Velda and Mike in Kiss Me, Deadly.
Take out the background on this cover and look at the
the pose between the two. It's beautiful.
The other night I stretched out on the couch to watch some television.
There being little else on, I watched a double feature — I think on TCM
but I'm not positive about that — back-to-back showings of The Big
Sleep (1946) and Kiss Me, Deadly (1955). I had seen the first one
countless times; it was my third viewing of the second.
There are plenty of reviews of Kiss Me, Deadly on the internet.
All you have to do is google the title and you will find at least six of
them real easy. But I wanted to do my own slant on the thing. There's
been a lot of stuff interpreting this movie in various ways. At the very
least it is considered a film noir classic.
Some of the reviews get pretty wild. I think these stem in the main from
early French interpretations. Whereas American audiences had trouble
with this movie when it first came out — they considered it too violent,
too sexual, too overall dark in tone — French audiences loved it.
Interpretations about the mysterious box that figures into the plot, for
example, often end up like this:
"But it is the box itself that dominates the movie, growing from an
apparent McGuffin into an icon of menacing future, the object of worship
in an impoverished present which, by implication, yearns for the hard
white light that abolished all shadows." (Citation)
That's quite a big deal being made out of this box. Or at least I think
it is, because to be honest I don't even know what the hell they are talking
about. The trouble with those interpretations, at the very least, is that as
a viewer you don't even know the box exists until about 25 minutes shy of the
end of the movie. Which is a fact they seem to forget about. But far be it
from me to confuse them with the facts.
Anyway, more on the mysterious box later. As the movie opens we see P.I.
Mike Hammer driving down the road in his sports car. He sees a woman
hitch-hiking along the road, and he picks her up. Evidently Hammer never
paid any attention to the warnings about the bad things that can happen
if you pick up hitchhikers. But then, Hammer isn't the type of guy to
listen to anybody about much of anything. The woman he picks up is naked
except for the trench coat she is wearing and after talking with her a
few minutes he finds out that she has escaped from the mental hospital.
She says that she isn't crazy — that they threw her in to get her out of
the way because of what she knows. She tells him that if they make the
bus stop that she can get away and everything will be okay. But if she
doesn't, she simply tells him — "Remember me."
Mike and the hitchhiker, Christina.
If there is a strange Pandora's box in this movie, it is those two
simple words, Remember me. Mike and the woman get run off the road
and are drugged and carried off. The woman is tortured and (assumably)
killed. Mike is totally out of it and the only thing he sees about his
captors are the fancy shoes of the guy that is responsible for it all.
They take Mike and put him back in his car and send him caroming down a
hillside. But Mike is thrown clear and survives. When he wakes up, he is
in the hospital with his secretary Velda and his cop friend Pat looking
down on him. As you might suspect, as soon as he gets out of the
hospital he wants to find out what is going on with it all.
But there are a lot of other people who seem to be very curious about
it all, too. Like some pretty serious Feds. Mike begins investigating in
spite of warnings and in spite of having his P.I. license revoked. It is
basic serial-type plotting — push your way from one informant to another
until you find the truth. And, if you are Mike Hammer, break a few jaws or
fingers along the way. And all along there are the mysterious words —
Velda advises Mike.
"First you find a little thread…"
Mike's secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) is an important part of this
movie. There is a great scene in which Mike goes over to her apartment
to discuss the case. Velda is working out on the ballet bar and pole to
keep herself slim — a kind of early fitness thing. "First, you find a
little thread" she says to Mike as she spins around the exercise pole.
"The little thread leads you to a string. And the string leads you to a
rope. And from the rope you hang by the neck." In a later scene, Velda
tells him that he is willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of the
"Great Whats-it." In the Hammer novels, the Great Whats-it is a euphemism
for the elusive and perhaps rather doubtful outcome at the end of the
investigative rainbow. It is hard to describe how important this stuff is
in the history of the hardboiled genre, and it is a tribute to director
Robert Aldrich that he really understood that. Weird and possibly erroneous
deconstructions aside, Aldrich understood the Realism operating here.
There are a good number of great minor characters. Especially good
is the character of Mike's friend Nick, a mechanic at a local garage.
"Va va voom!" Nick has a habit of saying. He is a well drawn, interesting
and likable character. The character of the mysterious Dr. Soberin also
is good, rising above the normal villain stereotype.
Mike and Lily
Best of all is Gaby Rogers as Lily — it's a shame Rogers didn't make more
movies than she did. She is by turns vulnerable then tough and then possibly
crazy in this movie, with an odd kind of sexiness — it is really the femme
fatale sexiness at its best, although she doesn't really function in that
precise role. "Kiss me, Mike" she says at the end of the movie, pointing a
gun at the detective's chest. "I want you to…kiss me." It's impossible to
describe just how threatening — and creepy — those lines are as delivered
by Rogers. You just have to see it.
There is some interesting background material on Rogers and Aldrich that
you can find here. It doesn't really figure into movie much, but it's there if
you want it.
And now back to the box. Some interpreters have said with regard to the
box that it had an influence in later movies such as Repo Man or Pulp Fiction.
I'm not really sure about those two. But one thing I can say is that Stephen Spielberg
MUST have known the ending of this movie when he did the end of Raiders of
the Lost Ark. I don't know that for a fact, but it seems almost impossible to
believe otherwise, the endings are just so similar. I leave it to the reader
to judge for themselves — the "ultimate jury" as Mickey Spillane always said.
Incidently, the movie does not match the book. Aldrich and the writer
took off with the movie version, making the central mystery into a fable
of Cold-war paranoia. But it fits well, really.
Lily opens the mysterious box.
I don't even have to think about the rating for this one. Some rather
bogus science put aside, it is simply one of the best P.I. movies
(Movie stills courtesty of Alain Silver.)
P.M.P.I. Rating (Out of 5)