Kiss of Death (1947)

“You know what I do to squealers? I let ‘em have it in the belly, so they can roll it over for a long time, thinkin’ it over.”

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

Kiss of Death Poster

Synopsis:
In order to get parole and spend time with his new wife (Coleen Gray) and children, a thief (Victor Mature) decides to rat on his partners, risking the wrath of a psychopathic con named Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark).

Genres:

  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Coleen Gray Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • Karl Malden Films
  • Revenge
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Thieves and Gangsters
  • Victor Mature Films

Review:
Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death is a curious omission from Peary’s book, given that it contains one of the most infamous scenes in all of noir history: Richard Widmark’s psychotic “Tommy Udo” gleefully shoving wheelchair-bound Mildred Dunnock down a staircase, in order to teach her “squealing” son a lesson. Indeed, Kiss of Death brought immediate fame to Widmark, and it’s easy to see why: while many note that Mature gives one of the best performances of his career here, his character — a conflicted con hoping for a second chance — is literally dwarfed by Udo, who dominates each scene he’s in. As played by Widmark, giggling Udo emerges as one of the quintessential “villains” of cinema; critic James Agee (cited in the All Movie Guide review) wrote, “You feel that murder is the kindest thing he’s capable of.” The film itself (co-written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer) is competent noir, with several suspenseful sequences (particularly the final showdown between Mature and Widmark) and atmospheric location cinematography in New York City — but it’s Widmark who ultimately elevates it to “must see” status.

P.S. Blink and you’ll miss Karl Malden in a tiny role as a police sergeant grilling Mature.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Richard Widmark in a career-making turn as Tommy Udo
    Kiss of Death Widmark
  • Victor Mature as Tony Bianco
  • Coleen Gray as Mature’s love interest
  • Effective use of New York locales
  • Norbert Brodine’s noir-ish cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Richard Widmark’s truly noteworthy, Oscar-nominated performance.

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