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


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Up front, I acknowledge it's a cult and fan favorite. Hammer's a sleazy detective, and from the opening scenes, it becomes very clear that this is not a feel good movie. You just can't unsee a movie like "Kiss Me, Deadly". Some noir enthisiasts buy into the theory that self-destructiveness is the most natural of human instincts. But even in these opening secenes it's 'too crude' and sadistic for my liking. Writers like Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler could entertain you and make you think. More my taste. That's just my two cents.

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What led me to consider Hammer's motivations in agreeing to help Christina avoid the police was the shot of the dashboard just before he sees the upcoming checkpoint.  The dashboard and all its machinations--gauges, the key inside the ignition, meters, everything that shows the car is working--is the cue that what is to follow is what makes Mike Hammer tick.  The combination of the terrified passenger and the bevy of cops in search of her is a situation that makes him tick.  It leads him to dive in to help her because this is exciting for him, it's what drives him, and his motor is running on all cylinders as a result of the more fully explained situation at that point, rather than a kind corner of his heart in helping a damsel in distress.

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Once again, there is no mistaking this film as anything but noir, but by the mid 1950’s, sensationalism superseded class. Mickey Spillane’s “Mike Hammer” was popular but plebian.

Throughout history each generation of artist has endeavored to make their art more real than the generation before. In the 1930’s wealth and power was glamorized in films. Nick and Nora Charles were beloved. With the advent of noir in the 1940’s, the average guy in a tight spot (Philip Marlowe for example) became the hero. He didn’t look for trouble; trouble found him. He was cynical, but had complete allegiance to his own moral code. Mike Hammer, the 1950’s detective, has virtually no moral code. He’s part of the corrupt world and believes the end always justifies the means. Sam Spade went about “collecting guns” to keep others from using them. Mike Hammer had no problem shooting first.

The “Hays Code” would last another thirteen years but by this point it’s clear that filmmakers were working very hard to take it to the limits. The detective story, first envisioned by Edgar Allen Poe in 1841, had at last sunk to the level of salacious pulp fiction. As usual, the film industry, first and foremost a business, was keen to embrace pulp fiction’s popularity.

Is this sort of noir more “real” than its processors? One could reasonably make that argument. I believe you can always tell when an art form has reached its nadir because it resorts to sensationalism; it was near the fall of the Roman Empire that they amused themselves by feeding Christians to lions. While it’s a good film, I think it’s an example of why the noir movement began to decline.

You make a really excellent point about how much different Hammer is when compared to someone else like Nick Charles. It's clear that this "tough guy" type of detective/private investigator has evolved so much in just the matter of a few years. Charles is so funny and is clearly written (in the films, at least) to be someone who's there to provide some comic relief. There's nothing funny about Hammer. He's all business and serious, much in the same way that Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade are, but there's something almost more sinister about him than those two. 

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I have not seen even Kiss me Deadly, but the start is impressive, shows desperation, paranoia, terror, the woman who is running, roughly in the driver, frenzied speed of the car at a night route, while ambient music sounding chords contrasting with the mellow voice of Nat King Cole on the radio.

 I think, in the 50, the directors and producers were crossing the boundaries of the traditional cinema Hollywood, by that point already had assimilated much of what the film noir introduced, but at the same time, the atmosphere of paranoia of the cold war and McCarthyism nurtured also this "new direction" of the film.

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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 in desperate need of male intervention. Now is she the femme fatale in the situation? Most likely not but maybe one who was probably victimized not by a man, but by another woman. I also noticed the bare feet as she was running down the highway, and the police activity clued into the fact that she has escaped from some kind of asylum. So she's probably delusional or committed by someone who thinks she is and is keeping her locked away to hide some greater secret. Escaped convicts, on the other hand, tend to run away with their shoes. If you're in a facility that keeps your clothing limited, then you're probably 5150'd.

 

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 Bailey is paranoid; this is established when she learns she is being sought. This paranoia will probably intensify as the story continues. Mike Hammer is your typical hardboiled detective without any kind of empathy. He's direct and no holds barred.

 

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

One thing I noticed was the POV shot taken behind the car looking in the same direction as the characters. We see what they see. We're along for what clearly will be a bumpy ride. The opening credits reminded me of Lost Highway where the focus is on the street and this sense of movement; clearly Kiss Me Deadly influenced that film.

I also like that rather than using generic mood music, they use Nat King Cole to set the tone and mood of the scene/film. 

 

I have to be honest, Christina Bailey already annoys me. The constant heavy (erotic) breathing was a bit too much. 

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 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. 

 

Actually the title sequence was George Lucas tribute to the style used in the 1930s Flash Gordon serials.

 

 

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This short clip from "Kiss Me Deadly" is as powerful for what isn't said as it is for what is said. The film starts by throwing the audience right into the action without any explanation. A woman is running on a dark highway. She is in a trench coat, with perhaps nothing on under it, and is barefoot. Her feet slap against the highway in a frantic rhythm with her heavy breathing adding to the drama. What is she running from? Who is she? We don't know. She attempts to flag down cars to no avail. So she keeps running ... And grunting ... with those bare feet hitting the pavement. Finally, she comes to a standstill as a car approaches - it will either stop and help her or she will die. Clearly, this is an act of desperation.

 

The driver nearly goes off the road. He doesn't ask her if she is injured or what is wrong. Instead he is annoyed. Nearly one minute into the film, we hear the first words spoken: "You almost wrecked my car," says the driver we will come to know is Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker). Still he lets her into his car. He is a jerk on the exterior, but at least shows he has some humanity by not leaving her on the side of the road.

 

They keep driving and for another two minutes there is only the sound of a Nat King Cole love song on the radio and her very heavy breathing. No words are exchanged and it becomes uncomfortable listening to her breathing take on a very sexual tone. He makes a few terse, clipped comments and they come to a roadblock where we learn they are searching for a woman who has escaped from an asylum. She grabs his hand and he covers for her. They drive off.

 

It is such an intriguing opening. We don't know the facts, but we understand the emotions: desperation and fear. We are introduced to a guy who comes off as a real cad ("I should have thrown you off that cliff," he says), but there is some complexity in him because he doesn't give her up. And her breathing is so sensual it clearly stretches the Production Code in a most unusual way.

 

I have never seen this film before, but I am quite intrigued to see the journey ahead for these two characters.

 

@toniruberto

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I can't recall ever seeing a movie with the opening credits rolling backwards, but it helps set the scene for something disjointed going on. Cloris Leachman's breathing/moaning doesn't leave much to the imagination,it's com is film of fear, desperation and sensuality. Mike Hammer changes his tune from harshness to understanding when he hears the reasons for the roadblock. It's doubtful that he is an old softy but he understands desperate situations when he sees one.

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Once again, there is no mistaking this film as anything but noir, but by the mid 1950’s, sensationalism superseded class. Mickey Spillane’s “Mike Hammer” was popular but plebian.

Throughout history each generation of artist has endeavored to make their art more real than the generation before. In the 1930’s wealth and power was glamorized in films. Nick and Nora Charles were beloved. With the advent of noir in the 1940’s, the average guy in a tight spot (Philip Marlowe for example) became the hero. He didn’t look for trouble; trouble found him. He was cynical, but had complete allegiance to his own moral code. Mike Hammer, the 1950’s detective, has virtually no moral code. He’s part of the corrupt world and believes the end always justifies the means. Sam Spade went about “collecting guns” to keep others from using them. Mike Hammer had no problem shooting first.

The “Hays Code” would last another thirteen years but by this point it’s clear that filmmakers were working very hard to take it to the limits. The detective story, first envisioned by Edgar Allen Poe in 1841, had at last sunk to the level of salacious pulp fiction. As usual, the film industry, first and foremost a business, was keen to embrace pulp fiction’s popularity.

Is this sort of noir more “real” than its processors? One could reasonably make that argument. I believe you can always tell when an art form has reached its nadir because it resorts to sensationalism; it was near the fall of the Roman Empire that they amused themselves by feeding Christians to lions. While it’s a good film, I think it’s an example of why the noir movement began to decline.

 

Theses are all good points, and well said. (1) "by the mid 1950’s, sensationalism superseded class". (2) "I believe you can always tell when an art form has reached its nadir because it resorts to sensationalism. While it’s a good film, I think it’s an example of why the noir movement began to decline." I believe there is a real sense of over-reaching with the B-film at this point. Add in the drive-in craze. Hollywood was channeling it's storylines and characters (even the Noir ones), with a more stylish approach. I appreciate your insight and comments.

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I have to be honest, Christina Bailey already annoys me. The constant heavy (erotic) breathing was a bit too much. 

 

I have to admit I don't think I would have picked her up either.  If I saw her the way Mike Hammer first saw her in the middle of the road, she looked more psychotic than what she was.  Maybe she just boiled the pet rabbit on the stove and now wants to slash somebody...and I didn't think she was without clothes until Mike mentions it, so I totally missed any erotic or sexual signals there.  I could only see visions of Glenn Close flipping out! 

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2.)  We learn in Kiss Me Deadly that these two characters were on a preordained destination to collide with one another.  Both characters appear to be running from someone or something. Once the characters have met, they seem to interlock with one another.  Hammer doesn't particularly like Bailey. His training as a private detective tells him something is not right with this scene...a woman running alone at night dressed only in a trenchcoat. His keen instincts tell him he is wrong to give her  a lift, but he does it any way. Possibly to see where or to whom the woman leads him.  Hammer could turn her into the police, but goes along with the lie that she is his wife.

 

3.)  This opening scene is an important contribution to film noir in that film noir characters are lost, lonely, desperate, troubled, and on the verge of madness.  The opening adheres to this; Bailey has escaped from a mental institution and is running alone at night on a highway while Hammer is driving like lunatic lost in his own "crazed" noir universe. The credits scrolling in reverse serves to enhance to disorientation the characters are suffering by showing that even normal conventions (such as the film's credits) are subject to bizarre distortion. :)

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This is a new movie content-wise for me but it definitely starts off with an intensity not normally seen in movies.

 

I think fear is a major theme in this movie as the girl is obviously very fearful as she runs away from her trouble and also the man driving the car has a moment of great fear when he narrowly avoids smashing into the would-be hitchhiker.

There is also some sexualisation to this opening as we see the woman only in a trench coat and the fact that she is barefoot makes me assume she is most likely not wearing anything underneath as well. This along with the breathing that she has.

 

The girl seems very frightened like a small animal. doesn't really speak and is just at the end of her line where she can't even speak. She's desperate enough to grab a strangers hand in the hopes that he won't let the police know she's the escapee.

 

The man seems to be somewhat calculating threatening the girl while still helping her. He's got pretty good composure for not losing his mind after she almost made him crash his car and he's intelligent and sharp with being able to come up with a lie on the spot to keep the cops from thinking she's the girl who got away. Especially by doing it in a way that allows her to not have to speak. By saying she just woke up the cops will think she's probably disoriented and won't be of much help. 

 

This movie looks like it is important because it shows a different way from other films of how to introduce characters with a bang and lots of intensity while also progressing the plot for us to see.

 

 

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Major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence:

 

The theme of escape is the most prevalent, here, and at first we make the assumption that Hammer does: that Christina has escaped from a person rather than from a place. The two also "escape" from the police blockade. Christina might well be escaping from more than an asylum; she could be attempting to escape the constricting role of womanhood. Wearing nothing underneath her trench coat, she appears at once vulnerable and sexual, poised to reveal herself both physically and symbolically, and underscoring the tension between disclosure and concealment.

 

What we learn or discern about the characters of Christina and private eye Mike Hammer:

 

Both characters are presented as risk takers; Christina throws herself in front of a car to get a lift, and Hammer offers passage through a police blockade to a strange woman he's never seen before. Although Christina is desperate for a ride, her face doesn't show panic or distress as she runs along the highway, which is curious until we learn where she's come from. She is used to using her wiles to manipulate men, and she is successful with Hammer as she grabs his hand and pleadingly looks at him for protection. Hammer is cynical and cranky and quick to size up Christina, but he surprises us by just as quickly agreeing to act as her cover without saying a word; if he is a true noir private eye, he won't let some dame's sob story get in his way, yet there he is going along for the ride; he must have an adventurous side. I haven't seen this film, and I'm very curious to know what happens next.

 

How the opening scene is a contribution to the development of film noir:

 

The bizarre, psychological twist elements of film noir are carried into the pre-credit sequence and the credits themselves, both visually and audibly, and it's hard to decide which is more disturbing, the inverted credits or Leachman's heaving gasps (my vote's with the breathing; it became annoying, but I imagine that in a theater it is more compelling). The shock factor is used very effectively here, before the film has even begun--except, of course, that it has begun, which adds one more layer of dark noir disconcerting trippiness.

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  His motivation in protecting her from the police may be less due to his interior nugget of goodness and perhaps attributed more to the obvious potential for irresistible intrigue in taking this woman on as a client now that he knows more.  Thus, he says Christina is his wife in order to get her past the police checkpoint.

 

That he also describes her as his wife suggests to me that he's made his commitment, right then and there, to take on this client and stick with her to the end of whatever wild ride lies ahead.  He doesn't describe her as his girlfriend, fiance or something less committed in terms of their fake relationship when talking to the police.  Saying she's his wife seems to underscore a different level of commitment he made as a private eye for hire.  Especially since she clearly needs more than routine PI services.  

 

Again, I don't know the Hammer series or this film; on the other hand, . . . .

 

Good point concerning his level of commitment!  I think that's exactly what the director wanted us to take from that scene!

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This opening jumps right in with a woman in trouble, running out of the darkness from an unseen threat, so desperate that she risks her life to get help.  Her gasps and cries add to the pure visceral scene where we know nothing except her extreme distress.  No other exposition.

Hammer is unsympathetic, and even angry at her for almost causing him to wreck.  His noirish private eye cynicism is seeping from him as he is curt and big with her.  But he is also confident in his ability to handle any situation allows him to invite her for a ride, without any notion of her situation.  His self preservation and self-centeredness delay his inquiry as to her predicament.  

Even when it is revealed she is an escaped mental patient, Hammer still goes along for the ride.  This could reflect his resistance to authority, his lust for this scantily clad woman, a reckless tendency to invite danger into his life, or all the above.  Her clutching his hand to get by the police amplify her need to escape as well as the potential for danger for Hammer.  Is she a victim or a femme fatale, or both?

 

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Major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence:

 

The theme of escape is the most prevalent, here, and at first we make the assumption that Hammer does: that Christina has escaped from a person rather than from a place. The two also "escape" from the police blockade. Christina might well be escaping from more than an asylum; she could be attempting to escape the constricting role of womanhood. Wearing nothing underneath her trench coat, she appears at once vulnerable and sexual, poised to reveal herself both physically and symbolically, and underscoring the tension between disclosure and concealment.

 

What we learn or discern about the characters of Christina and private eye Mike Hammer:

 

Both characters are presented as risk takers; Christina throws herself in front of a car to get a lift, and Hammer offers passage through a police blockade to a strange woman he's never seen before. Although Christina is desperate for a ride, her face doesn't show panic or distress as she runs along the highway, which is curious until we learn where she's come from. She is used to using her wiles to manipulate men, and she is successful with Hammer as she grabs his hand and pleadingly looks at him for protection. Hammer is cynical and cranky and quick to size up Christina, but he surprises us by just as quickly agreeing to act as her cover without saying a word; if he is a true noir private eye, he won't let some dame's sob story get in his way, yet there he is going along for the ride; he must have an adventurous side. I haven't seen this film, and I'm very curious to know what happens next.

 

How the opening scene is a contribution to the development of film noir:

 

The bizarre, psychological twist elements of film noir are carried into the pre-credit sequence and the credits themselves, both visually and audibly, and it's hard to decide which is more disturbing, the inverted credits or Leachman's heaving gasps (my vote's with the breathing; it became annoying, but I imagine that in a theater it is more compelling). The shock factor is used very effectively here, before the film has even begun--except, of course, that it has begun, which adds one more layer of dark noir disconcerting trippiness.

Thank you for this perspective, it widens the dimensions of interpretations.

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Whoa.  This opening is daring and odd.  It seems that it almost represents a shift in the noir style and genre with a new formulaic approach. By opening right in the midst of a scary event, seemingly with no flashbacks, Kiss Me Deadly runs contrary to some of the best like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard.  It also contains a sense of audacious sexual innuendo for a 1955 film with Meeker's line about "no" turning into a three letter word, which we know to be "sex."

 

From the get-go, it seems that Meeker's character of Hammer is mysterious or at least shaded.  Most people wouldn't pick up a woman running down a major road with no shoes, even if you almost hit her.  Or at least I wouldn't, but maybe I'm not so nice!  By taking on Christina and going along with her plot as soon as they see the police, there is something odd about Hammer.

 

Christina, who really does appear in trouble and as if she has been taken advantage of, quickly turns into the femme fatale, perhaps the most sudden shift and alteration I've seen to date.  Just two or three minutes into the clip, once the police officer mentions the woman who left the asylum, you know it's Christina, and this consequently insinuates all characteristics and labels of the femme fatale.

 

While we know a lot in a short time, there must be only more to know!  Looking forward to the rest!

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

The urgency of the woman to get away, from or to something....to be revealed...

The breathing of the woman that maintains out of breath through out the clip...but from petrified to **** all in this same scene....unbelievable opening sequence.



-- 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?

That he is a private detective. That she has escaped from a mental asylum and that is has a kind side, not just hardboiled....I keep thinking he picks her up and he knows her tho it seems stated that he does not...just a good detective and for reasons yet to be learned does not turn her over to the road block cops even tho he threatened to throw her off the cliff soon after she entered his car.

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


WELL, F.F. , maybe....woman in distress, certainly. And Mike Hammer comes along, doesn't turn her over to the road block cops....so is obviously going to help her.....has to be film noir!!!

#NOIRSUMMER

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Wow!  Talk about an opening that grates on your nerves.  The beginning credits go by pretty slowly, but then pick up speed, all the while Cloris Leachman is crying and gasping in the background.  Behind that is Nat King Cole's heavenly voice singing, "I'd rather have the blues than be dead.". I kept waiting for the credits to be done just so we could figure out why she was crying or to make her stop.  It really made my skin crawl.  The short break in credits before showing the director was such a fake out.  You're not sure why she's out on the road, and only in a trench coat, at first you think the same as the Mike Hammer, that her date "thought NO was a three letter word," but then you arrive at the road block and realize she's an escapee from an insane asylum. Why Mike Hammer protects her is something we will just have to wait to find out. I will tell you this... the opening scene really weirds me out.

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The opening scene of "Kiss Me Deadly" introduces several themes often found in film noir. We first experience the sense of desperation of Cristina running barefoot on a highway at night looking for someone, anyone to pick her up. She finally freezes in front of an oncoming car, willing to die immediately or willing to risk her life riding with a stranger. Her heavy breathing and panting add to these crucial moments in the first few minutes.Another theme is "the unknown". What is she running from? Why is she escaping from the asylum? Why is Hammer willing to lie for her?Is she insane? Who determines that? The theme of confusion or contradiction is evident with; the backward rolling credits,the blues music playing simultaneously while she is panting, Hammer's initial gruff demeanor when she enters the car then his willingness to cover for her easily.

We learn that Hammer is cool (drives a Jaguar) and is cynical at first "I should of thrown you off that cliff back there" He then cleverly assesses the situation,goes with the flow, and is willing to help her.Cristina is obviously quick at determining that Hammer is her only chance of escape. She instinctively trusts him, grabs his hand and puts her head on his shoulder.

The filmmaker uses the backward rolling credits to depict a disconnected, complex and out of the norm story. The scene's noir message is supported by; black on black lighting, sudden bright headlights on Cristina, mood music embracing the blues, witty, sardonic private eye willing to help a very desperate woman in need. Lots of emotional heft for the viewer

 

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I have to be honest, Christina Bailey already annoys me. The constant heavy (erotic) breathing was a bit too much. 

 

To me (despite, yes, the fact that heavy breathing evokes sexuality), the breathing is more like hyperventilating and a sign of her exertion. She is sprinting down that highway and she is terrified--she behaves like someone in shock. She doesn't speak. And while I earlier said that I think her pause by the car door is a deliberate moment of hesitation, you could alternately read it as someone who has gone simple in the face of something overwhelming and can't even open a car door.

 

Another odd thing: she is trying to stop cars that are driving opposite the direction she is running. In other words, all of the cars she tries to stop are driving toward whatever she is fleeing, not away from it. To me this also reflects someone who is not thinking clearly.

 

I will be really interested to hear peoples' thoughts once they watch the whole movie. Christina's character trajectory is not at all what you might expect based on your first impression of her.

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Pretty good opening. I haven't seen the film so the best compliment I can give to it is the fact that it made me want to see the film to see what happened to Leachman.

 

The abrupt, cold opening is effective, it throws you right into the tension of the moment. I don't know how often films at the time had cold openings, but I don't remember a lot.

 

Right at the moment, we learn that she is desperate and that the man is willing to bend the rules if necessary.

 

If anything, I would say that Meeker's performance, at least in those 3-4 minutes wasn't very good. Other than that, I might be checking this one soon.

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Hammer exhibits an extreme lack of empathy when seeing Bailey barefoot, panting and clearly in distress. It's curious she is wearing a man's trench coat ...to imply a side of masculinity or toughness? but she's naked underneath..is it a veneer..showing how the traditional female role was changing?

 

His lack of caring indicates the despair that was the subtext of the times. He says that he is willing to throw her off a clif and yet she doesn't react, she s a deer caught in headlights...vulnerable but a survivor, quick to come up with the idea of pretending they are a couple....Mike goes along with it, because he's corrupt ..perhaps crooked and Morally corrupt, as well.

And while he is different from previous protagonist..in that he is attractive, not the worried, world weary tough guy...but even though he is physically attractive, his character is not appealing

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Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer is the cold hearted revisionist bastard of detective literature. He's the brutish alternative to Philip Marlowe, and director Robert Aldrich not only understands this dichotomy, but exploits in further in this opening sequence. The bare feet running on the asphalt, the hyperventilating pace of the breathing that is uneasy to listen to at best, and the rip roaring jolt of this opener is a smack in the face of tradition; of the Hammetts and the Chandlers.  And it's invigorating to watch.

By the time we get to the famous reverse credits with Nat "King" Cole's creepy title song, we've now fully tumbled down the rabbit hole of Hammer's film noir fever dream. He's no Alice, but Mike is going to encounter an array of characters that wouldn't seem out of place in an urban wonderland. For everyone who hasn't seen it, make it a priority this week, it's a hypnotic cocktail that leaves you with a glorious pulp hangover when all is said and done. 

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 Most people wouldn't pick up a woman running down a major road with no shoes, even if you almost hit her.  Or at least I wouldn't, but maybe I'm not so nice!  By taking on Christina and going along with her plot as soon as they see the police, there is something odd about Hammer.

 

 

 

Agreed!  That's what I'm saying...psycho alert!

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