Vintage Pulp Jan 29 2019
IF YOU WERE A HAMMER
You'd Hammer in the stomach, you'd Hammer in the jaw, you'd Hammer all over the body.


Does anyone not know what's in the suitcase in Kiss Me Deadly? We imagine almost everyone does, but we won't tell. We'll give you two hints, though: it isn't the same thing that's in the case in the novel; and the change the filmmakers made places the film on a progression along the line of such what's-in-the-case thrillers as Pulp Fiction (where you never see) and Ronin (where you never find out). Ralph Meeker stars as Mickey Spillane's harder than hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer, and Maxine Cooper plays his his assistant/friend-with-benefits (she was only his assistant in the novel) Velda Wickman.

Plotwise the first couple of reels follow the novel pretty closely, with Hammer almost running over a woman on the Pacific Coast Highway, letting her into his car, and quickly finding she's being pursued by villains of the worst kind. She and Hammer are captured, the woman is tortured, then the two are placed unconscious back in Hammer's prized Jaguar and pushed over a cliff. But the murder attempt only snuffs one of them—Hammer is left alive to seek answers and vengeance. With the help of his slinky sidekick he sets about turning the town upside down.

We wanted to watch Kiss Me Deadly again after reading the novel for the first time several years ago, but didn't get back to it until spurred to do so by Noir City, which is showing the film tonight on a double bill with Killer's Kiss. It's a pretty streamlined adaptation in parts, courtesy of A. I. Bezzerides. Spillane hated the movie, and we imagine he was particularly critical of some of the choices Bezzerides made. But the production is helmed by Robert Aldrich, who shows general flair along with impressive creativity in getting shots that were fresh for the time.

Best exchange of dialogue in this one:

“According to our information he calls himself a private investigator.”

“His specialty is divorce cases.”

“He's a bedroom dick.”

Yeah, we're juvenile. Kiss Me Deadly is aimless in the beginning, and is marred by a silly Greek stereotype used for discordant comic relief, but picks up greatly in the second half and hurtles toward an explosive conclusion. The final product would have been merely decent had the movie stayed on the same course as the book, but Bezzerides wrenched the second half into a hard left turn, and his final commentary—an inspired change—saves the movie, in our opinion. It's preposterous, what Bezzerides does, but it works. So in the end Kiss Me Deadly earns its place on the list of twenty or so best entries in the film noir genre.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 8 2013
BEAST IN HUMAN SKIN
Mike Hammer lets his inner predator come out.


Mickey Spillane's iconic private dick Mike Hammer is a lethal weapon and he wants everyone to know it. He constantly tells others and the reader how tough he is, how willing he is to kill, how afraid others are of him, and why they're right to be afraid. At some point that changed in crime novels and these days the toughest characters almost never boast about their abilities, or it's done in a leftfield way, such as in Lee Child's novels, in which Jack Reacher sometimes explains clinically how he's going to get the better of somebody. But Hammer just comes out with it: “I'm mean, I'm tough, I'm better than you, I have a code you can't possibly understand, and I'm going to kill you and everyone who tries to help you.”

This is never more true than in 1952's Kiss Me, Deadly, which revolves around Hammer accidentally becoming the patsy in a murder plot and seeking revenge, not only for the murdered woman (who's Swedish and has the awesome name Berga Torn), but also because anyone who would dare try to put him on the spot, and anyone who would wreck his custom built car, simply deserves to die. Spillane is great. This is still genre fiction, so it's never perfect, but the writing is visceral and the tightness of the plotting is unbeatable. When Hammer gets violent it's serious business. He rips a guys eyes out. He rips another guy's jaw loose. The man is a hammer alright, only his first name should be Jack.

Film buffs should note that Kiss Me, Deadly diverges significantly from the 1955 film version. There's no suitcase of— Well, if you haven't seen the movie we won't tell you what there's no suitcase of, but those who've seen it will know what we were going to say. Here the MacGuffin is drugs with a street value of two million dollars. Kiss Me, Deadly is fast, clever, unexpected, and quite a pleasure to read. It's basically preposterous, of course, the male antipode to the romance novel, with Hammer fulfilling male desires to be tough, unbeatable, irresistible, still basically a good guy, but never, ever to be fucked with. But we don't care if it's male wish fulfillment. It's a ton of fun.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 24
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
France tests a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
August 23
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
August 22
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
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