Kiss Me Deadly

I personally prefer private eyes in movies who go about their work without the need to question their selfish motives or their need to solve problems with violence. If they were meant to ask moral questions, they’d have become a regular police detective. Mike Hammer, a Mickey Spillane creation in 1955’s “Kiss Me Deadly,” solves crimes like an old-school private detective, even when the police would rather that he mind his own business.

Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer in "Kiss Me Deadly."

Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer in “Kiss Me Deadly.”

In Kiss Me Deadly, directed by Robert Aldrich, Ralph Meeker plays the handsome and rather brutish detective, who catches the attention of every woman in the room while sticking his nose into incredible danger for no reason at all. The movie opens with Cloris Leachman, who plays Christina Bailey, running in panic down the middle of a California highway. She wears nothing but a robe and attempts, unsuccessfully, to flag down car after car. Finally, she steps in front of a fancy sports car driven by Mike Hammer (Meeker), who swerves to avoid her. He picks her up and she tells a story about being locked up against her will in a mental institution. Eventually, thugs catch up to them and kill Christina and seriously injure Mike Hammer.

Of course, Hammer wants to get even, but the police take away his private investigator license and forbid him to use a gun. Hammer’s lovely assistant, Velda, encourages him to forget the Christina case. But Hammer is sick and tired of tracking cheating wives and husbands, and wants a meatier case. And boy, does he get one. This one involves vicious thugs and ring of crooks transporting highly volatile materials. The plot involves several showdowns with dangerous characters, and some of them try to buy Hammer off. Naturally, a private eye of Hammer’s ilk wouldn’t dream of accepting less than the complete truth and justice.

The criminals heighten the tension by knocking off one of Hammer’s friends, a Greek auto mechanic named Nick. Naturally, Hammer doesn’t take that well, but he also doesn’t revel in grief. The problem with Hammer being so stiff, formal and upright is that it shifts the main focus onto a slightly convoluted plot. Aldrich and Spillane almost always tell the story from Hammer’s point of view, so the danger points appear suddenly.

Like other noir films of the 1950’s, this movie features a jazzy soundtrack and sexy and straightforward women. There’s lots of kissing, including one scene where a woman immediately embraces Hammer passionately at a party. He doesn’t know the woman, and she doesn’t figure into the plot. Hammer kisses women a lot, but none of the smooches turn out to be deadly. The volatile material and clues uncovered by Hammer is very deadly, however, which leads to an explosive finale.

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