Saturday, March 16, 2013
KISS OF DEATH (1947)
(August 1947, U.S.)
Looking back at this particular letter category of my blog, it would seem the letter 'K" consisted primarily of film noir, with KISS OF DEATH completing that group and KING KONG movies. Go figure.
This film is considered a significant example of the gritty black and white film noir genre, just as you'd expect it with crime in the streets, the bad guy who perhaps wants to be good, the cops who will either help him or nail him and the beautiful woman who loves him. As our hero, ex-convict Nick Bianco (played by Victor Mature) seems to act out the events of his life based on desperation. He steals because he's desperate to support his family. He turns states evidence (or "squeals", as the movie puts it) to be reunited with his two little girls. He takes matters into his own hands to destroy his enemies and maintain a somewhat normal life with his girls and the woman he loves. He doesn't want to be on the wrong side of the law, but like I said, desperation always seems to take over his life.
The film is also notable as a breakout role for Richard Widmark in his screen debut, though for the life of me, based on his particular nasty character of Tommy Udo, it's really a wonder that Widmark ever became a movie star, because in my opinion, though vicious and psychopathic as it may be, his acting is rather bad and overplayed. And that persistent maniacal laugh of his is enough to make you wanted to reach into the TV screen and kill him yourself. There is one particular sequence where Tommy pushes a wheelchair-bound old woman down a flight of stairs and kills her, which I can only imagine being a truly shocking, even controversial moment back in 1947. By today's standards, of course, that's practically PG material. Apparantly, Widmark was a big fan of BATMAN and based much of his lunacy on the character of the Joker. Like I said, it seemed like an over-the-top performance to me, but it was evidently noteworthy enough to movie fans and critics to launch him into a successful career that spanned decades.
The story of the reformed career criminal forced back into the criminal world seems to ring particularly true in KISS OF DEATH and is also filmed in a semi-documentary style with the use of authentic location shots in New York City to make it seem more realistic. In a level of consistency that I always tend to maintain whenever I'm discussing film noir, I always fall back on the word cliche, and not without reason. Film noir is all about cliche story elements and cinematic backgrounds, and that's perhaps just the way we want it. We also want the happy ending that will bring our hero, criminal or not, back together with the woman (or "dame") he loves so they may enjoy a happy, peaceful life together. That's just SO film noir...and I love it!
I'll add, finally, that I saw the 1995 remake of KISS OF DEATH when it was released in theaters before I'd ever seen the original classic. Not bad, but not great, either. Nicholas Cage as the psychotic criminal in place of Richard Widmark and David Caruso as the reformed criminal were both noteworty enough performances. However, it didn't stand out as a superior enough remake that would find its way into my film collection.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Nettie (narration): "Nick Bianco hadn't worked for a year. He had a record...a prison record. They say it shouldn't count against you 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..."