Review of “Kiss of Death” (1947)

trailer from YouTube

For this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie, I felt like a bit of noir. We chose Kiss of Death from 1947. Some people die, and some people kiss, but the first group has nothing to do with the other.

Plot:

It’s Christmas Eve in New York City. Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) is an ex-con who hasn’t been able to work for a year because of his record.

“They say it shouldn’t count against you,” the narration tells the viewer, “but when Nick tried to get a job, the same thing always happened: ‘Very sorry.’ No prejudice, of course, but no job either. So this is how Nick went Christmas shopping for his kids.”

That is, he and three cohorts take an elevator to the twenty-fourth floor of a building and rob a jewelry store. They take the elevator down (Oh, dudes, take the stairs!), giving the proprietor plenty of time to work his way to the alarm. Nick tries to run but is shot and captured. His partners get away.

Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) then offers Bianco a deal: reduced sentencing in exchange for the names of his accomplices. Believing his mob buddies and his crooked lawyer Earl Howser (Taylor Holmes) will look out for his family, Bianco refuses. Besides, Howser has assured him he’ll be able to swing parole for him.

After he’s been in Sing Sing for about three years, Nick’s letters to his wife start coming back to him, marked, “party no longer at this address.” Why doesn’t his wife write? She knows he worries about the kids. When a new convict/thug comes in, Nick learns that his wife is dead. He barely believes it. Looking through old newspapers, he finds a notice. She died by suicide.

Further information comes along when Nettie Cavallo (Coleen Gray) visits Nick. Nettie, the viewer realizes, is also the narrator. Nettie was a neighbor who used to babysit the girls. Her comments are cryptic and can be interpreted as describing an affair between Nick’s former partner, Rizzo, whom the viewer never sees. Others interpret them as indicating Rizzo raped Nick’s wife, leading to her depression and eventual suicide. Either way, Nick is ready to talk to the DA and blame Rizzo for “squealing.”

Thoughts:

The hitman sent to deal with Rizzo for supposedly squealing is Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). He finds only Rizzo’s elderly mother (an uncredited Mildred Dunnock) in a wheelchair, who suggests that Rizzo will be back “after dinner sometime maybe.” Udo sees Rizzo’s room is empty. He has to send a message and, laughing manically, pushes Mrs. Rizzo down the staircase to her death.

This lets Nick know how high that stakes are: later, when he’s married to former neighbor Nettie and paroled, his family could pay the price for his “squealing,” particularly when Nick’s testimony in another matter later fails to bring a conviction against Udo.

Nick loves his family, something the DA realized from the beginning. He is willing to go to prison as long as he believes they are protected. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as promised.

Tommy Udo is threatening and creepy, even when he’s being friendly. His violence is without remorse, but not without reason. He’s also misogynistic, saying at one point, “Dames are no good if you want to have some fun.”

Richard Widmark’s performance as Tommy Udo won him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and a favorable mention (“…the director uncovered a real find in Richard Widmark.”) in a New York Times review of the movie.

Another treat is a (relatively) young Karl Malden as Sgt. William Cullen in the DA’s office.

Some aspects of the movie may not have aged well. Many noir movies haven’t. The melodrama in this is a little hard on the credibility, but it remains entertaining. I liked it.

Title: Kiss of Death (1947)

Directed by
Henry Hathaway

Writing Credits
Ben Hecht…(screen play) and
Charles Lederer…(screen play)
Eleazar Lipsky…(story)
Philip Dunne…(additional scenes) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Victor Mature…Nick Bianco
Brian Donlevy…Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo
Coleen Gray…Nettie Cavallo
Richard Widmark…Tommy Udo
Taylor Holmes…Earl Howser

Released: September 1947
Length: I hour, 39 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: