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