Kiss of Death
February 24, 2006
Kiss of Death (1947) belongs in a sub-genre of film noir that blends a documentary style with a noir look and sensibility. Nick Bianco (Mature) is a jewel thief caught and sent to prison. While waiting to be sentenced he meets Tommy Udo (Widmark), a sadistic crook. After three months in the joint, Nick finds out that his wife has committed suicide, distraught over lack of money, and his two kids sent to an orphanage. To make matters worse, Nick finds out that he was double-crossed by his partners in crime. So, he cuts a deal with the assistant District Attorney (Donlevy) and rats out his accomplices, including Udo.
If Kiss of Death is remembered for anything, it is Richard Widmark’s memorable turn as Tommy Udo, the motormouth killer with a weasely laugh. He delivers such classic hardboiled dialogue like “I wouldn’t give you the skin off a grape,” with devilish glee. His finest moment in the movie and one that epitomizes his character is when he tosses a lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs obviously relishing the moment. In another scene, he eggs on a boxer to pummel his opponent during a match. Tommy is almost like a little kid caught up in the moment. Victor Mature is fine as the conflicted Nick Bianco but it is Widmark who steals every scene he’s in. Tommy is all smiles one moment but cross him and he becomes deadly serious. It is an understatement to say that he is clearly someone not to mess with.
The use of actual locations in New York City gives Kiss of Death a gritty authenticity. The moody black and white cinematography by Norbert Brodine often reflects the feelings of the characters. For example, when Nick finds out that Tommy was found not guilty despite his damning testimony, he is shown on the phone in a darkened hallway, alone with the darkness surrounding him. We know what Tommy is capable of and fear for Nick and his family. The final showdown between Nick and Tommy utilizes the lack of light well, forcing us to fill in what we can’t see with our imagination and this adds to the suspense.
There is an audio commentary by film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini. They cite the movie as an important example of docu-noir, a hybrid of the documentary and film noir. Silver and Ursini point out all the real locations used in the movie and how they provide a level of realism that you can’t get with sets. They also point out that Kiss of Death is one of the few noirs narrated by a woman and they do an excellent job analyzing the film’s themes and style.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
Finally, there is a “Still Gallery” with various movie posters and lobby cards.