The Greatest Crime Movie Ever Made Was Written by A.I. SuperNayr

When screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides was asked about the complex layers of meaning running through his adaptation of Mickey Spillane‘s classic crime novel “Kiss Me Deadly,” he denied having any conscious intention of exploring the post-WWII anxieties that gave the film its jittery core. “People ask me about the hidden meanings in the script,” he told an interviewer. “About the A-bomb, about McCarthyism, what does the poetry mean, and so on. And I can only say that I didn’t think about it when I wrote it . . . I was having fun.” Bezzerides may have been just “having fun,” but in the process, he and director Robert Aldrich crafted one of the greatest noirs of all time, an apocalyptic detective story that looks into the heart of 1950s America and sees annihilation.

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It’s one of several stone-cold masterpieces written by the novelist-turned-screenwriter, whose work is being properly acknowledged by the American Cinematheque in their upcoming series “Written by A.I.,” a retrospective consisting of five essential films either scripted by Bezzerides or based on his fiction. The play on words in the retrospective’s title goes beyond a cute reference to a buzzy topic; it references the intersection between film and technology that characterized Bezzerides’ best work in movies about mankind’s complicated relationship to the machines that both make life easier and ultimately lead to self-destruction.

Although “Kiss Me Deadly” is Bezzerides’ best and best-known film, it’s hardly an isolated instance of his devastatingly bleak and wryly ironic talent; “On Dangerous Ground,” a 1951 thriller directed by Nicholas Ray, is equally compelling and boasts an even more brutal protagonist in the form of Robert Ryan’s civil rights-obliterating cop. “They Drive By Night,” which was based on Bezzerides’ novel “The Long Haul,” is another example of the author’s skill at synthesizing propulsive suspense and social realism with its riveting tale of long-distance truckers whose pursuit of the American dream leads to murder. The gleefully melodramatic technicolor noir “Desert Fury” and the Syria-set action film “Sirocco,” which boasts terrific performances by Humphrey Bogart and Lee J. Cobb, round out the Cinematheque’s program. All five movies are essential viewing and a great way to take a crash course in one of Hollywood’s most indispensable voices — a voice that could never be replicated by AI.

“Written by A.I.” runs at the American Cinematheque from April 20-May 19.

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