Kiss Me Deadly is the blackest of film noir movies – a masterpiece wrenched by director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter A I Bezzerides from Mickey Spillane’s trash novel.
The movie is shot through with poetry (Remember Me by Christina Rosetti), unspeakable violence (the kicking naked legs of a woman tortured vaginally with a pair of pliers), hopped-up street talk (“3D-Pow! Va-va-voom!”), strange characters, and fringe-fantastical elements.
After credits that roll the wrong way and a nighttime drive, the desperate Christina (Cloris Leachman), naked under a trench coat, flags down thuggish private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker).
She drags him into a plot involving spies, hoodlums, cops, a mastermind so erudite that he can only speak in metaphors when warning a dim blonde not to tamper with something deadly enough to kill everyone in range, codeword-dropping secret agents, and a suitcase containing “the big whatsit” – a box of glowing fissionable treasure that might be either pure plutonium or the head of Medusa.
Meeker’s nasty hero (note his smile as he tortures innocent witnesses by breaking irreplaceable opera records or slamming hands in drawers) sucker punches his way through a cast of perverts and sluts, then – at least in some prints – goes up with a mushroom cloud that rises from a beach house at the 1950s apocalypse of a finish.
The film looks cheap. It probably was cheap. Brazen and bleak, Kiss Me Deadly is an essential piece of cold war paranoia.
Dr G.E. Soberin
Gabrielle, ‘Lily Carver’
Horace the Super