Private eye Mike Hammer (Meeker) is driving his convertible on a dark highway when he sees the almost naked Christina Bailey (Leachman) running down the middle of the road. He picks her up, but is soon forced off the road. Hammer is knocked unconscious, and Christina is killed. Both of them
are put back in his car, which is then pushed off a cliff. Surviving, Hammer investigates, his curiosity aroused by an FBI warning to stay away. He finds Christina's roommate (Rodgers) and also meets a powerful gangster (Stewart) whose strings are being pulled by a mysterious higher power. Hammer
knows he's on to something when his mechanic friend (Dennis) is killed and his secretary (Cooper) kidnapped. Hammer himself is kidnapped but manages to escape, killing his tormentors. He eventually figures out that Christina swallowed a key that will lead to the "great Whatsit." Convincing a
morgue attendant (by slamming the man's fingers in a drawer) to give him the key, Hammer later uses similar charm at a health club to acquire the box the key opens. In the end, we meet the chief villain, see another side to the mysterious roommate, and discover the contents of the box. The results
are, to put it mildly, explosive.
One of the most brutal films ever made, KISS ME DEADLY enjoys a huge cult following. There's not a single really likable character to be found; everyone wants something, and the neanderthal Hammer barely gives people a chance to say no before he starts beating them up. Aldrich's direction
heightens the script's misanthropy, shooting with extreme close-ups and at disorienting angles. Christina's murder is achieved with a pair of pliers, and all we see are a pair of bare legs dangling in midair. The murder of the mechanic is similarly jarring, the camera swooping in on his screaming
face as a set of hydraulic jacks do their work. Hammer himself is knocked out no less than six times, only to strut down those mean streets yet again. Aldrich was so concerned about possible reactions to all the violence that he wrote a defense of the film in the New York Herald Tribune.
KISS ME DEADLY is shot in an unforgettably harsh fashion, visually underlining the paranoia and existential funk of the film noir world view as few other films have done. Aldrich's greatest directorial effort, this important film takes a number of noir elements to their most nihilistic extremes,
leaving us in the violent, atomically threatened world we encounter upon leaving the theater.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Private eye Mike Hammer (Meeker) is driving his convertible on a dark highway when he sees the almost naked Christina Bailey (Leachman) running down the middle of the road. He picks her up, but is soon forced off the road. Hammer is knocked unconscious, an… (more)