There was an unexpectedly poignant moment in the last episode of Feud: Bette and Joan. Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) asked Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) if he could be a great director. Warner’s response was NO. In fact, Aldrich was an outstanding genre film director who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Robert Wise and Anthony Mann and direct “prestige” pictures. The irony is that neither Wise nor Mann’s films were as good or distinctive when they left the world of genre films.
Genre films were not respected in 1962 when Feud: Joan and Bette is set. Aldrich continued to make thrillers, action movies, and westerns, which were more entertaining than many bloated big budget prestige pictures of his time.
The best movie Aldrich ever made was based on Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly. Spillane was a legendarily lowbrow writer but he was a good storyteller: Kiss Me, Deadly is his masterpiece. Aldrich’s film adaptation of it is now regarded as one of the best films of the 1950’s. What’s not to love about Mike Fucking Hammer?
It’s time for a pictorial look, PFT-style, at Kiss Me, Deadly. We begin with two paperback editions of the book:
Robert Aldrich elevated Spillane’s gritty tale but it was a low-budget film without movie stars. Aldrich once mused that it would have been better with William Holden as Mike Hammer. My reply: most movies in that era would have been better with Bill Holden in the lead. He was *that* good. Ralph Meeker, however, gave the performance of a lifetime in Kiss Me, Deadly.
Kiss Me, Deadly may have come from a lowbrow crime fiction writer but Aldrich elevated the material enough for it to be released as a part of the Criterion Collection. It doesn’t get snootier or film buffier than that:
The movie has been remade but stick to the 1955 original. Here’s the trailer: