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: Night and the City

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The Night and the City is a film from one of film noir’s greatest directors, Jules Dassin. Dassin was a target of the Communist hunt in Hollywood and was sent to London to start filming this film to get him out of the country. This was his last Hollywood film for years after being put on the blacklist. He left for France where he made a few more classic films, before his return to Hollywood.

There is two versions of this film, one is a shorter American version and a longer British edit. I watched the shorter American cut, which seems to be Dassin’s preferred version because of it’s tighter edit and more clear dialog.

This film stars Richard Widmark and his signature laugh. He plays a street hustler in London, using anybody and everybody he meets for money or a way to get ahead. The film starts with Widmark’s Harry Fabian running at night through the city as somebody chases him. He runs to an apartment building, and seems to have lost all the stress he was just under. He enters the apartment and soon is riffling through a purse looking for money. Mary played by Gene Tierney is seen coming out of the shadows. Mary and Harry are a couple and Mary is tired of his hustling. She gets him the money Harry owes the man chasing him and Harry is free to start his next hustle.

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Harry gives us a tour through the underworld of London and we meet a number of con men, hustlers and shady business owners. Harry uses a number of these people to get ahead on his latest ploy. Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan play a dysfunctional wed couple that will cross each other for love and hate. Harry’s latest scheme involves starting his own pro wrestling promotion. Herbert Lom plays the current wrestling promoter in London and will do whatever he needs to eliminate the competition.

This is pretty unique in we get wrestling instead of boxing as our noir sport of choice. This seems to mirror how wrestling territories where back in this time, as well as showing the move from traditional wrestling to the entertainment wrestling we have today. Ex-pro wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko plays the old guard, wanting to keep the art of traditional pro wrestling alive. Unfortunately this was the only screen appearance by Zbyszko, who is great in this film. Zbyszko in real life echoed his on screen character.

Mike Mazurki was also a pro wrestler and plays The Strangler. The Strangler is the big draw in London and is part of the new guard of entertaining wrestlers Zbyszko’s character thinks is destroying the art of wrestling. Mazurki moved from wrestling to the movies and was one of the first actors to be type cast as the heavy or thug and had a film career that lasted over 50 years.

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The inevitable wrestling match in this film is amazing. The scene lasts over 4 minutes and is one of the best fight scenes in film noir. This is a very complex film with may reasons to view it. It has one of the most brutal and heart wrenching ending in classic film noir.

This film is based on the book by the same name written by Gerald Kersh. This book was originally published in 1938 and was kicked around for years in Hollywood. A lot of this had to do with timing, the book is very dark and shows crime in a very different way then audiences were used too. Thanks to a long run of film noir, Hollywood decided the public was ready. I have not read the book, but from my little research, it appears the movie varies from the source material for a number of reasons.

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This film was also remade in 1992 starring Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange.

I loved this film and think it is required viewing for any film noir fan, classic movie fan and I feel pro-wrestling fans or those that would like to learn more about pro-wrestling will enjoy this as well.

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Review: Pickup on South Street

Another great film noir from Samuel Fuller who wrote and directed this classic.  We have noir legend Richard Widmark and femme fatale great Jean Peters as our leads.  Throw in Thelma Ritter for a little character and we have the making of one of the top noir films from the classic era.

Our story starts with Widmark stealing the wallet out of Peters’ purse on the subway.  Peters in being followed at the time by an F.B.I. agent and goes to the police.  Enter Ritter who helps the F.B.I. and police finger Widmark as the pick pocket.  Peters goes to her boyfriend and tells him she has lost the microfilm she was carrying for him. as it was in her wallet.  Widmark has everybody chasing him for this microfilm and he doesn’t even know what it is.  Will our hero make it out alive?  What is on the microfilm?  Why is the F.B.I. interested?  Who are the bad guys that will do almost anything to get it back?

All three big stars are great in this one and I enjoyed all their performances.  You can’t go wrong with classic noir dialog like this one:

“I’ve got almost enough to buy both the stone and the plot.”

“If you lost that kitty, it’s Potter’s Field.”

“This I do not think is a very funny joke, Captain Tiger!”

“I just meant you ought to be careful how you carry your bankroll.”

“Look, Tiger, if I was to be buried in Potter’s Field, it would just about kill me.”

A must see for classic film noir fans, especially those that are fans of any of the three stars or Samuel Fullers work.  After this film Peters moved up on my list of favorite femme fatales and I plan to go back and re-watch some of the other films I’ve seen with her in it.

Favorite Tidbit:  Jean Peters was not the first choice for this role of Candy.  Names like Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Shelley Winters where all up for consideration in one way or another.  Fuller went with Peters and I got to say, he made the right choice.

Review: Don’t Bother to Knock

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Don’t Bother to Knock is a film noir from Roy Ward Backer, his first for Hollywood and one of many great noir movies he did.  The movie is based on a book by Charlotte Armstrong.  This movie has superstar Marilyn Monroe as our most interesting character. Noir great Richard Widmark plays a pilot in town on an over night stay at the hotel.  We also get Anne Bancroft in her first film, as the lounge signer Widmark is in love with.

Our story starts with Bancroft sitting at a bar, telling the bartender her troubles with her boyfriend and then the spotlight hits her and she starts singing.  We soon meet her boyfriend, the pilot that comes to town from Chicago played by Widmark.  They’re relationship is on the rocks and Widmark is trying to save it.  We also meet the elevator man played by the great character actor,Elisha Cook Jr., who is taking Monroe up to the 8th floor.  We find out he is her uncle and got her a job babysitting.  Seems like a pretty average day in the Hotel, but things get stranger and stranger as time goes on.

This film is in real-time, so the events happen in the same amount of time as the film length.  This is pretty cool and done very seamlessly.  The whole movie also takes place in a high-end hotel, basically the lounge, 2 rooms and the elevator contain all the scenes.  This gives you a bit of claustrophobia as the suspense grows through out.

Marilyn Monroe was a popular star at this point.  The problem was, she was not know for her acting.  Up to this point she just played her lovable self and people ate it up.  This was her 18th movie and she made this movie to show she could act, and act she did!  This is an amazing performance of a suicidal, mentally disturbed young women, it is not over the top, very real feeling and subtle .  At the time critics loved her performance, and I got to say, I did too.  Unfortunately looking back at her life, this may have been the real Monroe and she was acting as Marilyn Monroe all the other times she was in the spot light.

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This is not as gritty as most film noir but it is just as dark, maybe even more so.  If you are a fan of any of the 3 main stars, especially Monroe you should see this.  I give it an 8 out of 10, a must see film noir.