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Reworking Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly, the 1955 film version of Mickey Spillane’s pulp classic, is one of those rare exceptions of a film adaption surpassing the original book. Mike Hammer, the protagonist, is a sleazy P.I. who specializes in divorce cases. This changes one night when he gives a ride to a hysterical woman with a deadly secret. Hammer and the woman are captured by some mysterious men, and, after getting tortured, they are put back in his car and rolled over a cliff. The woman dies in a ball of flame and Hammer miraculously survives. Similar to Spillane’s other novels, this violent episode serves as the catalyst to a relentless story of revenge.

The difference, though, between the movie and the book, lies in the secret that the woman holds. This important difference is the reason why Spillane’s book is merely entertaining, while the film version of it is a trenchant critique on 1950s America. (Don’t worry, Hammer’s knuckle sandwiches and nymphomaniac girlfriends are still in practically every scene).

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