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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary by film noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini
  • New video tribute from director Alex Cox
  • Excerpts from The Long Haul of A. I. Bezzerides, a 2005 documentary on the Kiss Me Deadly screenwriter
  • Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane, a 1998 documentary about the life and work of the author
  • Video pieces on the film's locations
  • Controversial altered ending
  • Theatrical trailer

Kiss Me Deadly

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Alexandra Stewart, Juano Hernandez, Nick Dennis, Wesley Addy, Marion Carr, Maxine Cooper, Cloris Leachman, Gaby Rodgers
1955 | 106 Minutes | Licensor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #568
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: June 21, 2011
Review Date: June 17, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

In this atomic adaptation of Mickey Spillane's novel, directed by Robert Aldrich, the good manners of the 1950s are blown to smithereens. Ralph Meeker stars as snarling private dick Mike Hammer, whose decision one dark, lonely night to pick up a hitchhiking woman sends him down some terrifying byways. Brazen and bleak, Kiss Me Deadly is a film noir masterwork as well as an essential piece of cold war paranoia, and it features as nervy an ending as has ever been seen in American cinema.

Forum members rate this film 9/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Robert Aldrich’s noir classic Kiss Me Deadly comes to Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this dual-layer disc, presented in a new 1080p/24hz high-definition digital transfer.

Criterion’s presentation for the MGM titles they’ve been releasing have been all fairly stellar and Kiss Me Deadly’s presentation is no different. It is a little rougher around the edges in comparison to something like Criterion’s presentations of Night of the Hunter and Sweet Smell of Success, laced with some more obvious damage and some softness on occasion, but as a whole the image is crisp and clean, with a stunning amount of detail and clarity when the materials allow, and film grain, which remains intact, looks natural and never like noise.

Gray levels are perfect and contrast is strong. Whites can be bold but never over powering or blooming, and black levels are incredibly rich. Together with the clearly defined gray levels the shadows in the film come off the best I’ve yet seen them. Really just an amazing looking presentation.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless PCM mono track is a pleasant surprise. For a mono track from 1955 it’s unexpectedly robust. Yes, there are moments where dialogue can sound flat and music or sound effects (like the noise the film’s central suitcase makes) can screech here and there, but in general it’s a clean track with some decent volume levels and range with clear and articulate dialogue.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

MGM’s previous DVD actually contained a couple of features, though limited only to a trailer and the film’s original/alternate ending. Criterion carry those both over but then add so much more starting with a fairly engaging if not spectacular audio commentary by “noir specialists” Alain Silver and James Ursini, who have been recorded together. I can’t say there was anything too surprising about the track since it covers what one would pretty much suspect, looking at the film’s themes and its comments on the time period, and then look at how the film turned the source novel (written by Mickey Spillane) on its head. They break down some of the unconventional methods used in the film and its place in noir cinema. And along with talking about Aldrich and members of the cast the Mike Hammer character is also examined. They of course talk a little about the ending but can’t offer an explanation as to why a different ending was tacked on. It’s fine enough and actually moves at a brisk pace but it can feel pretty by-the-numbers as you make your way through it.

Next is director Alex Cox on Kiss Me Deadly, an odd 7-minute video featuring Cox talking about the film and the novel with heavy emphasis on the overall “strangeness” of the film. He talks a little about Hammer’s sadism in the film, some of the odd technical choices made and its influence on newer “fine” films, mentioning Pulp Fiction and his own Repo Man. He also gets a little crazy trying to link Jules Dassin’s Thieves Highway and Kiss Me Deadly. It’s a bizarre video and Cox is an equally bizarre interviewee but he keeps it interesting at least. Not necessary viewing but it’s entertaining.

We then get a re-edited 40-minute version of Max Allan Collins’ documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, this shorter version made specifically for this edition. This documentary of course looks at the career of author Mickey Spillane from his writing for comic books to the growing popularity of his novels. It then moves on to the film and TV adaptations including a little bit of information about Kiss Me Deadly, which Spillane of course hated (but it appears every other interviewee in the documentary loved it.) It features interviews with Spillane and various other writers, as well as Stacy Keach and Leonard Maltin. Fascinating documentary but it’s unfortunate we only get a truncated version. (As a note the video appears to come from a video tape so the quality is so-so.)

A “Postscript” is included with the documentary, which is a short text note by director Collins about how he first got to meet Spillane, appearing with him at a fan convention, and then how proud he was that he may have played a hand in getting Spillane to at least admit that Ralph Meeker was the best Mike Hammer. We also get a photo of his laserdisc edition of Kiss Me Deadly which he was able to get Spillane and screen writer A.I. Bezzerides to sign. A super cool collectible I must say.

The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides looks to be interview footage possibly meant for the previous documentary, featuring interviews with Spillane, Bezzerides, and writers Barry Gifford and George Pelecanos. It’s fine but a little disappointing, quickly editing together the different interviews. But Bezzerides does cover how the script was formed (starting with his hate for the source novel) and the many changes he made. Spillane of course hated the script and couldn’t understand why they made the changes they did but Bezzerides brags about François Truffaut calling him to praise his work. A little fluffy but Bezzerides’ participation makes it worth viewing.

Don Bajema narrates Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, a 7-minute feature about the locations in the Bunker Hill area of L.A. where Kiss Me Deadly was filmed. The video shows photos of the various locations as well as their use in the film, and gives a brief history of the area. There’s a 2-minute video for the Locations Today, comparing footage of an area from the film with footage shot today of the same location. Interesting just to see how different things are today.

Similar to the MGM DVD we get the alternate ending. Since its release a bleaker or at least open-ended conclusion had been shown with the film until 1997 when Aldrich’s original ending was found and edited back into the film for new home video releases. No one knows why the ending was changed for its original release. Criterion’s Blu-ray presents the film with the Aldrich approved ending, but the 22-second, more abrupt ending that played with the film for decades is included here to view as a separate feature.

The disc then concludes with a theatrical trailer. The booklet contains an excellent essay by J. Hoberman on the film, the history of the production, Spillane and the book, and the film’s commentary on the 50’s. There’s also a reprint of an article director Robert Aldrich wrote for the New York Herald-Tribune where he responds to the controversy over the film’s violence, which was really in most critic’s heads since most of the violence happens off-screen. Another excellent booklet from Criterion.

It’s a fairly solid edition, though overall the features do feel maybe a bit light. Some of them feel to be possibly MGM produced features, though I can’t say for sure. Still, I enjoyed them and found them to be worth going through.

7/10

CLOSING

A pleasant surprise from Criterion, a title I had hoped they would get from the MGM vaults. Supplements are decent but it’s the presentation that sells this edition. Highly recommended.


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