Currently Watching : Criterion Blu-Ray KISS ME DEADLY (1955) by Robert Aldrich

Cloris Leachman, Marian Carr, Maxine Cooper, Ralph Meeker, and Gaby Rodgers in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

There are a lot of GREAT film Noirs. From John Huston’s anointed ground zero of Film noir, 1941’s MALTESE FALCON to the works of Billy Wilder (1944’s DoUBLE INDEMNITY),  Edward Dmytryk (1944’s MURDER MY SWEET). Howard Hawks (1946’s BIG SLEEP), Orson Welles (1947’s THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI), Anthony Mann/John Alton (1948’s RAW Deal), Joseph H. Lewis (1950’s GUN CRAZY),  Jules Dassin (1950’s NIGHT AND THE CITY), Richard Fleisher (1952’s THE NARROW MARGIN) to name just a few, There is perhaps no genre to in so brief a time, create such a wealth of iconic films, and galvanizing films.

Going on 80 years after some of these films were made, they are as crowd pleasing and watchable as ever. You can’t say the same for many of the A films, or serious films of the time, that tend to creak under the manners and etiquette and issues of the day—of a passed time. Whereas the genre films, particularly film noir, lived in this short-hand, heightened Americana of Extremes; of lust and betrayals and passions, that remain timeless and relatable and incendiary. Film Noirs, though of their time, lived in a world of light and shadows, that felt always ever present, and indeed almost prophetic… almost ahead of its time.

And perhaps no Film Noir highlights this as much, as Robert Aldrich’s 1955 masterpiece… KISS ME DEADLY. From the opening sequence, which remains one of the best opening sequences of any film, to the last scene of a world put on notice, Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY, in a genre that is style codified, stands out as the most stylish, and yet does so while also being one of the most substantive Film Noirs.

There is so much in this film, from how it is shot, to its location, to its soundtrack by the great Nat King Cole, to its performances led by the great Ralph Meeker, to its wealth of diversity, showcasing a city peopled with a diverse range of colors, and nationalities and ethnicity. People of color, with speaking parts, not shown as stereotypes but just as intriguing people, to the wealth of memorable female roles, to its brutality, to its depiction of its protagonist— that continues to make KISS ME DEADLY, unique.

Even in a genre of morally ambiguous anti-heroes that people Film Noir, Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer takes the cake. He is mercenary, brutal, sadistic, a user of women, he is a thug and a cad, but despite that, there is also something still magnetic about him, Ralph Meeker plays him in a way that I’m not sure any other actor could have quite pulled off, that makes you see him, as reflected nin the great performances of the four women that pine for his attention throughout the movie:  a cad yes, but a cad with something Quixote like somewhere beneath the smirk. That here at the end of the day, is a man who would if he could, fight dragons. This realization that despite MIke hammer’s failings, the things he fights against— are worse.

And something that is lost, even to ardent fans of this film, and because of just how much happens in every moment of this film, is everything that happens from the protagonist’s release from the hospital till the conclusion, happens in just four days. The amount of horror and blood and beatings and ultimately loss that happens, is a whirlwind, and becomes even more impressive when you take the time to realize this is a 96 hour period, from him getting out of the hospital till the end of the film.

Robert Aldrich made a lot of acclaimed films, this is without doubt my personal favorite of all his films. It is a masterpiece, full stop, owing its revolutionary plotline less to the source novel by Mickey Spillane, and by all reports (including the included 2011 alex Cox featurette) almost entirely to the groundbreaking changes and innovations introduced by screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides.

And Criterion has released this game changing film, in a definitive Blu-Ray presentation, from the mastering, to the extras, to the packaging and art design, it is a work of art, worthy of the film.

Yes you can purchase it on streaming. But for a few dollars more you can own it in a format, that does honor to your book shelf or media center, or living room.

Grade: A+. Highest Recommendation, for the movie and for the Blu-Ray.

And no, I won’t be upgrading this to 4K, or 8K, or 16K. I’ve got an up-scaling multi-region Blu-ray player, 20-20 vision, on a less than 65″ screen, this Blu-ray satisfies the needs of my TV, and of my eyesight. Beyond a certain point the search for more is a game of pixels and real estate, and moving the newest shiny model (to use car talk), and not quality.

Click the image below to get your copy, while still in stock.

Best Comic Book Covers of All Time: Joe Kubert’s LOSERS run

What makes a great comic book cover, in this age of virgin variants and gimmick covers, is the same thing that has always made a great cover. When all these flash in the pan virgin covers, are resigned to the 50 cent bin (where most of them belong), the really great covers, will still be… great covers.

They will still have stunning typography, married to great art, with great placement of the various parts, and together the whole, in one moment, both tells a story and sells a product. It is not just this lazy and brainless current fad of a pretty image, but with no context to the story or to the storytelling. Today’s cover artists and editors and art directors, and buyers, confuse a pinup with an effective and affecting cover, and the two are not the same.

Now that is not to say there are not exceptions, where the pinup is so good that you want it for eye candy’s sake alone. That does happen, and is fine, but in my experience it is rare, and is not conducive to books you are actually buying, serialized entertainment you are actually buying,… to read. In that case a pretty picture does not cut it, you need a storyteller as an artist and an art editor, to design a cover that tells a story.

And like i said it is a marriage of many things, some of which are not in the artist’s hands. But when all those disparate elements come together, you have have some of the greatest covers of all time.

There were a lot of people I could have started this new segment with, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Berni Wrightson, Jack Kirby, but for my money the best cover artist of all time very rarely worked in Superhero Comics, and that is the great Joe Kubert.

Kubert had many magnificent cover runs to choose from but the one that launches this segment is the work of his that made me a Conflict Comics collector. His run on OUR FIGHTING FORCES AT WAR. Not the whole run, because while he did hundreds of covers not all of them have the elements that make an iconic cover. I mentioned a great cover having to do with things sometimes beyond the artists control such as typography and placement of disparate elements on a cover. But Here, for this run of issues, Kubert had complete control over the typography of his covers, and completely integrated that typography into his artwork, in a manner that would have made Eisner impressed. Creating a brilliant image AND telling a story and selling a product.

In the 181 issue run of OUR FIGHTING FORCES AT WAR, all of which had good covers,  there are nineteen covers that stand out as masterpieces… only nineteeneighteen. They are not ‘key’ issues, they are seminal issues in the history of comic book cover design. The following scans were the best I could find on short notice, and do not do the books justice. But they give you a taste of the brilliance that make these 19 consecutive issues of OUR FIGHTING FORCES AT WAR a milestone of cover design, and worth owning.

They are…

 

Cover for Our Fighting Forces (DC, 1954 series) #123Cover for Our Fighting Forces (DC, 1954 series) #124  Our Fighting Forces #125 Cover for Our Fighting Forces (DC, 1954 series) #126Cover for Our Fighting Forces (DC, 1954 series) #127Our Fighting Forces #128  Cover for Our Fighting Forces (DC, 1954 series) #129File:Our Fighting Forces Vol 1 130.jpgFile:Our Fighting Forces Vol 1 135.jpg

 

Issue 142 would signal the end of the ground breaking covers, as well as heralding the end of Joe Kubert as editor on the series (his name would officially be removed as editor two issues later). Archie Goodwin would take over for a while as editor, followed by Jack Kirby(with all due respect to Jack Kirby, I am not a fan of his work on this book). And while Kubert would continue to do covers sporadically for the series up till the end, never again would the typography and mast-head be part of the story-telling. 141 would be the last of that wild imaginative experimentation with art and typography, the last of nineteen issues of the best and longest consecutive run of great covers by one creator in the history of comics. Pick them all up today, while they can still be had affordably.

 

Use the link below to get your issues today:

https://www.mycomicshop.com/search?TID=180611&AffID=200301P01

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more like it, please subscribe, leave a like and comment. And what are your favorite cover runs, or cover artists/artwork?

Till next time… be well!!