Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly

Infobox Film
name = Kiss Me Deadly

caption = Theatrical poster
director = Robert Aldrich
producer = Robert Aldrich
writer = Story: Mickey Spillane Screenplay: A. I. Bezzerides
starring = Ralph Meeker
Albert Dekker
Paul Stewart
Cloris Leachman
music =
cinematography = Ernest Laszlo
editing =
distributor = United Artists
released = May 18 1955
runtime = 106 minutes
USA: 104 minutes
country = United States
awards =
language = English
budget = $410,000 (est.)
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id = 1:27523
imdb_id = 0048261

"Kiss Me Deadly" (1955) is a film noir drama produced and directed by Robert Aldrich starring Ralph Meeker. The screenplay was written by A.I. Bezzerides, based on the Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer mystery novel "Kiss Me, Deadly". Spillane ordered Signet Books to pulp 50,000 copies of the book because they left the comma out. [ [,,1823306,00.html Sutherland, John] . Mickey Spillane] "The Guardian," Obituaries, July 18 2006. Last accessed: March 25 2008.]

"Kiss Me Deadly" is considered a classic of the "noir" genre. References (usually to the glowing briefcase) appear in such diverse films as Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), Alex Cox's "Repo Man" (1984), Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" (1994), David Lynch's "Lost Highway" (1997) and Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" (2007).

The film grossed $726,000 in the States and a total of $226,000 overseas.


Meeker plays Mike Hammer, a tough Los Angeles private eye who is just slightly less brutal and corrupt than the crooks he chases.

One evening, Hammer gives a ride to Christina (Cloris Leachman), an attractive hitchhiker he picks up on a lonely country road. Thugs waylay them and force his car to crash. When Hammer returns to semi-consciousness, he hears Christina being tortured until she dies. Hammer, both for vengeance and in hopes that "something big" is behind it all, decides to pursue the case.

It develops that "the great whatsit" (as Hammer's assistant Velda (Maxine Cooper) calls it) at the center of Hammer's quest is a small, mysterious valise that is hot to the touch and contains a dangerous glowing substance.

It is ultimately revealed to be stolen radionuclide material, which in an apocalyptic final scene apparently reaches explosive criticality when the box is fully opened.

Alternate ending

The original American release of the film shows Hammer and Velda escaping from the burning house at the end, running into the ocean as the words "The End" come over them on the screen. Sometime after its first release, the ending was crudely altered on the film's original negative, removing over a minute's worth of shots where Hammer and Velda escape and superimposing the words "The End" over the burning house. This implied that Hammer and Velda perished in the atomic blaze, and was often interpreted to represent the End of the World. In 1997, the original conclusion was restored. The DVD release has the correct original ending, and offers the now-discredited (but influential) truncated ending as an extra.


* Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer
* Albert Dekker as Dr. G.E. Soberin
* Paul Stewart as Carl Evello
* Juano Hernandez as Eddie Yeager
* Wesley Addy as Lt. Pat Murphy
* Marian Carr as Friday
* Maxine Cooper as Velda
* Cloris Leachman as Christina Bailey
* Gaby Rodgers as Gabrielle
* Nick Dennis as Nick
* Jack Lambert as Sugar Smallhouse
* Jack Elam as Charlie Max
* Jerry Zinneman as Sammy
* Leigh Snowden as Cheesecake
* Percy Helton as Doc Kennedy

Critical reviews

Critical commentary generally views it as a metaphor for the paranoia and nuclear fears of the Cold War era in which it was filmed. [Prince, Stephen, "Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film", Praeger/Greenwood, 1992, ISBN 0275936627.]

Although a leftist at the time of the Hollywood blacklist, Bezzerides denied any conscious intention for this meaning in his script. About the topic, he said, "I was having fun with it. I wanted to make every scene, every character, interesting." [ [ Vallance, Tom] . "The Independent", Obituary, "A. I. Bezzerides. No-nonsense novelist/screenwriter," January 20 2007. Last accessed: March 25, 2008.]

Film critic Nick Schager wrote, "Never was Mike Hammer's name more fitting than in "Kiss Me Deadly," Robert Aldrich's blisteringly nihilistic noir in which star Ralph Meeker embodies Mickey Spillane's legendary P.I. with brute force savagery...The gumshoe's subsequent investigation into the woman's death doubles as a lacerating indictment of modern society's dissolution into physical/moral/spiritual degeneracy—a reversion that ultimately leads to nuclear apocalypse and man's return to the primordial sea—with the director's knuckle-sandwich cynicism pummeling the genre's romantic fatalism into a bloody pulp. 'Remember me'? Aldrich's sadistic, fatalistic masterpiece is impossible to forget." [ [ Schager, Nick] . "Slant Magazine," film review, 2006. Last accessed: March 25, 2008.]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on nineteen reviews." [ [ "Kiss Me Deadly"] at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: March 25, 2008.]


In 1999, "Kiss Me Deadly" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Differences from the novel

The original novel, while providing much of the plot, is about a mafia conspiracy and does not feature espionage and the nuclear suitcase, elements added to the film version by the scriptwriter, A.I. Bezzerides.

It further subverted Spillane's book by portraying the already tough Hammer as a narcissistic bully, the darkest of anti-hero private detectives in the film noir genre. He apparently makes most of his living by blackmailing adulterous husbands and wives, and he takes an obvious sadistic pleasure in violence, whether he's beating up thugs sent to kill him, breaking an informant's treasured record collection, or roughing up a coroner who's slow to part with a piece of information. Bezzerides wrote of the script: "I wrote it fast because I had contempt for it ... I tell you Spillane didn't like what I did with his book. I ran into him at a restaurant and, boy, he didn't like me." [Bergan, Ronald "The Guardian", Obituary, "A.I. Bezzerides: Screenwriter victim of the Hollywood blacklist, he is renowned for three classic American film noirs," February 6 2007.]



External links

* [ "Kiss Me Deadly"] essay by Alain Silver
* [ The Restoration of "Kiss Me Deadly"] review by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant

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