NOIRVEMBER FILM FEST #2: KISS ME DEADLY

Mickey Spillane’s fictional detective Mike Hammer found his way to the screen in Kiss Me Deadly (1955). It was directed by Robert Aldrich, whom one critic called a ‘pessimistic director.’ The movie kicks off with a chance meeting between Hammer and a woman who jumps in front of his car as he is driving down a Los Angeles road one night and winds up with some kind of nuclear device destroying a house. In one edit of the film, it is not just the house that is destroyed, it is literally the end of the world.

THE STORY & ITS THEME – GLUTTONS FOR OUR DOOM

Kiss Me Deadly begins with Christina running barefoot down a California highway. She is desperately trying to stop passing cars. She becomes so desperate she steps directly in front of a convertible driven by Mike Hammer, a corrupt private investigator who focuses on divorce cases.
During the drive, Christina reveals her name and says it is like the poet Christina Rossetti. She tells Mike about Rossetti’s poem ‘Remember Me.’
After they travel a ways down the road, they hit a checkpoint. Officers say they are looking for an escaped patient from a mental institution. Hammer decides to help Christina out instead of turning her in. He agrees to take her to a bus stop. They stop at a gas station where Christina mails a letter.
Before they reach the bus stop, they’re ambushed and taken to a house where Christina is killed. The captors decide to make her death an accident. They place Christina’s dead body, along with an unconscious Hammer, in Hammer’s car and push it off the road, down a mountainside.
Three days later, Hammer wakes up in the hospital. The police interrogate him, but he refuses to cooperate because he is convinced something big is happening. He finds out Christina was killed because she knew an awful secret, something of great value. He tracks down Christina’s address and discovers she had a roommate named Lilly. Lilly needs Mike to keep her safe because the same people who tried to kill Mike are now after her.
Mike continues to chase down the valuable something. But all his snooping results in his secretary/part-time girlfriend, Velda, being kidnapped. Hammer drives to the gas station and asks the attendant what name was on the letter Christina asked him to mail. When he realizes he was the one she mailed the letter to, Hammer returns home, is knocked out by the bad guys, and taken to a beach house.
The bad guys want to know what Christina meant when she told Hammer, “Remember me.”
Hammer escapes his captors. He travels to the morgue to see if perhaps the cryptic words “Remember me” meant something. He discovers that during her autopsy the medical examiner found a key. He finds out the key belongs to a locker. He opens the locker and finds a box that is hot to the touch. He cracks the box open and burns his wrist. He leaves the box in the locker and goes to the police.
But Lilly, Christina’s roommate, is not what she seems. The real Lilly was killed and a woman named Gabrielle took her place. Gabrielle follows Mike and finds out he has found the box. She takes the box and prepares to opens it.
Mike shows up and tries to convince her not to open it. She does not listen. She shoots him.
As she opens the box and is consumed in flames, Hammer manages to find Velda and escape as the house blows up. (In an alternative ending, no escapes and it is the end of the world.)

The apocalyptic theme of the movie reminds us that we are gluttons for our own doom. We cannot stop chasing the things that can destroy us.
Velda asks Mike when he is going to stop chasing the value item everyone is looking for after a friend of Mike’s is killed. She asks him how many friends of his will have to die. She calls what Mike is looking for “The Great Whatsit.” And she says, “Does it exist? Who cares? Everyone everywhere is so involved in the fruitless search for what?”
One of the bad guys tells Hammer, “As the world becomes more primitive, its treasures become more fabulous.”
The end Gabrielle cannot help herself. Even though she is about to give the box over, she is curious about what is in it.
One man tells Gabrielle that she cannot know what is in it. He calls it Pandora’s Box. This is an allusion to a myth about a gift given to Pandora. When curiosity got the best of Pandora, she opened the box and unleashed destruction (all the evils of the world).
The same man also calls Gabrielle Lot’s wife. In the Bible story about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s family escape the destruction of the cities. But, Lot’s wife, out of curiosity, turned back to look at the destroyed city and turned to salt.
Does Gabrielle heed the warnings? No. She shoots the man so she can open the box.
When Mike Hammer shows up, she shoots him as well. She opens the box and it consumes her in a holocaust of flame and fire.

THE CHARACTERS CHASING THE BOX – A PICTURE OF MODERN NIHILISM

Every character fails to understand what they are pursuing. They do not realize they are pursuing their own destruction.
The bad guys don’t care they have something so destructive in their possession.
Gabrielle is too curious to care she is facing her own destruction. She prefers experience and knowledge over restraint.
Hammer is too uninformed. He thinks he has everything under control. When he meets up with the police to tell them that he has found the box, he still thinks it is all just a game. It is not until the detective tells him he has found a nuclear device that Hammer is apologetic. He says, “I didn’t know.”
Together these characters form a powerful look at how people deal with the things that could destroy them.
Bad people don’t care. Curious people can’t turn away and chase the experience. Uninformed people think they are in control of the situation and keep moving forward without recognizing they are on the verge of their own destruction.

What are we to make of such destruction in Kiss Me Deadly? It provides us a powerful check against our desires. We ought to stop and ask some very real questions before we chase after our desires. We ought to ask, ‘Is this experience worth it?’ Or ‘What are the possible consequences of my pursuits?’

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