I had the good fortune to stumble across Kiss Me Deadly while channel surfing last night, director Robert Aldrich's crisp and cruelly stylish film black and white 1955 film adaptation of novelist Micky Spillane's brutish detective novel . Spillane's antagonist (as opposed to hero) is a lug named Mike Hammer, a thuggish sociopath with a private investigator's license. Hammer was a decisive and deliberate break from the fictional private eyes that preceded him in American pulp culture; unlike the creations of Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler, who created characters who had wit, instinct in search of a slim set of facts, Hammer was pretty much an early version of the Hulk, someone who would smash first and then try to figure out what it was he destroyed. The glory of the Mike Hammer novels, though, was Spillane's style which was, despite what misgivings and protests one has against the lack of an articulate moral center, swift and stinging and paced at a tempo that made it easy to forget how venal and ludicrous the plots might happen to me. The prose was blunt and to the point, but it made you abandon your reservations and give yourself over to the sequence of rage and revenge that was to follow.
Hammer is a duncey baboon in the film, portrayed with a detached, tightly wrapped asshole elan by Ralph Meeker. That's the appeal. He knows a gun in the gut, and a good back of the hand gets results faster than reasoned discussion. Notable, too, is that the fact that Hammer's character seems to particularly relish the opportunity decidedly non-masculine men, like the piggy, squealing fellow who gets his hand slammed hard in a drawer or the priggish, likely closeted clerk at the athletic club who gets slapped around by Hammer in a humiliating fashion. In any case, this bullying gets a few things straight: he is in command. I laughed when Hammer, who is not a cop and didn't identify himself as a private eye, barks orders at the clerk, who sheepishly acquiesces. This film is beautiful not just stylistically, but because Aldrich plays it straight with how he presents the whole thing. The paranoia here, cutting to the bone and radiating like so many of the garish lights from the angular, heavily contrasted black and white frames, acts as an x-ray. Everyone's business is exposed, everyone's agenda, or lack of one, is revealed, no matter how much they assert their innocence or intentions.