The Distraction Blogathon – Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and the glowing box…

I’ve been flirting with the idea of taking this blogging thing to a whole new level – no, not podcasts. YouTube. ‘Cause I’m a visual person, you see. And while there are tons of classic movie channels and content on YouTube, something that hardly ever gets talked about are the screenplays of some of those classics. Sure, Casablanca and Citizen Kane get talked about to death – is it weird that I pride myself in never having talked about them at all here on the Garden? I mean, what could I possibly say at this point that every Tom, Dick and Harry hasn’t already said? – but what about those poor suckers that don’t get a chance? Personally, I’m amazed Kiss Me Deadly (1955, dir. Robert Aldrich) doesn’t come up more often. And because this is Noirvember, I shall rectify that. And because this is a Red Herrings and MacGuffins-themed blogathon hosted by my friend Rebecca at Taking up Room, I shall rectify that even more. Bring on A. I. Bezzerides! Bring on the glowing box that everyone’s been homage-ing for years (lookin’ at you, Tarantino)! Let’s go!

We’ve talked about Bezzerides here on the Garden, on the much-missed (or is it just me?) SCREENPLAY BY series. His greatest and best-known achievement is, of course, Kiss Me Deadly and one of the things that makes it great is Bezzerides’ tight screenplay, which moves along beautifully, edging ever closer to that great twist. This is where we start off: a woman (Cloris Leachman in her film debut) runs down the road wearing only a trench-coat in one of film noir’s greatest openings. She stops a car, driven by Detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker at his coolest), gets in, the opening credits roll… downwards… and then they crash, and she dies. But wait, it’s not quite that simple… You see, some guys railroad them, then torture her to death as Hammer loses consciousness. Before all of this, though, she tells Mike her name is Christina and to ‘remember’ her. What follows is typical film noir: anti-hero Hammer hounds the streets of Los Angeles looking for any clues as to who this Christina woman was and what she meant by ‘remember me’, he meets dodgy characters with cool names, he gets sent around town to all these places looking for anything that might be of use, he almost gets shot by Christina’s roommate Lily Carver (Gaby Rodgers) and he even gets to punch Jack Lambert at a pool party. He knows that there is something big connected to this Christina… something someone knows about but nobody’s telling. And then, just as we thought we were watching just another noir, Kiss Me Deadly gives us one of the greatest shock twists of all time.

Velda (Maxine Cooper), Hammer’s girlfriend and secretary, mentions the great Whatsit about an hour into the film and we soon learn that it comes in the form of a mysterious box containing… radioactive material. It is here that Kiss Me Deadly goes from being a noir with a familiar formula of ‘we don’t know what we’re looking for but we know we gotta find it’ to an allegory for all that American society feared in 1955. The interesting overlapping of the classic noir period and futuristic Sci-fi dystopia couldn’t have come at a better (or worse?) time and though Bezzerides himself admits that his screenplay was not, in fact, a metaphor for the whole McCarthy situation, one can’t be blamed for assuming so. With its nihilist and cynical tone, Kiss Me Deadly starts with paranoia and ends with paranoia. From the presumed femme fatale being chased by the bad guys, to the threat of a nuclear apocalypse. It’s a fun one, Kiss Me Deadly… For more entries on the Distraction blogathon, click here!

16 thoughts on “The Distraction Blogathon – Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and the glowing box…

  1. mikefilmbuff

    Great start to this new chapter. Looking forward to more of these. I remember you talking about this screenwriter. Also think Aldrich is an underrated director. Love it when screenplays can be interpreted in different ways. The film definitely hasn’t aged. Also like your eclectic tastes- going in 1 month from abbot and Costello to kiss me deadly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Distraction Blogathon Has Arrived – Taking Up Room

  3. I have not seen this in a long time. It must be an extra long time because I’m an avid credit reader and I didn’t recall it was Bezzerides. Thieves’ Highway is the first movie that comes to my mind when I hear the name or possibly The Big Valley.

    Loved reading your article and the way you not so subtly pushed me toward Kiss Me Deadly. Also, I rather like your YouTube idea. When it has percolated to the point of perfection, I’ll be there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Perfect choice for this blogathon. And you got me wondering about A.I. Bezzerides, a name I should be more familiar with. Just looked him up on IMDb, and his filmography is impressive.

    Anyway, definitely time to see this strange and stylish movie again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brian

    It’s interesting that instead of going the conventional cold war communist conspiracy route, e.g., “I Was a Communist for the FBI”, Kiss Me Deadly heads straight into surreal B sci-fi movie territory. It makes a film that was already memorable (and brutal) unforgettable. An interesting note: Mickey Spillane’s original novel dealt with narcotics and the Mafia, instead of the great “whatsit.”
    Best of luck on your Youtube project!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Dennis Sullivan

    I’d never seen it before until tonight. I was unfair towards it at the start as it seemed so standard (and cheap) and has some ‘unusual’ directing choice, but yes, the twist is great. Amazing how one detail can push something into a completely different realm. And the end is bonkers! With no possible happy resolution! I’ll be thinking about it for awhile.

    Liked by 1 person

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