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The International Writers Magazine:DVD Review

Kiss Me Deadly
Directed by Robert Aldrich
• Dean Borok review
It’s always more agreeable to see a private dick getting his brains stomped out by a gang of fashionably accessorized thugs sporting boxy, wide-shouldered suits, ties, fedora hats and two-toned shoes to match their brass knuckles, switchblade knives and guns, and propelled toward their doom in Havana-style monster convertibles.

Kiss Me

Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) inhabits such a world in the film adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s potboiler dime novel “Kiss Me Deadly”, set in the languid world of 1950’s Los Angeles, an idyllic zone of deceitful grifters, embittered cops, wise-cracking venomous gang molls and brutal assassins who love their work. In this world all the good opportunities have been cornered by the gangsters, who sit around poolside phoning in bets to their bookies by day and lurk in dark corners like vicious beasts of prey by night. The only decent citizens one meets are oblivious, working-class stiffs who serve as shark bait for these denizens of the deep. Anybody who knows anything at all has got his hand out for graft, which Hammer obligingly pays, until the demands become too greedy, in which case the payoff inevitably settles down to a mouthful of broken teeth.

The cops are understandably bitter, their hands being tied by the misguided judicial procedures set in place by the civil society they are sworn to protect. They take a dim view of Hammer, whose sustenance consists of setting up adultery traps for wayward spouses. In this he is aided by his Girl Friday, Velda. She sets up the husbands, Hammer sets up the wives, and they collect from both sides.

Kiss Me A pretty picture, until one night Hammer almost wrecks his Jaguar convertible trying to avoid hitting a naked, shoeless blonde clad only in a trench coat, who has just escaped from the state mental asylum. Before he can drop her off at the bus stop, they are waylaid by a big Cadillac full of gangsters, who remove them to a remote beach house where they torture the blonde to death. The hoods then set the unconscious Hammer and the dead blonde up in the Jag and push them off a cliff, to make it look like an accident.

Hammer nevertheless lives and sets out to discover who almost killed him, and why. The cops also want to know, and they put the screws to Hammer, revoking his private dick license and gun permit, which forces him to track down a bloodthirsty mob of cutthroats through the sleaziest precincts of LA without even a heater to keep him warm.

The film, directed by Robert Aldrich, who later directed “The Dirty Dozen”, aside from being a nifty travelogue of fifties LA, has some really prescient touches which make it seem almost contemporary. Hammer’s apartment contains a reel-to-reel tape recorder attached to his phone that serves as a futuristic answering machine. Not to give too much away, but the film ends with an atomic explosion that destroys Malibu Beach, I kid you not!

You know, I can barely watch modern movies at all, with their hundred million dollar budgets and method acting, and hardly a story line in sight. All you get is a crochety old dude walking across Nebraska. Back in those days, all you needed to do was to spend 15¢ for a monthly detective magazine like “Mickey Spillane” or “Ellery Queen”, and the plot ideas cascaded like a barrel full of corpses over a precipice. Hollywood lost its bearings when film producers became artists and the actors started to channel their inner child. Give me an insidious, creeping bleached blonde gangster moll with a loaded Smith & Wesson anytime.
© Dean Borok Jan 2014

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