Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Omega Man

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Omega Man

A tough guy’s race to the bottom in the apocalyptic noir Kiss Me Deadly

by Tony Dayoub

Has there ever been a cast of characters more deserving of the nihilistic ending that awaits them than that of Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film noir, Kiss Me Deadly? Revisiting the film on the Criterion Collection’s upcoming Blu-ray (out on June 21) reminded me that, with the exception of a handful of characters I can think of, most of the movie’s players (down to those in the smallest bit parts) are contemptible by design. Kiss Me Deadly was released at the very end of the classic noir period when the many permutations of the form were just about exhausted, and so it is entirely plausible that Aldrich, a relatively new movie director with little more than a couple of Westerns under his belt (starring the often domineering Burt Lancaster), saw an opportunity to shine by pushing the darkness in these odd personages, truly making the movie black as pitch. Deadly’s antihero (emphasis on anti-), brutish private dick Mike Hammer, epitomizes this approach. Already well-known to the public, Hammer was the star of a series of popular paperbacks written by Mickey Spillane. But when Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides (On Dangerous Ground) got hold of Spillane’s detective, they chewed up the gnarly investigator and spit out a twisted grump, amping up Hammer’s already prominent tendencies toward misogynism, narcissism, and sadism to unusually large proportions for an ostensible hero in a mainstream movie of any genre, even the morally complex film noir...


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