Thursday, October 20, 2005

Blackboarders debate "Kiss Me Deadly"

The following is an interesting thread about KMD. Blackboarders answer David's call for opinions.

'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit
Posted by David on 10/18/2005, 6:45 pm
Our resident pollmaster - Don - reminded me recently that I didn't rank 'KMD' in my top 25 noir films. So, in the interest of refreshing my memory, I gave it the umpteenth re-watch tonight - and STILL don't see why it's not only considered one of the better noirs - but one of the best.
Sure, it has a few bursts of originality, a uniquely crude and self-centered anti-hero, and a killer finale - but apart from these positives the film remains for me a typically flat, leisurely-paced 50's noir that seems far more static and uninvolving than the average blurb would have one believe.
What am I missing? What distinguishes 'KMD' from a dozen other (better) detective noirs? I don't ever seem to care or get engrossed in the film - the narrative thrust never quite picking up enough steam for me to be carried away with it. I can think of a dozen noirs from the same period that sweep me off my feet in more thorough and satisfying ways. They may not feature the apocalypse in their plots - but hey - you can't have it all.
It's not like I'm not giving the film a chance - I bought the damn dvd in the hopes I'd have an epiphany - but no dice. I don't recall the film being discussed terribly often around here, so, is it just me?

Posted by OX on 10/18/2005, 7:57 pm, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
I've watched it maybe a half-dozen times, David, and probably wouldn't rank it among my "Top 25" either. That's not to bad-mouth it in any way, but there are just so many others I like better. It would probably make my "Top 50," somewhere around 40th - 45th. Gotta absolutely agree with you on this one!

Posted by Carl on 10/18/2005, 9:00 pm, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
No. 1 on my Top 25, David. carl

Posted by David on 10/19/2005, 3:23 am, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
Thank you, Ox.
Carl, I know that you and Don are big supporters of 'KMD', so, do you think it's just a sensibility thing? I love detective pictures, and I have no problem with such an unlikable protagonist, so I'm guessing it's something in the writing/direction. In the interest of full disclosure I've never been a fan of Aldrich's (outside of 'Dirty Dozen' and 'Longest Yard'), so maybe that has something to do with it.
Thanks again,

Posted by Jay M on 10/19/2005, 5:16 am, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
It's the overall style of the film and the characters that make KMD special for me. I reallly don't think I have seen these characters before, at least not drawn as they are here. They seem to inhabit an alternate universe where danger is much more imminent than it is in ours. I like films in which I never know what a character will do next, or what will become of him/her.
The dialog, often verges on the poetic (insufferable I'm sure, for some, but a pleasure to me), it's completely unhackneyed.
KMD is also full of interesting imagery, camera angles, location shooting. It's an unending visual feast.
It may only be a Film Noir because of the way it pays hommage to previous detective yarns, turning their conventions around, and because of the way it lives in its own dark universe where anything, seemingly, can happen. I find it enormously enjoyable, not deeply moving or existentially disturbing like some great Noirs. It's a film I can revisit without getting impatient or bored, always lifts my mood a bit.

Posted by Gary S. on 10/19/2005, 2:30 pm, in reply to "KMD: why it's great (imho)"
Thanks for posting the photo from "Kiss Me Deadly", Jay. Wow, that sneer on Ralph Meeker's puss speaks volumes about how he feels about the world around him. Come to think of it, the film is filled with some very violent scenes. Ol' Ralphie really does a number on Percy Helton's fingers. Ouch! As has been noted before here at the board, ol' Percy practically squeals like a pig!

I got no love.
Posted by Miss Smith on 10/19/2005, 5:22 am, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
Not for this movie anyway. I have no great insights as to plot, characterization, cinematography or anything else. I can only say that it just doesn't grab me and never has. I must have seen it 6 or 7 times over the years and it just leaves me cold. I've never felt much of anything for the characters and aside from the great dinosaur wall-mounted answering machine, staggering Cloris and the mushroom cloud (and who doesn't love a good mushroom cloud?), it's one I could leave behind. Now Nora Prentiss on the other hand...
Miss S

Said it before, I'll say it again . . .
Posted by Karen on 10/19/2005, 6:36 am, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
. . . I don't have much love for KMD either. I've seen it several times, but it just doesn't do it for me like so many, many other noirs. When I was exposing a young friend of mine to noir several years ago, I included KMD in the 50-or-so films I wound up showing him, but on a personal level, it's just not a favorite.
Noir is full of nasty, unredeeming characters, but for me, the ones in KMD just aren't the kind I want to see. And it's not the "badness" of them -- there are countless reprobates in noir -- Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill, Kathie Moffat in OOTP, Dan Duryea in pretty much anything, George Macready in Gilda, Jack Palance in Sudden Fear, Gloria Grahame in Human Desire -- the list goes on and on and on. The difference in these characters and the ones in KMD, for me, is that I don't love to hate them -- I'm not entertained or reluctantly impressed, or pleasantly shocked by their actions and deeds. They don't evoke the same feelings in me that, say, Lee J. Cobb did in Thieves Highway or Richard Widmark did in Kiss of Death. They really aren't characters that I'd care to visit with again, if I can avoid it. They're just pretty much repulsive and annoyingly enigmatic.
But that's just me. :o )
-- Karen

And you know, repulsive and annoyingly enigmatic are sooooo irksome.
Posted by Miss Smith on 10/19/2005, 7:01 am, in reply to "Said it before, I'll say it again . . ."
Couldn't have and didn't say it better, Miss Karen. I think you nailed it. There's something about these characters that just doesn't engage me. God knows, I love a reprobate (have you met my first husband?) but just not this ilk. And now having gotten the opportunity to use the word "ilk" I'll leave this discussion to others.
Miss S

Posted by ChiBob on 10/19/2005, 7:01 am, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
Dave -
Jay makes a great point about KMD inhabiting an alternate universe. It's almost like a noir with an extra chromosome dropped into the middle of 1955 LA. Some of the iconography has always struck me, starting with Leachman in the trench coat running barefoot down a highway at night, to seeing only part of her body as she is being tortured off screen. It's never really explained just what those thugs did to her.
KMD has the oddest group of individuals of any noir -
Meeker doesn't carry the existential baggage that provides us with the spectator's sympathy we have for Lancaster in Criss Cross and The Killers, Mitchum in OOTP, or even the oily desperate charm of Widmark in Night and the City. Meeker is simply a creep, who doesn't realize he's a creep-although like the Werewolf in Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London", his hair is perfect and he also drives a cool sports car. That's about the only things that Mike has going for him.
Gaby Rodgers is totally spaced liked she's drugged, which makes her a particularly dangerous femme fatale.
Velda walks through the film always looking sweaty or else she added Crisco to her makeup.
Then you have two great "hard guys" in the two Jacks (Lambert and Elam), who are both chilled out and frightened by Mike's martial arts prowess.
The whole film is off kilter, peopled by some very baroque characters, including a wonderful cameo by Strother Martin.
This is why I never get tired of watching it. The best is saved for last, and that is Nick, the auto mechanic, who speaks a form of mid Atlantic type of English.
"Hey-a Davey, how about-a you and I go outta and getta a coupla of nice-a Greek-a girls". It's almost like Nick is the life blood of the film, and when he is killed the film starts to slowly deflate.

Posted by Jay M on 10/19/2005, 7:27 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
Interesting point about Nick's death. I always feel that Nick is the only character Hammer really cares about. He's blas矇 about everybody and everything until Nick is murdered. The effect on him is visible. It doesn't effect the outcome really, but it humanizes Hammer, momentarily, for the only time, and thereby underlines the ruthless quality of the entire film.

Posted by Gary S. on 10/19/2005, 2:39 pm, in reply to "Hey Mikey!"
Wasn't Nick's every other word "zoom" thruout this film? If not, it seemed that way.

Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - should be more than it is, but certainly not all BAD, by any means!
Posted by OX on 10/19/2005, 8:24 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
You "defend" the film very well, Bob. Gotta give you that!
But it's the "alternate universe" aspect that keeps it out of my "Top 25". To me, Noir is sort of a Coleman Hawkins solo, whereas KMD is sort of "West Coast Jazz" of the 1950's. (Hawk is very expressive, earthy and bluesy; and 1950's West Coast Jazz is very cool and ultimately unemotional.) There's no "hook" which really involves me in the film.
Sorry for the jazz analogy, which may make not a damn bit of sense to many of you.
That's NOT to say it's without merit (still fits comfortably within my "Top 50"), but it just doesn't fulfill my conception and expectations of Noir nearly as well as probably 40 or so others.

"Drinkin' a Pina Colada at Trader Vic's."
Posted by G.George on 10/19/2005, 9:00 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
I really liked the Warren Zevon/WEREWOLVES OF LONDON referrence...nice!
Is it "martial arts" that the "two Jacks" fear? If I remember correctly, we never see exactly what Meeker does to the first Jack to make the other one cower and run...which is what makes this scene great (a lesson Aldrich must have learned from Val don't have to show the "monster" at work).
FWIW, I can see both sides of this coin...Dave, I hear you, KMD is one funky little film, and I'm guilty of beginning it and shuting it off early if I'm not in the proper mood. On the other hand, the film is mde up of so many great scenes, performances, and dialog that I can't dismiss it...perhaps a case where the sum of these great parts doesn't make a very distinguished whole.
Jay and Bob make a very compelling case for KMD with the "alternate universe" argument, and I don't disagree...but you guys can keep Mikey the Greek...I find this character soooo irratating and (purposely?) over-the-top...however, I agree, Hammer does seem to "change" a bit after his death, so you're on to something here.
While not at the top of my films noir list, KISS ME DEADLY is EASILY in my top ten for opening title sequence...and the whole begining with the great Cloris certainly gets MY vote for a very strong opening...things slow down a bit after this, but I give KMD another vote for BRUTALLITY in noir...the "popcorn" scene, with Meeker throwing the guy down the stairs is as graphically violent as anyting I can think of in a 50's era film.
Good thread, Dave, and some fine writing and ideas by all participants!

The Two Jacks (the gruesome twosome)
Posted by Gary S. on 10/19/2005, 2:53 pm, in reply to ""Drinkin' a Pina Colada at Trader Vic's.""
Albert Dekker's two hired goons in "Kiss Me Deadly" (Jack Lambert & Jack Elam) have faces only a mother could love. Why there are pretty girls draping themselves all over these guys by the pool at Paul Stewart's house is beyond me. The gals are cuties & I suppose are just there for proverbial "meal ticket". Lee Marvin also had an ugly mug when he played henchmen in the 50's but he got better lookin' as he got older. Regretfully, I can NOT say the same for the two Jacks. I don't know about Mr. Lambert, but we know Mr. Elam was also good at comedy, as can be seen in the 70's in "Support Your Local Gunfighter" with James Garner.

Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit
Posted by Carl on 10/19/2005, 9:01 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
Great assessment, Bob. Kiss Me Deadly is the ultimate noir for me because it is the most purposefully undiluted film in the genre, and as such, noir's ultimate final statement. So many other noirs create an aura through the use of lighting and shadows. KMD does it through its characters, its story and its unrelenting cynicism about the human condition. That's not a comfortable area for a lot of people, so it's not surprising this movie turns a good number of people off. There is no romance, no heroism, no redemption anywhere in KMD. It projects a message that there is no hope for society, either. That doesn't go down well with popcorn and Coke.
In that way, though, KMD is the definitive noir because it is totally black in its outlook. It's about decadence and corruption and warped values and morals, it's about brutality and thuggery and lust and self-absorption and cruelty and stupidity and obsession for power and material wealth. Nobody's comes across as pretty in this film, including the women. Everybody's a little sleazy or slicked down or drugged out. L.A. itself looks stark and seamy and dying. Worse yet, there are no real heroes to save the day. Mike Hammer, the one guy who could do it, makes you want to ``open a window'' almost from the outset.
KMD also may be the first film that captures the sheer inanity of the nuclear age and, in the final scene, the potential consequences of it. We see Mike Hammer and Velda escape on the beach at the end but they haven't truly escaped. They have been poisoned by radiation. Truth is, though, they already were poisoned by their social environment. Talk about a double-whammy for mankind. You're SUPPOSED to feel sick by the end of this movie.
KMD is apocalyptic and discomforting and ugly but full of unvarnished truths about where civilization seemed headed in 1955. A lot of folks think we're still headed that way, that we've only delayed the inevitable. Nobody was ready for that message then. Few are even now. Embrace KMD for its uncompromising vision, however, and that epiphany still might occur, painful as it may be to accept.
Kiss Me Deadly not only is one of the best noirs ever made -- maybe the best --but one of the best movies ever made.

Pretty Pow
Posted by Ian W. Hill on 10/19/2005, 9:34 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"

I'm with Carl, here. I was trying to put my feelings about KMD into some kind of proper perspective, but Carl finally summed up most of how I feel.
KMD, one of my favorite movies aside from just being one of my favorite noirs, seems the summary of 15 years of noir poison seeping into the ground -- the violence, emotional and physical, that humans do to each other for no damned good reason -- finally emerging in one hysterical outburst.
The mention of it, as always, makes me want to sit down and watch it yet again -- if only I hadn't loaned it to someone (who called me up to tell me how stunned he was by it).

Gravesend, Brooklyn
Posted by Ken Z on 10/19/2005, 4:44 pm, in reply to "Pretty Pow"
Count me in as a fan of "Kiss Me Deadly." Carl, Ian, and ChiBob articulate it well. It works on a lot of levels. On the surface, it's a romping good time. It's full of the unexpected - not just the plot twists - but the out-of-control way the movie thrusts forward. Fifty plus years after it's release, it still has the power to shock. Interesting thread.

Posted by David on 10/19/2005, 9:35 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
It's not the tone of the film - or it's ugly characters that turn me off, it's the flabbiness of it all. Apart from the bursts of violence and dark humor it's a fairly stagnant film, imo, - often flat and yawn-inducing.
I do respect the filmmaker's goals - just not the end result. It's overrated.
Anybody need the dvd?
p.s. When it comes to the greatest noirs ever made - 'Kiss Me Deadly' sits
shivering in the shadow of 'Out Of The Past', imo.

Posted by Carl on 10/19/2005, 10:09 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit - Carl..."
Flabby? David, if you look more closely, every second, every prop, every scene in KMD is exceedingly well thought out. Moreover, there's not much doubt it was purposely shot to look like a cheap, vacuous film because during that era, so many films during era WERE cheap and vacuous. You could say shabby, because that was intended, but I sure don't see flabby.
KMD works on so many different levels I'm astounded when it isn't appreciated; maybe it's a college film class view (and perhaps I took too many of those) but this movie knocks me out with something new every time I view it. I love Out of the Past, too. But I could never compare these two films side-by-side, other than to know they are distinctly separate within a genre. To me, OOTP is nothing more than excellent, stylized art: a good story told through excellent writing, acting and cinematography. It's exceedingly well done. But KMD reaches for something more, like Citizen Kane did during a period of many great stylized stories and well-shot films like Casablanca. Give people a choice between Casablanca and Kane and most people are going to take Bogie. Same deal here. But I'm part of the minority from the Kane/KMD camp.
Film fans are going to be conducting this debate to the end of time as to what comprises a good movie. For me, I guess, it's a great director trying to tell a more enveloping, unseen story within a framed, literal one. Aldrich turns Mickey Spillane into something more than even the author could ever comprehend.

Posted by Dan in the MW on 10/19/2005, 10:31 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit - Carl..."
"Kiss Me Deadly" is a very good film. Comparing it to "Out of the Past" is too much of an apples and oranges comparison. The films are too dissimilar. OOTP has a sense of romantic fatalism. The protagonist seems possessed by occasional pangs of remorse.
KMD presents the world as a violent, corrupt "everyman for himself" fight for survival. Ralph Meeker is exceptional. The apocalyptic climax occurs to quickly for the audience to determine whether or not Hammer has undergone redemption following Nick's death and learning of Velma's abduction. He gets drunk and then races back to the beach house. Who is to say what he is feeling or thinking. The film's atomic conclusion is too ambiguous. KMD depicts a cruel world that is exceptional noirish. There are no sunny afternoons spent fishing with Virginia Huston in KMD.
Both films are great in my opinion. Robert Aldrich (along with Byron Haskin) served as one of the assistant directors of "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" and kept the cameras rolling during stretches when Lewis Milestone was not on the set. I have no qualms as to his bona fides as a director or as a noir craftsman.

Posted by David on 10/19/2005, 12:42 pm, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
I agree that it's rotten apples and blood oranges - but when Carl writes " of the best noirs ever made -- maybe the best.." - that's when I have to compare/contrast to the great 'OOTP'. I'm not fond of comparing any two films - they should all be judged on their own - but I found that statement a little hyperbolic (no disrespect, Carl). It's the only 'classic' noir whose reputation I'd question. I don't find it 'bad', just very, very overrated.

Posted by Dan in the MW on 10/19/2005, 1:50 pm, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit - Noir vs. Noir"
I would easily put the film in a top 25 list.
Agree to disagree: Don't make me break your Caruso record.

Posted by David on 10/19/2005, 1:54 pm, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit - Noir vs. Noir"

Posted by Gary S. on 10/19/2005, 3:20 pm, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit - Noir vs. Noir"
Thank you David. That's what Nick kept saying (Va-va-voom!), NOT "zoom" as I earlier thought. My gosh, I'm surprised I got that wrong because I've seen the film a few times & most recently just a few months ago on Turner Classic Movies.

Posted by David on 10/19/2005, 3:31 pm, in reply to "Va va voom....not zoom..sorry, everyone! "
By the end of the film - it's more like "Va-va-Doom"(!)

Posted by Gary S. on 10/20/2005, 8:16 am, in reply to "Re: Va va voom....not zoom..sorry, everyone! "
Yep, Dave, it was no more "va-va voom" after those nogoodniks (or was it only one nogoodnik?) visited his garage & arranged to have that car fall & crush him flatter than one of my Aunty Fanny's pancakes. I wasn't sad to see him go, because to be truthful all that "va-va vooming" was really getting on my nerves by that time.

Posted by Floyd on 10/19/2005, 9:50 am, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
I'm with Jay, Carl, ChiBob and Ian in my praise for this film. It is excellent throughout. I don't think we can fairly compare, for example, KMD and OOTP. The latter is the best example of a Forties noir, having a "feel" that is very different from the Fifties KMD. I love both films and find them to be the best of their era of noir. KMD is tough to watch, unlike OOTP, but as the gentlemen above have pointed out, it is visually stunning and quite different than previous noirs. Comparison to other Fifties noirs would be more apt, in my opinion.

Posted by Jay M on 10/19/2005, 10:17 am, in reply to "(no subject)"
Good points. If OOTP epitomizes Noir for most of us, I think KISS ME DEADLY deliberately turns many of the genre's qualities on their head(s). Where OOTP is unclich矇d and unpredictable, KMD is all that and completely unconentional as well. Would I say it's a greater film than OOTP, or a greater Noir? Probably not. As several here have said, it's pretty much in a class by itself. And that, I think, is a major reason why it polarizes our group: KMD seems to be a love it or hate movie.
I have it my Top Five Noirs:

Posted by Gary S. on 10/19/2005, 2:38 pm, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
Didn't a pair of pliers fall on the floor in the torture scene, where all we see are Cloris' feet dangling? I assume they were doing something unspeakable to her with those implements. Makes me cringe to think about it. Those boys of Albert Dekker's definitely did NOT "play nice". Let's not forget noted character Paul Stewart in the film. He always added "class" to whatever he appeared in. My favorite performance of his is as the boxing manager in "Champion". Gaby Rogers didn't seem to have much of a film or TV career. Attractive in an odd way & yes, she did seem to be in a drug-induced haze thruout this film. Eccentric & dangerous at the same time.

Posted by Mike Kelly on 10/19/2005, 3:52 pm, in reply to "Tortuing poor Cloris..."
Cloris Leachman did a nice job in last year's film Spanglish, and one of her earlier roles was as the prostitute in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Nick Dennis later played Dionysius, the muscular slave in Spartacus. When reading a Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt adventure I picture sidekick Al Giordino as Nick Dennis.
Wesley Addy, who played Lt. Pat Murphy, made quite a few later films. One of note was The Verdict, where he played the doctor responsible for the mishap that caused the lawsuit.
Kiss Me Deadly falls in my top 5, and probably is my highest rated noir from the 50s. Much of it has to do with Meeker's portrayal. I can't think of another P.I. quite like it.

Posted by Gary S. on 10/20/2005, 8:19 am, in reply to "Some KMD Casting Notes"
How true, Mike. There really is no other 50's film like "Kiss Me Deadly". And thanks for that additonal info on the film's cast. Yes, I do recall Wesley Addy from "The Verdict". He was always a solid & dependable supporting player. I always liked him.

Posted by Carl on 10/19/2005, 4:49 pm, in reply to "Tortuing poor Cloris..."
She was the Miss America runnerup in 1946. Amazing considering some of the homely characters she played later. carl

Posted by Miss Smith on 10/19/2005, 5:03 pm, in reply to "one more Cloris note ..."
You better believe I was on the old image search about 3 seconds after I read that! No joy though. Have you ever seen any pix, Carl?
Miss S

Posted by Carl on 10/19/2005, 6:13 pm, in reply to "Man oh maneschevitz!",%20Cloris
something she could hold over her one-time daughter in law, Sharon Stone.
FYI, she is 5-foot-7 (she has always seemed smaller) and her measurements in her pageant heyday: 37-21-36. As Nick would say, va-va-voom!

Oh, Bloody Fabulous! Thanks! (eom)
Posted by Miss Smith on 10/20/2005, 4:26 am, in reply to "Here ya go, Miss S."
Cute chick.

Posted by Mike Kuhns on 10/19/2005, 6:19 pm, in reply to "Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
I suspect Aldrich spent some time studying European cinema prior to KISS ME DEADLY. The film was poorly received in the U.S. at time of release but highly regarded among French critics. Its reputation continued to grow as years passed until it eventually reached classic status.

It is no surprise that those who regard THE DIRTY DOZEN and THE LONGEST YARD as Robert Aldrich's best films would have little regard for KISS ME DEADLY.

The style definitely seems more fifties Europe than fifties Hollywood. I think TOUCH OF EVIL is another American noir of the period that has somewhat the same style and feel. It, too, received a cool initial reception in the U.S., but is now generally regarded as a classic, inhabiting that alternate universe Jay mentioned.
Touch Of Evil otherworldly?

Posted by Harald the Swede on 10/20/2005, 2:29 am, in reply to "A European flavor"
That's an interesting thought I've never really considered. My immediate reaction is that it's a few characters as opposed to the universe that's otherworldly in TOE. But it has been a few years since I last watched it, so I wont say too much.

Re: A European flavor
Posted by David on 10/20/2005, 3:37 am, in reply to "A European flavor"
With respect - I didn't say that those Aldrich's were his 'best', I said that they were the films I liked the most from his catalog. I don't think anyone could paint me a non-fan of Euro-style - especially with my passion for films like 'Point Blank', 'Bob Le Flambeur', and others.
I love 'Touch Of Evil' as well.
I just wanted to set the record straight on this - as a huge fan/supporter of foreign films & foreign noirs - my dislike for 'KMD' is isolated to IT.

Re: 'Kiss Me Deadly' pure tawdriness
Posted by mondodave on 10/19/2005, 8:55 pm, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
First time I saw this picture, I was struck by the cheapness of the whole affair.
As the years have marched on, my respect has grown for this picture. Yes, the world view is crass, venal and grotesque. The characters despicable. Mike is a bottom feeder -- "Someone open a window." The acting for the mostpart mediocre, hammy and over the top.
KMD is so important because it's truly the first Noir independent picture -- made by the "Aldrich Company" -- and it introduces the handheld kineticism and dynamism associated with the New Wave. The live audio and background sounds alone separate it from all previous Hollywood movies. It's raw, earthy, and completely loveable. I confess to loving it even more because so many people don't appreciate it.
You can see why it's so influential in relation to the French New Wave. Because it makes the actual act of filmmaking appear to be accessible to everybody.
It might not be as "fine" a picture as the oft referred to classics, but it certainly is a unique vision -- which is probably the hardest thing to do in any artistic mileau.
Yes, Art and tawdriness are not mutually exclusive!

" the world becomes more primitive, its treasures become more fabulous."
Posted by Don Malcolm on 10/20/2005, 8:17 am, in reply to "'Kiss Me Deadly' - the not-so-great whatzit"
KMD's "pacing" isn't meant to work like the garden-variety detective noir. That's the reason why such a perspective is always going to leave one on the outside looking in when it comes to this film.
Others have chimed in sufficiently in KMD's defense so that I can keep my own comments mercifully brief, but the one element that hasn't been discussed explicitly is that of parody. (The "inhabiting an alternate universe" notion starts to touch on this somewhat.) The film is about what a simple-minded creep Hammer is from the get-go--but there's no doubt that Hammer is changed by the death of Nick. Aldrich has worked a Parsifal-like theme into the middle of a surreal, over-the-top parody of noir and tops it off with a barrage of Greek mythology. It's hilarious, harrowing, profound, and in-jokey all at once, and one of the reasons it works is due to the presence of the gravitas-dripping Albert Dekker as Dr. Soberin, who is fond of phrases teetering between profundity and pretentiousness like the one in the subject line.
KMD still seems out-of-whack today--but that's a good thing. It's as if Aldrich watched The Big Sleep and said "let me make Marlowe an anti-hero, make ALL the girls nymphos and ALL the creeps as ugly and nasty as possible!" Parody, my friends...
If you want classic noir, stick with OOTP or any other top-notch noir with one foot still planted in melodrama. If you want baroque noir, it's KMD and ToE. If you can't get with that, then it's a sure thing that you'd rather have the blues than what you've got.

"Classic Noir" and "Baroque Noir"
Posted by Ian W. Hill on 10/20/2005, 8:29 am

Beautiful way to put it! I'll always have to keep that one in mind (I've always thought of my favorite late-period noirs as "hysterical" noirs, but that always seemed off for some films like TOUCH OF EVIL and ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW).
Now I get it -- I love and enjoy "classic" noir, but I completely respond to and am in touch with "baroque" noir.
And glad you pointed out the humor of KMD, which seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle . . .

Posted by David on 10/20/2005, 9:15 am
For what it's worth - I'm down with 'Touch Of Evil', in a big way. So there goes that theory that myself and others are not into 'baroque'. By the way, how do you 'know' that it's pacing isn't meant to work as it does in other films?

Posted by Robert Land on 10/20/2005, 1:28 pm, in reply to "Re: " the world becomes more primitive, its treasures become more fabulous.""
Don Malcolm can answer for himself, but I'll point out one thing:
A lot of KISS ME DEADLY is done in continuous long takes, with camera movement adjusted to Ralph Meeker's lumbering walk. In that kind of shooting, the pacing is visible on the set, in the dailies, in the rough cut. Furthermore, the camera movement and the actor's movement have to be co-ordinated for the shot to be made at all. It's highly unlikely that the results are accidental.
In a case like this, a simple comparison of KMD's editing with the editing of other movies of the period would be a meaningful test of whether it's supposed to work like the others.

Posted by David on 10/20/2005, 2:22 pm, in reply to "Re: butting in"
It's a valid point Robert, I guess my complaints run deeper, and are more varied.

Posted by Don Malcolm on 10/20/2005, 7:40 pm, in reply to "Re: "
By the way, how do you 'know' that it's pacing isn't meant to work as it does in other films?
Robert gave a very good "technical" explanation of how it's possible to "know" this. Returning to the thematic element, it's clear from what Aldrich himself has said about the film that he was looking for ways to confound both noir conventions and general "film sense" expectations. A parody tends to distort/distend the form of its source material, while a satire would try to keep the sense of form but lampoon the characters and/or the plot.

For what it's worth - I'm down with 'Touch Of Evil', in a big way. So there goes that theory that myself and others are not into 'baroque'.
Except that ToE is not a parody, and is unmistakably the work of Welles, whose sense of composition is unparalleled. It's easier to get into ToE as a result if one falls under his spell (and so many have). Without Welles in the picture (figuratively and literally), ToE would be unthinkable. In fact, you can make a case for ToE being "rococo", with Lady From Shanghai being the first real example of a "baroque noir."
KMD, unlike ToE, has a pretty straightforward sense of "good/evil." It could be that the complete lack of such a frame of reference is too disconcerting to traverse in the landscape of noir. As others have said, KMD is pointing toward a more open, less centered sense of form and character. In a way, it also might be the first "neo-noir" (though Thomson sort of hints that he thinks The Big Sleep might have almost gotten there first, and as I noted earlier, the parallels between the two films are striking when you look at them in a certain way).
I just don't think that what anyone says here in defense of KMD is going to turn the trick for you, and it ain't really worth any of us (sooner or later) getting hostile about it. Your "deeper complaints" might be worth some kind of essay, rather than a series of scattershot discussions here. I'm sure we'd all be interested to read something more sustained on the subject of those objections, if something like that were to come to pass.
--Not that it's likely to change some peoples' minds, mind you!! :-)

Posted by RAnd on 10/20/2005, 5:47 pm, in reply to "paging "THE BLOG-MEISTER""

As usual, I'm a day late and a dollar short on the KISS ME DEADLY thread below. Count me on the side of those who like KMD but are not orgasmic about it. One aspect of the movie that no one brought up is the drastic change in the characters of Mike Hammer and his secretary, Velda, from the way Mickey Spillane portrayed them in the Hammer novels. A. I. Bezzerides, "the last of the proletariat poets", wrote the screenplay as an extremely loose adaptation of Spillane's novel of the same name. In THE BIG BOOK OF NOIR, there is an interesting interview with Bezzerides about KMD. He states his disdain for Spillane and his novel and basically wrote the story he wanted to write. In doing so he changed the relationship between Hammer and Velda from one of Hammer idealizing her to the point of avoiding a sex with her until "the time is right", to one of pimp and hooker. I think the drastic 180 degree change was Bezzerides' way of demonstrating his contempt for the ultra-violence and right wing tilt of Spillane's work. Spillane, needless to say, was unhappy with the result. However, the Hammer/Velda relationship as Spillane wrote it was, in it's own way, just as sick. Hammer was never above jumping in the sack with every stray woman he came across (and they all wanted him}, while Velda maintained her virginity, waiting for Mike to decide when the time was right. Double standard city!
I discovered Spillane at a young age, finding a copy of VENGEANCE IS MINE (sayeth the Lord.......and Mike Hammer!!!) in my dad's office and devouring it. I collected all the rest of his novels in short order and they ruined my life. Beautiful women consistently refused to go into heat at my approach and I carry the scars to this day (although I did considerably better than poor Velda).
At some point, I ran out of Spillane novels and went trolling for a substitute. Dashiell Hammet entered my life with THE MALTESE FALCON, followed in short order by all his novels, then Raymond Chandler. At first, these seemed like rather quiet, intellectual affairs, unpunctuated by more than one or two gunfights. They grew on me, though, or I grew up, and when I went back to the Spillane stuff as a young adult, I was shocked to find that it was not as good as when I first read it!
At any rate, movies have to be judged on their own merits, not those of the book they might be based on. For me KMD would have been better with a different title and the lead characters differently named. They're not the people I expected. THE MALTESE FALCON is a great movie precisely because it's so closely adapted from the classic novel. And THE BREAKING POINT is a noir while TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT isn't because TBP is much truer to Hemingway's original short story. Of course, KISS ME DEADLY is not a classic of literature in the same way, though many do consider it a classic in the hard- boiled genre. OX's jazz analogy works best for me--the best noir has an earthy, bluesy tone, while KMD is a little "cold around the heart", as someone else said about some other movie (a great noir as a matter of fact, BORN TO KILL).

Editor's note: See also "The Restoration of Kiss Me Deadly"


Paul M said...

Thanks for immortalizing this very interesting discussion!

Anonymous said...

Some great insights - from none other than Gaby Rogers! - about this film and her role in it: My Interview with Gaby Rogers, 7/15/02.

Wes Clark

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