- Kiss Me Deadly review by Count Otto Black
Mickey Spillane's once-popular ultra-violent private eye Mike Hammer didn't make it onto the big screen anything like as often as the creations of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, because he was simply too nasty to be acceptable as any kind of hero. Robert Aldrich, the man who gave the world "The Dirty Dozen" and helped invent the spaghetti western, always had a way with extremely violent and not very pleasant "heroes", plus a gift for intelligently subversive irony completely lacking in the the original Mike Hammer novels, so he was the ideal director to bring the character to life. And Ralph Meeker is absolutely perfect as a borderline psychopath whose finest quality is a crude loyalty to his few friends that would just about qualify as a redeeming feature in an alpha male chimpanzee. I guarantee you won't like this guy on any level for one second, but you'll still care what happens to him. That's good acting, good directing, and good movie-making all round.
In a crucial change from the source novel, Hammer is, for purely selfish reasons, on the trail of the ultimate McGuffin, a "great whatsit" he knows nothing about except that people are willing to kill lots of other people to get it, therefore it must be immensely valuable. In the book, it's a suitcase full of heroin, and Hammer knows that all along. In the movie, it's something altogether different (and much more interesting), and when Hammer finally figures out what it is, he's not so sure he wants it after all. But by then, everything's out of control. Another change from the source material is that the police, instead of being in awe of this man who can do their job so much better than they can (usually by slaughtering all the bad guys), despise him as a sleazy thug who treats the woman who loves him no better than a pimp, and literally ask for a window to be opened when they have to be around him.
Mike Hammer, as portrayed here, is the toughest tough guy of them all. No wisecracks, just relentless brutality; he metes out the same level of nastiness to a corrupt official who disgusts him by demanding a bribe, and an honest man who annoys him by refusing one. If you include everything that's implied but kept just off screen so the censor will let it pass, this is a staggeringly violent film, and none of it is the slightest bit glamorous. However, your attention never wanders, and almost everyone who's onscreen for more than a few seconds instantly springs to life as a fascinatingly twisted character in a dark, sleazy world you're constantly intrigued by (watch out for spaghetti western regular Jack Elam playing another kind of villain while waiting for spaghetti westerns to be invented). If you like film noir, this is probably the ultimate example of the genre. And you simply won't believe that ending!
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