checking it out and seeing if I mostly agree or disagree with the contrarian takes.

Best wishes,

9:52 AM  
OpenID vienna said...

Sorry, I got the name of that Blogathon wrong - it's CONTRARY TO POPULAR OPINION .
Maybe I should look out for I THE JURY. The cast looks good.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Crocheted Lace said...

I have the same reservations about this movie as you. The excessive opening panting scene was just the start. (I got the point, did they need to drag it out that long?) I guess the movie could have used some more restraint. For years I only knew Ralph Meeker from this film, and I assumed he was a one dimensional macho actor. Then I saw him in a few other films and read about his stage career and have really come to admire him and seek out his films. (Sure, some are not so good, but a man has to make a living.) Excellent performances such as SHADOW IN THE SKY, JEOPARDY, A WOMANS DEVOTION, PATHS OF GLORY, where Meeker showed great depth. His talent was underserved, perhaps because his greatest contribution was in lower budget gems. (Yes, in it's day Paths of Glory was relatively low budget.)

12:38 PM  
Blogger Crocheted Lace said...

This is rather off topic from "Kiss Me Deadly"....

Speaking of Paths of Glory and under appreciated talent... I think Wayne Morris is due an appreciation day at TCM and from talented movie bloggers - a talent I sadly lack.
Wayne's career sagged while he served with great distinction in WW2, afterwards, more mature and lacking the same appeal that made him popular, his career lagged. Of course, many actors had the same problem. While Morris had the talent to bounce back as a character actor, he died young. If things has been different he might have been a stock actor on Murder She Wrote and Love Boat and such TV shows and enjoyed a well loved and financially secure golden years.
I always remember Morris as a brilliant light comedy actor who always makes me smile, but also a good serious actor.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for sharing the info on Ralph Meeker, Crocheted Lace, I know little about him so that was good background to get me started! I have a couple of those titles such as JEOPARDY but have not yet watched them. Good to know I can check him out in other roles and see what I think.

Wayne Morris is someone I enjoy, particularly as I admire what he did during the war. I remember reading that he married Peggy Stewart's sister. It's a real shame he passed on so young. I have a Warner Archive set with a couple of his '50s B Westerns, I've seen one but should pull out the other one and give it a look.

Best wishes,

2:28 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Main reason Kiss Me Deadly has no one to root for is Robert Aldrich's hatred of authority figures. He turned Hammer's righteous avenger into a sleazy, none-too-bright PI,hated by the cops. Turned Hammer upside down, as he did the opening titles.Brilliantly directed, flopped here but was very well received in France, cited as an early influence on the French New Wave.But Spillane must've liked The Girl Hunt ballet, since he later titled a novel The Girl Hunters.

3:00 AM  
Blogger KC said...

I remember liking this movie, but there was something scummy about it that made me feel ill at ease. Anyway, had to laugh about 3D Preston Foster in I, Jury. Did you feel like that guy was following you around last year? I sure did. It felt like he was in everything I saw.

10:09 PM  

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