Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kiss Me, Deadly



(Click here if you can't see this film trailer of Kiss Me, Deadly.)

The controversial American crime writer Mickey Spillane just died this week. Known for his extreme right-wing opinions and the violence, nihilism and misogynism of his books, the very persona of Spillane paints a bleak picture of the post-World War II American psychopathology. Though I've never read any of his books (and probably never will until I shall ever become even more cynical, jaded and vengeful than I already am), I've found Robert Aldrich's aptly hard-boiled 1955 adaptation Kiss Me, Deadly one of my favourite pieces of film noir. Reflecting the 1950s Zeitgeist of atomic paranoia and anti-Communism, and with its suitably apocalyptic climax when the nuclear(?) Pandora's box will finally be opened, this nihilistic journey of Spillane's sadistic and truly dislikeable anti-hero detective character Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker) reveals something really fundamental about the mindset of this era. Va-va-voom!

There's hardly a more suitable director for this one than Robert Aldrich (1918-1983), known for his controversial films often verging on nihilism; the star-studded war movie Dirty Dozen (1967) probably the most famous of them. Aldrich's films are often about a group of tough, masculine men trying to survive in a harsh, violent environment but he also directed melodramatic (though not less cynical) psychodramas featuring women in such works as Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962), Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) or The Killing of Sister George (1968).

Back to Mike Hammer, a totally different Spillane adaptation is Richard T. Heffron's I, The Jury from 1982, with slick Armand Assante as Mike Hammer and one-time Bond girl Barbara Carrera as the female protagonist. In my teenage video nasty years I actually found this one quite entertaining with all its fast-paced gory action and sordid sex scenes (the plot involves a sex clinic with prostitute-like characters offering an interesting form of "therapy"). But then, the film was scripted by Hollywood's bad boy Larry Cohen, known for such cult shockers as It's Alive, with some social agenda full of satirical picks on consumerism and corporate values, so Cohen probably well understood the garish sleaziness hiding behind Spillanean gung-ho patriotic worldview. I haven't seen this film for years, though, so I can't really assess any of its worth now.



(Click here if you can't see this clip.)

Incidentally, the apocalyptic destruction scene at the final climax of Kiss Me, Deadly (with its ghastly screaming sounds) makes me somehow think of the infamous slow-motion ending of Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970) where Daria Halprin's character imagines the destruction of a luxury villa, being simultaneously the symbolic demolition of the American bourgeois way of life, with all the exploding fridges and flying Wonderbread packages. While Pink Floyd's 'Come In Number 51 Your Time Is Up' (a reworking of their 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene') plays in the background -- what a beautiful scene: one of my all-time favourites, absolutely. (Too bad the film itself is considered one of Antonioni's worst.) -- Anyway, I wonder if the makers of Koyaanisqatsi ever saw this one?

Other Mickey Spillane-related video clips @ YouTube + some with keywords 'Mike Hammer'

Juri on Spillane:

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