The Criterion Collection will be releasing Kiss Me Deadly on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday. Made in 1955 by director Robert Aldrich (What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, The Dirty Dozen), this is the classic nihilistic film noir. Ralph Meeker is Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and plays him as a violent bully in this loose adaptation Spillane’s novel.
This wasn’t the first Mike Hammer film. I, the Jury was made in 1953 and in 3-D. And Spillane himself later played Mike Hammer in 1963’s The Girl Hunters. Neither film holds a candle to this one.
Due to the Production Code Administration’s strict rules most of the original novel’s plot involving drugs couldn’t be used. So a spy plot involving atomic secrets was introduced. Screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides said of the screenplay. “I wrote it fast because I had contempt for it … I tell you Spillane didn’t like what I did with his book. I ran into him at a restaurant and, boy, he didn’t like me….People ask me about the hidden meanings in the script, about the A-bomb, about McCarthyism, what does the poetry mean, and so on. And I can only say that I didn’t think about it when I wrote it . . . I was having fun with it. I wanted to make every scene, every character, interesting. A girl comes up to Ralph Meeker, I make her a nympho. She grabs him and kisses him the first time she sees him. She says, “You don’t taste like anybody I know.” I’m a big car nut, so I put in all that stuff with the cars and the mechanic. I was an engineer, and I gave the detective the first phone answering machine in that picture. I was having fun.”
It took several drafts of the screenplay before the PCA approved the script along with a warning to be careful “in the depiction of brutality and sex.” Figuring that with the PCA’s approval there wouldn’t be anymore problems for the film it was then that the Legion of Decency condemned and then allowed the film to pass although they stated that “This film tends to glorify taking the law into one’s own hand. Moreover, it contains excessive brutality and suggestiveness in costume, dialogue and situations.”
Further trouble arose when CBS refused to air trailers for the film because CBS-TV censor Ed Nathan felt the film had “no purpose except to incite sadism and bestiality in human beings.”
Despite all the complaints this film stand as a brilliant example of film noir.