A standard-setting, vertiginous, razzle-frazzle labyrinth, this crackerjack gumshoe schattenspiel, shot in a semi-imaginary, now utterly lost Bunker Hill and shot through with all the transfixins up to and including nuclear frisson, dares to ask the question: "Everyone everywhere is so involved in the fruitless search for what?" Va va voom, and how.
I am stuck between four and five stars. The stilted dialogue and odd phrasings put me off ,until I realized what a HUGE influence they had on Lynch's bizarro speak. Not the mention with the strobe, fire, & the beach house at the end. Is this widely acknowledged as being an influence on him? (other than Lost Highway, obviously)
I think I first watched this film at just the right time. It was after I had familiarized myself with the standard film-noirs, and was desiring something a tad more out there. I got exactly what I was looking for.
Amazing this was approved back in 1955 -- the nastiest noir I've seen, nastier even than Joseph H. Lewis' "Big Combo" -- but this is a far better film, because the brutality and cynicism are not empty stylistic additives. Earns its spot in the National Film Registry with a dynamite cast, clever dialogue and provocative technical flourishes (backwards credits, horror-movie music cues and moody lighting).
So I'm watching and watching...trying to put the puzzle pieces the together, thinking that it's just okay. Then it gets progressively better and better. Then it finally starts tying up all of the ends and hits you with that ending, easily one of the best endings I have ever seen in a movie. An extra star just for the ending alone.
Ralph Meeker, in the role of his life, plays the violent and fireproof Mike Hammer in a supremely enjoyable McCarthy-era/nuclear holocaust paranoid Noir. full of great moments like the opening scene and an epilogue that makes it feel like a genuine horror film.