MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’20s through the ’80s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955, 106 minutes)
Like something from the sleazy, lipstick-stained pages of True Detective, the writing of Mickey Spillane was well suited to the cold-war-fixated McCarthy paranoia spreading like a bad case of poison ivy through the early ’50s. With certain governments able to wipe out civilization at the push of a button, the time for gentlemanly, pre-World War II detectives was over. Spillane’s hard-boiled, self-absorbed gumshoe Mike Hammer was as subtle as a ball-peen driving a number-12 nail.
A terrified barefoot girl (Cloris Leachman), dressed only in a raincoat, is running down the middle of the Pacific Coast Highway at night, trying to hail any passing vehicle. Desperate, she stands directly in the path of the next car, holding up her arms and closing her eyes to prepare for the bone-crunching impact. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) slams on his brakes and brings his XK120 Jaguar convertible to a stop just off the road. “You almost wrecked my car!” he says to the out-of-breath girl. “Get in.”
Nat “King” Cole croons “I’d Rather Have The Blues” on the car’s radio as the movie’s credits scroll by, reading bottom to top. Make no mistake, it’s a new day, joker, and you’d better get with the program.
“The thumb isn’t good enough for you. You’ve gotta use your whole body!” complains Hammer as he aims his roadster into the darkness. “Would you have stopped if I’d used my thumb?” she asks. “No,” barks Hammer. “I should have thrown you off the cliff, back there. I might still do it. What’s this all about? I’ll make a quick guess. You were out with some guy who thought ‘no’ was a three-letter word.” He finally asks her, “Where you headed?” “Los Angeles,” she says. “You can drop me off at the first bus stop.”
There’s no way to bypass the flashing red lights of a police road-block, up ahead. “What’s the trouble, officer?” asks the car in front. “Woman escaped from an asylum, young and wearing a trench coat,” says the cop. The girl nestles up to Hammer and grabs his hand. “Haven’t seen a thing, officer,” volunteers Hammer. “Oh, my wife’s been asleep.” “All right, move on,” says the bored cop.
The good deed generates no thanks. “You’re one of those self-indulgent males who does push-ups just to keep his belly hard,” she says. “You against good health, or something?” he parries. “I could tolerate flabby muscles in a man if it would make him more friendly,” she answers. “All right, let it go. That bus stop will be coming up pretty soon, and I don’t even know your name,” he says. “You forget, I’m a loony from the laughing house. I was named after Christina Rossetti. She wrote love sonnets. Get me to that bus stop, and forget you ever knew me.”