Stars – Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Karl Malden, Richard Widmark, Coleen Gray
Director – Henry Hathaway
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Kiss of Death is a good Film Noir that gets catapulted into greatness by way of Richard Widmark’s stand out performance as sadistic hit man Tommy Udo. The nature of the lead character played by Victor Mature also represents a departure for the kind of heroes that would be acceptable. The film starts off with the robbery of a jewelry store. Mature is one of the guys knocking the place over. One of the robbers kills someone. So he is a crook, right? No doubt about it. Now he did not kill the guy but he was part of the crew that did. Later on when he is forced to choose between being sent off on a lengthy prison term or become a snitch and rat out his friends he sings like a canary. There are extenuating circumstances. His wife became involved in a tawdry affair while he was away. Things got so tough for her that she stuck her head in an over and committed suicide. Mature’s little boy is left all alone. However the kid’s old babysitter has eyes for his dad. Forget that he is too old for her, and that he is in jail. So this is the hero of the picture. This is the guy we are rooting for. When he has to testify in court against one of his old crew word gets around and Tommy Udo is called in to take care of him. Now Mature is still definitely a bad guy but when you compare him to Udo, maybe he’s not so bad.
That kind of character is one of the things that is so compelling about a good Noir. People can have shades to them. The gray scale of human morality gets as much attention as the fascinating photography by Nobert Brodine. Brodine shot over 100 films starting in the silent era. In this one we frequently see a reflection of Mature in a nearby window or on a highly polished piece of furniture or door. That gleam in the reflections is so strong that you suspect they had a guy in the crew whose sole job was to take a shammy cloth to any shiny surface the camera pointed at. But it works. There are two sides to this guy and maybe he’s leaning more toward the good side of life now. Meanwhile Richard Widmark makes a film debut that just rocks the house. He has a maniacal high pitched laugh. You can trace that laugh from the Batman comics by way of Widmark being a fan to Frank Gorshin’s laugh as The Riddler in the Batman TV show. Widmark also sports a world class smirk throughout most of the picture. His dialogue is full of these hipster put downs. He calls squealers and people not up to his liking, squirts. He says it like squints at times, too. He oozes evil and looks ready to pop at any moment. The costumer did a great job with his look. He dresses like a stylish gangster with just a touch of a comic book villain.
The intense scene that starts with Udo asking an old lady in a wheelchair where her son is has become legendary. Everything about it just builds beautifully. The old lady lies about her son not being there. Udo sees an open window that the squirt had make his escape through. Who would tie an elderly mother into her wheelchair with an electric cord he just rips off of a lamp. Udo takes her out on the landing and heaves her down the stairway. His laughter over the scene seals the deal. You could line up the people offended by that scene several times around the city of Philadelphia. After seeing this guy at work rooting for Mature’s bad guy who now may be more of a good guy just got a whole lot easier.
Coleen Gray, the baby sitter who marries Victor Mature has a voice over that opens and closes the picture. With so many hardnosed guys doing voice overs in Noirs this has a very different and gentle quality to it. Much of the film was shot on the streets of the city which lends it an air of toughness . There is a bordello hidden in a town house in a nice neighborhood that Udo takes Mature to. The incongruity of the house of ill repute carrying on in such a nice part of town fits with Mature’s duality nicely. Kiss of Death has some melodrama to it that gets balanced well with the brutality of Widmark‘s role of Tommy Udo. The darkness of the location shoot also levels the scales. The shots inside the Chrysler building are terrific. Kiss Of Death is a stand out Film Noir that gets a great looking treatment here.
Video – 1.33:1
This is a very satisfying presentation. Black levels are strong. There is no distortion at all. There is plenty of detail to be found in clothing, faces and backgrounds. The gleam in the frequent reflections is easily seen.
Audio – DTS HD MA 2.0 and 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects fit well in the track.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Commentary with film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, Original theatrical trailer, Essay by Julie Kirgo
Ursini and Silver are well know for their books on Film Noir. They bring in a great deal of information in their commentary. The other new commentary is more fun and gives another take on the film.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent