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MGM Studios DVD presents
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

"'They', what a wonderful word. And who are 'they?' They are the nameless ones who kill people for the great 'whatsit.' Does it exist? Who cares."
- Velda (Maxine Cooper)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: June 18, 2001

Stars: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart
Other Stars: Wesley Addy, Marion Carr, Juano Hernandez
Director: Robert Aldrich

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, brutality)
Run Time: 01h:45m:53s
Release Date: June 19, 2001
UPC: 027616862914
Genre: film noir

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B-B C

DVD Review

I've never been a big fan of Mickey Spillane's works, but I've found myself watching a few movies with his classic detective character Mike Hammer. I even remember the old Hammer TV show with Stacey Keach playing the title role. The Robert Aldrich film Kiss Me Deadly is a Mike Hammer mystery, but it's the damnedest one I've ever seen. Much less of a typical, gritty, thriller and more of a surreal, bizarre, Kafka-esque story. This is one weird movie, and I've seen a few, but don't let that scare you away; Kiss Me Deadly has a lot to offer the film noir fan.

Ralph Meeker takes on the role of Mike Hammer, who starts the movie by picking up a mysterious, female hitchhiker on a lonely stretch of road. She gives him confusing and strange answers as to who she is and where she's going, but it's obvious that she's running from the law. Some mysterious, unknown people kidnap them both, kill her and try to kill Hammer, but he survives. After he recovers, he wants to learn more about the girl and why she was killed, so he launches an investigation. The police want Hammer to stay out of it, but of course, when has Mike Hammer taken it sitting down? He starts simple and eventually begins to discover some very unusual elements to the crime.

Slowly, Hammer uncovers a weird conspiracy at work; a conspiracy aimed at gaining some kind of unnamed item that they believe the hitchhiking girl had access to. Eventually, the master of this conspiracy targets his attention on Hammer, and soon he is made to run for his life as well. The end result is a well crafted film that's very reminiscent of a Franz Kafka story rather than a Mickey Spillane book. Mike Hammer is still very much in character, though, with his tough-talking attitude and confessions by beating. All the elements for your average pulp-mystery are here, they're just manipulated into something quite odd.

Director Robert Aldrich uses lots of interesting, disorienting techniques to make Kiss Me Deadly quite an experience; whether it's the opening credits that roll in backwards order, or the neck-breaking jump cuts, there's always something interesting going on visually. This easily competes with other noir classics like Touch Of Evil and The Big Sleep in terms of style. It's very Hitchcockian without going overboard or being too much of a rip-off. The only disappointment comes in the acting. For the most part, everyone is effective, especially Ralph Meeker, but a few of the supporting roles, mainly the women, seem to speak in awkward clichés and paperback phrases. You expect this in a film like this, but not quite to that extent. There's also a rather annoying supporting role by Juano Hernandez, that's little more than comic relief at the expensive of his accent and ridiculous behavior.

The flaws melt away, though, when the surreality of the plot really begins to hit you. For about 35 minutes, we have just a fairly basic thriller, but after awhile it gets so unusual that it hooks you in and you want to see where it goes. I doubt many people will absorb what this was actually about without watching it twice, but the ride is certainly fun. The ending literally left my jaw open with how strange it made the movie close, almost like David Lynch had come in to film the final reel. It's rewarding, and that's the important thing.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Though heavy on the grain, the transfer is very nice and certainly more than adequate. It's pretty clean for its age, and the black/white level is very impressive, offering a film-like image, with the exception of a few sequences with composite effects and/or mattes. Unfortunately, it is not anamorphically enhanced, which is something of a hot-button issue nowadays; should 1:66:1 films be 16:9 converted? Personally, I think yes. However, it doesn't damage the film enough for me to trash it, it's still a very solid, impressive, black-and-white transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Pro-Logic Mono is the flavor of the day on this disc, and it's very well done. It's a very energetic, loud mix that's undistorted and clean. There's a lot going on in the mix, from the jazzy score to the usage of many sound effects and ambient noise (very impressive for 1955), and it all comes across perfectly.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Alternate Endings
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Although there are no substantial extras, the film itself was transferred from a new version of the print which, as I understand it, was in the director's own personal possession. It was not until 1997 that Kiss Me Deadly was presented (on VHS) with it's full ending as was originally intended. The version on this DVD is this complete version, with the extended, unedited ending. Clicking "Alternate Ending" from the features menu will allow you to see the ending as it originally appeared from 1955 to 1997. I won't reveal the differences for those who haven't seen the film, but I honestly have to wonder HOW the original ending got the way it did and then ran into circulation.

There is also an original trailer (in decent condition), but no keepcase insert which means: no external chapter stop listing.

And aaaaargh, no English subtitles.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Despite being another MGM bare-bones disc, I give thumbs up to the fact this is the new, restored version of this classic. If you like slick, well-produced thrillers with a touch of surreality, Kiss Me Deadly is a very good find, and certainly worth a rental at the least.


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