Tough L.A. private eye Mike Hammer gives a ride to Christina, a frightened young woman he finds running along the road one night. His car is run off the road by unseen thugs. Hammer is knocked out and Christina is tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to get information from her. They are put back into Hammer's car which then is forced off a cliff. Hammer wakes up in the hospital.
Velda, his trusty secretary, informs him that Christina is dead. Pat Chambers, Mike's policeman friend, tells him to stay off the case, but Mike thinks it might be a big story--meaning big money for him--because the FBI is interested. He, Velda, and Nick, his garage mechanic friend, start investigating in hopes of finding out why Christina was killed.
Ralph Meeker ... Mike Hammer
Albert Dekker ... Dr. G.E. Soberin
Paul Stewart ... Carl Evello
Juano Hernandez ... Eddie Yeager
Wesley Addy ... Lt. Pat Murphy
Marian Carr ... Friday
Maxine Cooper ... Velda
Cloris Leachman ... Christina Bailey
Gaby Rodgers ... Gabrielle
Nick Dennis ... Nick
Jack Lambert ... Sugar Smallhouse
If The Maltese Falcon (1941) was the definitive true detective movie, The Big Sleep (1946) the definitive glamourized detective movie, and Chinatown (1974) the definitive allegorical detective movie, then Kiss Me Deadly is the definitive sleazy detective movie.
Mickey Spillane's sadistic private eye Mike Hammer, turned from successful private eye to sleazy bedroom dick, is the quintessential anti-hero, doing just about anything and everything wrong to get a piece of the pie that the characters call "The Big What's-it."
The movie survives by giving the usual Spillane buckets-of-blood story and its protagonist new dimensions. Right from the electric opening scene and the audacious opening credit sequence, the audience is drawn into Hammer's seedy world, where morality is suspended, and the credo of the end justifying the means dominates Hammer's actions. His reckless abandonment is almost never questionned and the film seems to understand his brutality as what he must do to get the job done in an equally brutal world.
Director Robert Aldrich observes all of it with an objective eye that neither glorifies nor condemns the action on-screen, letting the audience draw its own conclusions--even where the plot is concerned. The pace is unrelentless and the plot turns are never fully explained, forcing the audience to participate willingly in all that Hammer does to, hopefully, see the story through to its ending.
And what an ending! I'd de damned to a special place in Hell if I elaborated, so I'll just say that it's one of the greatest I've ever seen. That goes same for the movie itself, which is one of the most stylish, jarring and truly entertaining movies of its genre.
Robert Aldrich was a no-nonsense film director. When he undertook the direction of this film, little did he know it was going to become the extraordinary movie it turned out to be. The fame seems to have come by its discovery in France, as it usually is the case. Based on Mickey Spillane's novel and adapted by Al Bezzerides, the movie has an unique style and it's recommended viewing for fans of the film noir genre.
Right from the start, the film gets our imagination as we watch a young woman running along a California highway. That sequence proved Mr. Aldrich's ability to convey the idea of a disturbed young woman that seems to have escaped from a mental institution. The plot complicates itself as Hammer learns that Christine, the young woman, has died. He decides to investigate, which is what he does best.
Some excellent comments have been submitted to this forum, so we will not even try to expand in the action but will only emphasize in the tremendous visual style Mr. Aldrich added to the film, which seems to be its main attraction. For a fifty year old film, it still has a crisp look to it thanks to the impressive black and white cinematography of Ernest Lazlo, who had a keen eye to show us Hammer's world as he makes it come alive. The great musical score by Frank DeVol fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the L.A. of the fifties.
Ralph Meeker made an excellent contribution as Mike Hammer. He dominates the film with his presence. Albert Decker, Paul Stewart, Miriam Carr, Maxine Cooper, Fortuno Bonanova, and especially Cloris Leachman, in her screen debut, make this film the favorite it has become.
Fans of the genre can thank Mr. Aldrich for making a film that didn't pretend to be anything, yet has stayed as a favorite all these years.
Man, I saw this movie for the first time a few years ago and I still don't know what to think about it. Ralph Meeker as a fascistic Mike Hammer, a crazy hitch-hiker, an opera fan and a box that can destroy the world. I dunno.
From what I understand Alderitch (the director) hated Mikey Spillane's story (which was about a briefcase full of drugs or money or something else), thought Mike Hammer was an image of brutality and fascism and made a film that reflected it. He makes Hammer out to be some kind of sadist and makes the suitcase out be some kind of nuclear device. The movie turns from a simple detective story to some wierd-ass, sci-fi cold war parable.
It's sort of like the X-Files meets film-noir PI, or something to that effect.
All that being said, this is a GREAT film and is well worth watching by anyone who like apocalyptic film-noir (in fact, this may be the only film in that sub-genre). Anyone who is a fan of bizarre camera work, weird symbolism and a stranger storyline, should really check this out.
Observe the many bizarre inconsistencies (clocks that jump ahead and back, screams that don't jibe right with the soundtrack, camera angles that jump mysteriously) and keep in mind that these were INTENDED! When you get a feel for this film and start noticing what the director was attempting to do with this bizarre film I think that you will enjoy it even more. Truly a unique piece of film making.
* Memo from United Artists: Mickey Spillane's name must be above the title and in the same type style as appears on the "Kiss Me Deadly" Signet Book Jacket.
* Cloris Leachman's first film role.
* The Kefauver Commission, a federal unit dedicated to investigating corrupting influences in the 1950s, singled this out as 1955's number one menace to American youth. Because of this, Robert Aldrich felt compelled to conduct a writing campaign for the free speech rights of independent film-makers.
* Filmed in less than 3 weeks.
* Although Victor Saville is credited as Executive Producer and director Robert Aldrich is credited only as producer, in reality Aldrich had it written into his contract that he had complete control over the picture and it would be made the way he wanted it, specifically stipulating that his decisions could not be overruled by any studio representative.