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October 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 31 Oct 1994 10:37:43 -0600
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Susan Crutchfield requests:
"I haven't seen Kiss Me Deadly, so could someone please tell me what the
McGuffin is in that film which is so remniscent of PF's briefcase.  Also,
I know asking for a meaningful interpretation of a McGuffin seems a
cross-purposeful question, but I'm gonna ask anyways: is the McGuffin in
KMD meaningful in any way which dovetails with PF's briefcase?
   Would you say Pf's briefcase is a McGuffin?  I wouldn't, because it
seems meaningful to me beyond its role as a plot device.  That something
so BeauOOOOtiful plays such a pivotal role in the film (it's what the young
men die for, it's what Jules devotes his last day as a repo/hit man to
returning) suggests, at the very least, a quality of Wallace undeveloped in
the rest of the film.  I'm interpreting what's in the briefcase to be of
value only for its aesthetic qualities, but perhaps that's stretching things."
The McGuffin in KISS ME DEADLY (or "the great Whatzit," as the characters
call it) is the device that everyone is after throughout the film.  All we
see of it at first is a box, which emits a glow and a sort of roar when
opened.  As Mike Hammer pursues it, he is warned off by people murmuring
vaguely threatening noises like, "Trinity.  Los Alamos.  Do those mean
anything to you?"  At the end, the box is opened by Gaby Rogers, who is
immolated by the glow, which develops into a nuclear devastation of
The reference seems to be there in PF, even though the glow and Whatzit
seem to be beautiful rather than deadly, but that could just be Tarantino's
twist on it.  One doesn't have to sacrifice aesthetic qualities in a
McGuffin, which could be an Object of Beauty.  It is simply a description
of a motivating plot device.  Since the briefcase has no other specific
function within the narrative, it qualifies.
--Don Larsson, Mankato State U., MN