Fearful Symmetry

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Kiss Me Deadly

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Light in the dark

Light in the dark

A women running down an empty country road at night, her bare legs flashing in the moonlight from beneath her trench coat; one of the classic opening shots. And it is from what is considered to be one the classic film noirs with Ralph Meeker as Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer that has somehow previously escaped me.

The woman, Christina, escaped from a lunatic asylum, flags down Hammer who gives her a ride. Then his car is forced off the road by a couple of thugs. Afterwards semi-conscious Hammer hears Christina being tortured to death. Partly out of wanting revenge and partly just from his PI instincts that something big is behind her death he starts investing into the woman’s background.

Soon Hammer is chasing a mysterious maguffin, a leather case that contains something that gives off a weird glow when it is opened…

A late entry in the noir cannon, Kiss Me Deadly feeds off the cold war paranoia of the time all photographed in crisp black and white. Hammer here is a classic anti-hero being not afraid to sadistically bully and beat up anyone he comes across to get the information he needs as he trawls through cheap boarding houses, boxing gyms and gangster’s mansions. Though I wouldn’t go as far as some critics who seem to think that that all the violence Hammer inflicts on his fellow man somehow implies he is a homosexual, he’s too much of ladies’ man for that.

Actually the censorship restrictions of the time, plus the skill of director Aldrich makes the violence seem even more shocking than it might have been as much of it occurs completely off, or partially off-screen, so the viewers imagination is allowed to take full flight – as where Christine is tortured and killed and all we see is Hammer’s reaction or shots of her jerking legs accompanied by her screams on the sound track.

If the film has any faults it is that, common with others of the genre, the plot is too insanely twisted for its own good. Also Meeker’s blistering performance overpowers some of the secondary characters. So I would not personally put it in the top rank of noir films, but it is certainly worth a watch.

However It’s been an enormous influence on much that followed – for instance the French New Wave and not least that glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction

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Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 26, 2009 at 11:07 am

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