Kiss of Death (1947 film)

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Kiss of Death
Kiss of Death 1947 B poster.jpg
A "Daybill" Style Poster from the Australian Theatrical Release
Directed byHenry Hathaway
Produced byFred Kohlmar
Screenplay by
Story byEleazar Lipsky
Starring
Narrated byColeen Gray
Music byDavid Buttolph
CinematographyNorbert Brodine
Edited byJ. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • August 27, 1947 (1947-08-27) (US)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1.52 million[1]
Box office$1.65 million (rentals)[2][3]

Kiss of Death is a 1947 film noir directed by Henry Hathaway and written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer from a story by Eleazar Lipsky. The story revolves around an ex-con played by Victor Mature and his former partner-in-crime, Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark in his first film). The movie also starred Brian Donlevy and introduced Coleen Gray in her first billed role.[4] The film has received critical praise since its release, with two Academy Award nominations.

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

Plot[edit]

On Christmas Eve, down-on-his-luck ex-convict Nick Bianco (Mature) 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 injured 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 (Donlevy) tries to persuade Nick to name his accomplices in exchange for a light sentence. Confident that his partners in crime and his lawyer, Earl Howser (who promises Nick he will get him paroled very soon) will look after his wife and two young daughters while he is incarcerated, Nick refuses and is given a 20-year sentence. Three years later, at Sing Sing Prison, after his wife does not write for 3 months, Nick discovers, from a fellow inmate, that she has committed suicide. In the prison library, he finds her obituary in the newspaper and learns that she had been worried over financial issues prior to her death.

Nick is visited in prison by Nettie Cavallo (Gray), a young woman who used to babysit his girls. She tells him that his daughters have been sent to an orphanage and reluctantly reveals that his wife was raped by 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 about the jewelry store robbery to reduce his sentence. In exchange for being able to see his children, he goes ahead and spills about the job. D'Angelo then decides to keep Nick in the city jail and use him as an informant. He keeps Nick clean in the eyes of other shady characters and Howser (who acts on behalf of his criminal clients as a go-between for a fence) by making it seem Nick is being charged with a previous, unsolved robbery he pulled off with Rizzo. D'Angelo then instructs Nick to imply to the lawyer that it was Rizzo who squealed about this job.

Howser arranges for Tommy Udo (Widmark), a psychopathic killer who did time with Bianco, to take care of Rizzo. When Udo shows up at Rizzo's tenement, only the criminal's wheelchair-bound mother (Mildred Dunnock) is present; she tells Udo that her son is out but will return that evening. Udo examines the apartment and determines that Rizzo has probably left town. 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, Nick must continue his work with the D'Angelo. He must arrange a "chance" meeting with Udo, pretend to be friendly as an old prison pal from Sing Sing, and get the killer to reveal enough information about a murder he committed to enable police to arrest him. Udo takes Nick to a couple of clubs, including one at which narcotics are being smoked. Nick reports back to D'Angelo, who is satisfied that he has enough to indict Udo for the past murder and get a conviction. D'Angelo then releases Nick from having to do any further work for him.

Nick starts a new life, living in Astoria, Queens with his wife, Nettie, and the children. When Udo's trial begins, D'Angelo summons Nick to let him know that, even though the A.D.A. is sure Udo will be jailed, Nick's testimony is required. If he does not comply, his parole would necessarily be revoked. Despite him taking the stand and the seemingly solid evidence, Udo is acquitted.

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 girls to the country. While at home, waiting in the dark 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. Before he goes in to confront him, Nick phones D'Angelo, who is now back in his office. He tells the A.D.A. to go a police station near Luigi's and await his call.

Inside, when Udo meets Nick at a table, Nick says that he's got to "square myself with you, Tommy", and has a slight hope that Udo might see reason and leave him and his family alone. The sinister Udo says that as far as he is concerned they are still "pals", and makes a thinly-veiled threat against Nettie and the girls. Nick then reminds him that during their night out, Udo, under the influence, did a lot of talking, giving Nick loads of information that would condemn the killer. Nick promises that Udo will "hear singing like you've never heard before" if he touches Nettie or his children.

Udo orders the restaurant owner to prepare Nick the specialty of the house, and walks out. Before long, Nick notices Udo's sedan parked out front, and knows that as soon as he steps out the front door, Udo will ambush him. Nick now telephones and summons D'Angelo to come with police to the restaurant in exactly two minutes, Nick will ensure that Tommy Udo is set up for an unqualified arrest. In front of the cashier, Nick dumps the bullets from his gun into the trash, leaves the weapon with her and goes 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, thereby ensuring the killer is caught with a gun in his hand. Udo shoots Nick, but is quickly surrounded by police, who block his attempt to escape in the car. Udo then tries to get away on foot, but is gunned down in the street. He survives, and is arrested. Though badly wounded, Nick also survives; he and Nettie look forward to a happy, peaceful life together.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Kiss of Death is based on a story by former district attorney Lawrence Blaine. It was purchased by 20th Century Fox in November 1946 specifically as a vehicle for Victor Mature.[5]

Casting[edit]

Victor Mature plays Nick Bianco, the lead role in the film. Coleen Gray plays Nettie, his second wife, who also narrates the beginning and ending of the film. Brian Donlevy plays Louis D'Angelo, assistant district attorney.[citation needed]

Kiss of Death is notable for being Richard Widmark's film debut as Tommy Udo (a role originally announced for Richard Conte[6]). According to Widmark, Hathaway disliked his high hairline because he thought it made him look too intellectual, so he ordered Widmark fitted for a hairpiece. Hathaway didn't send the test ahead to Zanuck because he wanted a nightclub piano player called "Harry the Hipster" to play Udo. A Fox production manager named Charlie Hill liked the test and sent it to Zanuck, who immediately signed Widmark. During the film, Udo uses an inhaler, which was suggested by Zanuck himself. Critics and audiences have noted that Tommy Udo is similar to Batman's archenemy The Joker. Widmark himself was a big fan of Batman comics, and modeled Udo after The Joker. Frank Gorshin, who played The Riddler in the 60's television series Batman, modeled his deranged cackle after Udo.[citation needed]

Attorney Earl Howser was played by Taylor Holmes, while Howard Smith was cast as a prison warden. Character actor Karl Malden got the part of Sergeant William Cullen. After doing this film, Malden took a three-year break from film acting, returning in a small part as a bartender in The Gunfighter, starring Gregory Peck in the leading role.[citation needed]

Susan Cabot and Jesse White made their screen debuts in this film; they were both uncredited. Cabot plays a restaurant patron and White plays a taxi driver. Character actor Millard Mitchell also is uncredited as Detective Shelby. Mildred Dunnock played Mrs. Rizzo, a woman in a wheelchair pushed down a flight of stairs to her death by psychotic Udo.[citation needed]

Filming[edit]

Kiss of Death was shot between March and May 1947, with additional scenes being shot in June. Much of the filming was done in New York, using locations as practical sets, including the Chrysler Building, the Criminal Courts Building at 100 Centre Street, the old Hotel Marguery at 270 Park Avenue at 48th Street, the St. Nicholas Arena, and the now-demolished Bronx House of Detention for Men (later known as the Bronx County Jail) at 151st Street and River Avenue. Additional locations include Sing Sing Penitentiary in Ossining and the Academy of the Holy Angels in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The exterior scenes of the family home were shot in Astoria, Queens New York at 14th Place and Astoria Park, and the Triboro Bridge can seen in the background over Astoria Park.[7]

A deleted scene involving Nick's wife Maria (who was played by Patricia Morison) was cut from the film. In this scene, a gangster (played by Henry Brandon) who is supposed to look out for her while Nick is in prison rapes her. Afterwards, Maria commits suicide by sticking her head in the kitchen oven and turning on the gas. Both scenes were cut from the original print at the insistence of the censors, who wanted no depiction of either a rape or a suicide, so although Morison's name appears in the credits, she does not appear in the film at all. Mention is made later in the film about Mature's wife's suicide and a now obscure reference is made by Nettie that the unseen gangster Rizzo contributed to the wife's downfall.[8]

Widmark claimed that he only worked thirteen days during filming of the film, but had to go out to California for three or four days when a new ending was shot because Nick's wife suicide scene was cut out.[citation needed]

According to Widmark, there were pads on the bottom of the stairs during Mildred Dunnock's scene as well as men to catch her, but the cameraman forgot to rack the film and the scene had to be shot a second time.[citation needed]

Hathaway later said he "loved the picture because I liked working outside. It was exciting to manoeuvre things and get work done without people on the streets knowing that you were filming." He said the only problem was Victor Mature. "He was carousing all the time and up all night and sleeping all day on the set. He was dirty. I bought him a couple of new suits, and I found him in the men's toilet, lying on the floor asleep in one of the new suits I'd bought him. But he was a good actor."[9]

Alternate ending[edit]

Originally, Nick was supposed to die after he allowed Tommy Udo to shoot him repeatedly, so Udo could be prosecuted for his murder. However, it was decided that it was too depressing to have Nick die, so in the narration by Nick's wife, Nettie, she says that Nick survives.[citation needed]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

The film was not a major success but managed to break even on the world market.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

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."[11]

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."[12]

Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film three out of a possible four stars, stating that the film was starting to "show its age, with cops and robbers a bit too polite", while also praising Widmark and Mature's performances.[13][14] 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."[15] For years, people handed the actor blank phonograph disks on which they wanted him to record the maniacal laugh he used in the film.[15] Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 87%, based on 15 reviews, with a rating average of 7.3/10.[16]

Accolades[edit]

Year Award / Film Festival Award Category Result Ref
1948 Golden Globes Most Promising Newcomer Richard Widmark Won [17]
Locarno International Film Festival Best Screenplay, Adapted Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer Won [citation needed]
Best Actor Victor Mature Won
Academy Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role Richard Widmark Nominated [17]
Best Writing, Original Story Eleazar Lipsky Nominated [18]

Adaptations[edit]

References[edit]

  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. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  4. ^ Kiss of Death at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  5. ^ MATURE WILL STAR IN 'KISS OF DEATH': Fox Buys Story of Convict by Lawrence Blaine for Actor --Hathaway to Direct Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 Nov 1946: 53.
  6. ^ R.K.O. Wins 'Close-up;' Henreid Quits Warners Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 Nov 1946: A2.
  7. ^ MANHATTAN DOUBLES AS MOVIE SET: Henry Hathaway Looks For Realism and Finds It Here By THOMAS M. PRYOR. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 May 1947: X5.
  8. ^ Mank, Gregory William (1999). Women in Horror Films, 1940s. McFarland. ISBN 9780786423354.
  9. ^ Davis, Ronald L. (2005). Just Making Movies. University Press of Mississippi. p. 147.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Borde, Raymond and Etienne Chaumeton. A Panorama of American Film Noir: 1941-1953. City Lights Publishers, 1992. ISBN 9780872864122.
  12. ^ Schager, Nick Archived 2007-06-23 at the Wayback Machine.. Slant Magazine, film review, December 23, 2005. Last accessed: August 30, 2008.
  13. ^ Leonard Maltin (2015). Classic Movie Guide: From the Silent Era Through 1965. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 365. ISBN 978-0-14-751682-4.
  14. ^ Leonard Maltin; Darwyn Carson; Luke Sader (2 September 2014). Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2015: The Modern Era. Penguin Group USA. p. 771. ISBN 978-0-451-46849-9.
  15. ^ a b Holston, Kim R. (1990). Richard Widmark: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-313-26480-5.
  16. ^ "Kiss of Death (1947) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  17. ^ a b "Actor Richard Widmark dies at 93". BBC News. March 26, 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  18. ^ a b c d "Kiss of Death (1947)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 10, 2015.

External links[edit]