KISS ME DEADLY (Robert Aldrich, 1955)

From Mickey Spillane, Robert Aldrich’s film noir explodes even before its famous finale when—who knows? could be!—the world blows up.
     Despite his disarmingly gallant machismo, Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer adds to Bogart’s Sam Spade (in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon) an aura of protofascism; we watch him blur the line between man and boy, hero, antihero, p.d.-on-top-of-things and p.d.-in-over-his-head. While retaining Spade’s sadistic streak, Hammer thus adds to the investigative mix a disconcerting element of ambiguity. (Sam Spade opposes the ambiguousness of the fallen world in which he finds himself.)
     In short, the Mike Hammer of Kiss Me Deadly is the all-American guy, and as such he is something to worry about. (It is he that Aldrich is critiquing, not the Cold War or anti-Communist hysteria, although these derived from the former.) It is he that is the radioactive nightmare whose lethal projection one too-curious soul releases from a mysterious box. Where does that leave America? Do not ask Quentin Tarantino, whose clumsy quotation from Aldrich’s film in his Kiss Me Deadly wannabe, Pulp Fiction (1994), tries without stakes to set up a tent.

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