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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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I thought I would try an existentialist reading.  Hammer seems detached, of course, as if he is watching it all go by, this life, this absurd life (with the sound track from Cole's "I'd Rather Have the Blues" layering in). Christina in her trench coat and nothing else is symbolic of the chaos outside him, which he takes in (literally and figuratively) when he opens the door.  Christina's gutteral noises are primal, fear incarnate, her lack of speech juxtaposed with the relative silence of Hammer and the words from the radio.  Christina's figure reminds me of Munch's "The Scream."  There is this cry against what life has given her, and here she is also free of it, having made some sort of choice to escape. The interesting tension of the scene perhaps derives from how these characters are making sense of something that cannot have sense. I have not seen the film and look forward to seeing it soon.

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

Threat and danger are among the main themes. There's probably a sense of doom too. As for the deceptive woman (something some people here suggested), I'd need to watch this movie... I also find here an opposition between the police and the private eye (Mike Hammer being the one who protects the supposed victim - Christina - when the police treats her like a fugitive). Speed and sexual subtext could be the (minor) themes I detect here.

  • 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?

As many people said, Christina's disheveled appearance (barefoot and barely dressed) emphasizes her desperation. She's determined to take her chances, even if it means getting into a stranger's car and giving him a false impression (when she takes his hand).

Mike Hammer is the hard-boiled detective - although he drives a fancy car, in my opinion. He's not very compassionate with her but he saves her nonetheless.

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

Music is important here, like it is in The Big Combo (released in 1955 too). It gives the sequence its atmosphere (very urban and intriguing).

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I thought I would try an existentialist reading. Hammer seems detached, of course, as if he is watching it all go by, this life, this absurd life (with the sound track from Cole's "I'd Rather Have the Blues" layering in). Christina in her trench coat and nothing else is symbolic of the chaos outside him, which he takes in (literally and figuratively) when he opens the door. Christina's gutteral noises are primal, fear incarnate, her lack of speech juxtaposed with the relative silence of Hammer and the words from the radio. Christina's figure reminds me of Munch's "The Scream." There is this cry against what life has given her, and here she is also free of it, having made some sort of choice to escape. The interesting tension of the scene perhaps derives from how these characters are making sense of something that cannot have sense. I have not seen the film and look forward to seeing it soon.

.

 

What great examples! Thanks for sharing the Munch comparison. That will stick for sure with me. That print could work for many a film noir big time!

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A woman running from an asylum, and the guy covers for her!

 

This is going to be a good one.

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Maybe it shows my generation, but that's the first thing I thought of him, especially with how brusque he was. But when she put her hand in his and leaned on his shoulder the look on her face said I'm willing to take the chance to get away.

 

I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie.

 


(if the film was made two decades later, we would be suspicious that Meeker will also take advantage of Leachman for some unsavory purpose.
 

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Mike Hammer is your typical no nonsense, man's man, film noir detective. He completely objectifies women. IN this opening sequence, Cloris Leachman's character is clearly running away from someone or something, wearing nothing but a trench coat. The first thing we hear is panic. Hammer begrudgingly picks her up but it is clear he doesn't really care about her troubles. He doesn't even seem like they are important. The only thing he can do is assume she was acting and dressing like a **** and ran into the wrong man. He only picks her up because he feel like it is what you are supposed to. You can tell by the opening minutes that Hammer is our clear-cut example of the objectification of women in film noir.

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This scene reeks of desperation, internal and severe external fear, despair, and allows the viewer to catch a slight glimpse of the psyche or mindset of the character that Cloris Leachman is playing as she almost seems to be willing to give everything up in exchange for any sort of help that could possibly be offered to her as highlighted when she jumps in front of the car and is nearly killed in order to secure help. The use of cinematic formalism is in play and leads the viewer to imagine

many a situation she could be in as a deep anxiety grips both the character in the film and the viewer with the heightened sense of fear being shown through Cloris Leachman's character's emotions, the camera work, the score used for this opening sequence, etc. A cynical, tough, objectionable view is shown by Ralph Meeker's character and i suppose some existentialism is highlighted in this scene as well.

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A rough talking but gentle acting man is picking up and protecting a desperate woman in one of the strongest openings of any film I have seen. The interaction between the sweet music and the desperate breathing is powerful. Based on the opening I do not have the impression of Hammer being one of the most cynical noir detectives around a, gentleman despite his sly talking. In action he is doing all "good". Some of it to take care of the woman, some may be as an anti authority action. Sheltering a woman who have no clothing except the trenchcoat, acts wildly, suicidal, and is apparently a "lunatic". The roughness of the scene builds both a superrealistic impression and an enhanced formalistic feeling foreboding no good. A feat in itself.

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Cinematically a hugely powerful opening - so many elements thrown into play to instantly engage the audience in the story - and still finding time to address tiny but telling issues to tell us who Mike Hammer is - the sporty English car, the hip music with its 'noir' lyrics, the gruff manner, the easy acceptance of underlying sexuality - and his "rescue of the damsel".

 

I will definitely watch this film again - as I recall it has very interesting "Red Scare" era overtones - but I've always had a problem with author Spillane's ultra-mysogynist character Mike Hammer - well, at least since I passed the age of 15!  It'll be interesting to see how the film version develops the character but, judging from the introduction, it looks as if it won't be altered fundamentally. 

 

I'm reminded of  that great scene in "Marty" (1955) when the guys discuss how Mickey Spillane is the greatest writer who ever lived... interesting that "Marty" and "Kiss Me Deadly" were made the same year. 

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We see the desperate Christina running away from something, so desperate that she would risk getting hit by a car for someone to help her.  This short clip tells me that there is a recurring theme in this movie - confusion.  Mike Hammer is well put-together, while Christina is disheveled; barely dressed.  Why would he want to get involved?  Mike Hammer is downright mean the way he scolds her for almost wrecking his car, yet he lets her get in anyway, confusing us as to what kind of a guy he is.  And he's still mean in his conversation with her in the car, yet he goes along with her attempt to fool the police at the roadblock.  Confusing again.

 

When they approached the roadblock, her quick thinking to pretend she was his wife struck me.  Did she really belong in the asylum from which she escaped?  Was she really that desperate?

 

I have not seen this movie yet, but I hope that when I do it will clear up the confusion (or will it?).  

I enjoyed seeing the many elements of noir used even in the few short minutes of the opening scene: low-key lighting and night shooting; the character's-eye view of Mike and Christina traveling down the road. 

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Dramatic scene -- the hook -- before the credits:  How new was that?

 

One thing that struck me in watching this scene, in the midst of a lot of others from this era that I've been watching, is that the movie doesn't begin with the credits.  It begins BEFORE the credits.  Today that is the norm, but movies of the 40s into the 50s started with about 2 minutes, if that, of opening credits.  They were standard and straightforward and told only the basic info.  No flash.  Font was about the only "innovation" they allowed themselves.  

 

But Kiss Me Deadly begins with a scene:  the woman flags down a car, then the woman gets in the car and they drive.  Only then do the credits roll.  Much has been said about how they roll backwards, but my question is whether the scene-before-the-credits idea was brand new in this movie or if it had been going on for a while?  Anyone know?

 

 

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It's been copied many times, but no power has been lost in this opening.  So many noir elements fight for attention.  Low key, low angle photography, the heavy breathing of love and death, a woman with no context running down a blackened highway, a grumpy white knight to her rescue, insinuations of her insanity, and hints of his, if not chivalry, at least a willingness to harbor someone in trouble with the authorities, the jazz flavored song on the radio, and the backward running credits which fairly scream "film noir flashback," are swirling fascinators, pulling us in.  The randomness of the universe in all its pain and salvation is contained in this short clip.

 

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Like many, I've never seen this film either..if we didn't know this was a noir...I'd think it was the beginning of a horror film with the frantic running down the dark highway....and heavy breathing... then you notice she's not really all there because she's not screaming for help, she's not throwing up her thumb...she throughs herself in front of a car!!  Then we are introduced to the male character who is indifferent not the least bit interested in really helping because he's **** he almost total his car.  Then she's still not giving us much but we get a hint of what were in for with the subtle soundtrack from Nat King Cole..... What stood once she got in the car was her breathing became almost erotic sounding. She was not scare but turned on.  He was angry.  The credits rolled like we were watching the ending of the film not the beginning.   The filmmaker seems to be setting us up for a story which will be told backwards.  That's just an observation.

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To compliment the great quotes Dr. Richards provided about the frantic sensory overload in this scene, I was struck by the contrast of the calm and smooth voice of the female DJ, followed by Nat King Cole, the smoothest of smooth. It seemed to provide an unnerving balance, as though despite lady's hurried actions, there was an inevitable undercurrent she'd was unable to escape. This theme is mirrored by the visuals as she is running full speed, but placed next to the preordained lines in the road. And the car she hitches a ride in takes her back the way she came.

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The opening scene of Kiss Me Deadly sets up many of the themes common to film noir.  The opening is disorienting; the first thing the viewer sees is a pair of legs running down a dark street.  To make things even more intriguing, we notice that this woman is barefoot.  The film plunges the viewer into the middle of the action, placing them in a world that is confusing and difficult to understand.  The woman appears to be frightened and running away from something, but we don’t know what.  The audience begins to dread whatever is lurking out there in the darkness as well, even though we don’t know of what we are afraid.  There is a tremendous feeling of desperation and anxiety coming from this mysterious woman.  She is so desperate to get away that she is willing to risk being hit by the next car, just to make it stop. 

 

Of course, when we meet Mike, he is a variation of a type we’ve seen before: the cynical man who appears to have seen it all.  He does not seem terribly surprised to meet this strange woman in the middle of nowhere, and is mostly annoyed that she almost caused him to wreck his car.  He allows her to get in, but continues to be rather cruel to her, instead of trying to comfort the upset woman. 

 

Even the opening credits are disorienting and confusing.  They break with most conventions in two main ways.  The first is the obvious choice to run the credits backwards.  By running them in the reverse order that the audience is used to, they are, at first, difficult to process.  The viewers have to adjust before they make sense; they also clue the viewer into the fact that, as the opening scene shows, this film is not starting “at the beginning” of the story it is telling.  The second break with convention in these credits is the fact that the song playing can barely be heard over the woman’s labored breathing.  Usually, the credits roll before the story and a song is played, often the theme song of the film, until the story begins.  In this film, Nat King Cole can barely be heard, his smooth voice standing in marked contrast to the choppy breathing of the mysterious woman.

 

Finally, the audience becomes even more confused by the revelation that the mysterious woman has escaped from an institution.  Since the audience is encouraged to sympathize with her in this opening scene, it makes the situation even less clear.  Were we wrong to hope that she would escape?  Can she be trusted?  Mike, however, remains unfazed and helps her get past the police.  Is it because of a dislike of authority? At this point nothing is clear and the audience doesn’t know whom to trust. 

 

In this respect, Mike Hammer gets quite a different entrance than some of the other detectives we’ve meet, such as Phillip Marlowe.  At the start of The Big Sleep, Marlowe was entering a murky world, but he was the audience’s guide; it was clear that the audience should trust him.  Mike Hammer is just another piece in the confusing world at this point.  

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I feel a bit over my head with so many cinephiles here, but there were a couple things I noticed, and I'm just not sure if they were elements that had significance, or just there as a result of cinematic license.

 

1) As others have said--she gets in a car headed back the way she has come from.  In fact, all the cars that we see are going backwards to her initial direction.  If she is, in fact, the woman from the asylum, then the roadblock would appear to be "backwards," too.  That is, they're checking cars heading back in the direction from which she's escaped.  (You could argue that she was in the middle of an encirclement of roadblocks, but then Hammer would have needed to have passed through the roadblock in getting to where she was — in which case he already would have known she was likely be the escapee they were looking for.)  Is this another hint about the backwards world we're in, or just the easiest and quickest device to convey the commitment Hammer makes to going along with her?

 

2) When the car stalls, Hammer tries several times to start it, unsuccessfully.  It isn't until she gets in that the car starts — on his very next try.  Is this supposed to be saying he needs her to be able to continue (enter the next phase of his life)?  Or that he could not have avoided her (i.e., he tried to leave without picking her up and couldn't)?  Or is it just a device to get her into the car and get them moving down the road, with no deeper meaning?

 

3) When we see her in long shot running down the road she appears to be in the middle of the lane, but when we see a closeup of her bare feet running down the road they're right on the lane divider.  Intentional?  Signalling what?

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I feel a bit over my head with so many cinephiles here, but there were a couple things I noticed, and I'm just not sure if they were elements that had significance, or just there as a result of cinematic license.

 

1) As others have said--she gets in a car headed back the way she has come from.  In fact, all the cars that we see are going backwards to her initial direction.  If she is, in fact, the woman from the asylum, then the roadblock would appear to be "backwards," too.  That is, they're checking cars heading back in the direction from which she's escaped.  (You could argue that she was in the middle of an encirclement of roadblocks, but then Hammer would have needed to have passed through the roadblock in getting to where she was — in which case he already would have known she was likely be the escapee they were looking for.)  Is this another hint about the backwards world we're in, or just the easiest and quickest device to convey the commitment Hammer makes to going along with her?

 

2) When the car stalls, Hammer tries several times to start it, unsuccessfully.  It isn't until she gets in that the car starts — on his very next try.  Is this supposed to be saying he needs her to be able to continue (enter the next phase of his life)?  Or that he could not have avoided her (i.e., he tried to leave without picking her up and couldn't)?  Or is it just a device to get her into the car and get them moving down the road, with no deeper meaning?

 

3) When we see her in long shot running down the road she appears to be in the middle of the lane, but when we see a closeup of her bare feet running down the road they're right on the lane divider.  Intentional?  Signalling what?

Don't feel over your head at all, great observations.

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I also noticed that the cars were headed in the wrong direction. Is that a clue to her personal life - always picking up with people going the wrong direction? She is running away (we assume) from the asylum, but the cars she tries to stop are headed back.

I noticed many contradictions. She is desperate to escape - a survival instinct - but she stands in the middle of the road - a suicidal posture - risking her life to live! The contrast between the darkness and light, the close ups and long shots, the white divider lines flashing as she runs - white, black, white, black. She is a damsel in distress ignored by everyone! The brash music with horns and timpani plays as she runs, magnifying the feeling of danger and frenzy as she hurtles along the road. Her face is bright in the headlights, then in darkness time and again as they pass her by, until she stops and stands in the road and is fully illuminated. The car's sickening skid as it barely misses her is shocking. Then as the car starts up, the lush, quiet and soothing voice of the radio announcer with the velvet voice of Nat King Cole singing is absolutely so unnerving! Then the upside down credits roll. Like discussed in the notes, it is a sensory overload, complicated by all the contradictions.  

The contrast of opposites totally engages the mind and the senses. It forces us into the film as participants rather than viewers. She is so desperate, and it is contrasted with his total lack of concern and even hostility towards her. The crazy credits rolling backwards while the camera shot inside the car shows the backs of their heads forces us to notice that things are not normal. It screams at us to "PAY ATTENTION!" The road ahead bounces crazily along, giving the viewer motion sickness (that sense of nausea) and the clue that everything is backwards. 

The man (he is detective Mike Hammer but we have not been introduced yet in the story) speaks so harshly to her, blaming her for almost wrecking his car when it is obvious she is in desperate trouble, far beyond his car worries. Instead of rescuing the damsel in distress (in a white car rather than white horse - and not quite a trusty steed, as it stalls out briefly), he blames her saying, "a quick guess: you're out with some guy who thinks no is a 3-letter word. I should have thrown you off that cliff back there ... I might still do it."

He is not the fairy tale rescuer and this is no fairy tale.

"Would you have stopped if I used my thumb? .... NO!"

The radio voice says, "And now fellas..." This is a male dominated, woman hating society she is in and she knows it.

All of these devices aid in our participation of her desperation. She is alone, naked except for a trench coat, barefoot and vulnerable, almost completely exposed, and we feel it.

The scene is dripping with sexuality - she is naked except for the trench coat and he comments about her running around naked all the time. "You couldn't just use your thumb. You have to use your whole body," he quips. He drives a sports car - a long accepted connection to the male libido. The music playing on the radio is contrasted with her gasping. If you were just hearing the audio, it would sound like a sex scene.   

The car starts up with the expensive-sounding, foreign motor humming. (it reminded me of the motor sound in It Takes a Thief when Cary Grant and Grace Kelly take their sexy drive) But instead of sexy banter, you hear her (Christine's) gasps as they ride along, with Nat King Cole singing starkly in comparison:

"The night is rather chilly and conversation seems pretty staid. I feel so blue, but, I'd rather have the blues than what I've got.

The room is dark and gloomy. You don't know what you're doing to me. The web has got me caught. I'd rather have the blues than what I've got.

All night I walk the city. Watching the people go down. I try to sing a little ditty, but all that comes out is a sigh."

Cole's lyrics are like a narrator's voice over, explaining the scene and how she feels.

When he says the night is "rather chilly," it made me feel cold as I see her in the trench coat without any other clothes.

This is in such contrast to the Maltese Falcon when the woman comes into the office. If she had dropped her handkerchief, the boys would have fallen all over themselves to pick it up. Chivalry was not dead at the beginning of the film noir period, but in this scene, it definitely is a thing of the past. The world has been even more tainted and cynical as time has passed. There is no concern for her. She is in trouble and he sees her as trouble - and she very well may be!

When they get to the police blockade, the understanding between them and the subterfuge of the police is shared. He completely goes along with it, obviously used to lying to police. She is now completely indebted to him. They escape the police, but now she is really in for it. He knows her secret. Will he help or use it against her?

I have not seen this movie, but cannot wait to watch!

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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!

Your comments are just what you should be thinking at that point in the scene. But I wanted to add that this was Cloris Leachman's very first role. And it shows. Also, the fact of her bare feet and legs indicate nudity -- a "lady" of the Fifties and Sixties did NOT go bare legged (Anatomy of a Murder) lest she be considered a woman of lose or low morals. ....really!

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Dramatic scene -- the hook -- before the credits:  How new was that?

 

One thing that struck me in watching this scene, in the midst of a lot of others from this era that I've been watching, is that the movie doesn't begin with the credits.  It begins BEFORE the credits.  Today that is the norm, but movies of the 40s into the 50s started with about 2 minutes, if that, of opening credits.  They were standard and straightforward and told only the basic info.  No flash.  Font was about the only "innovation" they allowed themselves.  

 

But Kiss Me Deadly begins with a scene:  the woman flags down a car, then the woman gets in the car and they drive.  Only then do the credits roll.  Much has been said about how they roll backwards, but my question is whether the scene-before-the-credits idea was brand new in this movie or if it had been going on for a while?  Anyone know?

 

Apparently it was used in silents in the Perils of Pauline.  The technique is called "cold open."  For television it started in the 1960's.  They even used it on radio on Jack Benny's show.

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First, I have to say, I was fascinated to see Cloris Leachman, especially in a dramatic...no, dangerously dramatic...role. I would have never recognized her considering the rather comedic or straight man role we typically see her in these days.

 

Second, on to the questions.

 

it was interesting the hook was so much longer than typical. I believe there are other comments on this, but there is a shift to delaying the credits, plus the credits are not in full, as we are used to seeing them. We are hooked by the action, the action continues as the title and beginning credits are shown. This has a more modern feel to it, though I do not know if this is the first film to use such overlay of hook and credits.

 

I feel we found out a lot about Christina. She was an escapee from some sort of asylum. She ditched her clothing, possibly a uniform, which could identify her as a resident of the asylum. Her breathiness is also a bit of an insight into her character as someone sexual, which may or may not play into the plot. 

 

As for Hammer, I had no clue he was a detective. I actually couldn't figure out why he picked her up and then covered for her. I felt he was dangerous to Christina.

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A super cool car, Nat King Cole, and Cloris Leachman? Pretty great opening. 

 

Interesting that so many say they wouldn't pick up Leachman...A woman alone at night running down a highway barefoot? I don't know just seems something anybody would do. I don't think Beeker would have picked her up if he hadn't gone off the road trying to avoid her.

 

How about terror for a theme? Pretty much starts out like some kind of updated Poe story - a (wo)manhunt for an escapee from the local insane asylum who appears terrified, but of what? who?

 

What are they doing up there at that asylum? Does Dr. Frankenstein work there? Oops, wrong movie. Every time I see Cloris Leachman, I only see "Young Frankenstein."

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This is definitely the opener of a classic detective-based noir story....It's night time, we have an unknown female who appears to be running for her life from something or someone, the flashing of lights and metal as cars go by, the camera angles, the staccato breathing (which slows to a more sensual breathing once she's in the car), and her desperate attempt at stopping the next car no matter what. Hammer invites her into the car for two reasons: first, she inconvenienced him so much he had to stop his car anyway and second, she obviously has a story that's piqued his interest. It's not every night you come across something like that in the road. Then, when he finds out just who he more than likely picked up, he covers for her with the police officer at the roadblock.

We definitely learn that the female is a runaway from an asylum of some kind. She's so scared she seems unable to talk, unclothed other than a trench coat, and desperate enough for help to step in front of a moving vehicle. Lucky for her, the car's driven by Hammer, who for some reason decides to help her past the road block. What did he pick up from her that caused him to make this decision? Is it just the detective in him that wants to learn more before he turns her in, or does he have other information we just don't know yet?

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This is true desperation, madness, and hopefulness.  The credits are moving us down the road of noir showing us just enough into the future to see the constant stream of clues.

Christina is not the typical asylum escapee.  She is naked under a trench coat but modest.  She is not disheveled and acting wild and demented.

Mike is upset and mildly gruff but a decent person. 

We are not shown much more than the road, the characters (spotlight on Christina), and the car which is typical for a film noir.  The radio is playing a great song for film noir, "I'd rather have the blues," by Nat King Cole.  We don't know where we have been, where we are now, nor where we are going. We also don't know why Mike wants to help Christina.  She's like a lost kitten. 

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As we know, it is a commonly used device in film noir to have characters emerging out of shadows, or being somewhat obscured by darkness. This opening scene from, "Kiss Me Deadly" demonstrates the evolution of that device. We see a woman appear out of complete darkness. She is running barefooted down a highway- something we haven't seen in a film before- which suggests a raw urgency and fear on behalf of the character. When she steps into the oncoming headlights of a vehicle we are certain that she is desperate. The car spins out of control with the drivers attempt to avoid hitting her, and when it stops we are introduced to a rather peeved guy, completely indifferent to this woman's circumstances. As he chastises her and tries to re-start his engine he is more annoyed with her than concerned about her, but nonetheless tells her to, "Get in." He shows her no tenderness, however when he sees a police roadblock ahead and hears a radio alert about a female escapee from an asylum that describes his passenger to a T, he puts up the pretense that they are a married couple and they are permitted to pass through. This is a new era in film noir. At this point we are given no clue as to who this guy is or why he plays along, and all we know about her is that she is a barefooted and naked-under-a-trench-coat recent escapee from an asylum. But we can already sense that we (and she) are in for a much rougher ride than we have experienced in our film noir journey up to this point

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