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Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly(1955)

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The film's unusual opening credits appear after the sequence in which "Mike Hammer" picks up hitchhiker "Christina Bailey." When Christina gets into the car, a radio deejay announces that Nat "King" Cole will be singing "Rather Have the Blues," and the song is then heard over the credits, which scroll from the top of the screen to the bottom, as if they are part of the highway along which Mike speeds. The opening title card reads: "Victor Saville presents Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly."
       Hollywood Reporter news items include Art Loggins, Max Wagner and Keith McConnell in the cast, although their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Modern sources include the following actors in the cast: Yvonne Doughty (Receptionist); Bob Sherman (Gas station attendant) and Eddie Real (Sideman). According to the film's pressbook, seventy-five percent of the picture was shot on exterior locations in Los Angeles, CA. Kiss Me Deadly marked the motion picture debuts of actresses Maxine Cooper and Cloris Leachman, and was the only feature film made by Gaby Rodgers.
       The film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains a September 10, 1954 letter from producer-director Robert Aldrich to PCA official Geoffrey Shurlock, in which Aldrich states that he had recently been employed by Parklane Productions to produce Kiss Me Deadly and was aware that there were "a number of problems inherent in the project in relation to securing Code approval." As noted in Aldrich's letter, Spillane's novel originally dealt with narcotics rather than atomic material, and the organization fought by Mike was the Mafia, not an unspecified group of Communists. [Another departure from the novel to the film was "Velda's" term "the great whatsit," which does not appear in the novel.] In his letter, Aldrich expressed the hope that "the property can be brought into line with the Code in relation to narcotics and still not lose its dramatic oneness."
       In a September 20, 1954 memo for the PCA files, however, it was noted that Aldrich was informed that a screenplay based on Spillane's novel could not be approved. The two "basic reasons" for the story's unacceptibility were the treatment of "illegal drug traffic" and its portrayal of Mike "as a cold-blooded murderer whose numerous killings are completely justified." The PCA also objected to many instances of brutality and "sex-suggestiveness." Aldrich was informed that if he intended to "maintain the use of narcotics as a basic story motivation, it would be necessary for him to appeal the decision of the Code Administration with the Board of Directors of this Association in New York." Aldrich in turn told the PCA that the filmmakers "could easily overcome" the problem of Hammer acting as a murderous vigilante, although they had not yet determined if they would retain the narcotics story line. In November 1954, Aldrich submitted a screenplay to the PCA, which was approved with the warning to be careful in the depiction of brutality and sex.
       On February 11, 1955, Aldrich wrote to Shurlock, thanking him for the PCA's cooperation in awarding Kiss Me Deadly a production seal. Aldrich commented on the difficulty of adapting the Spillane books for the screen, noting: "In the Spillane pictures we have a unique and difficult problem. The properties are of great commercial value, and yet there is no morality, or integrity, or respect for American tradition, or the due process of law." On April 18, 1955, Aldrich again wrote to Shurlock, notifying him that the "Legion of Decency has taken violent exception to [Kiss Me Deadly] and has requested that over thirty changes, cuts and deletions be made." Aldrich stated that the requests came "as a most rude and expensive surprise," as he had thought that if a project was passed by the PCA, it would be acceptable to the Legion of Decency, a Catholic organization. Eventually, on May 5, 1955, the Legion of Decency gave the film a "B" rating instead of a "C," or condemned, rating, stating: "This film tends to glorify taking the law into one's own hand. Moreover, it contains excessive brutality and suggestiveness in costume, dialogue and situations."
       According to an June 8, 1955 Daily Variety article, the picture faced further censorship difficulties when CBS-TV censor Ed Nathan refused to allow the Los Angeles CBS station to air trailers for Kiss Me Deadly. Nathan had publicly criticized the film, stating that it had "no purpose except to incite sadism and bestiality in human beings." In protesting Nathan's actions, Aldrich pointed out that other CBS stations throughout the United States had already agreed to broadcast the trailers. According to an February 18, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, in order to publicize the picture, United Artists had begun negotiations with major TV networks to "set up a half hour coast-to-coast telecast featuring live enactments of scenes from the picture." The article reported: "It is expected that the exploitation program, first of its kind, will reach a video audience of twenty-five million." It has not been determined, however, if the telecast was produced.
       In August 1997, Los Angeles Times and LAWeekly reported that the film's original ending, in which "Velda" and "Mike" watch while the beach house explodes, had been restored. According to Los Angeles Times, prints "since the early `70s" had contained a truncated ending that did not show Velda and Mike together, surviving the explosion, but rather ended with the explosion of the house. The restoration was conceived by editor Glenn Erickson and film historian Alain Silver, and constructed by archivist John Kirk, from Aldrich's personal print of the film. In speculating about the reason for the truncated ending, Erickson cited the considerable censorship problems the film endured and wondered if some distributors decided that Mike had to be "punished." The Los Angeles Times article further reported: "A failure when originally released, the film was denounced by the influential Kefauver Commission for its violence. Aldrich even sold his rights back to UA in 1959 when he needed the money." According to Silver, Kiss Me Deadly was Aldrich's favorite of his films. The picture has long been regarded by film historians as one of the best and most significant examples of film noir, and is often cited by modern filmmakers as a major influence on their careers.
       For more information on Mickey Spillane and the "Mike Hammer" films, please consult the Series Index and see the entries for the 1953 United Artists release I, The Jury and the 1954 Warner Bros. release Ring of Fear.