Hammer Time!: KISS ME DEADLY (United Artists 1955)


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Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels have long been one of my favorite Guilty Pleasures. Spillane’s books were the literary equivalent of knocking back shots of Jack Daniels with no chaser. The misanthropic Mike Hammer’s Sex & Violence filled adventures are rapid paced, testosterone fueled trips through a definitely un-PC world where men are men, women are sex objects, and blood and bullets flow freely through a dark, corrupt post-war world.  Spillane turned the conventional detective yarn on its ear and, though critics hated his simplistic writing, the public ate up his books by the millions.

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The film version of Spillane’s KISS ME DEADLY turns film noir on its ear from its opening shot of Christine Bailey (a young Cloris Leachman) running down a lonely highway, almost getting run over by Mike Hammer. The PI picks her up and the opening credits roll backwards to the strains of Nat King Cole crooning “Rather Have The Blues”. This beginning set-up lets…

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Back to School Part II #13: The Last American Virgin (dir by Boaz Davidson)


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(SPOILERS BELOW!)

For the past week, I have been doing a chronological review of films about high school, college, and teenagers.  I started things off on Monday by taking a look at Teenage Devil Dolls, a film from the 1950s.  From there, I moved on to the 60s and then the 70s and now, finally, I am now ready to start in on the golden age of teen films — the 1980s!

I started things off by watching The Last American Virgin, a low-budget film from 1982 and oh my God!  Seriously, The Last American Virgin has got to be one of the strangest films that I’ve ever seen.  I can only imagine what teen audiences in 1982 must have thought when they went to see the latest sex comedy and discovered that it was actually one of the darkest and most depressing films ever made.

Actually, The Last American Virgin is two films in one.  The first film is pretty much a typical teen comedy.  Three friends — awkward but sweet Gary (Lawrence Monoson), handsome but shallow Rick (Steve Antin), and funny fat guy Dave (Joe Rubbo) — try to get laid and survive their senior year in high school.  They pick up three girls by pretending to have cocaine.  (They offer them sweet-n-low instead, which leads to a lengthy scene of the girls snorting the artificial sweetner and then saying stuff like, “This is the best Colombian that I’ve ever had.”)  They meet a lonely housewife who had sex with two of them before her husband arrives home.  (As usual, Gary misses out.)  They have sex with a crude hooker and all end up with crabs as a result.  It’s a typically crude teen comedy, distinguished only by the fact that Monoson, Antin, and Rubbo are a lot more believable as teenagers than the usual 25 year-old actors who often starred in these films.  (According to the imdb, Monoson was only 16 when The Last American Virgin first went into production.)

But, right there in the middle of the usual teen movie shenanigans, there’s this other movie taking place.  Gary is in love with Karen (Diane Franklin, who appeared in several teen films in the 80s, including Better Off Dead) but Karen is dating Rick.  When Gary finds out that Karen has lost her virginity to his best friend, he ends up sitting alone in a diner while Just Once (“I did my best … but I guess my best wasn’t good enough…”) plays on the soundtrack.  In fact, that song shows up several times during the movie.  Basically, whenever Gary tries to do anything, we suddenly hear: “I did my best … but I guess my best wasn’t good enough….”

I mean, seriously, poor Gary!  Even the soundtrack is implying that he’s a loser!

Eventually, Karen discovers that she’s pregnant.  Rick refuses to help out and promptly leaves on a ski trip.  Gary and Karen tell their parents but they’re going on the ski trip as well but instead, they go to an empty house that once belonged to Gary’s late grandmother.  Gary points out a huge, old-fashioned radio sitting in a corner and says that Karen can listen to it if she wants.  Karen starts to cry.  Gary starts to cry and swears that he’ll never abandon her.

Karen gets an abortion.  Shots of Karen at the clinic are mixed in with scenes of Gary desperately trying to raise the money to pay for her abortion.  He begs his boss for an advance on his salary.  He pawns his stereo.  All the while, U2’s I Will Follow plays on the soundtrack.

At this point, the film had gotten so serious that I was half-expecting for Gary to come to the clinic to pick up Karen, just to be told that she had died during the procedure.  But no, Karen survives.  They go back to grandma’s house.  Karen thanks Gary for all that he’s done for her.  Gary cries and says that he loves her.  Karen invites Gary to her birthday party.

Gary goes to the birthday party, bringing with him the gift of a ring.  But, as soon as Gary steps into the kitchen, what’s the first thing he sees?

Karen hugging Rick.  Both of them have tears in their eyes.  They look back at Gary.

Gary stumbles out of the party.  He gets in his car and drives away.  We get a close-up of Gary sobbing in the car…

I did my best …. but I guess my best wasn’t good enough…

AND THEN THE MOVIE ENDS!

I mean … MY GOD, HOW DEPRESSING CAN A MOVIE BE!?

And yet, that depressing ending is what sets The Last American Virgin apart.  I mean, it’s not a happy ending but it definitely elevates this low-budget and rather crude movie.  If nothing else, it feels more realistic than having Lawrence Monoson punch out Steve Antin and then live happily ever after.  Sometimes, stories don’t end with love and smiles.  Often times, they end with an awkward teenager sobbing as he drives home.

So, that’s The Last American Virgin.  It’s an odd little movie.  It was also a remake of a film that the same director had previously made in Israel and the film’s mix of low humor and high drama feels more European than American.  This is definitely a film made by an outsider, trying to imagine what American teenagers are like.  It makes for a movie that, though it may appear to be a typical teen sex comedy, is actually something else altogether.

Seriously, this is a weird one.  I’m as surprised as anyone to say that I recommend it.

Music Video of the Day: Sister Christian by Night Ranger (1984, dir. Dan Halperin)


It’s been awhile since a song made me tear-up. You might not know the story behind the song since I didn’t. Drummer and vocalist Kelly Keagy was visiting his younger teenage sister and was amazed how fast she was growing up. He wrote the song about her. You can tell he was anxious and worried about her fast approaching adulthood. Of course people latched onto the word “motoring” as if the song and music video don’t make it clear that the term is synonymous with “cruising”. I think I need to break out Jeff from Rock: It’s Your Decision (1982) every time I do a music video that has a song with misunderstood lyrics in it such as Losing My Religion.

Rock: It's Your Decision (1982, dir. Jon Taylor)

Rock: It’s Your Decision (1982, dir. Jon Taylor)

I guess it’s appropriate then that the song became Sister Christian because one of the other band members kept mishearing Sister Christy as Sister Christian.

The music video starts off with a clock literally ticking off the seconds of her life before we cut to her graduation. What follows are scenes of her coming of age while the band appears to be practicing in an auditorium. She is ambivalent throughout about her sexuality, how it relates to her studies, and how she is going to live her life after high school no longer has a hold on her. In the end, she decides to hop in the car and drive off into her future.

In a way, you could consider Billy Joel’s Only the Good Die Young a companion piece to this song. It too has a misunderstood meaning.

The high school in reality is San Rafael High School in California.

I couldn’t find much on director Dan Halperin except that he worked on a few other music videos.

On the other hand, I found that production manager Peter Lippman has worked on a ton of music videos performing numerous jobs.

Enjoy!