Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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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.

I think the long period of nothing but credits, her breathing and the tune on the radio is also giving the audience some time to become uncomfortable. The film makers are providing the viewer with time to analyze what has happened and to form their own idea of what will come. Adding to this imposed anxiety is that the shot puts the audience in the car driving under credits which are moving in an unfamiliar pattern and the car swerving just a bit drives the sense that everything is off and no one, including the viewer, is in control.

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

 

When we first see Cloris Leachman running down a dark highway, barefoot, dressed only in an overcoat, she looks frightened, hunted, completely alone, friendless, and desperate. The audience draws the same conclusion that Ralph Meeker does: she is running away from physical and sexual abuse (all of that over-dramatized panting) at the hands of some man she either knows well or not much at all. After all why would a woman behave this way if she wasn't at a complete loss.

 

When Meeker pulls up in a sports car, projecting a very hard-boiled demeanor, making ungentlemanly suggestions about her behavior and appearance, the audience is not too sure she has found a savior. Once they encounter a road-block and we learn a woman has escaped from a mental asylum dressed in the same manner as Leachman, we are in the same place as Meeker, does he give her up or protect her. Once she slips her hand confidingly into his and puts her head on his shoulder, we see that Meeker is really gallant (if the film was made two decades later, we would be suspicious that Meeker will also take advantage of Leachman for some unsavory purpose. As the film was made in the 1950's, we just assume that Meeker is a tarnished knight in shining armor).

 

As Leachman is pounding the pavement sometimes on the traffic lines and sometimes not,  the drums, including a snare drum (a nod to her state of undress?) accent her foot beats. Once she is in the car Nat King Cole starts crooning a blue tune reflecting the idea that being blue is better than being with a particular woman. The introduction of the song is organic in that it is part of the radio program Meeker is tuned into. 

 

Although Leachman isn't my idea of a femme fatale, her presence could be the catalyst leading to our detective's downfall. I haven't seen the film, so I will have to avoid speculation on the point.

 

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?

 

We learn that Christina is alone, frightened, desperate, hunted, friendless, and possibly insane.

 

Hammer is a tough guy, with a smart mouth and plenty of crude ideas, but he is really a softy inside when he begins to realize how hopeless and hunted Christina is. Instead of turning her into the police, he chooses to protect her. Maybe his years as a detective (although I didn't necessarily know he was a detective) have taught him that things are often not as they seem. Maybe Christina is not insane, but is trying to escape a terrible situation. At any rate he is willing to go with a view contrary to that of the recognized authorities. 

 

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

 

Compared to the opening scenes we have viewed up until now, Kiss Me Deadly, is overtly sexual in nature. Leachman is obviously naked underneath the coat, she is also barefoot, both facts suggestive of her very recent escape from a sexual situation. Additionally she is panting from running so far and fast, however the director clearly wanted her to sound like she is also in the throes of passion.

 

As the instructor pointed out, the credits look as if they running backwards, which is a jarring effect. The audience is used to reading left to right and up to down, not down to up. It is a weird gimmick, but it does make the audience think they have gone through the looking glass.

 

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A very powerful opening scene if there ever was one.  A lonely road, a woman all alone and everything just looks depressing.  Ralph Meeker at first seems like your typical noir tough guy but at that last critical moment he turns into the reluctant hero saving Cloris Leachman from being caught.

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From the very first moments of Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich is already playing with our expectations: at first, watching a woman running in panic towards the camera gives us the impression that she's being pursued by someone, that her life's in danger, instead of showing that she's actually running away from something (even if the first shot of the film only shows her legs running over the asphalt of the route, always moving forward; besides, the only moments when she looks back is when a car is passing by her and she failed stopping it).

A couple of minutes later we'll be told by the police officer that a woman dressed just like her (and with nothing else under it) had just escaped from an asylum and, as we get to know that piece of information, we begin to re-interpretate her hurry not as simple fear but rather as hysteria on the loose. So, two major noir themes are introduced here simultaneously: escape and madness. A third one is added to these two, not precisely thematised but rather suggested by some visual and audio elements highlighted in the scene: it is, of course, sex. No need to talk about the sound of the woman's frantic respiration: the oddity of this effect is already noticeable in the opening of the scene because it isn't completely synchronous with the initial shots of the woman running, but it gets more obvious during the title sequence, because it doesn't fade with the musical motif, and it keeps on off-screen when we no longer clearly see the characters on the car. 

Concerning the characters, all these elements that I refered contribute to an open and dynamic characterisation: as I said, Christina Bailey quickly evolves from the idea of an endangered lady being pursuid to the idea of a potentially dangerous, hysterical (and extremely sexual) woman running away from the asylum. Even if nothing is told to us about the male character Mike Hammer, we can see that he doesn't feel intimidated by the woman when he listens to the officer; by lying to the authorities by his own decision, saying that she's his wife, he shows her that she can trust him, that he's willing to play her game, whatever it may be.
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-- What are some of the major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence of Kiss Me Deadly? 

The world must be backwards as we see the opening credits in reverse order.Someone with bare feet is running away from a mental institution. 

 

-- 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 desperate to get away from something even if it takes her life in the process. Mike is initially frustrated that he almost killed someone and his car won't start right away. But then he calms down and says to himself, maybe I can help her. He is looking for a client.

 

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

Kiss Me Deadly has an important contribution to film noir as it delves into perhaps mental illness and/or psychiatry.

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The film opens with a rather obvious hint at a theme or idea of "the erotic and the neurotic."  The soundtrack is filled with what could easily pass as the sounds of a female in the throes of sex, but as we learn later, she is an escapee from a mental institution.  We learn that she is naked under her trenchcoat (the coat a symbol, perhaps, of a spy, a detective or a killer).  On their surface, the sounds are from a woman running frantically and breathlessly down a highway at night.  The credits run backwards, throwing the audience off from their familiar moviegoing experience and predicting themes and ideas regarding the unreeling of the past--the woman's past.  We wonder who she is, what she is running from and why she is naked beneath the trenchcoat. We want to see the mysterious woman's past.

 

From the opening, we learn, as noted above, that the woman is an escapee from a mental institution and that she is naked under a trenchcoat.  She is frightened and disoriented but industrious enough to extemporaneously play-act as Hammer's wife in order to pass through the police barricade.  Hammer most likely would not have stopped for her except that she placed herself directly in front of his moving car, perhaps as much a death wish for her as a wish for a ride.  Hammer is forced to stop and is visibly perturbed because of it.  Huffily, he offers the woman a ride.  Hammer is cold-tempered and angry but takes the hint when the woman pretends to be his wife at the police stop.  He enters her story as much or more than she has entered his.  He comfortably deceives the police, lying to them that the woman is his wife and was merely sleeping in his arms.

 

The film adds to the film noir style with its backward credits, its use of the soundtrack to evoke a strong undercurrent of "the erotic and the neurotic" and its Shakespearean beginning at the middle of the story which immediately supposes both a past and a future.

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

 

There is immediate tension between the running bare feet/legs, the pavement moving quickly along, the taut, suspenseful soundtrack, the scene occurring on a dark night in the middle of nowhere with hardly any lights around and no one in sight. The first two characters we see are total strangers thrown together by Christina’s literally throwing herself in front of Hammer’s car. At that moment, she gives the impression that she really doesn’t give a damn if the car hits her or not. Either way is fine with her. We know, as the audience, that Hammer is the private eye and that he is coming to her rescue (however unintentional that is at first), and that Christina is a doomed, desperate Woman in Trouble. Pure drama. The “sensory explosion” which Alan Silver refers to, is like a fireworks display – Bang! all at once, not built up to, no warning.

 

-- 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?

 

Mike Hammer: #1 concern, his car; #2 concern, maybe the girl, but only in that male chauvinist way that was so typical of the Fifties. This man is cynical, self-centered, egotistical to a fault, loves nobody but himself and thinks only of himself. Throughout this movie, Mike Hammer is so sexist it is hard for me to keep my last meal down when I watch this movie. Mike Hammer is an over-the-top characterization of something that was very real. I remember guys like this – even though the reality was never this over-the-top. And that was also typical Mickey Spillane. I remember how wildly popular his books were during the Fifties and so of course the instant I got my mitts on one I read it, even though I was still a young girl and wasn’t even supposed to know about stuff like that.

Christina Bailey: Scared witless. Not insane. Out of her depth. Desperate for help. Something or someone has sent her over the edge. And if she can’t get help, she will try to get as far away from what she is running from. She seems to trustingly sense (as perhaps only women of that generation could) that deep under Hammer’s bitter, cynical abrasiveness, he has a teeny, tiny itsy bitsy soft spot of - goodness(?) - and uses that to get him to help her get away. I should also mention that Christina is not the prettiest of girls – not helping her cause in getting rescued or in getting Hammer’s attention at first.

 

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

 

I think the heightened, intense, immediacy of the opening – like being shot out of a cannon – is what contributes to film noir. I’ll say I had to watch this movie a few times to get over some of my own prejudices and get to the meat of the story. I’ve always thought the last two-thirds of the film are quite good (Hammer drops some of his Machismo and actually almost acts like a human being). You’ll notice I did not mention the gasping – despite it’s being a crucial element of the opening scene. It’s a tease – you don’t see Christina at first, so you aren’t sure what you’re hearing or what the opening scene is going to become. It was a bit overblown to my ear and I didn’t care for Cloris Leachman’s rendering of it (if that was really her voice doing it). It felt forced. But you can’t imagine that opening any other way.

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This movie sequence opens with complete desperation which is such a critical part of noir. The way the filming is done from behind the couple is as though they are speeding into darkness is so very clever as is  the addition of the sound of Christina's labored breathing that seems to coincide with the racing of the motor as Mike Hammer speeds through the night. I also really like the way the credits are rolling out in front of them as though they are bathed in the creativity of the production crew.

Mike Hammer is his usual "hard-boiled" and impatient self which adds to the feeling of fear and insecurity that Christina is experiencing. We have no way of knowing at this point if she will survive her journey from the nightmare she has been inprisoned in. It's from here you are hooked, baby.

I loved this movie!

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EDIT: Whoa--this site filters the word for a person who commits the act of rape. Huh.

 

 

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.

 

Agreed. I haven't watched this one in a long time, and I forgot just how much of a jerk he is in the beginning.

 

There's something I often mock in romantic comedies (and movies like Twilight), which I call "Set the bar low." It's where a woman is written to fall in love with a guy, but the movie just lazily surrounds her with total scum so that the protagonist seems better by comparison: it's like the only qualification you need to be a romantic interest is to not be a **** (person who commits rape) or sleeping with your girlfriend's sister or whatever.

 

The opening to Kiss Me Deadly is like a very dark variation on that theme: Hammer is a total jerk, but he's at least marginally better than the men (whose faces we don't even see) who don't even slow down to help someone in distress. (I know he says he wouldn't have stopped for her--and I believe him--but he does let her in the car and get her past the checkpoint). I like how bare the movie makes the opening set up. We don't know who he is or where he's going. And we know nothing about what has happened to her--and I really like that she doesn't immediately start trying to explain (truthfully or lying). It keeps us in the dark and all we know of her is what he knows of her--she is in trouble and needs help.

 

One of the little moments I like is when he first indicates that she can get in the car and she freezes next to the door. It's a good reminder that something bad has probably just happened to this woman and she's about to get into a car with a man she doesn't know. As the audience we know that he's the "good guy"--or at least probably our protagonist/anti-hero--but she doesn't know that. She's getting into a car with a strange man. In movies, getting into a car with a stranger is often a death knell for women--often something that will have viewers calling her an idiot. I like that the movie gives that little moment of hesitation where we see that she knows the danger but is desperate enough to do it anyway (just as she was desperate enough to put her body in front of a car traveling at highway speeds).

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All things considered, is Kiss Me Deadly the first neo-noir film rather than one of the last 'classic' noirs?   

 

Mike Hammer is a very different gumshoe than Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.   Gabrielle is a very different femme fatale than Kathie, Kitty Collins, Brigid O' Shaunhessy, Helen Grayle/Velma Valento, etc., and Velda Wickman is a very far cry from your typical 'Gal Friday'.  

 

Some of the  elements Aldrich uses in Kiss Me Deadly are vintage noir...the odd angles and formalistic use of shadows and lighting, the stock characters (the doctor with a way with a hypo, the tough guy minions, the disdain with which the authorities view private detectives), the detective's murky descent into an ever-more-dangerous and complicated case that is akin to a hero's descent into the underground in classic mythology, but there is something more threatening about this world, something darker, more inscrutable, more unhinged, more nihilistic.     

 

We've entered the Atomic Age, and we're no longer talking about the loss of money or jewels,ruined reputations, the destruction of a client, a few bad guys, or even the main character: we're talking about total global destruction now.  The carnage is no longer contained to the sordid underworld.  

 

The darkness has gone viral and has now consumed the light and consumed all hope and innocence with it.   

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

 

Desperation, escapism (from the law), and trust are some of the major themes I detected.

 

-- 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?

 

I wouldn't have figured Ralph Meeker (who looks highly annoyed at her choice of actions) was a detective that seems pretty ironically fitting, or atypical (very low chance of happening) depending on how you look at it. Cloris Leachman's Christina Bailey is desperate and scared.  She looks tired, and in the fits of being caught or pursued by the law which leads me to deduct there's been an awful crime involving MURDER.  

 

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

 

I've read the word "Decomposition" and thought of deconstructionism of formalist style perhaps, but unsure if I'm on the right track.  The norms of mid 50's films are being shaken would be my comment on it's important contribution of film noir. I'd also add that sex and death are very much juxtaposed thematically in this audio heavy sequence as a contributor to further development and departure of old code.    

 
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It's a slam-bang running start, dropping us right in the middle of Christine's desperate flight. We know she's running for her life and will do anything to escape. I recall no other movie opening with such a stark image of a woman in trouble except maybe Joan Crawford at the beginning of POSSESSED, wandering brain-addled and in deepest despair through the nighttime streets of an uncaring city. But this opening goes it one further, for while Joan, 8 years earlier, dared to show her face naked (no makeup), Cloris Leachman is completely nude and barefoot under the hastily thrown on trenchcoat. It's an uncomfortable fact that for us the audience, like for Mike Hammer in the movie, the first thing that comes to mind is that she's fleeing from an unwanted sexual encounter. (We'll be proven wrong shortly.) Such a direct visual suggestion of the woman as sexual victim in a movie is new.

 

Mike Hammer first comes across as callous and superficial but then redeems himself slightly when he doesn't "throw her off the cliff" and instead covers for her at the road block. We'll find out shortly that he's really a mensch with rough edges. (And not a thuggish Rambo like Mickey Spillane's original Mike Hammer character.)

 

Stylistically, the sensation of desperate flight is underlined by the tunnel-vision-like focus on the road with only the white line as a visual anchor and the underscore which stops and starts in synch with Christine's running. Then in the car, things settle a little as Hammer grudgingly lets her in and Nat King Cole's song comes in like a beacon of comfort. But the lyrics suggest loneliness and heartbreak and are still punctuated by Christine's panting so we can't get too cozy with it yet.

 

The opening credits, I think, are meant to read like the writing on the road that warns you of an upcoming railroad or school crossing - it only reads "right" if you read it bottom first, the way it appears to you while driving. But if you insist on reading it top-first like conventional movie credits, the two opposing eye directions will clash in your mind.

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I found this a very intersting beginning.  The credits going backwards, the running anguished woman with no time given in the dark, gives all of us viewing a sense of confusion.  The first vehicle passes her by and Meeker has no choice but to almost wreck his car.  Angry, he lets her in and puts on a masculine front.  But at the checkpoint when her hand slips into his, he lets down his guard and tells the police she was his wife and was just sleeping.  Interesting how that Nat King Cole song, "I'd Rather Have the Blues" fits in so well too.  Great beginning and had me wanting to see more. 

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The film opens with a rather obvious hint at a theme or idea of "the erotic and the neurotic."  The soundtrack is filled with what could easily pass as the sounds of a female in the throes of sex, but as we learn later, she is an escapee from a mental institution.  We learn that she is naked under her trenchcoat (the coat a symbol, perhaps, of a spy, a detective or a killer).  On their surface, the sounds are from a woman running frantically and breathlessly down a highway at night.  The credits run backwards, throwing the audience off from their familiar moviegoing experience and predicting themes and ideas regarding the unreeling of the past--the woman's past.  We wonder who she is, what she is running from and why she is naked beneath the trenchcoat. We want to see the mysterious woman's past.

 

From the opening, we learn, as noted above, that the woman is an escapee from a mental institution and that she is naked under a trenchcoat.  She is frightened and disoriented but industrious enough to extemporaneously play-act as Hammer's wife in order to pass through the police barricade.  Hammer most likely would not have stopped for her except that she placed herself directly in front of his moving car, perhaps as much a death wish for her as a wish for a ride.  Hammer is forced to stop and is visibly perturbed because of it.  Huffily, he offers the woman a ride.  Hammer is cold-tempered and angry but takes the hint when the woman pretends to be his wife at the police stop.  He enters her story as much or more than she has entered his.  He comfortably deceives the police, lying to them that the woman is his wife and was merely sleeping in his arms.

 

The film adds to the film noir style with its backward credits, its use of the soundtrack to evoke a strong undercurrent of "the erotic and the neurotic" and its Shakespearean beginning at the middle of the story which immediately supposes both a past and a future.

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The opening, with its credits running backwards, the gasping breath, the slap of bare feet on the pavement intrigues me.  We are quickly given answers - that she has escaped from an asylum - but I have more questions than answers at this point.  I definitely want to see more of this film.

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A barefooted woman in a trench coat, running on a highway, two cars pass without stopping. A third car comes to a sudden stop and all he has to say is, “You almost wrecked my car…..Well?”

When did men stop being Gentlemen? Was this a sign of the times?

 

In this opening scene we get to see the “Black vision of despair, loneliness and dread” mentioned in No Way Out: Existential Motifs in the Film Noir in terms of, how dark visual styles were uniting certain film noir.

 

There is nothing subtle about this opening scene. In fact it would appear that we are in for a joyride of sorts.

 

We are left with three facts:

1. The woman is terrified and running away.

2. The man who stops to help her, may be a misogynist.

3. The director will not pull any punches.

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Ooooh, Cloris Leachman playing an unhinged female!  Is that the sound of a horse in the background?  I can understand being barefoot if she's just escaped from the looney-bin, but where did she swipe a trenchcoat?  

 

What does the driver (Mike Hammer) have to gain by not turning her over to the authorities?  He's very annoyed at her almost making him crash (even though he was driving on the wrong side of the road), and especially after learning that she's an escapee?  He's also driving too flashy of a car for a PI, so he must be fairly well-paid -- even if he's just doing routine work.  Mike Hammer is almost too cartoonish, which is fitting since Mickey Spillane got his start drawing comic books.

 

I can also see where Star Wars got the idea for the opening sequence -- almost expected to hear some lasers firing.  

 

This opening clip left me with some questions, but not enough that I would normally watch this movie.  I'm missing the witty dialogue that was prevalent in many of the clips we've seen.

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The credits rolling backwards, the tension, the irritating sounds of her gasping and sobbing (I kind of was with him on the irritation level) :) What a great opening scene. I want to see it now and when I went to check on Amazon Instant Video they don't have it! :( Bummer!

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A major theme is the damsel in distress. She will draw Mike Hammer into a ever escalating situation.

 

We learn Christina escaped from an an insane asylum.  So we don't really know what to thing about her.  She could be crazy or it could be a frame up.  Spillane is the private detective to the nth degree.  He is so hard boiled, but he has to be for this story as it is so amped up.

 

The backward crawling credits and the detective almost literally running into trouble.

 

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Kiss Me Deadly is one of the coolest films noir in the catalogue, and this sequence is one of the coolest openings in all of cinema (at least the bit of cinema I've seen). I mean, the whole glowing briefcase in films like Pulp Fiction is directly descended from Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, which I find pretty cool.

 

Like all good films noir, we get a sharp chiaroscuro: the black of night vs. the headlights of various cars. We do get some interesting camera angles, though nothing that we haven't seen before. Perhaps the most differentiated part of this film is, as others have noted, the credit sequence. Scrolling backwards gives a really disorienting effect to the audience; we realize that something is definitely not right here. If something as mundane and regular as the credits gives us pause, then something must be up (mundane may be a bit harsh, though, as there are many interesting credit sequences during the 50s and 60s). I think it's interesting, too, that the credits have a sort of glowing presence, which not only mimics the cars going by but also foreshadows that briefcase we'll see later on.

 

Mike Hammer "stopping" to pick up Christina is sort of odd, though. Hammer is obviously annoyed with Christina, but I think she gives off enough intrigue and mystery that he decides to let her tag along. I mean, if a barefoot, trench-coated-only woman stops you in the middle of the road, I would be interested, or at least give pause. We don't learn that much about Hammer, but I think we can gather that he is of some importance, he can easily adapt and laser in on intriguing or important actions or people, and that he isn't necessarily just out for himself (unlike Sam Spade, which is certainly a different shift in our "hero," though we may have to see if that's precisely the case; it's been quite a while since I last saw the film).

 

Christina is a wild card. She has just run away from an asylum, she is barely wearing anything, she doesn't mind stopping in front of oncoming traffic for help, she's desperate, she needs help, she's anxious, she's could be paranoid, and she's a heavy breather. Now, we don't know at this point what she's really running from or to, but that's the whole mystery here; she's the catalyst, and I think Hammer wants to see where this explosion leads.

 

Perhaps it's because I was younger when I first saw this film, but I never connected Christina's breathing to be anything more than just that. I can see now, however, that there is some ambiguity and that her breathing can be seen as erotic. Blurring the lines occurs all the time in films noir, so this suggestion makes a lot of sense.

 

I can't wait to rewatch Kiss Me Deadly this week. Criterion put out a wonderful Blu-ray, and I'm excited to see how the rest of the film plays out.

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The credits rolling backwards, the tension, the irritating sounds of her gasping and sobbing (I kind of was with him on the irritation level) :) What a great opening scene. I want to see it now and when I went to check on Amazon Instant Video they don't have it! :( Bummer!

Its available FREE on YOUTUBE- [...]

I like to see the TCM Fridays lineup in order, so I will wait to see it then. Enjoy

Edited by TCMModerator1
Video removed due to copyright concerns
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One of my absolute favorite movie openings, KISS ME DEADLY begins by plunging the viewer into an immediate and gripping mystery: why is this woman running down a benighted highway, barefoot and clad only in a raincoat? The noir elements are there in ready evidence as director Robert Aldrich uses the harsh illumination of the car headlights to highlight the woman's terror as she desperately tries to flag down a ride. Never have been able to get away from the thought that Christina (Cloris Leachman) was so frightened and exhausted from her flight from whatever had her on the run that I never considered any psychological elements, but it makes for an interesting discussion. It plays to the sexual tension of the original novel's beginning (lampooned by the friends of Ernest Borgnine's MARTY, 1955, when talking about "that Mickey Spillane -- he sure can write") but screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides' and Aldrich's offbeat approach make the movie more than just the simple action thriller Aldrich always claimed it to be. Despite her ordeal, Christina, in the space of KISS ME DEADLY's first four minutes, proves to be no escaped lunatic, taking one last flip of the coin by stopping Mike Hammer's car. Hey, is that that ol' noir devil fate or what? A minute or so later, Christina's ingenuity comes to fore again at the roadblock when she gives Mike a meaningful look to play along with her. For those who have seen the rest of the flick, Christina is quite sympathetic and something of a match for Ralph Meeker's masterful portrayal of Mike as a self-absorbed sleaze (making her her horrible death that much more shocking and tragic). Mike is irritated that she almost wrecked his sports car and only after a momentary reluctance does he do the right thing and tell her to hop in. He only gradually becomes concerned with her plight, coming over to her side when he passes himself and Christina off as man and wife at the roadblock. But Mike, as we later learn, is always looking for what's in it for him. And that's what makes him the distrustful loner he is, whose relentless pursuit of "the big whatsit" triggered by his encounter with Christina leads to the wildly unexpected (and quite different from the source novel) conclusion.

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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.

You make good points.

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I recall seeing "Kiss Me Deadly" for the first time a few years ago. What strikes me immediately about this opening sequence is the erratic and pounding desperation, reflected in Cloris Leachman's running and breathing, as opposed to the focused, slow-building danger expressed in "The Killers." Although both films present a trailing highway from the point of view of a moving car in their respective opening sequences, there are immediate and significant differences. Leachman is meek, submissive, vulnerable and disheveled, where our forties femme fatales, like Ava Gardner in "The Killers," are calm, powerful, coifed and dangerous. The sense of impending doom created in "The Killers" shows William Conrad, a thug who has a job to do. Angst is expressed by Kurt Lancaster, remorseful and resigned to his fate, who utters, "There's nothin' I can do about it." Contrast these elements with Ralph Meeker, confronted by the desperate, barefoot and terrorized Leachman, whereby his first words are, "You almost wrecked my car." The cultural and economic tides have shifted from collective efforts against a war to individualism and materialism and redefined genre roles.

 

My overall interpretation of the differences between these sorts of forties and fifties noir, then, would include their "marketing," or message, if you will, which seems to serve in communicating to its audiences the perceived needs of a society that considered males as moving from wartime roles to post-war identity, and women as shifting from jobs to returning to home and child-rearing. 

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This opening clip left me with some questions, but not enough that I would normally watch this movie.  I'm missing the witty dialogue that was prevalent in many of the clips we've seen.

 

There is a fatalistic trajectory to this movie that lasts right up to the end credits and really has to be seen to be believed. There is also a plot element that has been repeatedly referenced/used (most famously in Pulp Fiction) that is worth seeing in its original form if you're a film buff. I think that this is one of the best examples of a movie that is playing push-pull with noir elements--it both digs deep into the archetypes and implodes them at points. You don't know where the story is truly going until literally the final moment.

 

It's hard to say this without giving away key plot points, but the fates of certain characters are not at all what you would expect. Even within the first 10 minutes of the movie something happened that deeply shocked me when I first saw the movie (shocked both by the violence of it and by it being a surprising plot element).

 

This is not a movie that hooks you the same way that something like The Big Sleep does--but it is clever in an equally (but different) way. And the more you are familiar with noir (and 40s crime movies in general), the more you will appreciate the insanity of what's happening.

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