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Gosh I've seen Cloris Leachman a lot lately - it's so easy to become familiar with actors and actresses in older films, because there just weren't as many. Leachman is the very first thing you'll see in "Kiss Me Deadly," a genuine classic, independently made, archetypal example of film noir from 1955. (The lower-body shots are certainly a stunt-double (either that, or they were sped up), because I'd bet my bottom dollar that Cloris Leachman couldn't run that fast. Interestingly, that opening shot was the very first time Leachman ever appeared on camera - likewise Maxine Cooper, who plays Mike Hammer's secretary, Velda.) Mike Hammer, a stereotypical Mickey Spillane detective, is played by Ralph Meeker, who has a somewhat similar role in Season 1, Episode 1 of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" later in 1955 - I suspect playing Hammer is what got Meeker his part in HItchcock's excellent "Revenge" (which you should watch on Hulu, if you're a member). Just in case you hear the name Christina Rossetti, and don't know who she is. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** Boy, what is it about 1955? There is a *very* disturbing, albeit non-graphic, scene towards the beginning of this movie - certainly more than enough to make you pity Cloris Leachman. Wow, about the car bombs: I *just* saw an episode of "The Saint" called "The Careful Terrorist" which used a "double-bomb" method, planting an obvious one, but also a second, non-obvious one that was supposed to be the *real* agent of death. That episode, shall we say, "borrowed" that sequence of events from this film - fortunately, the "good guy" in both cases was somewhat superhuman in his intuitive abilities, and had the wits to figure out the sinister plot. This may be the most violent movie I've ever seen from the 1950s; the difference is that none of the violence is graphic (which, to me, makes it scarier) - I'm surprised at just how far they're willing to go with this. "Thugs" is too gentle of a word for what these mobsters are. Hammer is led to Christina Bailey's (Cloris Leachman's) "roommate," Gabrielle (Lily Carver), and it's very hard to tell what to think of her - this is one of the main elements in Film Noir - it's the story line, not the character development, that drives things. We know nothing about *any* of these people - it's almost Photographic in a way, since we're capturing moments in time. This particular film, after all, had a major influence on the French New Wave movement. This film has allegory written all over it - this is *not* the finish you'll be expecting. What a fascinating movie this was - a perfect fusion of Film Noir and hard science fiction. Jean-Luc Godard, a seminal figure in French New Wave cinema, was apparently deeply influenced by "Kiss Me Deadly," and it's not hard to see why - who knew that *Mickey Spillane* would indirectly influence an entire movement in Europe?! In "The Usual Suspects," I mentioned how annoyed I am at at internet know-it-alls who try to sound smart by misusing the term Film Noir (which "Kiss Me Deadly" most certainly *is*). Now, I'm going to say that I'm equally annoyed by people who misuse the term MacGuffin (which the suitcase in "Kiss Me Deadly" most certainly *is not* - when the reveal is made, the viewer realizes they've just seen a film unlike anything else they've ever seen before - it was no fluke that those opening credits were rolling in reverse order). "Kiss Me Deadly" is available for free, with good quality, on oldmovietime.com (and there are no Czech subtitles - I'm not sure why it says there are).
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" is one of "those" movies that I never saw because I'm the youngest child - I've seen small clips of the film, and heard it mentioned enough when I was young, to the point where I honestly thought that I had seen it, but I hadn't, and I had, and I hadn't. "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" received five Academy Award nominations, with Norma Koch winning the award for "Best Costume Design - Black and White." This was Produced and Directed by Robert Aldrich, and is a classic tale of sibling rivalry (that's something of an understatement) between Jane and Blanche Hudson (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, respectively). This movie is made more diabolically delicious by the fact that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis actually hated each other in real life. And isn't it ironic that this most legendary of cat fights was caused by a dog? Of note is an important role played by Maidie Norman as the family's maid, Elvira. Norman, a woman of color, was often reduced to playing roles as domestic servants, but she refused to play them subserviently: "In the beginning, I made a pledge that I would play no role that deprived black women of their dignity," she said. About the role of Elvira, on Wikipedia: "Norman recalled that the character was originally written as a 'doltish, yessum character.' She rewrote the dialogue which she called 'old slavery-time talk' in an effort to dignify the character." Compare the role of Elvira to that of Mammy played by Hattie McDaniel in "Gone with the Wind" - as lovable and funny as Mammy was, she was only one small step away from being a House Slave (in fact, she *was* a House Slave), and the dialog - and the attitude - in these two roles, written only 23-years apart, could not be more different. If you're going to remember a third person from "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" why not make it Maidie Norman? (It's easy to remember "Maidie," since she always portrayed maids - and then there was the Norman conquest.) In one very subtle, inconspicuous scene, Jane (Bette Davis) - who had previously shown abusive behavior towards Elvira - was in the early stages of keeping people out of the house at all costs. Jane gave Elvira "the day off with pay," to which Elvira replied: "See you next Tuesday ..." - think about that one for a moment ... #CUNx Look at these two screen-shots, captured less than 1/2 second apart from each other: Remember Denzel Washington's "Ultimate Eat Shit and Die Glare," while he was being whipped, in "Glory?" Or Sidney Poitier's "Slap Heard 'Round the World" during "In the Heat of the Night?" Neither of these scenes exist without Maidie Norman. Sidney Poitier was born in 1927, and I fervently hope this somehow reaches him - I believe Poitier would be the first to agree, and that he could add many more examples: The importance of his wisdom and experience cannot be measured. My only regret is that Maidie Norman will never have a chance to see this. Incidentally, the actor receiving third billing, Victor Buono, made his debut in this film, and went on to play the villain King Tut on "Batman." Great, ingenious film - every bit as Hitchcockian as "Charade," with twice the horror: I thought I had it all figured out ... just like they wanted me to think, but I hadn't, and I had, and I hadn't ....