Kiss Me, Deadly (1952) & Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

I finally read Mickey Spillane’s detective novel Kiss Me, Deadly (1952), in order to compare it to one of my favourite films noirs, the adaptation directed by Robert Aldrich and co-written by A. I. Bezzerides:  Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

The film keeps many of the book’s characters, situations, and gender dynamics (e.g., “hard-boiled” detective Mike Hammer and a collection of what might be called “femmes semi-fatales”) and transposes them from New York State and NYC to California and LA.  However, the film otherwise completely transforms the book’s cautionary tale about international drug smuggling into a vastly more bizarre and fascinating one ultimately involving a rich, eccentric, medical-doctor collector of “new art” (i.e., atomic materials) during the early Cold War—as well as his connections to the criminal world.

In a related matter, the film adds numerous relatively “highbrow” cultural references to the story, such as Christina Rossetti’s poems (especially “Remember”), symphonic music and opera, and even Mike Hammer and his “secretary” Velda abandoning their sleazy divorce PI existence for rather more “sophisticated” intrigue than the mob/drug context of the book.  The film also derives a more upper middle-class context, especially re Mike (including his expensive sports cars, his reel-to-reel answering machine, and his habit of screening his phone calls), but also re his policeman friend Pat (who, in the film, takes on much of the elevated-social-status character of the “feds”—who are far more prominent, and generally in “higher-level” contexts, in the book).  In addition, the film has more of a multicultural milieu than the book does (including Greek-, Italian-, and African-Americans), although the secondary, “hyphenated-American” characters are shown mainly in working class (mechanic, out-of-work singer) and service-type (bartender, barroom jazz singer) contexts.

It’s a great book, but a quite different great movie.  I feel the same way about Laurence Olivier’s film adaptations of Shakespeare and also about many of the films of Stanley Kubrick.  However, I do not feel that way about recent movies involving wizards and hobbits.

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