Out of the Past is a new feature at Cinematical, where we discuss film noir of the 40s and 50s.
The thing that stands out for me the most (well, one of many things) in Robert Aldrich's 1955 film noir classic Kiss Me Deadly (it's really the film that made the French go ga-ga) is this: private eye Mike Hammer had an answering machine in his apartment! OK, it was in his wall and the size of a plasma television, but still, for 1955, that's pretty damn cool. He even had a woman's voice telling callers to leave a message...and he screened his phone calls! I can relate.
Mike Hammer is riding down the highway in his nifty convertible sports car, and he almost runs over a woman (Cloris Leachman, looking younger than you've ever remembered) who has escaped from a mental institution. He gives her a ride, they're evenutally captured, and she's tortured to death. Hammer is on the case, and it turns out to be a hell of a lot more complex than he ever imagined.
This film is pretty brutal, at least for 1955. Leachman is stripped nude and hung from the ceiling and tortured. They don't show the upper body, but the way her feet twitch and the sounds she makes...that's pretty edgy for the 50s. Hammer is a bit of a dick. He's arrogant as hell (Ralph Meeker does a great job), but he has a strong moral/loyalty center that makes him try to find out what's going on and protect his friends. But, he's still nasty: he doesn't just beat up the guy who is following him in an alley, he smashes the guy's head against a brick wall several times. Kudos to the sound effects guy.
And then there's the ending. The original print of Kiss Me Deadly had Hammer going into a beach house to rescue his secretary Velda. The house explodes in flames, courtesty of a mysterious box that contains (I'm assuming) some sort of radioactive material that emits a strong light and heat and piercing sound. If you watch the film, the house explodes with Hammer and Velda inside...and then the film ends! But if you watch the alternate version (actually Aldrich's original ending) on the DVD, you see that Hammer and Velda have escaped (maybe with some radiation exposure). They then hug each other as the waves crash onto the beach.
Kiss Me Deadly came rather late in the whole film noir genre, but it's still one of the ten best. It's film noir that suddenly turns a little bit sci-fi in the last five minutes. It's hardly ever on television (I don't think I've ever seen it listed anywhere), but the MGM DVD is well worth adding to your collection.