Christina: You have only one real lasting love.
Mike: Now who could that be?
Christina: You. You’re one of those self-indulgent males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. Bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard.
A scared young woman in a raincoat is running barefoot on the highway, trying to flag down a car. After some cars pass her by, the woman sees a fancy sports car approaching and stands directly in its path! PI Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is behind the wheel, and after almost hitting the woman, he tells her to get in. The woman’s name is Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman in her first movie role); she’s on the run from a mental institution (“laughing house”). Whoever was after her eventually catches up w/ them! Christina dies while being questioned under some sort of torture. The killers fake an accident by pushing Hammer’s car off the road; he survives and wakes up in hospital. Mike starts to investigate Christina’s death, even after told by the police (and FBI) to stay out of it.
In the hands of the director Robert Aldrich, the film becomes a starting point for a delirious expression of 1950s anxiety and paranoia, starting with opening credits that run backwards…
Noir b&w has never been photographed (Earnest Laszlo) more effectively than some of those night scenes… plus the long, dark hallways and staircases that suggest an enclosed world without redemption.
Right from the electric opening scene and the audacious opening credit sequence, the audience is drawn into Hammer’s seedy world, where morality is suspended, and the credo of the end justifying the means dominates Hammer’s actions.
The “great whatsit” which Hammer searches for is one of the great movie gimmicks…
-Excerpts from IMDB movies
Based on Mickey Spillane’s novel and adapted by Al Bezzerides, the movie has an unique style and it’s recommended for fans of film noir. The story is transported from NYC to LA; the suitcase filled w/ drugs (too controversial) becomes something more dangerous.This is one of the first instances where a car in traffic looks realistic. Aldrich strapped a camera to the back of Hammer’s car. Martin Scorcese and Quentin Tarantino were influenced by this B movie.
Velda: Do me a favor, will you? Keep away from the windows. Somebody might… blow you a kiss.
It’s implied the characters have a sex life. Some of the camera angles are modern and unusual. The supporting characters are diverse; we see Greek and Italian immigrants, a black boxing coach (Juano Hernandez from The Breaking Point), and a nightclub singer and bartender (who are also black). The acting is a mixed bag, but Meeker does a fine job as the tough, unflinching protagonist; he was a theater actor. We hear a song by Nat King Cole in the opening (“I’d Rather Have the Blues”). You can watch the movie on YouTube (for free)!