Just a quick update: last night, I saw the film that was made from Kiss Me, Deadly, the Mickey Spillane novel I read a couple of weeks back. I’d heard that the two versions were quite different from one another, so I wanted to get to the book first, and I’m glad I did, though actually the two are so different that it might not even have made a difference.
The book, as I said in my blog entry, had to do with a mysterious woman and why she was killed. The bad guys were the Mafia — and boy, they were bad — and if you followed the trail long enough, you found a locked canister at the end of it with lingering death inside for thousands of junkies. It was up to Mike Hammer to tear this mystery apart with his bare hands and make the bad guys squirm, and that’s what he did, in style.
The 1955 film started the same way: a mysterious woman killed. From there, the book and the film bore coincidental resemblances to each other, but hardly more. Some characters loomed large (and several took on weird ethnic stereotypes, such as the Greek auto mechanic who capered like a monkey and said nothing but “Va-va-voom!”), while others shrank. The Mafia disappeared in favor of a faceless “Them.” The contents of the locked canister were replaced by something that could give you a radiation burn, and perhaps blow up the world. The women became two-dimensional and needy. And the ending swelled from one man’s desperate escape to the whole world’s danger. In this version, Mike Hammer is less a knight than a sadist.
Maybe if I’d seen the film first, I’d have liked it better. Even as it was, it was definitely worth watching; Ralph Meeker and Cloris Leachman were terrific, and there were moments that were captivating. But overall, the book was better: more realistic, straight for the gut, and (I never thought I’d say this) less predictable with the female characters. Try them both and let me know what you think!