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!