Sunday, November 06, 2011
#232: Kiss Me Deadly
Black and white frame, a lonely woman is walking on a deserted road wearing only a trenchcoat. From the distance, we see headlights and a car slows down. A handsome man, there is, and he offers the lady a lift. They begin a conversation and the lady seems to be have secretive streak about her. Soon, the couple are attacked by some goons who knock the man out cold. When the man regains consciousness, the woman is gone.
Although, this seems the plot of a brooding average 50s noir, mind you, there is something timeless about the story. And what's interesting is that when the protagonist is none other than Mike Hammer, you know there are thrills galore to be partaken. Kiss Me Deadly, is exactly that kind of a movie when you just about can guess everything that's going to go wrong and yet not fathom how is it all going to come together in the end. Screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides most famous work is adapted from a Mickey Spillane novel of the same name and the screenplay is not exactly a plain vanilla adaptation. Bezzerides adds an intriguing Cold War angle to the main plot and transforms the classic story of a detective deserted by a girl into something far more substantial. Detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is intrepid, sarcastic and a risk-lover. His persona is nearly self-destructive but he latches onto a big clue and that becomes Hammer's motivation to find out where Christina (Cloris Leachman) that lady in the trenchcoat disappeared. Ironically, while Hammer is chasing this girl who has betrayed him, he is the apple of his own secretary's eye. This sultry lady, Velda (Maxine Cooper) is Hammer's woman-Friday with an unmistakeable physical chemistry with Hammer and that makes for some nifty exchanges between the two.
The main story, however, is thankfully much above these physical equations. Director Robert Aldrich has all those elements in place to keep the story ticking with a furious pace. Albert Dekker, Gaby Rodgers and Paul Stewart act as pivotal plot-twisting supporting characters in the main story and by themselves perform incredibly well in roles than don't stretch for more than five to ten minutes each. The star of Kiss Me Deadly is unquestionably Ralph Meeker who in his most memorable role carries the film on this shoulders. His character's dry wit, presence of mind and daredevilry entices us to root for him. Ernest Laszio's dim photography keeps the mood of suspense alive and kicking, giving us more and more reason to predict the next twist in the story.
There was an a time back in the 50s and 60s where noir as a genre had captured the imagination of the masses. It was a good time to be making films around characters with shades of grey, femme fatales and the all-important MacGuffin. Kiss Me Deadly has them all and has them in style. Ultimately, it is a Ralph Meeker and Bezzerides show at the end of it but it is a damn good one.