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
Story by Eleazar Lipsky
Starring
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) (US)
Running time
99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.52 million[1]
Box office $1.65 million (rentals)[2][3]

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 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 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 lawyer, Earl Howser, and cohorts 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, 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 (Gray), a young woman who used to babysit his girls. Nettie reluctantly tells Nick 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 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.

Howser, who also acts as a go-between to a fence for his clients, tells Tommy Udo (Widmark), a psychopathic killer who did time with Bianco, that Rizzo "squealed". When Udo shows up at Rizzo's tenement, only Rizzo's mother (Mildred Dunnock) is present and tells him 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 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.

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

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

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

Kiss of Death is notable for being Richard Widmark's film debut as 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, who is killed by 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]

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.[9]

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."[10]

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."[11]

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."[12] For years, people handed the actor blank phonograph disks on which they wanted him to record the maniacal laugh he used in the film.[12] Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 86%, based on 14 reviews, with a rating average of 7.3/10.[13]

Accolades[edit]

Year Award / Film Festival Award Category Result Ref
1948 Golden Globes Most Promising Newcomer Richard Widmark Won [14]
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 [14]
Best Writing, Original Story Eleazar Lipsky Nominated [15]

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. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Borde, Raymond and Etienne Chaumeton. A Panorama of American Film Noir: 1941-1953. City Lights Publishers, 1992. ISBN 9780872864122.
  11. ^ Schager, Nick. Slant Magazine, film review, December 23, 2005. Last accessed: August 30, 2008.
  12. ^ a b Holston, Kim R. (1990). Richard Widmark: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-313-26480-5. 
  13. ^ "Kiss of Death (1947) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 June 2016. 
  14. ^ a b "Actor Richard Widmark dies at 93". BBC News. March 26, 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2015. 
  15. ^ a b c d "Kiss of Death (1947)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 10, 2015. 

External links[edit]