From its famous opening with a woman (Cloris Leachman) running barefoot down the road, dressed in nothing but a trenchcoat, and the screeching sound of a car coming to a halt, everything is done to disconcert and make the viewers feel uncomfortable. The smooth voice of Nat King Cole plays while the credits run but we see them backwards, punctuated by the heavy breathing and sobs of the female hitchhiker, Christina. In a couple of scenes though, she will be brutally murdered. And just what are we to make of the supposed hero, the ultra macho and ridiculously named Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker)? A playboy private investigator with a swish apartment and sports car, not afraid to use violence and pimp his secretary for his work if it gets results – hardly a wise cracking gent like Philip Marlowe. Film noir doesn’t come much more hard boiled than this. Hammer tries to find out what Christina knew before she died, following the trail through seedy hotels, down dark alleyways and staircases. Yet those in power seem determined to keep him away from something mysterious and important, employing any means necessary.
The director, Robert Aldich was born into a wealthy family and was a cousin of Nelson Rockefeller. Yet he turned his back on inherited wealth by taking a job at RKO and working with directors like Renoir and Polonsky before starting to make his own films in the fifties. Today he’s probably best remembered for The Dirty Dozen and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Interestingly, the fragmented story and brutality of Kiss Me Deadly which so revolted some critics on its release make it seem fresh and modern today. Although it was a reflection of the paranoia of the fifties, concern about the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse still remains real and of course, there is part of us that could never resist opening that famous box Hammer finally tracks down. It’s also easy to see how it influenced the equally famous briefcase in Pulp Fiction as well as shows like the X-Files. It’s also a rare chance to see the Bunker Hill area in Los Angeles, the setting for John Fante’s masterpiece Ask The Dust, and now sadly demolished to make way for the dull downtown area.
At the moment, you can even find the complete film on YouTube.