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U.S., 1955
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Starring Ralph Meeker, Albert Decker, Paul Stewart
Approx. 105 min. 35mm.

"Va-Va-Va-Voom!" Wearing a raincoat for a nightie and panting orgasmically, a debuting Cloris Leachman's nighttime encounter with Ralph Meeker's "bedroom dick" Mike Hammer leads him — following a jazzy credit sequence that rolls backwards — on a search for a mysterious box. As his legality-be damned methods (which include slamming drawers on hands, casually snapping irreplaceable Carus 78s in half, and slapping every face in sight) lead hm and his succession of babe-magnet-sportscars all over location-shot L.A., the "great whatsit" (ripped of by REPO MAN and PULP FICTION) starts to look like a box that's too hot to handle and in a cataclysmic ending, it is. Dismissed on first release as just another piece of Mickey Spillane trash, and cited by a Congressional committee as a contribution to juvenile delinquency, Aldrich and A.I. Bezzerides' adaptation — “we just took the title and threw the book away" — was soon embraced by the French New Wavers  “the revelation of Robert Aldrich will no doubt be the cinema event of 1955" – Truffaut) and has since been hailed here not only as the blackest of noir, but also a biting commentary on McCarthyite America. "Played out through a deranged Cubistic space amid the debris of Western civilisation…the faux Calder mobile and checkerboard floor pattern of Hammer’s overdecorated pad — a bag of clubs in the corner and Hollywood's first answering machine built into the wall — add to the crazy, clashing expressionism. – J. Hoberman, Village Voice


“Robert Aldrich's 1955 film noir, the most flamboyant and hectic work of the genre, opens with a pre-credit sequence that announces its blend of sexual voracity, sadism, found poetry, sharp-edged performances, and visual invention... The actors' idiosyncratic voices, wrapped around such chrome-plated poetry as "the great whatsit" and "va-va-voom," are as hauntingly musical as Aldrich's images.”
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“Noir veers into apocalyptic sci-fi in Robert Aldrich's 1955 masterpiece KISS ME DEADLY, which, briefly described, tracks one of the sleaziest, stupidest, most brutal detectives in American movies through a nocturnal, inexplicably violent labyrinth to a white-hot vision of cosmic annihilation.”
– J. Hoberman, Criterion Collection

“The film whispers poisonous sweet nothings into your ear until there's nothing left but rotten paranoia. Corrosive half-truths infect both body and soul, and eventually all the seductive propositions and failed promises avalanche into something nuclear.”
– Glenn Health Jr., Slant

Film Forum