Indestructible: Riding on the Roller Coaster of Great Escape Scenarios

Everyone knows how the female heart is sent aflutter in the presence of a rough guy; that ruggedly handsome dominant man of impeccable coolness. Rarely acknowledged, however, is the attraction which women harbor for dark, edgy and distant men. You see the archetype whenever you open the pages of any women’s lifestyle magazine, which constantly feature layouts in which some lusty, lovelorn female clutches the arm of an expressionless, disinterested suitor. Such phenomenon is faintly portrayed in other realms of popular culture, and for cinematic accuracy in intersexual dynamics, one must look to the 1950s.

In Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film noire crime thriller Kiss Me Deadly, Ralph Meeker stars as Mike Hammer, a stoic and indestructible private investigator who simultaneously forecasts the bravado of James Bond and sexual aloofness of the cosmopolitan man. The night and day exploits of Hammer unfurl like a roller coaster of great escapes, with Hammer emerging unscathed and unfazed from each incident. With nonchalance and ease, Hammer thwarts an endless series of would-be assailants and assassins, most of who try to blindside him whilst missing the core principle of their target: Hammer is a man without fear.

Early along in this saga, a criminal thug pulls a switchblade from behind Hammer in the dead of night. Hammer seems to have traced this episode in advance, and so without looking over his shoulder he sprays the thug with popcorn and, promptly turning, lands an effortless knockdown. A comedic innuendo hovers over this incident that reoccurs in subsequent attempts on Hammer, in which menacing antics backfire and the assailant winds up scared instead of the target. Popcorn would be but one bag of curve balls.

Shortly down the line, Hammer musters an intuition that, if only more common, could be the lifesaver of many lesser heroes. Knowing that the thugs are all out for him, he figures that their next trick will be in the form of a car bomb, and so he rushes outside to halt his trusty, foreign sidekick from fatally setting ignition. True to his sixth sense, Hammer knows exactly what is hidden underneath the front hood, and he can point his sidekick to the explosives without even looking himself. When one thinks of how clichéd the whole car bomb twist has become throughout all the explosion-brimmed action thrillers of today, this knowing foresight on the part of Hammer makes him a god amongst heroes.

Hammer’s most Houdini-esque moment happens a few scenes later, after he momentarily falls captive to a trio of thugs. The thugs think they have him under a vice, but shotguns and bed ropes are no match for Hammer. Thus before they even drill him, our hero has untied himself, yet plays along for fun. Minutes later, the second of the thugs falls in shock amidst discovering that the man he stabbed on the bed was actually his first accomplice, not Hammer. As turning tables dawn on the last of three, fear and panic grip his homely face. Our hero has vanished.

Commentators have noted an underlying message to Kiss Me Deadly: every passing character is somehow evil, and they all end up paying the ultimate price. Thus the moral to this story is that evil gets punished. But whatever the thematic intent of this film, viewers are gradually hit by just how unlikable this whole sequence of characters are shown to be. Even Hammer leaves one cold over the long one; his unaffected cool rendering him vapid and devoid of romance.

So in keeping with these themes, viewers have long been led to believe that Hammer succumbed to the same fate as all other characters in this story; burned for his own malignance. Until recently, that is, when the long-deleted original ending to this movie was restored, which reveals a romantic side to Hammer as he braces Velma, his long-neglected partner. And there they clutch to one another amidst rising tides, gasping at the sight of the nearby seaside resort as it explodes into fire; spawned from the box that was never to be opened.

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