Stuck between the cops and a hard place.
This poster was made to promote the drama Big House, U.S.A., which premiered today in 1955, and starred Ralph Meeker, who later headlined the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly. He also starred in one of our favorite unknown films of all time, the television production Birds of Prey, which we may talk about at a later date. Big House is basically a procedural crime drama about how the cops try to break down a kidnapper and suspected murderer played by Meeker. His character is nicknamed Ice Man because he's cool under pressure. True to form the cops can't wring a confession from him, so he's sent to prison for lesser crimes and will be released in a short while.
Ice Man thinks he's got it made. Serve easy time, earn a quick parole, then quietly retrieve the heist loot waiting for him on the outside. But cons read the news too, and several decide they want his cash. They plan an escape, and they're going to drag Ice Man along against his will or kill him for refusing. And naturally, they have no intention of letting him survive handing over the money. What a pickle. Die now or die later. But once he's on the outside maybe—just maybe—there's a chance he can turn the tables on these con-conspirators.
Big House, U.S.A. is set in Denver and the surrounding Colorado countryside, and features some nice exteriors, but it's strictly a b-movie—poorly staged, cheesily scripted, and stuck together with baling wire and chewing gum. We mentioned Meeker's starring role in Kiss Me Deadly. That came out only a month after this movie, so it was a nice recovery for him. A couple of other notes of interest in Big House are that you get to see a young and fit Charles Bronson flashing his biceps—certainly a draw for some—and the legendary Lon Chaney, Jr. gets a role as a grizzled prison inmate. The overall result is certainly watchable, but there are better prison dramas out there, and hundreds of better vintage crime flicks.
After we bust outta this joint, what do you say we form a boy band? Charles knows three guitar chords and I can sing. What are you mad at me for? Is it my fault the babes like singers best? Fuck this. Between Meeker and Bronson I'm getting no action at all. I'm starting a solo career. I heard there's a thing called Auto-Tune that'll keep even my singing voice in pitch.
You'd Hammer in the stomach, you'd Hammer in the jaw, you'd Hammer all over the body.
Does anyone not know what's in the suitcase in Kiss Me Deadly? We imagine almost everyone does, but we won't tell. We'll give you two hints, though: it isn't the same thing that's in the case in the novel; and the change the filmmakers made places the film on a progression along the line of such what's-in-the-case thrillers as Pulp Fiction (where you never see) and Ronin (where you never find out). Ralph Meeker stars as Mickey Spillane's harder than hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer, and Maxine Cooper plays his his assistant/friend-with-benefits (she was only his assistant in the novel) Velda Wickman.
Plotwise the first couple of reels follow the novel pretty closely, with Hammer almost running over a woman on the Pacific Coast Highway, letting her into his car, and quickly finding she's being pursued by villains of the worst kind. She and Hammer are captured, the woman is tortured, then the two are placed unconscious back in Hammer's prized Jaguar and pushed over a cliff. But the murder attempt only snuffs one of them—Hammer is left alive to seek answers and vengeance. With the help of his slinky sidekick he sets about turning the town upside down.
We wanted to watch Kiss Me Deadly again after reading the novel for the first time several years ago, but didn't get back to it until spurred to do so by Noir City, which is showing the film tonight on a double bill with Killer's Kiss. It's a pretty streamlined adaptation in parts, courtesy of A. I. Bezzerides. Spillane hated the movie, and we imagine he was particularly critical of some of the choices Bezzerides made. But the production is helmed by Robert Aldrich, who shows general flair along with impressive creativity in getting shots that were fresh for the time.
Best exchange of dialogue in this one:
“According to our information he calls himself a private investigator.”
“His specialty is divorce cases.”
“He's a bedroom dick.”
Yeah, we're juvenile. Kiss Me Deadly is aimless in the beginning, and is marred by a silly Greek stereotype used for discordant comic relief, but picks up greatly in the second half and hurtles toward an explosive conclusion. The final product would have been merely decent had the movie stayed on the same course as the book, but Bezzerides wrenched the second half into a hard left turn, and his final commentary—an inspired change—saves the movie, in our opinion. It's preposterous, what Bezzerides does, but it works. So in the end Kiss Me Deadly earns its place on the list of twenty or so best entries in the film noir genre.
Ralph, this wasn’t what I meant when I said I needed a little pick-me-up.
Ralph Meeker and Vera Miles joke around on the Hollywood set of the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The episode they starred in was the series debut “Revenge,” and is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the show’s seven-year run. Meeker would appear in three more episodes of the series and many movies, while Miles would co-star memorably in Hitchcock’s Psycho. The photo dates from 1955.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
1905—Las Vegas Is Founded
Las Vegas, Nevada is founded when 110 acres of barren desert land in what had once been part of Mexico are auctioned off to various buyers. The area sold is located in what later would become the downtown section of the city. From these humble beginnings Vegas becomes the most populous city in Nevada, an internationally renowned resort for gambling, shopping, fine dining and sporting events, as well as a symbol of American excess. Today Las Vegas remains one of the fastest growing municipalities in the United States.
1928—Mickey Mouse Premieres
The animated character Mickey Mouse, along with the female mouse Minnie, premiere in the cartoon Plane Crazy, a short co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This first cartoon was poorly received, however Mickey would eventually go on to become a smash success, as well as the most recognized symbol of the Disney empire.
1939—Five-Year Old Girl Gives Birth
In Peru, five-year old Lina Medina becomes the world's youngest confirmed mother at the age of five when she gives birth to a boy via a caesarean section necessitated by her small pelvis. Six weeks earlier, Medina had been brought to the hospital because her parents were concerned about her increasing abdominal size. Doctors originally thought she had a tumor, but soon determined she was in her seventh month of pregnancy. Her son is born underweight but healthy, however the identity of the father and the circumstances of Medina's impregnation never become public.
1987—Rita Hayworth Dies
American film actress and dancer Margarita Carmen Cansino, aka Rita Hayworth, who became her era's greatest sex symbol and appeared in sixty-one films, including the iconic Gilda
, dies of Alzheimer's disease in her Manhattan apartment. Naturally shy, Hayworth was the antithesis of the characters she played. She married five times, but none lasted. In the end, she lived alone, cared for by her daughter who lived next door.
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