KISS ME DEADLY (1955) B/W widescreen 105m dir: Robert Aldrich

w/Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Wesley Addy, Maxine Cooper, Cloris Leachman

One of film noir 's darkest nightmares, this is a grim adaptation of one of Mickey Spillane's "Mike Hammer" thrillers. Meeker is Hammer, a sleazy gumshoe on the trail of "the great whatsit" (actually a box filled with a radioactive substance), who's willing to beat, berate, and otherwise abuse anyone standing in his way. Directed with stunning artistry (and tongue firmly in cheek) by Aldrich, the film has weathered critical distaste to emerge as a cult classic, a brutal and often very funny critique of Spillane's macho sensibility and the nuclear paranoia of 1950's America.

From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films : "From a mediocre story (Aldrich: 'We just took the title and threw the book away.') Aldrich created one of the most extraordinary films of the Fifties. It was shot in only 22 days on a low budget using a relatively unknown cast. In an interview with [Francois] Truffaut, Aldrich said: 'Mike Hammer is an antidemocrat, a fascist. Truffaut : You used poetic effects in place of the coarseness of the novel. Should we understand the climax of the film as the end of the world? Aldrich : I don't know about that. I made the ending ambiguous to avoid police interference.' Aldrich said later: 'I was very proud of the film. I think it represented a whole breakthrough for me. In terms of style, in terms of the way we tried to make it, it provided a marvelous showcase to display my own ideas of moviemaking. ... It did have a basic significance in our political framework that we thought rather important in those McCarthy times: that the ends did not justify the means (but) the French ... and others read into it all sorts of terribly profound observations.'"