thelamplightersserenade asked: Why is Kiss Me Deadly considered "film noir at its finest"?
I suspect several dozen films could be billed as “film noir at its finest.” So I’m not sure what separates Kiss Me Deadly from these. But it’s a fine film noir, certainly. Why? Mickey Spillane’s novel gives it an impeccable hardboiled pedigree, and Mike Hammer is an excellent hardboiled hero.
That said, the film’s Hammer is not the novel’s Hammer. Ralph Meeker is sadistic, even by Spillane’s standards, as Hammer. But the film also adds to the novel’s plot by adding elements that illustrate what many analysts of film believe to be a prime component of film noir: Cold War uncertainty. I’m not sure I agree with them. Hardboiled crime fiction begins long prior to the Cold War’s inception, and it’s inevitable that such a popular genre of fiction would be filmed. But the espionage/nuclear subplot added to Kiss Me Deadly does address Americans’ postwar consciousness, and perhaps paranoia. I’d say this is what separates it from The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Lady in the Lake, and other P.I. films.
Readers are, as always, welcome to provide any additional insights here. It’s been a couple years since I’ve seen Kiss Me Deadly, so I might have missed something.