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Hollywood Flashback: The Corvette Debuted in 1955’s ‘Kiss Me Deadly’

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The Chevrolet Corvette, which turns 70 this week, was unveiled on Jan. 17, 1953, at the General Motors Motorama, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The sleek two-seater, named after a small warship, was a concept car, but interest was so high that it went into production later that year, with 300 hand-built models in Polo White. The Corvette would star in CBS’ Route 66 from 1960 to 1964, turning it into an emblem of American freedom. But its first major screen appearance was in 1955’s Kiss Me Deadlya subversive film noir from director Robert Aldrich, who went on to direct What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and The Dirty Dozen (1967).

Based on the 1952 Mickey Spillane novel Kiss Me, Deadly, the film, adapted by screenwriter AI Bezzerides, veered wildly from the book, putting Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer at the center of a web of intrigue involving a dead woman (Cloris Leachman, then 29, in her first movie role), the Mafia and a glowing box left inside a locker at the Hollywood Athletic Club. (Later, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and 1984’s Repo Man paid homage to the mysterious box, a symbol of atomic angst, while François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard cited Deadly as one of the biggest influences on the French New Wave.)

The car, a 1954 Corvette C1 in black — Pennant Blue and Sportsman Red were also available that year — is gifted to Hammer (Ralph Meeker) by mob boss Carl Evello (Paul Stewart, also the butler in 1941’s Citizen Kane). After ridding the vehicle of two bombs planted inside it, the crooked, womanizing Hammer spends the rest of the film cruising the ‘Vette around LA, including one now-classic shot beneath the Angels Flight funicular in Bunker Hill. “The relatively new Corvette appears not only as a celebration of American technology,” writes Jerry W. Pason The Corvette in Literature and Culture“but also as an extension of the hero’s violently aggressive heterosexuality — two things that remind us of the apocalyptically destructive nuclear age represented in the film.”

1955 THR original review of 'Kiss Me Deadly'

THR’s review of the film was critical, saying, “The resulting murder mystery is even more mysterious when everything is over.”

The News84Media

This story first appeared in the Jan. 11 issue of The News84Media magazine. Click here to subscribe.



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