Kiss Me Deadly from 1955, stars Ralph Meeker and was directed by Robert Aldrich from the novel by Mickey Spillane. The opening scenes are superb, pitching the viewer straight into the action and creating a sense of excitement and panic right from the get-go. There is no hanging around, no building up character or setting the scene – these things still happen, but are integrated into the fast-moving plot. As with all good noir heroes Meeker’s character Mike Hammer is no angel, but his demeanour and calm under attack soon have us onside. How can you not root for a guy who disarms a baddie with just a box of popcorn?
There are some typical noir shots, and one memorably long one take scene in a boxing club. However after the initial nighttime scene the shadows are not dark enough and the the camera angles not skewed enough. The femme isn’t fatale enough and it sinks more into being a detective story. The hero isn’t wisecracking enough and he doesn’t even seem to have enough personal problems to be a true noir.
This is a MacGuffin film as Hitchcock would have it, meaning the plot involves various people searching for something, in this case ‘The great Whatsit’. The plot is more understandable than some noirs, but of course that isn’t saying a lot. It wouldn’t matter what the MacGuffin was, as long as we know that everyone wants it. In Kiss me Deadly it has a sci-fi element that seems to this viewer not to be what classic noir is about. Instead the film is often read as a metaphor for Cold War paranoia. Meeker plays the anti-hero ‘tec to perfection, but he is really just moving from one dropped clue to another usually via a beating – either given or received.
I know this goes against the critical vein, but Kiss me Deadly isn’t noiry enough for me. It’s an engrossing caper and there are most of the noir tropes that the viewer looks out for. But the sci-fi McGuffin side of things is somehow out of place and it isn’t for me one of the pitch black classics.
It’s still a cracking film though.