Written for my 3rd year college film noir course. A fairly bold thesis about the changing role of the femme fatale in later noir. I should specify (I should have written it in the piece), that the connection between Hammer and Judas Iscariot in Kiss Me Deadly was suggested by a subtitling error/variation during our class's screening of the film. Carver, the woman who's causing all the trouble, asks Hammer to give her a "liar's kiss". But the subtitle said something like "the kiss of Judas". That little flub in the DVD compilation opened huge, sweeping vistas of interpretation about what Carver could actually represent in terms of allegory.
No Room For You, Sweetheart
In Kiss Me Deadly we are presented with a film that has noir morality, a dialectic, the correct mise en scene and atmosphere, and a baffling reconstructive plot structure. But since Hammer never expresses a clear affection for Carver, she cannot be called a femme fatale.
Hammer keeps his heart (if not his hands) on the right woman throughout the film. Although his relationship with Velda cannot be called entirely considerate, he acts like a man who has been conditioned to both love and use women in the same thought. So we must consider Velda the woman he loves, regardless of the quality of that love.
Since the main romantic girder of the film is skew in the Noir sense, it shifts all the rest of the potentially romantic moments, like the nymphomaniac at Evello's and Carver's bizarre first moments in Hammer's apartment. These scenes end up feeling like honey on lacerations: sweet but unnecessary and misplaced.
As a noir anti-hero, sex is one of Hammer's tools of trade. So perhaps he is shouldering some of the femme fatale load with his very presence. Not that this film absolves us from needing to cherchez la femme; Carver, the faux-Rosenberg's hired Pandora, is undoubtedly the axis on which the film ends up turning.
But the past Noirs that we have seen call our attention to one specific character whom we expect to cause the protagonist's downfall. This film, by contrast, is so good at giving us Hammer's perspective that we end up feeling as stupid as he does, instead of showing us how he is deceived objectively so we may admire it.
Undoubtedly, the metacinematic intent of the film has much to do with this. Carver is attempting to unite two dimensions of being, while Hammer is motivated by some hazy concept of vengeful justice. The woman no longer wants money as is usual in Noir (with The Big Sleep being a possible exception). The woman (and therefore Womanhood) has finally been given the chance to elevate her morality to a level higher than (the) man's.
This, perhaps, removes the need to provide a femme fatale; the hero's perdition was because he tried to prevent the Great Union of the "real world" and the "fictional world". By having Hammer shot, Carver is fighting Judas in a way that Christ could not. Ironically, since Judas' death would not have been enough to save mankind from its sins, Hammer's is certainly not enough to protect one reality from contact with another, and Carver is martyred anyway.
We see this same abandoning of the romantic in Touch of Evil. Of the many ambiguities in the film, the romantic lives of the characters are not among them. The fortune-teller's relationship with Quinlan is worth a temporary ponder, but its impact on the plot is negligible. But of course everything about Touch tries to be very edgy and post-Golden-Era. So maybe we are seeing there is the phasing-out of the sentimentality usually forced by convention on Noir.
The usual Noir fare swings like a laid-back cinematic Miles Davis, while Touch of Evil and Kiss Me Deadly are angular Coltrane. The directors are trying to speak to the cool-yet-sharply-in-contrast younger generation of the fifties. Kiss Me Deadly's unusual camera angles suggest shifts in perception from the square-box films of the forties. Touch of Evil's incredible opening sequence foreshadows the looping changes in viewing altitude used in later scenes (and films) to simulate the descending weight of tension and conflict. And while some scenes go minutes without a cut, others are epileptic with shifts in points-of-view.
This embrace of extremes leaves little room for the inexpressible clash of happiness and pain that is romantic relationship. But the trade-off offers the audience new avenues of communication with the world of Noir.