Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Kiss Me Deadly (1955), produced and directed by Robert Aldrich.

Racing down a midnight highway in his Jaguar, Mike Hammer swerves to miss a hitchhiker and picks her up: a young woman wearing only a trench-coat. She's just escaped from a mental hospital. Then the roof falls in on both of them: torture, murder, car bomb, radiation burns, and we follow him through a brutal twisty plot, culminating in a spectacular and bizarre science fiction climax.

When people lampoon hard-boiled detectives, they are thinking more of Mickey Spillane's Hammer than Raymond Chandler's Marlowe. Born in pulp magazines, the genre moves closer to comic book territory with this film.

Here, Hammer still has some of the private detective heritage: he has a bit of knight errantry left and is friends with the poor and downtrodden. He gets beat up and drugged. The police are more of a hazard than a help.

But he is also more of a creep. He pimps his girlfriend (?) to get the goods on his male subjects. He's sadistic when he fights. He has a supply of sports-cars; Marlowe never had those toys. And that fine spotless apartment: did some metrosexual neighbor decorate it for him before moving on to Matt Helm? Although: maybe that is a rebellious gesture toward the (supposedly) conformist 1950s. Mike Hammer doesn't care what you think of him or his apartment.

Note the massive wall-mounted telephone answering machine: when did that first appear in movies?

I can't say I followed the plot very closely, but it has some fine photography, plenty of action, many familiar 1950s faces, and a good Frank DeVol score.

Criterion Blu-ray. Two film noir and Aldrich scholars have a nice chat about the film on the commentary track. They are particularly nostalgic for LA buildings that are long gone. They don't agree with me that Hammer has any decency left.