Kiss Me Deadly Film Noir Essays

Object of Desire in Kiss Me Deadly

In some of the films we’ve seen so far, we observed the common narrative use of “the object of desire.” Whether it is the golden falcon in The Maltese Falcon, or the jade necklace in Murder My Sweet, the desired objects had a central place in their films, and the narrative of the films developed regarding the search for these valuable objects. After seeing Kiss Me Deadly, I noticed that the film uses a similar technique to The Maltese Falcon and Murder My Sweet in which the narrative of the film develops around the mysterious desired object. Similar to the golden falcon, the object in Kiss Me Deadly remains as a mystery for a certain amount of time in the film but later, the object is exposed as a deadly radioactive material that has lethal damages when it reacts with air. First time in our class, we see that the object of desire is not something material such as gold, gems or jade; instead the desired object is extremely dangerous, and the ultimate goal is not owning it.

Since Kiss Me Deadly’s object of desire is not something simple and material, the narrative that develops around the object is more complex and violent compared to other films we watched so far. In the very beginning of the film, we are introduced to Christina who has been forced to stay in the mental asylum being interrogated. Later on, Christina’s painful death in torture indicates that search for the object that Christina has information on is going to be much more intense and violent than we expected.

Towards the end of the film Mike Hammer brings Christina’s clues together and reaches the desired object. When he opens the box the unusual sound effect attached to the lights coming out of the box suggests that there is a mysterious but dangerous material inside the box. Being exposed to the material only for a couple of seconds, Mike’s hand gets burned and he says “Whatever it is keep away, don’t let anybody near,” revealing that the object desired has nothing to do with money, it is far more abstract and lethal.

Mike opening the box

Finally, because the object of desire is extremely dangerous in the film it is connected with the female character Gabrielle, through the associations of female sinful curiosity and the search for knowledge. Even though male characters search for the desired radioactive material throughout the film, its exposure and the cause of its destruction is associated with femaleness. We see that Gabrielle, opens the box ignoring all the warnings because she is sinfully curious. Her horrifying death in flames and screams at the end of the film once again proves the danger and mystery of the object, showing that in this film, owning the desired object brings destruction or worse the apocalypse.

Gabrielle opens the box

Kiss Me Deadly is a 1955 film about a doomed female hitchhiker who pulls Mike Hammer into a deadly whirlpool of intrigue, revolving around a mysterious "great whatsit." In 1999, Kiss Me Deadly was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Directed by Robert Aldrich. Written by A. I. Bezzerides, based on the novel Kiss Me, Deadly by Mickey Spillane.
Blood red kisses! White hot thrills! Mickey Spillane's latest H-bomb!(taglines)

Gabrielle/Lilly Carver[edit]

  • Kiss me, Mike. I want you to kiss me. Kiss me. The liar's kiss that says 'I love you.' It means something else. You're good at giving such kisses. Kiss me.

Dr. Soberin[edit]

  • [to Hammer] Lie still. Why torment yourself? Who would you see? Someone you do not know, a stranger. What is it we are seeking? Diamonds, rubies, gold? Perhaps narcotics? How civilized this earth used to be. But as the world becomes more primitive, its treasures become more fabulous. Perhaps sentiment will succeed where greed failed. You will die, Mr. Hammer. But your friend, you can save her. Yes you can. The young lady you picked up on the highway. She wrote you a letter. In it were two words: 'Remember Me.' She asks you to remember. What is it you must remember? [he injects Hammer with a hypodermic needle full of sodium pentothal] And while you sleep, your subconscious will provide the answer. And you will cry out what it is that you must remember. Pleasant dreams, Mr. Hammer.


Christina: You're angry with me, aren't you? Sorry I nearly wrecked your pretty little car. I was just thinking how much you can tell about a person from such simple things. Your car, for instance.
Hammer: Now, what kind of a message does it send ya?
Christina: You have only one real lasting love.
Hammer: Now who could that be?
Christina: You. You're one of those self-indulgent males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. Bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard.
Hammer: You against good health or somethin'?
Christina: I could tolerate flabby muscles in a man who may be more friendly. You're the kind of a person who never gives in a relationship - who only takes. Ah, woman, the incomplete sex. And what does she need to complete her? Why, man, of course. A wonderful man.
Hammer: All right, all right, let it go. That bus stop will be comin' up pretty soon and I don't even know your name.
Christina: You forget. I'm a loony from the laughing house. All loonies are dangerous. Ever read poetry? No, of course you wouldn't. Christina Rossetti wrote love sonnets. I was named after her.
Hammer: Christina?
Christina: Yes, Mike. I got your name from the registration certificate, Mr. Hammer. Get me to that bus stop and forget you ever saw me. If we don't make that bus stop...
Hammer: [confidently] We will.
Christina: ...if we don't, 'Remember me.'

Hammer: You're never around when I need ya.
Velda: You never need me when I'm around.

Murphy: You could do it a lot better, is that it?
Hammer: An ordinary little girl gets killed and it rings bells all the way to Washington. There's gotta be a pitch....I picked up a girl. If she hadn't gotten in my way, I wouldn't have stopped. She must be connected with somethin' big.
Murphy: Too many people like you have contempt for anything that has to do with the law. You'd like to take it into your own hands. But when you do that, you might as well be living in a jungle. Mike, why don't you tell us what you know? Then step aside like a nice fella and let us do our job.
Hammer: What's in it for me?

Lily: [pointing a gun at Hammer] What do you want?
Hammer: I was with Christina the night she was killed. They tried to kill me, too. If you'd like, I'll show you the scars.
Lily: How'd you find me?
Hammer: I picked up the thread. Anybody could do it...
Lily: Christina was my friend.
Hammer: The bird in the cage. What happened to it?
Lily: [She lowers the gun] It was a nice bird. Used to eat out of my hand.
Hammer: You let it die. Why'd you let it die?
Lily: It reminded me of her every time it sang. She was a good kid. She was lots of fun. We worked together - a couple of jobs till she got sick. That's when I noticed that she started to change. You get on a merry-go-round. You think you can get off any old time. But then it starts going too fast. She was scared. She was more and more scared. She was afraid to go out. She'd go to the movies once in a while or out for groceries but never very far. And then the police came around. They asked questions, lots of questions. Then they took her away. After all, I had a feeling someone was watching the place. Then those men came.
Hammer: What did they want?
Lily: I didn't stick around to find out.
Hammer: Why was Christina so afraid? [Lily shrugs] It's all right, you can trust me.
Lily: I don't know.
Hammer: You want to get even for what happened to Christina, don't ya? I'll see what I can do.

Hammer: We're gonna steer away from these penny-ante divorce cases for a while. I've got a line on something better. That girl I picked up was mixed up in something big.
Velda: And a cut of something big could be something big.
Hammer: I want you to find out all you can about her.
Velda: First, you find a little thread, the little thread leads you to a string, and the string leads you to a rope, and from the rope you hang by the neck. What kind of a girl was she, this friend of yours, Christina?

Hammer: How do you do, ma'am?
Friday: How do I do? Cra-zy. [They kiss]
Hammer: Don't be afraid. I won't bite.
Friday: You don't taste like anybody I know. That's all right. In fact, it's wonderful. Come on, Crazy. Seconds?
Hammer: OK. [They kiss again]
Friday: You sure we haven't met before?
Hammer: Never.
Friday: Who are you?
Hammer: Who am I? Who are you?
Friday: I'm Friday. I'd have been named Tuesday if I'd been born on Tuesday. I'm Carl's sister, half-sister. Same mother, different father. You know, you're not like the others - Carl's friends, I mean.
Hammer: Maybe that's because I'm not his friend.
Friday: Oh, wonderful. Then you can be my friend, all my nothing-to-do-with-Carl.
Friday: Will you be my friend?
Hammer: What do I have to do?
Friday: I want to be a close friend. Ask me something.
Hammer: And no matter what it is, the answer's 'yes', isn't it?
Friday: Maybe.
Hammer: Let's see how good you are at spelling. Can you spell the word 'no'?
Friday: N - O spells 'no.'
Hammer: That's a good girl. Now you practice saying that. Because one of the best ways to be friendly is to know when to say no.

Velda: I'm always glad when you're in trouble because then you always come to me. What is it, Mike?
Hammer: Nick's dead...The jack slipped and the car came down on him.
Velda: Is that what really happened?
Hammer: He was doing a couple of jobs for me.
Velda: And he got it? Mike, all your friends are gonna get it one of these days. What is it you're after, Mike?
Hammer: Something Nicholas Raymondo had and the girl knew about. Something very valuable.
Velda: Is it worth Nick's life or, or Christina's or Raymondo's or Kawolsky's or mine?
Hammer: Or Lily Carver's, Christina's roommate? She's up in my apartment. They tried to get her last night.
Velda: They? A wonderful word. And who are they? They're the nameless ones who kill people for the great whatzit. Does it exist? Who cares? Everyone everywhere is so involved in the fruitless search for what? Why don't you turn her over to Pat? It's his job to protect her, if she needs protection. Or to question her if that's what's needed. Why are you always tryin' to make a noise like a cop?

Dr. Soberin: There is something sad and melancholy about trips. I always hate to go away. But one has to find some new place or it would be impossible to be sad and melancholy again. [Lily tries to break open the box] Curiosity killed a cat and it certainly would have you if you'd followed your impulse to open it. You did very well to call me when you did.
Lily: Yes, I know. But what's in it?
Dr. Soberin: You have been misnamed, Gabrielle. You should have been called Pandora. She had a curiosity about a box and opened it and let loose all the evil in the world.
Lily: Never mind about the evil. What's in it?
Dr. Soberin: Did you ever hear of Lot's wife?
Lily: No.
Dr. Soberin: No. Well, she was told not to look back. But she disobeyed and she was changed into a pillar of salt.
Lily: Well, I just want to know what it is.
Dr. Soberin: Would you believe me if I told you? Would you be satisfied?
Lily: Maybe.
Dr. Soberin: The head of the Medusa. That's what's in the box. And whoever looks on her will be changed, not into stone, but into brimstone and ashes. Well, of course, you wouldn't believe me. You'd have to see for yourself, wouldn't you?
Lily: Where are we going?
Dr. Soberin: Where I am going, it is not possible for you to go. I had no illusion about deceiving you. You have the feline perceptions that all women have...
Lily: Whatever is in that box - it must be very precious. So many people have died for it.
Dr. Soberin: Yes, it is very precious.
Lily: I want half.
Dr. Soberin: I agree with you. You should have at least half. You deserve it, for all the creature comforts you've given me. But unfortunately, the object in this box cannot be divided.
Lily: [She points a gun at him[;; Then I'll take it all...if you don't mind.
Dr. Soberin: Listen to me, as if I were Cerberus barking with all his heads at the gates of Hell, I will tell you where to take it. But don't, don't open the box.


  • Blood red kisses! White hot thrills! Mickey Spillane's latest H-bomb!
  • "I don't care what you do to me, Mike - just do it fast!"

About Kiss Me Deadly[edit]

  • Genres collide in the great Hollywood movies of the mid­fifties cold-war thaw. With the truce in Korea and the red scare on the wane, ambitious directors seemed freer to mix and match and even ponder the new situation. The western goes south in The Searchers; the cartoon merges with the musical in The Girl Can’t Help It. Science fiction becomes pop sociology in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And noir veers into apocalyptic sci-fi in Robert Aldrich’s 1955 masterpiece Kiss Me Deadly, which, briefly described, tracks one of the sleaziest, stupidest, most bru­tal detectives in American movies through a nocturnal, inexplicably violent labyrinth to a white-hot vision of cosmic annihilation.
    • Kiss Me Deadly: The Thriller of Tomorrow, essay by J. Hoberman for The Criterion Collection


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