Kiss of Death (1947 film)

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Kiss of Death
Kiss of Death 1947 B poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Produced by Fred Kohlmar
Screenplay by Ben Hecht
Charles Lederer
Story by Eleazar Lipsky
Starring Victor Mature
Brian Donlevy
Coleen Gray
Richard Widmark
Narrated by Coleen Gray
Music by David Buttolph
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Edited by J. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • August 27, 1947 (1947-08-27) (United States)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,525,000[1]
Box office $1.65 million (rentals)[2]

Kiss of Death is a 1947 film noir movie directed by Henry Hathaway and written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer from a story by Eleazar Lipsky. The story revolves around a former robber played by Victor Mature and the ruthless, violent Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). The movie also starred Brian Donlevy and introduced Coleen Gray in her first billed role.[3] The film has received critical praise since its release, with two Academy Award nominations.


The film begins, as it ends, with narration by Nettie (Coleen Gray). On Christmas Eve, down-on-his-luck Nick Bianco (Victor Mature), an ex-convict, and his three cohorts rob a jewelry store located on an upper floor of a New York skyscraper. Before they can exit the building, however, the proprietor sets off his alarm. While attempting to escape, Nick assaults a policeman, but is wounded in the leg and arrested.

Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo (Brian Donlevy) tries to persuade Nick to name his accomplices in exchange for a light sentence. Confident that his lawyer, Earl Howser (Taylor Holmes), and cohorts will look after his wife and two young daughters while he is incarcerated, Nick refuses and is given a twenty-year sentence. Three years later, at Sing Sing Prison, Nick learns that his wife has committed suicide, and his daughters have been sent to an orphanage. He later finds her obituary in the newspaper and learns his wife had been worried over financial issues prior to her death.

Nick is visited in prison by Nettie Cavallo (Coleen Gray), a young woman who used to babysit his girls. Nettie reluctantly tells Nick that his wife had an affair with Pete Rizzo, one of his accomplices. Nick decides to tell all to D'Angelo; but because so much time has elapsed, D'Angelo cannot use Nick's information to reduce his sentence, but makes a deal that if Nick helps the police on another case, he will be paroled. D'Angelo questions Nick about one of his previous, unsolved robberies, which he pulled off with Rizzo. Nick implies to Howser that Rizzo "squealed" on him.

Widmark as Tommy Udo

Howser, who also acts as a go-between to a fence for his clients, tells Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark), a psychopathic killer, about Rizzo's "squealing." When Udo shows up at Rizzo's tenement, only Rizzo's mother (Mildred Dunnock) is present and tells him that her son was out but would return that evening. Udo examines the apartment and determines that Rizzo has probably left town. Angered with her attempt to deceive him, Udo binds Mrs. Rizzo to her wheelchair with an electrical cord and pushes her down a flight of stairs, killing her.

Soon after, Nick is freed on parole at D'Angelo's behest, and visits Nettie, pledging his love to her. But in order to remain out on parole, Nick must continue his work with D'Angelo, and arranges a "chance" meeting with Udo, with whom he served time at Sing Sing. The unsuspecting Udo takes Nick to various clubs, including one at which narcotics are being smoked, and Udo reveals enough information to Nick about a murder he committed to enable the police to arrest him. Nick reports back to D'Angelo, who is satisfied that he has enough to indict Udo for the past murder. D'Angelo then releases Nick, who is relieved and looks forward to starting a new life with Nettie and his daughters.

When Udo later comes up for trial, Nick, who is now married to Nettie and living in Astoria, Queens, is reluctant to testify against him, but realizes he must in order to maintain his parole. Despite Nick's testimony and other evidence, Udo is acquitted based on a technicality involving key evidence.

Certain that Udo will seek revenge, and convinced the police will not be able to protect him and his family, Nick sends Nettie and the children to the country. While at home late one night, Nick is startled when D'Angelo shows up at the front door. He tries persuading Nick to submit to protective custody, but Nick punches D'Angelo in the jaw (rendering him unconscious) and goes off to deal with Udo on his own. Nick searches unsuccessfully for Udo at his favorite haunts, but finally finds him at Luigi's restaurant in East Harlem. The two men confront each other, but Udo tells him that as far as he's concerned they are still "pals". Nick is unconvinced, especially after Udo delivers a thinly-veiled threat against Nettie and his children. Nick warns Udo to stay away from his family, telling him that this matter is strictly between the two of them. Udo orders the restaurant owner to prepare Nick the specialty of the house (as Udo's treat), and walks out.

Before long, Nick sees Udo's sedan parked out front, and knows that as soon as he steps out the front door, Udo will ambush him. Before confronting Udo, Nick had instructed D'Angelo by telephone to go to a police station near the restaurant and await his call; he now summons D'Angelo to come in exactly two minutes to the restaurant, where Nick will provide sufficient evidence to put Udo away. Nick leaves his gun with the cashier and walks outside. One of Udo's henchmen draws a pistol and prepares to shoot Nick at point-blank range, but Nick provokes Udo into shooting him, knowing that he will now be incarcerated for life as a "three time loser." Udo shoots Nick, but is quickly surrounded by police. Udo attempts an escape on foot, but is gunned down in the street. He survives, but will likely spend the remainder of his life in prison.

Though badly wounded, Nick survives, and he and Nettie look forward to a happy, peaceful life together.





The film was not a major success but managed to break even on the world market.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Kiss of Death is considered a significant example of film noir, and is also notable for giving Richard Widmark a breakout role in his screen debut.

Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote: "Henry Hathaway's gritty film noir about a 'reformed' career criminal forced back into the criminal world never rang completely true despite being filmed in a semi-documentary style and the use of authentic location shots to make it seem realistic. Nevertheless, it's a superb fiction film based on actual events with memorable action scenes of lunacy such as a chuckling psycho hit man, Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark, an unforgettable screen debut), pushing a wheelchair-bound old lady (Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs to her death without ever stopping his maniacal chuckling."[5]

Writers Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton wrote: "From Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death (1947), one will remember that nasty little creep with the wild eyes and high-pitched laugh, neurotic to the core, which Richard Widmark has turned into one of his finest roles."[6]

Critic Nick Schager wrote: "It would be no surprise to learn that Richard Widmark was a big 'Batman' fan, as his star-making screen debut in Kiss of Death as grinning, cackling psychopath Tommy Udo (for which he received an Academy Award nomination) seems heavily indebted to the Caped Crusader's arch-nemesis The Joker. Certainly, the live-wire actor's amoral lunatic, a fiend who delights in pushing crippled wheelchair using women down stairs, is the primary (and perhaps only) reason to sit through Henry Hathaway's over-praised 1947 noir, a jumbled piece of cinematic crime fiction that's visually elegant (having been neorealistically shot on-location throughout Manhattan) but regularly confused about its own point of view."[7]

The impact of Widmark's performance as Tommy Udo found expression in a number of unusual ways. College fraternities formed Tommy Udo clubs "with the intent of putting women in their place."[8] For years, people handed the actor blank phonograph disks on which they wanted him to record the maniacal laugh he used in the film.[8]





  • On January 12, 1948, Widmark, Victor Mature and Coleen Gray reprised their screen roles for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast. Mature and Widmark also reprised their screen roles for three broadcasts on The Screen Guild Theater, the first of which aired on October 28, 1948. Though he played Tommy Udo again on radio, Richard Widmark was frightened by what he had to do in the first film.


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 244, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 222, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  3. ^ Kiss of Death at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  4. ^ Memo from Darryl F Zanuck to all producers at 20th Century Fox, 27 April 1948, Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck, Grove Press 1993 p 152.
  5. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, December 28, 2004. Last accessed: February 12, 2012.
  6. ^ Borde, Raymond and Etienne Chaumeton. A Panorama of American Film Noir: 1941-1953. City Lights Publishers, 1992. ISBN 9780872864122.
  7. ^ Schager, Nick. Slant Magazine, film review, December 23, 2005. Last accessed: August 30, 2008.
  8. ^ a b Holston, Kim R. (1990). Richard Widmark: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-313-26480-5. 

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