Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Remember Ralph Meeker? The consumate badass?
Sadly, Ralph Meeker never achieved the stardom he deserved, if only for playing Mike Hammer in “Kiss Me Deadly.” This is another film noir, with a post-nuclear twist. It wasn’t the most seamless hybrid, but it works.
The film starts with Cloris Leachman running down the middle of a street, naked except for a trenchcoat. She’s escaped from a lunatic asylum, where she swears she was being held illegally, that she’s not crazy. Naturally, bad guys intercept the couple, beat the crap out of Mike Hammer, and torture-murder the girl.
Mike finds himself drawn into the mystery, breaking a few noses and a few hearts on the way.
As we reach the climax, we find that the sought after treasure was not jewels or money, but something far more sinister.
“Kiss Me Deadly” is revered as a classic film noir–everyone smokes, and there are lots of shadowy staircase shots–but it was also one of the final releases of the golden noir age. This is because Hollywood began focusing more on nuclear annihilation and/or the effects of the bomb (“Them,” for example, with its radiation-mutated giant ants)
Ralph Meeker was an awesome Mike Hammer. He had the attitude, propensity toward violence, and a “love ’em & leave ’em” attitude toward women.
The ending isn’t especially strong, but to paraphrase The Grateful Dead, “We may be going to hell in a bucket, baby, but at least we can enjoy the ride.”