The other day I reviewed the film Sweetheart (2019) (you can read it here). I liked the film, but concluded:
(Sweatheart’s) a very good film, but not quite a great one.
There are many, many films that can be summed up like that. Films you enjoy, even recommend, that you nonetheless feel don’t quite go that extra mile, don’t have the extra “juice”, to make them an extraordinary feature.
That’s not the case with the film I’m reviewing here. The Robert Aldrich directed Kiss Me Deadly is an extraordinary feature, one that I would easily recommend to any fans of film noir or detectives or mystery.
Loosely based on the Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer novel of the same name, this movie, in my humble opinion, is a total home run, a searing, sleazy detective movie that presents an incredible story and an even more incredible conclusion, which I will get to in a moment.
The story: A lone woman runs desperately alongside a deserted highway at night, out of breath and clearly frightened. She sees a car’s lights in the distance and steps into the middle of the road, causing the car’s driver, Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker, in what is perhaps his all time best role), to hit the brakes and nearly crash while avoiding her.
Mike Hammer is pissed off. He drives a gaudy car, wears elegant clothing, but is a sleazy P.I. whose specialty is divorce cases. He uses his secretary, Velda to seduce those he is working against -and get incriminating information on them- and actor Maxine Cooper is another standout as the movie’s conscience, despite the sleazy things she does for her boss.
Before we get to her, Hammer reluctantly aids the stranded and terrified woman (played by Cloris Leachman in her screen debut) only to then have the two attacked and the woman tortured and murdered.
Hammer, not one for sentiment, realizes whatever the murder victim was involved in was big, and he intends to cash in on whatever it was.
Through the course of the movie, Hammer confronts many unsavory characters and has to deal with the law in the form of Lt. Pat Murphy (Wesley Addy, another standout).
When Lt. Murphy tells Hammer he’s in “over his head”, it may be a cliche line, but boy oh boy is it accurate.
I don’t want to get into too much more, but suffice it to say that Kiss Me Deadly is a must see, a film that in my opinion deserves its place among the very best film noir classics.
Oh, and if you recall the “glowing suitcase” from the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction and wondered what inspired that scene, look no further than Kiss Me Deadly.
Here’s my humble take on the film, which I originally presented here…
PLEASE DON’T CONTINUE IF YOU PLAN TO SEE THE FILM!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
So, as I said above, I wanted to talk a little about the end of the film, which I feel may be one of the most incredible movie endings ever made.
Here’s the thing, though: Which ending are we talking about?
Years ago, when the best quality home video you could buy was in the form of laserdiscs, I picked up a copy of Kiss Me Deadly on laserdisc.
I don’t believe I had seen the film before picking up the laserdisc, only that I knew the film was a cult classic (it wasn’t quite as well known as it is today, and this was before -I think!- Pulp Fiction’s reference to it which I mentioned above).
Anyway, the film was essentially intact except for the movie’s very ending.
Again, I’m going to get into SPOILERS here, so please think hard about continuing if you don’t want to be SPOILED about the film’s ending!
Kiss Me Deadly’s climax involves Mike Hammer returning to the bad guy’s ocean front home. There, he confronts Gabrielle (Gaby Rodgers, another standout performance as the “pixie femme fatale from hell”).
Hammer has finally realized he is indeed “over his head” in this, and all he wants is to save his secretary Velda, who has been kidnapped by the badguys.
Gabrielle shoots Hammer and then, her curiosity overwhelming, opens up the mysterious case everyone has been after. It contains radioactive material, and by opening it she is set afire.
Hammer, though shot, manages to get up and stumbles in the corridor outside the room where Gabrielle burns. He finds Velda and they head to the stairs at the end of the corridor leading out of the house…
…only to cut to the beach house which blows up, taking with it both Hammer and Velda.
An abrupt, but I felt incredible and daring way to end this whole sleazy affair, with Hammer and his beloved Velda victims of Hammer’s hubris.
…that’s not the ending that Robert Aldrich made. Check out this trailer, which was also included in that laserdisc I purchased:
Note that at the 2:00 mark of the trailer we are presented with the exploding house and another curious thing: Mike Hammer and Velda huddled together in the beach surf watching the house explode!
Strangely, at one point the ending of Kiss Me Deadly -but nothing else- was shortened and for many years people saw the film with the abbreviated ending of Hammer and Velda still in the house when it explodes.
Robert Aldrich, before he passed away in 1983, was asked about the movie’s ending and noted he had filmed Hammer and Velda stumbling out of the house, making their way through the sand and into the water, and watching the house go up in smoke from there and that this version was the version that he created and which was the “proper” version.
In fact, as interest in the film grew, a copy of the film was found in Mr. Aldrich’s vaults and it had that extended ending and today that is the ending you will find on video releases and I for one feel it works as well as the more abrupt version.
Either way, the extended version showing that Hammer and Velda didn’t immediately die in the explosion isn’t all that much more pleasant an ending because the explosion which takes out the beach home is a nuclear one. Sure, Hammer and Velda are still alive and watching the beach house go up in smoke but given the cause of this explosion they, and probably quite a bit of the west coast, are nonetheless doomed.
As I said before, incredible stuff.