By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 2, 2011)
Kiss Me Deadly – Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Robert Aldrich directed this influential 1955 pulp noir, adapted by A.I. Bezzerides from Mickey Spillane’s novel. Ralph Meeker is the epitome of cool as hard-boiled private detective Mike Hammer, who picks up a half-crazed (and half-naked) escapee from “the laughing house” (Cloris Leachman) one fateful evening after she flags him down on the highway. This sets off a chain of events that leads Hammer from run-ins with low-rent thugs to embroilment with a complex conspiracy involving a government scientist and a box of radioactive “whatsit” coveted by a number of interested parties.
The sometimes confounding plot takes a back seat to the film’s groundbreaking look and feel. The inventive camera angles, the expressive black and white cinematography (by Ernest Laszlo), the shocking violence, and the nihilism of the characters combine to make this quite unlike any other American film from the mid-50s.
The film is said to have had an influence on the French New Wave (you can see that link when you pair it with Godard’s Breathless). British director Alex Cox paid homage in his 1984 cult film, Repo Man (both films include a crazed scientist driving around with a box of glowing radioactive material in the trunk), and Tarantino featured a suspiciously similar box of mysterious “whatsit” in Pulp Fiction.
Criterion’s transfer is excellent (although on the down side, the high definition does bring out the inherent graininess of the film). Extras include commentary from two noir historians, excerpts from two docs (one about screenwriter Bezzerides and the other a profile of Spillane) and a special tribute from the aforementioned Alex Cox.