Kiss Me Deadly (Criterion Blu-Ray)

Director - Robert Aldrich

Cast - Ralph Meeker, Gaby Rodgers

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - 1

MSRP - $29.95

Distributor - Criterion

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

The Film (5/5)

     A truly great film is one that reveals itself to you over time. It is not something that is always immediately apparent the first or second time you view it.  It's something that reveals it's greatness with each individual viewing as it burns it's images into your brain, until you one day realize that this film that you keep watching transcends the category of simply a good film, and truly is a masterpiece.

     The film I am talking about is Kiss Me Deadly, and the first time I saw it in a film class, all I knew was it influenced the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. After that viewing I thought it was all right, but I'd seen other film noirs before, so it didn't stand out to me. After watching the new Criterion Blu-ray, and seeing Kiss Me Deadly for the first time in over 5 years, I have had the aforementioned masterpiece revelation. 

   As I watched the adventures of Robert Aldrich's take on Mike Hammer unfold on screen, I found myself taken in by the film as I had never been before.  My wife joined me for the final 15 minutes, when it was over she asked if we could watch it again some time, so she could see it all the way through. I said, how about now? And we did.

     Like my beloved Gialli, there is something I find obsessive about the film noir genre.  Yes, their is something formulaic about many of these films, but the grittiness of these films, the start black and white cinematography.  The performances, and the atmosphere, will always keep me coming back.  Kiss Me Deadly has all of these, and more.

   Kiss Me Deadly began life as just another in Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer series of detective novels.  The original book was about Hammer getting caught up in a conspiracy involving a drug smuggling ring.  I haven't read the book, but have read a bit of Spillane in the past, and from what I understand it charts a similar course to much of his 50's work.

   When Director Robert Aldrich and writer A.I. Bezzerides got their mitts on the adaptation of the book they decided to throw it all out, except for Mike Hammer, and the basic framework of the story.  They decided much like the sci-fi films of the era, to use their film to make a political statement about the nuclear fears of the era, and in doing so created not just one of the greatest film noirs of the 50's, but one of the greatest of all time.

     The film is grounded by a series by series of excellent performance from the spark that lights the stick of dynamite character Christina played wonderfully by Cloris Leachman (Crazy Mama) in her big screen film debut, to Ralph Meeker as the immortal Mike Hammer.  Watching this film again, it actually blows my mind that Meeker never made more of an impact in Hollywood outside of being an action man, his performance in Kiss Me Deadly is film noir gold, and in my opinion is the definitive Mike Hammer performance. 

     Also, worth mentioning is the sheer volume of excellent side characters in this film, and while some of them only garner a few minutes of screen time, almost none of them are wasted. From the opera singer that Mike interrogates in the latter portion of the film to Nick his best friend and mechanic, who acts as an excellent comic foil to Meeker's take on Hammer.

   The film opens on a dark stretch of California highway Christina (Cloris Leachman) is on the run from a local mental institution, and throws herself in front of the car of divorce detective Mike Hammer, when sticking her thumb out simply doesn't work.  Within a few minutes of their meeting, she is dead, and he is comatose, and hospitalized.  Thus begins Mike's investigation into Christina's murder, which starts out as a small investigation, and gets much more epic at every turn. Kiss Me Deadly is not a murder mystery, this is a film noir that truly raises the stakes.

Audio/Video (5/5)

     I have seen this twice before in the past, both from the DVD source, once projected, and once on a CRT screen. I can, therefore, attest that this Blu-ray release not only betters that release, but completely blows it out of the water.  Criterion have, or course, preserved the films original 1:67:1 theatrical aspect ratio in a gorgeous 1080p transfer.  This depth and clarity of this transfer is nothing short of astonishing, as I've said I have seen the prior DVD projected, and there were details that I caught on my 42" screen that I did not see in that viewing. There is a healthy amount of grain, giving an amazing natural film look to the transfer, and the black levels are quite deep.  Kiss Me Deadly on home video has never looked this good, and this transfer is unlikely to be surpassed.

     The audio is presented in a similarly excellent LPCM 1.0 English track with optional English subtitles, much like the video the audio work is nothing short of astonishing. The only negative I could find was a minor amount of hissing during some portions of the film, otherwise, dialogue, music, and effects are mixed well, and there are no other audio defects.

 

Extras (3.5/5)

     Criterion have once again put together a marvelous package together for this release. It kicks off with a 7 minute featurette with Sid and Nancy director Alex Cox discussing the film, and the book. We then have a 40 minute documentary entitled Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane, this is directed by director and writer Max Allan Collins, and is a bio of Kiss Me Deadly author Mickey Spillane.  We then have a 10 minute documentary piece called the Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides which interviews screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides, Mickey Spillane, and authors Barry Gifford, and George Pelecanos about Kiss Me Deadly. This is followed up by Bunker HIll, Los Angeles an exploration of the films locations by Jim Dawson and narrated by Don Bajema.  We then have the truncated ending to the film, which was restored to the current longer version in 1997, and ends prematurely. Finally, we have a theatrical trailer in 1080p, and a commentary by film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini.  Criterion has also included an excellent booklet with essays by New York Times film critic J. Hoberman and You Cant Hang Up The Meat Hook by Robert Aldrich, a NY Herald-Tribune article about the controversy surrounding the film.

 

Overall

One of the greatest film noirs of all time, in an excellent package. The Audio/Video restoration alone is worth the upgrade, but the extras really push this into HIGHLY Recommended territory. Not only a great film noir, but one of the best films of the 50's.