Review: Kiss of Death

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As you can see, when this film came out it was the big introduction of Coleen Gray. This was Gray’s first film credit(she appeared in three other films in tiny roles and did not get a credit), but if you ask any film noir buff “Who’s first movie is Kiss of Death?” Coleen Gray would not be most people’s answer. More on this later.

This film is from director Henry Hathaway and was released in 1947. It stars Victor Mature as ex-convict, Nick Bianco. This film opens with a tense jewelry heist, where Nick is shot in the leg and caught. His 3 partners get away. Nick will not rat on his partners and takes the full rap for the heist. When Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo, played by Brian Donlevy, offers him a deal so he can be with his wife and two daughters, Nick does not take it.

While in a holding cell, he meets Tommy Udo. Udo is played by Richard Widmark and he steals the show. Udo is a violent, evil man that feels he can get away with anything. Udo is a laughing psycho that can not be soon forgotten. Yes, he will remind you of Batman’s Joker in more then a few ways. Joker is not based on Udo and was actually created several years before Kiss of Death, maybe Widmark was influenced by the Joker?

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When Nick’s wife commits suicide and his daughters are put in a home, Nick decides he needs to rat out his partners and get out of prison, so he can take care of his kids. Nick turns to Nettie, played by Colleen Gray for romance and to put his family back together. Yes Widmark deserves all the accolades he receives for this film, but let us not forget how good Gray is in this. Gray is one of my favorite anti-femme fatales of the the classic era. She always played the good girl or the girl that saves the hero, and she did it well.

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Nick is released from prison, but must become an informant for the D.A.. He has no problem doing this, putting his family first and tries to put his criminal past behind him. Unfortunately Nick’s target is Udo and he is in a bad position with little to no way out.

This film is very dark, with one of the most violent scenes in all of film history when Udo tosses a wheel chair bound woman down a flight of stairs.

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This film could have been way darker if the censors didn’t get involved. Patricia Morison played Nick’s wife, but all of her scenes are cut from the final film. As we know Nick’s wife commits suicide early in the film. What we do not see is Morison’s character is actually raped first and then commits suicide. Both of these scenes are cut by the censors. Also the end of the film was much darker in the original story. I will not give anymore information on this, but after you see the film, you can see how easy the end could have been much darker.

This film is a must see for all film noir fans. It is a dark tale that you need to see to appreciate.

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Favorite Tidbit: This film has been remade twice: 1st as a western called The Fiend Who Walked the West in 1958 and then as a neo noir in 1995 starring David Caruso, Samuel L. Jackson and Nicolas Cage. I have seen the 1995 version, but it has been so long ago I can not compare the two films. This might make for an interesting double feature some day soon.

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Review: A Cry in the Night

A Cry in the Night is a film noir from 1956 directed by Frank Tuttle. The three stars are:

Edmond O’Brien playing a detective and father

Natalie Wood playing O’Brien’s daughter

though the poster says the third star is Brian Donlevy, playing the detective in charge of the case, the real third star of this film is Raymond Burr playing a psychopath.

This story starts out with Wood and her boyfriend, played by Richard Anderson, up at “Lover’s Loop” parked in his car. They are discussing their future together when the boyfriend notices a man in the trees watching them. He goes to investigate and a scuffle ensues. Burr hits the boyfriend with his lunch box. The boyfriend goes down and Wood comes over to see how he is doing. She thinks he is dead and Burr carries her away and steals the car. When the police find the boyfriend, they think he is drunk and throw him in the tank. A doctor at the police headquarters discovers him and brings him into Donlevy’s office to tell his story. When Donlevy finds out Wood is the girl kidnapped, he goes to O’Brien’s house to inform him of the situation. This scene is interesting as O’Brien plays a fun-loving husband and father, drinking a beer and talking to his wife. When he is informed of his daughter’s kidnapping, he instantly turns into a hard-boiled detective.

The story takes place over the course of one night with a pretty straight forward plot. Burr is a pretty interesting character here as a mentally disturbed man who lives with his overbearing mother. Natalie Wood also stands out playing a teenager in trouble, but in the 1950’s she may have been the best at that.

This is a very good film noir worth checking out. It is a hidden gem and if you are a film noir fan you will find it very entertaining.

Favorite Tidbit: This film was from Jaguar Productions, a small movie production company that only lasted a few years. It was established by Alan Ladd. You can hear his voice in the beginning of the film in an uncredited voice over.

Review: The Glass Key

The Glass Key is an early classic film noir from 1942 directed by Stuart Heisler. This film is based on one of the greatest noir and hard-boiled authors ever, Dashiell Hammett.

I have not read this book yet, but it is on my long “to read” list. I have read a few things from Hammett and loved everything I’ve read so far.

This film is a very complex film, with many characters important to the story, as they all effect each other until we get to the bottom of the main crime. So I’m going to approach this a little different then I usually do. We are going to look at most of the characters and a brief description of what drives them.

Ed Beaumont played by Alan Ladd: Ed is loyal to his friend, Paul Madvig, even though he knows sometimes this is not the best thing to be. He is also fascinated by our femme fatale for this tale Janet Henry. Ed is a smart man with many connections in the political world as well as the criminal world and bonces from one to the other with ease.

Paul Madvig played by Brian Donlevy: Paul is a political powerhouse, but is well known to be crooked. He often answers questions with his fists instead of with his wits. He is a feared man in our city and plans on marrying Janet Henry. He also is helping Janet’s father get elected as governor. He is also overprotective of his little sister, who happens to be dating Janet’s brother Taylor. Paul does not like Taylor and thinks he is a bad influence on his young sister.

Janet Henry played by Veronica Lake: Janet is our femme fatale, she is dating Paul, but plans on dumping him as soon as her dad is elected governor. She seems to Like Ed, but can do nothing about it until after the election. She is smart and beautiful and knows how to use both attributes to get what she wants for her and her family.

Opal ‘Snip’ Madvig played by Bonita Granville: Opal is Paul’s little sister and is madly in love with Taylor. When Taylor ends up murdered, she believes her brother did it.

Taylor Henry played by Richard Denning: Taylor has a gambling problem and owes some bad men some money. He uses Opal to help her get some cash after his family has decided to not help him anymore. Taylor ends up murdered and finding out who did it is the driving force of this story.

Nick Varna played by Joseph Calleia: Varna owns a number of illegal gambling operations in the city. When Paul decides to crack down on crime in the city to help Henry get elected governor, Varna is his first victim. This happens even though Varna has been paying protection to Paul. “business is business and politics is politics.” Taylor Henry also owes Varna his gambling debts.

Jeff played by William Bendix: Jeff is Varna’s top muscle. He likes to beat people up, but he has a hard time keeping his mouth shut.

As most of my readers know I don’t like spoilers and don’t write any in my reviews. Hopefully this array of characters is enough to get you excited to see this film. Everybody is great in this, especially Ladd, Lake and Bendix. The story is very complicated but easy to follow. Hammett’s storytelling is some of the best ever.

It is interesting seeing this after watching Miller’s Crossing. Miller’s Crossing is loosely based on this book and Red Harvest by Hammett and you can see the similarities. This would make a great double feature seeing this version from 1942 and comparing it to the version from 1990. I loved both of these films and reviewed Miller’s Crossing earlier here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/02/15/re-watching-the-classics-a-fresh-look-at-millers-crossing/

This is also the second Ladd and Lake film I’ve seen, the other is The Blue Dahlia, which also starred Bendix as well. I really loved that film as well and reviewed it here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/03/07/review-the-blue-dahlia/

I really look forward to seeing more films with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake soon and think they made a great pair.

This is a must see for any noir fan, especially those of Ladd, Lake, and Bendix. It is also a must see for fans of Hammett’s books and work.