In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Kiss Me Deadly
  • Robert Kleyn (bio)

If frame is the smallest unit in the construction of a film, and film is "truth 24 frames per second," how many truths make up the 106 minutes of Robert Aldrich's Kiss me Deadly (US, 1955)?

And this frame, one of these truths, leaves us with an ambiguity; it is both an ending and "The End."

What is "filmic" in this single frame? First, it is the materiality of the light, metaphor for both photography and projection, and second, the action of the waves, metaphor for the essentially mechanical operation of the film apparatus.1

We've been anticipating the end ever since the beginning: since Kiss Me Deadly's opening shots of a woman wearing only a trench coat and running barefoot along a dark road, since the title credits, scrolling up from the bottom of the frame, backward, as if the whole film were somehow an endless loop, an instance of Aldrich's trick of "turning things upside-down" to empty them and fill them again. The foot of the first shot already invokes the very end. Each frame of the film is movement towards it. In Kiss Me Deadly, the end, both immanent and imminent, serves up the new age of perpetual crisis, the secularized doomsday of techné; in 1955, atomic; now, whatever year you read this, ecological.2

"The End" is the end of so many things: first, the film and the audience's time in the theater; the end of the story told by the film; the end of the two protagonists; and, certainly, but only in retrospect, the end of "classic" film noir, the end [End Page 114]


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Figure 1.

Final frame from Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich. The end, both immanent and imminent, serves up the new age of perpetual crisis, the secularized doomsday of techné; which, in 1955, was atomic.


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Figure 2.

Alternate final frame. The end to end all ends.

[End Page 115]

of the Production Code which Aldrich had learned so well. Despite approval of the script, the film was subject to numerous cuts to appease censors who clearly saw what the film stood for but couldn't locate it in any particular sequence.

Kiss Me Deadly concludes with two alternating shots—the flashing scene of a wounded embrace is intercut with a reverse shot of a delicious Malibu beach house rent by spectacular explosions caused by the fission of an atomic device in the leather-encased cube that propels the plot. Kiss Me Deadly was first screened with the end title superimposed over the fiery bungalow, not, as in the Aldrich version (restored in the Criterion release), Mike Hammer and his secretary-lover Velda retreating into the dark Pacific surf. This frame from the director's cut, number 152,464, begs the question: What kind of end is this? End of mankind, end of history, end of the world (as we know it), end of the film, end of the tale, end of an era, end of time, end of it all, end of me—the end to end all ends.

Once upon a time, film audiences adored the filmic conventions and wished to be told that the film was over. Just as Hammer flaunts the forces of order, Aldrich flaunts the conventions; but while Hammer fails, Aldrich succeeds, and the power of this movie persists. Does Hammer die? Could the title not have read "To be continued"? After all, Kiss Me Deadly was only the sixth of many novels in the Mike Hammer series. But the two Hammer films that followed couldn't rival the Aldrich vehicle and the property migrated to TV. So, for Aldrich, this was the end of Hammer and what he stood for, and that's why "The End."

What kind of end is this anyway? Hammer (alter ego of Mickey Spillane, author of the original bestseller novel) is impotent in face of the mystery that lures him on to the apocalypse at Kiss Me Deadly's climax. As Mike and Velda escape the fiery bungalow, transformed by the atomic device into children...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-7989
Print ISSN
0306-7661
Pages
pp. 114-119
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-23
Open Access
No
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