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L.A. noir at its finest: “Kiss Me Deadly” on Criterion Blu-ray

L.A. noir at its finest: “Kiss Me Deadly” on Criterion Blu-ray (photo)

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“Kiss Me Deadly,” out today in a new Blu-ray and DVD edition from The Criterion Collection, is the ultimate film noir, an example of the form at its bleakest and blackest. Everything about it is extreme, from the amorality of its greedy, violent hero to the sexuality of its femme fatales, whose distinctly carnal heavy breathing provides the soundtrack to the opening credits.

Those credits made our list of the greatest opening titles in history. They begin with Mickey Spillaine’s famous private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) as he nearly runs over Cloris Leachman’s Christina Bailey, naked except for a man’s trenchcoat, on a deserted stretch of road outside Los Angeles. He gives her a lift and as she catches her breath (or has an orgasm; from the sound alone, it’s tough to say) the credits scroll on screen from top to bottom with the words arranged from bottom to top. When the title appears onscreen it reads “DEADLY KISS ME,” a picture starring the great “MEEKER RALPH” as Hammer. As our own R. Emmet Sweeney astutely observed in his piece on the “Deadly” opening titles, the effect is ominous and disorienting, the perfect prelude to Hammer’s journey into the L.A. underworld. Once this seemingly innocuous car ride introduces him to a criminal conspiracy of gamblers, cannons, and atomic secrets, Hammer can find no bottom and no escape.

His car ride with Christina ends with a mysterious beating, a staged car crash, and the death of the hitchhiker (all beats that will be mirrored in the film’s ultimate finale), but Hammer’s not motivated to solve her murder out of some sense of nobility or desire to bring her killers to justice. Rather Hammer realizes Christina’s involvement in some sort of mass coverup involving gangsters, scientists, and newspaper columnists could mean a big payday and a quick ticket out of the small time divorce cases that pay his living. Even after his snooping has yielded him an initial offer of some hush money from the men responsible, Hammer refuses it, thinking there’s a lot more to be found if he keeps digging. It’s a greedy impulse he will ultimately regret. It is interesting to note that the search for truth in “Kiss Me Deadly” isn’t a heroic pursuit; it’s a selfish, destructive act. Screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides’ cynical screenplay doesn’t portray Hammer’s work as an investigation; this is a guy sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. And for his curiosity a whole bunch of people get a face full of fire.

This is film noir. You know what comes next: double crosses, fist fights, and seductive women, all washed down with two fingers of bourbon. That said, even as it provides all the requisite genre thrills of film noir, “Kiss Me Deadly” goes further, building to a climax that belongs more to the tradition of science-fiction than crime novels. Coming in 1955, at the tail end of the classic noir period, director Robert Aldrich’s film provides something bridge between the dark detective stories dramas made in the wake of World War II and the paranoid sci-fi allegories of the Cold War. The film’s insane and spectacular ending, with its gunfights, explosions, and apocalyptic overtones, is like the sick and twisted best of both worlds. No wonder its helped inspire so many films that followed, from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Pulp Fiction.”

If you’ve never seen “Kiss Me Deadly” before, you have to, and Criterion’s new edition of the film is a damn good way to make your introduction. The film looks beautiful, crisp yet gritty; those deep, sooty shadows have never look more sinister. The extras include an informative and conversational commentary between noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini and essays by Aldrich and critic J. Hoberman. My favorite supplement, though, is the photo and video tour of the film’s seedy Bunker Hill locations, “where film noir heroes routinely came to hide out or die,” by writer and historian Jim Dawson.

Here is my one critique of “Kiss Me Deadly:” it has the wrong ending. Watch the film with its original ending, then watch the alternate one included on the Criterion Blu-ray. That alternate finale, which was mistakenly placed onto prints of the film for decades, is much darker than the one Aldrich intended. But think about the movie, and the considerable darkness of the world it depicts. To me, there’s really only way it can end: with our sinful heroes in the embrace of the deadliest kiss of all.

Which “Kiss Me Deadly” ending do you prefer? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.