Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #17: Deadly Kiss Me (Opening Scene of Kiss Me Deadly)

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Hi #NoirSummer Students:

 

After our 1 week hiatus, let's jump back in and start our discussions on the latest batch of Daily Doses! First up, the terrific and innovative opening scene from Robert Aldrich's 1955 classic, Kiss Me Deadly!

 

This week's theme in the Daily Doses is "The Substance of Film Noir," with particular attention to the themes and characters that populate the noir universe.

 

You can read and watch Daily Dose #17 over at Canvas right now: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/daily-dose-of-darkness-number-17-july-6-2015

 

Let the discussions begin!

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I like it! Straight off the bat we're into the thick of it: a mysterious dame on the lam, a (staggeringly indifferent) tough guy, road-blocks, lies and deception...and we're barely past the credits! 

 

I've not seen this one, but I want to watch it. Now. 

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This opening scene is certainly a memorable start to Cloris Leachman's film career.  As she runs panting, barefoot and nude under the trench coat we know this character is trying to escape something.  After she almost causes Hammer to wreck his car he decides to gives her a lift.  Her gasping can be heard over Nat King Cole's song during the opening credits.  To add to the sexuality of the situation Hammer acknowledges that she is nude under the coat.  When they reach the roadblock she holds his hand and puts her head on his shoulder and for whatever reason Hammer protects her.  After seeing this who could not want to see the rest of the film?

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Wow, what an absolutely breathtakingly dramatic opening scene! I haven't seen this film yet, but it strikes me as remarkably innovative and with an immediate "noir aura", right from the start. The introduction of the protagonists makes one wonder whether they know each other already, since there is a strange distance, disregard and passiveness displayed by the male figure (as if he already knows what the matter is with "lady in distress"); only to be revealed that they are, in fact, complete strangers, and that the "disregard" comes not from the familiarity, but from a kind of... societal alienation. The drama and chaos of the visuals are supported by the thrilling audio "effects". Even the opening credits go in reverse (it would be a normal way of reading when we are in motion however), which exhibits the tendency of moving away from the standard approaches for making a film.

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Wow, what an absolutely breathtakingly dramatic opening scene! I haven't seen this film yet, but it strikes me as remarkably innovative and with an immediate "noir aura", right from the start. The introduction of the protagonists makes one wonder whether they know each other already, since there is a strange distance, disregard and passiveness displayed by the male figure (as if he already knows what the matter is with "lady in distress"); only to be revealed that they are, in fact, complete strangers, and that the "disregard" comes not from the familiarity, but from a kind of... societal alienation. The drama and chaos of the visuals are supported by the thrilling audio "effects". Even the opening credits go in reverse (it would be a normal way of reading when we are in motion however), which exhibits the tendency of moving away from the standard approaches for making a film.

you are in for a good one best 1950 noir and still fresh todate as then

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Another amazing film. Kiss Me Deadly is like a dissection of the stereotypical 'tough' private detective. Every odd choice in the film seems like an intentional 'pay attention to this, isn't this interesting?' little flourish designed to make us think about what we've been taking for granted in other noirs.

 

Mike Hammer in this movie is the dark reflection of Humphrey Bogart's detectives; he's gruff, cruel, misogynistic, misanthropic, and almost entirely self-centered. His first reaction when a scared, half naked woman jumps out is to complain that she almost wrecked her car. He taunts her that he bets she just got raped, and implies he should have just killed her back there. He's not a nice guy. Even his decision to help the girl has a sexual component, as she leans in and puts his hand on her lap.

 

I won't go into plot detail, but this film is about peering underneath the surface of the macho, stoic, lone detective with a code of honor, and peering into the rotten twisted psyche underneath. That's what the opening credits imply to me; the film is attempting to turn noir on its head. Kiss Me Deadly is like a bullet fired straight at the heart of film noir, but as we know it'll take a lot more to kill it.

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Nice opening! This film starts off at full tilt, with a woman running, seemingly for dear life from --- what?  Her desperate attempt to stop a car by using her whole body illustrates the seriousness of her situation.  The woman's desperation is further evinced by the willingness with which she cuddles up to a perfect stranger to protect herself from discovery.  It is only at this point that we learn she is an escapee from an asylum, but we still don't know why she's running from the asylum, or if she may be running from a particular person.  This clip tosses out more questions than answers.  We haven't yet learned, for example, who the man is who picks her up, only that he is apparently indifferent to the woman in distress.  But we know better, as, when he realizes she has recently escaped from an asylum, he protects her from the patrol officers by claiming she is his wife.

 

If the woman running and panting were not enough, the backward credits signal to the viewer that something is terribly wrong; they jar us out of the mundane at the same time that they reflect the passing road beneath the vehicle.  The speed with which this film throws us into the action and the jarring aspect of the credits make this an important contribution to film noir.

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Some of the themes that come across on the opening of this great noir 

 

the quick answer is the pure fright but the underlying answer is the despair (a woman running naked)

no other movie has moved my emotions so quickly as in this opening scene.

 

i love that Mike Hammer doesn't blame her, just helps her after the car goes off.  It shows 

his character has been around the block a few times.  Her quick thinking at the police check shows she is not a fool,

or crazy.

 

There was a change from the forties films Noir and the Fifties Films Noir.  The censorship was one, changing what

we could and wanted to see.  But it was a darker time as well.  The films of the 50's were driven by a raw nerve of

the climate that Americans were under.  Threats of nukes, world control, and changing values were driving us paranoid

and thus our Noir changed to reflect the real threats and subversive climate.   This film is one that reflects all the changing

morality we were under as well.  We learned that sex and violence sells and well.

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I do agree with Edwards that Cloris Leachman's breathing can be considered both neurotic and erotic, but I also think it can be interpreted as a sort of frenzy when you learn that Leachman's character has escaped from the asylum. 

 

The private eye is perhaps the most brutal example of this characterization we have seen in this course (or in the Daily Doses at least). Also, the way he asks if she's been sexually assaulted is probably the most explicit you can get without saying the words 'rape' or 'sexual assault.' If this movie had been made a decade earlier, the question would've been put in more oblique terms. 

 

I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that opening credits scene. One of the most memorable I have seen in a long time. It stood out then and stands out now. The backwards credits, Leachman's panting, and the voice of Nat King Cole indicates that this will be one helluva movie.

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The content of the scene stands out as others have presented here but the choice of form also sticks with me after watching the clip.  The repetition of the barefoot legs on the dark asphalt in the middle of the of the desert, I presume, create a sense of despair within a desolate area.  Choosing to have Leachman's crying and heavy breathing throughout the scene until the characters reach the police checkpoint adds a sense of realism where a score could still give a sense of escape from the danger.  The breathing through credits gave the title sequence an urgency that would have been missing had they cut away or used other music to usurp the action.  I look forward to seeing the film but already it adds a layer of directness that past film noir were circling, Kiss Me Deadly wants to speed toward the subject.

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We learn a lot about these characters very quickly. As the scene opens we are immediately aware that Christina (Leachman) is in serious trouble. Whatever she's running from she didn't even have a chance to put her shoes on. She's secretive about her troubles and doesn't answer any of my Mike's (Meeker's) questions. This indicates to me she is isolated in her fear. She has secrets that she is not willing to share. The fact that she ran in front of a car shows death is preferable to what she's leaving behind and she's even willing to risk the lives of others to escape.

 

Mike seems angry, tough and indifferent at first but then offers her a ride and even tries to find out what the problem is even though he does it in a gruff manner. He gives the outward appearance of not wanting to get involved but then jumps right in when he claims Cristina is his wife to hide her from the police at the road stop. This indicates to me he's not as tough as he seems and actually does care about people even though he would outwardly deny it. Perhaps he helps her escape from the police because he knows what it's like to need to escape metaphorically speaking.

 

I feel this could be addressing the theme of the feeling of isolation many in society were feeling. They wanted to be left alone and not get involved but yet like Mike Hammer felt themselves pulled into helping others. As Frank McCloud says in Key Largo "When your head says one thing and your whole life has another your head always loses." We see that theme portrayed here but in a grittier way.

 

It also seems to be addressing the idea that there are dangers and dark secrets out in the world. These dangers can literally jump in front of you anytime.

 

The way this movie dives right into the action showing a shift from the slow buildup prior movies had. I think it shows not only a shift in film noir but in films in general. Today's audiences have little patience for the buildup and want the action to start right away. I think this clip is a good indication of the beginning of that trend. It was able to reveal a great deal about the characters in a very short period of time and in an action-packed ( for its day) sequence.

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Wk 6 Kiss Me Deadly

 

-- What are some of the major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence of Kiss Me Deadly Desperation.  Isolation.  Randomness.  Don’t jump to conclusions until you have all the facts.  Human kindness.

 

-- What do we learn or discern about the characters of Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman) and private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) in this brief introductory sequence? .  Christina is absolutely desperate.  She is running from someone/ something/ somewhere and she clearly wants to get away fast.  She has nothing; she barely has her wits.  She is barefoot, covered by only a raincoat, and in the middle of what appears to be “no place”: a deserted two-lane blacktop. After two cars pass her by, she makes a bold, possibly suicidal move with the third.  She stands in the middle of the road, squints her eyes, turns her head to the side and hopes for the best.  She seems to make up her mind here that if she doesn’t get out of this place right now, she may as well be dead.  So this is a win-win for her.  Luckily, car #3 is a state of the art sports car that can stop on a dime.  The driver is immediately attracted to her on a base level.  Then, after he assesses the situation and still agrees to give her a ride, we wonder what his motives might be.  He seems to have everything; good looks, money, a very expensive set of wheels.  Is he actually compassionate?  When they encounter the roadblock and he protects her, we get the sense that he trusts his instincts and even though he now knows she just escaped from a sanitarium, he’s not going to give her up, at least not until he knows more.

 

-- How is this opening scene an important contribution to the development of film noir?  This is radically different from a traditional film noir opening. It’s not “traditional” at all.  Not even for film noir.  In media res, indeed!  It dispenses with the sometimes-endless and/or sleepy voiceover explaining the situation.  We are literally dropped into the middle of things; no exposition, no overview of the “lay of the land”, no aerial cityscape.  We are here, breathless with her on the road, and that’s really all we need to know.   The titles are an incredibly innovative contribution in that even something peripheral like the titles are integrated into the world of the story.  We have to read the titles as if they are on the blacktop.  We are on the journey.  We are thrown into the back of the car!  The first time I saw this it was mind-blowing in its stark simplicity and devastating in its complex emotional effect. The mix of the music is also innovative.  It doesn’t just underscore; it’s mixed higher, almost equal in volume with her breathlessness, sometimes overpowering it.  The music to me represents her completely going off the deep end and her breathing is what’s calming it, and whether the music completely dominates the soundtrack or not is an indicator of how much control she is/isn’t maintaining.  We almost need to breathe more as the music pounds the air out of us.  This is one of my all-time favorite openers.

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Things I have picked up from watching this scene. Christina (Cloris Leachman) is isolated and desperate. It's not everyday you run down a busy highway in nothing but an overcoat. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is compationate and almost the white knight coming in to save the damsel in distress. 

 

For a side note always loved the reverse roll of the credits in this movie, just something different.

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I found many changes from the films noir of the '40s that we'd been studying. 

 

As has been mentioned, there is no voiceover introducing us to the scene. Instead, we're thrown right into the thick of it, sharing Christina's desperations and confusion. While so many films have given us the protagonist's POV, this one is completely third-person. We're not privy to the thoughts of either character.

 

Unlike other film noir women (fatales et al) Christina is not elegant or in control. There is no witty banter between her and Hammer. The glib remarks and rapport are replaced by a lack of conversation, and when Hammer finally talks, it's brutal and unromantic.

 

When Christina takes his hand at the checkstop, it's not the flirtatious instant love that we've seen in The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past or Farewell my Lovely. There's no spark, no lingering camera shots on her body and no exchange of glances: it's her cry for help, and for whatever reason, Hammer decides to go along with it.

 

The entire tone of the movie (both psychological and technical) is different from the films noir we've seen thus far. It's formalized, but stripped down to the essentials. What remains, and perhaps is made stronger, is the sense of confusion: we have the soothing crooning of Nat King Cole (singing a song ominously introduced as "the last disc") with the desperate sounds of Christina's breathing, with the speed of the driving (did you see how quickly the road whipped past under the car?) and the apparent detachment of the driver. After the strange credits forcing us to view the movie in a different way, we get our first piece of information: she's escaped from an asylum.

 

Why is she nude? Why is Hammer helping her? Why was she institutionalized? Why were the police looking for her?

 

I, too, have never seen this movie, but I now want to know the answers to these questions.

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One thing that really got my attention was the song playing, "I'd Rather Have the Blues," to me it said it all.  "The night is mighty chilly/ And conversation seems pretty silly/ I feel so mean and rot/ I'd rather have the blues than what I've got..."  Mike was being rather mean and nasty to Christina and didn't seem to want to have much of a conversation with her.  All he could worry about was his car and seemed rather put out by her.

 

So many emotions: angst, frenzy, erotic, anger, and saddness.  You have the soothing sounds of Nat King Cole with the erotic panicked gasps from Christina; while speeding down an isloated road in Mike's convertible and the only light is between their shoulders, shining from the headlights on the road ahead of them. While this is happening, bold credits come slicing down at an angle from the top of the screen.

 

Just when you think Mike is going to turn her in, she gives him a slight grasp of the hand and he has a change of heart.  This beginning scene was an emotional rollercoaster ride that started off with a bang.

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Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is compationate and almost the white knight coming in to save the damsel in distress. 

 

I would argue, Noirnado, that perhaps there's something darker to Mike than whiteknighting. Because of what he says, "I'll throw you off the cliff" and his behavior, cold and detached, with no lingering sights or loving gestures, I wonder if he's doing her a favor for other reasons. As our protagonist, it's unlikely that he will do her real harm, but a key feature of these noir characters, especially the PIs, is that they straddle good and bad. Maybe he's just curious about her situation in a more morbid fashion, maybe he cares so little that she could be with or without him and he wouldn't bat an eyelash. Even the music helps to show the contrast. It's so mellow and romantic and yet he's so distant and basically threatening to kill her. At the end of the scene, when he agrees to sneak her past the cops, it's clear his interest has peaked.

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1.)   One of the major ideas/themes introduced in the opening scene of Kise Me Deadly is the relationship between men and women in the noir universe.  The films opens with a woman in distress...what the cause of the distress is we do not know as of yet.  She is almost run over by a man driving a convertible car at high speed.  The scene encapsulates in a few minutes how men and women relate in the noir world...a defenseless woman alone at night on a deserted rode almost literally run down by the male character.

 

       When Cloris Leachman's character enters the car, Mike Hammer is still very cold towards her even stating that she almost wrecked his car and that he might "throw her over a cliff".  The scene continues the abrasive relationship of male and female characters in the noir universe....men are tough-guys who like to drive fast sports car...women are defenseless, confused, abandoned and hoping that man will save them.  Without even knowing her true predicament,  Hammer states sarcastically and condescendingly,  "...are you running from a man who thought no was a three letter word" implying that

she is escaping from a dominating boyfriend. 

 

          When Hammer reaches the police roadblock, we find out the true nature of Leachmann's escape...that she escaped from a mental institution.  The relationship between male and female characters changes abruptly in this scene.  Instead of turning Leahmann's character into the police,  Hammer helps to disguise her identity. Now the male character has been transformed to life-saver and gentle savior.

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What are some of the major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence of Kiss Me Deadly

- Damsel in distress; reluctant hero.  Danger lurks (as indicted by the change from upbeat jazz to “I’d Rather Have The Blues” on the radio. For Christina, opportunity is ahead, but for Mike it seems like “another fine mess.”


 

What do we learn or discern about the characters of Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman) and private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) in this brief introductory sequence?

- Christina is running from something; at first, like Mike Hammer, we think it’s a guy, but we later believe she escaped from an institution.  Mike Hammer seems quick to make assumptions, but is really a “show me” type of guy, when he doesn’t give up the girl to the police.


 

How is this opening scene an important contribution to the development of film noir?

- Despite learning disturbing and/or curious information about the main characters, we follow long willingly, yet don’t know who is good or who is bad.

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This opening sure throws you into the action right away.  The film comes off as much darker than the noirs we seen before this.  A half naked woman running down a highway, frantic with fear, running from something terrible that has happened to her...but what? Jumping in front of a speeding car in desperation for help.  So desperate that she's willing to trust this cold, hard, unsympathetic man. I don't see this private eye having the same sense of humor as a Philip Marlowe or a Sam Spade.  He does turn out, however, to be a guy who'll play along with whatever it is she's hiding from the police...again, but what?

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This was a terrific opening scene, as the first shot immediately creates tension, mystery, and uncertainty. As Karl H writes, this scene's themes include a damsel in distress, the reluctant hero, and danger lurking. I had never seen such an erotic scene in film noir either, as the scene in which the credits roll and Christina's moans are loudly played. I always knew noir to be of clever double entendres, but straight forward like this. I think the idea of lying for someone you don't entirely know, who will probably, eventually bring you trouble is another theme that film noir has. In this scene, we learn that Christina has apparently escaped from a mental institution, and is being hunted down. We also learn that Mike is willing to lie for a stranger. I'm not necessarily sure if this is a contribution to noir, but the film's opening credits were definitely something I had not seen before in noir. This style of credits was made famous by Star Wars, but is this possibly the first film to use it? If so, that's pretty cool. 

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When Brigid O'Shaunessy played her best damsel-in-distress for Sam Spade, she laid it on a bit too thick. Spade didn't buy it, but he let her run through her act anyway. He sat back and assumed the role of an appreciative audience, applauding her acting talents at the end of her scene: "You're good. You're very good."

 

The opening of Kiss Me Deadly parallels that scene in The Maltese Falcon. Hammer doesn't say much to Christina after she gets into the car. He just listens to Christina's very provocative pants, gasps, and wimpers -- and then turns on the radio to give her a sultry jazz accompaniment. Hammer drives on in silence several moments, apparently enjoying this impromptu audio program. Like Spade, he seems to maintain a detached appreciation of vulnerable women while remaining somewhat impervious to their alluring charm. But also like Spade, he winds up helping the women who come to him, even if he is a little rough on them at times.

 

One thing seems especially different in this later noir situation situation, though. In 1941, our detective is artfully lured into the seamy world of brutal violence and illicit sex. In 1955, our detective is more or less blown off the road by a gust from that seamy world. We no longer need to look for traces of noir. By 1955, we're caught in a storm of it.

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Although I've never seen this film in its entirety, I've seen this opening a few times and I find it mesmerizing each time I see it.  There are so many examples of the noir camera style in this clip, from the night-for-night shooting, the diagonal framing of the asphalt against Christina's bare feet, and the hard direct light on her face as she approaches oncoming traffic.  

 

This film was made during the "red scare" period in american history and this contributes to the changes we see from prior films noir.  The opening sequence with the close up of a terrified Christina is similar in many respects to the close up of Kevin McCarthy trying to stop traffic at the end of the sci-fi noir "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," another film made during the same period.  Identity plays a big role in these movies.  Who is this character?  Whose "side" are they really on?  Who can you TRUST?

 

This is all encapsulated in this opening sequence.  Christina is literally stripped naked of everything, including most importantly her identity.  The interplay between the two characters, in my opinion, is all about trust.  Can Christina trust Mike? Notice her hesitation entering his car after her dramatic gesture to stop it.  She is still panting and sobbing after they drive away clearly exhibiting a continuing sense of fear not knowing what to expect next. Mike has to make a similar judgement about Christina.  He appears to capitulate at the checkpoint, but I'm sure this continues to be a theme running through the rest of the film.  We'll have to wait till Friday to find out. 

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The opening scene in Kiss Me Deadly seems to be a mirror image of Dark Passage. Thematically, they are very similar -- protagonist having escaped confinement seeks help to hitch-hike past a police roadblock.

 

However, the opening scenes could hardly be more different: male vs. female, day vs. night, controlled vs. frantic, crisp POV cinematography vs. what appear to be hastily composed shots, concealed in vehicle vs. nearly naked and exposed, rescuer is kind vs. threatening, conventional credits vs. reversed roll.

 

It seems too similar and yet too different to be coincidence.

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My parents have been reading Mickey Spillane books for as long as I can remember (Kiss Me Deadly is floating around somewhere in the house).  This opening immediately pushes us into the action.  There is a sense of terror and suspense when we see Christiana running.  She is so out of breath and frightened that she can’t even talk until 2:49 minutes into the clip, and even then her voice is breathless.  I can’t say that I detected an erotic note to her breathing during the credits until Dr. Edwards pointed it out.  For me, her breathing, especially her coughing sobs once Christina is in the car, emphasized her desperation.  Mike Hammer is probably the most abrasive detective we have met so far.  He makes Sam Spade look like a soft-spoken gentleman!  But Hammer ends up helping her, even though he does not know her whole story.  The way Aldrich had the credits overlay the driving car really stresses the sensation of moving.  The fact that the credits are backwards is jarring and makes us uneasy.  The opening grabs our attention and makes us sit up straight to find out what happens next.

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Kiss Me Deadly is one of the best and last classic noirs, but introduces new elements to the style/genre.   

 

The immediacy of plunging the us into frantic and desperate action is new.   Christina, a point of light racing out of the darkness down an unlit highway.   There is no where or who, no establishing scene or set up, no client walking into a shamus' office with a minor problem to solve the way it often was back in the Forties.

 

We only know the running woman is desperate enough to step in front of a speeding sports car to make it stop.  

 

We soon learn the man behind the wheel isn't all about chivalry any more than he is overly concerned about who the woman is.   He's worried about his car....an extension of himself.   This guy barks questions and commands.  He's abrupt, seemingly indifferent, self-absorbed.   He also likes jazz, but a sultry, seductive, nocturnal, bluesy jazz of Nat King Cole warning him, and us, he'd rather have the blues than what he's got.  

 

We approach a police roadblock.   They're looking for a woman who's escaped from an asylum in a trenchcoat.   The man casually glances over at the woman in a trenchcoat he just picked up, clearly makes the connection, especially when the woman clenches his leg and hangs on his shoulder in panicked fear.  

 

He doesn't turn her in, but instead shelters her; telling the police she's his wife.    So although this guy is gruff and self-absorbed, we also learn he's not adverse to helping a damsel in distress given the chance.   

 

All this unfolds as the titles press ominously down upon the action, running in reverse while moving forward, at an odd angle, seemingly crushing the screen even as the car appears to drive over them; the white of the titles blotting out the black of the imagery behind it.  

 

Aldrich has put us back on our heels, created mood before he establishes a story, warns us we're in for a bumpy ride and that his main character, Hammer, is a guy fumbling around in the dark --- just like the rest of us --- and that the night is going to get a lot darker before it's over.                        

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