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Worst Film Noir Ever?
on 2 April 2012
Despite its supposed cult status this must be one of the worst noirs ever made and that assessment includes all those wonderfully camp 'so bad they're fun" poverty row movies. The budget isn't the problem with this film.
The plot is incoherent and utterly unengaging for the first ninety minutes, then loses all contact with reality in a final scene which sees Mike and Velda on a California beach apparently surviving a nearby nuclear explosion just a few hundred yards away!
Ralph Meeker's performance as Mike Hammer is utterly charmless, boorish and inept - when other characters are speaking he just stands there looking like an extra who's wondering how long it is before the studio breaks for lunch. The direction of the whole film is slow, dreary and pedestrian. Most of the scenes are completely predictable, the only exceptions are those which don't make sense. The fight scenes are particularly silly. Hammer himself apparently possesses a magic fist which can render a 200 pound professional thug unconscious with one blow. Add to the mix a clichéd comedy-Hispanic-garage-owner who, for no accountable reason, becomes hysterical with excitement every time he sets eyes on his favourite private eye.
The only one who comes out of this unconvincing mess with any credit at all is Maxine Cooper who plays Velda, Hammer's versatile multitasking PA/secretary/casual sex partner. She enjoys practising her ballet positions to Johann Strauss' Emperor Waltz with the aid of a vertical bar. Fin de Siècle Vienna meets prototype pole dancing! But her sweating face looks genuinely erotic in a movie where nothing else looks genuinely anything, so Aldrich decides to repeat this feature a couple of reels later when Velda is in bed.
But apart from a few fleeting moments like these, the whole movie is an unmitigated train wreck. Unbelievable characters, staggering through an unconvincing plot towards a preposterous ending.