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20th Century Fox presents
Kiss of Death (1947)

"I'm the kind of guy you can't hurt."
- Nick (Victor Mature)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: December 05, 2005

Stars: Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Coleen Gray
Other Stars: Richard Widmark, Taylor Holmes, Howard Smith, Karl Malden
Director: Henry Hathaway

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:38m:54s
Release Date: December 06, 2005
UPC: 024543183532
Genre: film noir


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+B+B- B

DVD Review

Pucker up, sweetheart—this is a dilly of a noir, with one of the most fearsome and iconic screen moments in it, so let's start right there, shall we? Richard Widmark, looking like a skeletal Cheshire cat, plays the evil Tommy Udo, a tough guy looking to settle a score. Word on the street is that a guy called Rizzo has ratted him out, so Tommy pays a visit, finding Rizzo's closets empty, and just his wheelchair-bound mother instead, professing ignorance as to her boy's whereabouts. So what does Tommy do to exact some small measure of revenge in the moment? He sends the old lady down a couple of flights of the walkup, wheelchair and all, cackling as she falls all the way down.

It's a chilling and memorable image, and in some ways is the paradigmatic Widmark moment—his gallery of bad guys all have their roots in the Tommy Udo archetype. And though this is a bit of a nasty movie, it's not so nasty as to make Tommy our hero. That would be Nick Bianco, an ex-con who can't catch a break, pressed back into a life of crime—when a jewelry heist goes bad, Nick finds himself back in the clink. The D.A. dangles a deal—if Nick will give up the names of his compadres, he can cut down on his sentence. But Nick's no squealer, and intends to do his time like a man—that is, until his wife sticks her head in the oven, leaving their two young daughters orphaned. Now Nick is ready to talk, despite the advice from his Mob lawyer, and it's his testimony that has Tommy Udo on the run.

An opening title card announces that all of the shooting was done on location, and the movie has a streetwise sensibility—a lot of that also comes from Victor Mature as Nick. Mature alternately resembles Jerry Orbach, Chris Noth and Dean Martin—he's not a fantastically gifted actor, but ably carries this movie along on his broad and well-tailored shoulders. Director Henry Hathaway gets lots of nice work from his entire cast, in fact—Brian Donlevy is terrific as the crafty but moral district attorney, making this performance sort of the flip side of the amoral huckster he plays as the title character in The Great McGinty, and one of his aides is played by a lanky young Karl Malden. Nick strikes up a jailhouse romance with Nettie, his daughters' onetime babysitter, played by Coleen Gray, who's able to pull this off without seeming daffy or simpering—her character also provides occasional narration for us, which tends to be much more moral than the narrative playing out.

The story moves inexorably forward to the necessary confrontation between Tommy and Nick, and the last reels of the film are taut with suspense—you can see why, some fifty years later, somebody got the bright idea to remake this movie, though the newer version lacks the crispness of the original, in large measure, I suspect, due to the great script here by Ben Hecht. (This movie was produced a year after Notorious, which Hecht wrote as well.) Hathaway loves the procedural stuff, but doesn't let it get in the way of his narrative, and the result is this terrifically tense piece of work. 

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Pretty sharp stuff here, even if the source print shows evidence of wear and decay. Black levels are generally solid; they are, after all, the defining attribute of film noir.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: There are some odd and unpleasant echoes on the stereo track—your instinct may be to go for that one, but in fact you'll be better off listening to the mono mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Call Northside 777, House of Bamboo, Laura, Panic in the Streets, The Street With No Name
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. still gallery
Extras Review: Fox's dynamic duo of noir, Alain Silver and James Ursini, are back for another commentary track, this one with an emphasis the style of the piece, which they term "docu-noir"—they're great on details of location shooting, though they take awfully great pains to ferret out some clumsy religious symbolism. It's clear they love the genre, and this movie in particular—and they've got senses of humor, too, for instance when discussing a blatant Hays Code violation: the appearance on screen of—horrors!—a toilet. The still gallery features posters and lobby cards from the movie's original theatrical release.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

If the home health care worker sent to look after Grandma looks even remotely like Richard Widmark, send them packing right away—that's one of the many lessons of this movie, which is as fascinated with the methodologies of cops and robbers as with the crafty story it tells.

 


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