Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kiss of Death (1947)

I'll make some noise about how effective silence is in this so-so film noir.

Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) is a nice guy and a con. Out of jail for a year, he can't find work. Having a rap sheet is hurting his employment prospects. It's Christmas Eve and Bianco has two daughters hoping for something from Santa under the tree.

Bianco, and a couple of his pals, rob a jeweler in New York City's Chrysler Building.

Cue silent scene No. 1. The thugs have to take the elevator down 20+ floors. It's Dec. 24. That means plenty of stops between the scene of the crime and the exit door. Cut repeatedly between the bound and gagged businessman straining to hit an alarm and Bianco and company keeping a nervous eyes on the descending floor numbers.


They don't make it out in time. Police arrive. Bianco tries to flee and gets shot by police. History repeats itself. His father was shot dead by the coppers 20 years before.

Assistant district attorney Louis D'Angelo offers Bianco a deal. Tell him who else took part in the heist and he'll get reduced jail time. Bianco doesn't bite -- even with the prospect of not seeing his two girls for a long stretch.


Three years into his stint at Sing Sing, Bianco gets a change of heart. His wife, despondent over tight finances, kills herself. His children are put in an orphanage.

Bianco decides to talk. He gets parole and can stay out of jail if he agrees to help D'Angelo with some other cases.


One major file the district attorney needs help with is putting vicious killer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark, Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir)) behind bars. Widmark is impressive in his film debut. He received a best supporting Oscar nomination for his work in this Henry Hathaway film. Udo is the kind of guy who cheers for a boxer to knock his opponent's eye out. Nice.

Udo is a cold-blooded killer with a sinister giggle. Cross him at your own peril. The mother of an associate, thought to have squealed instead of Bianco, meets a horrific end.

Bianco testifies against Udo. Udo is found not guilty. He comes looking for revenge.

This leads to silent scene No. 2. Bianco knows he can't run. He knows his new wife, Nettie (Coleen Gray), and his daughters will be in danger as long as Udo is free.

Bianco tracks Tommy down to an Italian restaurant. There's silence as he sits at a table, smoking a cigarette, waiting for Uto to come out of a back room. Through the sliver of a slightly-opened door, Tommy approaches. This scene heightens the suspence between the two finally squaring off -- for good.

There's not a lot of surprises in Kiss of Death. Viewers can pretty much guess what will come next. But those two silent scenes, a great Widmark and some fine supporting work, including an early role for Karl Malden (Patton) make this 1947 release a mild curiousity.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Brian Donlevy received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for Beau Geste.

Kiss of Death was Coleen Gray's first major film role.

Taylor Holmes, who appears as Bianco's corrupt lawyer Earl Howser, was the voice of Stefan in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. He made his film debut in Efficiency Edgar's Courtship (1917).

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