Kiss Me Deadly Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart Director: Robert Aldrich Kiss Me Deadly may not be a perfect film, but it has many charming qualities that have elevated it to cult status. US film critic and historian Steven Scheuer considers it 'the apotheosis' of classic film noir. The black-and-white United Artists picture, directed by Robert Aldrich (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Dirty Dozen), is based on a 1952 novel by Mickey Spillane. It's one of many Spillane novels featuring private detective Mike Hammer. The film opens with a woman (Cloris Leachman) in a trench coat running in her bare feet down a dark road. Ominous music kicks in. She's desperately trying to flag down a car. The first passes her by, so she runs out onto the road and flings herself in front of the next car, which swerves to avoid hitting her. Enter Hammer. They banter. She gets in the car. I'd Rather Have the Blues by Nat King Cole comes on the car radio as they drive into the night. The lighting, the shots and the music form an engrossing start. This chance meeting between the woman, Christina, and Hammer sets off a series of events that takes the story through a driving and drinking tour of the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. Hammer usually handles divorce cases - as a police officer succinctly and scathingly puts it, 'He's a bedroom dick'. But with this mystery, he feels he's onto something big and he just can't let go. His girl Friday, the sultry Velda (Maxine Cooper), delivers solid leads and pithy lines: 'Do me a favour, will you? Keep away from the windows. Somebody might blow you a kiss.' As the story unfolds, the search is on for a mysterious object, which Velda calls the 'great whatsit', while another character, Dr G.E. Soberin (Albert Dekker), asks: 'What is it we are seeking? Diamonds? Rubies? Gold? Perhaps narcotics. How civilised this earth used to be. But as the world becomes more primitive, its treasures become more fabulous. Perhaps sentiment will succeed where greed failed.' The nature of the 'great whatsit' has led to interpretations of Kiss Me Deadly as an apocalyptic view of America during the cold war. Much of this has to do with the fact that shortly after the film's release, the ending was truncated, giving the impression the main characters die. The original ending was restored in 1997. Kiss Me Deadly marks the film debuts of Leachman, who is still working in television and film, and Cooper, who retired after marrying screenwriter Sy Gomberg. Hammer may be Meeker's most memorable performance - he gives the detective a sociopathic charm and a physical presence that forces the action forward. Some of Kiss Me Deadly's weaknesses add to its cult appeal, including the ridiculously racist caricatures, the comical tendency of every woman to be attracted to Hammer, and the silly looking violence. But a number of its images and ideas have entered the film lexicon too. Over time, the film has quietly influenced the American crime thriller, allowing the genre to evolve by creating room for quirks and eccentricities, paving the way for films such as Pulp Fiction and Lost Highway.