From it’s opening shot of a woman in a trench-coat running barefoot down a deserted highway at night trying to flag down anyone who will help her, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly has you in it’s grip. As a car with our hero, Private Detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), screeches off the road and comes to a stop, the credits roll towards you Star Wars style, and you know there’s so much more to come. Playing as part of the Film Noir series Kiss Me Deadly, based on Mickey Spillane’s novel is a Cold War dynamo, fueled with nuclear war paranoia and diabolical mystery. Wild camera angles keep you off balance, and Hammer gets drawn deeper and deeper into the doomed woman’s nightmare when he is knocked unconscious, and she is killed. As Hammer fades to black, the only thing that he (and we) see and hear are the feet and voices of the killers, and the woman’s dangling, dead legs.
Upon awakening in a hospital, Hammer sets out to discover what happened and why. That’s when the levels of dangerous political intrigue crank up to eleven. The problem is that some powerful people are intent on keeping their secret, and will do whatever it takes (and kill who ever they must) in order to keep Hammer off the trail. From the poolside backyards of L.A.‘s wealthy elite to the city’s downtown boxing gyms, nightclubs and diners, danger lurks around every corner and down every darkened street. As Hammer begins to put the puzzle together, all clues lead to a mysterious glowing box known only as the “great whatsit.” Genius.
With the fear of nuclear annihilation an actually tangible threat in 1955, director Robert Aldrich mines this paranoia to stunning effect. What’s actually in the box is less important than the idea of what it represents. Mike Hammer is the sleuthing everyman trying to unravel amystery concerning the possible end of life on the planet. There is an honest and well founded fear that the powerful forces behind the atomic threat are up to no good, and are in it for their own ends. Tense and taught Kiss Me Deadly is top notch Film Noir that leaves you uneasy and uncertain. An often overlooked it is not easily forgotten hallmark of the genre, it dares raise dark questions without providing easy answers. And just remember…don’t open the box!
Tonight at 9:25 at the Pacific Cinematheque (1181 Howe)