Kiss Me Deadly (1955): Aldrich’s Apocalyptic Noir, Starring Ralph Meeker and Cloris Leachman

Robert Aldrich’s apocalyptic drama, Kiss Me Deadly, starring Ralph Meeker and Cloris Leachman, is based on Mickey Spillane’s 1952 novel of the same title. It’s the seventh of Spillane’s book series revolving around private detective Mike Hammer, this time around played by Ralph Meeker.

While he is returning to L.A. one night, Mike Hammer’s car is flagged own by a woman named Christina (Leachman).  She evades his questions about where she’s escaping from, though she is barefoot. It turns out she is from a nearby asylum.

After a stop for gas, she tells him that should anything happen to her, “Remember me.” Hammer’s car is run off the road, and while he survives, Christina is tortured and killed. He follows up a number of disconnected leads, all of which point to a conspiracy against a murdered scientist named Raymond, organized by a local gangster.

At the core of Kiss Me Deadly are speed and violence. The adaptation of Spillane’s novel takes Hammer from N.Y. to L.A. a landscape of somber streets and decaying houses. Much like Hammer’s fast cars, the movie swerves through a series of disconnected and cataclysmic scenes. As such, it typifies the frenetic, post-atomic-bomb L.A. of the 1950s with its malignant undercurrents. Apocalyptic, the picture records the degenerative nature of an unstable universe as it moves towards critical mass.

The central character is less heroic than he is egocentric, callous, and brutal. In the film, Hammer is incorporated into a system of moral determinism, where crime breeds counter-crime and thieves and murderers fashion the implements of their own destruction.

Ahead of its time, in theme and visual style, Kiss me Deadly influenced the early movies of the French New Wave.

Cast:

Ralph Meeker (Mike Hammer)
Albert Dekker (Dr. Soberin)
Paul Stewart (Carl Evello)
Maxine Coot (Velda)
Cloris Leachman (Christina)

Running Time: 105 minutes