There are very few good people in Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, and those who do appear are on the screen for only a few minutes, usually terrified and trembling at the doom that they know awaits them. The world is never a hospitable place in the film noir movies made in Hollywood during the late 1940s and early 1950s. All are steeped in the mood of pessimism created by World War II with its extermination camps and nuclear bombings. But Kiss Me Deadly, released in 1955, is the most hopeless and least romantic of them all.
The claim that less-than-great novels make better films than literary masterpieces holds true here, and in extreme form. Aldrich's screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides adapted his script from the novel of the same name by Mickey Spillane, a perpetrator of vernacular mysteries that were hugely popular in the post-World War II American era of McCarthyist communist paranoia, but that read like schlock today.
In an excellent essay J. Hoberman contributes to the booklet included in this Criterion edition of the film, he quotes Spillane's private eye hero Mike Hammer expressing his views at the end of another Spillane novel: "I killed more people tonight than I have fingers on my hands. I shot them in cold blood and enjoyed every minute of it... they were Commies."
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