KISS OF DEATH. (Twilight Time Blu Ray) 20th Century Fox 1947. B&W. 99 minutes. Region Free. $29.95 .Limited to pressing of 3,000 discs. https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/kiss-of-death-blu-ray/
People who have never seen the complete film know of it due to the iconic scene of a giggling insane Tommy Udo (essayed by Richard Widmark in his stunning film debut) pushing a helpless wheelchair bound woman (Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs as she screams in abject horror.
KISS OF DEATH is a classic example of film noir that needs to be in every film lovers collection. Dark storytelling with the sense that violence and death permeates the entire story. Shot mostly in New York City at many actual locations (though, in my humble opinion, I think the interior apartment scenes and stairwells are sets, as knowing the size of the old Mitchell 35mm cameras, as well as lights needed, that is a heck of a lot of equipment and people to squeeze into such small spaces, not to mention loading in and out). around the city.
Ex con Nick Bianco (Victor Mature, at the height of his stardom) and three others botch a jewel robbery that results in Nick getting arrested.
Rather than turn on his accomplices, Nick is sentenced to twenty years at Sing Sing Prison. Nick thinks that his accomplices will protect his family, but three years into his stretch, Nick’s wife commits suicide and his two daughters are sent to an orphanage. Nick tries to make a deal with the Assistant D.A. D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) but too much time has passed to make a deal. However, if Nick will help the A.D.A. on another case, Nick will get paroled.
On the streets, Tommy Udo(Widmark)who served time with Nick, tracks down the mother of Rizzo. Rizzo, who is unseen in the film, was supposed to guard Mrs. Bianco, but instead it was hinted that he raped her, which resulted in her committing suicide. Tommy looks up to Nick (and many critics feel an almost homoerotic passion) and so when Rizzo’s mother (Dunnock) lies to him, we end up with the famous stairwell killing.
Udo tries to show off to Bianco, taking him to various establishments and talks freely about his previous crimes, to impress his “friend”. Nick, however, turns the info over to the Assistant District Attorney, who indicts Udo and grants Nick his pardon.
Nick tries to restart his life on the straight and narrow, marrying friend Nettie Cavallo (Coleen Gray ) who used to baby sit his daughters when he first went to prison. However, despite evidence, Udo is acquitted and wants revenge.
The film when it was first released was not an enormous success, but over the years its status has grown to where it is now acknowledged as one of the great film noirs of all time.
The film has been available on video and DVD in previous releases from Fox Video, but TWILIGHT TIME has really gone all out with its definitive release of this classic piece of cinema.
First off, the 1080p High Definition scan has increased the sharpness of the imagery, showing off the beautiful cinematography of Norbert Brodine. Brodine began working in the silent era (including Lon Chaney’s A BLIND BARGAIN, Goldwyn,1922), and during the early sound period he hopped around from major studios to independents (Bela Lugosi’s THE DEATH KISS, KBS,1932; DELUGE, Tiffany 1933) before finding a home at Hal Roach (TOPPER ,1937; OF MICE & MEN,1939; ONE MILLION B.C.,1939).
By the mid-1940s, he went over to Fox, where he had prior to KISS OF DEATH had lensed the noirish HOUSE ON 92nd STREET (1945).and the overlooked gem SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946). His black and white photography has deep blacks and various shades of gray.
The sound is mono (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) and there is really no need for surround sound, as the music dialogue and sound effects are crisp and crackle free. David Buttolph’s music is sparse but always efficient when used.
As to extras:
There are two audio commentary tracks that are well worth listening to.
Original to this release are popular Twilight Time Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, who have a more conversational style and while knowledgeable, still have the joy of fans.
Kirgo, for example, points out that she grew up in NYC and recalls how it looked somewhat as the film presented it. They also go into the homoerotic feelings that Widmark’s character may have had for Mature (“Ya can’t have fun with dames about”).and how Widmark originally thought the script hilarious (!) and read the script to friends in the voice he used in the movie. It made me wonder if the erotic undertone was added by Widmark, similar to what Stephen Boyd did years later to Charlton Heston in BEN HUR (MGM,1959).
Ported over from the prior Fox Film Noir series DVD release is the Audio Commentary with Film Historians James Ursini and Alain Silver has a more scholarly tone but never monotonic while delivering so much information on the making of the film and behind the scenes going ons (for example, Miss Dunnock had to be flung down the stairs TWICE because the cameraman was not ready!). They also discuss the (loose )1995 remake.
The music score is also available on a separate audio track. The trailer features legendary columnist Walter Winchell praising the film with hyperbole that must have made the publicity team go crazy about. The optional white English subtitles are clean and easy to read, and follow the dialogue and action.
Get it and add it to your collection or Tommy may have to visit you!
–Kevin G Shinnick