Kiss of Death (1947)


*. Victor Mature has a bad rep, receiving a Golden Turkey nomination for worst film actor of all time and inspiring David Thomson to some lovely invective: “It is too easy to dismiss Mature, for he surpasses badness. He is a strong man in a land of hundred-pound weaklings, an incredible concoction of beefsteak, husky voice, and brilliantine — a barely concealed sexual advertisement for soiled goods.”
*. Does he deserve all this? Mostly, yes. Though he’s not bad, or at least he doesn’t seem out of place, playing a stoic monument in this movie. But he’s still stiff even beyond what you expect a big guy to be. I think that perhaps Hathaway sprayed sweat on his face in a couple of scenes just to represent an emotion he thought Mature incapable of expressing.


*. Widmark, on the other hand, really invents his part, complete with a Jack-o-lantern grin and crazy eyes. I also liked the business he made up of constantly wiping his mouth, which invokes hunger, nervousness, and offbeat sexuality.
*. The giggling, however, I thought forced. But then a giggle is a forced laugh, isn’t it? Tom Hulce’s giggles in Amadeus strike me as inauthentic in much the same way.
*. Thomson, again: Tommy Udo “is one of the most frightening people ever revealed on the American screen . . . he changed pictures, and our safe view of their evil characters.”
*. Do contemporary audiences see this? The psycho act was more of a novelty at the time, and would go on to be repeated in countless parodies and caricatures (especially in our own day). Still, the part, I think, is great. Pushing Rizzo’s mother down the stairs and going crazy at the boxing match are two very well-imagined scenes.
*. What kind of a name is “Udo” anyway? Where does it hail from? I’ve never heard it outside of this movie.


*. Almost entirely shot on actual locations but many of the interiors (for example, the D.A.’s office at the Criminal Courts Building and the jail cells in the Tombs) look like sets. Did they pretty them up? This is even registered in the commentary by James Ursini and Alain Silver, where they observe how the cells at the Tombs “look all spiffed up and clean for a Hollywood visit”. The floors and the walls appear to gleam.
*. The last sequence — the meeting at Luigi’s and the subsequent shootout — were filmed on a studio backlot because the original footage, which was shot on location, didn’t look “realistic.” This rather undercuts Hathaway’s whole purpose in shooting on location (“the only way to get realism in pictures is to go out after it”). There’s something ironic in that, I guess.
*. Colleen Gray’s love for Nick is downright creepy. She certainly adopts the role of the babysitter who moves in to the deceased wife’s place rather quickly. The commentary also notes the Oedipal quality to the relationship (noting the scene with her sitting on Nick’s lap), and that may be a fair call too, especially given the over-the-top dialogue she’s saddled with (“I’m mad about you. That’s all I think of — you. I’ve wanted you ever since I was a girl, long ago. When I used to look at you, I’d feel just like now. Every time you kiss me, I almost pass out.”). But really, everything about her just seems weird. For example: When Nick goes to visit her at her boarding house right after he gets paroled, why does she fall to her knees at the top of the stairs when she sees him? What’s that all about?
*. How did Karl Malden get his name on one of the main title cards for this one? How many lines does he have? How many scenes is he in? Nick’s two little girls have more to do.
*. I wonder what happens to the crooked lawyer Earl Howser at the end. Did I miss something? He seems to get away with (ordering) murder, which is odd for a film of the time. Then again, they apparently slipped a shot of a toilet bowl past the censors too.
*. The ’40s were a great age for men’s hats. And for wearing them a certain way. Which is to say, on an angle. Even the lawyer (with bowler) and the prison guard (with cap) set them rakishly. No one wears them square.
*. It’s interesting that they had some trouble settling on a title (the shooting title was Stool Pigeon and Zanuck’s suggestion was Blind Date). Kiss of Death doesn’t seem any more relevant, but at least it sounds better.
*. That ending is a bit ambiguous, isn’t it? The plan was for Nick to die, but the studio didn’t want that to happen, for all the obvious reasons. All we get at the end, however, is Nettie’s assertion that she got what she wanted because she “got Nick.” That could be interpreted in several different ways. For example: “I got to marry Nick,” or “I got to have Nick for a while.” It’s still possible Nick is dead at the end.

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