Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

“First you find a little thread. A little thread leads you to a string, and the string leads you to a rope… And from the rope — you hang by the neck.”

After narrowly escaping death, private detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) investigates the mysterious murder of a hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman), hoping he will stumble onto big money.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cloris Leachman Films
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Gangsters and Mafia
  • Juano Hernandez Films
  • Los Angeles
  • Murder Mystery
  • Nuclear Threat
  • Paul Stewart Films
  • Ralph Meeker Films
  • Robert Aldrich Films
  • Search

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s 1952 detective novel remains “one of the most dazzling works of the fifties”. Director Robert Aldrich makes effective use of “wild camera angles and abrupt, jarring editing to symbolize a world out of orbit”: from the film’s opening sequence — in which breathless Cloris Leachman literally throws herself in front of Hammer’s car to get him to stop — we recognize that everyone in this universe is out for himself; indeed, Hammer pursues the mystery of Leachman’s death out of greed rather than a sense of decency, and readily prostitutes his adoring girlfriend (well played by Maxine Cooper) to earn a buck. Although none of the characters in Kiss Me Deadly are particularly appealing, we remain glued to our seats in anticipation of discovering what’s contained in the mysterious box Hammer (and top-level crooks) are after; the final scenes — which reveal the answer to this mystery — remain perhaps the most taut denouement of any detective thriller in cinematic history.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer
  • Cloris Leachman in her first (albeit far too brief) film role
  • Gaby Rodgers as Leachman’s manipulative roommate
  • Maxine Cooper as Hammer’s loyal girlfriend
  • The highly memorable opening sequence
  • Hammer’s reel-to-reel answering machine — probably the first shown on-screen
  • Effectively brutal and realistic violence, without explicit gore
  • Good use of diverse Los Angeles locales
  • Ernest Laszlo’s noirish cinematography
  • Creative opening titles, rolling backwards across the screen like painted words on asphalt
  • The truly frightening ending sequence

Must See?
Yes. Aldrich’s once-controversial noir classic — which, as Peary notes, was “a major influence on the French New Wave” — holds a special place in film history. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies (1981).


  • Controversial Film
  • Cult Movie
  • Genuine Classic
  • Historical Importance

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

  1. Yes, one terrific must!

    This one is nearly flawless, helped immensely by the fact that we – and protagonist Hammer – know just about nothing of what’s going on for most of the picture. Tension is taut from the get-go. Along the thrill-ride way – thanks not only to director Aldrich but DP Ernest Laszlo and screenwriter A. I. Bezzerides – clues of this “riddle without an answer” are a series of vignettes, each of which are little character-study jewels. (Did John Huston kick himself for not getting this gig?) While watching, one wonders: what’s in this for Hammer?; this isn’t his line – until we realize that Leachman was “connected with something big” and, as Cooper points out, “the cut of something big could be something big.” Hammer’s love/hate relationship with sleaze fascinates.

    There’s a whole lot of vintage B-movie talk here –
    a fave:
    “They said to keep that in mind – and they’d make it worth my while.”
    “…Alright, how much did they give you? I’ll top that.”
    “You can’t top this: they said they’d let me breathe.”

    There’s an added mind-fuck you won’t see coming – always a plus.

  2. I can watch this again and again. It is so good, cast,direction,photography, writing.
    Percy Helton, memorable as the morgue attendant who tries to blackmail Hammer.
    Fortunio Bonanova as the would-be opera singer. Velda calls him, “A poor man’s Caruso, an unemployed opera singer in search of an opera.”
    Also impressive is Wesley Addy as the cop who despises Hammer and calls him, “ A penny-ante gumshoe.”

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