Directed by Robert Aldritch
On Tuesday night I watched The Big Heat; on Wednesday, Kiss Me Deadly. The first is a good movie; the second is not. Kiss Me Deadly suffers from its nihilism. It is too “noir” for its own good. By the time the apocalyptic ending comes about, you simply don’t care. You’re just grateful it’s over.
This is a hard core B movie. Speaking broadly, though made on a small budget, it’s quite well done from a craft point of view.
Choice of shots, lighting, editing … all create a very fast-faced film that, through its tempo, hides its budgetary imperfections. (The ending is a bit of an exception, however.)
What pacing and camera work can’t cover up is the essence of the story and of the characters. It’s a Mickey Spillane tale and this means almost every character in it is an asshole in one way or another. Ralph Meeker plays a great Mike Hammer.
His performance is great. Unfortunately, his character is Mike Hammer and you just wish he would go away. While a few redeeming qualities do exist in the Hammer character, they are revealed far too late in the film for you to warm up to him. Being a tough guy is not a bad thing in a lead character but being an obnoxious tough guy is.
While the tonal darkness of the film is appropropriate, the lack of balance with anything off-setting makes the overall movie feel like a lengthy root canal procedure. It’s painful and unrelenting.
The ending, while fitting, leaves you wondering about the point of the whole thing.
The film begins in darkness and ends in deeper darkness and while this may make it almost the quinessential noir film it also reveals the weakness of the noir approach, at least when taken to excess. As with consuming too much of any good thing, you’re left feeling queasy.
The film makes for an interesting study though. As one of the latter films of the initial wave of noir films (roughly mid 40′s to mid 50′s), it shows the style at its furthest reaches of development. Its strengths have now become weaknesses. The darkness that informed the style in its beginnings and created a tone for the telling of certain stories has now become the dominent feature of the stories. It’s far too excessive here.
Noir, I think, is essentially romance turned on its head. It’s about disappointment and its mood is melancholy. In Kiss Me Deadly, the undertone of romantic loss is gone and is replaced by self-indulgent cynicism (the ultimate opposite end of romance). It ends now not in disappointment but horrific “I told you so” disaster.
While I suppose it’s as legitimate viewpoint as any, as a film experience it’s an unpleasant one.
Recommended for noir freaks only. Definitely NOT recommended for anyone suffering from depression.