Kiss Me Deadly comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the
AVCcodec and framed within a theatrically correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to Region A.
Criterion are eager to highlight their “new high definition restoration” of the film, and with one look it is easy to see why. Detail is excellent, and in close up the image really hides its aged source with the dials of Hammer's car being perfectly clear and well defined. Delineation is top notch, sure there are a few soft shots but that's par for the course with material of this era, I’d wager you won’t see a better reproduction of Meeker's slick ‘do any time soon as it’s a wonder to see the fine detail brought out by this transfer.
Even more pleasing is the lack of any major signs of print damage, telecine wobble and lightening of the frame. There are a couple of minor occurrences of wavering light around the edges of the image, but these are so few and minute as to be nitpicking, for the overwhelming vast majority of its runtime Kiss Me Deadly is absolutely superb in this regard.
Motion is butter smooth, blacks are gloriously inky and even the whites manage to push beyond the battleship grey, seen in so many movies from the era, into a more acceptable steely white. This boost to the contrast helps the sense of depth no end and the cherry on the top is the healthy layer of organic grain that sits comfortably over everything.
There's only one audio option – English LPCM mono.
Choice may be limited (OK nonexistent) but what you have is a real humdinger of an aural offering – the work done on which has reduced hiss pops and crackle to history. If you haven't invested in a decent centre speaker yet, now's the time, as this track makes perfect use of the single channel it has to work with. Speech is natural and rich, Meeker's baritone snarls roll out with aplomb and Gaby Rodgers' breathy last words to Mike are as hauntingly subtle and unnerving as they deserve to be.
There are even a few well realised environmental effects, such as the few conversations when characters move away from camera and the sound tapers down. One notable example being Mike and Lily speaking in her apartment, the noise of the traffic swelling and the voices becoming hollow from the space around them. It isn't perfect, there are a couple of moments when there seems to have been a slight dub when the level is a gnat's hair off, but considering this is a mono track, not to feel constrained by it is arguably a great triumph. The score even comes out with a degree of vibrancy, Nat King Cole sounding as mellifluous as ever. It's limited only by the original material, in terms of what this track does with it, and how ably it represents what was recorded, it must be considered a resounding success.
Film noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini got together in LA back in March to record this commentary track. The pair dissect just about every facet of the film, it would be hard to think of any stone left unturned, the movie, its place in the genre, the landscape of the era and the various allegories of the narrative are all explored extremely well and there are more than a few insights that'll likely be fresh even to fans of the film.
Director Alex Cox on Kiss Me Deadly – 1080p – 6:38
The director gives us his thoughts on the film; though it's always nice to hear how those within the industry regard the works that came before them, Cox doesn't really have a unique take on proceedings, merely gives a bit of background info and reaffirms that which is already known and felt by most who view the film. A handy bit-sized info imparter of a feature.
Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane – 39:38
A slightly abridged version of Max Allan Collins' (Road To Perdition) 1998 documentary about the life and career of Spillane, a project the late author agreed to feature in. Collins charts the rise of Spillane's career and the success of his greatest creation, accompanied by some wonderful footage of the various incarnations of the classic gumshoe. Collins and those interviewed perhaps overstate the influence of Hammer and just how unique a creation he was, but the real draw of this documentary is Spillane himself, who even in his old age appears every inch a suitable alter ego of Hammer's.
The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides – 9:14
Material mainly taken from the 2007 feature documentary The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides, in which the scriptwriter and novelist, along with Spillane and writers George Pelecanos and Barry Gifford, talk about the adaptation from book to screenplay. Unsurprisingly Bezzerides and Spillane still don't see eye-to-eye, describing each other's work as awful.
Bunker Hill, Los Angeles– 1080p – 7:06
A few LA locations from the film are picked apart by writer Jim Dawson. Some fascinating background to the backdrops utilised in many films from the period (and still to this day), the narration is accompanied by a plethora of vintage pictures.
Altered Ending – 1080p – 0:22
A chance to see the ending, as it stood for almost thirty years, with the truncated sequence in which Hammer and Velda fail to escape the flaming beach house.
Theatrical Trailer – 1080p – 2:13
An excellent example of a period trailer – condensed shots of violence and a voiceover that has almost no correlation to the narrative.
A 20 page booklet, full of excellent shots, an essay by critic J Hoberman “The Thriller of Tomorrow”, as well as a reprint of Robert Aldrich's 1955 response to the New York Herald-Tribune in defence of the violent nature of his film amid uproar from the Legion of Decency. Absolutely required reading that not only gives an insight into how the director views his work but also the political landscape of the time.
Robert Aldrich's adaptation of Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled gumshoe isn't exactly true to source, but through A.I. Bezzerides' script which showed such disregard for the novel, and Meeker's chiselled jaw and simplistic style, he has helped craft a film that arguably eclipses the meagre task of bringing a slice of pulp fiction to the screen. His Hammer is a being in his own right, a self centred, narcissistic, misogynistic sadist out for number one. The change of the MacGuffin from novel to script elevates the film to a level of allegory and socio-political commentary that outstrips the simplistic noirs it was marketed against, and places it as one of the few to still have something relevant to say today.
The Region A locked disc is all that it should be, presenting the material in all its glory thanks to another bang-up restoration job by Criterion. The extras add depth and, though it's only in book form, the reproduced 1955 rebuttal of Aldrich to the criticism of the day is perhaps the cherry on the cake.
A noir classic that deserves not to be classified simply as such, Kiss Me Deadly contains one of the most iconic screen anti-heroes, and this disc does everything it can to aid your enjoyment of Robert Aldrich's vision of ill-fated curiosity, post war paranoia and the devilish side of Mike Hammer.
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