5. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by A.I. Bezzerides
Starring Ralph Meeker, Maxine Cooper, Albert Dekker

Barefoot, Christina Bailey runs for her life in the middle of a dark road. Her terror-filled face appears in stark relief against a black backdrop. This is the first image we see. She was named after Christina Georgina Rossetti, whose poetry helps unravel the film’s mystery. I fucking hated the Pre-Raphaelites in college. A professor of mine considered all 19th century British literature the height of culture. Like me, he was Asian American. I considered him a fucking race traitor. We spent hours in his office debating the canon. I admit my animosity toward him was rooted in a grudging respect. My senior thesis featured postmodern exegeses of detective novels. Mickey Spillane’s weren’t among them. Now I know Mike Hammer, whose masculinity is bolstered by a phallic last name. To him, a knuckle sandwich is just another tool of the private dick. There’s a cuckoldry component to his relationship with Velda. To each their own, but consent isn’t so clear here: Hammer pays Velda to seduce philandering husbands for divorce cases. In love with Hammer, she goes along with it, but without enthusiasm. What a joy it is to see a film with a consistent visual style that actually contributes to the narrative. I watch too many B-movies. Gaby Rodgers as Lily Carver acts like Marilyn Monroe sans the irrepressible sexuality. The film is bookended by women screaming while they endure painful deaths. As a beach house erupts in flames, Hammer cradles Velda in the cool evening tide. 1958’s Curse of the Faceless Man re-stages that ending, after the ocean water dissolves the eponymous golem. There’s something about the beach at night. This summer, in Provincetown with my family, I left my hotel room to watch the waves and look at the stars that, as a city-dweller, I never get to see. I had a lot of deep thoughts but no real insights. The next night, Xtina and I put on the Olympics and watched Katie Ledecky fucking destroy the 800-meter freestyle. I’ll never accomplish anything so breathtaking in my life.