My favorite Cloris Leachman role is her amazing performance as Christina in the 1955 noir classic Kiss Me Deadly, which, if pressed, I would claim as my favorite movie. The movie opens with Cloris, barefoot and clad only in an overcoat, using a desperate gambit to stop a motorist, the movie's protagonist:
While her screentime is relatively brief, Cloris Leachman's performance exudes charm and wit, contrasting well with Ralph Meeker's laconic, somewhat brutish Mike Hammer. The dialogue is fantastic, and her delivery is perfect:
Christina: You're angry with me, aren't you? Sorry
I nearly wrecked your pretty little car. I was just thinking how
much you can tell about a person from such simple things. Your
car, for instance.
Hammer: Now, what kind of a message does it send ya?
Christina: You have only one real lasting love.
Hammer: Now who could that be?
Christina: You. You're one of those self-indulgent males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. Bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard.
Hammer: You against good health or somethin'?
Christina: I could tolerate flabby muscles in a man who may be more friendly. You're the kind of a person who never gives in a relationship - who only takes. (Sardonically) Ah, woman, the incomplete sex. And what does she need to complete her? (Mocking) Why, man, of course. A wonderful man.
She steals the scene that she's in, using the same chops which made her such an effective comedic actor. Her charismatic performance makes her (no spoiler warning needed, this is a noir, after all) Very Bad End at the hands of Very Bad Men all the more upsetting.
Cloris Leachman's body of work is vast, spanning decades, with diverse roles, so I know how I'm going to pass some of my downtime this weekend. Her turn in Kiss Me Deadly was her first major role, and while not as iconic as her turn playing Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein or Phyllis Lindstrom in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it was a harbinger of things to come. It's a performance that I can watch repeatedly, and I shall.