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Special Report

Reading in the Dark

Kiss Me, Deadly

Mickey Spillane

Publisher: New York: E.P. Dutton, 1952

By the time the seventh Mike Hammer novel, Kiss Me, Deadly, was published, Mickey Spillane’s management was a busy and relentlessly effective marketing force. Not only were the author’s books selling by the millions all over the world both in hardcover and paperback, but Hollywood was subject to the author’s demands. An internal memo from United Artists during post-production read: “Mickey Spillane’s name must be above the title and in the same type style as appears on the Kiss Me Deadly book jacket.” Spillane could not control alteration of content, however, as Robert Aldrich’s radical film adaptation would prove.

Pink-red cloth with titles, design, and rule in blind against a silver panel on the spine. No topstain. “FIRST EDITION” stated on the copyright page. Front flap shows a price of $2.50 at the bottom right corner, along with a “note” from Spillane’s series character Mike Hammer. Rear flap is an advertisement for a new reprint of Spillane’s first book, I, the Jury. Rear panel begins with a photo of Spillane in the woods, crouched in a squatting position, and aiming a gun, followed by a blurb regarding the author’s previous work.

There are two variants of the jacket, with no known priority. Variant A, shown here, has a white circular framing device at the top right corner of the front panel. Variant B has a triangular framing device (see Appendix A: Secondary Book Sources).

Kiss Me Deadly

Robert Aldrich

Producer: Robert Aldrich, Victor Saville
Screenwriter: A.I. Bezzerides
Cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo
Cast: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Maxine Cooper, Gaby Rodgers, Nick Dennis, Cloris Leachman, Jack Lambert, Jack Elam, Juano Hernandez, Wesley Addy, Marian Carr
Studio: United Artists, 1955
Alternate Titles: Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly
Runtime: 105 minutes

Shot in twenty-two days, Kiss Me Deadly may be the most influential film noir produced in the 1950s. Beginning with a woman dressed only in a raincoat and high heels running in panic down a dark road, and ending with a nuclear explosion in a Malibu beach house, the film is cited time and again by directors both in the US and abroad—particularly France—as a strong stylistic influence. The detached, almost surreal portrayal of Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer was an altogether new approach to the “private detective,” and the film’s daring visual style was finding imitators overseas within a year. In many ways the film marked the end of the traditional detective story.

Director Robert Aldrich has claimed that the he and scriptwriter A.I. Bezzerides used nothing from Spillane’s source material but the title, but this is somewhat untrue. It would be more accurate to say that the plot was used, but that the content and themes were altered wildly. Aldrich: “The scriptwriter, A.I. Bezzerides, did a marvelous job. That devilish box, for example—an obvious atom bomb symbol—was mostly his idea. To achieve the ticking and hissing sound that’s heard every time the box [was] opened we used the sound of airplane exhaust overdubbed with the sound made by human vocal chords when someone breathes out noisily.” (Greenberg)

Reference: Selby, Silver and Ward, Lyons

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