Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

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Released 12-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1955
Running Time 101:48
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (59:58) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Robert Aldrich
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Ralph Meeker
Albert Dekker
Paul Stewart
Juano Hernandez
Wesley Addy
Marian Carr
Marjorie Bennett
Maxine Cooper
Fortunio Bonanova
Cloris Leachman
Gaby Rodgers
Robert Cornthwaite
Nick Dennis
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Frank De Vol


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Greek
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    When Mike Hammer nearly runs over a woman dressed only in a trenchcoat, he finds himself enmeshed in a mystery which not only threatens his own life and those of his friends, but also threatens to open Pandora's Box.

    This film noir cum private eye thriller based on Mickey Spillane's 1953 novel is one of the seminal films of that decade. Like the novels of James Ellroy decades later, this film exposes the seamy and decaying underbelly of life in Los Angeles. The streets are dark, the buildings old and crumbling, the women either sexual or conniving, or both, and everyone seems corrupt or at least double-dealing. The police are impotent or involved with the gangsters. Hammer is the tough, brutal, no-nonsense anti-hero prototype of a hundred later P.I.s, hard-boiled and full of sexual magnetism, but for some reason strangely unable to control the events in which he finds himself.

    Kiss Me Deadly is a triumph of mise en scene, with the gritty direction of Robert Aldrich complemented by superb black and white cinematography by Ernest Laszlo and realistic art direction by William Glasgow. Much of the film is set at night, and the nearly empty streets look lonely and menacing. Even in the daytime, the air of doom and fear pervades the film. The dialogue by A. I. Bezzerides is short, sharp and often not to the point, the sense of chaos and skewness of the words and actions giving the film a sense of unreality, but real within its own terms of reference. If you are drawn into the film, the feeling of an impending and unavoidable cataclysm is palpable. A fine score by Aldrich regular Frank de Vol rounds the film off nicely. I have never read any of the works of Mickey Spillane, but it is hard to believe that the books are not like the film. They aren't, apparently, but they should be. His alleged misogyny is definitely apparent, but Hammer is more like a Bond character in the film than the primitive Hammer envisaged by Spillane.

    Ralph Meeker is the definitive Mike Hammer, brooding, arrogant and charismatic, a man's man to be sure. He never did anything finer on the screen. Everyone in this film looks as if they belong: Maxine Cooper perfect as Hammer's secretary Velda, as is Gaby Rodgers (apparently the grandniece of philosopher Edmund Husserl!) as Lily Carver, with Paul Stewart, Jack Lambert and Jack Elam perfectly cast as gangsters and Wesley Addy as a government agent. Former opera singer Fortunio Bonanova has a brief bit as Carmen Trivago, singing along with Caruso in an aria from Flotow's Martha. Percy Helton's avaricious coroner with Coke bottle glasses is also memorable. The doomed girl in the opening sequence is a very young Cloris Leachman. Listen to her whimpered soundtrack to the upside-down opening credits and tell me that is not suggestive of something else. This film was ahead of its time in many ways.

    The original book apparently had the gangsters after a shipment of narcotics, but this has been changed in the film to a more resonant substance, which raises the film to something more than just a private eye story - the final scenes achieve an operatic intensity. One of the great films of the 1950s, this should be seen by anyone with an interest in the cinema. It just gets better on every viewing.

    Note that this is the 1997 restored version, which includes about 80 seconds of footage added from Aldrich's personal print that expands the final sequence. The original release version was edited slightly, and this footage changes the meaning of the ending subtly.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented window-boxed in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Unfortunately, it is not 16x9 enhanced, which is very disappointing.

    The transfer is nice and sharp, with a satisfactory amount of detail present. Shadow detail is average, but those menacing shadows look more menacing the murkier they are.

    I would not say that this is the best black and white transfer I have seen, but it is adequate to the task. Contrast seems a little excessive, but blacks are nice and dark and whites are bright.

    There is a fair amount of grain present, though the intensity varies from scene to scene. Aliasing is also a slight problem, with some minor instances of shimmering from time to time. I would not class this as a significant distraction.

    Film artefacts are omnipresent, with lots of small white specks and occasional scratches. There are also reel change markings at 19:56, 76:48 and 94:09.

    Captions in English are provided, which are clear and readable in white characters and close to the dialogue.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 59:58, at a break between scenes and is therefore less disruptive than it could be.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The default audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, with four alternative languages included. There is no surround encoding.

    This is a reasonably good audio track, with no noticeable hiss or distortion. The dialogue is clear and comes across well for a fifty year old film.

    The brooding and subtle music score is by Frank de Vol, and he also contributes a song sung by Nat King Cole. The beauty of the score is that it underlines much of the mood of the film without drawing attention to itself. I understand that the laser disc edition of the film included a separate track with score and sound effects, and it is a pity that this was not carried over to the DVD release.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Theatrical Trailer (2:14)

    This is the original trailer, in 1.33:1 and in fair condition. It was this trailer, including a brief snippet of footage not in release prints, that led to the search for the full ending. The trailer plays up the sex and violence angles of the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The US Region 1 also includes the shorter ending of the original release version as an optional extra, with the unedited version the default. This release has no English subtitles. The UK Region 2 appears to be the same as the Region 4. A draw, given that the full version of the ending is better in my opinion, so purchase of the Region 1 is not necessary.

Summary

    One of the great films noir, this should have received Special Edition treatment, but this disc will do for the time being.

    The video transfer is fine but could have been a lot better.

    The audio transfer is acceptable.

    The sole extra is a trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
missing shorter ending -
Has it just hit the colonies? -