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Kiss Me Deadly(1955)

This film is often hailed as one of the ultimate films noir in part because of its tough, sadistic hero and its search for “The Great Whatsit,” the MacGuffin to end all MacGuffins. Director Robert Aldrich hated Mickey Spillane’s original novel but thought he and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides could make something of the best-seller. When the Production Code forced them to drop the novel’s focus on narcotics, they came up with a suitcase filled with mysterious materials that not only motivated the secrecy but struck a nerve with audiences and critics. Ralph Meeker stars as Mike Hammer, a two-bit private eye who rises from the gutter when the hitchhiker he’s picked up (Cloris Leachman in her first billed film role) is murdered for information about the case. He makes it his personal cause to dig up the truth about her death, which unleashes a torrent of violence that threatens the possible destruction of the world. The film was so low-budget it wasn’t even reviewed in the New York Times, but it attracted a new generation of French critics, who dubbed it “the thriller of tomorrow” and called Aldrich “the first director of the atomic age.” Their support turned the film into a cult favorite now regarded as one of the best films of the 1950s. (d. Robert Aldrich, 106m, Digital)

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