Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 8/6/11
Director: Robert Aldrich
Cast: Ralph Meeker, Maxine Cooper, Cloris Leachman, Gaby Rodgers

A bleak and brutal slice of Cold War paranoia, loosely based on Mickey Spillane's novel of the same name. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is a private detective who specializes in divorce cases, pimping out his secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) to unfaithful husbands in order to collect evidence of their infidelity. His life takes a dramatic turn for the worse when a desperate woman (Cloris Leachman) throws herself in front of his speeding car. She's on the run from some very dangerous people and holds a secret that Mike spends the rest of the film trying to figure out. It turns out to be a mysterious box - the "Great Whatsit."

The film is nihilistically perverse, starting with a confusing set of opening credits that roll backwards, accompanied by the sounds of a sobbing woman. It's a dark and savage film, taking place almost entirely at night, where everyone is under surveillance and thugs lurk around every corner. Ralph Meeker's Mike Hammer is just as much of a thug as the villains he faces, and is a misogynistic asshole with a flair for sadism. He's unpleasant, but fascinating, and it's his bull-headed determination that drives the film forward. The box MacGuffin is brilliant. It glows and emits a spooky hissing sound, but what's inside of it is unimportant. All that matters is that everyone wants it, and people are willing to kill and die for it. It also adds a creepy sci-fi horror element to an otherwise contemporary detective story. The film is full of riddles, and while Mike's intuition and ruthlessness serve him well, he's in WAY over his head. The film is also shockingly violent, with the most disturbing scenes taking place off camera. Overall, I found "Kiss Me Deadly" to be as fascinating as it is unsettling, and fans of brooding film noir are bound to enjoy it.