AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Kiss Me Deadly
Alternate Title: Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly
Director: Robert Aldrich (Dir)
Release Date:   May 1955
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 18 May 1955
Production Date:   29 Nov--late Dec 1954
Duration (in mins):   105
Print this page
Display Movie Summary


Cast:   Ralph Meeker (Mike Hammer)  
    Albert Dekker (Dr. G. E. Soberin)  
    Paul Stewart (Carl Evello)  
    Juano Hernandez (Eddie Yeager)  
    Wesley Addy (Capt. Pat Murphy)  
    Marion Carr (Friday)  
    Marjorie Bennett (Apartment manager at Carmen Trivaco's building)  
    Mort Marshall (Ray Diker)  
    Fortunio Bonanova (Carmen Trivaco)  
    Strother Martin (Harvey Wallace, truck driver)  
    Madi Comfort (Nightclub singer)  
    James McCallion (Horace, super at Christina's boardinghouse)  
    Robert Cornthwaite (FBI agent)  
    Silvio Minciotti (Moving man)  
    Nick Dennis (Nick)  
    Ben Morris    
    Jack Elam (Charlie Max)  
    Paul Richards (Attacker)  
    Jesslyn Fax (Horace's wife)  
    James Seay (FBI agent)  
    Percy Helton (Doc Kennedy)  
    Leigh Snowden (Girl at pool)  
    Jack Lambert (Sugar Smallhouse)  
    Jerry Zinneman (Sammy)  
  and introducing Maxine Cooper (Velda [Wickman])  
    Cloris Leachman (Christina [Bailey])  
    Gaby Rodgers ([Lily] Carver [also known as Gabrielle])  
    Sam Balter (Radio announcer)  
    Joe Hernandez (Radio announcer)  
    Trude Wyler (Nurse)  
    Mara McAfee (Nurse)  

Summary: One night, private detective Mike Hammer is driving home to Los Angeles when he is stopped by a woman standing in the highway. Although Mike upbraids the woman, he gives her a ride. As they drive, the panicked woman, who is wearing only a trenchcoat, asks Mike to drop her at the nearest bus stop. Before Mike can learn more, they are stopped at a roadblock, and the police reveal that they are looking for a woman who escaped from a nearby sanitarium. After Mike bluffs his way past the officer, the woman, named Christina, admits that she is the escapee, but insists that she was being held prisoner at the sanitarium. When they stop at a gas station, Christina gives the attendant a letter to mail and looks relieved. Mike is intrigued by Christina’s demeanor and her plea to remember her if anything should happen. Just then, a car blocks their way and Mike is knocked unconscious by the occupants. When Mike awakens, he hears Christina scream as she is being tortured, but because he is lying face-down, he cannot identify his captors, although he does notice that one wears a distinctive pair of shoes. After Mike passes out again, he and the now-dead Christina are put into his car, which is pushed over a cliff to make it look like they died in an accident. Mike jumps from the car just in time, however, and three days later, is wakened in the hospital by his devoted secretary and girl friend, Velda Wickman. Mike’s friend, police captain Pat Murphy, is also happy to see him recovering. When Mike leaves the hospital, he is detained by federal agents, who question him about Christina. Mike refuses to divulge any information, and after he is released, Pat warns him not to pursue the matter. At his apartment, Mike tells Velda that they are going to investigate anyway, and she reveals that a man named Ray Diker called while he was in the hospital. Their conversation is interrupted by Pat, who revokes Mike’s private detective license and gun permit, then dismisses Mike’s speculations about Diker, a newspaper science editor who disappeared recently. Despite interference from an unknown attacker, Mike locates Diker, who, although terrified, tells Mike that Christina’s last name was Bailey and gives him her address. When Mike visits the boardinghouse where Christina lived, he learns that her roommate, Lily Carver, is gone, although a moving man tells him Lily’s new address. Remembering that Christina stated she was named after the poet Christina Rossetti, Mike picks up a volume of her poetry from Christina’s nightstand, then looks for Lily. Upon entering Lily’s rundown apartment, Mike finds the nervous woman leveling a pistol at him. Lily explains that Christina was very frightened lately, but she does not know why, nor does she know the identity of the men who came to question her after Christina’s death. When Mike goes home, he receives a phone call from an unidentified man, offering a token of appreciation if he will pretend that he never met Christina. In the morning, a new car is in front of Mike’s building, and the suspicious Mike asks his mechanic, Nick, to examine it. Nick finds two bombs inside the car, after which Mike visits Velda, who is leery of pursuing Christina’s murder. Velda reveals that Diker called her, offering her several other names, and when Mike checks out the leads, he learns that there have been two other automobile “accidents” in which people connected to Christina were killed. Mike also discovers that Charlie Max and Sugar Smallhouse, two hired killers, are looking for him, and after learning that they work for gangster Carl Evello, goes to Evello’s house. Impressed with the way Mike handles himself, Evello agrees to talk with him, and confesses that he sent the rigged car. Evello attempts to bribe Mike to remain silent, but Mike demurs and goes to see Carmen Trivaco, one of the names given to him by Diker. Carmen admits that his friend, Nicholas Raymondo, was an atomic scientist who hinted about having an important secret before he was killed. Mike then returns to Lily’s, where he finds her hiding in the basement after some men came looking for her. Hoping to protect her, Mike then takes Lily to his apartment. Meanwhile, Nick, who had investigated the car bombs at Mike’s request, is murdered. Grieving, Mike goes to see Velda, who pleads with him to forgo his search for the “great whatsit” that has resulted in so many deaths. Velda then reveals that Diker introduced her to a modern art dealer who mentioned both Evello and a Dr. Soberin when discussing his gallery. Mike tells Velda to press for more information, then goes to a bar, where he passes out from drinking too much. When Mike is awakened, he learns that “they” have kidnapped Velda, and soon discovers that the letter Christina mailed was addressed to him. At his office, Mike opens the letter, which says only “Remember Me!” Sugar and Charlie are waiting, and after beating Mike, take him to a beach house. There, Mike is tied face-down on a bed, and when he is interrogated by a stranger, recognizes the man’s shoes from the night Christina was killed. Although the man drugs Mike with sodium pentathol to discover the meaning of Christina’s letter, Mike rambles incoherently. Later, Mike manages to slip his bonds, and when Evello enters the room, Mike traps him and ties him to the bed. Believing that Evello is Mike, Sugar mistakenly kills him before being killed by Mike. Mike escapes and returns home, where he and Lily attempt to puzzle out Christina’s message, using one of Rossetti’s poems. Mike deduces that Christina swallowed an important clue and goes to the morgue, where Doc Kennedy had extracted a key from her stomach. The next day, Mike and Lily drive to the Hollywood Athletic Club and Mike uses the key to open a locker registered to Raymondo. In the locker Mike finds an iron box, wrapped in leather. Mike is surprised that the inner box is hot and cries out when it burns him as he attempts to open it. Mike immediately shuts the lid, then tells the clerk to let no one near it. Upon returning to his car, Mike discovers that Lily has disappeared and contacts Pat. Pat demands the key, but Mike refuses, stating that he needs it to bargain for Velda’s life. When Pat reveals that the body of the real Lily Carver was found over a week ago, Mike realizes that he has been duped. Seeing the burn on Mike’s wrist, Pat says “Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, Trinity,” and Mike, understanding that he is in over his head, gives Pat the key. At the athletic club, however, the clerk has been killed and the box stolen. With Diker’s reluctant help, Mike eventually realizes that the leader of the gang is Dr. G. E. Soberin, and traces the doctor to the beach house where he had been held earlier. The doctor, who wears distinctive shoes, is currently admiring the box, which was brought to him by the woman impersonating Lily, whose real name is Gabrielle. Despite her curiosity, the doctor refuses to allow her to open the box, however he does not to explain that the reason is that it contains atomic material. When Soberin refuses to divide the box’s contents with her, Gabrielle shoots and kills him. Gabrielle is about to open the box when Mike bursts in, and when he responds too slowly to her demand that he kiss her, she shoots him in the side. Mike staggers out as Gabrielle opens the box and the material within incinerates her. Finding Velda just in time, Mike runs with her from the house, and watches from the beach as the house is engulfed in a huge explosion. 

Production Company: Parklane Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Robert Aldrich (Dir)
  Robert Justman (Asst dir)
  Nate Slott (2d asst dir)
  Mark Sandrich Jr. (2d asst dir)
Producer: Victor Saville (Pres)
  Robert Aldrich (Prod)
Writer: A. I. Bezzerides (Scr)
Photography: Ernest Laszlo (Photog)
Art Direction: William Glasgow (Art dir)
Film Editor: Michael Luciano (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Howard Bristol (Set dec)
Music: Frank DeVol (Mus comp and cond)
  Albert Harris (Orch)
Sound: Jack Solomon (Sd)
Special Effects: Complete Film Service (Photog eff and title)
Make Up: Bob Schiffer (Makeup)
Production Misc: Jack R. Berne (Prod supv)
  Robert Sherman (Asst to the prod)
  Jack Murton (Casting supv)
  Pat O'Neil (Asst to prod mgr)
  Helen Gailey (Scr supv)
Country: United States
Language: English
Series: Mike Hammer

Music:
Songs: "Rather Have the Blues," music and lyrics by Frank DeVol, sung by Nat "King" Cole and Kitty White.
Composer: Frank DeVol
Source Text: Based on the novel Kiss Me, Deadly by Mickey Spillane (New York, 1952).
Authors: Mickey Spillane

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Parklane Pictures, Inc. 20/4/1955 dd/mm/yyyy LP4659

PCA NO: 17410
Physical Properties: Sd: Glen Glenn Sound Co. Recording
  b&w:
  Widescreen/ratio: 1.85:1

 
Genre: Drama
  Film noir
Sub-Genre: Detective
 
 
Subjects (Major): Atomic power
  Femmes fatales
  Investigations
  Los Angeles (CA)
  Murder
  Private detectives
 
Subjects (Minor): African Americans
  Art, Modern
  Automobiles
  Bars
  Bombs
  Evidence
  Explosions
  Gangsters
  Government agents
  Greek Americans
  Hitchhiking
  Impersonation and imposture
  Keys
  Letters
  Mechanics
  Physicians
  Police
  Recordings
  Christina Rossetti
  Secretaries
  Shoes
  Telephone answering services and machines
  Torture
  Truth serum
  Womanizers

Note: The film’s unusual opening credits appear after the sequence in which “Mike Hammer” picks up hitchhiker “Christina Bailey.” When Christina gets into the car, a radio deejay announces that Nat "King" Cole will be singing “Rather Have the Blues,” and the song is then heard over the credits, which scroll from the top of the screen to the bottom, as if they are part of the highway along which Mike speeds. The opening title card reads: “Victor Saville presents Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly .”
       HR news items include Art Loggins, Max Wagner and Keith McConnell in the cast, although their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Modern sources include the following actors in the cast: Yvonne Doughty ( Receptionist ); Bob Sherman ( Gas station attendant ) and Eddie Real ( Sideman ). According to the film’s pressbook, seventy-five percent of the picture was shot on exterior locations in Los Angeles, CA. Kiss Me Deadly marked the motion picture debuts of actresses Maxine Cooper and Cloris Leachman, and was the only feature film made by Gaby Rodgers.
       The film’s file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains a 10 Sep 1954 letter from producer-director Robert Aldrich to PCA official Geoffrey Shurlock, in which Aldrich states that he had recently been employed by Parklane Productions to produce Kiss Me Deadly and was aware that there were “a number of problems inherent in the project in relation to securing Code approval.” As noted in Aldrich’s letter, Spillane’s novel originally dealt with narcotics rather than atomic material, and the organization fought by Mike was the Mafia, not an unspecified group of Communists. [Another departure from the novel to the film was “Velda’s” term “the great whatsit,” which does not appear in the novel.] In his letter, Aldrich expressed the hope that “the property can be brought into line with the Code in relation to narcotics and still not lose its dramatic oneness.”
       In a 20 Sep 1954 memo for the PCA files, however, it was noted that Aldrich was informed that a screenplay based on Spillane’s novel could not be approved. The two “basic reasons” for the story’s unacceptibility were the treatment of “illegal drug traffic” and its portrayal of Mike “as a cold-blooded murderer whose numerous killings are completely justified.” The PCA also objected to many instances of brutality and “sex-suggestiveness.” Aldrich was informed that if he intended to “maintain the use of narcotics as a basic story motivation, it would be necessary for him to appeal the decision of the Code Administration with the Board of Directors of this Association in New York.” Aldrich in turn told the PCA that the filmmakers “could easily overcome” the problem of Hammer acting as a murderous vigilante, although they had not yet determined if they would retain the narcotics story line. In Nov 1954, Aldrich submitted a screenplay to the PCA, which was approved with the warning to be careful in the depiction of brutality and sex.
       On 11 Feb 1955, Aldrich wrote to Shurlock, thanking him for the PCA’s cooperation in awarding Kiss Me Deadly a production seal. Aldrich commented on the difficulty of adapting the Spillane books for the screen, noting: “In the Spillane pictures we have a unique and difficult problem. The properties are of great commercial value, and yet there is no morality, or integrity, or respect for American tradition, or the due process of law.” On 18 Apr 1955, Aldrich again wrote to Shurlock, notifying him that the “Legion of Decency has taken violent exception to [ Kiss Me Deadly ] and has requested that over thirty changes, cuts and deletions be made.” Aldrich stated that the requests came “as a most rude and expensive surprise,” as he had thought that if a project was passed by the PCA, it would be acceptable to the Legion of Decency, a Catholic organization. Eventually, on 5 May 1955, the Legion of Decency gave the film a “B” rating instead of a “C,” or condemned, rating, stating: “This film tends to glorify taking the law into one’s own hand. Moreover, it contains excessive brutality and suggestiveness in costume, dialogue and situations.”
       According to an 8 Jun 1955 DV article, the picture faced further censorship difficulties when CBS-TV censor Ed Nathan refused to allow the Los Angeles CBS station to air trailers for Kiss Me Deadly . Nathan had publicly criticized the film, stating that it had “no purpose except to incite sadism and bestiality in human beings.” In protesting Nathan’s actions, Aldrich pointed out that other CBS stations throughout the United States had already agreed to broadcast the trailers. According to an 18 Feb 1955 HR news item, in order to publicize the picture, United Artists had begun negotiations with major TV networks to “set up a half hour coast-to-coast telecast featuring live enactments of scenes from the picture.” The article reported: “It is expected that the exploitation program, first of its kind, will reach a video audience of twenty-five million.” It has not been determined, however, if the telecast was produced.
       In Aug 1997, LAT and LAWeekly reported that the film’s original ending, in which “Velda” and “Mike” watch while the beach house explodes, had been restored. According to LAT , prints “since the early ‘70s” had contained a truncated ending that did not show Velda and Mike together, surviving the explosion, but rather ended with the explosion of the house. The restoration was conceived by editor Glenn Erickson and film historian Alain Silver, and constructed by archivist John Kirk, from Aldrich’s personal print of the film. In speculating about the reason for the truncated ending, Erickson cited the considerable censorship problems the film endured and wondered if some distributors decided that Mike had to be “punished.” The LAT article further reported: “A failure when originally released, the film was denounced by the influential Kefauver Commission for its violence. Aldrich even sold his rights back to UA in 1959 when he needed the money.” According to Silver, Kiss Me Deadly was Aldrich’s favorite of his films. The picture has long been regarded by film historians as one of the best and most significant examples of film noir , and is often cited by modern filmmakers as a major influence on their careers.
       For more information on Mickey Spillane and the “Mike Hammer” films, please consult the Series Index and see the entries for the 1953 United Artists release I, The Jury and the 1954 Warner Bros. release Ring of Fear

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   23 Apr 1955.   
Daily Variety   20 Apr 55   p. 3.
Daily Variety   8 Jun 1955.   
Film Daily   12 May 55   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Oct 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Oct 1954   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Nov 1954   p. 9, 11.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Nov 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Dec 1954   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Dec 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Dec 1954   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Dec 1954   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Dec 1954   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Feb 1955   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Apr 55   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jun 1997   p. 3, 36.
Los Angeles Times   19 May 1955.   
Los Angeles Times   12 Aug 1997   p. F1, F10.
LA Weekly   15-21 Aug 1997.   
Motion Picture Daily   26 Apr 1955.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   23 Apr 55   p. 410.
Newsweek   25 Apr 1955.   
Variety   20 Apr 55   p. 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
AFI Membership
The definitive list of classic American films

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.