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Saturday Night Cinema: Kiss Me Deadly

5

Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema feature is the film noir classic, Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich’s “annihilating masterpiece, one of the decade’s key works.” “A shining example for the New Wave directors — Truffaut, Godard, et al.” Director Aldrich’s films include The Dirty Dozen and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

The title alone just sucks you in.

“A crucial influence on what would become the French new wave, an irresistibly seedy trip through the Los Angeles underworld, and a valuable artifact of the Cold War.”

This film noir stars Ralph Meeker as Mickey Spillane’s anti-social private eye Mike Hammer. After he and a hitchhiker are kidnapped by thugs, the semiconscious Hammer helplessly watches as the girl is tortured to death. Seeking vengeance, Hammer searches for the secret behind the girl’s murder.

Kiss Me Deadly

Robert Aldrich’s flamboyant and hectic 1955 film noir opens with a pre-credit sequence that announces its blend of sexual voracity, sadism, found poetry, sharp-edged performances, and visual invention. The story is adapted from a pulp novel by Mickey Spillane, and its detective, the brutish Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker), has none of the suave command of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. He crashes blindly through his case—a forbidden quest for a mysterious object—leaving a trail of collateral damage, both human and cultural. Along the way, the film offers verse by Christina Rossetti, a recording of Caruso, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, souped-up cars and a man crushed under one, a woman on a meat hook, a whiff of narcotics, a primordial answering machine, bloody street fights, and nuclear catastrophe. The actors’ idiosyncratic voices, wrapped around such chrome-plated phrases as “the great whatsit” and “va-va-voom,” are as hauntingly musical as Aldrich’s images. In his vision of ambient terror, the apocalyptic nightmares of the Cold War ring in everyone’s heads, like an alarm that can’t be shut off.
— Richard Brody, New Yorker

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