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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

An unscrupulous private detective (Ralph Meeker) picks up an hysterical hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman in her film debut) who's escaped from an asylum where she was kept a prisoner. With the cryptic words "Remember me" in case they shouldn't reach their destination, they are hijacked by thugs, tortured (she fatally) and pushed off a cliff in a car which he survives. Sensing something big is behind it all, he begins his own investigation which will involve more killings leading to an apocalyptic end. Only loosely based on the Mickey Spillane novel of the same name, the director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides (ON DANGEROUS GROUND) dumped Spillane's mafia plot and infused the film with the pervasive paranoia of the 1950s toward "Reds" and the atomic bomb. It's a startling film even by today's standards so one can only imagine its effect on 1955 audiences. Meeker makes for a perfect Mike Hammer though he doesn't resemble Spillane's Hammer much. This Hammer is sadistic (a scene where he grins while pushing a drawer on someone's fingers is unsettling), misogynistic and out for himself. The B&W cinematography by Ernest Laszlo balances between the bright L.A. sunlight and the atmospheric shading of film noir. The cast includes Maxine Cooper, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Marian Carr, Juano Hernandez, Wesley Addy (in the film's weakest performance), Jack Elam, Leigh Snowden and in a sensational performance, Gaby Rodgers as a lesbian waif with a few surprises up her sleeve.

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