While it was great to see this on the big screen, to laugh with an audience at va-va-voom Nick the mechanic and watch everyone jump from shock when Mike Hammer cracks open the Pulp Fiction suitcase and hell peeks out, it’s kinda still not a great movie. Filmed as a cheap quickie and looks like it, the bulk of the plot is Mike following one lead to another to another – and as Josh pointed out, you could delete any one (or all) of those chain links without harming the overall plot structure. What’s important is Mike starts out getting mixed up with a dame in trouble, she is killed and he’s presumed dead, then he tracks down her story finally leading to a bad man with a case of nuclear material which explodes, destroying a beach house reminiscent of the one in Lost Highway. And while we’re on the subject of films influenced by this one, I recognized scenes and locations excerpted in Los Angeles Plays Itself.
Wes Addy and Ralph Meeker:
Ralph Meeker who, two years later, would appear in movies by Fuller (Run of the Arrow) and Kubrick (Paths of Glory), was so badass in this movie, the Feds declared it to be 1955’s number one menace to American youth. Badassery is all relative, of course, and he’d soon be out-badassed since the production code was in decline. Hammer and his main squeeze/work partner Velda (Maxine Cooper, of nothing else) are sleazy divorce investigators/instigators until Mike picks up doomed girl Christina (Cloris Leachman, whose career seems to defy summary) on the highway. She’s recaptured by the baddies and tortured to death, then blown up in Mike’s car with Mike, who survives with revenge on his mind. Right away Mike’s in trouble with his cop buddy Pat (Aldrich regular Wesley Addy) who pulls his gun license, and with two thugs (Jack Lambert, who played a bully with a whip in Stars In My Crown, and the great Jack Elam of Moonfleet the same year as this) who work for the evil doctor (Albert Dekker of Siodmak’s The Killers, unseen besides his shoes till the very end). Mike enlists his mechanic Nick (Nick Dennis of Too Late Blues, A Streetcar Named Desire), who gets a car dropped on him by baddies, Velda, who saves Mike’s ass at the end (unless you watched the original ending in which they appear to die in the beach house explosion) and the dead girl’s roommate Gabrielle (TV actress Gaby Rodgers) who turns out to be a baddie spy.
Nympho Marian Carr (Ring of Fear) and bad dude Paul Stewart (Citizen Kane, In Cold Blood):
My favorite thing about the movie is the strangeness of the beginning and end scenes. The nuclear-material-in-a-suitcase factor is most interesting for being so mysteriously underdeveloped, giving the movie a sense of richness that the main investigation plot lacks. With the sound effects and flickering lights at the finale, it acts more like a portal to another world than a physical material. Also great is the shock opening, with a girl running in the night, breathing heavy on the soundtrack before being picked up by Mike, the credits rolling upside-down across the screen.
Only other Aldrich movie I’ve seen (besides Limelight, on which he assisted) is Twilight’s Last Gleaming from the other end of his career. Written by A.I. Bezzerides (Thieves’ Highway, Track of the Cat) and shot by Ernest Laszlo (While the City Sleeps, Stalag 17).