A Taste of Honey an Important Film



Directed by Tony Richardson

British Lion Film, 100 minutes, Not-rated. (Black & white)





If all A Taste of Honey conjures is a pop song by The Beatles or a cheesier Herb Albert cover in 1965, you’re missing a lot. For the record, the song’s original release was by Billy Dee Williams in 1961. It refers to the sweetness of a first kiss that lovers carry away when parted.


The film that bears that name is a British classic worthy of such an appellation. It’s in black and white and trust me; you wouldn’t want it to be any other way once you cast your eyes on Walter Lassally’s gritty cinematography. Set in the Salford section of Manchester shortly after World War II, we enter an impoverished environment where life unfolds so close to the margin that is but a small step up from living in a landfill. At the movie’s center is Jo (Rita Tushingham), a surly 17-year-old who lives in challenging circumstances with her narcissistic man-hungry mother Helen (Dora Bryan). Mum’s drill is to shift from one hovel to the next and sneak away when the landlord demands back rent. Jo wants out and who can blame her? Especially when the floozy Helen acquires a new boyfriend, Peter (Robert Stephens), who makes no bones about wanting rid of Jo after a strained trip to Blackpool.


Jo leaves school, takes a job selling shoes, and rents a backstairs walk-up near the docks that looks like a cross between a small warehouse and a chicken coop. Both furnishings and utilities redefine the term sparse, but it’s Jo’s to refurbish. The neighborhood is the sort in which begrimed children play with flotsam that washes up in the canal, pieces of wood, and debris from closed factories whilst singing “The Big Ship Sails on the Alley Alley Oh.” Believe it or not, that’s relevant.


Jo fancies herself independent, but she’s more street urchin than adult. The aforementioned song links to her first lover, Jimmy (Paul Danquah), a Black ship’s cook on an ocean-going vessel. He is kind and helps Jo, but is bound for the sea and they part with few future expectations. In addition to the taste of a honied kiss and  unbeknownst to Jimmy, he also leaves a bun in the oven. Geoffrey Ingham (Murray Melvin) also comes into Jo’s life. If you wonder if this film could get any bolder for 1961, the answer is yes; Geoff is so obviously gay that there’s no closet in which to retreat. Against what one would expect, though, Geoff moves in with Jo–certainly not as a lover, but as someone who will take care of her. He’s even willing to consider a lavender marriage.


British cinema has the term “kitchen-sink realism” for films such as this. Mike Leigh is probably the director today who comes closest to what Tony Richardson did seven decades earlier. There is no attempt to varnish truth to invite imagining all obstacles will be surmounted, nor can we assume they won’t be. This is cinema with the guts to trust audiences to enter the frame and reach their own conclusions. Characters do not magically transform. When Helen reemerges to attend to her pregnant daughter, she remains as self-centered as she always was and Jo retains a limited capacity to take a stand on what she wants. Put another way, “The Big Ship Sails on the Alley Alley Oh” is a children’s song, but the boat’s not necessarily on a happy course.


A Taste of Honey might seem like a bitter draft but despite its age, it’s an amazing film dealing with issues years in advance of Western society. Richardson painted with shades and shadows as dark as any film noir, though this is not one–more like a dramatized documentary of how people with limited life chances cope within constrained social environs. Oddly, it’s not depressing overall because it’s about survivors. Tushingham and Ingham both won acting awards at Cannes for this film and well-deserved they were. And what a treat to see a film that doesn’t spoon-feed viewers.


As I have said before, a great film takes us places we can’t go on our own. The look of A Taste of Honey and the acting styles therein are quite different from those of today, but this is truly an important document that any serious film fan should view.


Rob Weir


Kiss Me Deadly a Culturally Important Mess!



Directed by Robert Aldrich

United Artists, 106 minutes, Not-rated.

★★ ½



 Kiss Me Deadly is almost impossible to rate. I arrived at 2 ½ via some convoluted math: 1 for movie-making, 2 as a story, and 4 for cultural significance (Divide 7 by 3 and you get 2 ½ .)


As filmmaking, this Robert Aldrich turkey sinks to the level of Ed Wood camp such as Plan 9 from Outer Space and shares some of its pseudo-science proclivities. Thinking of Kiss Me Deadly as camp will actually increase your enjoyment of it.


Aldrich had an interesting idea that oozed of personal vendetta. He was a leftist who expected to be targeted in the post-World War II Red Scare. It never happened, probably because he was such a small fish that potential inquisitors wouldn’t have acquired political or cultural capital by netting him. Aldrich hated crime writer Mickey Spillane, the creator of hard-broiled private investigator Mike Hammer. In Aldrich’s mind, Spillane was a fascist, an overdrawn assessment though not by much. (Spillane admired Ayn Rand–enough said.) 


In Kiss Me Deadly, Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is transformed into a sleaze-bag divorce investigator who gets results by prostituting his secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper). She seduces ‘em and Hammer blackmails ‘em. Hammer is so crude, amoral, and sadistic that cops like the LAPD’s Pat Murphy (Wesley Addy) despise him and probably wouldn’t bother to fish his corpse out of the Pacific Ocean were he to meet a suspicious end. As the story begins, Hammer nearly hits a barefooted hitchhiker, Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman) when she flags down his racing sportscar. She tells him that she was placed in an insane asylum to keep her quiet, but to “remember me” if her pursuers murder her. That is exactly what happens and Hammer is also captured, drugged, and placed in his sports car with Christina, which is pushed off a cliff and explodes in a ball of fire.


We don’t know how he survives; it’s one of many can’t-be-bothered-to-stitch-it plot holes. Hammer launches an investigation–when he’s not having sex with Velda–that leaves more crumbs to follow than Hansel and Gretel. He visits a hood named Carl Evello (Paul Stewart), though this scene seems merely an excuse for his moll Friday (Marion Carr) to throw herself at Hammer like a hamster in heat. He also visits and harbors Christina’s roommate Lily Carver (Gaby Rogers) because, of course, the hoods staking out his apartment would never think to look for her there! Hammer gets personal when a Greek friend, Nick (Nick Dennis) is murdered an excuse to be more violent and more stupid.


The movie’s mystery will hinge on a pair of oxfords, a key, an assumed identity, poetry, and (metaphorically) opening Pandora’s box. To call A. I. Bezzerides’ script a mess is an insult to sloppiness. You’ve probably never heard of Meeker, Carr, or Rogers, nor should you. Though he did some 1950s TV, Meeker is a stiff masquerading as an actor and both Carr and Rogers had short careers. Cooper was terrific as Velda, though all of the women in the film are slutty and displayed in lurid poses. Don’t get me started on ethnic stereotypes.


 The question arises as to why Kiss Me Deadly is part of the Criterion Collection of films considered as important. It helps if your film is rejected by the Catholic League of Decency. (Nothing attracts attention like censorship!) It might have faded away had the CLD left well enough alone, but French intellectuals associated with the journal Cahiers du cinema, including director Claude Chabrol, championed the film once they saw it.


Why? This gets us to cultural significance. Kiss Me Deadly could be billed as Mike Hammer-meets Red Scare-meets fears of nuclear holocaust. The world’s first hydrogen bomb–700 times more powerful than the atomics dropped on Japan in 1945–was tested in 1952, less than two years before Aldrich began Kiss Me Deadly. The H-bomb provided the capacity to destroy all life on Earth. Fear was part of the rationale behind the Red Scare and numerous sci-fi novels and Hollywood films featuring aliens, monsters, mutants, or nuclear destruction. In other words, Aldrich’s turkey attained flight via a Zeitgeist updraft. This makes Kiss Me Deadly so bad it’s good. It did give Cloris Leachman her first break, so there’s that. Besides, it’s a guilty pleasure to watch Aldrich reduce Mike Hammer to a grotesque idiot.


Rob Weir


A Curse on Both Political Parties!


Why It’s Time to Change the Political Tune (in one chart)



Call me cynical; then explain why millions of people purport to despise both political parties, yet go the polls and select one or the other in the belief they’ve voted for the lesser of two evils. To me, that’s cynical. It’s voting against something, not for something. Is Monster versus Milquetoast really a choice?


There is just one solution and it will take time: Stop voting for Republicans or Democrats. Choose another option. If you’re on the left, vote Green or some other progressive party; if you’re conservative, vote Libertarian, just as long as you know that Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are liars, not Libertarians. (A true libertarian would not vote to restrict abortion access.)


I quit the Democratic Party during the Clinton administration and the only Republicans I’ve ever voted for were named Silvio Conte and Charlie Baker, the latter because who can even remember who ran against him? That tells you all you need to know about the Democratic wannabes.


This handy chart outlines why I’ve lost trust in both the Monsters (Republicans) and the Milquetoasts (Democrats).  Republican Monsters in column two; Democratic Milquetoasts in column 3.


School Shootings

Arm teachers, janitors, secretaries, and students.

Talk, talk talk.

Gun control of any sort

Repeal the 5th Commandment. Replace with the Second Amendment.

Talk, talk, talk.


Why should we care about women and choices?

Talk, talk, talk.

High gasoline prices

Drill, baby, drill!

Talk, talk, talk.

Climate change

What climate change? Drill, baby, drill!

Talk, talk, talk.


Fake news. Masks are evil. Sick? Drink bleach.

Talk, talk, talk.

Methamphetamine production

It’s a form of free enterprise.

Talk, talk, talk.


Slash taxes on the rich and big corporations.

Talk, talk, talk.

Problems of blue-collar and service industry workers

Vote for us because we will stop those socialist job killers.

Talk, talk, talk. Wait a minute, who?

The destruction of American democracy

Trump won the election. Investigate that.

Talk, talk, talk.

Health care reform


Talk, talk, talk.

Education and student debt

College education is elitist (unless you can afford an Ivy). Ban CRT.

Talk, talk, talk.


Empower the cops and arm babies at birth.

Talk, talk, talk, though I’m sure this issue is racist.


Bring back slavery.

Oh, how terrible!

Cops killing people of color (even on camera)

They had it coming to them.

Oh, you really shouldn’t say that. How mean.


Seal the borders, round up illegals, and ship ‘em back.

Talk, talk, talk, but maybe open the borders. You know, if it’s not too much trouble.

LGBTQ rights

Sinners! Ban them. Except for Log Cabin Republicans.

Talk, talk, talk.


Who cares as long as the Stock Market goes up?

Gee, we really ought to do something about China. If it’s not upsetting.

Runaway military spending

Huh? Triple the budget. Cut those wasteful social programs.

Oh golly, we really respect our vets, although we’re sorry we voted for that last dumb war.


It’s the Democrats fault.

It’s the Republicans fault.

Choosing candidates and judges

Choose whoever is barely legal. Unless it’s Trump.

There must be 80-year-olds whose turn it is. I wonder if the Clintons would speak at a fundraiser?

Women in general

Yeah, we love babes. Especially blondes with shapely legs who want to have sex with Trump.

That is so rude I’m almost tempted to say something about it.