Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955)

Mike Hammer is a tough guy, a self-centered hard ass who’s only listening to himself and working for his own benefit only. In the vein of the great portrayals of Humphrey Bogart and Robert Ryan, the character of Hammer is greater than nature. The Film Noir elements that surrounds him seem out of place and the mystery shouldn’t be unravelled contrary to the classic film approach.

Kiss Me Deadly is the metaphor of the nuclear menace that should have been stopped before the Cold War. Hammer’s quest is unhealthy and even if the bodies are pilling around him and even the many direct warnings didn’t stop him from doing the unthinkable. He works like the mind of a mad scientist who wants to destroy the world for his own fame. The story of Kiss Me Deadly could have been completely out of synch and overly stupid but the effective and capable mise en scène of Robert Aldrich goes a long way.

Robert Aldrich’s debut film is a one of a kind Film Noir with superb visuals, a strong script, and solid performances. The inventive camera angles give the appropriate twist to the story’s twisted plot. German expressionism has always been an influence on Film Noirs but the technique used in Kiss Me Deadly is above anything seen before. Furthermore, it’s interesting to notice that Aldrich’s film became such an appraised classic that the critics of the French New Wave censed as one of the great American films of its time and that directors like Quentin Tarantino reused some elements in his earlier films, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction most notably.
One of the most important pattern in the Film Noir is the culture of the mystery. We need the tension from the journey to find the mystery. Just think of Chinatown or The Third Man without a final twist. In this case, the mystery is complete because the audience not only wants to discover the “something big and valuable” Mike Hammer is looking for but we want to know the motivations of the unsympathetic anti-hero that Hammer represents. His methods are unconventional and the viewer wants to find what motivates him to use them.
This cult film amongst cinephiles is a sure shot; I mean which film lover doesn’t like Film Noir? Plus, Aldrich’s oeuvre as underrated as it is should be revisited by many because it deserves better praise than it actually received. At least, Kiss Me Deadly received a great treatment by recently being released by the great folks of the Criterion Collection.

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