Kiss Me Deadly was produced by Robert Aldrich in 1955 at the height of Hollywood’s classic Film Noir period. Originally, the term “black films” was used for thrillers and detectives made from mid-1940s until 1950s. French critics gave the term to Orson Weel and Fritz Lang, among others. The film noir subgenre is known for its emphasis on cynicism, sexual motivations, and lower lighting that creates the illusion of Chiaroscuro. Belton believes the genre depicted an American experience unique to wartime, postwar despair, alienation and disorientation as Americans adjusted to their new social, political, and economic reality after World War II. After German expressionism peaked at the height of Cold War, a resurgence in cinematography techniques led to a new malaise, which became known by the name film noir.
Europe was completely destroyed at the end World War I. Fear and terror ruled over people as they lived under the shadow of destruction. People around the globe were both fascinated and anxious by the invention of nuclear weapons, such as the H bomb. It created a new and powerful reality after the war. Kiss Me Deadly shows the fascination with nuclear weapons by showing the moment Hammer opens the box Catherine left him. The audience can only see the light that comes from the box. Film Noir transformed this fear into an art form that had never been seen in cinema before. The dread that is reflected in this quarter’s films is a reflection of the shift in the genre, which began with the early 1950s Cold War anxieties. Kiss Me Deadly creates suspense by keeping the audience guessing what is inside the box. After mike cracks the lid, the only light that comes out of it is a tiny flash. Aldrich builds the suspense of the movie by not telling what’s in the box. Lily Carver is smothered by flames at the end of the film after she opens the box and reveals the mystery Christina left behind. Belton states that “it only takes one noir character, scene, or situation to create the disorientation or disturbance that’s necessary to give an audience a distressing twist or unsettling jolt”. The horrid screams and explosions at the beachhouse in the final scene of the film make the audience feel uncomfortable and wonder what happened with Lily. Kiss Me Deadly shows the dark and frightened life of people after war through Mike Hammer’s experiences.
German Expressionism was introduced by new aesthetics to the French public after Nazi occupation stopped many films from being screened in France. The low-key technique is a noir technique that uses light in black andwhite films to emphasize shadows. This technique emphasizes the setting to set the mood and evokes feelings of hopelessness. The early American style was more glamourized, with lights placed on the actress’s eyes and eyebrows in order to enhance their beauty. Aldrich used the shadows to create suspense as Mike Hammer entered his apartment, with the sense that someone was inside. Wide-angle photography was also employed to distort space, which in turn distorted the audience. Wide-angle shots also replaced horizontal lines with vertical and sloping ones, creating an uneasy feeling in the film. Film noir’s aesthetics reflected the fear and darkness that persisted throughout World War II and beyond. John Abbott writes that the narratives of film noir had changed. The lead characters (sometimes called “antiheroes”) were no longer heroic. Plots were darker and more violent, with more corruption, crime, and erotic overtones. The Cold War was reflected in the new narratives and filming techniques, which allowed for the development of new genres.
During Cold War many men left home to fight in the war. In a hostile environment, they became hard-boiled, violent soldiers. In film noir, the protagonist is a man, but he’s an anti-hero instead of a hero. Lee Horsley writes on a film noir website that these characters are often “antisocial loners” who are cynical or disillusioned. Their moral ambiguity is also a problem. Although they may have a moral code, their out-of-step with society will leave them powerless. Mike Hammer is a good character, but his personality makes him stand out from the other characters. Although he is selfish and doesn’t care about the deaths of others, he does take the time to avenge the death Nick by deliberately crushing him under a car. Humphrey Bogart played Sam Spade and seemed to be unaffected when his partner died. However, he made sure that he got back at the killer. Spade quotes that “when a member of an organization gets murdered, it would be bad business for the killer to escape”. In these films, sexuality was introduced when men who chose not to leave home to be a husband and father became attracted to the femme fatale despite living with “dull” wives. This led to a renewed interest in erotica, with disastrous results for male protagonists. In Kiss Me Deadly Hammer is involved in a number of sexual encounters that he uses as a way to understand the message. Remember me? Carver, who is the villain in Kiss Me Deadly, uses her sexuality and her beauty to lure Hammer to her, despite him showing no interest. The film noir created a male protagonist killer by adding darkness, moral dilemmas, and increased sexual desires soldiers experienced during war.
In the aftermath of war, men were left with a mixture of anxiety and the knowledge that their wife had gone to work. This created the character known as the femme fatale. The woman in this film is powerful, strong, and manipulative, which is unusual as the role of the damsel-in-distress was usually played by a young girl. Lilly Carver is Gabrielle’s alter-ego, and she embodies a femme fatale in Kiss Me Deadly. Lilly uses her sexuality to disguise herself as another woman. Mike is tricked into telling her where to find the mysterious box Christina had left a clue for. The character of the woman fatale is an interesting one, as it shows society’s mixed feelings about women who are willing to leave home and look for a job. It was a first, as women were not considered capable of working in factories or providing for their families. Women were expected by society to take on household duties, care for children and work in the factories while their husbands returned from war. Belton says that “the strong women in noir films posed a psychological threat to the noir heroes”. Film noir recorded the antifeminist response by… turning women in to willful creatures who are determined to destroy both their mates and family’s sacred institution” (Belton 222). After World War II, men and woman began to accept new realities and stereotypes.
The film noir genre was created between 1941 and 1958 as a result of World War II, which brought a new reality to the world. Many people felt anxiety and darkness as they pondered the destruction of World War II and the idea that war would re-emerge. After the occupation of France by Nazis, Germans stopped film production because they thought that these films would serve as brainwashing and propaganda. With the release of this genre of films, film noir, new characters and plot structures were introduced, as well as cinematography techniques. The black film style was defined by pessimism. Filmers began to use techniques like chiaroscuro or low-key illumination that creates a feeling of suspense. In the past, films would exaggerate facial features such as eyebrows, eyes and facial structure. Film noir developed a male protagonist who was more anti-hero than hero. The character is usually a detective and not an intellectual, but he comes across as alienated by the audience. As erotica became more popular, so did the character of the femme fatale. She was a powerful woman who embodied women who left the home to work while their husbands were in the war. After World War II, stereotypes were broken and new art was created in cinema to show the reality of war.