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.
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!