Kiss Me Deadly Blu-ray Review
"I should have thrown you off that cliff back there. I might still do it."
Kiss Me Deadly Film Review
Robert Aldrich's 1955 neo-noir adaptation of Kiss Me Deadly is one of the few decent adaptations of Mickey Spillane's hardboiled pulp detective stories.Although the neo-noir movement didn't officially start until the end of the decade, Aldrich was not unfamiliar with playing against the rules, producing something of a revisionist Western in Vera Cruz, a year earlier, and later going on to continue to darker and increasingly psychologically-bent 'noir' affairs with The Big Knife, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
Kiss Me Deadly was originally intended to be the first of two Spillane adaptations by Aldrich in 1955, focusing on his notoriously tough private detective character, quite aptly called Mike Hammer, who would here be played by Ralph Meeker, giving a performance that would go on to define his career. Meeker's Hammer was nihilistic, misogynistic and possibly a little bit sadistic too, a borderline psychopath of an anti-hero protagonist who provided the core to what would be quite a daring movie for 1955, in terms of violence and just outright attitude (not the first time for Aldrich, and certainly not the last), which was counterpointed by the black and white lensing (a choice, by that time) which was suggestive of the opposite.
A surprisingly deep edge that reflected the Cold War nuclear paranoia sentiments of the time
The story sees Hammer pick up a distressed woman, dressed in nothing but a raincoat, and help her escape the patrols looking for her after she ran away from an infamous asylum. It's not long before the tough private detective finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy involving a femme fatale, a creepy doctor, a whole bunch of henchmen and a mysterious box whose glowing contents inspired similar MacGuffins in everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Pulp Fiction and even Ronin.
Although critically well-regarded, and often cited as a leading adaptation of the Hammer novel series, screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides did take several liberties in his adaptation, which would not endear him to author Spillane, pushing the beloved character into outright psycho (and sometimes even pimp - a theme more recently reflected in the excellent Billy Bob Thornton series, Goliath) territory, which actor Meeker envisaged replete with a leering grin. It's edgy stuff, but perhaps it's Bezzerides' other changes which really made the difference in this adaptation, shifting themes from being merely mafia villainy to more mysterious espionage (and arguably, at the time, sci-fi-ish), and giving the end result a surprisingly deep edge that reflected the Cold War nuclear paranoia sentiments of the time, helping the film graduate to one of the greatest late era noirs of all time.
Kiss Me Deadly Blu-ray PictureCriterion brings Kiss Me Deadly to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray with what is likely the exact same gorgeous restoration that adorned their US release from way back in 2011. The 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 1.66:1, looks outstanding for a movie of this vintage, enjoying the remaster which cleans up the 64 year old film superbly.
As close to perfection that a film of this vintage will likely ever get
Although it's still not perfect - as if you would ever expect such from a movie not only this old but also which has been lensed so purposefully and dramatically in a way to bath every possible corner in rich shadows - Criterion has done a wonderful job cleaning up the dirt and scratches of time, working wonders with the 35mm master positive to deliver a frequent striking presentation. Some images display a staggering amount of detail, particularly in the close-ups, and softness is never a real issue - other than when it has clearly been intentionally applied - with a fine sheen of organic grain pervading the piece and leaving it a rich texture, and only a few shots (like the run across the beach) where the skyline gets particularly noisy.
The black and white cinematography has been lushly rendered, providing inky blacks and strong peak whites, as well as an expansive scale between, lapping up every ounce of texturing that the film has to offer. Easily the best that this classic has ever looked, it's hard to judge this as outright perfect in modern terms, but it's as close to perfection that a film of this vintage will likely ever get.
Kiss Me Deadly Blu-ray SoundThe accompanying Lossless Linear PCM 1.0 Mono track also does a great job with the material, struggling to define itself as either demo or reference by its inherent technical limitations, but impressing nonetheless, and likely it should be similarly regarded as the best the film will ever sound. Remastered from the original optical track, it too has been cleaned up and attenuated impressively.
A very good track
Dialogue is firmly prioritised across the frontal array - well, the whole thing is an inherently front-dominated affair - and there's no tinniness, nor any obvious damage. Effects enjoy the myriad car sounds - Hammer likes his cars - as well as gunshots and body blows, whilst the score adds weight to the proceedings. It's a very good track.
Kiss Me Deadly Blu-ray ExtrasCriterion once again does a superb job on the extras front, delivering a whole slew of background Featurettes, mostly interview-based, as well as a Commentary and even an Alternate Ending.
Criterion once again does a superb job on the extras front
The Commentary offers up further depth into the production and the impact of the film and its 50s Cold War sensibilities, whilst the Alternate Ending provides the original bleaker ending that crept into cinemas due to the trimming of the last minute of the film (reportedly unintentionally, hence why the full ending was later restored). There are also a number of interviews reflecting on the feature and its significance, offered by the likes of filmmaker Alex Cox and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides, a Featurette on Mickey Spillane, and a further short Featurette on the locations in the movies. The disc is rounded out by a Trailer, and the package completed with one of Criterion's typically lavish booklets.
Kiss Me Deadly Blu-ray VerdictOne of the greatest late era noirs of all time
Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer was never really done justice in film, but Robert Aldrich's 1955 adaptation arguably came close, or at least did something truly impressive with the material, turning it into an all-time classic which captured the sentiment of the entire Cold War era. Criterion previously released this in the US, and this is the exact same port, only more forgiving towards those who are not multi-region. What you get is excellent video and very good audio, as well as a welcome host of extra features, and those who have neither picked it up nor even heard of it should rectify that now.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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